Magnetic #11 Left

Texts: Library of Congress Collections Policy Statement on Fugitive Materials; Yale interview with Mark Polizzotti on translating Patrick Modiano; Images: ©maiermoul

The history of a site always exists. You can choose to ignore it, but it exists nevertheless.

- Rudolf Steiner, (as quoted by Stephen Holl)

If you think of other things in the world, many are made up of developments that may become interesting when separated from the form that contains them.

-Jasper Johns



I. Scope

II. General policy

III. Selection Principles for Collecting Ephemera

IV. Representative groups from which materials may be collected

V. Review and evaluation of ephemera projects

I. Scope

For the purposes of this statement, ephemera are defined as non-commercial, non-book publications in the form of pamphlets, handbills, leaflets, broadsides, position papers, minutes of meetings, information sheets, bulletins, newsletters, posters, moving images and photographic documentation. Ephemeral materials may also be produced in a variety of electronic formats, such as web sites, web pages, web logs, pod casts, etc. These materials are typically published outside of official or normal channels. "Grey literature" and "fugitive material" are terminology frequently applied to many of the types of materials included under the category of ephemera, but may also comprise non-ephemeral materials and, hence, are not interchangeable concepts.

For related topics, see also the following documents:

  • Developing Countries Collections Policy Statement
  • Ethnic Publications Collections Policy Statement
  • Web Archiving Supplementary Guidelines

For the Western world in general, but especially for France, the Occupation is one of the central traumas of the twentieth century, because it forced thousands of ordinary citizens to confront exactly who they were and to what lengths they would go in extreme situations.

More particularly, ephemera may frequently refer to literature of a fleeting or fugitive nature, produced outside of official or normal commercial channels, encompassing both political concerns and a wide variety of currently topical social, economic and ideological issues. The significance of this diverse mass of materials, however, rests in their capacity to reflect contemporary socio-political movements and developments in a given area despite the frequently insubstantial quality of physical appearance or content.

Many came away from that test rather disgracefully, which led to the great whitewashing under De Gaulle and the comforting myth that la France entière had joined the Resistance.

Various collections of materials which contain ephemera as defined above have been acquired for the special collections of the Library of Congress because of their political and historical significance or rarity. They are concentrated primarily in the Prints and Photographs Division and in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, or are included with special collections throughout the Library as appropriate. Historical collections are not within the scope of this policy statement, which confines itself to the acquisition of current ephemera.

It’s no coincidence that Modiano published his first book, La Place de l’Etoile (a direct reference to the infamous “yellow star”), in 1968, the year of the student riots and just one year before Marcel Ophüls released The Sorrow and the Pity: by that point, the myth could no longer hold, and young people wanted to know the truth about what had happened to their parents’ generation.

II. General policy

As deemed necessary to fulfill its service missions, the Library of Congress endeavors to acquire for its immediate use, and possibly for retention in its permanent collections, representative examples of ephemeral materials. Every effort should be made toward preservation of materials so acquired through preservation reformatting, both in consideration of available long-term storage and the perishability of typical ephemera.

Modiano’s work ever since —whether or not it is situated in the war years—has revolved around the troubling questions raised by the Occupation.

Ephemera should continue to be considered as an exceptional category of acquisitions. By their nature, such materials are typically intended to be of only temporary interest and should be only selectively retained for the Library's permanent collections.

The Library of Congress shall inform other libraries of its ephemera collecting activities and inquire into similar programs that they may be conducting in order to coordinate and maximize its efforts in this field, avoid duplication, and encourage possible cooperative projects.

Many of his characters, in one way or another, are defined by the kinds of ambiguous acts and moral stances into which they, or their real-life prototypes, were forced in order to survive the war years—or again, by the advantage that some of them took of others’ tragedy during that same period.

III. Selection Principles for Collecting Ephemera

1. Collecting of ephemera should be organized by target areas. Materials should be collected from specified national or geographic areas documenting special local circumstances such as rapid political and social change, or ideological trends reflecting economic, environmental or societal pressures.

2. Ephemera collecting should be prioritized. The Library should not endeavor to collect ephemeral materials unless they are perceived to answer a high priority need by a significant clientele of the Library, e.g., the Congress, agencies of the Federal government, and the academic and research communities at large. National or geographic areas experiencing rapidly evolving political, social or economic change assume immediate criticality for research in such fields as foreign policy, military strategy and economic policy, and take the highest priority.

3. Ephemera collecting for any given target area should continue only so long as developments in that area remain of critical interest. When conditions in a target area are normalized to the extent that the more conventional printed media cover the viewpoints and report on the activities of the various movements and activist groups represented in a particular ephemera project, it is likely time to terminate the project. Periodic review of specific target projects is therefore mandatory.

That said, I think the more interesting phrase in the Academy’s citation is the first one, “the art of memory,” because this is one of the key elements of Modiano’s fiction and the particular atmosphere it so beautifully evokes.

4. Collections of ephemera should supplement and enhance already existing strong collections of the Library. For certain target areas, the Library may neither have traditionally collected nor have anticipated developing a strong collection. If the Library should expect to make only short term use of any ephemera it might collect from such an area, but has certain knowledge that another institution holds a strong collection including current ephemera, the Library should attempt to make suitable cooperative arrangements for use of that collection rather than duplicate the efforts of other institutions.

One often feels on unstable footing when reading him, as if the plot is constantly crumbling beneath one’s feet.

5. Collections of ephemera should be limited to representative sampling of available source materials. Ephemeral materials by their nature tend to be repetitive in content. The groups issuing leaflets, posters, pamphlets, or other types of ephemera typically concentrate on a very narrow range of issues which they consider to be of prime importance at the time of dissemination. A careful selection of ephemeral materials obtained through approved projects will, therefore, generally suffice to document the primary themes or programs advocated by the sponsoring groups.

He does this in a very interesting way: by withholding crucial information, dispensing partial, and sometimes contradictory, episodes, so that his readers, like his protagonists, are never entirely sure what the story really is—as if the narrator himself doesn’t really remember.

IV. Representative groups from which materials may be collected

Ephemera may be produced by a wide range of special interest groups of varying legal status in their particular national setting, including, but not limited to the following: dissident political groups, human rights groups, refugee groups, women and feminist groups, environmental groups, urban groups, labor and worker groups and movements, youth groups and ecumenical groups.

“Lost in the mists of time” is a phrase that pops up more than once in his novels.

V. Review and evaluation of ephemera projects

Chiefs of affected custodial divisions shall annually evaluate ongoing ephemera projects to determine if the project should be continued and to evaluate the status of the materials already collected. Chiefs are responsible for approving any new ephemera collection project in their area.

You see this in “Afterimage,” the first novella in Suspended Sentences, in which the narrator’s attempts to “define” his departed friend, the photographer Jansen, constantly run up against the gaps in his recollections of the man—forcing him to make speculations that might be true, or might just be red herrings.

The Collections Policy Committee and the Congressional Research Service should be notified when projects are begun and discontinued.

You see it wrenchingly in the title novella, in which the ten-year-old Patoche (heavily based on Modiano’s own childhood) and his younger brother try to understand the household in which they’re being raised—which to them seems a perpetual circus of larger-than-life eccentrics, but which in hindsight turns out to be much more sinister.

The Collections Policy Committee shall serve in an oversight capacity addressing larger policy issues, establishing general guidelines, and determining priorities pertaining to the collection of ephemera. In consultation with the Directorate for Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access and/or special custodial units, the Committee shall promote the formulation of collecting level bibliographic control standards in such a way that a practicable approach toward accessing the materials is maintained for current usefulness.

It’s this ambivalent relationship with memory—one’s own memory and that of society at large—that creates, I think, the distinctive aura of Modiano’s work, and that gives contemporary resonance to his indictments of the Occupation and its legacy.


Text: Library of Congress

Text: An Interview with Mark Polizzotti, Yale University Press Log

Epigraph: Stephen Holl discussing his work for Maggie's Centre Barts, Center for practical, social and emotional support for people with cancer. Maggie Keswick Jencks Cancer Caring Centres Trust

Epigraph: Roberta Bernstein, "An Interview with Jasper Johns," in Fragments Incompletion and Discontinuity ed., Lawrence D. Kritzman, New York Literary Forum vol. 8-9 (1981), 279-90. Interview conducted January 18, 1980. Excerpted in Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews, Museum of Modern Art, New York

All images and Magnetic 11 ©maiermoul


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