Shreyasi Pathak considers how crip time shapes the archive.


I recently decided to stop taking SSRIs and benzos. Actually, I stopped them completely without checking with my psychiatrist about tapering off the dose. I developed this terrible disdain, almost this repulsive feeling towards these two kinds of pills. The look of them in my pill box made me so nauseous that I just threw them away. I guess it is safe to say that I hate SSRIs, having tried several kinds of them over the past six years for depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive traits. I was happy to see some space opening up in my four-compartment pill box, feeling relieved I’ll only be taking three pills instead of the usual five. Less tasks to remember, more spoons saved!

With this new-ish regimen of psychiatric medication, I discovered (or rediscovered—honestly, I cannot remember / tell the difference between a new experience, from an experience I haven’t felt in a while) that I am able to dream again, and dream vividly. Though my brain gives me a lot of trouble, I am also very happy to have it back—overstimulated or under or comfortably stimulated, I’ll take it. Just no SSRIs.

A couple weeks ago, I had a dream where my mother was very candidly telling me I was born without a uterus and I was like, OK, so what did you do about it? She replied that some experimental transplantation process was done when I was very young. Clearly too young to remember. I told her she didn’t have to waste money on that. Though some transmasc folks get hysto,1 some don’t—and for me, I don’t know yet. Those parts of my body don’t give me dysphoria. I woke up feeling slightly euphoric; I didn’t realise that the prospect of not having a uterus would make me joyful. Transgods work in strange ways.

At work I have been looking at cybernetics and design. Interestingly, cybernetics was one of the subjects in General Studies that was offered at National Institute of Design (NID) in 1972 (though was originally introduced in the Product Design [Engineering] programme in 1966). Browsing through the library catalogue I found books by John Von Neumann, Margaret Mead, Stafford Beer, and many other “cyberneticians,” informing me this strain of thought was part of the foundational years of NID. Films like A Communications Primer and A Computer Glossary by the Eameses tell us about their engagement with cybernetics.

It is October, and I look forward to the next few weeks when the temperature drops and things feel a bit better. But I think there is some kinda flu going on at NID and I might have caught it. Anyway, I met a doctor and he prescribed antibiotics and bed rest. Maybe it would be a good time to not think about cybernetics and its presence at NID for a little bit and…just…rest—like, actually rest—until I am better to get back to work. I took the prescribed medication and began checking Instagram where I saw someone share a post from @depthsofwikipedia about the word “Microcentury”—stating John Von Neumann used the term to denote the maximum length of a lecture. One microcentury is 52 minutes and 35.7 seconds, i.e., one millionth of a century. Well, as interesting as this little fact was, I didn’t want to think about cybernetics and related folks. I decided to make some soupy noodles and watch season two of Loki. This season has a character named O. B. or Ouroboros.



Image: Ihcoyc at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.



I couldn’t let go of the itch of knowing or reading this name somewhere recently. Upon further pondering, I realised a day before getting sick I was looking something up about second-order cybernetics—where circularity is taken seriously. Self-referentiality (and by extension circularity) was stated as one of the key concepts of second-order cybernetics. Clicking the hyperlinked “self-referentiality” term on Wikipedia took me to a page with an image of a dragon/serpent called Ouroboros, who was eating/ingesting its own tail. I started seeing my soupy noodles as many little Ouroboros and couldn’t stand to watch Loki or eat my noodles. I couldn’t stop wondering if I, too, am Ouroboros, and the noodles are my tail(s). The thought made me nauseous and I had to give up on both Loki and the noodles.



Image: Clockwork at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.



What if my dream about not being born with a uterus was telling me something? Since no uterus would mean no periodic period, no cycle like that…but then…my cycle could be realised through transitioning to Ouroboros? I wanted to get this out of my head before going to sleep. I was feeling uneasy because of the fever brought by flu anyway. So I thought it would be nice to read something before Serenace and Allegra put me to sleep. I recently got Tara Blake’s Archive Fevers, which has been described as “mind bending.” I was intrigued and began flipping pages. On page 14, the key character of the book, Scarlett, a researcher, talks a bit about her first day of research work, and turns out she was going to research the Margaret Mead papers and South Pacific Ethnographic archives. The more I ran away from cybernetics and works of cyberneticians (and their past lives), the more it plagued me.

The fever was beginning to turn into some sort of an archive delirium. Though my antipsychotics really help me, this delirium was something else altogether. In less than twenty-four hours, these interconnections and coincidences (if I can call them that) were appearing in front of me and simply not going away, no matter how many times I switched activities. I feel slightly afraid to look at my phone and my books. Scarlett mentions that Margaret Mead obsessively recorded everything, and that she is following suit—and I am afraid I might start doing the same (again).

I Google “delirium” and it says the symptoms include inattention, lethargy, confusion, problems with awareness, hallucinations, and mood changes. I feel, or I have, all these “symptoms”—possibly except hallucinations in varying degrees. But sickness-sickness (like the flu I have right now) tends to exacerbate it. Sickness turns my everyday discomfort into delirium, but so does spending time with unprocessed collections clubbed with less than nine hours of sleep. The last time I felt this was when I was going through some projects related to Ivan Chermayeff. For several weeks I would wake up to check whether my hairline had become like Chermayeff’s, based on photos of him I had seen in the archive. Was my changing hairline partly attributable to the effects of masculinising hormone replacement therapy, given my testosterone dominant system? Or, was it stress?

Processing material to create an archive requires methodologies set by institutions/groups based on their requirements and capacities. Devising/designing workflows is an iterative process until an agreeable and workable method is computed—one may also call it a cybernetic process. Specifically of the second order, the process must go through rigorous cycles of conversation, until some form of regulation comes forth—we don’t reinvent the wheel, but the wheel moves, like Ouroboros. What comes to mind is Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article “As We May Think,” and how it still remains of interest in information science and design, and by extension to archival work. All efficient methods to retrieve data still require someone to go through the full extent of unprocessed data to create associations and hyperlinks, and basically to make it discoverable and usable.2



Image: The edges/curved lines denote a variety of relationships between the nodes, like the presence of books, responses, influences/tributes, romantic relationships, academic/artistic collaborations, mentorship, visits, drug-use, etc. Courtesy of the author.
Image: The edges/curved lines denote a variety of relationships between the nodes, like the presence of books, responses, influences/tributes, romantic relationships, academic/artistic collaborations, mentorship, visits, drug-use, etc. Courtesy of the author.



I almost abandoned the book, but was feeling too weak and sick to pick something else, so I kept at it. I thought I would write a review but I abandoned that idea as well, mostly because I got lost in the book and I wasn’t sure when exactly I’d be able to get out of it. I somewhat felt like Scarlett, obsessed with coincidences or what she called “synchronicity.” Earlier in the book Scarlett states in a letter to her psychotherapist, Hannah Kublitz, that she doesn’t know if she really wants to identify with the category of “woman” at all, but she is not “man” either, and asks what else is there to be? I feel more connected to her obsession with coincidences than with her gender questions, which for me are far more clear.

The author (with reference to Mead’s and Bateson's ethnographic work and the discourse surrounding it) says that anthropology is the handmaiden of colonialism, while archivists are handmaidens of history. To quote Tara Blake (writing as Hannah Kublitz): “Archivists might be considered the professional counterpart of personal handmaids, toiling namelessly, in the shadows of a public archive.” Serendipitous moments or coincidences actually are the fruit of the labour of the archivists—hyperlinks, connections, are made manually (sadly, my dear users, the chance-encounters are choreographed).

Does that make “Ofnids” of me, my colleagues, and former, current, and future students, who toil in the archive? “Of”-“nid” (NID, National Institute of Design), like how a handmaid would be named “Of”-“[their commander],” like how June, the protagonist in Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, was called “Offred” when posted to Commander Fred Waterford’s household in Gilead. Though, more precisely, archivists and other cultural workers are “Ofhistory.” If I were to take the handmaid reference in a Gileadesque sense, then is my cognitive labour the missing uterus from my dream?

Archive time is very close to crip time. To add to it, entitled and pesky users demanding unprocessed material to be made accessible does make us feel like an “Ofnid” in more ways than one. The demands and urgency put forth are more often than not: unreasonable and hilarious. To demand certain material from an archive, while reiterating the urgency of “getting it out” is ableist to say the least. I do believe that workers>>>>users. Archivists / cultural workers are not automatons. As important as it is to access the archive, and to make it as accessible as possible—none of that is possible without thought for the knowledge worker or the “handmaidens.” Kate Eichhorn, in their piece “Reassessing ‘The Archive’ in Queer Theory,” says, “it is important to consider what is at stake when cultural theorists insist on privileging uses and interpretation over an attentiveness to work entailed in collection and preservation.” Also noting that, “Archives, in a sense, enable us to try on the very things we have historically struggled to obtain, including a sense of belonging to an established history.”3 The same impulse or sentiment is shared among many people and groups with some form of marginalised identity/position.

In this race to “discover” archives—a “deeply seductive imaginary”4—it is the labour of the cultural worker that becomes the means to fulfil this goal/imaginary. Public institutions hold the power to name and frame histories, and an archive attached to an institution extends that power. The aspect of the handmaid and the power of legitimising are both held at an archive, and neither of these aspects can be dismissed or pitted against the other. But what they compel us (or, well, compel me) to think about is…shared responsibility. After all: workers>>>>users>>>>work. With an acute awareness of the power vested in institutions, the discussion about “Archive Time” still remains. Humberto Maturana, another cybernetician, says (in the context of first-order cybernetics), “Anything said is said by an observer,” but the second-order of cybernetics considers the observer a part of the system they are observing. I must say that traveling between first- and second-order cybernetics gives me motion sickness, nausea specifically.

As someone who uses archives and allied services regularly and also provides them, I have in some sense moved from first-order to second-order cybernetics. I see and understand the way an overwhelming amount of data is processed by cultural workers, where they create a form through which data becomes accessible; and also, as a cultural worker processing the data, while grappling with violent collisions of the data crossing a certain threshold and housing itself in my bodymind (probable cause of my nausea). If my impairments didn’t cause frequent dysfunction, I’d complain a little less, but disability is part of the human experience and my fight is not with my bodymind (at least not entirely). Archive time here is the time spent doing the backend work.

Temporal dimensions of crip time, in my experience, also shape the archive or archive time. First, I engage in my job knowing the invisible labour that goes into this particular line of work; and, honestly, it is a bit depressing, but I like the quiet, and most of my access needs are fulfilled, making me slightly less mad. Hayley C. Stefan notes, “Reframing the archive as an opportunity for interconnectivity, what questions can we ask when we center the disordered and disabled bodymind in not only content but also design”5—this is a way of extending the notion of design to the backend processing that goes into creating the archive, and not solely the presentation and dissemination of the archive.

Second, for me an archive is a mad place, but I was mad before I started to work at an archive. The archive doesn’t make me mad, just delirious every now and then. Unprocessed material does not come with trigger warnings and there is no way of knowing what you may encounter while processing. The overwhelm of affect is something I can work with on most days, though after going through or snorting heaps of material or data, you don’t really know how you are going to sleep in the days to come. I say snorting as a mode of delivery—on some days one may end up going through forty objects, when ten is usually the average amount. On days when I happen to s(n)ort through material, I live through manic time, and once it’s over, there is slow, processing work that follows, akin to taking a pill which has a slow release formula (or extended release, or long action).


Reddit sub, “Can someone with ADHD do well as a career archivist?




The flu was not only a flu, but what made things worse were some dental issues. I finished watching season two of Loki. Archive time is parallel to crip ways of being—as parallel as crip time can run without temporal disruptions, which don’t knock at your door, but rather just appear and swallow you…that is, if you have not snorted it already. I am curious to learn more from disabled/mad cultural workers, and how their knowledge provides flexibility and disruption in readings and structures of the archive. Linear, non-normative time is singular, but crip time is many, and therefore renders multitudes of ways for cripping the archive—and, I suppose, feeling nauseous is just one method. I should probably see how I feel after taking Avomine. Or maybe, just maybe, dysregulation of my system or nausea in this case, is just regulation in progress for a new, better day?

It’s a new year and a new affliction, and therefore a new book that I picked up. The book did help settle my nausea, while I try to read in Paul Preciado’s voice, wondering if I just found my missing mutant womb in the book?

...This amazing association of ideas, lucid and magnificent, must have hatched somewhere in my womb, since women’s creativity is said to reside solely in the uterus. And so it must have been in my rebellious, non-reproductive uterus that all the other strategies were conceived...6



Shreyasi Pathak (they/he) are interested in and often find themselves at flea markets, junkyards, wreckages, and such places and non-places, zoning out, collecting, hoarding, and photographing. They are intrigued by places of cognitariat-ship, custodianship, and memory that compel one to find and figure out ways of engaging with the archive and with those outside of it. They are interested in (design) histories of the Cold War, Modernism, and its counter-cultures, and how they shaped visual and material cultures. Aspects of trans*-queerness and disability are essential to their practice. They are one half of the duo Resting Museum with Priyanka D’Souza. They are currently working at Archives, National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad.




1. Hysterectomy for female to male/non-binary transsexual folks.

2. “There can be no use or interpretation without people collecting and preserving material culture in all its forms. One of the activist librarians I met in the context of my own research, Jenna Freedman, a special collections librarian at Barnard College, likes to remind academics (myself included) that those seemingly serendipitous encounters we have with materials in archives are rarely as serendipitous as they appear.” Kate Eichhorn, “Reassessing ‘The Archive’ in Queer Theory,” in Turning Archival, ed. Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici (Duke University Press, 2022).

3. Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici, “Introduction: (Re)Turning to the Queer Archives,” in Turning Archival (Duke University Press, 2022).

4. Kate Eichhorn, “Reassessing “The Archive” in Queer Theory,” in Turning Archival, ed. Daniel Marshall and Zeb Tortorici (Duke University Press, 2022).

5. Hayley C. Stefan, “Cripping the Archive: Analyzing Archival Disorder in the Yamashita Family Archives and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Letters to Memory,” in American Literature 1 December 2023; 95 (4): 755–82.

6. From Can the Monster Speak?: Report to an Academy of Psychoanalysts (2021) by Paul B. Preciado. (Speech given by a trans man before the École de la cause Freudienne in France, 2019.)



Shreyasi Pathak (Resting Museum)

Thu, 29 Feb 2024