Richard P. Martin in his introductory study about Homer's Odyssey in the Edward McCrorie translation mentioned how some variation in the remaining Greek epic poem manuscripts opens a possibility of another kind of Odyssey. Because Athena, in the first canto, makes clear her intention to inspire the young Telemachus, son of Odysseus, to seek his father's whereabouts information between the Greek kings and military leaders who had returned from Troy. The cardinal points of this search, the “telemachy”, are well known: Sparta and Pylos, whose kings who gave testimonies were, respectively, Menelaus and Nestor. But in some surviving manuscripts Athena would instruct Telemachus to visit at least one more city, Crete, governed by Idomeneus. Martin then wonders if there would be a longer version of the Odyssey, which was lost in the Limbo of History, in some obscure process of textual revision probably caused by dark oscillation in which a portion – impossible to determine whether significant or irrelevant – of the poem totality was lost, probably forever. It is true that this loss survives somewhat in the and interstices more or less noticeable, in traces evoked by archaeological accuracy. Martin says, however, that there will always be something like “a provocation” in this residuum: the potential revival of the lost unknown and sectioned part, somewhere, revealing to us something new about Odyssey, allowing a new vision to the Homeric poem. The lost text stirs our curiosity and opens a breach in the stable perceptions of Literature, History, Knowledge, of the Universe. The lost, ignored, destroyed – in a word, potential – book seems to contain, at least for your achievable reader, a portion of divine revelation.
Interestingly enough the same ecstatic feeling on the discovery of a lost work of art, a landscape narrative truncated with blanks, is common in research and restorations made by film historians. Perhaps certain nearness to the Literature as idea through narrative conceptions make the cinematic restoration efforts more dramatic, indeed. Copies of rare and almost extinct movies have been found in basements, abandoned military wagons and other places even more unlikely. The extreme weariness of certain ancient films requires new procedures, technologies and approaches for this fragile, even flammable, material. A film like Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), for example, has a restorations history so long and complex since its launch until today (because a more complete version of Lang's film was found in 2008 at Buenos Aires Film Archive) that turns into a kind of contemporary legend and the search for the pieces of that film around the world in order to constitute a totality, the modern quest for the Holy Grail. Partially recovered films – some survived in the form of sequenced frames as the case of Bhezin Meadow (1935) directed by Sergei Eisenstein – excite the viewer's imagination in the same way as the records of a different telemachy excite Homer readers: what would be possible if that fragment there really being, the considerations about the consequences of such impossible discovery.
A search for a meaning in a utopian form of discovery, the permanent reestablishment of a fragment of the past – or, at least, the evocation of what was lost – moves the archival explorers seeking to recover undeniable beauty files from the wreckage of repeated historical storms. In the process, they found obscure and esoteric references, evidence so disjointed and difficult to track so that apparently the field of historical research was lost and apparently the path is a deep swimming in the fragments of humanity's collective dream (or nightmare), embodied in an artistic shape. We might call the uncertain results of these endless investigations – ever incomplete because completeness of surveys a immense magnitude, such as the absolute recovery of the past – with a name: archival fictions. The fiction here is not only an extrapolation of historical reality given by narrative and mimetic resources. For authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, fictionalizing is to build a coherent, self-explanatory universe, methodically arranged by complex and peculiar laws, which can be shared with the everyday reality. Thus, in the Book of Imaginary Beings prologue, Borges proposed an interesting reflection on how the data from reality work to formar our perception of the wildlife at the zoo in a way far from a vision/experience of absolute terror for a child but rather a quiet journey full with wonder and even tenderness, so the trip to the zoo is usually listed as a childhood amusement. Borges then offers successive imaginative explanations for the zoo situation described by him, all at once valid and false, linked to common sense or the great traditions of philosophical thought from Plato to Schopenhauer. Fiction, accordingly, gets the curious status of a functional interpretative possibility of the reality captured by our senses and/or our consciousness since the core and raw data from reality would mean nothing without our interpretive activity. The researcher whose work relates to what we define here as archival fiction therefore works on the boundaries between reality, historical record, memory and fiction, especially when you need to describe or reconstruct some elements from the oblivion, such as biographies, trajectories, possible destinations. Therefore, the archival fictionist must exceed the literary discourse usual limits: the speculative essay runs through the borders of narrative, remembrance approaches the historical reflection, the description becomes, without warning, a poetic projection.
An archival fiction archeology is a task that remains to be done, but we can say that one of his patrons is the aforementioned Jorge Luis Borges. Borges's creations put the instances of literary discourse on a unstable state, moving from a paradox to another paradox: in the borgean canon, there are imaginative fables that could be literary studies (as in the story "Pierre Menard, Author del Quijote"), philosophical essays with certain poetic resonance and narrative (Historia de la eternidad), cultural studies that plunge into the depths of imagination for new interactions and forms (Qué es el budismo?, with Alicia Jurado). Currently, some remarkable authors transiting through this equivocal universe noteworthy. Luiz Nazario, in Brazil, working with the records provided by the film, literary and philosophical imagination, especially when abandoned, overlooked or relegated to the unjust oblivion. In Europe, authors such as Mark Valentine (with two recent archival works, Wraiths and And I’d Be the King of China) and Andrew Condous (Letters from Oblivion) – whose themes are, respectively, the English decadence nineties in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the Romanian Surrealist group Infra-noir – conduct a complex recovery of obscure moments in literature, even emulating the style and perspective of their objects, seeking nearly the reproduction of definitely lost works and aborted projects. This is an impressive demonstration of the suggestive power of archival fiction, exploring the imagination and the human desire made in books (or films, or paints, or photographs), especially those missing on the fierce History skyline.
At the gallery below, the frontispiece of Nestor Vítor's Signos, masterpiece of symbolist narrative in Brazil, and a brief book description by the Proceedings of the National Library (Anais da Biblioteca Nacional, vol. 87, 1967). This is such a rare book that only one copy is available for consultation.
Article accomplished with the support of the PNAP-R Program at Fundação Biblioteca Nacional.