The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas has opened a new exhibit, "The Mystique of the Archive," which gives visitors a peak behind the scenes of the fabled archives that the center hosts:
There's much in this exhibit that rewards close reading, but there's also plenty that's simply fun to look at.
Take the particularly filthy laptop computer that arrived as part of the Norman Mailer archive. Mailer, apparently, dictated his novels onto cassette tapes, had his secretary transcribe them and then he would mark up the printouts. The secretary in question was a heavy smoker, and the computer she used is encased in a layer of grime you'd like to scrape your thumbnail against — an amalgam of bodily oils, miscellaneous detritus and cigarette smoke.
"When it first got here, you could smell it," says Henderson. (The computer is now encased in glass, so you'll have no such luck.)
Then there's an accounts ledger into which the poet Charles Tomlinson stuffed various of his manuscripts (it looks like a book that has made a quick, sloppy meal of another book); a vivid series of obsessive revisions of a poem by Robert Lowell that shows his clinical mania in full splendor; and, perhaps best of all, a pair of stockings, a pair of socks, a pair of razors and a pair of pills from the Isaac Bashevis Singer archive.
You can watch a video preview of the exhibit here.