The Archive of Feelings

The below article is a text and image-based response to the performance work Psychic Bibliophiles: What the Cards Say by the Istanbul Queer Art Collective, which took place as part of the House of Wisdom exhibition curated by Collective Cukurcuma at Framer Framed in Amsterdam on November 24, 2017. The text was written in San Francisco thinking about the San Francisco Public Library. It is unknown whether this project will ever take place in San Francisco—this is just a daydream. A part of this text was also published in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts zine titled Beyond Bloodlines: A zine about queerness, family and kinship in 2019.

Naz Cuguoglu

A poem
Stop searching stop weeping
she has gone to Heart Island

where the Truth People live
eating fern-shoots & berries

where there is no fighting
no sin no grid no sorrow [1] 

A constructed memory (that preferred not to)
I remember going to Tuna and Seda’s home after they left Istanbul. They were two distant figures for me, friends of friends. We sat there on the floor in the almost empty house, drinking beer and talking with strangers. The big wooden library spread across one of the walls only had a few books left on it, a few objects, a tired Star Wars figurine, and a headless Barbie. It was after jets flew in the sky, after bombs had exploded on the street where we had spent all our time when we were younger. The tear gas rained on the LGBTIQ+ parade. When we were leaving their house, I took a David Hockney book from one of the almost empty shelves, added it to my stack of books—the ones that I’d also leave behind in a few months, going to another far away country.

An ekphrasis (an illusion)
Here we are in this dark room. Only lit up with the presence of two colorful ghosts. A phantasy for a Derridean hauntology in which past, present, and future are intertwined, they get eaten up by each other. These figures are storytellers, although some might call them liars, others might punish them for their sins—send them to the Black Forest. We are here spurious, and superfluous, borrowing words from each other’s mouths.


A star that suddenly increases greatly in brightness because of a catastrophic explosion that ejects most of its mass.

And we cannot remember—an uncontrollable amnesia, running in our ancestral memory for the last couple of years.

she reaches into her leather suitcase, opening it, looking underneath her orange eyelashes; a plastic crab is walking in her grey hair. She looks into our eyes, and tells us, “Choose three.” And we follow her orders. The cards we have chosen slowly shake in her hands, behind her fake-diamond snake-shaped ring. With the seriousness of a tired old archivist, she tells us stories about Lacan, graphic notations, and many other curiosities. Here in the graveyard of the books, whose ghosts are wandering underground restlessly, her archive shifts meanings, redefining itself with each and every movement. The sounds of a typewriter fill the space, with an urge to archive the archive—this fetishization of objects continues until the first light of the morning.

We all get archive fever—45°C to be exact. The fever makes it difficult for us to distinguish between reality and fiction. In a state of delirium, we helplessly look around.

Tower of Babel & the lonely librarian
San Francisco Public Library’s building resembles a prison from the outside with its metal structure and narrow windows. It is the miniature of a city that has grown so much in such a short time. Inside the building, there is a big round shape that rises high into the sky, ending with a window. Following the stairs feels like climbing the steps of the Tower of Babel.

The story goes like this: A united humanity, speaking a single language, follows the Great Flood, migrating eastward slowly. When they come to the land of Shinar, they decide to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach the heavens. God, watching them all this time, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other.

The very first climb leads to Audre Lorde:

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled clothes
as our mother did mourning

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
I am
and not white. [2]

The second climb leads to a wooden box with many drawers. The drawers hide small cards all in the same-size rectangular shape. When you look at these cards for an unnecessarily long time, a librarian will show up behind you, asking, “Can I help you?” And you will feel uncomfortable and restless—have they been watching you all this time? Even when you were climbing the stairs of the Tower of Babel?

And you will ask him, “What is this?” His answer will be, “These are index cards nobody uses anymore, but we keep them as they have a pretty furniture.” Randomly opening a drawer, he will point at the card that writes “ghost” on it. Many other songs will follow with their first lines and names of songwriters, and the whole chorus will join the festivities with a lullaby as well. And you will tell him, “How unfortunate, there is no space for discovery any more in libraries.” He will look puzzled, “Do you know the English word, serendipity?”

You will answer his question with a question: “But who will record the history of tears?” [3]

S E R E N D I P I T Y y y
How do we archive feelings? Imagine an archive that does not only preserve knowledge but also feelings. Queer history needs not only an archive but an archive of emotions that can document intimacy, sexuality, love, and activism. [4] An archive of emotions that cares for you and I. An archive that deals with our melancholies, our traumatic loss of histories. Following the cracks that are opening up in this man-made history, could we get to the essence of our being?

Addressing traumatic experience requires retelling; it requires storytellers, future-tellers. And it is true that the task of the archivist to collect emotions is an unusual one. Still, this might be the only way to celebrate idiosyncrasies that hide deep behind our crooked realities.

These are archives of mourning—although nobody died, at least not yet. And the archivist rushes to document the archive itself before it is too late. Because you never know these days when the time will come. We carry this feeling of fear in our vulnerable hearts. And we are still too young to die.     

The archive of feelings grows in the land of the personal and the intimate. The cold concrete of the institution does not provide enough water and sun.

As Joan Nestle whispers: “If necessary, the archives will go underground with its people to be cherished in hidden places until the community is safe.” [5] 

Fetish as Survival
Whose history are we reading? Whose voice gets to be included, who gets excluded? Who is the surplus of this society? Who is drawing the line for the outlier? Who is deciding for us?

The archive is tied to the problematization of the power with a string that is so under our perception level that it is unrecognizable from time to time. As we have all parroted in the past after Derrida: “There is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.”[6] 

The triangle of tainted love between the power, the archive, and the memory already feels overdone. Here the question is more about those things that go unseen. How can we see the unseen?

The elephant in this dark room, wearing a neon suit and daydreaming with us.

As very well pointed out by Peter Hegarty:“The lack of coherent lesbian and gay archives, the deliberate destruction of personal letters, and the limited access to archives for gay and lesbian scholars. The endless stories of archives that got lost or destroyed as a result of the historical or contemporary homophobia, and researchers working on gender and sexuality, and facing resistance from the community.” [7] 

Two storytellers who not only left their country but who “had to” leave their country. Two academics, lovers. One of them, taking one of the bombs exploding on that street personally—it was her birthday that day. And a library that did not only function as a space for intellectual discussions for the LGBTIQ+ community but also as a community space, a little healing corner in all that chaos. And the almost obsessive-compulsive gesture of numbering, naming, labeling, quoting of everything in the library on all those rectangular shaped cards—the fetishization. More than 2,000 books.

Because they are both true: “The notion of an archive has to extend beyond the image of a place to collect material or hold documents, and it has to become a floating signifier for the kind of lives implied by the paper remnants of shows, clubs, events, and meetings. The archive is not simply a repository; it is also a theory of cultural relevance, a construction of collective memory, and a complex record of queer activity.” [8] 

“To love the wrong kind of objects is to be queer (as is perhaps an overattachment to objects in the first place), and the impulse to collect them is often motivated by a desire to create alternative histories and genealogies of queer lives.” [9] 

The classifications that we have taken for granted for so long have their own problems. The ones that are created by the Library of Congress inform American studies, sexuality studies, and the sociology of knowledge as suggested by Melissa Adler. [10] San Francisco Public Library follows another one—the Dewey Decimal System. All these systems change how we perceive the life that surrounds us, they affect how we interact with others; they have the power to control the ways in which we utilize language. All those power games. All those systems merely existing to construct a national history and identity. And all those subjects in all those libraries not so innocent deep down in their hearts, arranging knowledge not only in relation to each other, but also keeping in mind an imagined nation and of course its needs, and interests.

“Cruising the library is not simply a metaphor but a method, inspired by José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia, for understanding the ways in which the library inhibits intersectionality and intertextuality by reducing bodies of literature to disciplined, discrete subjects distributed across the library. The notion of cruising embraces promiscuous and perverse readings.” [11] 

Serendipity is not only an innocent, unexpected discovery in the library; it is the secret pact between the librarian, the two storytellers, and I. Wandering around the library aimlessly, creating a mobile archive out of postcards. These are small victories in a time of political uncertainty and (self)censorship. They are tools to open up channels for “The Undercommons,” [12] creating spaces for the leftovers. Going against the norms, setting up new meanings—they are temporary autonomous zones here and there as pointed out by Hakim Bey. [13] A little stretch here, a little stretch there, stretching the line with the hope that it might break up one day. Changing points of reference and creating allies like there is no tomorrow.

The library might be the ideal space for emptying out these meanings and refilling them with nonsense—reorganization of knowledge, creating different paths to queerness and providing various images for queer critique. Going against the perversity of the library classification systems by perverting them even more.

“I provide my own perverse reading of the Library of Congress and suggest that with bodily investment, the masochistic library user freely engages in knowledge/power games in the library.” [14] 

The suggestion here is to create archives of excess, fetishism, and desire, and to exist within them with our bodies. Freely moving around, writing various narratives—as there is no way to make them objective, just building on those existing subjectivities, creating confusions.

We long ago accepted that archives are far from being flawless, with their politically loaded nature. It is not so hard to imagine Foucault’s ghost here talking about how to differentiate archives from statements, discourses, and institutions. [15] He will eventually start to talk about counterarchives, migrant archives, and queer archives—a cross-disciplinary obsession to identify, collect, and preserve the crumbs of what is left, to make sure that it does not go obscured and ephemeral, to turn that irrelevant into something precious.

Reimagine the entropy
The third climb leads to a hay(na)ku by Tom Beckett:

and the
fear of desire—

shadow hunting
nuts by itself” [16] 

Now it is time to reimagine the storytellers below the steps of the Tower of Babel, with each climb leading to a more complicated network of curious meanings. And all those people wandering around, almost living in this building, who are not able to speak each other’s language anymore. You can suddenly feel the warmth of the cloth of a tent in this tower. And in this prison-like structure, this tent reaches towards the sky with a textile that cares with all its colors.

Just like in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, this is an emergency drill, as we all memorize histories of the outliers, sharing with each other, and creating an oral history. A space to heal, and to tell stories within the library, despite all its structures and hierarchies of knowledge.

A place for serendipity, perversity, fetishization, desire, and excess.

How much do our memories weigh? 20 kilograms is what you can take on a flight, but is it enough?

“Every book, every volume you see here has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.” [17] 

And if you listen carefully, you can hear a gentle invitation:

“Come, step into our parlour and pick a card or two
Let the book spirit mediums tell you its story
Only for your ears and once in a lifetime
The spirit of our dead library will talk to you personally” [18] 

It is a suggestion of chaos within the high-pitched order. It is an invitation to think about counterarchives and their meaning for the underground, and to create gatherings around these intimate memories. It is a way of mourning for the lost pasts, to think about imagined alternative futures to come together and to care for each other.

The performance Psychic Bibliophiles: What the Cards Say by Istanbul Queer Art Collective to take place on an unknown date in the future at San Francisco Public Library creates a glitch in the reality.

All images are selected from Istanbul Queer Art Collective’s work, Just in Bookcase, a wooden suitcase filled with personalised library cards, memorabilia, and photos. For more information about the work, please see:


[1] James Laughlin, Heart Island & Other Epigrams (Isla Vista: Turkey Press, 1995).
[2] Audre Lorde, The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
[3] Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978).
[4] For more on the archive of feelings, see Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2003).
[5] Joan Nestle, “Notes on Radical Archiving from a Lesbian Feminist Standpoint,” Gay Insurgent 4-5 (spring 1979): 11.
[6] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995).
[7] Peter Hegarty, “Harry Stack Sullivan and His Chums: Archive Fever in American Psychiatry,” History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 18, No. 3, 2005.
[8] Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place — Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York & London: New York University Press, 2005).
[9] Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures.
[10] Melissa Adler, ed. Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017.
[11] ibid.
[12] Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013).
[13] Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1991).
[14] Adler, Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge.
[15] Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge: And the Discourse on Language (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972).
[16] Tom Beckett, Dipstick (Diptych) (New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2014).
[17] Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books I. (London: Penguin Books, 2005).
[18] To watch Psychic Bibliophiles: What the Cards Say by Istanbul Queer Art Collective, which took place at Framer Framed Amsterdam, curated by Collective Cukurcuma, see, and also see their interview here

Naz Cuguoğlu is a curator and art writer, based in Istanbul and San Francisco. She is the co-founder of curatorial collective “Collective Çukurcuma” and research project IdentityLab; and former projects manager at Zilberman Gallery. Her writings have been published in various art magazines, including Art Asia Pacific, Hyperallergic, and Istanbul Art News. She received her BA in Psychology and MA in Social Psychology at Koç University, and is currently pursuing her studies in the Curatorial Practice department of California College of the Arts. Selected exhibitions co-curated by Cuguoglu are: Anger is a solution, if anger means kittens (D21 Kunstraum Leipzig, 2018), Ghosts (Red Bull Art Around Arnavutköy, Istanbul, 2018), Restless Monuments (Zilberman Gallery, Istanbul, 2018), House of Wisdom (Various spaces in Nottingham, 2018; Public Program of 15th Istanbul Biennial; Framer Framed, Amsterdam; Dzialdov, Berlin; 2017), Survival Kit (Cultural Transit Foundation, Yekaterinburg; Space Debris, Istanbul; 2017), Asymmetric Kin (COOP Gallery, Nashville; Mixer, Istanbul; 2016), and After Alexandria, the Flood (5533 and Recai Mehmed Efendi Library, Istanbul, 2015).