Original Novel Title: Act of God: A Novel
Author: Charles Templeton
Publisher: Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
Author: Charles Templeton
Publisher: Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
Colleagues, whenever I sit in an archive, or, more rarely these days, attend a symposium like this one, I always try to remember that scene, because it reminds me to be wary of imposing a rational structure on the past. There is nothing in the archives here to show us that the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, when they made their decisions, were shattered by exhaustion, and very probably terrified -- that they had been up until three a.m. dancing for their lives, and knew they might well be dancing again that evening. ...
Here we are, gathered in Moscow, forty-five years after Stalin's death, to discuss the newly-opened archives of the Soviet era. Above our heads, in fire-proofed strong-rooms, maintained at a constant temperature of eighteen degrees celsius and sixty per cent humidity, are one and a half million files -- the entire archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Yet how much does this archive really tell us about Stalin?A former hardline Communist Party and KGB member, Vladimir Mamantov, acidly comments to Fluke on how some Russians view the opening of the Russian Archives and its exploitation by historians (p. 73):
"So you're part of the gathering of thieves,' he said to Kelso.
"The symposium. Pravda published a list of the foreign historians they invited to speak.Your name was on it."
"Historians are hardly thieves, Comrade Mamantov. Even foreign historians."
"No? Nothing is more important to a nation than its history. It is the earth upon which any society stands. Ours has been stolen from us -- gouged and blackened by the libels of our enemies until the people have become lost."
Kelso smiled. Mamantov hadn't changed at all. "You can't seriously believe that."
"You're not Russian. Imagine if your country offered to sell its national archive to a foreign power for a miserable few million dollars."
"You're not selling your archive. The plan is to microfilm the records and make them available to scholars."
"To scholars in California," said Mamantov, as if this settled the argument. ...The Tenth Directorate (pp. 107) is the shorthand form for the Special Federal Archive Resource Bureau, "or whatever the Squirrels had decided to call themselves that particular week" wryly notes one Russian investigator of Fluke's discovery. (p. 133).
Blok -- an ageless creature, stooped and dusty, with a bunch of keys on his belt -- [who] led him [Feliks Suvorin] into the depths of the building, then out into a dark, wet courtyard and across it and into what looked like a small fortress. Up the stairs to the second floor: a small room, a desk, a chair, a wood-block floor, barred windows. ...
He had been expecting one file, maybe two. Instead, Blok threw open the door and wheeled in a steel trolley stacked with folders -- twenty or thirty of them -- some so old that when he lost control of the heavy contraption and collided with the wall, they sent up protesting clouds of dust. ...
He couldn't read them all. It would have taken him a month. He confined himself to untying the ribbon from each bundle, riffling through the torn and brittle pages to see if they contained anything of interest, then tying them up again. It was filthy work. His hands turned black. The spores invaded the membrane of his nose and made his head ache.In another extract from Kelso's speech before conference delegates he pessimistically assesses the worth of the Russian archives (p. 156-157):
And the opening of the archive? "Confronting the past"? Come, ladies and gentlemen, let us say frankly what we all know to be the case. That the Russian government today is scared, and that it is actually harder to gain access to the archives now than it was six or seven years ago. You all know the facts as well as I do. Beria's files: closed. The Politsburo's files: closed. Stalin's files -- the real files, I mean, not the window dressing on offer here: closed.In the town of Archangel, to which the notebook about, not by Stalin, led Kelso and a reporter who intruded into the hunt, the men bribe a Communist Party official to let them see the Party archives. The scene is once again rather dismal and almost pathetic from Kelso's perspective (p. 276):
The Russian conducted them back along the passage and into reception. The woman with the dyed blonde hair was watering her tinned plants. Aurora still proclaimed that violence was inevitable. Zyuganov's fat smile remained in place. Tsarev collected a key from a metal cupboard and they followed him down two flights of stairs into the basement. A big, blast-proof iron door, studded with bolts, thickly painted a battleship grey, swung open to show a cellar, lined with wooden shelving, piled with files.
Tsarev put on a pair of heavy-framed spectacles and began pulling down dusty folders of documents while Kelso looked around with wonder. This was not a storeroom, he thought. This was a catacomb, a necropolis. Busts of Lenin, and of Marx and Engels, crowded the shelves like perfect clones. There were boxes of photographs of forgotten Party apparatchiks and stacked canvases of socialist realism, depicting bosomy peasant girls and worker-heroes with granite muscles. There were sacks of decorations, diplomas, membership cards, leaflets, pamphlets, books. ...The tension that exists between the historian and the archivist is well portrayed in this novel. This conflict, driven by the desire of both parties to possess history, is molded and manipulated to an evil end by Mamantov.
one poor researcher became lost in the labyrinthine catacombs of the archive of the dead, having come to the Central Registry in order to carry out some genealogical research he had been commissioned to undertake. He was discovered, almost miraculously, after a week, starving, thirsty, exhausted, delirious, having survived thanks to the desperate measure of ingesting enormous quantities of old documents that neither lingered in the stomach nor nourished, since they melted in the mouth without requiring any chewing. (quote from novel copied from Amazon.com)The protagonist is a clerk working in the registry, also described as an archives, who commits the archival sin of removing records nightly from his office for his personal research. And thereupon hangs the tale by this Nobel-Prize winning Portuguese author.
The entire city is mapped in the Archive. We can trace the horizontal evolution of every building and street in Toronto. In a sense, the Archive is very much like Rome in Freud's analogy to the mind: an impossible city in which everything exists simultaneously. A building that was torn down a hundred years ago coexists with the present building, occupying the same site. Nothing is ever destroyed. Everything is remembered. (p. 9)Many more references abound to libraries and the profound impact certain books had on Izzy.
The FAA required commercial carriers to keep extraordinarily detailed maintenance records. Every time a part was changed out, it was noted in a maintenance log. In addition, the manufacturers, though not required to, maintained an exhaustive ship's record of every part originally on the plane, and who had manufactured it. All this paperwork meant that every one of the aircraft's one million parts could be traced back to its origin. If a part was swapped out and repaired, that was known. Each part on a plane had a history of its own. Given enough time, they [the investigators] could find out where this part had come from, who had installed it, and when. (p. 100)Norton Aircraft maintained operational records for each "ship":
The ship's record consisted of a mass of documentation--a million pieces of paper, one for every part on the aircraft--used to assemble the aircraft. This paper, and the even more extensive documentation required for FAA type certification, contained Norton proprietary information. So the FAA didn't store these records, because if they did, competitors could obtain it under the Freedom of Information Act. So Norton warehoused five thousand pounds of paper, running eighty feet of shelf space for each aircraft, in a vast building in Compton. All this was copied onto microfiche, for access at these readers on the floor. But finding the paper for a single part was time-consuming, she [Casey Singleton, Quality Assurance/Incident Review Team, Norton Aircraft] thought, and--- (p. 118)Having determined that a failed part was a counterfeit, when she viewed electronic repair records
Paper for the part appeared to be proper; a photocopy came up on Casey's screen. The part had come from Hoffman Metal Works in Montclair, California--Norton's original supplier. But Casey knew the paper was fake, because the part itself was fake. She would run it down later, and find out where the part had actually come from. (p. 123)A counterpoint plot in this very suspenseful novel has Jennifer Malone, a TV investigative journalist, also tracing the historical record of the same problem with the Norton Aircraft model whose current accident Casey Singleton is probing. A videotape taken by one of the passengers becomes a crucial piece of evidence for both women. The company probe eventually becomes a race against time and a test of the evidentiary multimedia record to discredit the reporter whose story could prevent certification and production of a new Norton airframe.
about life and death, rather than Archives, but the principal character, Jeremy Pordage is rather clearly an archivist/manuscript scholar imported from London to LA to catalog a collection of British aristocratic manuscripts. It has perhaps the most accurate distillation of the inoffensive yet purposeless existence that is archivist.
"They got an archival flu, that's what I was trying to tell you on the telephone."
She was up and pacing. "I just talked to a friend from CDC. Most of us have access to a genomic database that stores the nucleotide sequences of flu strains--it's how we track what's out there, how we do comparative studies, how we spot new variants. ... All these people who got sick, Frank--people in four different geographical locations--they got a flu that is genetically identical to a strain called..." She paused, to look at the white pad next to the telephone. "A/Beijing/2/82." She threw her hands out to the side. "Well, that just doesn't happen."
"Why not? What's 'A/Beijing--'"
"It's a strain of influenza that was first identified in China. In February, 'eighty-two. And here it is again. But that can't happen, Frank. Influenza is in a constant state of mutation. That's what influenza does. It's unstable. It mutates. You don't get exact replicas of sixteen-year-old strains.(p. 294-95)
purports to be a translation of an ancient manuscript found in the library of an unnamed foreign nation that is "extremely jealous of this sort of treasure." The author is said to have been an anonymous Greek in the second century A.D. Here Terrasson is following the conventions of ancient writers of historical fictions, such as the author of the Hermetica, who pretend that their works are translations of ancient writings that no one but themselves has seen. But Terrasson is careful not to deceive his readers completely: he assures them that the work he has "translated" for them is a fiction; .... He assures them that although fictional, the story keeps close to ancient sources, which, for the reader's convenience, he cites throughout the text. But he also says that "it is natural to suppose" that his author had access to original sources (now lost), such as memoirs available in the sacred archives of Egypt, written by unknown priests who accompanied Sethos on his travels. The sophisticated reader would be amused by the notion that the anonymous author had consulted these otherwise unknown documents, but Terrasson gives no warning to less well-educated readers that there is in fact no reason to "suppose" that these documents ever existed. (Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrist Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, New York, BasicBooks, 1996, p. 111-12)What is even more remarkable about this novel, besides serving as the inspiration for Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, is that it formed the basis for Freemasonry's rituals and ceremonies, including those practiced by Masons of African descent in the Caribbean and the United States (Lefkowitz, p. 120-21).