“The Archive”(Fiction No. 4)1 Cabello/Carceller

The whole story began with an advert placed in the jobs section of a well-known newspaper:

ARCHIVE DIRECTOR WANTED

Offer: As well as the salary, the position includes housing in the archive’s headquarters. Once the six-month trial period has been passed, a permanent contract and its extension to retirement age is guaranteed.

Requirements: Bachelor and postgraduate degree in archive and document management. Exclusive dedication. Knowledge of three European languages (knowledge of more languages will be taken into account). Must be willing to live in isolated conditions. Absence of empathy highly valued. The candidate must be able to reach the highest levels of objectivity.

It was a life that was being destroyed little by little, but there, in front of V.J.’s eyes, was a possible path of salvation. How often had the need for a change been considered? But then it had always seemed that too much courage was required to embark on a journey whose destination was unknown. Being brave had never been a familiar characteristic: in fact V.J. had never been known to have a strong personality, had never tried to impose opinions on anyone, and it could be stated categorically that V.J. had no definite opinion on any kind of subject. Nevertheless, the qualities required in the advert seemed to fit our protagonist perfectly, even if an already proven lack of communication skills might cause some problems in getting through the selection process.

Slowly V.J.’s hand cleaned the steam from the mirror, which reflected back a face in which the traces of time were beginning to be discernible. Maybe it was time now to introduce some serious data in a biography that would serve to face up to some very private fears. For years V.J. had aspired to find some meaning in an absurd existence through relations to others. A mother and father who had been adored would later not live up to the initial high expectations, maybe because they did not expect anything from their child and therefore did not demand anything, except vague shows of affection. They too had to accept the fact that V.J. (who knows why? maybe due to a lack of siblings) never learned the codes of reference which allow one to establish personal relationships. The loneliness of the hot Sundays and the misty haze had built a self-sufficient personality whose needs for affection were covered by fantastic tales and video games. After the first family letdown V.J. thought, wrongly, that the days of relational glory would come. The hope and energy with which those desires had been sustained were of such magnitude that eyes were blind to the obvious. Fortunately, others did understand the situation and acted accordingly, which is why the tendency to idealize ones’ peers which had been awoken in V.J.—especially the idealization of those who best represented the leap toward the perverse side of life—was soon forgotten. “Everyone is as they are, and we can hardly change that,” V.J. would murmur.

But hormones often dictate the actions of bodies strongly influenced by chemistry, and this is why, despite the deep feeling of uneasiness that contact with others ended up producing, V.J. had a brief romance in secondary school. A relationship full of developments and breakups, of cries and incomprehension, of surprising thorns and sublime moments, of jealousy and withdrawal, of identity loss which melts into a foreign body to wake up attached to the trap of flesh and bones which makes up one’s own. With all its imperfections and all its brutal moments of lucidity, that relationship, which made V.J. ascend to the burning heavens and dive down into final cold oblivion, was the closest our protagonist got in the rest of a long life to another person, to the knowledge of love and to the feeling of absolute loss of will; a loss which even the sporadic use of drugs could not equal. V.J.’s mind was temporarily blocked and from that blockage arose a new, even more distant being, even more conscious of the far distance of the sublime, but also more insecure, knowing that only crouched down inside the shell of indifference could such a sensitive spirit survive.

A new place to be owned and occupied was a near desperate need. Almost desperately, that is to say, with the maximum level of desperation that it is possible to reach in those circumstances. If people could be described by their chronology, if the data ordered temporally from birth, and in some cases a little before, informed us of the reality which is hidden behind a person’s face, we would discover there that reality is a structure made up of simple elements: its appearance would take on the form of a precubist composition. To be born, grow up, love for not too long, study, work, sign on the dole, wait, work again, pass the days, sign on again, study again … wait, wait, wait. Maybe it was due to this existence lacking in emotions that V.J. felt an irresistible attraction to the prerequisite lack of empathy specified in the advert.

Life would be irreversibly altered that morning, or at least the attempt had to be made. Finally, there would be a date to remember. Without thinking about it twice V.J. sat down to work at the table—the only one that was actually available—turned on the computer, dived into its folders and trawled through its memory in order to create the most plausible and professional curriculum vitae imaginable. Currently, in the field of humanities there are not many jobs available, and competition is fierce, which is why, when faced with this kind of report, which a CV also represents, we tend to be invaded by a not always confessable feeling of anxiety. To observe the few lines to which the most significant moments of one’s working life and personal preparation are reduced produces a strange vertigo which it is best to forget if one wishes to move forward. V.J. did this, and with all the meticulousness imaginable, began to number the courses taken, the languages written and spoken—more than five, V.J. put down, knowing that the real level was almost never checked up on. However, when the document was ready doubts started to take over and invade the room that span round and round at the thought of a potential new future. It was then that V.J. decided a simple list would never be enough to represent someone at such a decisive moment. It was essential to reach the interview stage.

To achieve this aim, including a brief theoretical text would be of great help. It served to explain in depth the reasons for such serious interest in directing an archive. It also analyzed a personal position that had to do with the possibility of widening the parameters under which certain descriptive fields are articulated but, above all, it stressed the importance of the complete availability necessary for the post, and of specific technical training, a set of qualities that guaranteed maximum objectivity toward the classification processes and the conservation of objects that would be an important part of the future responsibilities related to the job.

And this was how V.J. sent the e-mail which transformed a future which may also be ours. After a few days of nervous waiting, just before the start of the month of August, when the city dozed wrapped in an exasperating heat and the holidays were coming up, the answer appeared in the inbox. Extremely nervous, V.J. opened the mail and ascertained with delight that a date for a personal interview had been given. The aim had not been accomplished yet, but it was getting much closer. Without delay V.J. replied in the affirmative, accepting the offer received and prepared for the exam that would have to be passed that same afternoon. But, how could one prepare properly if the real nature of the work was unknown? What kind of archive would they be talking about? It was time to put on one’s best clothes, those that give an air of asexual dignity and give the benefit of the doubt, and head toward the specified address.

The encounter took place in the building prepared to hold the archive. The taxi stopped at a nearby property on an industrial estate, almost a no man’s land, a nonplace in the nearby suburbs enclosed by some railings, behind which the anodyne construction could not be contemplated. V.J. was kindly led to the room where the selection process would take place: a personality test, the CV information check, and after that, the dreaded and desired personal interview.

When faced with the interviewer V.J. grew more confident by the second. All that was promised appeared to be true: it was a project financed by a public foundation which consisted in unifying preexisting material; but, moreover, new content would be acquired with which to improve the existing resources. The main aim could be summed up in bringing together all the autobiographical material created in the 20th century which could help us understand and discover new ways of living and the aspirations of anonymous citizens who had lived in the region. They had a large amount of space at their disposal and the new director would be able to hire their own team, but they knew it was not an easy job: “it is clear that the archive of a society, a culture, or a civilization cannot be described exhaustively; or even, no doubt, the archive of a whole period,” commented the interviewer, pompously quoting Foucault. “The archive cannot be described in its totality; and in its presence it is unavoidable,” answered V.J., continuing the reference and imagining that the possibility of getting the job was getting closer. “We are looking for someone committed to the job who wishes to dedicate the whole of their professional life to it,” continued the interviewer. “We are waiting for someone who can analyze with utmost objectivity the documents found, and who is able to classify them avoiding unnecessary hierarchies. We do not know what the future has to offer, but we wish the users of this archive to have the greatest number of possible options for finding what they are looking for available to them. We are conscious of the difficulty of undertaking this task and of the necessary implications, which is why we are interested in people who will not prioritize their personal life over their dedication to directing this project. If you accept the job, your loyalty to the archive should be total. As we all know, having the largest possible number of originals will be shortly necessary to all research and because of this we need to provide our scientists with direct access to the sources. We expect from you a systematic working method focused on the documents and on their statements, to be dispassionate with respect to particular interpretations, guaranteeing a vision where the stored elements speak for themselves and give us their version of events.”

The conversation continued for half an hour more. Meanwhile, V.J. agreed and confirmed that all the necessary skills were met, defended a personal project with conviction but without vehemence, something that was aided by a naturally controlled personality. That which had been so desired had finally been achieved. V.J. was given the directorship of the archive and was to start immediately, soon becoming well known for the faultless seriousness with which the job was undertaken and admired as an example to follow. The citizens trusted the project and did not delay in starting to donate their personal objects for the good of the research: often they were narratives of frustrated lives; on other occasions, they were examples of happiness gained through effort. Totality represented by disconnected fragments. But one day a document arrived at the archive which made V.J. tremble. Being in the habit of personally checking over the entries, it was impossible to miss anything: it was right there, a small piece of paper getting bigger and bigger. That letter … the shaky teenage handwriting … the confession … the proof of an unhealthy devotion … the most intimate portions of a personal past that was too well known to obviate had suddenly reappeared. V.J. looked around with reddened eyes and checked that nobody was nearby at that moment. The entry was modified, and the document hurriedly destroyed. That was V.J.’s first time.

Note

1 / This text is connected with the text Gender Issues by Cabello/Carceller. All the different language versions of this text have been developed in such a way that the protagonist’s gender remains undefined throughout.