Repackaging the Archive (Part III): TMNT; or, the Cultural Logic of (Late-)Toys

So hopefully the nearness to my last post might be read as a sign that I will actually update this blog on occasion, combined w/ the fact that I feel very good (and still guilty) about getting whatever apologia I felt was necessary out of the way.

I suppose it is a curious case to write about one’s childhood, to mine that terrible well of rosy-colored (or not, as the case may be) memory.  Not only am I sure there is probably a glut of scholarship, theorization, and practical investment in the specific aporias which accompany this type of activity, the activity of creating significant nodes out of the past which not only seem to inform one another, but also to inform one’s present (of course), but I am also sure that the distinct lack of this type of writing in my own various practices immediately renders me simultaneously incapable of doing it (I have a general aversion to “Children’s Studies,” no reason), while being perhaps uniquely situated to offer something, even it be completely useless or lacking in value.  The reasons for this aversion, reticence, and honestly general glee, should perhaps be generally apparent even in a fairly uncomplicated notion of “archive.”  Archives require selection—what will get in and how?  Where does one draw the line for inclusion?  Does the term “hyperarchival,” one I have at the moment failed to define in this space, suggest some kind of infinite, meta-, or self-aware archive?  (I hesitate to suggest a too ready affinity w/ something like Baudrillard’s “hyperreal,” if for no other reason than I think boiling down the unthought-through (at the moment) neologism “hyperarchive” to something like “more of an archive than an archive,” is not only redu(ctive)/(ndant), but quite simply wrong.)  Or is it, in this case, that the whole point is to withdraw as many markers, boundaries, limits, or definitions upon what actually does get in?  This point/question demands further development, as I have long been invested in theorizing (or perhaps fantasizing) an archive w/o the dimension of selectivity, but perhaps the current entry may function as an entryway into how/what this might look (like).

So anyway, I’ve been meaning to write about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (hereafter TMNT) for quite some time, and honestly, at this point, I am unsure if any of my initial desire or reason to do so remains.  What does remain, is that I am going to write about them, which in-and-of-itself may be the important thing anyway.  The Turtles, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1986, for the then quite small, independent comic book company Mirage Studios, were initially quite crude, beer-swilling, incredibly violent, sexy, well. . . mutant teenage turtles, who were named for Renaissance painters (and sculptors), and were, of course, very highly-trained ninjas.  Looking back at the first issues of the initial run of the comic, they barely resemble the cute, cuddly, Saturday morning cartoon characters, and their later live-action version, which was to become their familiar presentation.  Shredder was just a dude.  There was no (at least initially) intergalactic dimensional movement, no Krang, no other mutants.  This is probably general knowledge for most people my age, as the heights the TMNT reached during their heyday infected virtually everyone I knew, male and female.  (I distinctly remember arguments on the playground over who got to be which turtle.)  So I won’t bewail their history other than saying their popularity was pronounced, long-lasting—there are still TMNT stuff today, but I am far from nerdy enough to find it for inclusion here—and in some ways inexplicable; there was a whole rash of “ninja” related stuff when I was a kid, perhaps the best was the Ninja Gaiden series on the old NES.  This in-and-of-itself probably deserves and has had attention elsewhere, so I will refrain.  What specifically interests me about them, was and is the logic and my relationship to their toys.

I had a ridiculous amount of toys when I was a kid, which was probably the result of an overzealous imagination/desire, far too generous (or spoiling) parents, an ability to be immersed in worlds of what I thought then were my creation, but really just me reenacting the capitalist narratives I’d been presented w/ already, my general archival impulse manifesting itself at a ridiculously young age, a combination of all these, or something else, which I’d probably have to go to therapy to figure out.  Either way, I had a lot of toys, a lot of different types of toys, video games, books, board games.  I could entertain myself until the world ended w/ the amount of shit I had (none of which remains. . .), and honestly, probably didn’t need any of it for that end.  (I’ve realized now that most of the antagonism b/t my younger sister and myself ultimately resulted from her feeling left out.  I could entertain myself for hours w/o her, but she’d feel whatever it is little sisters feel [still figuring that one out], and hence: fights.)   Most importantly though, for my specific relationship w/ the Turtles, was that it was ultimately encyclopedic.  I somehow felt I couldn’t actually play w/ them as effectively unless I had every one (again, I was probably also a spoiled little shit).  For my unending gratitude, or anger over enabling which only a true addict can feel, my mother was more than willing to indulge this specific problem I had—i.e. one Christmas, when TMNT was still fairly new, I basically received the whole archive of every one that had been released until that point, even a lot of the vehicles and other accompanying shit.  I can’t say I look back fondly on my younger self which felt this genuine archival lack in his ability to play, in having the desire to fill that lack, as well as the means, but hell—I was immersed in an orgy of late-80s/early-90s consumer culture which I not only didn’t have the means/knowledge to critique or resist, but had no idea there was an alternative (which I’m still not sure of. . .).  This was the era of the $600 (or whatever) Neo-Geo, the Sega Genesis which released a Sega CD and Sega Saturn, and some other crap—which makes the thing look simply ludicrous—Virtual Boy, the TMNT stage show, Saved by the Bell, and a host of other ludicrous nonsense which I could list until the eternal return of Casey Jones.  (Note: the above hyperlinks are to videos by The Angry Video Game Nerd, who I find to be actually quite a perceptive and illuminating critic when it comes to this era, if a little crude.  Also see his review of the first TMNT game.  I thought I was wholly alone when I just couldn’t get past the third [or whatever] level in it as a kid; I thought it spoke to a general inability in myself, rather than realizing, as I should have and now very much do, that, for all practical purposes, that game was transcendentally impossible.)  In short, I did, for a short time anyway (more on this later) have access to the entire “published” archive that was TMNT toys, and some of them were quite rad.

Though I may have been a bit spoiled, I truly did have a respect, almost a reverence for my toys.  I took extremely good care of them—usually had all the little annoying accessories w/ nothing missing, kept them housed and organized so no cross-cultural miscegenation would occur b/t worlds (wouldn’t want Optimus getting in w/ Dick Tracy, the lines of flight would shatter).  Furthermore, my mother would notice this, which probably didn’t hurt on the whole accumulation front.  But most importantly, I PLAYED w/ them.  Ad nauseam.  All of them.  I had a weird anthropomorphizing bent, where I would feel guilty (!) if I didn’t play w/ certain toys over a certain stretch of time; whether I thought they had feelings, or I was self-aware of simply how many I had and consequently could only justify the massiveness of accumulation by Catholic guilt play (again, therapy), they did not just sit there in boxes like they do for collectors (read: archivists) today.  I was always a bit thrown off by my friends’ lack of actually playing w/ their toys.  It just seemed like accumulation w/o the glorious release of true, fun play.

It would take me hours too.  I would invent these ludicrously complex narratives during play.  Usually they would be sketched from some initial conception of the field of the narrative, and then, once established, it would be permitted to take interesting, spontaneous, and at times disastrous turns.  There was always a battle royale, and everyone usually ended up dead.  They were practically Sophoclean.  I remember one time, over the course of weeks, I played out an entire scenario for Optimus Prime’s return from the dead, but I had to arrange all the political affiliations and betrayals which would occur, including the messianic ascendance of his son.  And I was like 7 when I did that.  These were not just objects to me, and I don’t think good/real toys ever are for those who really and truly play w/ them.  They were distinct, singular beings, often w/ a narrative history, whose object-status was put into play so as to facilitate the larger demands of the worlds I was constructing.  Perhaps my lack of any religious upbringing whatsoever necessitated, on some James Frazer-esque level, to reconstruct origin myths or whatever in play.  Or perhaps there is something inherently narrative about play, or vice versa.  Either way, the thing which sticks out to me so much about TMNT was the will toward total archival object possession so that this type of play could really take place.  There was never really a possibility w/ other toys—I arrived too late.  G.I. Joe had been around forever, and the Transformers was by then an impossible archival institution (and they were really expensive).  But w/ TMNT there was a brief, shining, early moment when one could actually—w/in the bounds of reason, sense, and a parent’s pocketbook I didn’t really understand—have all of them.

And I did.  For like one season.  See, the whole logic of action-figure toys, of Barbie, really any toy whatsoever, is that you can’t really be a successful toy company unless you are constantly making it impossible to own all of them.  (Of course there is a lot to say about desire, etc., here.)  A toy company that released a line like TMNT and, say, made thirty toys, and no more, would fail.   Esp. if the television show, live action movies, etc. were still being made.  This doesn’t even seem like a point to belabor very much, as it is banal to even be saying it.  But something about TMNT, for a short while, made it seem possible to do just this: own all of them, the entirety of the plastic archive.  Perhaps it was the fact that the four main characters all had exactly the same body mold—i.e. super cheap and easy to produce and get the “core” of the brand.  Perhaps there was something like treasure hunting: certain figures were quite a bit more rare than others, and finding them always felt like a coup.  Perhaps it was the fact that certain really rad looking toys appeared which had no correlative in the cartoon or comic.  Perhaps, after having read the really excellent comic (makes the cartoon look like what it was, for kids), and finding characters that had appeared there, and I knew who they were also felt like a coup.  Perhaps it was so many objets.  Whatever.  For that brief moment when it was possible to play w/ the entire archive—those are my most fond memories of toys.  The times when I, for lack of a better term, “knew what I was doing” w/ toys and play, even if I never could have articulated it.  W/ baseball cards, there is never even the possibility of total archival achievement.  Never.  W/ a new(ish) brand of toys, there was.  Plain and simple.  The logic of each is the same.  The archival play and archival jouissance is the same.  But one can never get at the totality of the archive of something like baseball cards.  To even do so would be to suspend what makes them enjoyable—their status as always partial archive, as always in need of supplement.

Of course the ending of this story is predictable.  Very shortly, TMNT kept releasing toys, and they got increasingly stupid, and in my young mind, unnecessary for addition to the archive.  (Sewer Surfing Michelangelo suggests itself.)  I think, and here my memory is hazy, that just the fact that my archive was “once” complete was enough to render the rest insignificant.  And then I grew up and forgot all this.  I think I eventually gave them all away to Goodwill (which I don’t regret in any way).  And probably ultimately sublimated on other things that could be archived: obscure power-violence, post-structural theory, reference books.  But never again will I have the complete archive of something, unless it be a single author, but even then. . . .  Nor do I really have that same desire anymore.  It is like, having achieved the complete archive of, well, at least something, one never really has to concern themselves w/ totality in the same way ever again.  You’ve seen the promised land, been there, cavorted through the trees for a while, and then realized there was an infinity beyond it, even though it was sufficient in-and-of-itself, so left, not looking back, but were able to retain a few fond memories, and perhaps even nostalgic, throw-back blog posts for a project you didn’t realize you were formulating, but now, after all these years, can accept.  Or perhaps I was just a sucker.

There will be more parts.  The archive will always be repackaged.  It is never total.


For whatever reason(s), which I have neither the patience nor know-how to figure out at the moment, the footnotes stopped working on this page like they used to–i.e. they (are/) were all being sent to the second post.  Something must have changed, but I can’t figure out what, so, rather than removing the footnotes, going through the arduous task of changing things in HTML, or other not-so-fun things, I’ve decided to re-edit the second post (the one’s where all the footnotes were being sent), so that the footnotes there now don’t work either.  I know this makes for a slightly less friendly interface, but I am so footnote happy, and will continue to be, that I figure it is easier for everybody if you as the reader just treat the footnotes like endnotes–i.e. it is a pain in the ass to constantly flip back and forth in a book to their endnotes, so either dog-ear the page (i.e. open the same post in a new tab and click back and forth), ignore them, read them at the end, read them first, read some and not others, etc. etc.  Basically, I feel very strongly that you used to just be able to roll over them and view them w/ this software, but that has ceased for whatever reason.  So until WordPress.COM (not .org, I could fix it w/o HTML if that were the case) comes up w/ a better way of doing this, you will just have to deal w/ this specific hassle, of this specific archive–which is the whole point anyway.  Sorry, for the rant, but I’ve spent far too much time trying to figure out how to change this–w/o HTML, I use too many footnotes for that to be any fun (i.e. the whole point of footnotes is that they are fun. . . not a hassle. . .)–to not feel like I owe an explanation for why the footnotes don’t “work.”  (Actually they do “work,” as in they “exist” and may in fact “signify something,” and they really aren’t “that hard” to read, but they don’t “work” in the “traditional” electronic sense.  Christ.  Hyperarchival or what?  Since when is this the traditional way footnotes worked anyway!)  Also, this has all delayed the writing of “Repackaging the Archive (Part III),” so congrats to whoever changed the software (unless its my fault for just being stupid).

Repackaging the Archive (Part II): Inhabiting Rama

This was an astonishing piece of luck, Norton told himself, though he felt that he had earned it; they could not possibly have made a better choice than this Illustrated Catalog of Raman Artifacts.  And yet, in another way, it could hardly have been more frustrating.  There was nothing actually here except impalpable patterns of light and darkness.  These apparently solid objects did not really exist.

—Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

Having recently had my project proposal approved,[1] and being faced w/ the slightly daunting task of actually reading (for reals, not for fakes[2]) Being and Time,[3] I’ve been mildly—and I stress only mildly, b/c in my mind right now, everything relates . . . —irresponsible in my reading.  Like some (or perhaps most/all) irresponsible acts, however, it emerged from some other fundamental need, obligation, or responsibility, which is, namely, actually finishing all (of the projected 3, but perhaps more) of the parts of “Repackaging the Archive” which have been so wonderfully neglected these past months.[4] Which is to say that I’ve been on a bit of a SF bender of ridiculously relevant books w/r/t/t notion of “archive” recently: Neal Stephenson’s recent and wonderful Anathem(2008), Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye(1974), and Arthur C. Clarke’s opaque Rendezvous with Rama(1972).  Though all probably deserve a lengthy entry here, for the purposes of actually “repackaging this/some archive” I will only mention the absolute centrality and necessity the archive plays in the world/civilization (re)building which occurs in every one to some degree or another—i.e. the archive in each novel is a physical instantiation which presupposes and protects against catastrophic, world-wide collapse, so as to rebuild or repair said world (though it is slightly more ambiguous in Rama).  These are active archives, defined by (perpetual) crisis, which are ultimately the only tools to provide any stability to the functioning of the species in its (cyclical) “project.”[5] (Is this not how archives operate always?)  So, for lack of another kind of “disclosing,” it would have felt irresponsible (heh) to not mention this at the outset of something titled “repackaging the archive part II (!).”

In his ridiculously brief discussion of Rama in Archaeologies of the Future,Frederic Jameson[6] writes: “Clarke’s alien mystery story is somehow uniquely more satisfying than any of those with solutions (including his own later sequels) and suggests that God’s creation is best imitated by the invention of questions rather than answers.”[7] He does so in order to locate what he calls Clarke’s “agnostic . . . representation of alien otherness” as opposed to Stanislaw Lem’s wholly atheistic representation.  What is more surprising about Jameson’s statement, however, is that though the crew members of Endeavor didn’t have time to find any “solution” to the “mystery” of Rama before it rocketed out of the solar system[8]—as seen in the epigraph above—at least the possibility of all those answers were right at their fingertips, something that Jameson more-or-less ignores.[9] It is fairly clear that Rama is, among other things, a giant archive, potentially housing all of Raman culture w/in itself—in the form of a holographic (but ultimately a networked/digital) archive; and furthermore, this archive appears to have the express purpose of “re-seeding” that very culture.  W/r/t Jameson’s discussion, what is esp. relevant here, is the fact that the unknowable, alien, radical (or elsewhere formulated “wholly”) Other, literally appears as archive.  The “South Pole” of cylindrical Rama is one giant checkerboard/patchwork of various “crops” (or something, here the mystery is clear[ly ambiguous]), presumably for use by the “biots”[10] whose role it is to maintain and repair Rama.  Rama’s “sea” contains all the necessary minerals from which to construct these biots.[11] And indeed, Rama’s primary goal for tarrying through “our” solar system is to “store-up” enough energy from the sun by “flying”[12] ridiculously close to it, so as to slingshot out into the void of inter-galactic space.  In other words, everything “mysterious” about Rama, whatever there is to be “solved,” is right there on the surface and close-at-hand.  Whatever detective work there is to be done is merely the act of sifting through and deciphering the rules of the archive.  The “wholly/radically” Other finds itself here under the simple nomenclature: archive.

I point toward Rama here under the heading of “unknowability”[13] b/c it appears that something quite essential about the simple act of “archiving” is in play[14] here, something which, though it hasn’t been “ignored,” forms a certain kind of ground for both understanding archives themselves, and, more importantly for myself, describing my own archival foundations, tracing, as I traced my relationship to baseball cards earlier, the paths and limits of “archival-being” (or perhaps “Archsein”[15]).  For this reason, rather than immediately attempting to formulate, theoretically or otherwise, what this foundational thing may be, I feel a few more anecdotal accounts of my own relationship to archiving(-play) may be quite useful here.

It is difficult for me to remember a time when archival organization was not an essential part of my relationship w/ material objects.  Any guest of my current home will surely be aware of my penchant—bordering on (if not wholly a symptom of) an obsessive compulsive disorder—for putting the objects around me “in their place.”  Every single one of the thousands of books I own are organized by category,[16] alphabetized, and—if they haven’t been removed and placed back on the shelf too often—chronologically ordered if I have more than one work by a particular author.  The same goes for my records, divided into “rock,”[17] “classical,” 7”s, and “other,”[18] as well as my DVDs, vids, files, and clothes.  A notable absence at the moment is my lack of CDs or tapes, as they languish in boxes in my basement, mostly b/c those archives have been wholly absorbed into the digital.  (There is no need for their physical presence when they all exist on my computer and iPod.)  The same goes for my file system on the computer.  I literally still have every single thing I’ve typed since I was in about 7th grade, organized incredibly idiosyncratically, w/ many gradations of “filing.”[19] Perhaps one of the more depressing things, is that all of this fits on a 256mb flash-drive.  Thus I am constantly carrying my entire written archive whenever I go anywhere.  (For the extreme logical extension of all of this, look here.)  Otherwise, my living space is quite spartan.  Beyond a few images on the walls, a couple of strange statues,[20] and the necessary furniture and play-back devices, there are very few objects anywhere.  Furthermore, a couple of visitors to my home have noticed this.  Everything around me is highly functional, geared toward “ease-of-access” and a “lack of clutter.”  I do not hoard.  I am not a packrat.  And I would like to think that there are very few extraneous things around me (though why I’d like to think this is up for debate).  In other words, my dwelling, my home, my space, is one of a highly complex order of technicity, various singularities of pattern emerging from a lifetime of (often times random) accumulation.  Why is this?  Where does it come from?

To suggest that this isn’t precisely the case w/ other people would be completely wrong, but that would also ignore the fact that I am more-often-than-not completely baffled by how other people organize the objects in their space.  To see a bookshelf on which the books are organized hurdy-gurdy—that the bookshelf is simply a container and not a logical system—often gives me the howling fantods.  In my younger days when CDs were still in play, seeing them strewn everywhere, w/o cases, oftentimes incredibly scratched b/c of this, confused the heck out of me.  Operating other people’s computers, and for some reason esp. Macs, always feels unheimlich, as their interface is not completely crafted, prioritized, and organized for efficiency and ease-of-access around me (or seemingly anyone else).  Though there is something very important here regarding individuation, subject construction, and my own relationship with various Others, I don’t feel competent to pursue this at the moment b/c of either the threat of a spiraling narcissism or else b/c the questions involved are too complex to pursue answers in this forum.  Either way, this all suggests something about my own relationship to archiving and objects which must be pursued to provide the necessary framework for this entire project, for attempting to explain why this archival accumulation is happening at all.

It is, of course, one of the most difficult things in the world to explain oneself, either to yourself or to other people, and completely ignores the necessary psychoanalytic presence of the Other in doing so, but, as will anecdotally be seen, this isn’t necessarily a vain pursuit (though it might be self-indulgent, but that’s the whole point of blogs anyway, right?).  In other words, I am interested in giving an account for the precedence in my own life of this archival tendency, of providing the same kind of background around baseball cards w/ other things, if for no other reason than the fact that this precedent exists, and may illuminate the present (project).  Hence this (perhaps necessary) apologia for what follows in subsequent parts.  In other words, I am going to talk about Teenage Ninja Turtles and such.  This entry was meant to discuss that, but has now been sitting here unfinished for too long, and now must be posted.  Hopefully it stands (more-or-less) on its own.

[1] The project is pitt’s version of exams.  I don’t even really wanted to get started on how it relates to The Hyperarchival Parallax.


[2] This is not even to approach jargons of authenticity.

[3] as opposed to starting it, getting about fifty-to-one-hundred pages in or so, and getting distracted, oh . . . about five times.  Though I must say I’ll probably finish it tomorrow.  This is not to mention the other 110 or so books on my list.  If Heidegger has the presence of mind to say: “and that means that Da-sein as such is guilty” (Heidegger, Martin.  Being and Time.  Trans. Joan Stambaugh.  Albany: SUNY Press, 1996.  263.), then I for one feel no compunction at all echoing something an old teacher of mine said w/r/t just this problem of not feeling like one is doing enough because one is irresponsibly doing all this other shit (all while doing a thesis on Nietzsche)(i.e. reading): fuck guilt.  And this is all to really say, that this entire entry is now being finished over two months later for just the same reasons as just mentioned—i.e. I finished B and T in MAY!

[4] And have been further neglected since I wrote this.

[5] I feel like I hear the words “difference and repetition” floating around somewhere.

[6] Who was at pitt about a month ago and gave 3 incredibly lucid and (I feel) important talks on realism.

[7] Jameson, Frederic.  Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions.  New York: Verso Press, 2005.  107.

[8] and though I agree with Jameson’s assessment of the novel as “satisfying.”

[9] Presumably because he was talking primarily about Stanislaw Lem rather than Clarke.

[10] Biological Robots.

[11] Freud’s notion of the “oceanic” as archive?

[12] is that the right word for what a cylindrical archive/spaceship/world does in space?

[13] Indeed Jameson’s title for this chapter on Lem/Clarke is “The Unknowability Thesis.”

[14] I use this word quite deliberately here, as will become clear.

[15] And it is perhaps not a coincidence that I realized tonight that “archive” comes from “ark.”  How did I not see this before?

[16] Currently those categories are: SF, Fiction (“Literature”), Poetry, Drama, Essays, Philosophy, Art (History/Crit.), History, Biography, Lit. Crit., Science, and Reference books (much gets placed under this category, including anthologies, dictionaries, thesauri, style guides, almanacs, religious lit. [Bible, Koran, Dead Sea Scrolls, the Rig Veda, etc.], periodicals [less b/c they’re reference books, and more b/c they are closer to “anthologies,”], and “miscellany”).

[17] quite loosely defined.

[18] 10”s, my skull shaped Orchid 8”, Three Mile Pilots propeller-shaped record.

[19] For example, some of the fundamental categories of this particular archive are: “as close to the real world as you’re going to get,” “closer,” “functional important shit,” “useless shit,” “ALL WRITING DOCS,” “a lifetime of petty tragedies,” etc.  I do not envy the person who ever attempts to sort all of this out, but I, of course, know where everything “is.”

[20] One of Jesus teaching a kid how to play golf, but looking more like he’s giving the kid a reach-around.