Setting the Scene
On the 1st August 1972 Joshua Sofaer was born in Mill Road Maternity Hospital in Cambridge. His elder sister Joanna was about to have her second birthday. By September 1973 the family had left for Edinburgh.
In this research project, Disinter/est, brother and sister met in Cambridge to explore the city, the places of their childhood, the places they were before they can remember, and have used the practices of archaeology to see if it is possible to understand the forgotten past.
‘Those years of my earliest childhood are no longer a part of myself; they are external to me; I can learn nothing of them save – as we learn things that happened before we were born – from the accounts given me by other people.’ Marcel Proust 
Autobiography necessitates an experiential narrative, one that is predicated on introspection. The prevalence of psychoanalytic models for the understanding of infancy has resulted in a generic conception of the ‘autobiography’ of early childhood in terms of psychoanalytic tropes. As infancy precedes established long term memory, we can not access our own history with the same kinds of hindsight formulation that we would our later childhood, adolescence or young adult life. This mysterious era that is both of ourselves and of other lends itself to a rethinking of the relationship between self and autobiography. In tracing the ‘auto’ of infancy we necessarily have to negotiate an understanding that runs counter to traditions.
Archaeologists are interested in investigating the material world and using it to explore the past. Until recently, however, children have rarely figured in archaeological interpretations, although the study of children has important repercussions for how we understand communities. The inclusion of children within archaeological considerations leads to the practice of a more inclusive and holistic archaeology.
The children of our study (ourselves) have changed out of all recognition. To all intents and purposes they no longer exist. Rather than being more easily accessible than prehistoric remains – the material remnants of lives in millennia gone by – the subjects under study we are dealing with lack any material form in a traditional archaeological sense. In our case, the human remains are currently sitting at a computer terminal typing away, and are completely transformed. Nor do we have any memory, real or imagined, of the period under investigation. So by using archaeology as a model, we are not exploring the individual self, but constructing the past through a process of categorisation. We are not searching for self in the sense of uncovering past individuals but using elements of the life histories of given people (who in a sense might as well be anyone, not necessarily us) to think about the auto-graphic of childhood.
The research, which was supported by Eastern Arts Year of the Artist, found its initial outcomes in a performance lecture in Cambridge University’s Mill Lane Lecture Rooms as part of National Science week and an installation at The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. Both revolved around a series of seven specifically engineered ‘research tools’. These ‘tools’ do not work in a material sense but rather activate a conceptual figure or series of thoughts which have been key to our Disinter/est.
For ‘On Editing’ in Performance Research, the performance and the installation become a textual, graphic and photographic arrangement. Here the performance script has undergone a certain amount of editing – a recontextualisation involving the addition and re-examination of material – rather than the common sense understanding of editing as cutting and collating. Inevitably some of the script has been edited out, and negotiations of performance and installation lost on these pages, but the process of reconfiguring and rethinking a performance as a journal article (rather than purely the recording of an event that has been) has opened up avenues of thought hitherto unconsidered.
The process of editing became the next stage of the research process. To recap: a working methodological model (the auto of infancy explored archaeologically), led to fieldwork (being in Cambridge), which gave rise to a body of data (the ‘archaeological’ research), which was subsequently interpreted by arts practice (the performance and installation configured around the seven ‘research tools’). Editing the performance script for a journal article becomes the next attempt to make sense of the material under discussion, exploring potential meanings beyond the end results of a singular research process. It is in this process of editing that further research had to be made and that further layers of meaning have been dug out.
This gave rise to an exponential expansion of the text. Paradoxically the process of editing has given us many, many more words. There is simply not enough space in a journal article to impart the findings of each and every research tool; indeed much of the work has yet to be completed. What lies ahead then, is a very short description of each research tool, its imperative and its archaeological premise; much shorter indeed than in the performance script. This is then followed by a hint, a string of words, which indicate to the reader the provocations engaged by the tool, to show where the tool has taken us beyond the area of discussion from which the research was conceived. On two occasions (notes 5 and 6) this hint is replaced by a more extensive footnote – a working through of that ‘beyond’. It is here, in the margins, that the possibilities of the journal allow for a methodology that is unworkable in a performance or an installation. The context for these musings are the preoccupations of our ongoing concerns – disparate concerns which have come together for Disinter/est and have been filtered through the process of working collaboratively. Bearing in mind the context of ‘Performance Research’, on this occasion the concerns revealed are those of visual culture and performance, rather than of archaeology.
Research Tool 1: The Soft Trowel
The soft trowel – a trowel that can not do its job – is a tribute to failure. The failure of archaeological methodology to disinter the Cambridge years. Of course it also references this specific area of interest – childhood, being as it is wipe-cleanable PVC in attractive bright colours with no sharp edges.
The soft trowel also acts as a metaphor for the specific spaces that had to be dug for Disinter/est. Whereas archaeology traditionally digs in rubbish pits (what has been discarded or thrown away) here it was in the toy trunk (what has been kept safe and preserved) that the archaeological stratigraphy and detailed statistical evaluation took place. Here again, however, was a search marked by failure. The laborious process of analysing the toy chest and the resulting data did not speak of a past childhood life, but rather of an adult taxonomy of items worth retaining for the future.
The discipline of archaeology is closely identified with the trowel as the instrument or tool that yields up the secrets of the earth. It epitomises excavation, the activity perhaps associated with archaeology above all other.
[This led Joshua to think about models for productive failure and how failure might be a productive force. This led Joanna to think about the nature of archaeological practice and the constant reworking and reinterpretation of past lives.]
Research Tool 2: Aerial Evidence
Aerial Evidence is an aerial photograph that was taken on 20th October 1971 at about mid-day. The red spot indicates the house owned by the Sofaer family on the outskirts of Cambridge. As the photographer pressed the cable release, Joanna Sofaer, a 14 month old infant, was probably playing with her toys having just watched the 11.00 screening of Playschool’s pets day on BBC2. Who knows what happened later that evening, but 40 weeks on, her younger brother Joshua was born.
This photograph acts as a quasi record of my/Joshua’s conception, which must have taken place, probably in this house, within a week of this photograph being taken.
This image is then, the first in a bio-chronology (my/Joshua’s bio-chronology) it marks an origin (my/Joshua’s origin).
[This led Joshua to think about an expanded notion of genealogy and heritage. This led Joanna to think about the archaeological investigation of social ontogeny.]
Research Tool 3: The Thing Which Makes Itself Known
The Thing Which Makes Itself Known hails the now invisible infant. When activated it emits a random series of affects which act in parallel to those of the child. It is a small self-contained fortified machine bristling with disruptive forces.
Reminiscent of the toy which is given to a child to stimulate it, The Thing Which Makes Itself Known reminds the adult how a child demands to be stimulated. A suggested use for The Thing Which Makes Itself Known is to place it on the pillow beside you when you are preparing for bed. Its random activation will hopefully disturb your sleep patterns and remind you of the fundamental ways in which infants affect space, time and routine.
[This led Joshua to think about blindness and recognition through art practice. This led Joanna to think about the visibility and invisibility of the infant child within the archaeological record.]
Research Tool 4: The Object Biography
Using oral history and photographic evidence the ‘life’ of the pillowcase is written in some detail, from purchase to the present. This narrative includes and acknowledges a trans-global geography, scenes of cultural ritual, the pillowcase as harbinger of a host of bacterial life, and the gateway to the world of dreams.
From an archaeological perspective, the pillowcase biography splinters the rather linear archaeological notion of the object biography in terms of objects being handed down from person to person and turns it into a process that has many points of contact at any given moment in the story. In other words, we have one object in contact with many biographies, rather than an object with any singular, easily describable history. One might also say something similar about personal biographies, in that the lives of each and every person are interwoven with the lives of others, and original understandings of biography in terms of what one might call a ‘life-course trajectory’ also become fragmented through the situation of the individual in a web of relationships.
[This led Joshua to think about a splintered notion of biography as configured through the word inhabited in dreams. This led Joanna to think about how objects construct the lives of people. In particular, the role of objects in mediating life changes.]
Research Tool 5: The Father/Baby Optical Adjusters
The Father/Baby Optical Adjusters are an old pair of glasses belonging to Jeffrey Sofaer (the father) into which have been inserted lensticular lenses: bulbous, circular and highly charged, blurring the vision of all but the most extremely deficient eyesight.
While physically affecting the sight of those that wear them, in reminiscence of the blurred physiology of infant vision, the Father/Baby Optical Adjusters also act as a symbolic referent which reinstates the hidden position of the father/photographer within the domestic scene of the family snapshot.
A photograph taken in the family bathroom; Mother and daughter wash the newly born son. Peering into this scene from the perspective of the hidden photographer twenty-eight and a half years after it was taken the adult gaze effaces the childhood experience.
Disinter/est commissioned archaeological illustrator John Swogger to create a virtual version of the bathroom scene in an attempt to experience, or re-experience, the different viewpoints of those people in the room at the instant the photograph was taken. The recreation begins by including the photographer, which, without concrete evidence, was presumed to be the father. Putting him back in the picture (literally) completes the domestic scene that is otherwise only partial.
In an article on the differences between film and photography, ‘Photography and Fetish’, Christian Metz says of the photographic subject: ‘The person who has been photographed, not the total person, is dead, dead for having been seen’ . Barthes augments this argument when he describes the being in the photograph as having ‘become Total Image, which is to say, Death in person’ . The body in photographic representation that Metz and Barthes configure as dead, is analogous to the archaeological body that is literally dead. Looking at photographs of our infant selves is like looking at a dead self and there is this strange vertiginous instability in hailing the subject in the domestic family snapshot as being oneself.
This instability is particularly marked by the inability to attribute the time in question to any recollection; infancy predates memory (though some people say that they can remember their own birth). Looking at self in a photograph of which you have no recollection about the circumstances of its creation is not restricted to early childhood and of course we have many experiences in life for which we have no voluntary memory – perhaps most of our experiences we do not remember. The indexical materiality of the photograph promises so much remedy on this score, and yet it acts as proof rather than as trigger.
‘The Photograph does not call up the past (nothing Proustian in a photograph). The effect it produces upon me is not to restore what has been abolished (by time, by distance) but to attest that what I see has indeed existed.’ 
The photograph, then, highlights a point of fact. The Proustian effect, of which Barthes considers there to be ‘nothing’ in the photograph, is that of involuntary memory. Involuntary memory is held in the materiality of an object (which again the photograph seems to promise) – a madeleine, a church bell, a cobbled street.
‘The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) of which we have no inkling.’ 
This sentence, which just precedes the famous account of the madeleine, identifies Proust’s understanding of the power of material culture to conduct time. Unlike voluntary memory where the past exists within and as the present, an involuntary memory, as Deleuze summarises, ‘appears as it could not be experienced: not in reality, but in its truth; not in its external and contingent relations, but in its internalized difference, in its essence’ . The tea soaked madeleine which Proust’s narrator brings to his lips does not recall, in the present, an experience he had in Combray in the past; rather the taste of the madeleine is Combray, it contains it, so that the past is inseparable from the present.
The bathroom photograph denies both voluntary and involuntary access to past memories. It is outside conscious memory, it eludes it. The photograph becomes something else – a record of an event that happened – almost as if to someone else.
Perhaps it is in this ‘someone else’ that the clue lies. Instead of pursuing the hopeless attempt to understand the image in terms of one’s own past experience, rather see oneself through the eyes of another. To pick up again from Metz and Barthes, if the body in the photograph is dead, then necessarily the eyes which gaze into those of the image must belong to someone else. If this ‘someone else’ is the transformed but same self then the process becomes one of self-reflection, in which assessments are made as to the value of the self-image in relation to self-identity; the ‘look at me then, look at me now’. But what might it mean to momentarily inhabit the eyes of another; to achieve self-knowledge through the identification with others? It is no surprise that in the first stages of love we tend to check our appearance more often than we would usually do; this is surely not simply a question of struggling to control our self-image but also an attempt to see if we can identify ourselves as we are (to be) seen through the beloved’s eyes.
‘If she had seen me, what could I have represented to her? From the depths of what universe did she discern me?’ 
‘In Search of Lost Time’ is littered with such references, where Swann and here the narrator, detective and captor of their beloved respectively, attempt to discern how they are viewed by the object of their own attention. It is a labour that does not yield fruit, not for Swann, the narrator, or the reader. Oddette and Albertine remain flat projections of the protagonist’s world view and ironically it is in the search for the ‘truth’ of their beloved’s feelings that both Swann and the narrator come to realise that they are not (or rather, no longer) in love themselves; (“To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!”). So through the attempt at configuring self through other, an alternative (more accurate – more truthful?) understanding of one’s own desire is attained.
The virtual recreation of the various viewpoints in the bathroom photograph extend this attempt to see self through the gaze of the other, by literally offering up their vision. Seeing through the eyes of the mother and the sister forces contemplation of the domestic filial and sibling relations – in this case typically gendered for 1970’s Britain – bathing and learning how to bathe the baby. But this only goes to confirm what we already think we know from the photograph itself. As in Swann and the narrator’s endless attempts to understand what their beloved think, the virtual mother/daughter recreations highlight spatial dynamics but not personal thought processes.
So then to the self: the blurred baby perspective which highlights the non-individuated world-view of the neonate and the photographic documentation from which it was (re)created. At one specular edge we have the father’s view, that is the bathroom photograph that we can look at now, of an event we know to have taken place in that particular space (to the extent that we can ever know anything), and at another there is the recreation of the blurred baby-view, the cognition that is not known, that can only be guessed at and never really understood. It is perhaps in the space between these two frames of vision that we can settle the curiosity about the domestic moment encapsulated in the bathroom photograph.
In attempting to describe her experience following the death of her father when she was seven years old – knowing that events took place despite the almost total gap in her memory – Kate Love has articulated a model for experience itself.
‘…this gap-space (knowing and yet not knowing) which, strangely, and quite startlingly, I now also recognise might not be unlike a new and possibly more adequate interpretation of experience itself.’ 
This model rejects the common reading of experience as purely sensate, or on the other hand as entirely in language – that is understood – and places experience at the limit of understanding, as both ‘undergoing and interpreting simultaneously’.
By wearing The Father/Baby Optical Adjusters – to see a blur, as the infant does – is to acknowledge that this blurring, this not quite in focus, is not only an appropriate model for the recreation of infant experience, but is also all one can hope for in the adult attempt to disinter the infant self. Configured as such, the bathroom image of the infant self is not physiognomic but rather a site for the contestation of personal experience. The blurred recreation of infant vision becomes a metaphor for the attempted reclaiming of the experience of that moment.
Research Tool 6: The Fort/Da Mother Doll
The Fort/Da Mother Doll is a doll modeled on the infant’s mother, employing her actual hair, the ends of which may well have been growing during the years in question.
The Fort/Da Mother Doll allows the-now-adult-of-the-infant-that-was to infantalise their mother and explicitly replay the separation trauma observed by Freud in ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, discarding and reclaiming in therapeutic frenzy.
Freud famously observes a young child (the child we know to be his grandson Ernst aged one and a half) throw into his curtained cot a cotton real, or spool, on a string. With the throwing gesture the child shouts out an “o-o-o-o” sound which Freud relates to the German word ‘fort’ meaning ‘gone’. The child then pulls back the cotton real using the string, grasping it with a gleeful ‘a-a-a-a’ which Freud relates to the German word “da” meaning ‘here’.
‘The interpretation of the game then became obvious. It was related to the child’s great cultural achievement – the instinctual renunciation (that is, the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction) which he had made in allowing his mother to go away without protesting. He compensated himself for this, as it were, by himself staging the disappearance and return of the objects within his reach.’ 
He later offers an alternative explanation:
‘But still another interpretation may be attempted. Throwing away the object so that it was ‘gone’ might satisfy an impulse of the child’s, which was suppressed in his actual life, to revenge himself on his mother for going away from him. In that case it would have a defiant meaning: ‘All right, then, go away! I don’t need you. I’m sending you away myself.” 
As Derrida observes, it is this section of ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ that is ‘the one often retained in the exoteric, and occasionally the esoteric, space of psychoanalysis as one of the most important, and even decisive, chapters of the essay’ . The pervasive application of this kind of psychoanalytic universal – Ernst as all children – offers the autobiographer a template for their childhood activity – but it is not one that could be easily ‘proved’. The story of the spool has become internalised by psychoanalysis to such a degree that one imagines the observer of a given child to anticipate a fort/da; ‘discovering’ the game despite a lack of evidence. And even if predetermination can be ruled out (but how will you see it unless you are looking for it, and if you are looking for it then you will know about it) then such a search would stumble on the insecurities of observation and memory. The question of the potential of such an autobiographic moment is not going to be answered by asking those who cared for us as a young child if we compulsively discarded and sought out our toys.
For Disinter/est, which seeks to explore infancy autobiographically using archaeology, such psychoanalytic readings, while restrictive by their omnipresence (as Derrida says of the spool argument, ‘this legend, is already too legendary, overburdened, obliterated’ ) can be a useful way of starting to think about childhood activity within the domestic space.
Having attempted to reject psychoanalytic models for the interpretation of childhood, it is necessary to acknowledge that working at such close quarters with family on family, inevitably the processes themselves become ones of ‘working through’. The literal digging was perhaps not as impactual as the psychic digging.
As part of the research process we asked each of the/our parents, who have been separated for many years, to complete a questionnaire. Most of the questions were devised in order to be able to clarify factual information about the time in question.
Question number 28, in a section titled ‘Questions relating to childhood activity’ was as follows: ‘What was a typical day for Joshua during this time?’. Here follows the/our father’s response.
‘Breastfed for several months. Some of the time playing with Joanna, mum and dad, or in baby bouncer (suspended beside the swing in the bedroom), and most of the rest lying gurgling in his cot, surrounded by stimulating coloured mobiles, squeezy toys and musical boxes. Also out for walks in push chair. Mummy used to play a game with Joshua that I didn’t approve of, showing him some exciting object (which he immediately took interest in), bringing it temptingly close, and then taking it away, laughing, repeating this several times.’
This game the/my mother allegedly used to play with me enacts in reverse that which Freud identifies as being of great developmental importance in the relationship between mother and child. In this instance the fort/da becomes a da/fort.
While she maintained that she had no recollection of such a game, confronted with this anecdote the/my mother would not deny (indeed emphatically refused to deny) that such a game took place. Without specifying what she thought they were, she was however, quick to refute the “implications” and “insinuations” of the anecdote. So what are the implications and insinuations of this da/fort game?
According to Freud the spool the child discards (o-o-o-o) only to reclaim (a-a-a-a) in repetitious gesture, is a symbolic representation of the mother; throwing it away and reclaiming it could be both a coping strategy for her departure and return and/or a mechanism of revenge on the same account.
By the same logic the exciting object with which the mother tempts her son (a-a-a-a) only to take away (o-o-o-o) repeating this several times, is a metonym for him himself; revealing it and removing it could be both her coping strategy in recognition of the infant’s fragile mortality (potentially ‘here’ and then ‘gone’) and her responsibility therein and/or equally a mechanism of revenge for the demands that mortality and vulnerability place on her. Either way this marks out an arena of possible conflict for the child, where the mother is the person who both supplies and denies access to love/himself/exciting objects. This is a paradoxical pattern which is often played out in all love relationships where the person who has the power to alleviate hurt or unhappiness is very person who caused it.
Such speculative psychoanalytic interpretations of a mother’s play with her son, by her son, seem over-speculative and not particularly useful (despite the multifarious applications such an interpretation might offer to an adult mother/son relationship). The motivation of this writing is not that of trying to unlock the hidden secrets of the drives of the parent/child dyad. Rather it is in unpacking the structural inter-relation between the cannonical text (psychoanalytic theory), the biographical account (the/my father’s anecdote) and arts practice (the making and staging of The Fort/Da Mother Doll).
In ‘To Speculate – On Freud’, speculation is both the occasion of Derrida’s reading of, and to note what Freud himself does in, ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’. A speculation to and from, forth and back, like the spool itself. Derrida reads ‘Beyond…’ in terms of what he calls the ‘auto-bio-thanato-hetero-graphic scene of writing’ This neologism references the elaborate set of concerns that Derrida brings out of the fort/da argument, establishing not so much the biographical trace of its author, but the scene in which Freud writes. This encompasses doubt, mourning, jealousy and guilt which ‘entrap speculation’. Through this deconstructive/constuctive schema, Derrida observes the possibility for ‘a new theoretical and practical charter for any possible autobiography.’  This charter is founded in writing itself, and Derrida’s stake is to discern (to name) what it is that is happening in Freud’s repetition through writing, the argument that he makes about the fort/da.
‘Thus is confirmed the abyssal “overlapping” that I proposed above: of the object or the content of Beyond…, of what Freud is supposedly writing, describing, analyzing, questioning, treating, etc., and, on the other hand, the system of his writing gestures, the scene of writing that he is playing or that plays itself. With him, without him, by him, or all at once. This is the same “complete game” of the fort/da. Freud does with (without) the object of his text exactly what Ernst does with (without) his spool.’ 
Freud reveals himself autobiographically through his observational writing – the observer is always caught up with the observed.
‘…the speculating grandfather, in describing or recalling this or that, recalls himself.’ 
The creation and staging of The Fort/Da Mother Doll is also an overt repetition which becomes the scene for this writing. Playing with the doll repeats Ernst’s gesture and potentially all of our own childhood gestures and inverts (and avenges?) the da/fort game the/my mother played with her son/me. This time-map of past action to present echoes Bergson’s thesis in ‘Matter and Memory’ – the repetition of the past in the present as being the present – past as present. Throwing The Fort/Da Mother Doll away and getting it back, is an action of performance in the present which refers to the past – conjures it – repeats it – but nevertheless does not become it. It is the past lived as present. Further, it is through an attempted re-staging of the past that one becomes present. It is also performative in JL Austin’s sense, in that it is through language that the action takes place – for while the event has been staged (for the sake of the photographic demonstration) the action really exists in its being told. For Derrida it is also in the act of telling, in the ‘scene of writing’ that ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ becomes autobiography.
Research Tool 7: The Aeroplane Spoon
The Aeroplane Spoon is a conjunction of a childhood toy and a childhood feeding implement. It both a utilitarian and a symbolic object. Its utilitarian properties are clear; it feeds the young child. The Aeroplane Spoon plays the aeroplane game for reluctant palettes.
Symbolically it references both language and ritual. The child that is born with a silver spoon in their mouth is the child who is born with advantage. To be ‘spoon-fed’ is to devolve responsibility to another.
[This led Joshua to think about how technological development shifts from wonderment to benality. This led Joanna to think about ritual in terms of the every day, rather than the archetypical archaeological understanding of ritual as exception.]
 Marcel Proust (1996) In Search of Lost Time, Vol.3 ‘The Guermantes Way’, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright, London: Vintage, p.5
 Christian Metz (1985) ‘Photography and Fetish’, October no34 (Fall): 81-90
 Roland Barthes (1993/1980) Camera Lucida, London: Vintage p.14
 Ibid. p.82
 Marcel Proust (1996) In Search of Lost Time, Vol.1 ‘Swann’s Way’, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright, London: Vintage, p.51
 Gilles Deleuze (200/1964) Proust and Signs, London: The Althone Press, p.61
 Marcel Proust (1996) In Search of Lost Time, Vol.2 ‘Within a Budding Grove’, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright, London: Vintage, p.432
 Marcel Proust (1996) In Search of Lost Time, Vol.1 ‘Swann’s Way’, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright, London: Vintage, p.460
 Kate Love (2000) ‘Experience Preferred’, in Experience, London: Loose-leaf, p.2
 Ibid. p.7
 Sigmund Freud (1920) ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, Part 2 in Sigmund Freud (1986) The Essentials of Psychoanalysis, translated by James Strachey, Middlesex: Penguin
 Jacques Derrida (1987) ‘To Speculate – On “Freud”‘. Chapter 2: ‘Freud’s Legacy’, in The Post Card, translated by Alan Bass, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, p.294
 Ibid. p.298
 Ibid. p.336
 Ibid. p.322
 Ibid. p.320
 Ibid. p.321