Reeling Backward: The Haptics of a Medium and the Queerness of Obsolescence
Abstract: This article considers the haptics of queer activist footage shot on video, and more specifically footage shot on magnetic media. Despite ideal methods of care, magnetic media faces extreme concern from a preservation standpoint. As a format that is both subject to rampant deterioration (known colloquially as “sticky shed”) and obsolescence (with the ceasing VCR production), the queer activist videotape is an archival artefact irretrievably stuck in a liminal space. To play a tape is to contribute to its destruction, yet to not play the tape is to overlook potentially unique moments in queer history. As such, this article explores the very thing that is the videotape, an item latent with queer potentialities and reminders of queer failure. By approaching the ethical implications of magnetic media and the iterative nature of using magnetic media as a recording method, the article examines this format as key figure in rhetorics of queer time. Infused with archival discourses of the desire for a queer historic touch (borrowing as the title suggests from Heather Love’s Feeling Backward), the article lands decidedly on the side of caution, noting that each move to save queer history chronicled on the failed format of video is to destroy the very thing it longs to embrace.