post by Rachel Pastan
“Do we have vibrato?” Ingrid asks. “I thought we had vibrato.”
“No,” Lucy says. “We have vibration. We have staccato. We have ululation.”
“Let’s put it in,” Ingrid says. “Page 32.” Ingrid Schaffner, ICA’s Senior Curator, and Lucy Gallun, the museum’s Whitney-Lauder Curatorial Fellow, are working on the index for the catalogue to Queer Voice exhibition, Ingrid’s exhibition of audio recordings and scripts that investigates what it means to “sound strange.” Last month Ingrid sent out an email to a whole bunch of people—artists, curators, scholars, singers—asking them what they thought “queer voice” was, and she got back a whole bunch of responses: 87 poems, reminiscences, stories, photographs, lists, recipes. Some people wrote one sentence; others, many pages. And Ingrid, who has never done an index, decided it would be fun to do one now.
An index, it turns out, is a lot of work. Days from now, checking and rechecking references, everyone involved will be a little tired of it, but right this minute, reading through the compendium of responses and deciding what words will go in, it’s irresistible.
It’s fun to see what names show up over and over again: Kenneth Anger, Roland Barthes, John Cage, Truman Capote, Paul Lynde. By contrast, Boy George and Allen Ginsberg (next to each other) are only referenced once. Some words, too, come up a lot: activism, AIDS, blood, laughter, lisp, throat, truth. I love the words for sounds (and sound’s opposite): cackle, crackle, cry, hiss, sigh, silence.
“Does dyke go in?” someone asks. How to decide? Queer itself is out (it appears too often), as is gay for the same reason (though gay pride celebration is in), but we have fag and faggot. We have lesbian (one entry only). We have multiple drag queens: Lady Bunny, Dirty Martini, Mistress Formika, Dynasty Handbag.
Dyke goes in. So do elephant, erasure, mock-turtlenecks, and ventriloquism, which has four references. We have everything from ACT-UP to Xenobia.
For a while we argue about alphabetizing acronyms, always a tricky business. We argue about whether you include The at the end of titles after a comma, as in Wizard of Oz, The, or whether you just leave it out. I consult The Chicago Manual of Style and am surprised to find it more personal on the subject of indexing than on any other subject for which I’ve ever consulted it: “Whoever the indexer is, he or she should be intelligent, widely read, and well acquainted with publishing practices—also level-headed, patient, scrupulous in handling detail, and analytically minded. This rare bird must…work at top speed to meet an almost impossible deadline.” I look around the room, suddenly doubtful, then read on: “Copyediting a well-prepared index can be a minor pleasure, an ill-prepared one, a major nightmare.”
Neither pleasure nor nightmare appear in our index (though we do have fuck and dream), but both words seem like they should.
What The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t say is that an index can also be a kind of poetry. Reading through ours is an almost sensual pleasure: Cape, Castratti, Cavett (Dick), Celtic Frost, Chic. Tone, tongue, transcendence, translation. Ukulele, Ululation, Underline. Feel the syllables on your lips. Cackle them, growl them, lisp them, speak them in tongues.
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