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What constitutes a ‘document’ and how does it function?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymological origin is the Latin ‘documentum’, meaning ‘lesson, proof, instance, specimen’. As a verb, it is ‘to prove or support (something) by documentary evidence’, and ‘to provide with documents’. The online version of the OED includes a draft addition, whereby a document (as a noun) is ‘a collection of data in digital form that is considered a single item and typically has a unique filename by which it can be stored, retrieved, or transmitted (as a file, a spreadsheet, or a graphic)’. The current use of the noun ‘document’ is defined as ‘something written, inscribed, etc., which furnishes evidence or information upon any subject, as a manuscript, title-deed, tomb-stone, coin, picture, etc.’ (emphasis added).
Both ‘something’ and that first ‘etc.’ leave ample room for discussion. A document doubts whether it functions as something unique, or as something reproducible. A passport is a document, but a flyer equally so. Moreover, there is a circular reasoning: to document is ‘to provide with documents’. Defining (the functioning of) a document most likely involves ideas of communication, information, evidence, inscriptions, and implies notions of objectivity and neutrality – but the document is neither reducible to one of them, nor is it equal to their sum. It is hard to pinpoint it, as it disperses into and is affected by other fields: it is intrinsically tied to the history of media and to important currents in literature, photography and art; it is linked to epistemic and power structures. However ubiquitous it is, as an often tangible thing in our environment, and as a concept, a document deranges.
the-documents.org continuously gathers documents and provides them with a short textual description, explanation,
or digression, written by multiple authors. In Paper Knowledge, Lisa Gitelman paraphrases ‘documentalist’ Suzanne Briet, stating that ‘an antelope running wild would not be a document, but an antelope taken into a zoo would be one, presumably because it would then be framed – or reframed – as an example, specimen, or instance’. The gathered files are all documents – if they weren’t before publication, they now are. That is what the-documents.org, irreversibly, does. It is a zoo turning an antelope into an ‘antelope’.
As you made your way through the collection,
the-documents.org tracked the entries you viewed.
It documented your path through the website.
As such, the time spent on the-documents.org turned
into this – a new document.
This document was compiled by ____ on 28.02.2022 21:06, printed on ____ and contains 24 documents on _ pages.
the-documents.org is a project created and edited by De Cleene De Cleene; design & development by atelier Haegeman Temmerman.
the-documents.org has been online since 23.05.2021.
During the night, both of us get unwell. One of us is shaking, intensely and relentlessly. The windows are open. For minutes that seem to be hours, it feels like it’s freezing. We get extra blankets. Then, it gets too hot.
One of us dreams about coccodrillos. It starts out with a single animal, like the one we saw in the National Archaeological Museum, escaping from an aquarium, and ends with lots of little ones crawling all over the place. It’s impossible to know how many have escaped.
The other dreams about seismologist Luigi Palmieri’s unfortunate assistant and his family’s quest to redeem his good name. To deprive him of the burden and guilt set upon him by Luigi Palmieri’s report of the 1872 eruption of Vesuvius, the assistant’s offspring were building a monument just below the observatory in which their great-grandfather fell asleep. The monument was permanently, and continuously, unfinished.
We both dream of hearing fireworks in Naples.
In the morning, we’re slightly alarmed that we both got sick and feverish at the same instant. It’s the middle of January, and the weather has been summerlike all week. A gentle morning breeze flies in from the Neapolitan bay while we wait for the bus to take us to the airport.
First published as part of De Cleene De Cleene. ‘Amidst the Fire, I Was Not Burnt’, Trigger (Special issue: Uncertainty), 2. FOMU/Fw:Books, 25-30
At 13:26:43 I took a photograph of a concrete building without windows in an industrial zone just south of Brussels.
At 16:46:15 I photographed a succession of office buildings in the same industrial zone.
I must have walked about 1 kilometer between the concrete building without windows and the section of the industrial zone with the offices. At 13:43:49, the camera, safely stored in my backpack, recorded 0.4 seconds of the 20 minutes it took me to get there.
In The Snows of Venice, Alexander Kluge wonders whether he can take the liberty to conjure up what the sky looked like on 31 December 1799, as Schiller made his way to Goethe’s house. He goes on by saying that, historically, there’s a ‘LACK OF SENSORY ATTENTION AT CRUCIAL MOMENTS’.1 There are exceptions, though, like the cameraman that was sent out to document the fireworks on New Year’s Day 2000. The camera was turned on prematurely. The batteries were used up by midnight, but ‘certain gray tones, however, filtered through the cracks of its protective case, conveyed the motion of the walking cameraman, the transportation. The incompletely shut, low-information container was documented exactly […] To this day it provides inexact testimony as to the qualities of the leather of a twenty-first century carrying case and the precise sensitivity to light and dark demonstrated by a twenty-first century recording medium.’2
Lerner, B., Kluge, A. The Snows of Venice. Leipzig: Spector Books, 2018, p. 53
Because an acquaintance of the family was a missionary, the postage stamp collection had a large quantity of stamps from the Philippines. You had to boil water, hold the empty envelope above it, wait until the glue and the missionary’s saliva loosened and evaporated, and then gently peel off the stamp. Then, it was put on a piece of pink blotting paper. Once dry, the stamp was slid into a tailor-made booklet.
Between a Horta building’s facade and King Baudouin’s portrait, there are exotic fish, religious scenes, butterflies, and advertisements for NGOs.
Mango is the Philippines’ national fruit. Pope John Paul II visited it in 1995. There was a guerrilla unit in Northwest Pampanga during WWII.
The archive of O. Clemminck, architect, was preserved in a box of croutons – by him, the historian who gave it to my father, or someone else (it contains a letter written by Clemminck’s widow asking a client to pay the bill her husband had sent). The croutons had a flavor of fine herbs and, a stamp on the box with the plans in it says, should have been consumed before April 1987.
A 250 meter walk away from the seaside. A sign states in Dutch and French:
‘!!! NO PARKING !!!
Wrongly parked cars will be chained and only released upon payment of a € 40 parking fee’
The 40 EUR parking fee the sign threatens to charge is communicated by a relatively new sticker stuck on an older sign. Underneath the three black characters (€, 4 and 0) on a white background, there’s a relief: 7 characters declaring a parking fee of 1500 BEF.
1500 BEF equals 37,18 EUR1. In changing currency, the fee increased by 7,58%.
The Belgian franc was the currency of the Kingdom of Belgium from 1832 until 2002 when the Euro was introduced. 1 EUR is worth 40,3399 BEF.
In the archive of the architect O. Clemminck, there is a piece of a plan of a building in a suburb in Gent. It presents the ground floor. There is a kitchen, a salon, an eating place, a meeting place. The missing part would have stated the exact address, the name, and maybe the profession of the owners. The plan of the first floor might have given an indication of the number of (anticipated) family members, based on the number and size of sleeping rooms.
At the southern edge of (the plan of) the lot, O. Clemminck has drawn a laundry room that gives out to a vérandah. The spelling of the Dutch word – nowadays written as veranda – is remarkable, as is its etymology, which is unclear and a matter of debate among scholars. The word might have Portuguese (varanda: railing) and Catalan roots (baranda: barrier), maybe also origins in the Lithuanian Žemaitan dialect (varanda: loop plaited from flexible wings) and might also be traced back to a Sanskrit root (varandaka: rampart separating two fighting elephants).
The vérandah O. Clemminck proposes is 2,40 meters by, at least, 2,80 meters.
Shortly after crossing the Thur the couple reaches their car. They’re freezing. As the sun sets they drive through the mountainous landscape. The heating hurts their fingers.
The next day, they return, but the scene looks different. It’s warmer. The Thur appears to flow faster.
Where once there was twelve million cubic metres of water, excavators and trucks are moving dirt and rocks that have been hidden from sight for 56 years; piling them up into a temporary dam: a batardeau.
Seven years after the devastating flood, in 1954, the building of the dam is decided upon. Between 1959 and 1963 the infrastructure is built, and the reservoir gets filled with water in 1964 to act as a buffer for sudden floods and to guarantee a flowing Thur through the highly industrialized area downstream.
It snows on December 19, but the situation changes on the 22nd with the arrival of an Atlantic low-pressure area, bringing masses of hot and humid air. Thaw follows.
And then, it snows again on December 26 and 27, before the arrival of a new warm front on the same day. A significant and brutal rise in temperature ensues: at Lac Noir, at 920 m, the temperature shoots up from 0,3 °C on December 27 at 7 AM to 7,4 ° C on the 28th at 9 PM.
A cigar box, standing at the back of a shelf next to the heating installation, with in it silex-like stones with what seem to be traces of prehistoric usage.
In the garage, there were papers (the archive of O. Clemminck) and objects (stones, tiles) left to us by a man who had worked at the city archive. He was an acclaimed expert on our village’s history.1
A recent study by professor Philippe Crombé at Ghent University states that during the last Ice Age, in the region where I grew up, there was once a great lake, with, at the shores, proven presence of prehistoric man. As a kid, we dug up shells with a toothbrush, and set a perimeter with plastic tape. The former presence of a tavern where my parents now live, and the restaurant which still serves seafood at the other side of the road, prevented accurate dating.
Ten years ago, in November, I drove up to Frisia – the northernmost province of The Netherlands. I was there to document the remains of air watchtowers: a network of 276 towers that were built in the fifties and sixties to warn the troops and population of possible aerial danger coming from the Soviet Union. It was very windy. The camera shook heavily. The poplars surrounding the concrete tower leaned heavily to one side.
I drove up to the seaside, a few kilometers farther. The wind was still strong when I reached the grassy dike that overlooked the kite-filled beach. I exposed the last piece of film left on the roll. Strong gusts of wind blew landwards.
Months later I didn’t bother to blow off the dust that had settled on the film before scanning it. A photograph without use, with low resolution, made for the sake of the archive’s completeness.
The dust on the film appears to be carried landwards, by the same gust of wind lifting the kites.
Article 75 of the Royal Decree containing general regulations for road traffic and the use of public roads, published in Het Belgisch Staatsblad on 9 December 1975, lists the rules for longitudinal markings indicating the edge of the roadway.
According to 75.1, there are two types of markings that indicate the actual edge of the roadway: a white, continuous stripe and a yellow interrupted line. The former is mainly used to make the edge of the roadway more visible; the latter indicates that parking along it is prohibited.
In 75.2, the decree focuses on markings that indicate the imaginary edge of the roadway. Only a broad, white, continuous stripe is permitted for this purpose. The part of the public road on the other side of this line is reserved for standing still and parking, except on motorways and expressways.
It’s early spring. The pool is covered with a sheet of plastic. The deciduous trees are just leafing out. A tree stump serves as a placeholder for the diving board’s foot – it was customary to take it indoors for winter – and keeps people from kicking its threaded rods sticking up from the silex tiles that line the pool.
The upper right corner of the plastic frame is missing. It’s probably where the insect – now dead, dry and yellowish – got in. The frame was left behind in the laundry room overlooking the garden, the pool and the pool house. At the time it hadn’t been used for quite a while. Half empty, the water green.
In summer, when the wind dropped, horse-flies came. You could shake them off temporarily by swimming a few meters underwater.
A white Mercedes van inserts in front of me in a traffic jam near Antwerp. The back of the van has been altered in several ways: a latch was added to the door,1 a footstep was bolted to the bumper, a couple of tie-wraps are holding up the lights on the left side.2 Traffic is moving slow. There is no Mercedes logo.3 Some parts have been retouched with white paint that differs slightly from the rest of the bodywork,4 not unlike a tipp-ex’ed document.
Maybe the original locking mechanism no longer functions, or, perhaps, the owner wants to add a padlock to the doors at night.
Maybe a corroded screw caused the lights to come loose, or a slight collision.
Someone might have stolen it. Mercedes stars are often stolen, although mostly from the hood.
Maybe to counter corrosion, to conceal a mark someone made on the van or to cover up a fixed dent.
Legislation concerning the publication of someone else’s licence plate on the internet and the demand to blur it, is somewhat ambiguous.
The weeds and bushes on what over the years has become savanna are being chopped to clear the ground to replant trees and reinstate the forest. During the dry season, forest fires are frequent. In between the future lots of planted trees, firebreaks are made to keep fires from spreading. Wires are used to measure the required distance between plant beds and to keep a straight line. The sun is sinking. In a bit, the workers will return home and the field will empty out. In a couple of years, the Acacias, Ebben trees, Millettia laurentii and Umbrella trees will testify to the strings.
At the Tunis Institut National du Patrimoine, the sand-covered floor has traced Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s movements to Steve Reich’s Violin Phase. The venue empties out. It is dark and the way back to the hotel through the medina is labyrinthian and eerie. It has been a couple days since we arrived, and I have managed to make a mental image of the inner city by memorizing some waymarks – intersections, buildings, shops – coupled to a direction. Sometimes, a newly entered street would give out to such a waymark – a peculiar sensation: a flash of spatial insight, like a crumpled ball of paper unfolding. The narrow streets turn and turn. Some passages are closed at night. I must improvise a route, but the basic mental structure to do so is missing. Shopkeepers have moved their goods inside.
I have no sense of orientation. I can’t estimate distances nor can I tell north from south. Everything is scaleless. My highly simplified scheme of the city’s layout gets us to our destination. The functional interpretation of Tunis differs completely from the actual Tunis. It is a different city we crossed, and made while crossing.
A half a day’s walk from the Fuente Dé teleférico, there are less and less traces of passers-by. The path to Sotres suddenly runs through a lusher green. The fence between two pastures keeps the sheep from crossing and coincides with the border between two regions. A hole in the fence would change the landscape’s hue.
Every two weeks, The New York Review of Books falls into my letterbox. Those are good days. Most often, I won’t get to reading it, but what I instantly do, is check the last page with ‘The Classifieds’. The people writing the (genuine, not fictitious) adverts and inquiries reappear every so often. I happily assume the position of the implied reader, as they address the presumed readers of the review. There’s a ‘charismatic, aging French rock star’ providing original songs in Franglais. There are top notch apartments in Paris for aspiring writers. There are those seeking love and astronomical peculiarities: ‘Hitch my wagon to a star – Looking for a bright sophisticated senior star gazer! CStein3981@aol.com’.
The New York Review of Books, March 11, 2021, Volume LXVIII, Number 4.
Near Avenue 61 on an artificial island close to Seef, a truck is being towed after the driver lost control over the vehicle and flipped it onto its side. A warm wind blows in from the Persian Gulf.
A police officer signals us to come closer. ‘Why are you taking pictures?’ he asks. ‘This is just an accident. You have to delete the pictures from your phone. Now.’ After checking the pictures-folder on our phones, he gets in his car, drives a few metres, stops the car and rolls down his window. ‘And don’t do it again!’ he yells. Then he drives off, raising a cloud of sand in his wake.
Photograph taken and recovered from my trash bin on 18.12.2020.
Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell’s lesser known project (R.N. and J.B. being the creators of Astronomy Picture of The Day), was making websites containing over a million of digits of square roots of irrational numbers, e.g. seven. ‘They were computed during spare time on a VAX alpha class machine over the course of a weekend. […] We believe these are the most digits ever computed for the square root of seven on or before 1 April 1994.’ Elsewhere, R.N. states: ‘They are not copyrighted and we do not think it is legally justifiable to copyright such a basic thing as the digits of a commonly used irrational number.’ If one wanted to get a copy of the 10 million digits of the square root of the number e R.N. and J.B. computed in their spare time, one can send an email to R.N. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A carving that looks like a stitched-up scar (a long, slightly curved line crossed at a right angle by eleven short straight lines) is inserted into a short statement about Celine and Logan. An initial of Celine’s last name is included. At first sight it looks like a ‘D’, but the line through the middle might just as well make it a ‘B’. Maybe it was Celine D who added the line in an attempt to convince those reading the roofing that it’s actually Celine B who blows Logan.
Anastasio Guzmán was a Spanish pharmacist and naturalist. He spent most of his career in South-America. He died in 1807 during an expedition in the Cordillera de Los Llanganates in Ecuador, in search of the lost treasure of the Incas. Some time after his death, his colleague Juan José Tafalla suggested naming a certain genus of plants after his friend.
Guzmanias are mainly stemless, evergreen, epiphytic perennials native to Florida, the West Indies, southern Mexico, Central America, and northern and western South America.They are found at altitudes of up to 3.500m in the Andean rainforests.
The symbols beneath the photographs indicate that these Guzmanias require full light, but it is advised to avoid bright sunlight in spring and summer (HALF WHITE, HALF BLACK SUN), the compost should be kept moderately moist during growth, allowing it to dry slightly between each watering period (HALF FILLED WATERING CAN). Unlike, for instance, the Grevillea Robusta, a Guzmania does not require being sprayed regularly (SPRAYER). The four digit code is the AUCTION CODE: ‘Every product has a code. This code is indispensable for the trade.’ The COLOURED BAR at the bottom shows the availability of a plant quarterly. RED means good, PINK means moderate and WHITE means not available.
The introduction to this booklet mentions that ‘[p]rinted colours are often not as accurate as the colours of the plants themselves, which is why it is possible that colours shown in pictures in this booklet may be a little different from the colours of the real pot plant.’
Bloemenbureau Holland. Potplanten, pot plants, topfpflanzen, plantes en pot, piante da vaso, planta en particular 1995/96. Leiden: Bloemenbureau Holland, 1995.
French writer Raymond Queneau did extensive research into what he called hétéroclites, and at other times fous littéraires, a continuation of a longstanding bibliographic project of assembling texts proposing eccentric theories that were never picked up by the scientific community. Disappointed by the results of his research and unable to find a publisher, he abandoned the idea of publishing the encyclopaedia he was compiling. Later, in his encyclopaedic novel Les enfants du limon, he picks up the thread, from a different perspective. It tells the story of two quirky characters, Chambernac and Purpulan, wanting to compile an encyclopedia on fous littéraires. The novel cites from the texts they have dug up. The novel ends when they give up on the project, and give their findings to a novelist they meet and who says to be interested in the material, and asks if it would be OK if he’d attribute it to a character in a story he’s writing. Chambernac agrees, asking the name of the novelist he’s meeting: ‘Monsieur comment?’ – ‘Queneau’.
Queneau, R. Aux confins des ténèbres. Les fous littéraires du XIXe siècle (M. Velguth, red.). Paris: Gallimard, 2002.
Queneau, R. Les enfants du limon. Paris: Gallimard, 2004 .