“Close at her father’s side was the gentle Evangeline seated,
Spinning flax for the loom, that stood in the corner behind her.”
—Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sitting at her wheel, the figure of Evangeline spins together myth, history, and identity. Indeed, these three elements are layered and often stitched together in ways that are difficult to untangle. For the Cajun communities of South Louisiana, descended from Acadian refugees who arrived in the colony in the eighteenth century, Evangeline occupies a central place in their collective identity, despite her origins not in life but in literature.
After arriving in Louisiana in 1765, Acadians’ gradually came to identity as Cajuns (the anglicized version of Acadian) by developing a distinct set of traditions, industries, and cultural expressions rooted in their new home. After decades of this identity being used as a derogatory slur against what were seen as a curious, uncouth, and distinctly un-American group, upwardly mobile Cajuns in the early twentieth century began to stitch their Cajun identity back to their Acadian roots. The threads of myth and history were spun tightly together, with Evangeline at its center. However, over time these threads can fray and tear, revealing an identity that was never as tightly spun as it seemed.
As a 21st century Cajun, I am curious how glitching the image of Evangeline can tug a little harder at these loose threads. As a field of art, glitching engages with the failures in technologies, with the breaks in code. As one practitioner described it, it’s about locating the “soul in the machine.” Michael Kramer provides a more technical description for glitching as a historical method: “glitching produces new iterations of a digital file by introducing or removing strands of code, either at random or through some kind of logical “chance operation.” Like glitch art, using glitching as a method of interrogating sources takes mistakes as its focus, and engages directly with the meaning of sources in the digital age as objects encoded in highly mutable formats. This random technical disruption of archival sources can bring to light deeper assumptions about the trustworthiness of an image or our often unreflective trust in the archive. It encourages new experiences of looking, forcing us to see the image in new ways and within a new web of digital entanglements.