The Archive Conundrum

We have become such a society of “archivers” that there is an abundance of information floating out there about ourselves. Our tweets and Facebook posts offer little snippets of our lives that are seemingly insignificant when looking at all of us collectively.  Do your tweets belong in an archive? Probably not, but since there is so much documentation out there, scholars have begun to argue what exactly deserves to be in an archive.

One side believes that some of the materials which have been deemed appropriate are actually not legitimate contributions to an archive. Such items include romance novels, comic books, and video games.  The other side argues that we should be putting these “silly” things in an archive because they are part of what makes us, us.  I think that the most interesting perspective on this debate comes from Greetham who states that we want to portray the best side of ourselves to those who follow.  We want to preserve ideal representations of our culture.  Of course this makes sense when understanding why archivists have problems with romance novels and comics.  These items are not the most intelligent, scholarly works of our time, but do they have no significance at all? I believe that they do have significance because they are a huge part of our culture. Not archiving them would be like saying these were never published, and that simply is not true. The whole point of archiving is allowing future generations can find the “truth”. This is done so the future can build off of the past, but if the past isn’t represented in its entirety, the future won’t be able to learn from it.

Obviously though, there is a need to determine what is significant from an over-abundance of material, but Greetham states it best when he says that any criteria for selection can be problematic and lead to biases. Biases, again, are detrimental to archiving, so it is best to avoid putting restrictions on material.   I think that the concept of the archive is being over-thought, and this is where the discourse comes from. Archive is such an ambiguous term in itself, and has become a loose signifier for a lot things.  If we can’t even agree upon what it truly is, how can we agree upon what should be in it?



Why Smart People Watch South Park

It’s no surprise to me that some hoity-toity scholars are getting their panties in a bunch because the game Halo has been archived. After all, how could something so superfluously violent be considered knowledge?

Because it’s DIFFERENT. As Judith Halberstam so gracefully put it, “When people want to think differently they actually have to use a different archive and different concepts.” That’s exactly why the world’s best and brightest can appreciate the writing created for South Park. They realize how rare it is for anyone in this world to create something that “didn’t already come with a readymade theory embedded within them.” For whatever reason, we have this urge to only preserve literature and artifacts which could be described by adjectives like distinguished, elitist, and classy. Marlene Manoff references English Professor David Greetham in her essay, and I just love what he had to say. “All conservational decisions are contingent, temporary, and culturally self-referential, even self-laudatory: we want to preserve the best of ourselves for those who follow.” He uses the example of the time capsule in the space probe to prove his point, “It contained ideal representations of our culture and nothing of My Lai or Auschwitz.”

I know that was quite a tangent that I just went on, but bear with me. The two quotes that I am choosing to look at in depth are pretty incredible.

Quote 1: On page 14 of her essay Manoff writes, “Whatever the archive contains is already a reconstruction – a recording of history from a particular perspective…Someone decided what was worth counting and how to count it.” Very true – the way our history will be represented is completely based on what historians, librarians, and scientists decide to record.

Quote 2: On page 11 of The Eccentric Archive, in reference to femininity, Halberstam says, “It is sort of a Catherine MacKinnon-type argument, I am afraid, but the things women think are womanly are the things that men have decided are appealing.

CONNECTION. The history of the world is going to be portrayed in whatever way the world’s historians find appealing and every day women are portraying themselves in ways that men have decided are appealing. Men like long hair, we keep it long. They like smooth legs, so we shave them. South Park makes impolite remarks, so it doesn’t get archived, Pride and Prejudice fits the mold so it gets preserved.

In both cases, a select group of people gets to choose how someone else is portrayed; granted one case does this indirectly – almost inconspicuously.

The question is: Is there any way to stop this from happening? Is there any way around it? In reference to the femininity problem Halberstam suggests, “In a way, it is about getting educators to think about what version of masculinity and femininity they encourage and suppress.” But isn’t that just furthering the problem? Now educators are the ones who get to decide what traits are acceptable in a girl and boy? Will there ever be a time when everyone gets to decide for themselves who they want to be today and how they should be portrayed in the future?


Blog Post Prompt #2

Manoff notes that, “Scholars are raising questions about what counts as knowledge and what are appropriate objects of study in specific disciplines. One way these issues are framed is as a question about what legitimately belongs in the archive. Growth in the academic study of popular culture, for example, has led to the expansion of materials deemed appropriate for research library collections. These now include comic books, romance novels, and even video games. What is considered a legitimate contribution to the archive changes over time and is a function of the transformations of the disciplines and the shifting boundaries among them” (14).

And Halberstam writes that we ought to be making “contrary epistemologies” and “silly knowledge.”

Compose a blog post in which you put these two pieces in conversation with each other. Considering the quotes I’ve pulled out above–how might we make sense of contrary epistemologies in light of what Manoff is saying about the archive and “legitimate” contributions to the archive and/or knowledge.  Or, what do the two pieces mean by “knowledge.”

Pick out a couple quotes from both and work with them very closely to develop your own thoughts. You may think of this prompt as a loose starting point, but do closely engage with the texts.

Critical Blog Posts: 

1) Should engage with the text

2)  Refer to specific examples from the text under examination.

3) Pose at least one question for class discussion.

4) Be a minimum of 300 words.

5) Include a descriptive title and relevant tags for navigation and indexing.

6) Must be proofread and spell-checked.

**sign your name (or initials) at the bottom of your posts.



Archives: Beginnings and Future Implications

In Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Derrida begins by delving into a thorough history of what archiving is, and its origins. Although I found it difficult to follow the points the author tried to convey, I still came away having gained some valuable insight on the subject. Stemming from the Greek word “arkhé”, archiving is tied, in the reading, to the concepts of commencement and commandment, by Derrida. The Greek word originally referred to a house or domicile generally belonging to those who commanded, or had the political power to create or represent law. The term commencement refers to the overall origins of the practice of archiving, while commandment refers to the law governing the control of archives, and how our fear of forgetting plays a role. The concept of wanting to store and catalogue information from our pasts dates as far back as written language. Word of mouth was the only way to account for, and remember, our past prior to this point.

One of the main concepts that Derrida shed light on in the reading was that of the death drive / aggression drive / destruction drive; synonyms for the same phenomenon theorized by Sigmund Freud. Freudian psychoanalytic theory states that this drive, which is present in all of us, leads us towards a desire to restore the world back to the state it was in prior to our being. On this subject, Derrida stated, “it always operates in silence, it never leaves any archives of its own. It destroys in advance its own archive, as if that were in truth the very motivation of its most proper movement…the archive takes place at the place of originary and structural breakdown of the said memory.” He seems to be trying to convey that our destruction drive is ever present, even at the place of origin of an event we archive. Our personal biases and subconscious motives alter our remembrance of an event, thereby altering the archive. We stand idly by with no knowledge that this takes place, while our compulsion to keep record presses on. Essentially, Freud postulates that we want to return things to a more inorganic state through unbinding, dissolution, and dissociation.

With the advent of the more technologically advanced age we live in, archiving has taken on new meaning. Keeping track of the past is still its central focus, but the restrictions governing the recording, accessibility, and amount of available knowledge have changed drastically. Through the Internet our ability to archive is virtually limitless. Pun intended. Text messages, emails, posts on social media networks, etc; it is all recorded and saved, either for your viewing, your friends viewing, or the worlds viewing (class discussion). What sort of implications does this have in regards to the way we create, store, and access important information in the future? Do we really want to be able to better relive past emotional responses as they relate to the events of our lives? Or is it possible that our skewed nostalgic remembrances would end up being healthier for our mental and emotional development?



Archives: Censored No More

Derrida starts the essay by attempting to create a base understanding for the meaning of the archive and to help us understand the implications changing technology have on the archive. He spends the beginning of his essay discussing the origins of the word archive, and the historical meanings of the term. He writes that Arkhe “names at once the commencement and the commandment” (1). He goes on to explain how this dual definition means that the origin for the word archive encompasses two distinct principals at once. It signifies the “there” where things start and the “there” where things are formally indoctrinated. This means that archive can either represent the materials created from the moment they come into existence or the place in its entirety in which “archived” materials are stored.  He goes on to say that an archive refers to “the originary, the first, the principal, the primitive” (2) but in order to have esteem and worth these materials must be protected by guardians in a particularly dwelling. Once in that place, and regardless of their true merit or discursiveness, and “by virtue of a privileged topology” that accompanies their being classified in the archives, they gain value.

The legitimacy of this system of privileged topology is touched upon by Freud in a satirical and thought provoking assertion in Civilization and Its Discontents. Freud writes that what he is writing is useless, devoid of merit, and self-evident. Freud here raises the question of how valuable is all that we archive, and why do we archive all that we do? Derrida expands upon this idea by bringing up our tendency to document and preserve everything.

These historically based discussions of the word archive directly relate to how we understand the meaning of the modern term archive today. Archives have come to represent both the materials—letters, books, notes—that have been collected and the places in which they are stored. Some of these materials carry great importance and others of do not. These materials are protected by various people, be those people organizations or individuals. While the careful protection of archives is important, it is also unfortunate in that these guardians control the archives and the information they contain. To destroy, alter, or censor these materials has been routine yet controversial practice for centuries. We relate to archives with a certain amount of reverence. We are desperate to preserve them, quick to believe their contents, and slow to question their relevance. In accordance with the death drive that Freud hypothesized occupies all humans, we are desperate to archive written materials almost immediately after creating them. Archives are seen as important for their ability to not only tell us about the past but indicate the futures of particular fields of study.

The archive has been changed greatly by technology. With the invention of email and other digital means of recordation many of Freud’s theories for the future of psychoanalysis and the capabilities of memory have begun to lose legitimacy. Derrida discusses how email would have completely changed the archives of the past (had it existed) merely for the difference in response brought on by a letter which takes several days to arrive versus an email that takes several seconds. Technologies of today will not allow for the type of censorship and withholding of knowledge seen with the Freud Archives.

In today’s world of transparency and access to information the public feels the right and in fact demands to know everything, however is this truly in the best interests of the public? Also, with so much information in the public digital archive how can we distinguish between what is valuable and worthy of archiving?

Amelia Ohm

Archive: A Deconstruction

Derrida is best known to me as a post-structuralism theorist and author. I have studied his work in the past and because of this began reading an excerpt from Archive Fever with a post-structuralist’s point of view. In the typical style of this genre he began by giving his topic a finite definition, a structure. The root of the word archive comes from the Greek word arkhe, which “coordinates two principles in one,” those of the commencement and the commandment. Thus, it is well suited that during ancient Greek times an archive referred to the house or home of an official of the law or commandment. The idea of the original archives being selective, controlled, and private collections gives a concrete image to the concept of an archive, as we know it.

The modern archive, as exemplified by RIP: a Remix Manifesto, is a complex network of individuals communicating and sharing their files. The creation of the modern archive has been driven by the creation of the Internet and the endless number of ways information and files can be shared through it. Using the Internet, Girl Talk is able to download songs from other artists from all over the world and from many different time periods. The archive available to him through the Internet is not selective, controlled, or private.

Derrida mentions the “future” of the archive in his discussion of this concept. This is the point in the excerpt where his deconstruction of his original finite definition reaches a climax. From a post-structural point of view, it is at this point that we are no longer able to envision a solid structure of an “archive.” This deconstruction of the concept that Derrida describes has been accomplished through modern day technology. An archive is no longer the private house of an officer who can control it but, a public forum where members of society can access information, change it, and add their own new information to it.

modern archives and death drives

I found it rather difficult to engage with and interpret the excerpt from Derrida. From what I was able to decipher, he maintains the notion that archives are both private and public domain. That archives remain somewhat under “house arrest,” (domiciliation as he mentions on page 5) confined to the exclusive collections of museums or other archival sites (such as galleries, conservancies, etc). I believe that many modern day museums uphold both of these notions that Derrida introduces. They are open to the public (sometimes free, sometimes with a small fee), and display many artifacts, artworks, etc., accessible to the public. However, a large portion of a museum’s collection remains underground and privately archived. This portion of a collection not on display is difficult for those not employed by the museum or an important patron to access, thus pointing to the exclusive nature archives also possess.

The exclusivity but also public nature of archives also applies to the nature of social media (as archives) today. Some information of the archive remains open to the public depending on the user and how strict (or loose) his/her privacy settings are. Social media sites such as Facebook and Tumblr allow users the ability to compile extensive archives consisting of photographs, original video, text entries, links to other websites, etc. These sites are a very easy and accessible method of personal archiving, with a total of over a billion users worldwide. The popularity of these online archives today has me wondering if the “death drive,” “memories of death” or le mal d’archive Derrida discusses (linking back to Freud), has been a more prevalent theme or stress on the humans of today’s world? Are humans archiving more than ever because of how easy it has become? Because their archives can exist digitally without taking up physical space? Or are humans simply more self-destructive today? Is the death drive stronger? Are we aware of it? Why does our own self destruction lead to an uncontrollable desire to archive?