Death of the Archive

For Derrida to start at the beginning of the archive is a fair place to start; after all, humans have been making, creating, and thinking archives since the concept of information was born. The Greeks made archives, the Egyptians had their Library of Alexandria, and museums and churches have been archiving information forever. However, these archives are all made up of things. Ideas, yes, but ideas that have been recorded in the form of words or pictures or songs or art. Derrida later argues (using Freud’s psychoanalytic theory) that humans’ death drive has resulted in the uncontrollable need to archive: the tititular le mal d’archive. The way Derrida discusses this topic gives the impression he is not a fan of this obviously fatal flaw in human nature, that the act of putting the pen to paper is insulting to the ideas that the pen is recording. He even goes as far as to apologize for including a long block quote and relevant citation in his essay; as if truly that half page of extra text is detrimental to the very livelihood of the archive. I find that reading this argument was exhausting as Derrida seemed to accomplish nothing but twisting the word and idea of “the archive” to result in “archive”, both as a noun and a verb, meaning essentially nothing.

Derrida continues to lose me is towards the end of his tirade of the archive. Derrida has tried to shift the definition of the archive from not a place that houses organized information (probably printed or digital in some manner) to the ideas that the archive contains. In a more modern metaphor, I feel that the concept of the cloud is close to what Derrida considers an archive: it is a collection of ideas that cannot be contained into a geographical vessel and can be accessed by anyone (well, anyone with an internet connection). I simply cannot agree with Derrida’s declaration that email and thus the internet age are “privileged,” as he states on page 17. I feel that Derrida is romanticizing the concept of an archive if he concludes that the rapid proliferation of information in today’s age has somehow cheapened the philosophy of the archive. But Derrida wrote this before social media, before organizations like WikiLinks essentially opened up archives (here classified US government documents), and so Derrida’s words end up seeming somewhat dated. The reader is left to wonder, would Derrida have written about the archive differently if this was published in 2013?

-ks

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