Archives: External Origins, Internal Reflections

Perhaps one of the most memorable explanations of an archive Derrida presents is that it is more than an intangible idea. Instead, an archive can only take form within a structure. However, this structure that the archive uses can, itself, be intangible.

If we use Derrida’s example on page 11, an archive can be begun in the “structural breakdown” of a memory, which is an external concept, not in the act of recalling the memory, which is an internal concept. Mainly, in the case of memory, the archive occurs outside the person, not inside of him or her. The entire purpose of an archive is to revisit, repeat, or recall a place, document, event, or memory. Having an exterior origin, like in the explanation of a memory, allows for the inward reflection repetition provides, which gives an archive its purpose.

With that being said, I do not believe that the structures of archives themselves can be altered. Instead, it is the changing, morphing, and altering of the material being archived that changes. The change in the nature of archived material may make an archive seem different, but in reality, the archive has not changed in structure at all. Or, perhaps, does the change in the nature of material being archived actually change the structure of the archive?

Derrida states that the entire idea of the archive has been affected by the improvement of technology. More specifically, he states that the structure that actually performs the archiving determines the structure of the content archived. He uses the example of the media to explain that although these sources are archiving material, they are creating archivable material as well, instead of archiving material that was already in existence.

Yes, technological advances have changed the way things are archived. Instead of there being large collections of tangible documents and objects, like the Library of Congress, most archives are digital these days. However, the change in the way things are archived has not affected the structure of the archive. Archives must still have an exterior origin, take form within a structure, and allow for inward reflection. The same idea that Derrida explained on page 11 carries through, even taking technological advances into consideration: “There is no archive without a place of consignation, without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority. No archive without outside.”


-Ellie Petrosky


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