Deciphering the Archive

When figuring out what the concept of the archive really means, Derrida finds it best to look at the word itself.  He traces the etymology of the word back to its original Greek meaning, “at once the commencement and the commandment.” The commencement part of this definition suggests that there was a physical place where things happened, and the commandment refers to the law and authority surrounding this place.  This authority is something that is further explored in the reading.  The Greek superiors controlled the archive and its physical location in the home of an Archon. The documents had a place to be organized and stored, but also available.  Because the people controlling the archives were persons of authority, the archives were a contradiction of being both transparent and concealed.  This became the nature of an archive, and also how we relate to it.  On page 7 Derrida says the archive is, “at once institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and traditional.”

The actual material in the archive is something Derrida focuses on next.  In relation to printing, the need for an external space arises.  Importantly, he states in order for an archive to exist it must be created to live in an external space.  This means that the material has to be fitted to the archive, and the actual structure of the archive does not change overtime.  So altering an archive means, to me, that the printed material is altered, not the structure.   This is evident when the use of modern technology is explored.  The basic concepts of an archive still hold true: the archives dwell in a structured, external source, and they exist in expectation of the future.

Before reading this, the definition of an archive in my mind was a gathering of historical records and the place where they were located.  After reading this the definition has changed in my mind.  What does an archive now mean to you?

Jennifer

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