Archives, Freud, and Bobby Flay…Oh my!

Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression conceptualizes archives and explains how Derrida’s personal considerations about them relate to Sigmund Freud’s “archive.” Derrida forms his definition of the word “archive” by tracing the word itself back to the Greek “arkhé.” As Derrida states on page one, “arkhé” is centered around the ideas of commencement and commandment. Commencement highlights the physical location of an archive, while commandment highlights the authority associated with those who controlled and protected the archives. In this way, Derrida presents his audience with a dichotomous definition of the word.

There is a unique connection between Derrida’s suggestions and what we discussed on the first day of class. On page two Derrida writes, “The dwelling, this place where they dwell permanently, marks this institutional passage from the private to the public, which does not always mean from the secret to the non-secret.” We live in a time where the line between the public sphere and the private sphere is constantly being called into question. As we saw in RIP: A Remix Manifesto, just because a person buys an artist’s (public) song does not necessarily mean they have the right to go home and do whatever they want with that purchase (in private). Where is the line and who has the right to draw it?

I am fascinated by how Derrida was able to link the need for an “external place to house the archives” with Freud’s concept of the death drive. Derrida explains, “There is no archive without consignation in an external place which assures the possibility of memorization, of repetition, of reproduction, or of repression.” Freud theorized that every individual has this innate desire to return the world to the state that it was in prior to his/her birth. And Derrida suggests that creating and maintaining archives helps to remind us of what that initial state was. We use the archives to memorize and reproduce that initial state as best as we possibly can.

Derrida then relates the public-private struggle to technology. Specifically, he explores how technology, mainly email, has changed the way that archives function in society. On page 17 Derrida writes, “This instrumental possibility of production, of printing, of conservatism, and of destruction of the archive must inevitably be accompanied by juridical and thus political transformation.” Technological advances are powerful because of the changes that they can enact. Derrida believes that the archivable materials determine how the archive exists – and therefore technologies like email completely alter the way that archives exist because they create a multitude of archivable materials! Every time that we create, save, send, or draft an email, we are changing the way that archives are structured.

My question is this (I apologize in advance for its annoyingly philosophical nature): Arguably, every idea in the world is inspired by something else, another idea. We are constantly building new things – but those new things are grounded in the old things (aka the archives of the world). Is there such a thing as an original idea if it was inspired by something that already exists?

I am thinking of this in regards to A Remix Manifesto. If a music artist uses old parts (lyrics, beats, etc.) to create something entirely new, but can still be sued…how is it legal for Bobby Flay to take one of Rachel Ray’s recipes, change a few of the ingredients, add the “new” recipe to a cookbook, and make thousands of dollars off the sales?



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