The Archive as a Narrative

In this selection from Archive Fever, Derrida presents his idea of the archive as a collection of memory, a synthesis of abstract concepts which relate to each other on some level. In reading this passage, however, I interpreted Derrida’s writing to mean that the archive is actually more of a narrative, like a story.

An archive can be made up of many different entities or ideas; here, Derrida uses the case of psychoanalysis and the human condition as an archive. However, the archive must not be so abstract as to exist without reference to time or space. Derrida begins his introductory note by breaking down the word archive, into the root of the words commencement and commandment. This shows that in some way the archive must be historical or temporal (from commencement) and grounded in some concept of truth or authority (commandment). It contains time and space, not just thoughts and ideas. When he continues to explain the idea of an archive being public or private, I interpret this to also mean that the archive is linked to a physical place, some sort of spatial awareness. Even the name of this passage, the Exergue, refers to the inscription on a coin noting the date and location of that coin’s minting. Constantly Derrida refers to time and space in his definition of the archive.

At its most basic, time plus place equals a setting, like that of a story. So for all of Derrida’s psychoanalysis, his idea of the archive is really quite simple: it’s a narrative. The narrative doesn’t have to be linear, nor does it have to have a conclusive beginning or ending. It just has to consist of things related to one another in some way, existing in a certain time or place, that are not completely disassociated from one another, as Derrida explains on page 3. All stories have some sort of message or core idea that they intend to promote.

This is why Derrida claims that had Freud existed in the days of email and social media, his analysis and theories would not have spread differently, they would be completely different altogether (page 16). The “archive” doesn’t refer to the method of collection and transmission of the narrative, the archive is the narrative itself. This elicits the question, if the archive is altered by remixing it in some way, what happens to the story being told? Is its original message altered forever, or is a new message created alongside the old one?

– j.b.

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One thought on “The Archive as a Narrative

  1. Through reading your post (and others’ posts) this reading is becoming more clear to me, but I especially enjoyed your take on Derrida’s message. A narrative is an excellent way of describing what an archive means. holding a spatial awareness, being time stamped, promoting a larger message, are all true about most narratives and archives. There are always exceptions, of course, such as Tumblr blogs can simply be an archive of posts that an individual finds interesting. Would such a blog be considered an archive, or is the “reblogging” of other people’s posts unoriginal and a rehashing of their ideas? Is this form of sharing thoughts and pictures a form of remixing to create a new whole?

    To answer your question briefly, when an archive is remixed, it takes on a whole new persona. It becomes a new and different work of art. It creates a comfortable way to create a new message or idea with familiar sights, sounds, or text. Remixing gives the public something to relate to, as if giving them a hook to draw in attention, while dispersing an archive telling a fresh story through this new author’s scope.

    -Cody

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