What does violence have to do with archives?

After reading through my notes for Archive Fever, I found that I wrote in the margins “What does violence have to do with archives?!??!” This reaction seemed to be an appropriate response to Derrida’s writing as I found myself to be confused and felt like I was reading in circles rather than progressing and understanding the material. That being said, I found it easiest to dissect the excerpts (Note and Exergue) separately. First, I will begin with Note.

Before anyone can truly understand something in any capacity, they must understand the source of that ‘something.’ Derrida takes this approach and begins discussing the beforehand of the ‘archive’ – he analyzes the word ‘archive’ and its meaning in Greek. By starting here, we learn the properties of the environment that surround an archive. It must be “visible and invisible,” and be able to “shelter itself, sheltered, to conceal itself,” demonstrating the complexities and duality associated with general consensus of what ‘archive’ means. This also touches upon history, or rather the interaction between past and future. For me, an archive is a recollection of past behavior and historical facts, which must be sacred and protected yet reachable.

The Exergue begins with Derrida’s declaration of an archive being violent. This is where I became very interested. I found in this section that Derrida would persuade me to believe that and archive had a certain, single quality and then seconds later, he had persuaded me it had an opposite, second quality. This duality fuels the idea of destruction- if opposing elements make up the archive, how can it be stable? Without opposition and conflict, elements cannot be identified and described with such detail with the best accuracy. For example, as a human, you cannot understand that you feel sad until you feel happy. Sad and happy must conflict with each other in order to understand that there are unique emotions associated with each feeling. This duality occurs naturally and helps to fuel transformation and change.

Transformation and change are what cause the archive to be altered. As people change, they look to transform themselves or their environment to better suit them. This is the same for archives – as time elapses, it is natural to alter an archive and create new archives more appropriate for the time. Derrida recognizes that the things we call classical, such as archives, are quickly becoming out of reach and disappearing as technology improves and being forgotten altogether. However, people (and archives) are unique; someone will carry on the most classical elements of the past (even if it is only a single person.) I think Derrida’s hope is to recognize the classical age of the past is slipping away quickly and we must grab on before it is too late and EVERYONE forgets it all together, as demonstrated by understanding an archive.

– LH

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