Unknowable Archiving

Derrida describes archives and the act of archiving as being a paradoxical experience. These paradoxes arise from the dichotomous nature of archives. Derrida says an archive is “at once institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and traditional.” The archive is a recording of information from the past, but this information can only become relevant to us in the future. We can only understand the meaning or the importance of the information that is being archived within the context of the future wherein the archived information will be accessed. This creates a difficulty in formulating a clear concept of what an archive is. In order to have a concept of an archive readily at our disposal the idea of the archive would have to be “archivable” itself, and even if it was, the concept would be fluid and ever changing as it would be viewed in the always different contexts of an unknowable future. Derrida summarizes this idea saying, “The archive: if we want to know what this will have meant, we will only know in the times to come.”

Advances in technology have radically altered both the amount of information that can be archived and the ease and efficiency through which this information can be accessed. Archiving is the creation of artificial memory to combat what Derrida argues is the brain’s natural tendency to be destructive towards its own memories. The advent of digital memory allowed people to begin to have access to an almost limitless amount of data at just the push of a button. This means that the practice archiving has become increasingly more frequent. Will we ever reach a point in technological advancement where all information received by the brain is immediately archived?

It seems obvious that this change in how archiving is conducted would congruently change the meaning of the archived information. Derrida argues this point saying, “Archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives. It begins with the printer.” The change in the meaning of different archived information when stored on a computer as compared to a traditional archival object like a book is distinct, but even among different digital archiving methods, there is a great disparity in the meaning of the archived content. A post that is archived identically on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, will have a different meaning on each one of these platforms because of the differing contexts.


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