What Archiving “Means”

Let’s start with the obvious: Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression is a pretty heavy–and potentially confusing–read. The concepts discussed in the piece are complex to say the
least, even though the messages might, on some level, possibly be quite simple. When it
comes to what it “means” to archive, Jacques Derrida (who, appropriately enough, has a very French name for what is ultimately a very French article) seems to think it’s important on a historical level, not just a personal one (or does he think the reverse? As I said, the piece is arguably frustrating to try to understand). We archive to preserve, to document, yet that which we archive is capable of taking on a soul of its own, a ghost of what has been, an echo of what we are keeping and why (gosh, now I’m confusing myself with my own writing here).

“The archontic principle of the archive is also a principal of consignation, that is, of gathering together,” Derrida writes, which provides just one example of how loaded his writing can be here. Yet the concept of “gathering together” might be crucial to what Derrida is saying, that archiving is ultimately communal, as that which is preserved is ultimately going to be viewed (conceivably, at least) by many different pairs of eyes. Is that which we document potentially “personal” by default? The “picture not taken” discussion we had in our first class–in which a photographer talked about an act of violence that was “done for her” that she was thankful she didn’t record or “archive” so to speak–had the students debating whether or not certain things even should be “documented.” I would be inclined to believe that they probably shouldn’t, at least in some situations.If archiving is
something that’s done “together,” then there is a certain responsibility that comes with that. And there I go confusing myself again.

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