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.

Thoughts of Archive

After reading Derrida’s Archive Fever I believe that Derrida means that archive is the development of forming documents, which is proof that you were there because you are able to document it. Not only do you show your archive you but you allow it to be what you believe has occurred. In text it states, “The first archivist institutes the archive as it should be, that is to say, not only in exhibiting the document, but establishing it” (Pg. 38). This explains that it is not just about showing what had happened but it is making it known, making it flourish, and making it grow and prosper so that others will want to know about your archive. In relation how quite frankly a lot of things are beginning to deal with technology, and how we communicate and interact with each other through documentations as Derrida’s says through e-mail. In the past people did not really document things because they did not have certain things to document as modern day people do. They did not record or take a lot of pictures to visualize like people do in today’s world, so it seemed like they were not really there in a way and all they have is the knowledge of their memory. “The picture not taken” relates to it because all she had was her memory to remind her of what occurred she can not show us a picture of what happened she can only tell us through words. Derrida thinks that having archives will forward itself toward honesty because it is documented and everyone will be able to either see it or read it for themselves. I believe that technology allowed archive to be altered and changed in a way. This is due to the fact that yes people pull things from history but it is from their experience which may not be all the way true. It may be their opinion which may have not necessarily happened. Do you think that archives are good thing?

Ironic Impulse: How Archiving Defeats Its Own Purpose

Archiving is a way for humans to try and cheat their own nature.  Derrida references Freud’s “destruction drive”, or the human brain’s loss of information linked to the progression of time, as justification for preservation of experiences.  In Derrida’s words, the drive incites “forgetfulness, amnesia, [and] the annihilation of memory.”  It brings to mind, for me, the Second Law of Thermodynamics: that nature is constantly working towards entropy, or chaos, much like the human mind.  A shed left abandoned in the woods will degenerate the longer it is left unattended, and will become overgrown with ivy and wild plants native to the area.  Eventually the frame will give out and the structure will crumble.  Much is the same with human memory.  The longer we spend away from a certain event or emotion or revelation, the less we can recall about it.  The archive is our gardener.  The gardener travels out to the shed in the woods and fixes it up as it ages.  He cuts back the wild plants and tears away the ivy.  He repaints the outside and replaces wooden slats when they become rotted.  He displays unfamiliar, but attractive flowers along the side.  However, by keeping the shed standing, the gardener has changed the shed itself.  It is no longer an accurate reflection of what it was in the moment that the gardener found it.

Similarly, our memories are altered by archives.  The archive keeps the imprint of whatever we are able to describe onto whatever medium is available to us, yet it is impossible to have an exact replication of the physical and mental circumstances of a particular moment.  That is the “nomological” side to archiving—the archiver acts as a god, strictly controlling what gets remembered for even years to come.  Some may believe that the action of archiving gives too much power to the archiver, that the potential altering of mementos may in turn alter what society accepts as history and as fact.  The question is which is worse—risking having mass belief in inaccurate or incomplete history, or relying on no methods of archiving at all and just letting nature run its course?  That’s not to say that the archive is 100% a bad thing; thanks to the gardener, the shed will be useful to whoever needs to use it. As Derrida states, “Perhaps the question of the archive is not […] a question of the past.” We use archives to help us determine our decisions in the future.  The risk is whether or not those decisions were based on misinformation.

Originally, formal archiving was dependent on text.  As time has gone on and technology has diversified, the opportunity for archiving has expanded, as well as more permanent methods of retaining information.  Derrida talks of what is “worth” being archived, a concept that Freud measured by the “laborious investment in the archive”—which, to him, was most likely paper and print.  However, today’s videos and pictures, restrictions on social media post lengths, and other forms of fast-paced technology only offer snapshots into reality, and less of a combination of internal and external forces that came together to have the documented event occur.

However, text allows for more opportunity to add context to an archived event rather than a single picture being expected to capture the event in it’s entirety.  For instance, if Keasler’s picture had been taken and shared without an accurate explanation of the events leading up to the picture, the message would be skewed—the father would have gotten what he wanted as people retweeted it on Twitter, calling for better living conditions in the town she was visiting.   However, with the textual archive that Keasler provided in the “Photographs Not Taken” series, a different message is construed instead.  It raises the question of the intrusiveness of the photographer, the risks that are taken in a human’s impulsive need to archive.  Having knowledge of one’s actions being archived immediately takes away the truth of the action—the father wasn’t acting out of circumstances independent of the archiver.  He was directly influenced by her presence, and thus her attempts at capturing any genuine, average experience of the environment, in which she was meant to be a sort of omnipresent observer, was lost.   Technology brings an obviousness and awareness of archiving that directly alters the way events transpire.

Blog prompt #1

Welcome to our class blog! Feel free to make yourself at home. This will be an archive of all of your wonderful, smart work during the semester.

For this first post:

After reading Derrida’s Archive Fever, discuss, in your own words, what Derrida means by “archive.” Because this is a complex text, look up words and concepts you don’t know, and begin to forge some kind of meaning out of what you read. There is no right anwer. Instead, you will notice that you will begin to understand the text as you go back through it to write about it. You might consider how “the picture not taken” [discussed in class] might relate to it? What does this say about past and future? Or what it means to alter the archive, memory, knowledge? Once you’ve done that sufficiently and thoughtfully, discuss what technology has done to the archive, both according to Derrida and using your own observations. You could refer to the art exhibit, Archive Fever, or  “How Documentary Became the Most Exciting Kind of Filmmaking” reading and/or Misty Keasler’s picture not taken.

For these posts, don’t be afraid to make them your own; be creative and artful in your response. Use craft, but also be self-reflective.  SAY NO TO CLICHES! And please stay very close to the text for this first post. Do close reading and thoughtful writing as a way of opening up the prompt above. I look forward to reading!

dr. c

Remember | Blog post requirements:

Critical Blog Posts: 

1) Should engage with the text

2)  Refer to specific examples from the text under examination.

3) Pose at least one question for class discussion.

4) Be a minimum of 300 words.

5) Include a descriptive title and relevant tags for navigation and indexing.

6) Must be proofread and spell-checked.