Freud, Derrida and Electronic Records – Beginnings

For some reason, hubris, scholarly ambition or possibly madness, I’ve begun an extremely slow and careful reading of Archive Fever by Derrida. Often times postmodern issues, this work in particular, crop up in classes, research and impolite conversation, and I felt that it was needed to really give it a careful reading and test my scholastic mettle. If you’re not familiar with this work which began life as a lecture, the major premise of the pieces is that it’s essentially a “fever” or a disease to believe that the archive is a reputable repository for information. That in essence the archive is a poor place due to many complications for our collective memory. Derrida explains this by investigating Freud, and his many concepts of individual memory.

Unknown to me was that as I approached finishing the “Exergue”, I noticed that Derrida began what I consider a hasty conversation about how electronic records and their impact on archival veracity. He calls technology, ”these radical and interminable turbulences.”1 He further posits, and suggests that technology today causes issues with what is archivable and the process of archiving itself. Derrida seems to imply that older documents are more reliable records than modern records by implying that their creations had a certain intentionality, and that the intent to create them makes them more trust worthy. Where as, more modern records have been impacted extremely by technology and “archival structure”, which lessens their reliability. This is an interesting point, if this is Derrida’s intent, with this short aside on technology and archives. Unfortunately, it is quickly introduced and left with the reader more left to ponder such ideas as the “Mystic Writing Pad”.2

Derrida does promise to return more to this issue later in his work, but really this is an interesting premise that begs an important question. Does the fact that new technologies exist that remove some intentionality from the creation of archival record somehow remove trust in the archives? My opinion is no it doesn’t, but I reject much of the idea behind Archive Fever the more I read of it. This doesn’t mean that their aren’t unexpected questions that can be asked of the archival profession from engaging with this complex piece. So just as Derrida promise to explain himself better, I too promise to keep reading.

  1. Archive Fever, 18. 
  2. This Atlantic piece discusses the concept of the Mystic Writing Pad in a better context than does Derrida.