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SubStance, Issue 105 (Volume 33, Number 3), 2004, pp. 148-161 (Article)

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DOI: 10.1353/sub.2004.0034

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148

David F. Bell

Infinite Archives
David F. Bell
Jacques Derridas 1995 Mal darchive is an essay with multiple
resonances. One can speculate that after nearly a decade and a half of a
trend that saw the development in French historical circles of critical
thought and writing on the notions of memory and archive, represented
most notably and emblematically by Pierre Noras massive project, Lieux
de mmoire, originally published in seven volumes between 1984 and 1992,
a certain fetishism of the archive needed to be analyzed. Deconstruction
had supposedly shut the door on an old style philology as a viable manner
for getting at the truth in its origins, but now another strategy seemed to
have reared its head, suggesting that the truth of history could be found
in documents, symbols, and objects, many of which were circumscribed
in collections, repositories of knowledge about deep-seated belief systems.
The ditions Gallimard internet catalogue describes the project of Lieux
de mmoire as follows:
Today the rapid disappearance of our national memory cries out for
an inventory of the places where it was selectively incarnated:
celebrations, emblems, monuments, and commemorations, but also
speeches, archives, dictionaries, and museums. . . . More than an
impossible exhaustiveness, what counts here are the types of subjects
chosen, how they are exploited, the richness and variety of
approaches, and, finally, the broad equilibrium of a vast corpus on
which more than a hundred of the most qualified historians have
agreed to collaborate. France as a subject is inexhaustible. Taken
together, [this is] a history of France, not in the habitual sense of the
term, butbetween memory and historythe selective and scholarly
exploration of our collective legacy. (My translation here and
elsewhere unless otherwise noted.)

The expression hritage collectif, used in Gallimards marketing


blurb and rendered here as collective legacy, might just as easily be
translated inherited collections, that is, inherited archives. The trope
of lost memory becomes a lieu commun: if ones history cannot be
remembered, the only recourse is to be immersed in the invigorating
reservoir of accumulated texts and objects. Although a teleological
historical narrative of progress is no longer available, remnants and
vestiges can rejuvenate the frustrated historian, or so it would seem. The
Lieux de mmoire project can be analyzed as a re-inscription of the discipline
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of history in a postmodern, poststructuralist phase, at a moment when


all possibility of narrative closure seems remote indeed (France as a
subject is inexhaustible, that is, infinite, without end.). Mal darchive might
well find one of its sources of inspiration in an attempt to analyze
critically this fetishism of collecting, which results from something like a
moment of crisis. Although he makes no reference to Nora and the Lieux
de mmoire project, Derrida nonetheless wonders about the fear of loss
motivating projects like the one Nora imagined, as well as all the
emulations to which Noras work gave rise (one is tempted to characterize
the historical and critical endeavors spawned by Lieux de mmoire as a
veritable cottage industry). Why had the question of the archive come to
the fore? In fact, Derrida had already taken a decidedly less euphoric
view of how the past comes back when he lectured and wrote about the
specters of Marx only shortly before he gave his lecture on the Freud
archive. Far from constituting a source from which one might recover a
certain plenitude of memory, the vestiges of the past return to haunt the
presentboth as reminders of the past and as announcements of the
future.
Mal darchive, originally an occasional piece that grew out of reflections
on the notion of the archive in the history of Freuds foundational work
in psychoanalysis and thus out of Derridas earlier analysis of the scene
of writing in Freud (Freud et la scne de lcriture), also finds the
motivation for its argument in the damage done to archives by political
repression and in the counter attempts to get at what was suppressed
and thereby forgotten during the various political and social disasters
that marked the twentieth century: The disasters that have marked the
end of the millennium are also the archives of evil: hidden or destroyed, off
limits, stolen, repressed (1; Derridas emphasis). 1 A lot is riding on the
argument developed in Mal darchive, certainly more than can be treated
in a short essay. Let us try nonetheless to circumscribe a portion of the
issues raised by Derridas text. In particular, it is fascinating to confront
Derridas positions with several striking pronouncements on the history
of psychoanalysis made by Friedrich Kittler in his work on media theory
in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.
The broad outlines of Derridas presentation are set out at the
beginning of his essay. He immediately calls attention to the etymology
of the term archive in Greek, its connection with the Greek word arkheon,
meaning the place, the address, the domicile of the archontes, those who
govern and command. In this space, set off from public space, rulers
have the right not only to store official documents, but also to interpret

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them. The right to govern is always already a hermeneutic right, the


right to assign meaning to and make sense of the documents which,
taken together, furnish the foundation and justification for the law. These
activities of collecting, storing, and interpreting are overlaid with an
additional element, howeverwhat Derrida calls consignation, by which
he means assembling the documents together into a coherent corpus.
The constitution of the archive does not consist simply in storing
disparate documents together in juxtaposition. The interpretive function
of the archontes implies that they make choices: they relate the documents
in the archive to one another. In the end, they create an articulated corpus:
Consignment tends to coordinate a single corpus into a system or
synchronous relation in which all the elements are articulated into the
unity of an ideal configuration. . . . The archontic [from archontes] principle
of the archive is also a principle of . . . gathering together (14).
The basic elements of this description of the archive are clearly laid
out. Borders separate an outside from an inside. Gatekeepers make
decisions about what crosses those borders to be stored inside, but they
also construct a system out of the documents they control through a
labor of interpretation that renders all parts of the archive present to all
others. A political and social tradition of respect and veneration makes
the constitution and preservation of the archive a function of a ruling
group, whoever they may be. This structure furnishes Derrida with an
entry point into a reflection on the history of psychoanalysis and on
Freuds role as the founder of the method. In what sense can it be said
that Freuds works, his correspondence, his house (which has now
become a museum) constitute an archive?
Inevitably this brings Derrida back to his earlier work on Freuds
curious little essay, A Note on the Mystic Writing Pad (1925: Notiz ber
den Wunderblock), in Freud et la scne dcriture. The schema mobilized
by the magic writing pad contains all the deconstructive force that
inevitably puts into question the notion of boundaries and thus the
discrete existence of the archive. In fact, Freuds theory of the unconscious
is a theory of memory, of how impressions are inscribed on the psyche,
of how the psyche is a writing tablet ready to receive the marks of a
certain kind of writing. A brief summary of Freuds argument and how it
uses the image of the mystic writing pad would be helpful . The writing
pad in question here is a childrens toy, a wax tablet overlaid with a
transparent plastic sheet. When one presses on the sheet with a stylus, a
faint trace is inscribed on the wax backing and a darker trace on the
transparent plastic, which adheres to the wax at the points where it is

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pressed with the requisite force. Once the transparent plastic sheet is
peeled away from the wax, the trace upon the transparent sheet
disappears. A faint trace remains embedded in the wax backing, however,
only to be overwritten by the next set of lines traced onto the pad. As
Freud claims, the appearance and disappearance of the writing is
similar to the flickering up and passing away of consciousness in the
process of perception (19:230).
What for Freud is an analogy conceived as an explanatory tool
becomes for Derrida an emblematic moment that emphasizes the
primacy of writing in Freuds description of the unconscious and of
memory formation. The marks on the mystic writing pad are not simply
a result of the stylus depositing something from the outside on a more
permanent storage surface (as is the case for an ink pen on paper or chalk
on a chalkboard), but also a result of the impression left on the wax
beneath the transparent plastic sheet, an impression that appears on the
transparent plastic sheet from behind, as it were. Perception is always
already subtended by writing and the trace: If there were only
perception, pure permeability to facilitation [frayage], there would be no
facilitation. . . . But pure perception does not exist: we are written upon
only through our own writing, through the agency within us that always
already keeps watch over perception, whether it is internal or external
(Freud et la scne de lcriture, 335).2 Writing supplements perception
even as perception occurs.
At the heart of psychoanalytic theory, Derrida argues in Mal darchive,
is a structure based on a notion of the archive, on what is written and
collected by the unconscious/conscious perception apparatus and
somehow systematized into recognizable experiences, which can be
rememberedthat is, archived. But we must immediately add to this
analysis the fact that the development of psychoanalysis as a method
and as a theory has a historical dimension: it is a history with its own
archive, namely, a series of foundational texts written by Freud as well
as a long series of correspondences and exchanges with collaborators
and enemies of the theory. Derrida wants to suggest that this is all of a
piece. Psychoanalysis describes the psyche as an archive, and
simultaneously the existence of psychoanalysis as a field of theoretical
research is the result of the creation of an archive of documents. No
intellectual terrain is thus more emblematic for reflecting on the
relationship between memory and archive.
Up to this point, the analysis conducted by Derrida is classically
deconstructive: he begins working, as he typically does, on the notion of

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the boundary that separates an inside from an outside and slowly chips
away until its function as boundary is crucially undone. At a certain
point in this argument, however, Derrida unexpectedly asks a
supplementary question, one that is highly suggestive:
The question is whetheressentially and other than in extrinsic details
the structure of the psychic apparatus, the system . . . that Freud
wanted to describe with the mystic writing pad, resists or does not
resist the evolution of the techno-science of the archive. Would the
psychic apparatus be better represented or otherwise affected by so many
technological devices for archiving and reproducingso-called live
memory prosthesessimulacra of the living, which are already
refined and in the future will be even more refined, complicated,
powerful than the mystic writing pad (micro-computing, electronics,
computerization, etc.)? (Mal darchive, 32; Derridas emphasis)

And as for the historical archive of documents constituting the corpus of


psychoanalysis, a comparable question arises:
Whether it is a question of Freuds private or public life, of the lives
of his partners or inheritors, occasionally even of his patients, of his
personal or scientific exchanges, of correspondences, of politicoinstitutional deliberation or decisions, of practices and their rules,...
how was the entirety of this field determined by a state of the
technology of communication or archiving? (33)

This last question is mischievously put in another way as well: what if


Freud and his interlocutors had possessed phone cards and email
accounts?
Unfortunately, this last formulation has the effect of trivializing to
some extent the wider implications of new archive technologies to which
Derrida had alluded at two different levels: at the level of the
representation of the structure of the psyche and at the level of the
institutional history of psychoanalysis. But Derrida does not release his
grip on the reader at this point without a much more serious observation
that eschews irony and goes to the heart of the matter: The technical
structure of the archive being archived also determines the structure of
what can be archived in its very appearing and in its relation to the future
(34; Derridas emphasis). There is little doubt that he is well aware of the
crucial nature of storage technologies, but he chooses not to pursue this
issue in Mal darchive: I would have liked to spend my whole lecture on
this retrospective science fiction (33). The science fiction scenario in
question is not just a fiction, however, which might have been amusing
to pursue if time had permitted. I would maintain, instead, that it is a
crucial dimension of any reflection on the notion of the archive: the
invention of recording technologies at the end of the nineteenth century

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phonograph and cinemato-graphprovoked a questioning about the


nature of the archive that has hardly abated since. Moreover, this
happened during Freuds lifetime, and the developments in question might
conceivably have had an impact on how Freud imagined the unconscious.
There are many consequences of what Friedrich Kittler has described
as a media revolution. He argues forcefully that the very structure of the
subject and the constitution of the archive are affected by the
transformation of media technologies. With the invention of the
phonograph, for the first time in history one could envisage archiving as
an activity that excluded subjectivity as it had been understood before
the existence of this new machine. Kittler puts it as follows: The
phonograph does not hear as do ears that have been trained immediately
to filter voices, words, and sounds out of noise; it registers acoustic events
as such (23). And in yet another formulation: Ever since the invention
of the phonograph, there has been writing without a subject. It is no
longer necessary to assign an author to every trace, not even God (44).
Until the invention of the phonograph, hearing had been understood as
a conscious filtering activity. The subject cannot hear everything and
thus must choose to highlight as meaningful only a small portion of the
sounds produced in the world. This filtering activity constitutes and
defines the subject, the argument goesthat is, it creates consciousness
and identity. Sounds left out and ignored in this process are simply
relegated to the realm of noise, the non-significant, the meaningless. With
the phonograph, a different kind of hearing suggestively appeared, no
longer marked by choice and filtering. What had always been rejected as
background noise now came to the fore and claimed an importance
equivalent to that of language, words, music, or other organized sound
systems. The distinction between sound and noise became considerably
more blurred: Thanks to the phonograph, science is for the first time in
possession of a machine that records noises regardless of the so-called
meaning. Written protocols were always unintentional selections of
meaning (85). What had always been considered to be the only
meaningful noise, namely, language, had previously made it impossible
to grasp noise at all, to include it in a description of the structure of the
psyche.
The impact of recording technologies on the formation of
psychoanalysis was thus quite direct, Kittler argues. Simply put, the
notion of the unconscious would be impossible in the absence of a
technology through which impressions can be recorded without the
presence of the subject to itselfin other words, which captures

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something different from and beyond perceptions in the conscious


sense. The unconscious becomes those unfiltered impressions. In an
important way, then, the phonograph fundamentally defined the notion
of the symptom. The symptom as trace emerged only when a recording
medium had been invented that could actually capture it. Kittler again:
The good old days in which a self-controlled and flattering face
would fool eyes equally bereft of media are over. Rather, all the
sciences of trace detection confirm Freuds statement that no mortal
can keep a secret because betrayal oozes out of him at every
pore. And because (we may add) since 1880, there has been a
storage medium for each kind of betrayal. Otherwise there would be
no unconscious. (84-85)

It was only because recording without filtering was possible that the
flow of nonsense provoked by free associations, speech parapraxes, and
various uncontrolled movements could become objects for analysis (could
be recorded without any written protocol and then perused at leisure
and combed for significance afterwards). Bodily tics, for example, became
the subject par excellence of cinema: Nonsense is always already the
unconscious (86).
In effect, then, Derridas passing remarks in Mal darchive on the
potential relation between psychoanalysis and the history of technologies
allude to something richer than what he addresses explicitly in Mal
darchive. To undertake a study of the issues at stake in the technological
developments that coincide with the beginnings of psychoanalysis would
not be to write an ironic science fiction story about Freud and email
accounts or phone cards. It would mean, instead, to write part of a history
of technology and the effects produced by certain inventions on our
concept of consciousness. But we must not forget that Mal darchive was
written within the wider context of an extended reflection on archive
technologies. Derrida addressed the question of storage technologies much
more directly, for example, in his interview with Bernard Stiegler in
chographies de la Tlvision: Entretiens films, a videotaped conversation
that took place in 1993, published in transcribed form in 1996, the year
after the publication of Mal darchive. The reader should be reminded,
moreover, that the lecture from which the published essay Mal darchive
was derived was delivered in 1994, the year after the television interview
with Bernard Stiegler.
chographies is therefore an important text to consult in order to
broaden our perspective on archive technologies within Derridas work.
It is crucial to point out, moreover, that Bernard Stiegler, with whom
Derrida collaborated in chographies, should probably be considered

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Derridas principal intellectual heir in the domain of media theory. Stiegler


has insisted forcefully on the importance of recording technologies in his
own work. In La technique et le temps 3: le temps du cinema et la question du maltre he takes up, as the title indicates, the question of the technology of the
recorded image as it developed at the end of the nineteenth century and
the beginning of the twentieth. The creation of the phonograph and of
cinema fundamentally altered memory and consciousness, according to
Stiegler: The experience of an identical repetition of a temporal object was
possible for the first time in the history of humanity only after Cros and Edison:
by inventing the analogue phonograph, they profoundly transformed
the play of memory, imagination, and conscience (72; Stiegler s
emphasis).
Derridas interview with Bernard Stiegler immediately raises a
constellation of concerns already evident in Mal darchivebeginning with
the question of the definition of and the access to archives. Shortly after
the opening of the interview, Stiegler alludes to the 1992 French law
establishing a copyright system for audiovisual materials (specifically,
television and radio broadcasts).3 To create a copyright process for such
materials means that a duplicate of each produced work must be
deposited in a national copyright office and a process of public access
must be established. The two elements (storage and access to what is
stored) go hand in hand. As the director of the Institut national de
laudiovisuel stated on the Inathque website at the moment of the tenth
anniversary of the application of the law (2003):
In the context of this law, for the first time the audiovisual domain was
granted the same importance as the written domain and was
considered to be an important archival source. Who would deny
today that the audiovisual is an authentic patrimony and a fundamental
source of knowledge for the understanding of contemporary
societies? The law thus valorized audiovisual materials and extended
the purview of the right to information, which is the indispensable
converse of the freedom of expression.4

Derrida emphasizes precisely the same two sides of the equation in his
initial comments on the law in question: When such a law exists, . . . it
recognizes that . . . a state . . . has the right or the duty to store . . . the
quasi-totality of what is produced and broadcasted on the national
airwaves. Once this has been put in reserve, accumulated, ordered,
classified, the law must provide access . . . to any citizen (43). The
constitution of the archive, the establishment of its parameters, meaning
both who organizes it and who can have access to it, are part and parcel

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of the general presentation of the notion of archive at the beginning of


Mal darchive as well.
In chographies, moreover, Derrida confronts directly the potential of
contemporary storage technologies to record everythingin a manner
that is not part of his argument in Mal darchive, but is clearly related to
Kittlers position: Today one can conceive (or dream) of recording
everything, everything or almost everything. . . . [E]verything that makes
up the national memory in the traditional sense of the termbut just
about anything at allcan and often is recorded: the mass is enormous
(74). 5 If everything can be recorded, however, a problem arises
immediately: how to store what is recorded, that enormous mass?
Although digital technologies constantly shrink the size of archived
materials, such that the potential space available for storage approaches
asymptotically the dream of recording everything, choices about what
is to be stored must always be made: storage space will never catch up
with the infinity implied by the notion of recording the entirety of events.
The choices fall squarely on the shoulders of the state, and this
paradoxically reinforces the existence and identity of the state in a world
where instant communication would seem, on the contrary, to dissolve
progressively its borders and thus its power over citizens: As soon as
one speaks about a politics of memory, things become worrisome: in the
end, does not the stateeven though it represents only certain power
groups in civil societydecide what the nation state will preserve,
regularly privileging, moreover, the national and the public? (74). On
the other hand, the here-and-now of the individuals existence within a
state is undercut by the ubiquity of information transiting from all parts
of the globe. In fact, the advent of digitizing and the internet has given to
the individual a potential for constructing and for manipulating archives
that did not exist in prior technological modes. As Bernard Stiegler puts
it in one of his remarks in chographies: One can imagine that this
technological evolution will profoundly modify conditions of reception,
as is the case, for example, with rock music groups who have appropriated
sampling to work on sound archives. . . . [A] new music has appeared,
principally produced by the manipulation of archives (63). In other
words, the very tools that allow access to digitized storage can be used
to manipulate and transform what is stored.
Even more is at stake here, however. It is not simply the case that
certain instruments (software, fast internet access, global television, faxes,
for example) allow access to and manipulation of archives: those very
instruments put into question the here-and-now of human experience,

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as suggested above. In a sense they expropriate the individual at the


very moment when they are ostensibly empowering her. The consumer
of such technologies is transformed in a very disquieting way, as Derrida
explains: Even if this expropriation can sometimes produce the opposite
effect (the illusion of proximity, of immediateness, of interiority), the
global and dominant effect of televisions, telephones, faxes, satellites, of
the accelerating circulation of images, discourse, etc., is that the hereand-now becomes uncertain, without assurances: being anchored, the
process of taking root, the home are radically contested (91; Derridas
emphasis). The individual is empowered against the nation state by global
technologies that would seem to tear down traditional national borders,
but simultaneously she undergoes an expropriation from a settled
situation and is thus vulnerable to the nostalgia for a home, a
nostalgia upon which the nation state can play in order to maintain and
consolidate its power. These are the very effects of live coverage and of
real time that Paul Virilio described in LArt du moteur. What is
happening elsewhere in the world is also simultaneously happening
here, because I can see it or hear it without delay in the very moment it
happens. Suddenly the notion of delay, vital to traditional analytical
methods that structure our thinking by giving us room for some form of
objectivity through spacing and distance, is not operative when these
distances collapse. One can revel in the disappearance of borders, or one
can play into the hands of the nation state and look to it as a way to
protect the individuals threatened experience of the here-and-now, which
seems constantly to be undermined.
We have roamed somewhat far afield from Derridas analysis
concerning the archival history of psychoanalysis in order to show that
his passing remarks in Mal darchive on modern communication and
archive technologies (email and phone cards) allude to a wider discussion
of these issues within his own work. To return to this analysis, then, I
want to suggest that the description of the invention of psychoanalysis
proposed by Friedrich Kittler raises a theoretical question concerning
the writing of a history of the technologies at stake in Gramophone, Film,
Typewriter. Kittler clearly believes that the development of recording
technologies created a moment of rupturethere is something like a
Bachelardian epistemological break subtending his presentation.
Naturally, he avoids any simplified causal argument. Kittler has
consciously created a style of presentation that eschews the tradition of
German philosophical writinghis exposition method proceeds instead
by juxtaposition, aphorism, and image. Nonetheless, a statement such

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as the one quoted earlier, namely, Ever since the invention of the
phonograph, there has been writing without a subject. It is no longer
necessary to assign an author to every trace, not even God (44), suggests
a certain causality and the finality of a radical transition or a passage
into another theoretical era. Technological innovations seem ultimately
to drive the reconceptualizing of the structure of the psyche that appears
with psychoanalysis, and thus they are in some way its cause. Kittler
wants to have his cake and eat it too: he wants to insist on the fundamental
importance of technological developments without having to argue that
they are ultimately the causes of conceptual change, but at a certain
moment, juxtapositioning takes on the force of logical argument,
ultimately appearing as causality despite all claims to the contrary.
Derridas treatment of technology is typically more nuanced and
hedged by historical detours during which he follows certain concepts
back to previous states in a movement that has the effect of minimizing
breaks. Take the preliminary remarks on the book in the first section of
Papier machine: Le ruban de machine crire et autres rponses, a text that originated
in a colloquium presentation on the book at the Bibliothque nationale in
1997 (with Bernard Stiegler and Roger Chartier in attendance) and which
is very much a part of the constellation of reflections on the archive that
marks Derridas work in the 1990s. As he begins to reflect on the status of
the book, Derrida makes the following remarks:
There are, there will be, as always, a coexistence and structural
survival of past models when a moment of genesis brings forth new
possibilities. . . . A new economy is being put into place. It allows
the mobile coexistence of a multiplicity of models, of modes of
archiving and accumulating. (29)

At stake here is the notion of an economy, which is a more fluid concept


for imagining the changes in archiving techniques and technologies (the
choice of the adjective mobile is crucial). A new mode does not simply
provoke a sharp break with an older mode; rather, new modes appear
within the economy of existing modes, stimulating readjustments that
alter the relationships among technologies over time. One might object
that this is not an explanation at all, but a means of hedging bets. Since
no one can be sure about the fate of the book at this pointbecause
despite the existence of electronic media, the book stubbornly refuses to
disappearit is best to allow for the continuing coexistence of competing
technologies in any argument one makes.
Derridas discussion undercuts the notion of a break even more
radically, however. In the course of an intricate rereading of Paul de

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Mans texts on Rousseaus Confessions, which is at the heart of Papier machine,


he works on the theoretical structure of the confession as speech act.
Confessing or offering excuses for a culpable act, he argues, brings into
play a language machine that works almost in the absence of the subject.
The confession and the excuse are linguistic structures that can be
mobilized in any circumstance, at the moment of any event. They work
by themselves, one might say, like wind-up toys:
The work works . . . all by itself, almost like a machine, virtually, and
thus without the intervention of the author, as if, contrary to what is
often believed, there existed between grace and machine, between
the heart and the automaticity of the marionette, an invincible affinity,
as if the excuse machine ran on its own, suddenly like a writing
machine and, as such, like a machine that renders one innocent. (51;
my emphasis)

The choice of the noun machine is strategic to Derridas argument. Are


various modern incarnations of writing machines (typewriter, word
processor) any more machines than the speech acts of the confession and
the excuse at the disposition of man ever since he began speaking? I cannot
detail Derridas argument here, but Papier machine constantly works
against the notion that the history of technology is a history of radical
breaks. The roles that modern machines play are an extension of the
prosthetic nature of man from the beginning. It follows that Derrida
refuses to accept the Heideggerian argument about the difference between
writing with the hand and writing with a machine: When one writes
by hand, one is not on the eve of technology, instrumentality is already
present in the form of uniform reproduction, of mechanical iteration. It is
thus not legitimate to oppose manual writing to mechanical writing,
the one being a pre-technological artisanship while the other is fully
technological. Moreover, so-called mechanical writing is itself also
manual (152).6
The machine of communication has existed since language has
existed. Moreover, it has been a theme of Derridas writing ever since he
began arguing that the notion of writing undoes the metaphysical
structure of presence: But I never concealed the fact that, like every
ceremonial act, [writing] must contain repetition and thus some kind of
mechanization. This theater of the prosthesis and the graft quickly became
one of my themes (153). The question for a history of technology, then,
becomes a question of whether modern recording devices introduce a
qualitative break, or, alternately, simply exacerbate an existing tendency
in a modified economy. When Kittler states that writing without a subject
is a product of the invention of the phonograph and that it is no longer

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necessary to assign an author to every trace, he is, in fact, playing an


ambiguous game with Derridean terminology. The term trace, which
has been at the heart of Derridas philosophical work at least since De la
grammatologie, is used in this instance precisely in a way that Derrida
would refusefor the very reason suggested by the presentation of a
certain kind of writing as a machine in Papier machine. The trace in Derridas
thought has never been authored; it has always been impersonal in the
sense that it is an inevitable part of the functioning of language,
automatically produced at the moment of the coming into language of
any speaking subject. This means fundamentally that the notion of the
event and of the archive (in the form of the always already existence of
the trace) are locked in a ballet, in a circular movement of back and forth
that makes the event dependent on the archive and vice-versa: Doomed
to the virtuality of the sooner or later, the archive produces the event
just as much as it records it or consigns it (68). In other words, there are
events only because there are archives of those events (and vice versa),
and, moreover, the archive is directly related to the trace, is perhaps the
trace itself. Thus the archive is necessarily infinite. It is not infinite now
simply because contemporary technologies make us dream of recording
everything, but because events are always already available only in the
form of an archivea trace that is constitutive of the event. Only political
or institutional power can mobilize the authority to carve off finite parts
of that infinity and transform them into collections that may or may not
be open to consultation: The archive is always the figure of a place and
an authority or power (68). A history of technology that revels in the
marvels of recording devices and media revolutions risks failing to
recognize certain underlying tendencies not simply produced by a given
stage of technology, but present in language itself. In the end, then, it
would not have made a significant difference if Freud had used email or
a phone card: the problem of the archive would have arisen nonetheless,
in one sempiternal form or another.
David F. Bell
Duke University
Notes
1. Archives of evil is the translation of archives du mal. One cannot bring over into
English the word play on the essays title, mal darchive, contained in this expression. I would also remind the reader that the pagination for this quotation refers to the
Prire dinsrer, four pages inserted into the original edition of the essay, but not
bound with it.

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Infinite Archives

2. Facilitation (frayage in French) is the translation of Freuds term Bahnung, the process
of creating and strengthening connections by repetition.
3. As things presently stand, the Bibliothque nationale de France and the Ministry of the
Interior archive printed materials, the Centre national de la cinmatographie archives
cinema materials, and the Institut national de laudiovisuel archives broadcast materials. The INA came into existence as an entity in 1975 as a result of the application of
the 1974 audiovisual reform law, passed after the fallout of the events of May 1968
had provoked a crisis in French television.
4. Nearly two decades earlier, Marc Ferro, in essays later collected in Cinma et histoire,
had spoken of the refusal of historians to consider cinema materials as serious archival sources, in part because the question of authorship and copyright of cinema
materials was so ambiguous and difficult to resolve. One could consider that the 1992
copyright law was in part a response to this problem. What is officially copyrighted
and officially archived by the state becomes fair game for the historian.
5. Compare with Kittler, who quotes from Salomo Friedlaender: All that happens falls
into accidental, unintentional receivers. It is stored, photographed, and phonographed
by nature itself (70).
6. Kittler is suspicious as well of the Heideggerian distinction, treating it as an ideology
that governs a certain historical moment, but, nonetheless, an ideology to be unpacked. See his Discourse Networks.

Works Cited
Derrida, Jacques. Freud et la scne de lcriture. Lcriture et la diffrence. Paris: ditions
du Seuil, 1967. 293-340.
. Mal darchive: une impression freudienne. Paris: Gallimard, 1995.
. Papier machine: Le ruban de machine crire et autres rponses. Paris: Galile, 2001.
Derrida, Jacques, and Bernard Stiegler. chographies de la tlvision (avec B. Stiegler).
Paris: Galile, 1996.
Ferro, Marc. Cinma et histoire. Paris: Gallimard, 1993.
Freud, Sigmund. A Note on the Mystic Writing Pad. Standard Edition. London: Hogarth
Press, 1953-74. 19:230-?.
Les ditions Gallimard. 28/7/2004 <http://www.gallimard.fr/>.
LInathque
de
France.
24/8/2004
<http://www.ina.fr/inatheque/10ans/
motpresident.fr.html>.
Kittler, Friedrich A. Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Trans. Michael Metter with Chris
Cullens. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990 [1985].
. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999 [1986].
Stiegler, Bernard. La Technique et le temps 3. Le Temps du cinma et la question du mal-tre.
Paris: Galile, 2001.
Virilio, Paul. LArt du moteur. Paris: Galile, 1993.

SubStance #105, Vol 33, no.3, 2004