Derrida’s Archive Fever theory raises an interesting question: how will the human attachment and reliance on temporality and sequentiallity and the current potential for continuous and highly detailed archiving of our lives affect each other?
On the one hand Archive Fever Theory disregards temporality in preference of ‘The Now’. Archives such as the My School, and more broadly social media also, seek to capture, immortalise and crystallise ‘The Now’. However, as Derrida observes “The technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content. Archivization produces as much as it records the event [my bold]” (1995, p. 16). There is a clear underlying purpose and agency – an intentionality – with which the actant of the Apartied Archive (which is in one way human, in another a non-human artefact/actant) processes and presents information about racism; it is underpinned by a desire to exterminate it. Similarly, when we post to Facebook at a given moment in time, we are projecting a certain representation of ourselves. We are publishing a version or part of ourselves.
On the other Hand, and happily for Ogle, society is moving towards a system where that crystallised ‘now’ can be accessed easily at any time. “The problem,” he says, “is ultimately one of attitude. The current philosophy underlying most of the real-time web is that if it’s not recent, it’s not important. This is the problem.” (Ogle, 2010).
I think this could be the problem, but for different reasons. The process of archivisation is also one of forgetting and concealing (Derrida, p.9). If the archival potential of the “real-time web” were fully realised, it would mean any person of my generation could have any and all of their previous representations revisited.
To take things to an Orwellian conclusion this could facilitate the foundation of a surveillance state. The powers that define the boundaries and limitations of archives – if a hegemonic order persists, as it always has in some form – would be able to abuse this highly pervasive and often highly personal archiving system. The potential for institutionalising inequitable power structures could also operate on a very personal level.
If pervasive archiving of a person’s life occurs as Ogle would have it, it could be used as a formidable weapon in The Now. We view each other, and history, and everything (from our deep yearning to know the ‘start’ of the human story’ and how we came to be) on a temporal and sequential scale. Humans always see what you did in the past is always as a precondition and informant to who/what you are now.
Say for instance, some embarrassing footage of me at a party, or a sex tape, which exists in some deep web archive of my life, was discovered, a few such entries into the archive would be enough for opponents to undermine my suitability to seek public office, or run a company, or myriad other things.
Our minds, our very societies, build up pictures of The Now, according to what salient events are presented to us – in very personal publics and much broader, more mediated publics. These salient events are, as the Apartied Archive points out, not necessarily representative, they are merely the dominant narratological tool.
Judgement through this lens of accumulation and salient events is essential to human thinking. Given the influence of Freud in archive fever theory, I think it’s worth considering how the availability of so much of the past might be used to reinforce all sorts of hegemonic orders of ‘The Now’ by those with the greatest power to access and conceal archives.
Derrida, Jacques (1995) ‘Archive Fever—A Freudian Impression’, Diacritics, 25(2), pp9-63 accessed 27 August 2014 < http://beforebefore.net/149a/w11/media/Derrida-Archive_Fever_A_Freudian_Impression.pdf >.
Enszer, Julie R. (2008) Julie R. Enszer (personal blog), ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression by Jacques Derrida’, November 16, accessed 27 August 2014 <http://julierenszer.blogspot.com/2008/11/archive-fever-freudian-impression-by.html>.
‘My School’ website, <http://www.myschool.edu.au/>, accessed 27 August 2014.
‘The Apartheid Archive’, <http://www.apartheidarchive.org/site/>, accessed 27 August 2014.