Jacques Derrida

Mal d'Archive

Une Impression Freudienne

Paris: Galilee 1995
We will not commence with the commencement, if I have your consent, nor even with the archive. But rather with the word *archive* and with the archive of so familiar a word. Arkhé, as you know, names at once the commencement and the commandment. We have here, apparently, two principles in one: the principle according to nature or history, where things commence (physical, historical or ontological principle), but also the principle according to the law, where command, authority, social order are exercised, the place from which order is given (nomological principle).

There are two orders of order here: sequential and jussive. From this point on, a series of cleavages will incessantly divide every atom of our lexicon. Already in the Arkhé of the commencement, I alluded to the commencement accroding to nature or history, introducing surreptitiously an entire chain of belated and problematic oppositions between physis and its others, thesis, tekhné, nomos etc., which are found to be at work in the other principle, the nomological principle of the Arkhé, the principle of the commandment. All would be quite simple if there were one principle or two principles, and if the physis and each one of its others were one or two. As we have suspected for a long time, it is nothing of the sort, yet we are forever forgetting this. There is always more than one and more or less than two. Both in the order of the commencement and in the order of the commandment. The concept of the archive shelters in itself, of course, this memory of the name Arkhé. It's sheltered by and from this memory, which comes down to saying also that it forgets it.


And the theory of the archive is a theory of this institutionalization, that is to say of the law, of the right which authorizes it. This right imposes or supposes a bundle of limits which all have a history, a deconstructible history, and to the deconstruction of which psychoanalysis has not been foreign, to say the least. In what concerns family or state law, the relations between the secret and the non-secret, or, and this is not the same thing, between the private and the public, in what concerns property or access rights, publication or reproduction rights, in what concerns classification and ordering (what comes under theory or under private correspondence, for example? what comes under system? under biography or autobiography? under personal and intellectual anamnesis? in so-called theoretical works, what is worthy of this name and what is not? should one rely on what Freud says about this to classify his works, and believe for example that it has to do with a novel when he speaks of a "historical novel", etc.?), in each of these cases, the limits, the borders and the distinctions have been shaken by an earthquake from which no classificational concept, no implementation of the archive, can be sheltered. Not a single order.


As the death drive is also, accroding to the words Freud himself most stressed, an aggression and a destruction drive, it incites not only forgetfulness, amnesia, the annihilation of memory, as mnemé or anamnesis, but also the radical effacement of that which can never be reduced to mnemé or to anamnesis, and of which I would like to speak tonight, that is the archive, consignment, the documentary or monumental apparatus as hypomnema, mnemotechnical supplement or representative, auxiliary or memorandum. Because the archive, if this word or this figure can be stabilized so as to take on a signification, is neither memory nor anamnesis as spontaneous experience, alive and internal experience. There is no archive without a place of consignment, without a technique of repetition and without a certain exteriority. There's no archive without outside. Allow me to stress this Greek distinction between mnemé or anamnesis on the one hand, and hypomnema on the other, a distinction which has occupied me at length elsewhere. The archive is hypomnetic.


In what way has the whole of this field been determined by a state of the technology of communication and of archivization? One can dream or speculate about the earthquakes which would have made the landscape of the psychoanalytic archive unrecognizable for the past century if, to limit myself to these indications, Freud, his contemporaries, collaborators and immediate disciples, instead of writing thousands of letters by hand, had had access to telephonic credit cards from MCI or AT&T, portable tape recorders, computers, printers, faxes, televisions, teleconferences and above all E mail. I would like to have devoted my whole lecture to this retrospective science-fiction, and to imagining with you the scene of that other archive after the earthquake. As I am not able to do this, on account of the ever archaic organization of our colloquia, of the time and space at our disposal, I will limit myself to a remark: this archival earthquake would not have limited itself to the secondary recording, to the conservation of the history of psychoanalysis; it would have transformed this history from top to bottom and in the most initial inside of its production, in its very events. This is another way of saying that the archive, as printing, as writing, prosthesis or hypomnestic technique in general is not only the stockroom and the conservatory for archivable contents of the past which would exist in any case, and just the same, without the archive.

No, the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable contents even as it comes into existence and its relationship to the future. This means that in the past psychoanalysis would not have been what it was (no more so than many other things) if electronic mail, for example, had existed. And in the future it will no longer be what Freud and so many psychoanalysts have anticipated now that E mail, for example, has become possible. One could find many clues other than E mail. As a technological postal system, this example undoubtedly merits privilege because of the major and exceptional role played in the psychoanalytic archive by a handwritten correspondence of which we have yet to finish discovering and processing the immense corpus, in part unpublished, in part secret, and, perhaps, in part radically and irreversibly destroyed - for example by Freud himself, who knows? And one must consider the historical and nonaccidental reasons which have tied such an institution, in its theoretical and practical dimensions, to postal communication and to this particular form of mail, to its substrates, to its average speed: a handwritten letter takes so many days to arrive in another European city, etc. But the indicative value of E mail is privileged in my opinion for a more important and obvious reason: because electronic mail today, and even more than the fax, is on the way to transfroming the entire public and private space of humanity, and first of all the limit between the private, the secret, and the public or phenomenal. This is not only a technique: this instrumental possibility of production, of printing, of conservation and of destruction of the archive is inevitably accompanied by juridical and thus political transformations which affect property rights, publishing and reproduction rights, etc.


In an enigmatic sense which will clarify itself perhaps (perhaps, because nothing can be sure here, for essential reasons), the question of the archive is not, I repeat, a question of the past, the question of a concept dealing with the past which already might either be at our disposal or not at out disposal, an archivable concept of the archive, but rather a question of the future, the very question of the future, question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive: if we want to know what this will have meant, we will only know tomorrow. Perhaps. A spectral messianicity is at work in the concept of the archive and like religion, like history, like science itself, this ties it to a very singular experience of the promise.

Selected and consigned to this archive in 1995