Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Angels High on Mount Logos

WRITING OUT THE MATRIARCH: A Note on Derrida's Archive Fever

Derrida's archive seeks to preserve the history of humanity as well as to provide for its future. "It has the force of law, of a law which is the law of the house (oikos), of the house as place, domicile, family, lineage, or institution." From the outset of this discussion, the archive is given a locality. "There, we said, and in this place. How are we to think of there?" This introductory urge towards the placing of the archive takes us from arkheion, through to dwelling and finally to 'domiciliation'.

It should be pointed out that this 'domiciliation' is a domiciliation of imbalance. The classification of the locality of the archive as a domiciliation creates a metaphorical image of the archive as a home, and indeed Archive Fever plays on the fact that Freud's house was turned into a museum as a means of forming a thesis. But this particular home is missing something crucial. It is generally accepted that, although there are an increasing number of deviations from the norm, the standard family unit consists of one male and one female archetype, who together generate and rear offspring. But Derrida's discussion of the archive is heavily reliant on patrilineal descent and excludes the female body.

A notion of harm is acknowledged in the construction of the archive, in the "archiviolithic drive", but it is manifested in male configurations, in the circumcision ritual, in the physical archive. The maleness of the book, its omitted female body, is itself a harm done to that body, an impression of which exists in negative form, through the repetition of the motif of circumcision, of fathers and grandfathers, of the patriarchal model which hangs around the work like a specter.

"There is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory." The implication, through the tracing of Freud's male genealogy, and through the limiting of the female voice in the book (Sonia Combe, who timidly "hopes to be pardoned" for pointing out the masculinity of French historiography, is quoted in a footnote, and is the only female voice in the work apart from that of the Gravida, who, fictional and written in a male voice, does not bear on this argument), is that control of the archive is in male hands. "There is no political power without control of the archive" could just as easily be put, so as to reorder the chronology of roles, as "there is no control of the archive without political power." Is Derrida's omission an etiology, or an initiation, of a male-dominated political archive? It is both. Does it matter?

The technique of omission is crucial not only to Archive Fever, but to the notion of archive itself. Omission is an active principle of archiving, particularly with the increase of archival material that accompanies technological advances in communication. The archives will have to decide what they omit from history. Some of the more overt themes of Archive Fever include email, Freud's death-drive and the notion of patriarchy; one of its more overt omissions is sex (genesis).

Sex does make a brief appearance: "the archiviolithic drive [...] bequeaths no document of its own. As inheritance, it leaves only its erotic simulacrum, its pseudonym in painting, its sexual idols, its masks of seduction: lovely impressions. These impressions are perhaps the very origin of what is so obscurely called the beauty of the beautiful. As memories of death."

This passage contains the seed of the problem. The archiviolithic drive, the splicing of the archive and the death drive, is the instinct that both seeks to create the archive and to destroy it. The implication is that the byproduct of this archiviolithic drive is eroticism. But an eroticism situated within the remit of maleness will consist of impotent emissions. The destructive urge threatens not only the archive but the possibility of consummation.

Arkhē, the mingling of nature's commencement and law's commandment, contains the sexual seed: nature's perpetuation, its cyclicality, depends on sex as the procreation of new life; but sex is an act made by bodies on other bodies, and 99% of the bodies in Archive Fever are male (Anna Freud appears briefly), limiting the scope of the sexual and psychological possibilities of sex. Within the sacred patriarchy of the father and grandfather of psychoanalysis, there is also a mother and grandmother, an ancestral chain of wombs, and their exclusion is not a comment on the nature of archives but an affirmation of the violence of omission that will in time come to destroy not only the patriarch but the imperative union of patriarch with matriarch, and thus the future of civilization. The body that is written out of the archive is also written out of civilization – it cannot be expected to survive without recorded acknowledgment in a discussion of the archive itself.

Clearly it is not impossible to imagine that there are plenty of female bodies in archival material, but the material itself is secondary, and is comprised of everything, from shopping lists to numerical data to silicone breast implants. It is the conception of the archive that will define its future, much less than its actual content. The conception of the archive, like the conception of anything, must include both archetypes, for the very straightforward reason that, without the act of genesis, dependent on patriarch and matriarch, the archival content of the future archive is condemned to simulacra, having no means to regenerate and thus nor to evolve.


In the book, Derrida finds himself dreaming. "I dream," he says, "of now having the time to submit for your discussion more than one thesis..." This is the luxuriating dream of the male archive – the dominant power of logos.

The matriarch may also dream. Whether in jealousy at having been usurped (for she has made the odd tantalising appearance in the archive of psychology), or in anger at having been humiliated through exclusion, the matriarch will have her revenge. One night she is sleeping. The matriarch dreams of murdering her husband. She will have him strung up and beaten to death by his fellow man. But before this punishment is carried out, as patriarch, he is permitted - even required - to issue a decree himself. "The matriarch, in turn," he commands, "will be raped to death by my fellow man." Her singularity will be marked not by the power imbalance in her punishment, but by the fact of there being no other woman present to support her. Her sole supporter will be the patriarch himself, her lover now also consigned to enemy status.

She wakes up. “The patriarch dream, which did not remotely turn me on,” she says. “The physical climax of that dream involved me being instructed to dress for my punishment, to tie my breasts up with the turquoise sash but I wouldn’t do it, my breasts fell loose as I fell against the chest of my lover/enemy, sobbing for stupid doomed love. Stupid Derrida. Stupid dream.” Logos 1; Matriarch 0 (c.f. WORLD-SPORT).

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