Archive Theory: Poetics of the

While looking over some materials from one of the courses that sparked this project, I came across some notes on archive theory that seem especially relevant. There is a strong connection between the poetics of the archive and the activity of archiving.

In The Poetics of the Archive, Marta Werner and Paul Voss remind us that recent theories shift aspects of physical archives onto the conceptualization of texts and discursive practices. The archive's dual function as a guardian of memory and a mechanism for controlling access to that memory make it indistinguishable from the process of knowledge production.

If the first archons originally conceived of the archive as a space of pure knowledge, then for those who came after, including oursleves, the archive has more often revealed itself as an ideologically-charged space. This space, inseparable from the ensemble of operations deployed within it, confers order on its contents and creates a system whereby an official record of the past may be preserved and transmitted instact. The archive may be, in effect, a political space, a genedered space, a memorial space. (ii)

"This space, inseparable from the complex of operations deployed within it": The Ecclesiastical Proust Archive is the search engine, blog, forum, image galleries and the operations readers use to access its records. What does it record? The entire collection of passages forming the church motif; my readings of those passages -- in the form of the associations and context notes that appear as search parameters (if selected) and as paratexts in the results (if selected); the images that contain (archive) my memories -- as well as those of hundreds of other people alive and dead -- of churches in France that are also archived in Proust's novel; potentially the readings of other researchers in the comments field and the forum; the many thousands of pharmacological and pornographic offerings of comment spam quarantined by a plugin.

In making the church motif of Proust's Recherche the controlling idea of this archive, I have, as archon, already imposed an order and a system on the rest of its content. In so doing, I have also preconditioned the readings that take place here, making the interpretive discourse both a result of the archival function and a part of that function. As David Greetham points out, via Derrida, in "'Who's In, Who's Out': The Cultural Poetics of Archival Exclusion," the exergue or collection of citations before the beginning of a discursive piece sets the tone, meaning, and form of what follows. The collection of passages in this archive therefore functions similarly to the miscellaneous citations that perform as epigraphs in Greetham's essay: "they have thus crossed several membranes (membranae or "leaves" of a book) to interrogate the integrity of the archives from which they have been drawn (and redrawn) and the one into which they are imported" (Werner and Voss 1).

In conceiving of a text as an archive (of knowledge, voices, attitudes, values) consisting of inter-membranous citations, this text interrogates its tutor text, and also itself. How must Proust be read here through the collect of its church motif (citations) and through the heterogeneous images (also citations) that supplement it? This is where the reading of Proust alongside the relational attitude of the juxtaposed images generates much complexity. Some images depict an actual church named in the text (e.g. Chartres for "Chartres") in a documentary attitude. Some depict a real church on which a fictional one was based (e.g. the église Saint-Jacques at Illiers-Combray for the "église Saint-Hilaire of Combray") in a sort of demistifying, "source identification" attitude. [The hyphenation of that town's name in honor of Proust is another interesting example of archiving.] Because of the archontic rule I set myself for including an image for every passage, some images depict a real church for a fictional one that has no basis (or no single source) in reality (e.g. my ghostly black and white photos of Chartres porches for passages in which the narrator "dreams of meeting his love on the porch of some Gothic cathedral"), in which case the relationship is based on an analogue of architectural elements and/or an emotional affect held in common. While there are more combinations in the image/text relationships (and many more yet to be teased out), the question naturally arises of their effects upon other readers.

As the progenitor and editor of this archive, my readings are memorialized -- inscribed in the very architecture -- in a way that must necessarily hold greater sway over those who perform readings here later.

The history of the archive, on the one hand a history of conservation, is, on the other hand, a history of loss. The archives of antiquity have long since vanished; we receive their contents as fragments of only as citations in later works. (Werner and Voss i)

Much of recent theory considers archives compiled by single authors/editors, of which the present one is still an example. But what happens when the archive becomes collaborative, when the fragments of the original novel-archive are brought into new relationships with images or other texts by the editorial/authorial voices of other readers? How will the external forces of time, cultural and ideological shifts, and scholarly contribution alter its content and its meaning?

The complex relationship between the archive and memory is subject not only to external, historical forces, but also to its own interior dynamics: “the archive’s dream of perfect order is disturbed by the nightmare of its random, heterogeneous, and often unruly contents†that make it “always only partially decodeable†(ii). Hence, The Ecclesiastical Proust Archive deliberately embodies recent theories that question the archive’s teleological function: it self-consciously collects violently decontextualized citations and external heterogeneous images for the purpose of closely reading, and re-membering, a novel.

Its operation is thereby similar to Roland Barthes' archive of Balzac's novella Sarrasine, which will be addressed in the next post.