Workshop: Archive Fever/Mal d'archive


Originally titled “The Concept of the Archive: A Freudian Impression,” Archive Fever (Mal d’archive) is a strange and haunting text. At one level, and quite explicitly, it is a meditation on the origin and authority of what we call the archive as well as its institutionalization. At another level, it is a psychoanalysis of that authority in the service of a history of Sigmund Freud. Each is a case study of limits declared and limits transgressed. But it is also an extended meditation on the work of the historian Yosef Yerushalmi, Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable, and here Derrida extends his meditation onto the use of the archive in the service of history. In this sense, the questions asked of Freud’s archive and its use put enormous pressure on the organization and authorization of a system of knowledge as well as the limits exposed when one question how that system is built and used.

But what happens when that system of organization undergoes a massive transformation such as that brought on by digitization and its consequences? What happens when the “concept of the archive” is reoccupied? In this workshop we will revisit Archive Fever in light of our current digital condition to explore the fundamental questions raised in the text from each side of the digital divide. Through a systematic reading of the text, we will take up the questions: What is kept in the archive and who is the one that keeps it? How is it decided what is worthy of being archived and what is to be excluded? What is revealed to the public and what is kept secret? What does the authorization, construction, and maintenance of any given archive tell us about the public and the private, the state and the individual, the open and the secret?


This is an open workshop which welcomes participants from diverse fields and interests so prior familiarity with the text or issues is not required but is, of course, welcome. Ideally, participants will read all or a portion of Derrida’s Archive Fever and surely this is best practice, but the seminar is designed so that even those who have not read the text should be able to participate.


Session 1 will be a guided discussion of the text in which we will work through specific passages and themes. The goal is to tackle the text itself but also extend the discussion toward how this text relates to digital history and scholarship.

Session 2 will allow us to focus more closely on specific passages or themes that are of interest to the participants. This will allow us to engage with issues or questions brought forth by or about the text. The final portion of this session will ask the participants to consider the wider relevance of the issues raised by Archive Fever in relation to the “digital turn”, our changing relation to the archive, and finally to the participant’s own current work or interests.