Archiving Time (3)

Archiving Time is an occasion and a process, the ‘sessions’ to which I have been referring and the sense in which history is (being) mined. There are dates, many of them, and they construct time as much as we are constructed by them. The irregular dates of the archon’s life in relation to their books drizzle the official dates indicated in the bibliography like rain. Have a look at the archon’s annotations of ‘the list’ (‘list’ remains a problematic term): inscriptions hailing from the books are enlarged after the fact, but some annotations are offered as post-facto inscriptions. Here and there, Archiving Time bears the irregular marks of the archon’s signature – not the one required to make a payment, of course, but the one in which the self signing can be discerned.

Archiving Time happens in a place. In the previous post in this series, I referred to the ‘poof’ on which the archon has placed far too many books for the poof’s own good and indeed the archon’s, who cannot rest their weary legs on furniture assigned for the purpose.

I have just realized how archiving/cataloguing and bibliomania/philia (lest we psychiatricize it!) are but two sides of the same coin: I buy; ergo I need to contain, so I archive/catalogue (Veni, vidi, vici). Though I LIKE my books on my pouffe/puff, I do not want to be (wholly) buried in books…….

Thus spake the archon! Note the transmission of the signifier ‘poof’ from ‘pouffe’ to ‘puff’ and back again. We know what we mean. This effeminate word, this mark of abject effeminacy wielded throughout history against queer subjects to restrain their freedom of expression by implicating them in the shame of self-emasculation, is reclaimed, albeit with one important caveat: only the poof who places books on his pouffe/puff/poof can utter the name of the thing and the name of some version of the self. A micro-archival moment in the midst of a macro-archive or, in Foucault’s joyous term, bibliotheque fantastique!

Archiving Time happens in a place, a multifarious place.

As is the case for the Latin archivum or archium (a word that is used in the singular, as was the French archive, formerly employed as a masculine singular: un archive), the meaning of “archive,”  its only meaning, comes to it from the Greek arkheion: initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded. The citizens who thus held and signified political power were considered to possess the right to make or to represent the law. On account of their publicly recognised authority, it is at their home, in that place which is their house (private house, family house, or employee’s house), that official documents are filed. The archons are first of all the documents’ guardians. They do not only ensure the physical security of what is deposited and of the substrate. They also accorded the hermeneutic right and competence. They have the power to interpret the archives. Entrusted to such archons, these documents in effect speak the law: they recall the law and call on or impose the law. To be guarded thus, in the jurisdiction of this speaking the law, they needed at once a guardian and a localisation. Even in their guardianship or their hermeneutic tradition, the archives could do neither without substrate nor without residence.

It is thus, in this domiciliation, in this house arrest, that archives takes place. The dwelling, this place where they dwell permanently, marks the institutional passage from private to public, which does not always mean from the secret to the nonsecret.

Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. by Eric Prenowitz (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press,  1998, pp. 2-3.

Allow Derrida’s words to percolate. They are a crucial point of reference for Archiving Time and all archiving and archives.

Who is this archon of whom I have spoken? For sure, he has a name, and he knows himself very well. I know him too (the etiquette of the archive forbids me from quantifying this personal knowledge of the archon, even if I have assigned the quantity of the archon’s self-knowledge). The archon is a many-splendored thing, but as the breakthrough with respect to his gender in the last sentence serves to illustrate, he is a man, a male; a gay man, a gay male. There is phonetic sublation between a piece of his furniture and his self. (It is difficult, not to mention far too risky, to utter that word in his name. Does a code of queer ethics forbid me from doing so? Or am I overly-sensitive to the potential injury such words cause, even in self-knowing, self-reflexive, ironic moments in which the reclamation of injurious language binds one queer subject to another?) That aforementioned piece of furniture is a focal point in this archon’s domicile. For this archon, anything but house arrest, to be (wholly) buried in books. He reserves the right to interpret the archives but does not exercise it as a monolithic power. This is all to say that the queer archon is “accorded hermeneutic right and competence”, but along with others rather than singularly. There is (a) law, but it is not binding in its will to constrain. There is something about queer archives that witnesses the transit from the private to public as a bi-directional force: to adopt a knowingly camp simile, the institutional authority of the queer archive fans in and out (before the smelling salts are opened).

How strong do the smelling salts have to be in order to bring us back from the brink of archive fever?


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