Schneemann has returned us via her performance to perhaps the most primitive staging of the Archive as a set of putatively inchoate marks that constitute the external traces of the psyche as it passes through time and space, that is, as its immediacy becomes memory. At the same time, those externalized traces, even in their least legible aspect, as we see them presented here, provide an image that reduplicates in anonymous form the thread of Ariadne, difficult to follow and yet our only sure guide through the labyrinth of the world and the maze of interpretation.
Reichek, on the other hand, thematizes these concerns with extraordinary specificity, while situating herself at the site where the memory traces of Schneemann’s personal archive are reconfigured manually, mechanically, and digitally into a history of the deposition and transformation of a particular, seminal image that can stand metonymically for the deposition and transformation of the classical tradition that itself constitutes the Western culture memory.
Points of Entry
Every Facebook page an archive. Every status update a memory trace. Every mobile upload a point of semiotic origination. The Library of Congress an archive of archives of archives of archives…ad infinitum. As long ago as 1994, Jacques Derrida sensed trouble on the horizon, pondering in his inimitable way the counter-history of psychoanalysis had it unfolded at a time when e-mail existed, and noting along the way that “what is no longer archived in the same way is no longer lived in the same way.”22 And although this aphorism might at first seem but another paradoxical Derridean reversal of cause and effect, at some level, in some way, we must all sense that he is right. The explosive proliferation of archival technologies based on the digital coding and storage of information and embedded in our burgeoning social media, the “smart” (but not too smart) algorithms that drive our search engines, the hidden surveillance regimes imposed upon us by the very digital technologies on which we “depend,”23 and so on: all these things inevitably structure not simply how we remember, but what we remember, and even what there is to remember.
On the one hand, our virtually instantaneous access to all the information stored in so many archives may seem immensely liberating, not least as it facilitates a latent desire for a limitlessly expansive exercise in self-fashioning, at once occult and revelatory. My own Facebook page, for example, links to an album called “self-portraits,” which consists of an ever-growing grid of self-made and (mostly) “appropriated” images, each of which, at some particular point in time, seemed to me relevant in some way to my own sense of who I am (or was). Taken as a group, they form a semiotic identity puzzle, one which, needless to say, will never be “solved,” as it must surely be of interest only to me. Nevertheless, the structure of the grid (which can also be viewed as an infinite circular “narrative sequence”) demonstrates both the labyrinthine nature of the archive, which one can enter at any point but never perceive in its entirety, and a complex pattern of linkages between images, both latent and explicit, as well as the obvious fractures and discontinuities that suggest points of entry or stages from which to leverage an interpretation.
- Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 17–18.↵
- David Sarno, “Watching a screen? It watches you too,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2011, sec. A; http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-no-priva-cy-20111002,0,1002453.story.↵