Afflicted with Archive Fever [transmitted via memetic contagion] in the foreskin of my Bangkok

[vaulty inscription from the Grand Palace]


9.10.09 Bangkok [reading Derrida]

my recent reading of Derrida's Geneses, Genealogies, Genres & Genius: The secrets of the archive, compounded with my growing ARKhing obsession, got me itching to learn more about [Derrida's VISion of] the ARCHIVE. [you could say i was stricken with "archive fever," though at the time i wasn't aware of the existence of this condition [thus, at the time, my condition was truly ARCHIVAL without me knowing it]] with this in mINd i picked up Jacques Derrida's Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression to self-diagnose & self-medicate myself, mostly poolside here in Bangkok where i am now [how i got here].

there's a little SUMthing for everYone in Archive Fever [Mal d'Archive]. there's a lot to glean for writers, publishers, quantum physicists, librarians, information architects or anyone interested in the technology [& philosophy, religion even] of the internet or modern media. it's the kind of book you spend a few hours reading & then a few days ruminating [& another day rehashing it for u]. it takes a 4-chamber stomach to digest & once digested you need to forget it to UNDERstand. not to sound all ZEN or anything, but to sound. it's the kind of book that will do irreVERSible daMAGE, will "leave an IMPRESSion." the book, though slim, is rather unwieldy & scattered & flighty, as is perhaps the case, necessarily, with a true "archive," & is hard to SUMmarize linearly [the "Forward" appears towards the end of the book if that's any INDICation] as will likely [& INHERently] be this post.

more than anything, at least from what i got out of it, he gets at that primal driving comPULSion as to why we write & read. the publish or perish mindset. the compulsion to blog or journal or document. the possibilities of writing, the etching of the mind's contents onto a permanent medium by the transcription & encoding of symbols, language, not the arcHIVE itself [the housing or rePOSITory] but this URGE to archive, this will of information to surVIVE—this is what Derrida means by archive:

"This is another way of saying that the archiving, printing, writing, prosthesis, or hypomnesic technique in general is not only the place for stocking and for conserving an archivable content of the past which would exist in any case, such as, without the archive, one still believes it was or will have been. No, the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event."

Derrida often has a strange way of saying things. the brunt of the book is actually based on a lecture he gave at an international colloquium entitled: "Memory: The Question of Archives," though it doesn't necessarily read as a lecture, somewhere between a sensical academic lecture & John Cage's more free-flowing idea of a lecture. he practices what he preaches. actually, just a few hours ago, Blake Butler posted this video on HTMLGiant where Derrida defends the "deconstructive gestures" behind his writing:

it's in the proCESS of his writing, when the writing is driven by a "necessity of something stronger than myself" & us subsequently reading into it, in which all sorts of revelations are derived, spanning disciplines & concepts of memory, archival science, Judaic mythos, science, circumcision, technology, Freudian psychoanalysis & how they all tie into this burning desire, this dying need to make ideas permanent, to archive. & now i'm infected, in a foreign city, when i could be "outside" inSTEAD i'm here doing my part to add to mother of all archives, the internet.

[last night i fell asleep watching a bad zombie movie that was more about the documenting of the zombie experience than it was about zombies. i thought maybe i made this up in my own head after falling asleep, but j says it's true & it was called Documenting the Dead or something & that it was so bad it was good. i need to re-see it WAKEfully. or maybe not.]

Derrida has never renounced anything he's written, he was cognizant of the vanity of writing, if anything in recounting Freud's own vanity: "Freud pretends to worry. Is he not investing in useless expenditure? Is he not in the process of mobilizing a ponderous archiving machine (press, printing, ink, paper) to record something which in the end does not merit such an expense? [...] In sum, this is a lot of ink and paper for nothing, an entire typographical volume, in short, a material substrate which is out of all proportions, in the last analysis, to "recount" (erzählen) stories that everyone knows." & is me recounting Derrida's recounting of Freud, is this even more futile? do we keep perpetuating the same virUS, or does the MALady continue to mutate, hopefully with mutations that are better apt to SURvive in these times?

in his ANALysis, Derrida goes on at great length about things unfamiliar to me—Freud & Jewish mysticism & circumcision:

"Although I believe this question to be irreducible, in particular in the rereading of Freud, irreducible notably to that of castration, I must put it aside here, not without some regret, along with that of the phylacteries, those archives of skin or parchment covered with writing that Jewish men, here too, and not Jewish women, carry close to their body, on their arm and on their forehead: right on the body [à même le corps], like the sign of circumcision, but with a being-right-on [être-à-même] that this time does not exclude the detachment and the untying of the ligament, of the substrate and of the text simultaneously."

this is his HERItage, the CULTure at his disposal to exemplify. i mean, i'm FAMILIAr with CIRCUMcision in that i'm circumcised, but who knows why i ever was, it wasn't ritualistic or part of any tradition, i have no memeory of the EVEnt [which speaks for something], these days its just standard medical procedure, devoid of meaning, though it is obviously a part of my physical BEing [not that i carry my foreskin around on my person or in a purse]. Derrida considers this ACT of circumcision as the ultimate embodiment of archival writing:

"A very singular monument, it is also the document of an archive. In a reiterated manner, it leaves the trace of an incision right on the skin: more than one skin, at more than one age. To the letter or by figure. The foliaceous stratification, the pellicular superimposition of these cutaneous marks seems to defy analysis. It accumulates so many sedimented archives, some of which are written right on the epidermis of a body proper, others on the substrate of an "exterior" body. Each layer here seems to gape slightly, as the lips of a wound, permitting glimpses of the abyssal possibility of another depth destined for archaeological excavation."

in this ritual, passed down from generation to generation, like the bible also passed on from father to son, in this light, the archive historically has patriarchal inheritance & aspirations, buried in the "foliaceous stratification" & just as Derrida says he feels compelled to write by something stronger than himself, he also says that a dead father is more powerful than a living one, something i'm sure the likes of Joyce would agree wholeheartedly. though while Derrida pays HOMage to Freud, perhaps repurposes Freud, deconstructs Freud, expunges & expands on, rebuilds his engene, he also points out his chauvinistic mistakes so us contemporaries can forgive & digest:

"He makes a mistake in affirming that there can be no doubt about the identity of the mother, insofar as it depends on the witness of the senses, while the identity of the father always remains doubtful since it depends, and it alone, on a rational inference, as that "legal fiction" of which Stephen speaks in Joyce's Ulysses. However, better than ever today, if only with the possibility of surrogate mothers, prosthetic maternities, sperm banks, and all the artificial inseminations, as they are secured for us already and will be secured still more for us in the future by bio-genetic techno-science, we know that maternity is as inferred, constructed, and interpreted as paternity."

"father" is just an idea. as is Judaism. not being Jewish almost allows us heathens to understand better, more objectively, not being immersed, lacking entitlement, not that Derrida isn't able to disconnect or consider objectively, but this is the beauty of Judaism in that it allows for self-analysis & critical thinking, with only a mild risk of alienating the rest of us unentitled, that Derrida speculates forms the basis of scientific thought and is probably right, the archive resides on this tenuous membrane between religion & science. "But as soon as one speaks of a Jewish science, whatever one's understanding of this word, the archive becomes a founding moment for science as such: not only the history and the memory of singular events, of exemplary proper names, languages and filiations, but the deposition in an arkheion (which can be an ark or a temple), the consignation in a place of relative exteriority, whether it has to do with writings, documents, or ritualized marks on the body proper (for example, phylacteries or circumcision)."

he doesn't mention tattoos, though being in Bangkok at the time of this writing [or retracing] i can't help but to think of how this all applies to the art & meaning of tattooing, especially the Sak Yant tradition that is seeped in ritual & meaning for those of the Thai [& Cambodian] Buddhist faith [though strangely the symbolism in the tattoos are more rooted in Hinduism, as is a lot of aspects of thai culture including food, the subject of another dispatch entirely]. if i felt it wasn't being disrespectful, if i felt i was well-versed as to it's meaning, i would get a Sak Yant tattoo while i'm here. maybe next trip.


Sak Yant shirt i got for j in lieu of the real thing

sak yant vest

this is a ritualistic writing on the mother of all writing surfaces, the human skin, which can even be read literally [if you are versed in Khmer] though it's hypodermic meaning runs far deeper than skin-deep. per Derrida [in regards to circumcision]:

"To read, in this case, requires working at geological or archaeological excavations, on substrates or under surfaces, old or new skins, the hypermnesic and hypomnesic epidermises of books, or penises—and the very first sentence recalls, at least by figure, the circumcision of the father of psychoanalysis, "in the seventh in the days of the years of your life [...] Since then the book has been stored like the fragments of the tablets in an ark with me. [...] as a memorial and as a reminder."

[where the quote embedded within the quote is in reference to the inscription Sigmund Freud's father wrote in the copy of the Philippson Bible [the "book of books"] which he gave to Sigmund.] Holy fuck. "IN AN ARK WITH ME" would make a great name for a book. this book that is welling inside me. this book that actually has me reading the old testament this past month, in particular Genesis & Exodus. perhaps this will be the title? or a tattoo? has a nice ring, like in-a-gadda-da-vida.

sometimes my head explodes at how much cool shit there is to explore in this world & how many books there are to read & how many possible books there are to be written. holy holy Fuck. it is overwhelming. Archive Fever did this to me. though i also have Bob Dylan singing in my ear. & all this reading & writing & traveling—to what end? who knows. Derrida doesn't even pretend to. i think he said something to that affect somewhere in the book, that he doesn't pretend to draw conclusions, he knows better. if you knew the END, you would BE in the end. you'd collapse the wave function of death & in doing so wouldn't be there to know it. this is the esSENCE of knowLEDGE. i said that. & as i was writing that Bob Dylan quoted Abraham Lincoln, then said ""i'll let you be in my dream if i can be in yours." i said that." this is what keeps the juggernaut rolling, keeps the wave function alive, for when "captured," when photographed, when written about, it no longer exists, unless maybe you trade places, as Dylan suggests. in this way we can recapitulate perpetually, forever on the verge of & marching towards death.

biologically speaking, Lamarck is reSURrected in Archive Fever. his theory takes precedent over Darwin, asserting itself as the paradigm for transmission, for memetic evolution, for the expression of the archive, for the expression of language & culture. i'm not sure Derrida said that either, but he induced me to think that. he talks about Lamarck in a way that makes me want to know more about this guy i previously shunned as an enemy to Darwinian thought. the weak link of evolutionary theory, something i've always felt, but i'm saying now because it conjures this archival moment Derrida speaks of—i mean i wholeheartedly buy into it all & think evolution is the most elegant & important theory every conceived, but there's just one point that requires a leap of faith [which i'll gladly take], not that we came from monkeys, not that we came from microrganisms wallowing in ancient CESSpools—i buy all that & i can believe that protein strands could've spontaneously organized themselves into increasingly complex structures, it all makes beautiful sense to me, there's just that precise moment when these amalgamations of protein acquired a WILL to SURVIVE & procreate. how could the driving force evolve before there was anything around to evolve it, before the evolution it instigated? WHO SEEDed the DATAbase? reMINDs me of a poster i had when i was young of the Creature from the Black Lagoon saying, "who peed in the pool?" i wish i had that poster now, i can't even find it on the internet, it's become part of my archive to reSURface at a later date. this instinct, this WILL to surVIVE is sumthing that propagated from genes into our beings & has now manifested itself in Archive Fever, as the innate instinct to replicate & propagate MEMES & here we are, in a skyscraping hotel in Bangkok watching a thunderstorm unleash it's fury on the city. perhaps the true & ultimate archive is the human genome? not as it's been mapped, or the double-helix model of DNA we have in our heads, these are all just abstract symbols. but our existence, living within it, as carriers.

i'm getting astray. was it Freud who first said "there are no accidents?" question is how do you harness accidents? how do you herd a flock of leprous goats? & what is it about random imperfections? are they memetic mutations? are they proof of something beyond the "trace?" Derrida also talks about the importance of language, of course touting the importance of French in it's ability to express things inexpressible in other languages. it's innuendos. not just in written writing, but in what Derrida calls "archiwriting" or "architracing." this notion of writing as space becoming in time & time becoming in space. writing that captures the dichotomy between being & meaning. all forms of true art are architracing: film, photography, sculpture, dance, cooking, thai kickboxing. there is no such ting as a true document to Derrida. there are only traces leaving traces, carbon copies. though i would bring up to bat the Dead Sea Scrolls, another thing i've been obsessing over lately, egged on by a jar of "dead sea salts" j has on the rim of the bathtub back home & the residual ring of exfoliation. in a sense you could say the Dead Sea Scrolls were the original, the quintessential documents & everything is derivative of them. again, a whole nother story.

the appeal of eating is this lack of permanence. it is truly ephemeral. when you eat you are tasting the accumulated repertoire of a culture, but there is no record of it except what comes out the other end. you can describe the experience or take photos of the food but it's just not the same. taste & smell are the purest senses because no one has figured out how to capture them. regardless, vanity photos to try to induce the taste:

serpent-head fish soup i ate last night at Condoms & Cabbages

serpent-head fish soup


revisiting our favorite restaurant (Suda) in Bangkok with Ro

Suda, Bangkok

what else? Derrida says some other things like: "Nothing is less reliable, nothing is less clear today than the word "archive" & not only because of the two orders of the arkhé we distinguished at the beginning." [commencement & commandment: "We have here tow orders of the order: sequential & jussive. From this point on, a series of cleavages will incessantly divide every atom of our lexicon."] in fact he starts the book with the definition of the word: archive has roots in "arkhé," meaning “the originary, the first, the primitive,” & from “arkheion,” which is “initially a house, a domicile, an address..." the archive is an institutional collective memory where commandments are summonsed, written, read, then re-internalized into our beings. it is this space between private & public, between "home & museum" as Derrida says.

the archive is my ark.

yesterday i was hanging in front of the Emerald Buddha & there was this normal looking business man by himself talking to the Buddha out loud, at times almost in a rant. he was bringing all these documents out of his briefcase, financial records, bills, bank statements, holding them up, talking out loud to Buddha. not sure why i'm saying this except maybe the Buddha is the Archive, to him. or these Kinnaree half-woman half-bird creatures which i adore.



when we were here last December, i was reading David Ohle's Boons as a MANUscript, before it was even accepted as a book object. now it is "published". i also remember "publishing" Blake Butler's EVER from Thailand. by publishing i mean ink was applied to paper in it's final form somewhere in Minnesota, the books were shipped & someone was on the receiving end to open a box and witness them. though that wasn't me to witness it as i was gallivanting in Thailand. i of course gratuitously mention this in hopes that you might get these books, but also as a personal illustration of publishing becoming an object, of emerging from the collective archive as "art." the press as an ARThive. though it truly becomes art when it is conceived in the mind of the author, per Derrida. from there it's all downhill. the archive kills the archive. self-perpetual archival suicide. in our quest to publish, to make permanent, to collapse the wave function, we kill the wave function, we annihilate probability & all other potential energies & meanings & outcomes. the document is no longer a living document. this blog post is living right now as i'm writing it, but the second i push the publish arrow it dies. it gets transferred from my laptop to the archive of the internet.

the archive is a technique for deconstructing & reconstructing memory. it is this precise moment between reading & writing. or before that, before pen is put to paper. it's the blinking CURSor. not the words behind the cursor, but the white space just ahead it. the blank canvas. this is the archive. it is the interFACE of space & time. without time, a text is meaningless. it's the instant it's written or being read in which the MEANing exists: its' BEING.

i'm not sure that's exactly how Derrida would put it. he puts a lot of emphasis on the OUTSIDE, in a general sense, the EXTernal, where the external penetrates the internal & how the internal transforms the external. how our collective memories (history) gets incorporated with our personal memory [mystories] & how "self-knowledge" is invented, if such a thing is even possible. the archive can't exist without the outside. you can't write without anything to write about. as i touted in my last dispatch, Norman Lock is able to write about external places & cultures without leaving his house [his ARK] but he does rely on books & who knows what other sources of external information. is it possible to be completely self-taught? & outside, as in seeing the outside world. this as i write in Bangkok feeling a necessity to "step outside" but also driven to write about it which often competes with experience in a vicious cycle where the experience becomes the writing about it.

"As if one could not, precisely, recall and archive the very thing on represses, archive it while repressing it (because repression is an archivization), that is to say, to archive otherwise, to repress the archive while archiving the repression..."

even in writing this i struggle with what is permanent, "committed" to memory, or "etched in stone," what is more meaningful? if something is in print, it seems more credible or valid, but only if it can be accessed. the bottom line is what you do with that knowledge.

my brain is about to explode. & to think Derrida wrote this in 1994. there was the internet sort of & maybe Yahoo was just being born, but there was no google, no blogging, no Napster, no Wikipedia, no Facebook. though he did live to see these things that he prophetized [he passed on into the archive in 2004]. he talks about email but doesn't mention the internet:

"But the example of email is privileged in my opinion for a more important and more obvious reason: because electronic mail, and even more than the fax, is on the way to transforming the entire public and private space of humanity, and first of all the limit between the private, the secret (private or public), and the public or the phenomenal. This is not only a technique, in the ordinary and limited sense of the term: at an unprecedented rhythm, in quasi-instantaneous fashion, this instrumental possibility of production, of printing, of conservation, and of destruction of the archive must inevitably be accomplished by juridical and thus political transformations. These will effect nothing less than property rights, publishing and reproduction rights”.

talk about transformation? the internet has since morphed into the legitimate & all-pervading archive of humanity's collective unconsciousness. and google is the interface, the transcription layer for ideas to propagate ephemerally. the archive is there if you know where to look. for better or worse. perhaps we are on the verge of implosion, archival corruption/overload. access is too easy. by lack of vetting, but then again, it is vetting which is destroying the archive of the collective unconscious, perhaps it needs to be unfettered, editors need to be killed.

one thing Derrida had the foresight to realize is that one of the most crucial features of any information technology, from an archival standpoint, is its inscriptive function. i didn't work at Napster in the peer-to-peer glory days, but did right in the aftermath (2002-2004), in it's legitimate rebirth. the real peer-to-peer Napster, in theory, was as close to an archive as Derrida prophetized: the SUM of temporarily connected & ephemeral private archives whose content was ever-changing, whose composition was ever-evolving second-by-second with no permanent existence except in the cache perhaps. in my work there i was documenting database structures, which in a sense are the purest form of a living archive. the data structures & tables along with the key to decipher the data tables that is engrained within the data set, all in co-existence, decipherable to any foreign entities that might come across it. but the database of the peer-to-peer Napster... that was something else.

Derrida wrote the ending of Archive Fever on the rim of Vesuvius, right near Pompeii, so ASH is an important prop to stress the ephemeral quality of archive:

"One can always dream or speculate around this secret account. Speculation begins here—and belief. But of the secret itself, there can be no archive, by definition. The secret is the very ash of the archive, the place where it no longer even makes sense to say "the very ash [la cenre même]" or "right on the ash [à même la cendre]" There is no sense in searching for the secret of what anyone may have known."

i'd end there, but everything ends in death. the death drive destroys memory, the representation of memory, archive, as Derrida puts it:

“…the death drive is above all anarchivic, one could say, or archiviolithic. It will always have been archive-destroying, by silent vocation… As the death drive is also, according to the most striking words of Freud himself, an aggression and a destruction (Destruktion) drive, it not only incites forgetfulness, amnesia, the annihilation of memory, as mnémé or anamnésis, but also commands the radical effacement, in truth the eradication, of that which can never be reduced to mnémé or to anamnésis, that is, the archive, consignation, the documentary or monumental apparatus as hypomnéma, mnemotechnical supplement or representative, auxiliary or memorandum. Because the archive… will never be either memory or anamnesis as spontaneous, alive and internal experience. On the contrary: the archive takes place at the place of originary and structural breakdown of the said memory.”

in the end, we all just want to be a part of an archive, whether it be genetically or memetically, pick your poison. THIS documenting, this is archiving. this is what I'm doing here, here in Bangkok. people want photos, they want to know what it's like, my "impressions" of a place, but nothing can replace actual experience.

ripping the heart out of the golden reindeer [from mural at grand palace]

ripping heart out of reindeer

now, off to see some of Bangkok that will go undocumented.

p.s. some old Siamese archives we saw yesterday at the Jim Thompson house/museum.

Jim Thompson manuscript


siamese manuscript


Siamese Text

Next Exit: Tokyo.



(c) 2009 Derek White