[-empyre-] Memory Errors

Madeleine Reich Casad mir9 at cornell.edu
Thu Nov 15 13:51:49 EST 2007

Hi Norie, and apologies for the delay; I thought your question  
merited a more thorough response than I had time for last night.

On Nov 13, 2007, at 6:18 PM, Norie Neumark wrote:
> HI MIckey,
> On 13/11/2007, at 1:21 PM, Madeleine Reich Casad wrote:
>> .  My readings focus on ways that new media and literary artworks  
>> stage interactions between the representational logic and deferred  
>> temporality of writing, on the one hand, and the instantaneity and  
>> emphemerality of digital media, on the other, and how these  
>> interactions circulate around questions of identity and power.
> this sounds really fascinating. can you give us an example? also  
> i'm curious about how you find this works differently with new  
> media and with literary artworks?
> Norie

I wanted to back up a bit, since a few people have mentioned  
Derrida's Archive Fever so far this month, and say something about  
how I understand that book and how it influences my work.  (It would  
be interesting to hear from others about this, too.)

For me the most relevant and interesting aspects of Archive Fever  
concern the "future anterior" aspect of the archive: according the  
archival selection process, you store information with the future in  
mind, and the selective filter of the archive thereby projects its  
own authority into the future; that's how both the information itself  
and the selecting authority of the archive manage to endure in time.   
For Derrida, this "deferred obedience" relates to the system of  
deferral inherent in writing itself: the idea that you write to an  
absent party and read in the absence of the writer, and the authority  
of "the archive" is one way to describe the forces that stabilize  
meaning across that absence.

D. also describes the (present) moment of archivization as a virtual  
moment, a moment of play between the opposing desires to simply  
repeat the archive, on the one hand, and to obliterate it completely,  
on the other.  He connects this tension to the Freudian death drive,  
a kind of energetic movement or vibration between two states of  
quiescence or certainty.  The self-preserving archive in that sense  
is related to a subjectivity or identity that seeks to establish its  
own self-unity by mastering or excluding its 'others' (ie a  
subjectivity that desires certainty and quiescence).

This desire held in tension between endpoints is a common way of  
talking about narrative pleasure or narrative engagement, too.  But  
that's obviously not the only way to think about the performative  
aspect of media art, especially when you're dealing with artforms  
that are nonlinearly or chaotically time-based, interactive and  
emergent rather than pre-scripted, etc...  I suppose that's one of  
the things I meant by 'instantaneity and ephemerality':  that  
performative time, which isn't necessarily oriented toward a definite  
end or projected future, but which nonetheless might take on that  
orientation under certain circumstances.  For me the most interesting  
circumstances to think about here are political ones, ones having to  
do with identity and the power of "the archive" itself

> can you give us an example?

One example I'm closely involved with at the moment is Agnes Hegedüs'  
Things Spoken,


which engages Archive Fever directly.  It invokes and undercuts  
various kinds of institutional authority (eg museum, national  
treasury, the myth of coherent identity itself) and, I think, likens  
narratives to virtual objects that act like nodes in a network of  
subjectivities.  And then the stories and objects have their own webs  
of interaction and affiliation, which raises questions about  
ownership and selfhood and construction of identity within the  
broader network.  To me the most interesting thing is that the  
network is non-uniform:  different stories seem to be told in  
different ways; they perform different kinds of interrelationships  
between people and institutions, between the occasion of telling as  
virtual interactive moment (one that also includes the user) and the  
act of telling as self-projection into the future.

> also i'm curious about how you find this works differently with new  
> media and with literary artworks?

Writing is one of many technological systems we engage with, and it  
imports its own particular material and structural and medial  
characteristics and limitations to our interactions and our  
imagination.  I do think writing entails externalization, a bid for  
duration, a projective relationship to time.  And literary prose has  
a distinct relationship to the symbolic, certainly--writing is one of  
the most abstract communications media around.  But I think this  
grants it its own flexibility, too: by virtue of being more abstract  
than other media forms, it's somehow more plastic.... and by  
extension more open to an emergent virtual and more responsive to  
changes in the cultural imaginary than it often gets credit for.

I wouldn't really want to declare an absolute or binding  
differentiation between media forms; I think they're all responsive  
to each other, and that their interrelationship is always in flux.   
But I also have the sense that the critical practices associated with  
media art and literature don't always overlap in ways that do justice  
to the artworks themselves, which I think should be the primary goal  
of any critical engagement.  That said, literary theory has ways of  
talking about memory, loss, and identity that are still quite useful,  
and new media have ways of engaging the space and the moment of the  
virtual that are much subtler and more complex than (for example)  
Derridean deconstruction can easily recognize....

I like John's metaphor of amplifying wave interference patterns to  
describe what we might make of this relationship, too.


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