Synergies and Scope
Published two years apart, Jacques Derrida's Archive Fever and Maria Corti's Ombre dal fondo illuminate our understanding of the complexities of the Archive in complementary fashions. In his 1995 essay, the French philosopher addresses the “radical finitude, […] the possibility of forgetfulness” inherent in what he calls the “archive drive,” a response to the death drive that defines our collective engagement with memory and its preservation (Derrida, 1995, 18). As is customary, the etymological roots of the word Archive are exposed, their semantic productivity stoked: simultaneously linked to Arkhé, the locus of origin, and to Arkheion, the place where magistrates would preserve and make available the texts of the law, the Archive in Derrida's semantic slippage is inherently linked to justice, memory, and writing. The Archive is presented as a place of longing and coercion, thus allowing archive fever to be defined as “an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement” (Derrida, 1995, 91). Published in 1997 by scholar and novelist Maria Corti, Ombre dal fondo also describes the Archive as a place of haunting, where scholars confront the materiality of traces compounding the avant-texte, both of those works of literature that were delivered to the reader experience and those texts, postulating a multitude of possibilities, that would never be brought to completion, whether by accident or intention. Both Archive Fever and Ombre dal fondo take their cue from localized embodiments of the Archive: the Freud archive in London for Derrida, and the Centro per gli studi sulla tradizione manoscritta di autori moderni e contemporanei in Pavia for Corti, its conceiver, founder, and indefatigable director for over twenty years. It is the Archive rooted in a specific geography and sheltering a specific set of documents that drives their consideration of the way archives affect our ability to conceive of the past and conceptualize our relationship to the future. Both scholars come to terms with the Archive as a place where opposing conceptions of time meet: for Corti the Archive is the place where aion (the time of finitude, of a life ended) and chronos (the time that extends into the future) compete with one another (Corti, 1997, 7).