August 11, 2008

We’ve mentioned Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever before, the book in which he so eloquently argues for something, and along the way allows for the existence of “real” ghosts; or, at least, explains Freud’s position on this so well that it seems like he believes it too. The opening argument about the book concerns theĀ  “domicilation” of knowledge, the ways in which material is archived into a private domicile then becomes public. Derrida could have referred to “domestication,” but there’s no sense in not making up a word when you have cart blanche to make up words.

This tension between public and private spaces really does inform archives. For example, did you know that you can find Isaac Bashevis Singer’s credit card statements at his archive? I’m conflicted about this; part of me wants to know what vices Singer might have charged; the other part doesn’t want anyone to have access to that information about me. Of course, this doesn’t compare to the reams of unpaid bills in Max Weinreich’s archive. I found invoices from the Yiddish PEN club for back membership dues (these, oddly, were written in English). Still, it’s not like they were going to kick him out. The same can’t be said for his sewing machine. I really don’t know how he spent so much money on dry cleaning–or, rather, how he didn’t spend so much money on dry cleaning. It was a welcome bit of iconoclasm, and made me feel better. I may not be able to speak 10 languages, but I can at least pay (most) bills on time.