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Shelf-Life: Biopolitics, the New Media Archive, and 'Paperless' Persons


Through the writings of Adorno, Benjamin, and Derrida, and the films of Alain Resnais, this essay considers the construction of the subject through state-sanctioned forms of inscription - passports, for example. Such forms, traditionally speaking, are aspects of the technologies of the book - the biblion - and they indicate that 'biopolitics' merges with bibliopolitics. Indeed, the subject is a matter of 'shelf-life': it is constructed through archival forms of collection; by the bibliotekhe - the 'slot' or shelf where documents are placed. Yet peoples and texts may not fit normative taxonomies, in traditional and digital media contexts. In the context of historical diasporas, for example, we might recall Derrida's argument that, like the peoples referred to as the sans-papiers, those without state-sanctioned documents, we are all becoming 'paperless', as external memory becomes virtual. The essay is concerned, then, with what happens when the subject is no longer substantiated by traditional legal papers, but by digital files and memory chips; while it argues also that the distinction between traditional and digital media cannot be reduced to a linear history.

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