- "Turning the Knobs on Writers’ Closets":Archives and Canadian Literature in the 21st Century
"Nothing is less reliable, nothing is less clear today than the word 'archive.'" So declared Jacques Derrida in his well-known address to the 1994 international conference on Memory: The Question of Archives. Fittingly, the conference took place in Sigmund Freud's last house in London, England, now the international centre of Freud studies and the repository—arkheion, the Greek word for domicile, address, and residence—of his archives. Derrida's lecture, "The Concept of the Archive: A Freudian Impression," appeared the following year under the title Mal d'archive: Une impression freudienne (1995). Its English language translation, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1996), has provided tremendous impetus to renewed, if not feverish, interest in archives, archival research, and archival theory, no less in Canada than throughout the world of scholarship. This collection of essays aims to contribute to the debates and discussions.
Central to Derrida's discussion is the term archive itself, from the Greek arkhe—"the commencement and the commandment … there where things commence … there where men and gods command" (Derrida 1996, 1). It is the place of intersection between commencement and commandment in archives that this collection proposes to explore. Notwithstanding Carolyn Steedman's contention that "nothing starts in the Archive, nothing ever at all" (2002, 45), archives mark the point where, among other commencements, scholars begin what can prove to be a lengthy, sometimes lifelong, attachment to the unpublished legacy of their research subject. The act of commandment is, at least in its earliest stage, the work of the archons, the archival professionals, the "guardians" under whose "house arrest" the archives "speak the law" (Derrida 1996, 2). Our purpose here is to examine this "uncommon place, where law and singularity intersect in privilege" (3) from the points of view of its two most visible and most powerful inhabitants, the scholar and the archivist, and in particular, their shared enterprise as it relates to Canadian literature.
There is a distinctly Canadian tradition of scholarly interest in the nature of communication, an area in which the archival record plays an essential part. Its most prominent trajectories have been traced by the work of Harold Innis, George Grant, and Marshall McLuhan. Innis, a historian and pioneering communications [End Page 5] theorist, saw in Canada the representation of a balance between civilization and power. Grant, in contrast, found "a lack of morality and vision in this technological dynamo, which also incorporated technocratic bureaucracies," while McLuhan concerned himself with "the impact of technological media, which include the media of record, on the user" (Taylor 2003, 174).1 Arthur Kroker, a more recent contributor to the discourse on communication technology, has described Canada's unique situation "midway between the future of the New World and the past of European culture" (1984, 7). He sees Canada "by virtue of historical circumstance and geographical accident to be forever marginal to the 'present mindedness' of American culture (a society which ... does not enjoy the recriminations of historical remembrance)" and as "incapable of being more than ambivalent on the cultural legacy of our European past" (8). We will be considering the archive here in the context both of cultural communication and of what Ursula Franklin has called "technology as practice" (1999, 2), involving "organization, procedures, symbols, new words, equations, and, most of all, a mindset" (3). This volume will also demonstrate that the ready availability of the more material elements of technology, particularly the Internet, has both illuminated and complicated the archival space for scholars and archivists alike.
In a special issue of English Studies in Canada (ESC), "The Event of the Archive," (March 2004), co-editors Michael O'Driscoll and Edward Bishop commence with the necessary question: just what do we mean by the term "archive"? There is no easy answer, they point out, in part because the term has taken on so many different meanings in contemporary scholarship and criticism. Today the term archive is used in reference to a variety of institutions (libraries, museums, record repositories) and forms of inscription (monographs, photographs, film and video, databases, blogs, e-mail, websites, monuments, paintings...