- Introduction:The Mexican Literary Archive
After years of public hearings and months of heated debates between academics, civil servants, politicians, and members of NGOs and civil society, the Mexican Senate unanimously approved the Ley General de Archivos on December 13, 2017. According to the press release issued by the Senate, the new law "Fomenta el resguardo, difusión y acceso público de archivos privados de relevancia histórica, social, cultural, científica y técnica de la Nación" ("Aprueba"). Among the many issues that were at stake in the public discussions around the bill, the most important one dealt with how much the Mexican government would be able to intervene in the development and preservation of archives, and how much it could regulate access to them.
The main fear, according to the Comité Mexicano de Ciencias Históricas (CMCH), a national association of academic institutions that advocated for a more comprehensive bill, was that the government would take control not only of the evaluation of what kinds of official documents would be moved to historical archives, but also about which already-archived documentation would be reevaluated and potentially removed from archives, and which documents would be labeled as classified materials. The possibility of having untrained people evaluating documents, along with a defunded Archivo General de la Nación that, as it looked in the first draft of the bill, would be directed and supervised by the Ministry of the Interior, [End Page 137] gave too much power to the political present in deciding what would constitute the historical past.1
In the end, the CMCH, along with the human rights organization Article 19, the Red por la Rendición de Cuentas, and other instances of civil society succeeded in making their voices heard. The final bill reflects their interest in making the Ley General de Archivos a more transparent, independent tool in the public interest, rather than an instrument to help governments block public access to archives and documents without any kind of accountability.2
The notion of the archive has been taken to signify many things, from the place of creation and recreation of the social order and authority to a metaphor for the construction and accumulation of knowledge. "There is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory" (4), said Derrida in his classic study, Archive Fever, and the debates around the Ley General de Archivos confirm the importance of regulating that control over the archive. Moreover, and perhaps even more relevant, the discussions around the bill and the approved law hopefully will put an end to the commonplace idea of thinking about academics as inhabitants of ivory towers in complete isolation from the world. It is in part thanks to the involvement of members of academia that the bill was significantly changed, and much of the dialogue about the impact of such a bill took place in academic spaces.
It might very well be argued that it is precisely because academics tend to fall for what Zeb Tortorici has labeled an "archival seduction" (2015) that they put up such a fight against the original bill. But as is clear from reading the approved document, what was at stake was not simply "particular practices of reading" (Steedman 1177), but a broader awareness of the archive as a place in need of a particular kind of balance between the closedness necessary to maintain and preserve memory, and the crucial openness to make that memory accessible to everyone. It is precisely the quest for such equilibrium that drives this special issue of Hispanic Review, specifically in relation to literary archives. The articles included in the issue explore the Mexican literary archive in a broad sense that includes the archive as metaphor for the [End Page 138] construction and accumulation of knowledge, and as the physical or digital repositories of records such as personal and public libraries, as well as the publication of histories and encyclopedias of literature, and mass-market and academic literary collections.
There are numerous ways to approach such a vast subject. One could, for instance, reflect on the relationship between State cultural agendas and the preservation of personal...