"Something She Called a Fever": Michelet, Derrida, and Dust (Or, in the Archives with Michelet and Derrida)
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Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about archive fever. What (says a voice prosaic and perverse; probably a historian’s voice) is an archive doing there anyway at the beginning of Jacques Derrida’s Mal d’archive? Here, in its opening passages, Derrida shows us the arkhe, which he says is the place where things begin, where power originates , inextricably bound up with the authority of beginnings . In the brief account that Derrida gives us of the operation of the Greek city-state, its ofacial documents are shown to be stored in the arkheion, the superior magistrate ’s residence. There the archon himself, the magistrate, exercises the power of those documents of procedure and precedent, in his right to interpret them, for the operation of a system of law.1 The arkhe represents the now of whatever kind of power is being exercised, anywhere, in any place or time. The arkhe represents a principle, that in Derrida’s words, is “in the order of commencement as well as in the order of commandment” (9). The fever, the sickness of the archive, is to do with its very establishment, which is the establishment of state power and authority.2 And then there is the feverish desire—a kind of sickness unto death—that Derrida indicates, for the archive: the fever not so much to enter it and use it as to have it. These remarks about archives open one of Derrida’s most important contemplations of the topic of psychoanalysis and return to the questions he raised about it in 1967 in his essay “Freud and the Scene of Writing.”3 “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” is further exploration of the relationship between memory and writing (or recording), a discussion of Freud’s own attempts to and adequate metaphors for representing memory, particularly the very arst memory that takes place, or is had, just before the thing itself, the origin, comes to be represented. This is a good reason for paying attention to Freud’s own attentions to writing as an activity: in many of Freud’s essays , writing is used to stand in for the psyche and all its workings.4 Derrida sees in Freud the desire to recover moments of inception, the fractured and inanitesimal second between thing and trace, which might be the moment of truth. In “Archive Fever,” desire for the archive is presented as part of that desire to and, or locate, or to possess that moment, which is the beginning of things. But still: what is an archive doing at the beginning of a long description of another text (someone else’s text, not Derrida’s) that also deals with Freud? For the main part, “Archive Fever” is a sustained contemplation of Yosef Yerushalmi’s Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (1991). A historian of Sephardic Jewry with a strong interest in questions of memory, Yerushalmi was turned, by way of his membership in a psychoanalytic study group on anti-semitism, to the reading of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism. In this reading, he found that Freud was also a historian or at least (in Freud’s own formulation) someone who had produced a 4 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ “Something She Called a Fever” Michelet, Derrida, and Dust (Or, in the Archives with Michelet and Derrida) Carolyn Steedman ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ I breathed in their dust. —Jules Michelet, Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 4 “historical novel,” or a kind of historical story, in order to understand the period of baroque anti-semitism through which he was living. Yerushalmi’s is a speculative account of Freud’s writing of Moses and Monotheism, though not half as speculative as is the text itself, which is famously based on no historical evidence whatsoever. Yerushalmi on the other hand, had a fairly complete account of the process of its composition, from correspondence about it; from a hitherto unnoted draft (obtained with astonishing ease from the Freud Archive at the Library of Congress); and from the context within which Freud wrote, retrieved from newspaper ales and a more general sociopolitical history of the rise of Nazism in central Europe. Yerushalmi’s overall purpose in the book is to get Freud to admit (the anal chapter is in the form of a monologue, addressed directly to the dead author) that psychoanalysis is a Jewish science.5 The “impression ” of Derrida’s subtitle is the imprint of Judaism and “the Jewish science” on Yerushalmi and indeed on Derrida himself. But the signs and traces that Freud dealt...


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