Wolfgang Ernst: Das Rumoren der Archive. Ordnung aus Unordnung

February 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

On numerous occasions throughout his book Das Rumoren der Archive, Wolfgang Ernst describes the Archive as a site of death: a tomb, a coffin, a site for archaeological excavations. The signifiers lie around like scattered bones, waiting to be reconstructed in the shape of skeletons (which then are to be read by us, as texts about the past). The archive box is compared to a coffin; it is only when the records die that they are placed in the archive. In French l’arche even translates as “coffin”. The idea of the Archive-as-coffin is presented along with an illustration of Noah’s Ark. In this picture, the ship is portrayed as box-shaped, or coffin-shaped (the Ark is also l’Arche in French). The Ark is a ship, and so is the Archive. The Archive ships information, from the past to the present, from death to afterlife. Noah’s Ark is to Ernst “the first archival museum”, with its selection of objects that have been chosen to represent the world prior to the flood.

Closely related to the Archive, and death, is memory. The Archive is a manifestation of our collective fear of forgetting. Perhaps it is with this in mind that Ernst writes that it’s really the gaps and blanks that is the archive. It’s the lack of information that creates the need, to know more, to be able to fill in the blanks, to recall and retrieve missing information.

The Archive is in Ernst’s words also a “forest” of foot notes, while the archival description functions as a “narrativisation” of the card index, or as an “essay” that tries to correspond to “forest of foot notes” that is the Archive. I really like these figurative expressions; archival poetry.

Links:
A review of the Swedish translation, “Sorlet från arkiven. Ordning ur oordning” (SvD)

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