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In the last decades of the twentieth century the “archival turn” was added to the long list of tropisms

in social
and human sciences. This essay outlines the cultural, philosophical, and methodological stakes, in early
Foucault and late Derrida, of this “thought of the archive,” to which psychoanalysis remains central.

Spectres of Freud:
The Figure of the Archive
in Derrida and Foucault

he figure of the archive has immense cultural and methodological significance in

T what we, in our posthuman(ist) age, still call “humanities.” Foucault and Derrida
—whether considered independently of each other, or together, as I am trying to
do here—contributed largely to this significance. They thematized the “archive” (in
the singular) and endowed it with an unmistakable (yet often misunderstood) figu-
rality. Granted, their “archives” do not quite cut the same figure. Nor would that be
interesting, if that were the case. In what follows, I am not interested in synthesizing
their views, nor in dispelling the legend of their differend: after all, it is a good legend
(good reading material). Instead, my modest goal is to mark the instance of a rare
accord between these two thinkers, which has to do with the status and functions of
the archive as a figure of thought (Gedankenbild) and of psychoanalysis as a “science”
thereof. To that purpose, I proceed in two steps: first, I offer a brief consideration of
the larger cultural and philosophical import of this figure in their work; second, by
examining a particular—generally underemphasized—passage from Archive Fever, in

Mosaic 44/4 0027-1276-07/141020$02.00©Mosaic

142 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

which Derrida comments on the peculiar figurality of the archive, as well as the sta-
tus Foucault accorded psychoanalysis in The Order of Things, I try to establish this fig-
ure’s methodological significance. Following along this methodological grain, I argue
that the peculiar figurality of the archive is markedly ideal–typical (in Max Weber’s
sense) and, hence, less ad hoc than many readers assume it to be.

s the twentieth century drew to a close, the long and winding list of tropisms in
A the social and human sciences was enriched by yet another: the “archival turn.”
However, this twist was not just an academic affair. Writing in the early 1980s, for
instance, Pierre Nora—in his general editor’s introduction1 to the monumental mul-
tivolume project Les lieux de mémoire, whose publication he supervised at Gallimard
between 1984 and 1992—noted that “the obsession of the archive is a mark of our
times [l’obsession de l’archive [. . .] marque le contemporain]” (xxvi), and not just in
history as a discipline, but in society at large: “Now that historians have put an end to
their cult of the document, society as a whole recites the credo of conservation and
archival productivism” (xxvi).2 In fact, it seems that the “professionals of the archive”—
historians and archivists—have been mostly taken aback by the sudden vogue that
archival practices began to enjoy outside the walls of their institutions. Nora himself
had a rather conservative response to this social phenomenon, in which he saw a
“strange reversal” (xxvii): if, formerly, it was the professionals of the archive who were
suffering from a “conservation mania,” “nowadays it is the private enterprises and pub-
lic administrations who mandate archivists with the recommendation to keep every-
thing, when professionals have learned that the secret of this trade is the art of
controlled destruction” (xxvii, emph. mine). (Indeed, this aspect of professional mastery
will not have been left untouched by the pensée de l’archive that we are discussing here.)
Succinctly put, Nora’s point is that at the same time that history as a discipline
became more critical of its archival practices, society as a whole was seized by an
archival frenzy bordering on compulsive hoarding. (Incidentally, the publication
trends in psychiatry and psychology seem to corroborate, albeit in a delayed manner,
Nora’s point: prior to 1996, less than a dozen studies had been published on compul-
sive hoarding; since 1996, which is the year of the hallmark publication of R.O. Frost
and T.L. Hartl’s “A Cognitive–Behavioral Model of Compulsive Hoarding,” the num-
ber of dedicated studies has grown exponentially. A graph illustrating this growth can
be found in David Mataix–Cols et al. [566]; this paper also advocates that a separate
diagnostic category—under the proposed moniker “hoarding disorder”—be created
and included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders [DSM–V], contra DSM–IV, which takes hoarding as a diagnostic criterion
Adina Arvatu 143

for OCD.) To explain this phenomenon, Nora advances the hypothesis that this new
historical imperative (xxviii)—which, he seems to suggest, is the form the interpella-
tion of the subject takes in our late modernity (xxix)—is in fact the symptom of an
underlying cultural condition, namely the disappearance of what he calls “milieux de
mémoire”(memory environments such as peasant communities, traditions, and cus-
toms) and their replacement by “lieux,” or sites thereof (xvii), around which our con-
temporary memorial and symbolic practices are organized. The National Archives of
France are just one among many such sites (see Pomian), in an age in which memory
itself—colonized by the “trace” (xxvii), “terrorized” by history (xxviii)—has become
“archivistique,” “enregistreuse” (xxvi).
This hypothesis is by no means new: a more famous version was proposed by
Jean–François Lyotard in his 1979 La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir. As
we remember, Lyotard finds the epochal mark of postmodernity in the collapse of
“the grand Narratives” (15) to which Western scientific knowledge has traditionally
had recourse for purposes of legitimation. There will have been many such “narratives
of legitimation” (31) in the history of the West, we can infer, but the two major ones,
whose breakdown vouchsafes, for Lyotard, the identity of the postmodern, are the
political “narrative of emancipation” (37)—that is, some version of the enlightened
myth of the liberation of humanity—and the “speculative narrative” (37) of knowl-
edge summation qua philosophical system. These two metanarratives, according to
Lyotard, used to motivate and legitimate the most ambitious programs of research in
the West, namely French Enlightenment and German Idealism. For our purposes, and
to continue Lyotard’s stylization exercise, we can think of the former as embodied
(Yeo xii) in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie (1751–1772), while the latter finds
its paradigm—nay, paragon—in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences (1817
–1830). The two encyclopaedias cannot be more different: in fact, Hegel elaborated
his in explicit contrast to the “ordinary encyclopedia” (Encyclopaedia I: par. 16, 39–40)
of the French and Scottish Enlightenment (Rajan 6). This is not the time, or the place,
to count all the ways in which they diverge: from the manner of authorship (collabo-
rative v. individual), through the criteria for the selection of the material to be in– and
excluded (Hegel, for one, excludes “positive sciences”3 such as philology or even parts
of history from the purview of his encyclopaedia), to the matter of classification and
ordering of the material (alphabetic v. systematic), they seem to oppose each other
term for term. However, as we shall see, their core values—progress of knowledge as a
means toward social and political emancipation of humankind and, respectively, the
totalization of knowledge as an end in itself, or as the End, the expression of the grow-
ing spiritual perfection of the moral–philosophical Idea in history—are not necessar-
ily at odds with each other, logically or historically.
144 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

It would seem then that a “metanarrative” in Lyotard’s sense is simply the thema-
tization of the researchers’ value–orientations, or Wertideen, as Max Weber once
called them (I will return to his Neo–Kantian theory of concept formation towards
the end of this essay). If this is true, then Lyotard’s claim about the disappearance of
such metanarratives is unwarranted: they are alive and well in our research grant
applications! (After all, Lyotard’s report too draws on a metanarrative of sorts, and
Fredric Jameson, who wrote the foreword to the English translation, pointed to the
performative contradiction involved in it.) On the other hand, the more restricted
claim that I take Lyotard to be making—namely, that “we,” “today,” can no longer
suspend our disbelief vis–à–vis the two grand narratives of emancipation and sys-
tematicity, and that our chronic “incredulity toward metanarratives” (xxiv) has some-
thing to do with the collapse of the encyclopaedic spirit—is probably something that
many of us can countenance.
This preamble was meant to provide us with the necessary cultural and philo-
sophical context for an understanding of the figure of the archive in Derrida,
Foucault, and beyond. For, I argue, before breaking into a fever, the archive began as
a hangover from the modern encyclopaedia (in its double aspect as progress and sys-
tem, strong plot and narrative closure). And the first indication that this suggestion is
not far–fetched is that, in Derrida and Foucault at least, who in a sense are responsi-
ble for sending us off on this train of thought, the archive has very pronounced epis-
temic valences (O’Driscoll 284). We will come back to this shortly, but to mark the
larger cultural and philosophical stakes of this figure, let us just say for now that the
archive as such makes possible Derrida and Foucault’s incisive critiques of modern
encyclopaedism. As we shall see, though, their critiques become possible only because,
as such, the archive has no . . . as such. And by this formulation I mean no befuddle-
ment: its meaning is bound up in the archive’s peculiar figurality and methodological
purchase, which we will be considering next.
But before that, allow me to draw out another feature of Derrida and Foucault’s
critical deployments of the archive. We have seen that the core values of the modern
encyclopaedia (I refer to it in the singular, for the sake of symmetry with the singu-
larized archive) are progress and totality. Both values have a marked futural opening.
Think of Kant’s response to the question: are we enlightened yet? Like the Donkey in
Shrek, we keep asking the same impatient and ill–formed question (“Are we there
yet?”), to which Kant will typically answer: “No, but we do live in an age of enlight-
enment.”4 In other words, while enlightenment remains in the transcendental realm
(never fully present, it can never become a thing of the past), it opens up—in the
manner of a horizon—the “today” as an age (Zeitalter) of “infinite striving” (though,
Adina Arvatu 145

strictly speaking, this doctrine is post–Kantian). To borrow the political cartoonist’s

tools for a moment, imagine enlightenment as the carrot at the end of the stick:
though we can never taste it, that carrot keeps us going and allows us to bear the stick.
Hegel comes along and, dissatisfied with the abyss opened up at the heart of time by
the transcendental solution, proposes his speculative remedy: with the help of the
dialectic, he sets out to show that the stick we feel today is just a taste of the carrot to
come; better yet, that the all–too–actual (wirklich) stick simply is the rational carrot.
The Derridian and Foucauldian critiques of modern encyclopaedism will take issue
with both solutions through the “chronotope” of the archive, which is meant as a cor-
rective to the annihilation of time in the either/or of unredeemed exteriority versus
extreme inwardness, melancholia versus mourning, Kant versus Hegel. An unex-
pected perhaps but necessary consequence of this, I argue, is that Derrida and
Foucault never quite escape the “transcendental but speculative” (Caygill 5ff), or nor-
mative yet descriptive limbo that they have thus come to inhabit. This also accounts
for the wondrous fact that, especially in their published/public disputes over the mad-
dening issue of madness,5 they take turns at playing the Hegel to the other’s Kant.
And what has that got to do with Freud and the “science” of psychoanalysis? To
quote two contemporary German philosophers and media theoreticians: “Alles”
(Därmann and Thiel 126).

n an intriguing passage from Archive Fever, which reads almost like an afterthought,
I Derrida writes:

Well (Eh bien), concerning the archive, Freud never managed to form anything that
deserves to be called a concept (un concept digne de ce nom). Neither have we, by the way
(Nous non plus d’ailleurs). We have no concept, only an impression, a series of impressions
associated with a word. To the rigor of the concept, I am opposing here the vagueness or the
open imprecision, the relative indetermination of such a notion (d’une telle notion).
“Archive” is only a notion, an impression associated with a word and for which, together
with Freud, we do not have a concept. We only have an impression, an insistent impression
through the unstable feeling of a shifting figure (une figure mobile), of a schema, or of an
in–finite or indefinite process. Unlike what a classical philosopher or scholar (un philosophe
ou un savant classiques) would be tempted to do, I do not consider this impression, or the
notion of this impression, to be a subconcept, the feebleness of a blurred and subjective
preknowledge, [. . .] but to the contrary, [. . .] I consider it to be the possibility and the very
future of the concept, to be the very concept of the future (pour la possibilité et pour l’avenir
même du concept, pour le concept même de l’avenir), if there is such a thing and if, as I
believe, the idea of the archive (la pensée de l’archive) depends on it. This is one of the the-
ses: there are essential reasons for which a concept in the process of being formed always
146 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

remains inadequate relative to what it ought to be, divided, disjointed between two forces.
And this disjointedness has a necessary relationship with the structure of archivization.
(Archive 29; Mal 51–52)

This passage is interesting for a number of reasons. For instance, as you may remem-
ber, the original title of Derrida’s lecture was “The Concept of the Archive: A Freudian
Impression.” This passage then helps account for the change in title: after all, if nei-
ther Freud nor “we” (non–royally used by Derrida) have a concept of the archive, then
the staid philosophical title–phrase “the concept of X in Y” can only be misleading
(not to mention that the conceptual analysis of a non–concept would be about as sat-
isfying as massaging a wooden leg). It also highlights Derrida’s concern for the
archivization of his own text(s) and, by extension, of “deconstruction,” for in it he
explicitly takes a step back from, or to the side of, that “classical” (his word) philo-
sophical and scholarly tradition for which conceptual analysis provides the corner-
stone of research, and focuses instead on the problem of concept formation, first and
foremost in psychoanalysis—as a would–be “general science of the archive” (Archive
34; Mal 56), not of memory6—and in the humanities in general.
But let us unpack a bit more Derrida’s allusion to what the “classical philosopher
or scholar” would do. We find this attitude best exemplified, again, in Hegel, who
writes, in his Science of Logic: “Philosophy has the right to select from the language of
common life which is made for the world of representational thinking (die Welt der
Vorstellungen), such expressions as seem to come close to the determinations of the
Concept (Bestimmungen des Begriffs). [. . .] For common life has no concepts, but
[only] notions, and to [re]cognize the concept of what is else a mere notion is phi-
losophy itself (und es ist die Philosophie selbst, den Begriff dessen zu erkennen, was sonst
bloße Vorstellung ist)” (708; trans. slightly amended).7 The best illustration of this
rightful (self–righteous, almost) philosophical process of selection remains, of course,
Hegel’s choice of Aufhebung to designate the main operation of his dialectic. To cancel
and to preserve: the two opposed meanings of the verb aufheben—proof of German’s
“speculative spirit [. . .], which transcends the ‘either–or’ of mere understanding”
(Encyclopaedia I: par. 96 R, 154)—made for a nice speculative concept. It is important
to note here that Hegel’s philosophical condescension toward the language of com-
mon life—just like his exclusion of philology or history from his Encyclopaedia, on
account of the contingency that goes into their “scientific” makeup—is a considered
expression of his panlogicism rather than the mere voicing of personal prejudice. For,
as he points out in the Encyclopaedia Logic, the job of philosophy is to substitute con-
cepts for all those “determinacies of feeling, of intuition, of desire, or willing, etc.,
Adina Arvatu 147

[that] are generally called representations (Vorstellungen), inasmuch as we have knowl-

edge of them (insofern von ihnen gewußt wird)”; in short, “philosophy puts thoughts
and categories, but more precisely concepts, in the place of representations (die
Philosophie Gedanken, Kategorien aber näher Begriffe an die Stelle der Vorstellungen
setzt)” (par. 3, 26). That is why, even before but also after the substitution (which here
appears as philosophy’s main operation and task), that is, in the “raw” state of a natu-
ral language as well as in the “cooked” philosophical style of a Hegel, “Representations
[or ‘notions’] in general can be regarded as metaphors of thoughts and concepts
(Vorstellungen überhaupt können als Metaphern der Gedanken und Begriffen angesehen
werden)” (Encyclopaedia I: par. 3 R, 26–27). In other words, they are at best prefigura-
tions of philosophical concepts, at worst merely rhetorical ornaments—and hence, par-
ergonal, supplemental to the fully conceptualized language of philosophy; as such, they
are responsible for philosophy’s “unintelligibility” (par. 3 R, 27) to untrained minds.
It would take far more space–time to develop (as one would a negative) this other
“impression” that I will now simply submit it to you as is, that is, not yet fully con-
ceptualized, namely, that the peculiar mobility of the figure of the archive in Derrida
is the result of the discursive equivalent of a nuclear fission: a splitting of the Hegelian
logic, a flattening out of the Aufhebung, a teasing of contrary forces back out of spec-
ulative unities. To preserve and to cancel: the two meanings of the German aufheben,
which so delighted the speculative palate of Hegel, confront each other again–with
no reconciliation and no lift–up—as “archontic principle” (Archive 3; Mal 14) and
“archiviolithic drive” (Archive 11; Mal 25), Eros and Thanatos, in Derrida’s figure of
the archive. And this figure has “everything” to do with Freud, or rather with some of
his spectres (Derrida’s, Yerushalmi’s, but also Foucault’s Freuds, as we shall see). For,
even at a cursory reading, Archive Fever appears given over to extrapolating from
Freud’s meta–psychological writings, and especially “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,”
a certain “structure of archivization” that has a “necessary relationship” (Archive 29;
Mal 52) with the process of concept formation—first and foremost, in psychoanalysis,
but also in general, insofar as this process of conceptualization, understood as the very
historicity of the concept, affects the concept of history “itself,” whether as psychohis-
tory (Freud’s Moses and Monotheism), as history of psychoanalysis (Yerushalmi’s mono-
graph on Freud’s “historical novel”), as “history of madness,” or “archaeology” of
knowledge, or any other project of qualitative (historical, comparative) research.
The crux of Derrida’s argument lies in showing that this “structure” of archiviza-
tion needs to be understood both transcendentally and speculatively, as the condition
of possibility of any structure as such, but also as that which disturbs and ruins
absolutely any structural and conceptual economy. In it the principality of the archive
148 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

as “accumulation and capitalization of memory on some substrate and in an exterior

place” (Archive 12; Mal 27) finds itself contested not by an external and opposed prin-
ciple of de–structuration (amnesia, repression, biological death), but rather by a force
as intimate as it is alien, which inhabits it, moves it, conditions it, and makes it what
it is, as such, while at the same time dividing it in and against itself absolutely (the
death drive). Yet this contestation is not an opposition between similar yet unequal
forces, between the forces of the Same, but rather a haunting, a spectral inhabiting of
the Same (return of the repressed, re–presentation, and so on) by an unsublatable
Other (repetition compulsion), such that the Same can only manifest itself as self–dif-
ference, or as (demonically) double.
It may be helpful to resort here to a classical metaphor to describe this structure
of archivization in Derrida’s account. By “classical” I mean, first, the valuation implicit
in this adjective (“of the first rank or authority; constituting a standard or model,”
according to the OED) and the particular kind of usage this valuation legitimizes
(mostly rhetorical and didactic). It is this sense of “classical” that Derrida too has in
mind in “Freud et la scène de l’écriture,” when he writes, with reference to Freud’s
appeal to scriptural machines in modeling psychic economy: “Freud ne manie sans
doute pas des métaphores, si manier des métaphores, c’est faire du connu allusion à
l’inconnu. Par l’insistance de son investissement métaphorique, il rend énigmatique
au contraire ce qu’on croit connaître sous le nom d’écriture” (296). Or, as he puts it
elsewhere, “Ce que je viens d’appeler le logos classique de la philosophie, c’est l’ordre
de ce qui se représente ou se présente facilement ou clairement pour s’ordonner à la
valeur de présence qui commande toutes les évidences de l’expérience” (“Spéculer”
309). Derrida’s emphases—(re)presentation, evidence, and experience—simply spec-
ify the overriding value (presence) of philosophical and scientific discourse in their
“classical” instantiation. Second, the metaphor that I want to use here—in precisely
this classical, didactic, analogical way that consists of making something unknown or
invisible more familiar, or visible, by metaphorical recourse to some other phenome-
non presumably known from, or encountered in experience—is also “classical” by
descent. It involves Penelope’s work at the loom in Book II of the Odyssey: her inter-
minable weaving project (unravelling at night what she had woven during the day, as
a clever ploy to “buy time” and stave off hungry suitors) can serve as a metaphor for
the work of archivization (and conceptualization) in this other, non–classical kind of
speculation in which Freud, according to Derrida, is engaged in “Beyond the Pleasure
Principle,” and in which Derrida himself seems caught in Archive Fever.
Indeed, this locus classicus shares many elements with Freud’s fort/da (repetition,
mastery, economy, and domesticity are the first to stand out), which all conspire to
Adina Arvatu 149

make this metaphor a compelling heuristic tool. But even in this classical–analogi-
cal–heuristic usage, the episode retains a fundamental ambiguity, which parallels the
one infecting the fort/da: is Penelope’s willful and repeated destruction of her web a sign
of mastery, as the epic insists, of her craftiness which is only matched by Odysseus’s cun-
ning? Or does it signal a lack thereof (her powerlessness in an oikos overrun by para-
sites)? Is her repeated gesture of de–structuration a way of overcompensating for a
lack, thus belonging to the restricted economy of re–presentation? Or is it a compul-
sive and spectral repetition of Odysseus’s nostos, a general economy in which what
returns is never the awaited one, never the One, but rather repetition itself? As we can
see (and this was the point of our little exercise), the same metaphor can be given both
a classical and a non–classical reading, where the negation does not mark any kind of
opposition to the classical, but rather a lateral shift with respect to it. If then “archive”
names not only that which makes memory possible (as hypomnesic trace to enable
recall, repetition, re–presentation), but also that which threatens memory from
within (as prosthetics of the inside, and call of the inorganic within the organism), if
in short “archive” names not just memory but also forgetfulness, just as Penelope both
makes possible Odysseus’s return and withdraws that possibility with every undoing
of her work, what consequences can we derive for the “classical concepts” (there are
no other) of psychoanalysis, as “a scientific project which [. . .] aspires to be a general
science of the archive” (Archive 34; Mal 56)? And of all other “scientific projects” we
may entertain, in/as the humanities, for instance?
This question—which he did not answer, if by answering we mean an act of posi-
tion–taking, but rather kept modulating in a series of deliberately pre–liminary (pros)
theses—is essential, I think, for Derrida’s reading, in Archive Fever, of Yerushalmi’s
reading of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism in Freud’s Moses, and especially of the
“Monologue with Freud,” which closes—but also reopens in the mode of new
Fragestellungen—Yerushalmi’s book (81–100). We can reformulate it as follows: what
happens when scholarship is no longer defined by the long hours spent in the archives,
poring over the written traces of the past, by that askesis which was responsible for the
other momentous “archival turn” in the history of the West (see Eskildsen), namely
Leopold von Ranke’s source–criticism, which is generally regarded as a watershed
moment for modern (“objective” or “scientific”) historiography? What happens when
that askesis is replaced by the dark hour of a Gespenstergespräch, an interview with a
ghost or a spectre, who is—in principle and as a principle/principal/pater/patriarch/
archon—silent, even mute? It is along the grain of this kind of methodological reflec-
tion that I propose—by way of a reopening of the “case”—that we read Archive Fever
as, among other things, Derrida’s “Monologue with Foucault,” with the magister who,
at the time of this lecture,8 had been dead for ten years almost to the day.
150 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

his is, then, my modest proposal: to begin to reopen this other archive, which does
T not seem to trouble anyone anymore, since it has been put to rest, so to speak, in
the legend of the Foucault–Derrida differend (a legend that they no doubt helped dis-
seminate), but which—it seems to me—still troubled Derrida at the time of Archive
Fever. Granted, there are no direct pointers, in this lecture, as to how to even begin to
read this virtual “monologue with Foucault” that, I argue, Derrida is conducting here.
So I will provide my own (though they are not mine), and they will again have every-
thing to do with “Freud” and “psychoanalysis.”
More specifically, I invite you to reopen Foucault’s Order of Things, at section V
of his tenth and last chapter, “The Human Sciences” (the punch line of the whole book,
as an archaeology thereof). This section, entitled simply “Psychoanalysis and ethnol-
ogy,” starts with the strongest possible claim Foucault could have ever been expected to
make on behalf of these two “sciences,” and especially of the former: “Psychoanalysis
and ethnology occupy a privileged position in our knowledge” (407). This privilege,
however, does not derive from their having fulfilled humanities’ old dream of becom-
ing “truly scientific” (407). This dream is in fact impossible, when viewed through the
eyes of the archaeologist: not all epistemological configurations—for example, partic-
ular arrangements of objects, subjects, and relations of knowledge that become
institutionalized, “rooted” (Foucault’s metaphor) in the epistemological field—are
also sciences, and humanities do not meet the formal criteria of “objectivity and
systematicity which make it possible to define them as sciences” (398–99). But that
does not detract from their “positivity” (398), whereby Foucault understands not only
their “individuality and autonomy” (Archaeology 205) as distinct knowledge configu-
rations,9 but also their radical contingency, deriving from their specific “rootedness” in
the topological space of knowledge. This contingency has nothing to do with the
expression of more or less authoritative opinions, voluntary acts of institution, or
arbitrary flights of epistemic fancy; rather, it is the effect of deep regularities form-
ing—like so many currents—and disappearing back into the undifferentiated
Okeanos of historical discourses.
It is this positivity of epistemological figures—their distinct profiles and contin-
gent, regional efficacy rather than their “scientific” (deductive and monistic) character
or aspirations, as well as their irreducibility to any one mathesis or meta–discipline—
that, contra Hegel, interested Foucault the archaeologist and that he designated with
the startling formula “historical a priori” (Order 172; Archaeology 142–48). Even more
startlingly, these historical a prioris—in the plural, since they are multiple, and their
number cannot be determined once and for all, through a transcendental deduction,
or formal dialectic—constitute that “positive unconscious of knowledge” (Order xi)
Adina Arvatu 151

that accounts, from case to case, for the actual shapes, or configurations, assumed by
the episteme in time. It is this specific configuration or Gestalt of the episteme at any
given time that Foucault in the Archaeology—his “discourse on method”—calls
archive. (Hence, from the vantage point of the Archaeology, and pace Foucault’s own
usage in The Order of Things, it is inaccurate to say that the latter outlines three grand
Western “epistemes”: the episteme as an abstract, topological space of knowledge
[xxiii–xxiv] is one; the shapes or configurations it assumes over time are multiple and
contingent.) Or, in Foucault’s often quoted formulation,

The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of
statements as unique events. But the archive is also that which determines that all these
things said do not accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in
an unbroken linearity, nor do they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but
they are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with mul-
tiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities; that which
determines that they do not withdraw at the same pace in time, but shine, as it were, like
stars, some that seem close to us shining brightly from afar off, while others that are in fact
close to us are already growing pale. (Archaeology 145–46)

The quasi–positivistic tone of this passage aside, and abstraction being made of the
philosophical issue of the stratum at which such a description is to apply (that of
statements [énoncés], which differ from speech acts and propositions in the same way
that a function differs from an integer), what this archive purports to provide us with
is a set of descriptive tools rather than evidentiary “facts.” In brief, its regime is onto-
logical rather than ontic, transcendental rather than empirical: thus, it is “representa-
tion” as an archive (and not as a “thing,” even less as a “word”) that enables Foucault
in The Order of Things to describe something like a “Classical Age,” a particular and
recognizable historical configuration of the epistemic field whose temporal and spa-
tial limits it helps trace out. In short, the archive is a principle (“law,” “system”) of
structuration and conceptualization of historical research.
Yet, this Foucauldian “concept”—for it does have the “feel” of one, especially when
one attends patiently to Foucault’s efforts to stabilize its meaning through all the stip-
ulative definitions he gave to it in the dedicated chapter of the Archaeology (142–48)
—has, generally and paradoxically (with a few notable exceptions that cannot be dis-
cussed here), been read in the most “metaphorical” and “classical” of ways by various
parties seeking to legitimate an “archival turn” in the humanities and the arts. This is
hardly the place to enter into a polemic, nor is it my purpose to start one: instead, I
would like to argue that this strange misreading of Foucault’s main innovation at the
152 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

time (his project for an archaeology of knowledge, which is another stab at a “science
of the archive”) is not without necessity. Indeed, if contingency, wrested from the
hands of a “classical” philosopher, can be said to have acquired a thoroughly positive
meaning in Foucault’s archaeology, where it came to designate an a posteriori, histor-
ically (and not logically, or transcendentally) binding necessity, then such misread-
ings—which emphasize the figurality and downplay (or deny) the full conceptuality
of the “archive”—may be contingent, but not “false.” Charitably read, they may even
have seized on an aspect that perhaps Foucault tried to subdue, namely the untamed
mobility of this quasi–concept: for “we”—again, non–royally used—do not have a
concept of the archive (that is to say, we do not have one, but many such concepts,
amongst which there is no discoverable unity).
In this context, the passage from Archive Fever quoted earlier, in which Derrida
points to this conceptual lack in and beyond Freud, could be read as further indirect
evidence of his continued polemos with Foucault. Yet, in light of his affirmation of this
“lack” as a quasi–transcendental condition of possibility of concept formation in gen-
eral, Derrida’s purpose in his “monologue with Foucault” over the question of the
archive seems to me rather non–polemic and experimental: what if the stubborn figu-
rality of the archive is not so much the result of Foucault’s inability to fix and contain
its meaning but rather resides “in the thing itself ”? (This protocol of reading in bonam
rather than in malam partem is otherwise well attested in Derrida’s engagements with
Foucault, most explicitly in his 1991 lecture “‘To Do Justice to Freud’: The History of
Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis,” which tackles directly and for the first time the
ambiguous status of “Freud” and “psychoanalysis” across Foucault’s oeuvre. I will
return.) But how are we to understand this consummate figurality of the archive
without reducing it to a mere flatus vocis and without sacrificing its “transcendental
but speculative” character? To fully grasp its methodological significance for early
Foucault (specifically, in his three archaeological works: The Birth of the Clinic, The
Order of Things, and Archaeology of Knowledge) and late Derrida, I propose we read it
less in the received “French” way (that is, in the direction of a generalized rhetoric
cum skepsis) and more in a “teutonic,” Neo–Kantian key. As Foucault himself once
remarked, when it comes to “knowing knowledge,” “Nous sommes tous néokantiens”
(“Une histoire” 546). More specifically, I would like to suggest that the archive’s con-
summate figurality in Foucault and Derrida could be most profitably understood as
ideal–typicality, in Max Weber’s sense.
There is much to recommend such a reading: first and foremost, a shared under-
standing of historical comparative research, whose task it is to inquire into the his-
torical individuality and cultural significance of phenomena, under the guidance
Adina Arvatu 153

(impression, even pressure) of the values and interests of a community of researchers.

In this conception of research, no historical phenomenon can become, or be made
into the historian’s “contemporary,” even less into a point of origin. Or, as Weber put
it, since culture itself is a value–concept (Wertbegriff), historical research is unapolo-
getically perspectival (“Objectivity” 81; “Objektivität” 181) and bears the character of
a strategic intervention into actuality. More specifically, “Where the individuality of a
[cultural] phenomenon (Erscheinung) is concerned, the question of causality is not a
question of laws (nicht eine Frage nach Gesetzen) but of concrete causal relationships
(konkreten kausalen Zusammenhängen); it is not a question of the subsumption of
the phenomenon (Erscheinung) under some general rubric as a representative case (als
Exemplar unterzuordnen) but of its imputation as a consequence of some constellation
(sondern die Frage, welcher individuellen Konstellation sie als Ergebnis zuzurechnen ist).
It is in brief a question of imputation (Zurechnungsfrage)” (“Objectivity” 78–79, trans.
slightly amended; “Objektivität” 178). In other words, historical knowledge is not
nomological: not “positive” in the Comtean sense, even less in the Hegelian sense, but
rather in a Foucauldian and also Freudian sense (the “historical truth” of Moses and
Monotheism). And as this passage from Weber suggests, this kind of knowledge—that
human sciences and, even more so, intellectual formations like psychoanalysis, eth-
nology, even “archaeology,” can hope to offer us—has at its disposal not only a spe-
cific “method” (imputation, as different from both induction and deduction), but also
a specific kind of quasi–concept, which—unlike a “classical” concept—does not sub-
sume, does not destroy the phenomenon’s individuality to better turn it into an “exem-
plar,” but rather attempts to preserve it. This is what Weber called an ideal type
(Idealtypus), which “is formed by the one–sided accentuation of one or more points of
view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occa-
sionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those
one–sided emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct (Gedankenbild). In
its conceptual purity, this mental construct (Gedankenbild) cannot be found empirically
anywhere in reality. It is a utopia” (“Objectivity” 90; “Objektivität” 191).
An ideal type then—this quasi–concept, figure, or “schema”—is not the smallest
common denominator of a set of individual phenomena, nor is it merely an average of
such a set. It is not a general concept: unlike “dog,” it does not identify empirical objects
satisfying the abstract properties of the species, irrespective of, say, the colour of the
dog’s fur, its temperament, or how tall its legs are (“dog” only dictates that it should,
generally, have four of them). An ideal type (such as Weber’s “protestant ethic,” or
Foucault’s “archive”) is quite maximal and “utopian,” fictional in a very specific sense:
it is not to be found, as such, in reality, nor is it relegated to the transcendental realm,
154 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

to orient research from beyond history (“Objectivity” 91–92; “Objektivität” 192). On

the contrary, it does so from within history and helps “develop our skill in imputation
in research: it is no ‘hypothesis’ but it offers guidance to the construction of hypothe-
ses. It is not a description of reality (nicht eine Darstellung des Wirklichen) but it aims
to give unambiguous means of expression to such a description” (“Objectivity” 90;
“Objektivität” 190). This peculiar, paradoxical mode of existence of an Idealtypus
accounts for its oddly normative yet descriptive, non–empirical yet material, tran-
scendental yet speculative character.
And so too it goes for the archive in Foucault’s famous definition quoted above.
Pace media theorists like Kittler, this archive does not evoke the generic dust of old car-
tons, in which the reveries of many a historian are bathed (see Farge’s taste of and for the
archive in Le goût de l’archive), or the more specific “red rot” familiar to archivists and
historians alike (see Steedman’s deliberately literal take on “archive fever” in Dust). The
element of this archive is rather stardust, that is, the “appearance” of more or less distant
historical constellations as seen from the here and now (Foucault, Archaeology 146).

or Foucault then, psychoanalysis and ethnology have not earned their stripes
F because they would have beaten humanities in the obstacle course of becoming
“truly scientific.” Rather, they occupy this position “because, on the confines of all the
branches of knowledge investigating man, they form an undoubted and inexhaustible
treasure–hoard of experiences and concepts, and above all a perpetual principle of dis-
satisfaction, of calling into question, of criticism and contestation of what may seem,
in other respects, to be established” (Order 407). Now, the interesting thing about
Foucault’s description of psychoanalysis10 is that it both is and is not a human science.11
On the one hand, it “stands as close as possible, in fact, to that critical function which
[…] exists within all the human sciences” (408), that “transcendental mobility” which
allows them to turn their own conditions of possibility (representation) into an object
of study and incessantly engage in “a critical examination of themselves” (397). This de
facto intimacy with the human sciences in their critical, quasi–transcendental func-
tioning should allow us to view psychoanalysis as being de jure of the same stock, espe-
cially since, in Foucault’s topology, it is the simple contiguity with biology, economics,
and linguistics that bears the burden of accounting—causally, in imputation—for the
historical necessity governing the formation of the human sciences as distinct episte-
mological figures in the first place (399). The diacritical yet decisive difference between
them, however, is their respective orientation toward the “unthought”: “Whereas all the
human sciences advance toward the unconscious only with their back to it, waiting for
it to unveil itself as fast as consciousness is analysed, as it were backwards, psycho-
Adina Arvatu 155

analysis [. . .] points directly towards it” (408). It is this orientation, which psycho-
analysis and ethnology share, that accounts for their privileged status in the Western
episteme. And Foucault gives them a name befitting this status: “In relation to the
‘human sciences’, psychoanalysis and ethnology are rather ‘counter–sciences’; which
does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they
flow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis,
and that they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very man who is creating and re–creating his
positivity in the human sciences” (414).
Foucault derives a number of important and paradoxical consequences from this
characterization. First, psychoanalysis is exempt from what he termed “the anthropo-
logical sleep” (371ff), since it not only lacks but is also quite inimical to the formation
of “a general concept of man” (413). Its main operation, instead, consists in “unmak-
ing” man, in unweaving the web of representations, or symbolic forms, which consti-
tute and sustain the object of knowledge called “man.” Thus, it becomes apparent that
the “perpetual principle of dissatisfaction, of calling into question, of criticism and
contestation of what may seem, in other respects, to be established” (407), which
makes the archive of psychoanalysis—as a project for a “general science of the
archive”—so important to the archaeologist, is not yet another “archontic principle,”
but rather the corrosive, archiviolithic drive that ruins and erases the principality and
authority of all archons. Second, psychoanalysis as a counter–science can never
become a corpus of theoretical “truths” about man, or about the unconscious. And
not just because it is insolubly linked to a praxis (410), but also because, even in its
theoretical deployment, it “leaps over” representation, especially in outlining such
“figures” (408) as Death, Desire, and Law, which are “though imaginary [. . .] to the
myopic gaze—the very forms of finitude, as it is analysed in modern thought” (Order
409). Third, it is by analogy, or in admixture with a psychoanalytic ethnology, or eth-
nological psychoanalysis yet to come, which would concern itself with the uncon-
scious as a “formal structure” (414), that Foucault sees the advent of a third counter–
science, namely the very project of an archaeology of knowledge, which his explicitly
“archaeological” works never fully embody, nor even grasp quite the same way.
In closing, let me return briefly to the other piece of the Foucault–Derrida dossier
that I alluded to earlier, namely Derrida’s “‘To Do Justice to Freud’” (Resistances 70–118),
in which his “monologue with Foucault” takes an explicit form, before running to
ground, as it were, in Archive Fever. In this 1991 lecture, Derrida surveys the paradoxical
“usages” of the proper name “Freud” in Foucault’s oeuvre, which he gathers under
the ambiguous figure of a charnière, or hinge (Resistances 78). This figure—wavering
between technical device enabling rotary (tropological) movement and technical
156 Mosaic 44/4 (December 2011)

term for lure in falconry—aptly summarizes for Derrida the paradox that “Freud does
and does not belong to the different [historical] series in which Foucault inscribes
him” (Resistances 79) throughout his career. Again, this paradox is not a sign of weak-
ness on Foucault’s part, but rather the expression of a “quasi–transcendental law of
seriality” (Resistances 79) at work in historical imputation. According to this “law,”
“each time [. . .] that the transcendental condition of a series is also, paradoxically, a
part of that series,” this inscription creates “aporias for the constitution of any set or
whole [ensemble], particularly, of any historical configuration (age, episteme, para-
digm, themata, epoch, and so on)” (Resistances 79). This “law” accounts for the con-
sistently double assignation of “Freud” (as, for instance, both inside and outside the
nineteenth–century “archive”) in Foucault’s oeuvre, and prevents this name and, by
extension, “psychoanalysis” from congealing into a general concept that would name
one thing, one legacy, one institution.
Indeed, this “law of seriality” is the very logic of institution which is merely alluded
to here (Resistances 79) and worked out in Archive Fever under the cypher “archive”: for
despite its (grammatically) singular form, the archive does not name any one, unified
thing, concept, or institution, but rather a “principle of disturbance” cum “disturbance
of [. . .] principality” (Resistances 110), a radical principle of disunity and infinite divis-
ibility of all things, concepts, and institutions insofar as they become “objects” of his-
torical imputation; an improperly named “radical principle,” since it disturbs the very
logic of radicality, originarity, and principality implicit in our forms of objectivity, con-
ceptuality, and institution. As such, the archive is never in the element of the as such,
never “properly” named. Its structure is “spectral a priori: neither present nor absent
[. . .], neither visible nor invisible” (Archive 84; Mal 132), neither constitutive nor regu-
lative, or rather both, and always to come, in a sense that is not only never known
beforehand, but also “unknowable as such” (Archive 72; Mal 114). The fundamental
problem, then, for Derrida in this silent monologue with Foucault remains the Kantian
critical injunction of “knowing knowledge,” when to do so—and that would be the
“Foucauldian impression” which complements the Freudian one—means beginning
and ending with that which is no longer of the order of knowledge as such: with con-
stellations of values and theoretical fictions (utopias), before the dust of empirical facts.
A lot hangs, therefore, on the archive of psychoanalysis for early Foucault. A lot
hangs on it for later Derrida too. And especially on that part—the accursed one, per-
haps—of a psychoanalysis that is yet to come, and that we cannot talk about in any
assured, masterly, knowing way. For both, psychoanalysis, not as the various histori-
cal precipitates of psychoanalytic schools, but rather as the still–to–come “general
science of the archive,” is the dangerous supplement to the modern encyclopaedia.
Adina Arvatu 157

1/ All translations from Nora’s introduction are mine.
2/ There is a strong sense that, for Nora, our contemporaries’ fetishization of archives parallels Nietzsche’s
contemporaries’ fetishization of history (see “On the Useså and Disadvantages of History for Life”).
Indeed, Nora’s introduction silently re–deploys the Nietzschean typology of antiquarian, monumental, and
critical history, and sees the latter as the hallmark of contemporary French historiography.
3/ Hegel understands positivity, in relation to “science” (Wissenschaft), as implying not just empirical bases,
or methods, but also contingency in the form of presentation, or the subject matter of the so–called science.
4/ Kant’s “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?” (Ak VIII: 35–42) appeared originally in 1784 in
the Berlinische Monatsschrift, a leading journal of the German Enlightenment. In L.W. Beck’s translation,
the passage reads: “If we are asked, ‘Do we now live in an enlightened age?’ the answer is, ‘No,’ but we do
live in an age of enlightenment” (Kant Selections 465).
5/ For a highly readable, if not always dependable account of their Streit on the issue of madness, see Roy
Boyne’s Foucault and Derrida.
6/ In “Prière d’insérer” (not included in the English edition), Derrida asks (rhetorically, since this is the
very wedge his lecture drives, after Freud, with Freud, into the heart of psychoanalysis): “Ne faut–il pas
commencer par distinguer l’archive de ce à quoi on la réduit trop souvent, notamment l’expérience de la
mémoire et le retour à l’origine, mais aussi l’archaïque et l’archéologique, le souvenir et la fouille, bref la
recherche du temps perdu?” (Mal 1–2).
7/ See T.F. Geraets and H.S. Harris’s valuable suggestion that “the word ‘notion’ is much more appropriate
for translating Vorstellung than for Begriff (as Miller has done)” (Encyclopaedia I xxix, n. 10).
8/ Given on 5 June 1994, in London, during an international colloquium entitled “Memory: The Question
of Archives” (Archive vii).
9/ In his Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), Foucault clarified points of method that had remained sub-
merged in his previous archaeological studies (clarifications which also lead occasionally to corrections of
earlier pronouncements). In it, the distinction between epistemological configurations (or “discursive for-
mations,” as they are now called) and sciences is refined into a differentiation of “thresholds”—of positiv-
ity, epistemologization, scientificity, and formalization (206)—which such formations can cross (in no
particular logical or chronological order). Accordingly, “human sciences” can be said to have crossed the
first two thresholds, but not the rest.
10/ For our purposes, I will set ethnology aside, though it was by no means left untouched by “Freud.”
11/ Given the “empiricities” of life, labour, and language, around which he sees the epistemic configuration
of the nineteenth century crystalizing, Foucault singles out psychology, sociology, and the study of litera-
ture and myths as the typoi of human sciences, in virtue of their distinct methodologies. He does, however,
admit that there can be indefinitely many such “sciences” resulting from the cross–hybridization of these
three main typoi (Order 390).

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ADINA ARVATU is a PhD candidate at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, The
University of Western Ontario. Her doctoral research offers a genealogy of the figure of the archive
as deployed in deconstruction and post–structuralism, with an emphasis on its methodological and
(inter)disciplinary effects.
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.