Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

Archive Fever: 'Order Is No Longer Assured'

Academic journal article South African Journal of Philosophy

Archive Fever: 'Order Is No Longer Assured'

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article uses a close reading of Jacques Derrida's short work Archive fever: A Freudian impression (1996), in order to show the structural impossibility for law and the wider legal system to protect itself from the destabilising effects of deconstruction. It shows law's inability to stabilise/close the system and hence its inability to 'assure order'.

It starts with a tracing of the aporetic relationship between law and justice and the problems relating to law's archival memory of its own founding. The etymological roots of arkhe (archive, archon arkheion, archaeology), indicate an intrinsic double meaning: it names simultaneously the order of commencement and the order of commandment - signifying both an ontological and a nomological principle at the heart of the legal archive. The nomological archive of law and its institutions (as an external depository/reminder rather than real memory) is contrasted with the so-called originary arkhe, namely the real live origin or the singular place where the origin presents itself without mediation (archaeology). Following Derrida it is argued that not keeping the distance between the two concepts of archive and archaeology, between the live origin and its traces, and between law and justice, is a fatal mistake.

Drawing on Derrida' s critical analysis of Yerushalmi's work Freud's Moses: Judaism terminable and interminable (1991), the article also illustrates the implications of the patriarchal function of the nomological or legal archive. The conclusion, however, is that because language is a system of differences, it remains, always, already, open to reinterpretations. Just as the archive cannot protect itself from the singularity of the secret so law cannot protect itself from the à-venir of justice and a radical openness to another concept of the future.

1. Introduction - and questions

In 1994 Derrida delivered Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression as a so-called 'long lecture' during an international colloquium in London.1 The 'long lecture' subsequently became a 'short book' (Derrida 1996), which, like the lecture, is structured mainly around the work of Yosef Yerushalmi, the famous historian of Judaism.2 Yerushalmi's book Freud's Moses: Judaism. Terminable and Interminable, intrigued Derrida, and more specifically Yerushalmi's views on memory and consciousness and his question on the 'Jewishness' of psychoanalysis.

The final chapter of Yerushalmi's book takes the form of a direct, one can even say slightly impudent, monologue addressed to the ghost of Freud. In a discrete paragraph, on the last page of the book, Yerushalmi, the famous historian, dramatically turns away from the past, away from the historian's obsession with memory and the archive, towards a future, which is suspended in the conditional, but also inextricably bound to the past, a condition he defines as uniquely Jewish. The paragraph reads as follows:

Professor Freud, at this point I find it futile to ask whether, genetically or structurally, psychoanalysis is really a Jewish science; that we shall know, if it is at all knowable, only when much future work has been done. Much will depend, of course, on how the terms Jewish and science are to be defined. (Yerushalmi 1991:10?)3

For Derrida this paragraph opened the door to a myriad of questions relating to the future and the past of memory, consciousness and patriarchy, and questions about the secret and the law. The context of these questions and of Derrida' s densely argued answers, is, as is often the case with Derrida, the contested juncture between language and law. I will argue in this article that approaching this aporetic intersection from the perspective of the archive and/or arkhe , the place where power and law originate, can be a very effective way to show the structural impossibility for law and the wider legal system to protect itself from the destabilising effects of deconstruction. It very clearly exposes law's inability to stabilise or close the system and hence also its inability to 'assure order'. …

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