The Heretical Archive by Domietta Torlasco [Review]
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Jacques Derrida asserts the fundamentally patriarchal structure and function of the archive. He suggests that the archive is an architecture within which the law is transmitted and inherited in a compulsive return that preserves established relations of power. In The Heretical Archive, a sustained response to Derrida’s lecture, Domietta Torlasco attempts to envision an answer to Derrida’s call for us to find a way “to archive otherwise.” Torlasco seeks a “heretical” theory of archive that, rather than Oedipal, could be thought of as “Antigonean” and more suited to the digital era in which we now find ourselves. The figure of Antigone, who defied the law in order to bury her brother, adopted the language of the state in order to transgress its laws, thereby contaminating its very sociosymbolic foundations. Torlasco suggests that certain digital works embody this contamination and, in doing so, open up the possibility of new sociosymbolic structures. Drawing in particular on the later writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, she examines five recent digital works that appropriate imagery from the cinematic past and offer an alternative to the “patriarchive.”
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Destroy, She Said, a 1998 installation by Monica Bonvicini, consists of two screens, each projecting images of iconic actresses from postwar European films. By linking a series of female gazes, Bonvicini’s installation implies the possibilities of other narratives and relationships that were absent from or foreclosed in the narratives of the original films—narratives that “might have been”—thereby suggesting other possible sociosymbolic structures. Pierre Huyghe’s The Ellipsis (1998) is a three-screen installation in which two shots of actor Bruno Ganz from Wim Wenders’ The American Friend are placed on left and right screens, while the center screen shows Ganz twenty years later, walking between the locations of the first and second shots—the walk that was elided by a cut in the original. The installation thus refigures the edit as what Merleau-Ponty calls a “fold,” which opens onto everything that might have been in between. Chris Marker’s 1997 CD-ROM Immemory similarly allows users to rediscover Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo by drawing attention to the ellipses and gaps within the film. In a related gesture, Agnes Varda’s 2000 film The Gleaners and I proposes an anti-patriarchal model of archiving and writing in the form of “digital gleaning.” Moreover, in filming one of her hands with the other, Varda concretizes Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the reversibility of perception and the fact that the body of the filmmaker, the camera, and filmed object are all part of the “flesh” of the world. Meanwhile, Marco Poloni’s 2006 installation The Desert Room, in which the viewer enters into a recreation of the hotel room from Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger and interacts with new media technologies within this space, suggests that certain digital media practices can allow us to envision that which never was, thereby opening us to futures we have not yet imagined. Torlasco contends that the future anterior tense—the “will have been”—is the very basis of transformative political thought, which may allow us to conceive of futures that might have been unimaginable otherwise. She argues, ultimately, that each of these works offers an alternative means of imagining the archive and, hence, the horizon of possibilities for the future.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 While elegantly written, this theoretically complex book may be somewhat opaque to those not already steeped in the writings of Derrida and Merleau-Ponty. Nevertheless, Torlasco’s analyses will be essential reading for those interested in the perceptual and philosophical ramifications of these foundational works.
Assistant Professor of Film Studies – University of Alberta