Memory: Floods and Flows

December 9, 2009

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been collecting and analysing data on the question, “What is the good life?” since 1967. He explores issues such as the structure of everyday life, develops well-known concepts such as psychic entropy and challenge-skill ratio (CSR). MC’s flow model and the Experience Sampling Method blend the science of pyschology and folksy-self-help (1997) He reveals that the moments of flow where an individual experiences a good challenge-skill ratio, are likely to happen at work (2000:121-123) although they can also occur when an artist is at work in her studio, or a Nintendo players is up to her game.

Memory: Floods and Flows

“The American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written about the concept of flow, which is the feeling we have of being completely focused on and absorbed in the work we are doing. An artist painting a picture who is so engrossed in his work that he becomes unaware of himself and the passage of time is in a state of flow. Flow can also be attained when a surgeon performs a difficult operation in which she has to use all her abilities and skills. What Csikszentmihalyi has tried to do is identify the circumstances that elicit flow. He reasons that if we analyze situations in terms of the challenges they present and the skills of the person involved in them, we find that flow arises in contexts characterized by a high level of challenge and skill, in which capacity of the doer exactly matches the demands of the task being done (Klingberg 2009:167-8).”

“Considering Csikszentmihalyi’s diagram as a cognitive map with north at the top, it is in the northeast sector where we find the state of flow. When the challenge exceeds skill, we get stres. When skill exceeds challenge we get a sense of control, which becomes boredom as the level of challenge drops. Exchange “skill” for “working memory capacity” and “challenge” for “Information overload,” and perhaps we have a map illustrating the subjective side of the information demand. When this demand exceeds our capacity, we experience the relative attention deficit due north of the map. However, we should not simply avoid these demands, for when they are too low we become bored and apathetic. In other words, there is a reason for us to cater to our need for stimulation and information. It is when demand and capacity, or skill and challenge, are in a state of equilibrium that the situation is conducive to flow. And perhaps it is precisely here, where we exploit our full capacity, that we develop and train our abilities (Klingberg 2009:168)”

“While our working memory load exactly matches working memory capacity and we hover around the magical number seven, the training effect is its most powerful. Now that we know this, it is up to us to control our environments and reshape the work we do to our abilities. Let us hope that we can learn to perfect the compass that will show us where to find balance and help us navigate into the northeast corner of the map, where we can feel the flow and develop to our full capacity (Klingberg 2009:169).” Read the rest of this entry »

Michael S. Gazzaniga [1] argued that our beliefs about the world and the nature of human experience are merely tendentious and our memories fallible. Therefore we should rely not on “the ubiquitous personal belief systems held by billions of people (which he describes as akin to believing in Santa Claus (Gazzaniga 2005:163) but on modern science to seek out, understand and define our universal ethics grounded in the natural order (Gazzaniga 2005:178). From his viewpoint great religions of the world were conceived by ill-informed humans (not received from the Divine) who lacked competing data about the essence of the natural world (Gazzaniga 2005:162). He explains religious experiences as Temporary Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). He compares the conception of a fetus to the “conception” of a house at Home Depot. When is a fetus a person? When is a house a house? Gazzaniga believes that a fertilized egg is hardly deserving of the same moral status we confer on the newborn child or the functioning adult (Gazzaniga 2005:17-8). He also argued that the aging brain’s level of consciousness should be assessed by scientific means and euthanasia considered as an option (Gazzaniga 2005:33). His reasoning is not robust and appears to be directed to those already converted to his belief system.

However, it is his argument for brain enhancement through genetic intervention that causes a shiver of repugnance:

“Perhaps we should be free to try whatever we can think to try- this is the nature of scientific inquiry. Let an innate moral-ethics system assert itself and stop us from going too far. We have never annihilated ourselves; we have managed to stop short of doing that so far. I am confident that we will always understand what is ultimately good for the species and what is not (Gazzaniga 2005:54).”

One wonders on what planet he has been living.

We are currently listening to political debates around the clock as two nations head to the polls. Different value systems clash as “facts” are presented on each side of debates over contentious issues. We live in a time when scientific facts themselves are challenged as informed readers inquire about motivation and agendas of scientific researchers. Who finances the research? We are all too aware of the ease with which policy makers and decision makers choose comfortable truths over the uncomfortable.

Gazzaniga oversimplifies the awe-inspiring mind-soul-spirit by reducing humans to the chemical brain. He grossly underestimates followers of religions capable of making ethical decisions by considering both scientific information and their religious principles.

He argued that universal ethics are social, contextualized, influenced by emotions and natural survival-instincts. Whether your guide in life is simply “received wisdom” or “the confluence of neuroscientific data, historical data, and other information illuminating our past” he claim s we all share the same hard-wired moral networks and systems and therefore respond in similar ways to similar issues. He further claims that social systems explain individual feelings which are institutionalized into social structure (Gazzaniga 2005:162).”

According to his logic philosophers involved in neuroethics[2] should “use understandings of the brain’s hard-wiring to contextualize and debate gut instincts that serve the greatest good- or the most logical solutions- given specific contexts (Gazzaniga 2005:178).”

“Neuroscience reads brains, not minds. The mind, while completely enabled by the brain, is a totally different beast (Gazzaniga 2005:119).”

Gazzaniga (2005:iv-v) describes neuroethics as a spin-off of bioethics [which] was developed and defined to take medical ethics further, as scientific findings became more advanced and needed more specialized philosophers thinking about what is acceptable and unacceptable in areas like genetic engineering, reproductive science, defining brain death, and so on. [. . . Neuroethics are involved] whenever a bioethical issue involves the brain or central nervous system (2005: v).”

“We now step into the world of neuroethics. This is the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain.” “Was the medical team acting ethically, putting the patients’ interests first, or was it influenced by the humanitarian prospect of the advancement of specific knowledge about the brain — or by the attraction of the world fame and professional prestige that would follow a high achievement?” “Not just neurosurgeons but other brain scientists are thinking long and hard about the morality (right or wrong) and the ethics (fair or unfair) of what such breakthroughs as genomics, molecular imaging and pharmaceuticals will make it possible for them to do.” “In the treatment or cure of brain disease or disability, the public tends to support neuroscience’s needs for closely controlled and informed experimentation. But in the enhancement of the brain’s ability to learn or remember, or to be cheerful at home or attentive in school, many of the scientists are not so quick to embrace mood-manipulating drugs or a mindless race to enhance the mind (Safire 2003-07-10).”

“The brain’s ethical sense may run deeper than we think. ”The essence of ethical behavior,” writes the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in Looking for Spinoza, his newest book, ”does not begin with humans.” Ravens and vampire bats ”can detect cheaters among the food gatherers in their group and punish them accordingly.” Though human altruism is much further evolved, in one experiment ”monkeys abstained from pulling a chain that would deliver food to them if pulling the chain caused another monkey to receive an electric shock. Damasio does not believe that there is a gene for ethical behavior or that we are likely to find a moral center in the brain. But we may one day understand the ”natural and automatic devices of homeostasis” — the brain’s system that balances appetites and controls emotions, much as a constitution and a system of laws regulates and governs a nation (Safire 2003-07-10).”

“[Brain] scientists . . . debate going beyond the cure of disease to the possibilities of meddling with memory or implanting a happy demeanor (Safire 2003-07-10).”

“Maybe the human brain has a self-defense mechanism that causes brain scientists to pause before they improve on the healthy brain. Would we feel guilty about discovering the chemistry of conscience (Safire 2003-07-10)?”

Folksonomy, taxonomy, tags, key words, classification, semantic web

cognitive neuroscience: moral and ethical aspects, ethics, Damasio, science and religion, chemical conscience, meddling with memory, permalink,



  1. Michael S. Gazzaniga is President of the American Psychology Society, and director of the Center of Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College.
  2. According to Gazzaniga it was William Safire who coined the term neuroethics to describe the field of philosophy that discusses the rights and wrongs of the treatment of, or enhancement of, the human brain.”
  3. The Dana Foundation: “The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropy with principal interests in brain science, immunology, and arts education. Charles A. Dana, a New York State legislator, industrialist and philanthropist, was president of the Dana Foundation from 1950 to 1966 and actively shaped its programs and principles until his death in 1975.”
  4. Some of these bibliographic entries were inserted using Zotero’s capacity to let “users choose a citation format, such as Chicago, MLA, APA, or others. To add a source from Zotero, a user simply drags that source into an application such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs [and WordPress!!!!], and a properly formatted citation is inserted. Zotero also generates a bibliography of all the sources included in a paper.” I did not choose my preferred citation format or generate the bibliography in the proper Zotero mode yet. This needs tweeking on my part but it was successful.

Citations from Antes, Geertz and Warne (2004).

4. “Body, Emotion, and Consciousness: The Portuguese born neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Antonio R. Damasio, has argued in a number of books that studies of the brain, cognition and consciousness are seriously hampered because neuroscientists traditionally ignore the role of functions and emotions in the brain. 47 He claims that “it is possible that feelings are poised at the threshold that separates being from knowing and thus have a privileged connection to consciousness” (Damasio 1999:43). Emotions are at a fairly high level of life regulation, and when they are sensed, that is when one has ‘feelings,’ the threshold of consciousness has been crossed. Emotions are part of homeostasis, which is the automatic regulation of temperature, oxygen contentration or pH in the body by the autonomatic nervous system, the endrocrine system and the immune system. According to Damasio, homeostasis is the key to consciousness (Damasio 1999:40). Damasio defined consciousness as constructing knowledge about two facts: “that the organism is involved in relating to some object, and that the object in the relation causes a change in the organism” (Damasio 1999:20). Understanding the biology of consciousness becomes, then, a matter of discovering “how the brain can map both the two players and the relationship they hold” (Damasio 1999:20). The interesting thing is that the brain holds a model of the whole thing, and this may be the key to understanding the underpinnings of consciousness (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”

“[Damasio's] explanation for this enigma is precisely as follows: “I have come to the conclusion that the organism, as represented inside its own brain, is a likely biological forerunner for what eventually becomes the elusive sense of self. The deep roots for the self, including the elaborate self which encompasses identity and personhood, are to be found in the ensemble of brain devices which continuously and nonconsciously maintain the body state within the narrow range and relative stability required for survival. These devices continually represent, nonconsciously, the state of the living body, along its many dimensions. I call the state of activity within the ensemble of such devices the proto-self, the nonconscious forerunner for the levels of self which appear in our minds as the conscious protagonists of consciousness: core self and autobiographical self.” (Damasio 1999:20) cited in (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”

“This is, indeed, a radical embodiment theory and should be of interest to scholars of religion involved in studies of central religious concepts such as personalities, personhood, selves and souls. The very fact of plurality of selves in Damasio’s model should prove useful to the study of religions that deal with multiple selves and souls (Antes, Geertz, Warne 2004:365).”

Webliography and Bibliography

Antes, Peter; Geertz, Armin W.; Warne, Randi R. 2004. Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion. Walter de Gruyter: Berlin/New York.

Anthony Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (New York: Harcourt, 1999).

Brain-Based Education – Summary Principles of Brain-Based Research, Critiques of Brain-Based Education,”

Michael S. Gazzaniga, The Ethical Brain (New York: Dana Press, 2005).

Henry T. Greely, “Prediction, Litigation, Privacy, and Property: Some Possible Legal and Social Implications of Advances in Neuroscience,” in Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice . Dana Press.

Safire, William. 2003-07-10. “The Risk that Failed.” New York Times.

Educause, “7 Things You Should Know About Geolocation,” 2008,

“I ask your indulgence if I close on a personal, existential note. We live in a time when we are flooded with information in every field of endeavor, a deluge from which Freud scholarship is not exempt. It has has become a veritable industry over which it is difficult to maintain even bibliographical control. The amount of sheer information increases incessantly. I confess that I have reached an age when I am haunted by the question of when information becomes knowledge. What I have presented here is only a special instance of that larger Angst. I am perhaps not yet old enough to seek the further line where knowledge becomes wisdom (Yerushalmi Series Z 1997).”

Flynn-Burhoe. 2000. ‘Memory – The Question of Archives’ Review of Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. 1997. Series Z: An Archival Fantasy’ Journal of European Psychoanalysis - Number 3-4 1997

Derrida’s presentation Archive Fever at the 1994 conference “Memory: The Question of Archives” was dedicated to Yerushalmi whose book Freud’s Moses had moved him. The conference was hosted by the Freud Museum and the Société Internationale d’Histoire de la Psychanalyse, London, June 3-5, 1994 and organized by Elisabeth Roudinesco. [Y.H.Y.]

Yerushalmi began his text with a Kakfaesque description of the archives’ doorkeeper. It is a thinly disquised reproach for the exclusivity of access to Freud’s archives, particularly to series Z. Yerushalmi was dismayed to find that access to Series Z, Freud’s archives in Washington, was severely limited to a group of insider scholars.

Yerushalmi notes the unique published citation by Freud where he used the term ‘archives,’ in an early paper (1898) on “The Psychical Mechanism of Forgetfulness” (Zum Psychischen Mechanismus der Vergesslichkeit). He writes:

Thus the function of memory, which we like to imagine as an archive open to any who is curious, is in this way subjected to restriction by a trend of the will…

Yerushalmi chose to focus his discussion only on archives. An archive is not a memory bank nor are the documents in an archive part of memory; “…if they were, we should have no need to retrieve them; once retrieved, they are often at odds with memory.”

Although Yerushami, the historian, has done research in archives in Lisbon, Madrid, Valladolid, Salamanca, Venice, Verona and Jerusalem but rarely in the Freud Archives.

Yerushalmi illustrated the persistence and continuity of the archivist as gatekeeper through the 1909 case of Robert Ross. Ross presented Oscar Wilde’s original manuscript of De Profundis to the British Museum on condition that it be sealed for sixty years to prevent it from falling into the hands of Lord Alfred Douglas, the agent of Wilde’s ruin. Through a 1913 libel suit Douglas, received a copy which he intended to publish. Ross speedily had his own copy published in New York which secured copyright. In 1949 Wilde’s son published the full and correct text but the British Museum respected Ross’ agreement and access is still denied.

Yerushalmi questions the logic behind restricting or forbidding access to certain documents well into the 21st century! He was not alone. Janet Malcolm’s 1984 publication “In the Freud Archives” made the inaccessibility une cause celebre.

Meanwhile, attacks against psychoanalysis, fused with assaults against the personal integrity of Freud himself, have by now reached an unprecedented crescendo of vilification. One result is a widespread belief that the real truth, for better or worse, is in the Archives, and that once they are fully accessible the truth will out. What both attackers and defenders of Freud have in common is a faith in the facticity of archives, in the archival document as somehow the ultimate arbiter of historical truth.

Yerushalmi traced the cult of the archive to the 1830′s and especially after 1860, when national governments eager to protect their collective histories, opened their archives to research. Lord Acton put the reason succinctly:

“To keep one’s archives barred against the historians was tantamount to leaving one’s history to one’s enemies.” Lord Acton

“The historians came, the writing of history (at least political history) was put on a firmer basis than ever before. It was the heyday of scientific history, full of optimism. The crisis of historicism was not yet on the horizon and the archival document seemed to herald a historiographical millennium. Paleography became a science and the archivist a professional, nowhere more superbly trained than at the École des Chartes, established in Paris in 1821. By the end of the century one spoke somewhat bemusedly in France of la fureur de l’inédit, the furor to publish the unpublished document.”

In “Monologue with Freud” Yerushalmi calls Freud’s archivists “zealous epigoni [who] have stationed themselves, like gnostic archons, to bar the way to the hidden knowledge.” (FM 1991:81)

By the late 20th century historians were more sophisticated; recognized the limitations of archival documents. And at that time series Z is unlocked. leading to anothfureur de l’inédit’. Yerushalmi questioned what that will change.

He described the ideal archival material:

  1. It should be naive, created for other purposes than research: the production, storage and maintenance of personal correspondence, tax records, contracts, deeds.
  2. It should be dusty from lack of handling. Half a century after the French Revolution a Prussian historian finally opened the dust-laden papers regarding the Reign of Terror, a proof of their legitimacy.
  3. The researcher recognizes that all archives are incomplete: not all documents are collected, archived and/or preserved. And any document requires contextualization by data both in and outside the archives and even the field of study.
  4. The “…archive is not a repository of the past, only of certain artifacts that have survived from the past, and we encounter them in the present. The contents of archival documents are not historical facts except on the most primitive level dates, names, places. The truly vital data in these documents do not become historical until, filtered through the mind and the imagination of the historian, they are interpreted and articulated.”

The zealous guardians of The Freud Archives including Anna Freud, Freud’s devoted daughter protected Freud’s reputation in the creation and maintenance of the archives. Yerushalmi compares these documents to “… André Gide’s journals, where one senses that as he writes one eye is gazing at posterity.” This contrasts with Kafka’s diaries, whose publication he never dreamed.

Freud’s papers have been handled regularly. Yerushalmi cites examples of discrepancies between Freud’s correspondance with Fliess and actual publications in which passages were excluded. “The most significant and irremediable gap in the Freud Archives is the result of Freud’s own doing. On two occasions [in 1885 and 1907], Ernest Jones observed, he completely destroyed all his correspondence, notes, diaries and manuscripts. The letter of April 28, 1885 to Martha, announcing his determination to thereby frustrate his future biographers, is too well-known to be quoted yet again.”

Yerushalmi concludes that “[n]othing in the Freud Collection nor in any other archive can possibly decide any of the major scientific or philosophical issues that have arisen in the ongoing controversies over Freud. No document can prove or disprove the validity of Freudian psychoanalytic theory nor the efficacy of psychoanalytic therapy. Infantile sexuality, the existence of the unconscious, the mechanisms of repression, and other central tenets of Freudian theory, are not subject to archival arbitration.”

“What do we really want to know, and how can the Archives be of help? My own order of priority would be: To understand Freud’s teaching; to understand the history of the psychoanalytic movement; to understand Freud’s life insofar as it relates to the first two goals.” “…[I]t entails coming as close as possible to his own intentions. This, as I have argued elsewhere must take pride of place. At least in his published works Freud was consciously trying to communicate various ideas to his readers. That these works, like all texts, also contain latent meanings of which he was unaware, that they can be approached with a variety of hermeneutic strategies, does not absolve us from rigorously seeking their conscious intentionality which, alone, can keep us from flying off the deep end. For that, not only is the value of a correct text self-evident, but any information relevant to its evolution, whether through variants or revisions, or through letters in which Freud discusses work in progress. It is in this sense that the letters in Series Z may make their most important contribution. But even then the archives are only an aid. Ultimately the student must bring to an understanding of Freud’s work his or her philological, literary, and historical instincts, and an entire culture derived from other fields. Philip Rieff’s Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959) remains, in my opinion, one of the most penetrating explorations of Freud’s thought. And Rieff never even consulted an archive. “

The history of the psychoanalytic movement (I have in mind only Freudian psychoanalysis). Here, surely, our men and women from many countries will have reaped abundant harvests. But how much wheat and how much chaff? Any history of the psychoanalytic movement cannot ignore the archives, but it must also transcend them. Once again all depends on how we conceptualize the problem. If we have in mind a historical narrative of its leading personalities, its congresses and schisms, its dispersal after the German catastrophe of 1933 and the Austrian of 1938, then certainly these and many other aspects will have been fleshed out by Series Z. But this kind of history remains business as usual. I shall take as an instance Phyllis Grosskurth’s The Secret Ring: Freud’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis published three years ago to considerable acclaim. Assuredly the book contains new and sometimes vivid details Ms. Grosskurth had spent time in several archives, including the Rank papers at my own university, and she writes well. For me, however, the book, like so many others in the genre, represents yet another missed opportunity. That Freud’s secret entourage, the Committee was racked by dissentions, backbiting, competition for Freud’s imperious favor, was essentially known. The issue that is never addressed, is how this group of quite imperfect and in many ways incompatible men were able to sustain and propogate not only a therapy, but a teaching that became a vital component of Modernism around the globe. And, in a larger sense, is this not the issue for any history of the psychoanalytic movement worthy of itself not merely to describe its inner workings or proselytizing activities, but to ask what prior spiritual or cultural needs did Freud’s teaching fulfill that enabled it to spread from a small group of Jews meeting in 1902 at Berggasse 19, to become what W.H. Auden called after Freud’s death a whole climate of opinion?”
I come finally to the vexing question of Freud’s biography and here I am prepared to abandon my parable. I am only certain that the men and women from many countries will not find anything of significance about Freud’s childhood and adolescence. That stumbling block to biographers, especially those who are psychoanalytically oriented, will remain. Some information about Freud’s parents may perhaps yet be found in Moravian and Viennese archives. As for Freud’s mature life, for reasons already given I doubt that very much of a sensational nature will be found in Series Z, though of course one cannot be sure. Once again, however, I feel that the really important issues extend beyond the archives.

“The other issue is so vital and so complex as to require a conference of its own. I have in mind the relation between biography and a person’s achievement. How much of the former do we need to know in order to understand the latter?[...] How much about Freud’s life must we know in order to interpret The Interpretation of Dreams? Or would our interpretation simply be different, with less ferreting for biographical links and more concentration on what he was trying to teach us? [...]Ironically, it may have been Freud himself who first opened this Pandora’s Box, but let’s not hold this against him. Rather, let us ask must we really know whether Freud slept with Minna? Those who want to discover that he really did, are gripped by an unstated and faulty syllogism: a) Freud presented a public image of a devoted husband; b) Freud comitted incest with his sister-in-law; ergo Freud is not to be trusted, and so neither should his work… “

“I ask your indulgence if I close on a personal, existential note. We live in a time when we are flooded with information in every field of endeavor, a deluge from which Freud scholarship is not exempt. It has has become a veritable industry over which it is difficult to maintain even bibliographical control. The amount of sheer information increases incessantly. I confess that I have reached an age when I am haunted by the question of when information becomes knowledge. What I have presented here is only a special instance of that larger Angst. I am perhaps not yet old enough to seek the further line where knowledge becomes wisdom.”



Contact � Maureen Flynn-Burhoe 2000 for comments, corrections and copyright concerns.

“How does information become transformed into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom? (Yerushalmi 1994)? This commitment to rereading history from papyrus to hypertext parallels the commitment to philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view. It is not merely theory for theory’s sake. Gatekeepers of the archives (and collective memory) wield power. Access to information is more than a legal right: it becomes an indicator by which effective democracies can be measured. (Derrida 1996a: 4). The mapping of archives of the infosphere needs to be concerned with uncompromised inclusivity as constitutive of a renewed, unbound, effective democracy in which plurality can co-exist with social cohesion. It requires a consistent and constant vigilance against complicity and complacence. It involves nurturing and encouraging diverse ways of seeing, knowing and remembering. The architecture of deconstruction facilitates the round-tables of discussions which invite, welcome and propel rather than discourage, exclude, dismiss and prevent convergences of divergent thoughts. The sparks of discord can illuminate the ashes and dust of the (missing) archives (Flynn-Burhoe 2000).

This is a blog version of a html webpage entitled “Mapping Memory: from Papyrus to Digitization: The Great Flood and the Arkh“. In 2000 (?) it was presented to a small eclectic group of dazzling student super-geeks and hackers brought together by a shared interest in the virtual and Carleton University star professor Rob Shields.

Abstract: This paper and webpage examines intersections between Jacques Derrida’s Archives Fever and texts, objects and events that informed Archive Fever: Plato’s Phaedrus, Freud’s Moses and Monotheism and Yerushalmi Freud’s Moses. (How) Is the authority of the archonte transformed by the digitization of archives? How can conceptual tools developed by Jacques Derrida enhance understanding of the concept of archives in this period of transformation? (How) can the structure of the archives allow for the co-existence of social cohesion and pluralism? To what extent is archival meaning co-determined by the structure of the archives? (Derrida 1996a: 16) To what extent is our access to knowledge, to collective memories barred by inadequate maps and ideological obstacles?

Keywords: archives, anarchives, digitization, cartography, pharmakon, plurality, democracy

With the digitization of data, archives have been inundated with a tidal wave of information. The great flood of the archives is both cause and effect of an expanding collective electronic memory and an enlarging field of inquirers and inquiries. Cultural groups resisting the homogenous mass culture of globalization, an increasingly informed citizenry insisting on accountability in governance and grass roots movements involved in risk management excavate the archives to legitimize claims and trace memories (Wallot 1996: 23).

In this complex infosphere of ‘…shifting nationhood, evolving governance, mutating organizations, and changing forms of records’ archivists attempt to maintain a creative tension and complementarity between their hybrid roles as gatekeepers of evidence and map-makers of society’s ‘…long-term memory, identity and values formation and transmission’ (Wallot 1996: 23). This involves nothing less than a re-examination of the theoretical roots and conceptual framework of the professional roles of archivists (Wallot 1996: 24).

In 1994 an international conference in London, organized by the Freud Museum and the Société Internationale d’Histoire de la Psychanalyse, focussed on ‘Memory: The Question of Archives.’ Derrida’s presentation Archives Fever which lasted over three hours was dedicated to Jewish historian, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi whose ‘handsome’ book Freud’s Moses provided a catalyst for his own. Yerushalmi’s frustrated attempts at accessing certain exclusive archives while conducting his research on Freud, led to his paper ‘‘Series Z: : An Archival Fantasy’ presented at the same conference.

Derrida juxtaposes reflections on memory and archives with Freud’s psychoanalysis. Freud’s archives in Freud’s Museum, London and in the Library of Congress consist of thousand of items collected and stored under protective guardianship. Yet the archons of the corpus of the most-quoted man of the twentieth century seem to break all the rules of archival practice: the archived items are neither innocent, accessible nor dusty. Freud’s archives were not naive: they were self-conscious, wary of censorship therefore self-censored and incomplete. Freud’s own secrecy rivaled that of Goethe who was a ‘… great self-revealer, but also in the abundance of autobiographical records, a careful concealer’ (Freud 1930: 212). But then all archives are incomplete repositories, containing only those objects and artifacts that have survived the past (Yerushalmi 1994).

Even with the best archival practice the archival documents cannot be historical facts. Vital archival objects are articulated or constructed as historical in an interpretive process through the mind and imagination of the historian. History is constructed from documents retrieved from archival storage. And archival material can be constructed to contradict memory (Yerushalmi 1994).

‘Psychoanalysis aspires to be a general science of the archive, of everything that can happen to the economy of meaning and to [...] its traces.’ The science (or art) of psychoanalysis depends on memory as data. Freud’s human subject achieved freedom from neurosis through memory management. In the economy of psychoanalysis memories can be called up, evoked, transmitted, named, categorized and relativized.

What is the nature of transmission of memories? Freud suggested ways of remembering that were relevant to psychoanalysis and inaccessible to ordinary histories. But he only once used the term ‘archives’ as a metaphor for memory. In 1898 he imagined memory as an open, accessible archive that was subjected to the will. He discarded the inadequate metaphor: memories can be stored but not all can be retrieved. (Yerushalmi 1991 Freud [1898]) Yerushalmi concluded that Freud abandoned the term ‘archives’ as a metaphor for memory since they have ‘…nothing in common. Memory is not an archive, nor is archive a memory bank’ (Yerushalmi 1994).

Archives, even Freud’s official Archives were not ‘the ultimate arbitrar of historical truth’ about Freud as it was widely believed by both his defenders and his attackers (Yerushalmi 1994). In spite of the sophistication of contemporary historians who recognize the limitations of archival documents, the unlocking of Freud’s most secretive archives, Series Z, led to a ‘fureur de l’inédit.’ This fury to publish previously unpublished archival documents was reminiscent of the 19th century heyday of scientific history informed by the cult of the archives. In the 1830s through the 1860s national governments opened their archives to research in an effort to protect their collective histories. Lord Acton proclaimed, ‘To keep one’s archives barred against the historians was tantamount to leaving one’s history to one’s enemies’ (Yerushalmi 1994).

Like an archaeologist, Derrida excavates the concepts of archives and memory. These pharmakon-like concepts contain both the cure and the poison. This homeopathy of thinking describes ‘archive’ as open, visible, accessible and undivided. Archives become an indicator, evidence, witness, a way of rewriting history, a return to origins, a return to the archaic, a search for lost time, scar-like traces on the surfaces of the body and an archeology of the surface. But archives are also dormant, lost, dissimulated, forbidden, censored, destroyed and incinerated. Through the secret archives or anarchives Derrida raises questions of transmission in the economy of memory. (1996a)

Derrida’s impressions of l’actualité have left their mark around the globe. Situating himself as one who lives between two worlds, a world citizen who is Jewish-French but also Algerian he argues for a philosophy from a cosmopolitico view point where transmission and alterité become the centre. In international conferences spanning three decades with diverse groups: arabo-islamic intellectuals, UNESCO, the Société Internationale d’Histoire de la Psychanalyse or at John Hopkins University, he challenges complacency and complicity. He reveals how philosophy is not shackled by an exclusive, solitary memory or language: it is stereoscopic, polyglot, multi-linear even bastardized, crossbred and spliced. He calls for a new role for philosophy, one in which a rereading of Plato, for example, becomes as urgent a task as new scientific results (Derrida 1996b). He adds a third space to columns of binary opposites: a space of tension, of sparks generated from divergent viewpoints (1981:73).

Derrida cites and questions Plato’s separation of live memory mneme from hypomneme. Archives are hypomneme along with inventories, citations, copies, lists and genealogies (1981:107). The archives are an extension of writing, commodified by power brokers, the sophists. Socrates’ words written by Plato, upheld the ‘art of memory.’ Writing was imperfect memory or even forgetfulness, dependent on signs; it was nonknowledge (1981:105). The recital of 25,000 lines of Homeric verse over several days was a manifestation of the living word, of knowledge, of the promise of limitless memory. But Socrates, “he who does not write” was written. When Derrida came upon a 14th century Italian print from the Bodleian Library, reproduced mechanically as a postcard he was enchanted. It became a visual metaphor for the archival object: in the scriptorium Socrates is writing with Plato standing behind him. By examining the relationship between the two fathers of meaning in Western thought, Derrida opened a space for a rethinking of transgenerational patriarchal transmission. He brought Freud’s ghost, his archives and his historian into the discussion. He reveals how secret archives and powerful archons dissimulate.

Derrida speaks and writes in a ‘scriptless’ hypertext, where intertextualitity can either enrich or confuse. Derrida’s reflections on Plato, Freud, Yerushalmi are constructed into complex layers of texts that defy a linear structure such as this paper. Its content is better adapted to the nonlinear format of the webpage. Fascinating and thought-provoking connections can be extrapolated following Derrida’s lead from papyrus to digitization. Both Plato and Freud circuitously lead us to the Black Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton who introduced a form of monotheistic religion c. 1379 – 1362 BCE with Aton the god of the universe subsuming both Thoth the moon god and Amon-re or Amen the sun god. Plato as scribe for Socrates used a myth to discredit myth over logos. In Socrates’ version of the myth Thamus disparaged Theuth (Thoth) for inventing writing along with alchemy, geometry, astronomy and calculations. Theuth not only writes and represents Amon-Ra; he effectively replaced the god himself.

Freud investigated Egyptian monotheism as possible source of Moses’ monotheism. To these layers I would suggest another, accessible through archives that are still underused by western inquirers. Questions of intellectual genealogy and inheritance can be enriched (although not answered) by accessing Islamic archives. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the Ptolmeac corpus influenced Islamic thought. Islamic law was informed by Solomon’s judicial system. Further in these archives monotheism is traced to the Patriarch common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Abraham. How would Socrates hypothetical journeys to Palestine and Syria and the possible influence of Hebrew sages on Socrates himself impact on the concept of bastardized, hybridized and spliced philosophies? Answers as evidence are not the issue. The answers to Freud’s question ‘Was Moses Egyptian?’ like Yerushalmi’s ‘Is psychoanalysis a Jewish science?’ take second place to the open-ended questions themselves.

Derrida’s papyrus and postcard connection led to the Bodleian Library. While reading my library copy of Postcards, the ghostlike presence of the postcard became so tangible, I almost expected ‘a missing letter’ scratched on the back of Plato and Socrates to fall out from between the pages. Following Derrida’s trail electronically I accessed the Bodleian Library’s medieval print section. The Bodleian Library seemed elusive, even exclusive: it is the main research library of the University of Oxford used by scholars from around the world. However, a number of their collections of medieval manuscripts are now available around the globe on-line. The mechanical reproduced images that appeared on my screen leaving their impressions were from Dante’s Divine Commedia. In a northern Italian 14th century illustration Dante and Virgil observe Mohammed and Ptolemy, both condemned to inferno for their heresies. The same medieval censorship that suppressed Ptolemy’s Geographia, and denied the monotheism of Islam, had also misread Socrates and Plato.

Was Artaud referring to Ptolemy when he proclaimed: ‘The library at Alexandria can be burnt down. There are forces above and beyond papyrus: we may temporarily be deprived of our ability to discover these forces, but their energy will not be suppressed’ (1981: 53). Instead the secret archives becomes a spectre, a ghost, a phantom protecting itself from detection, repression, censorship and destruction.

An entire corpus of Greek knowledge was rejected by early Christians fearful that the spherical globe violated their fundamental religious beliefs. Navigation and cartography are inextricably interwoven. Yet the historiography of cartography of our biosphere is one of ransacked, missing, secret and recovered archives. In 391 AD Christians mobs sacked the Alexandrian library including Ptolemy’s research. As Librarian of the Alexandrian, he had inherited centuries of Greek scholarship which he published in the Geographia. Arabo-Islamic scholars, unbridled by Christian fear of ‘Greek science’ translated and developed Ptolemaic maps for their journeys to India, Tibet and China. In 1154 Al-Idrisi, Arabo-Islamic geographer in a Sicilian court created a world map influenced by Ptolemy. The European period of world-wide expansion took place only after Medieval maps were replaced by Ptolemy’s science. McLuhan suggested that without maps as a means of communication “the world of modern science and technology would hardly exist” (McLuhan 1964: 157-8). What will be the suppressed memories, the missing links on the maps of the infosphere, on the maps of the archives? Who decides the grid and the structure?

Digitized, indexed and linked image, stills and motion, sound and text can be mapped by one author then unwrapped and re-mapped by an active reader. Virtual objects seem to float dislocated from space and time connected only by links, those ‘arrows frozen in time’ (Shields 2000). Once reproduced electronically, an urn, an 11th century map, a postcard letter or the Bodleian’s 14th century version of Dante’s Commedia are wrenched from the structure, context and content. John le Carré stated, ‘Nothing exists without a context.’ Descriptions and explanations can be lost leaving ‘vast holes in memory.’ Or the opposite can occur: Navigational tools, maps and charts can reintegrate structure to context and content (Wallot 1996: 14). Through electronic embedding, for example, virtual images of Inuit sculptures, those silent ambassadors of a dynamic living culture, can hyperlink context and content in rich layers of information.

Concept maps are not innocent; they become tools for data interpretation and ways of assigning value and meaning. Maps are not draped over reality; they exclude. They are like Derrida’s archontes, the archivists who wield authority (and power) over data, its interpretation, its storage and its accessibility. The archontes of electronic archives decide what is collected, described and classified or ignored, destroyed or virtually left hanging, unmapped and disconnected. What happens to the ‘other’ in cyber archives? If categories are not created, do they no longer exist? If there are no pointers, can they be found? Could the holocaust have happened in the age of electronic mail? Would there have been electronic traces of the crematoria?

“But of the secret itself, there can be no archive, by definition. The secret is the very ash of the archive. . .” Derrida’s concept of archives bridges the technical, political, ethical and judicial with poetry and ghosts. In Feu le cendre the holocaust ashes of the crematoriums contain traces of memories, names, letters, photos, personal objects and even keys. The ashes become the pharmakon. They are both cure and poison; they remain but are gone. They are the incomplete archives, traces of the disappeared, traces that speak of that ‘other’ memory.

The censorship of psychoanalysis, ‘a Jewish science’ led to an ethos of protective secrecy about Freud’s archives which continued throughout the 20th century. In 1885 and again in 1907 Freud completely destroyed all his correspondence, notes, diaries and manuscripts (Yerushalmi 1994). He wrote Moses and Monotheism, his only work specifically on a Jewish theme on the eve of Nazi occupation of Austria. Shortly after Freud’s forced exile to England and the completion of his manuscript, Freud died. His inquiry into the history of monotheism was a questioning of the role of religion itself. Was it possible to trace suppressed memories of a people as one can with individuals? Would such a project reduce religion to that of a social neurosis caused by deeply embedded and suppressed trans-generational memories? Freud wrote his first manuscripts knowing that censorship would prevent it from being read, at least in his lifetime. Catholic authorities were critical of psychoanalysis: this manuscript would provoke even greater antagonism. After his death any literature on psychoanalysis uncovered by the Nazis was incinerated as ‘Jewish literature.’ But Freud’s psychoanalysis of Jewish history and Judaism also sent a shock wave through the Jewish community. He hypothesized, like Otto Rank in 1909, that Moses was born to a Egyptian princess not to a Hebrew woman. Freud suggesting that Moses’ monotheistic religion was actually based on an existing Egyptian monotheistic religion, Aten. Further he sought out clues to Moses’ murder. In effect Freud was dismantling the Jewish claim to uniqueness. Freud died before the manuscript was published, without ever knowing the holocaust. He wrote for a secret archives, knowing readers were not ready, nor would they be until sometime in the future. Derrida describes the writing that seeks dissimulation as anarchives, the ‘other’ archives, the secret archives hidden from the flames of repression.

Yerushalmi’s book Freud’s Moses became an appeal to the spectre of Freud to reveal the contents of the secret archives, to provide answers that the archives did not hold. How did Freud’s personal life relate to his teaching or to the history of the psychoanalytic movement? In the final dramatic, audacious chapter entitled ‘Monologue with Freud,’ Yerushalmi addresses Professor Freud’s spectre in a ‘fiction which [he] somehow do[es] not feel to be fictitious’ (Yerushalmi 1991:81). Yerushalmi implores Freud to reveal to him “When your daughter [Anna in 1977 declared that psychoanalysis was a Jewish science] conveyed those words to the congress in Jerusalem, was she speaking in your name?”

Was Freud being loyal to Judaism, through disloyality? Was he recognizing its weaknesses without rejecting it outright? Was he refusing alienation and victimization? Was he protecting his own true subjective freedom by refusing to accept in its entirety an inherited ethnicity, religion, culture or nationality (Derrida 1996c)?

Yerushalmi did not expect the archives to provide evidence of Freud’s relationship to Judaism. But did he perhaps hope that Freud’s collection of antiquities would reveal some specifically Jewish objects? None were exhibited in a traveling exhibition of Freud’s antiquities in 1989. However, a year later exhibition curator Dr. Gamwell informed Yerushalmi, after he had sent off his manuscript, that at the Freud Museum in London, objects had been found “which are related to Freud’s Jewishness.” Included in the list of items was a Hanukkah Menorah which was in Freud’s study during his lifetime and a 1913 postcard to Karl Abraham which shows the arch of Titus. On the image depicting the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE with soldiers removing the Menorah from the Temple, Freud wrote, “The Jew survives it!” (Yerushalmi 1991).

Freud used his vast collection of antiquities from Greece, Rome and Egypt to illustrate his remarks during his therapy sessions. He compared the relatively unchanging nature of the unconscious to the antique objects in the study which had been entombed and preserved, then uncovered, unchanged.

The pivotal object however was the rebound bible which Freud’s father had presented to Freud on his thirty-fifth birthday in May, 1891. Yerushalmi became the first guardian, reader, doctor and the only legitimate archon (Derrida 1995:22) of Jacob Freud’s Hebrew dedication, which Derrida himself analysed in detail. Derrida described the law makers who create and maintain the archives: Freud’s father, Freud, Yerushalmi and the “arch-archiving of the family Bible of the arch-patriarch of psychoanalysis in the arca, cupboard, prison cell, cistern, reservoir.” (Derrida 1995:23) Using this specifically Jewish artifact Derrida ties together strands that had been threading through Dissemination, Feu le cendres, Postcards and Archives Fever. The impression is left by the Jewish father on his son. The one who writes is written by the father in the pre-Socratic language. The new skin of the Bible is covered with scar-like traces as reminders, as ways of remembering. The Bible as gift to the son continues to be the gift to Yerushalmi who yearned for the spectral presence of Freud.

The archives provide a deluge of information. But haunting questions remain: how does information become transformed into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom? (Yerushalmi 1994)? This commitment to rereading history from papyrus to hypertext parallels the commitment to philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view. It is not merely theory for theory’s sake. Gatekeepers of the archives (and collective memory) wield power. Access to information is more than a legal right: it becomes an indicator by which effective democracies can be measured. (Derrida 1996a: 4). The mapping of archives of the infosphere needs to be concerned with uncompromised inclusivity as constitutive of a renewed, unbound, effective democracy in which plurality can co-exist with social cohesion. It requires a consistent and constant vigilance against complicity and complacence. It involves nurturing and encouraging diverse ways of seeing, knowing and remembering. The architecture of deconstruction facilitates the round-tables of discussions which invite, welcome and propel rather than discourage, exclude, dismiss and prevent convergences of divergent thoughts. The sparks of discord can illuminate the ashes and dust of the (missing) archives.

CC 2000Maureen Flynn-Burhoe for comments, corrections and copyright concerns.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 56 other followers