morbid and sinister

In French, 'mal d'archive' contains the concept of both illness and evil. For Derrida, there is something morbid and sinister at the core of the archival impulse. 'It is to have a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire. . . to return to the origin . . . the most archaic place of absolute commencement.' Derrida relates this compulsion to the Freudian death drive. Frued argued that 'the task' of the death drive was 'to lead organic life back into the inanimate state'. One if its manifestations in human behaviour (and by extension, culture) is 'a compulsion to repeat'. Freud saw this regressive impulse as 'more primitive, more elementary' than the pleasure principle, which is why Thanatos can often 'over-ride' Eros.

'En mal d'archive' also means to be 'in need of archives', a desperate hunger comparable to addiction. As Derrida writes, 'It is to burn with a passion. It is never to rest, interminably, from searching for the archive right where it slips away. It is to run after the archive, even if there's too much of it. . .' Impelled by a mixture of hubris and mania, the drive to accumulate and store knowledge escalates out of control, threatening to collapse the entire edifice of the archive.

- Simon Reynolds