Rhythm and noise: the city, memory and the archive

Hetherington, Kevin (2013). Rhythm and noise: the city, memory and the archive. In: Smith, Robin and Hetherington, Kevin eds. Urban Rhythms: Mobilities, Space and Interaction in the Contemporary City. The Sociological Review Monograph Series, 61 (S1). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 17–33.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-954X.12051

URL: http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/jsp/id/Urban_Rhyth...


Archives are not static things, not only do their contents change but the aspirations on which they are premised do to. The archive, as Derrida has argued, is an inherently problematic kind of space. It cannot be otherwise. It is one which, in practice, is forever involved in the seemingly contradictory process of conserving and containing the past as a total record of what has happened for posterity to see while at the same time allowing the Otherness of an outside of that record to come within and to unsettle that record and disrupt that guiding ambition (1996). This is not simply a philosophical problem, rather, this contest with Otherness is implicated, too, in the broad social terrain of cultural memory that archives help establish. The condition of possibility for the archive, if we follow Derrida’s argument, is to always exist, but to exist in a state of doubt involving both endless recovery and record, but also erasure and revision at the same time. The archive promises total recall but never fully delivers on it. From time to time a multitude of possible external forces – from hostile armies, to looters, to fire, to bad cataloguers, to changing social attitudes over what is valued, to the sheer overwhelming volume of stuff (unsorted rubbish) waiting to be accorded access, threaten to change it or on occasions to tear it apart altogether (see Goudsblom, 1992; Polastron, 2007). In terms of broad cultural imaginings, then, western society, around which the principle of cultural understanding and the archive process have always gone hand in hand, is ever thus premised on a state of mourning for the library of Alexandria and knowing that that is the fate of most archives in the longer term. As a total record, the archive in perpetuity is always a fantasy, even if a culturally compelling one (Hetherington, 2010).

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