Locating Archives in Hardware

Monday, March 10th, 2014 by dparker90

My difficulty in approaching Foucault’s “The Historical a priori and the Archive” stems from the lack of concrete examples that could’ve been used to delineate the boundaries of archives and their contents. This is in part because Foucault explains that archives are systems of statements, groups of rules that characterize discursive practices rather than material ones. Following last week’s Ernst’s reading, I take issue with Foucault’s approach because the limits of what can be said or thought are in fact locatable within physical media. While Foucault asserts the archive is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements, I think that system is tied to the technological medium that, as McLuhan writes, “shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (11). As such, I’m interested in determining whether we can locate archives that govern discourse in hardware itself. Are the limits of what a particular technology can achieve also the limits of the archive? Does this mean that archives of discourse are particular to specific media? 

I’d like to approach these questions by thinking about the possibilities for discourse offered by keyboards. The number and arrangement of keys determines what kind of content can be typed with this specific technology. The boundaries of this archive change, however, when we encounter a non-standard keyboard, such as those from the 1970s and 1980s connected the MAL’s portable computers. These are cluttered with unrecognizable signs and unusual arrangements of keys, presenting new ranges of possibilities of what can be typed. Perhaps this is a simplistic way of locating the boundaries of archives, but I think it holds even on a small scale. 

If we can locate archives within the hardware of media, I think we can also open those archives and disperse the power they contain by opening and tinkering with hardware. Unlike Foucault’s archive that exists within a discursively-defined space, locating archives in the materiality of machines raises the possibility that we can subject them to investigation and experimentation.


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