The Archive and Cultural Memory with Eliot and Marinetti

A fair space to begin is a quote early in Voss and Werner’s article, “Towards a Poetics of the Archive”: “The archive is both a physical site–an institutional space enclosed by protective walls–and an imaginative site–a conceptual space whose boundaries are forever changing.” Cultural memory, or the act of locking it in place, seems to be deeply entrenched in a level of fear. The root of archiving, even in something so elementally incalculable as the digital or the conceptual spaces, grows in this sense of “explusion” of those without; it follows a frightening zealotry that is often benign at best, but unfathomably dynamic at worst. So it is the case of Marinetti’s “Futurist Manifesto”. It calls for breaking some imaginary chains, as indicated by the mal d’archive, or “the breakdown of the archive’s integrity that is most visible at moments of great documentary shift in the methods–technologies–of production and transmission” (Werner iii), whereby “literature has up to now magnified pensive mobility, ecstasy and slumber” and that they “want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the slap and the blow with the fist” (Marinetti 3). 

In shadowboxing historical perpetuity, they create their own fervent archive. The Futurists are so deeply concerned with tearing the walls down around them “with their innumerable museums…and graves” that they–curiously–don’t realize they’re replacing the walls with their own, an archival movement that cares deeply about newness or the act of being new. It raises a peculiar question: is chaos for chaos’ sake worth crushing the zeitgeist of the time? And is the zeitgeist part of a greater archive, as feverish as ellucidated in Voss’s and Werner’s essay?

“The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufock” is more pensive and indeterminate. Yet, it also drips with fear in losing itself, seemingly locked into a cataloguing transience of life rather than wholly embracing that life is changing. “And Indeed there will be time/ For the yellow smoke that glides along the street/ Rubbing its back on the window-panes… There will be time to murder and create.” Eliot even finishes the movement of the stanza with that heavy emphasis: “And time yet for a hundred indecisions.” Urgency of freneticism, coupled with that indecision that so handcuffs generations, seemingly all sprouts from some anguish when existing beyond the limits of the archive and when forging one anew. These two generations of culture, Futurists and Eliot’s titular character both, are urgent and raw and hungry, entrenched in their bubbles of archives as they scrape against one another.