Poetics of the Archive

Poetic Database

When one hears the word "archive", the most likely image they will conjure is one of a library or database. An archive is a mausoleum for artifacts otherwise forgotten by the general public - encyclopedia entries, journal entries, and manuscripts that nobody would read unless prompted by research of some kind.

But, when one looks at the nature of the archive from a broader stance, as Werner and Voss do in Poetics of the Archive, it becomes clear that an archive can be nearly anything: a poem, a book; whatever utilizes past works in its creation. An author who works ancient myths into their story is creating an archive. As Michel Foucoult writes in Fantasia of the Library: "... it recovers other books; it hides and displays them and, in a single movement, it causes them to glitter and disappear." Written about Flaubert's The Temptation, this applies to any work which references works from the past. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is a clear example of a work of art as an archive. In his poem, Eliot deliberately fills the stanzas with fragments of European culture. From Shakespearean tragedies to 19th century German nationalist opera and everything in between, Eliot archives nearly all of European culture up through the first World War. Eliot's The Waste Land, like Flaubert's The Temptation, utilizes past works "... fragmented, displaced, combined, lost, set at an unapproachable distance by dreams, but also brought closer to the imaginary and sparkling realization of desires." (Foucoult 92).

"At times the archive requires us to read its minimum signs with maximum energy." This sentence, from Poetics of the Archive, to my mind matches Eliot's The Waste Land to a tee. An archive as a stand alone work of art encompasses past works, and gives them new meaning within its own. It requires its reader to dig a little deeper, but once the work has been put in they will find a vast resource of art and history, more permanent than the resources found in a library or encyclopedia. The archive as its own piece of poetry houses historical and cultural works and gives them a place in the minds of its readers, ensuring they will be survived long after the original works have disappeared.