intertextuality

Archives, Foucault, and Eliot

As several of my classmates have said, Foucault’s descriptions map readily onto The Waste Land. Foucault addresses his focus, The Temptation, as “a monument to meticulous erudition” (89), a descriptor which perfectly suits The Waste Land as well. Within Eliot’s work, every line can be examined, unpacked, put back together, and deconstructed again and his attention to detail – no wasted words, every word significant – is amazing. The similarities continue as Foucault talks about “words spoken in the past…the amassing of minute facts, monuments reduced to infinitesimal fragments” (90-91), which calls to mind Eliot’s mythic method and the significant-yet-short references present in The Waste Land (ie, the quick reference to Mylae in line 70).

Key, I think, to Foucault’s treatment of archives are “the virtue of its essential relationship to books” and the ability “to extend the space that existing books can occupy” (91). I’m still trying to fully understand his point – especially the diagram found later in the essay – but I find his ideas about intertextuality and the constant referencing among texts fascinating. Finally, I was struck by the way he describes The Temptation as “the book of books,” as the description applies just as much to The Waste Land: “It unites in a single ‘volume’ a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are…the repetition of things said in the past. The library is opened, catalogued, sectioned, repeated, and rearranged in a new space” (105). This is The Temptation, this is The Waste Land, this is an archive.

Variety of archives

I was intrigued by the way archives are presented in these two articles; Voss and Werner explain them as both conceptual and physical spaces, while Foucault describes how The Temptation seres as an archive for all the other creations it refers to. I would have liked to have read The Temptation before Foucault, article, but Foucault makes the unexpected function of the book as an archive for its fellows clear. He phrases his point in the following way: "it unites in a single "volume" a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are, by virtue of their specific documentary character, the repetition of things said in the past. The library is opened, catalogued, sectioned, repeated, and rearranged in a new space" (105).

Books automatically refer to one another. It is impossible to write a work in isolation. Just as writers say "nothing is original", they might also say the one thing that cannot be done is to create a work that is not connected into the existing larger literary tradition. Foucault notes that the only originality in The Temtation is in its organization of the elements it includes. This is the problem all writers face and struggle to overcome--in an effort to create original, revolutionary work--until they realize that interconnectedness is not the enemy, and learn to embrace it. Archives are not only collections, but catalogues of our memories, and the way in which each archives integrates its components creates a new component in the collective totality of knowledge.

It could be said that one story is told by the Library of Congress--as a physical and conceptual space where on one hand children are forbidden to even touch the books, and where on the other all things must be recorded for current to future generations. There is the story of the library at Alexandria, of the things that we speculate were lost as well as those that survived. There is the library--and book, all at once--of the internet, which no human soul living today can ever fully read in its entirety. Under a broader understanding of archives, archives can be "books" just as books can serve as "archives". The only difference is a matter of scale.