Archive: A place in which public records or other important historical documents are kept; an historical record or document so preserved; to place or store in an archive; in Computing, to transfer to a store containing infrequently used files, or to a lower level in the hierarchy of memories. . . (OED)

The manuscripts of Dickinson's poems, letters, and other writings are stored in vaults in at least 12 different archives. The archive is first of all a physical site, a real space that is the product of social processes. This space of "pure" knowledge has often been the scene of a violent struggle for power and legitimacy. It is an historical space, an ideological space, a political space, a gendered space, as well as a private, mystical, atemporal space with links to the cloister, carrel, almarie. Always, the archive is inseparable from the ensemble of operations deployed within it to confer order on its contents, to bring these contents under rigorous control. To archive documents is to enclose them in a complex of protected spaces, in vaults, in metal boxes, in folders between sheets of acid-free paper, in file names; it is to catalog them and subject them to bibliographical determination or to an alternative dream of order. Yet the archive's--and the archivist's/scholar's--dream of order and regulation is disturbed by the counter-dream(ing) of the unruly remains it houses, the dream of the secret or disconcerting elements, located at its outermost edges or buried in its deepest recesses, that defy codification and ensure an ongoing dialectic between regulation, order, closure and freedom, disorder, openness.

In the past, the archive's exterior has reflected its public, institutional function. To gain access to the interior of the archive a student/scholar must follow a certain, preestablished procedure: he must present his institutional credentials, her research plan, to an official record-keeper. The facade of the archive, however, is changing. In the future--now--it is possible to speak of an ex-static archive, an archive not assembled behind a stone wall, but "behind" a luminous screen. A repository of knowledge with apparently no limits, an archive in which the material has become immaterial. Yet while the facade and, equally importantly, the terms of access, have changed, the dialectical play between order and disorder continues. Moreover, as J. Hillis Miller has pointed out, while the virtual archive is "potentially democratic and anticanonical" it is also limited not by technological restraints but by equally determining imaginative ones: "Technological advance does not necessarily mean methodological sophistication or freedom from deep-seated ideological presuppositions" (Illustration, 43).

Thus it seems necessary that this project have self-reflexive component. An ongoing class assignment will be the evaluation of the archive--its contents, of course, but, more fundamentally, its organization, its deep structure.

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