Yet to Be Read: Exhuming the Camp as the Arche-Archive to Come

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Chapter Two

Yet to Be Read:

Exhuming the Camp as the Arche-Archive to Come
We must continually remind ourselves that some part of responsibility insinuates itself wherever one demands responsibility without sufficiently conceptualizing and thematizing what “responsibility” means.

--Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death 25-26.

Deader than Dead: Coming After the Archive

In framing the concept of bare life through a cultural graphology of the storage unit and archive, the case of the briefcase, we have indirectly called into question Agamben’s claim that the concentration camp is the figure for the universalization of homo sacralization—“we are all homo sacrii”—as the central figure for modernity. What is stake in our shift from camp to storage unit and archivalization? Why turn to films about World II that engage the holocaust indirectly through the work of art, counterfeiting, misdirection, and transportation? Why not turn directly to documentary films about the holocaust such as Night and Fog (Alain Renais, 1951), Marcel Ophul’s The Sorrow and the Pity (1969), and Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: An Oral History of the Holocaust (1985), or to Jean-Luc Godard’s use of archival footage in Histoire(s) du cinema (1988-1998), as Jacques Rançiere and Georges Didi-Huberman, among others, have done?1 How does the medium of film relate to the briefcase and self-storage unit as boxes? And what would it mean to figure the camp as a box containing buried boxes materials, making sense of it in terms of reading reshelving (as resistance to reading) rather than refilling and reclassifying?

To address these questions, we need first to step back and reframe Agamben’s universalization of the camp (which leads him to make a controversial equation between the victims of the holocaust and people killed in car accidents) as a question of its unread -ability. Agamben divides the victims of the camp into increasingly fine distinctions until he reaches the limit case, the Musselman or the witness who cannot witness, being the weakest of the weak, hence representing the central paradox of homo sacer. According to Agamben, “the empty space at the center of the camp that, in separating all life from itself, marks the point at which the citizen passes into the Staatsangegehoringe of non-Aryan descent, the on-Aryan into the Jew, the Jew into the deportee and, finally, the deported Jew beyond himself into the Musselman, that is, into a “bare, unassignable and unwitnessable life” (156-57), the barest of bare life, as it were. The remnants of Auschwitz are a matter of testimonials to what cannot be testified to: “The authority of the witness consists in his capacity to speak solely in the name of an incapacity to speak—that is, in her or her being a subject. Testimony thus guarantees not the factual truth of the statement safeguarded in the archive, but rather it s unarchivability, its exteriority with respect to the archive” (158). Drawing on Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, Agamben regards the archive as a recording device for the unrecordable, defining the archive is "the system of relations between the said and the unsaid" (145) located in opposition to langue as parole is opposed to parole (144): between the obsessive memory of tradition, which knows only what has been said, and the exaggerated thoughtlessness of oblivion, the archive is the unsaid or sayable inscribed in everything that is always forgotten in the act of saying" (140). 2 Agamben’s neoFoucauldian conception of the archive misses, however, the way in which the camp is also a future archive / museum to be read but how the musealization and archivalization of the camp also involves an arche-archivology of storage and shelving. Rather than being exterior, the archive produces an exterioirty within in which that which is to be read is continually subject to divisions. The problem of the archive’s internal extiroity is not that certain documents remain invisible(lost, stolen, faded) but that they are divisibile.

Ex-Hum(aniz)ation: The Camp in the Camp / the Camp Without the Camp as Notes Surfaced from Underground of the Yet to Be Exhumed

In this chapter, we reconceputalize the camp as an arche-archive, as that which is written to be found, read, and archived at an unspecified later time, by attending to the concrete storage boxes and notes left by victims buried in the camps themselves, some of which have been recovered and now known as the Scrolls of Auschwitz. Our reconceptualization of the camp as an archive containing an arche-archive in boxes of writings the exhumation and reading of that which is “to come,” will mean extending the concept of bare life to include a concept bare life, something we began to do in the previous chapter when discussing Walter Benjamin’s briefcase and the epilogue of Derrida’s Archive Fever. In theorize the camp as an arche-archive within the archive, we will also elaborate our concept of unread –ability in relation (un)repeatability and (ir)replaceabilty by first putting an assumed theological and mediatic distinction between scrolls and shrouds into question and then by turning Derrida’s readings in Demeure: Fiction and Testimony of two lost manuscripts in Maurice Blanchot’s The Instant of My Death, in which he writes the endnote on Walter Benjamin’s briefcase we discussed in the earlier chapter, and Derrida’s reliance on the metaphor of cinema. In our account of the Scrolls, the camp arche-archivalization literally has no center, as an reconstruction a necessarily uncanny temporality of reassemblage, an after word not only of records produced and destroyed as much as was possible by the Nazis, but more crucially, by the victims themselves. We juxtapose the Scrolls and Demeures in order explore the mediation of the archive, to understand better what the unread –ability of the arche-archiving of the camps has to do with the importance scholars universally grant to film and filmmaking, the frequent use of film and photography as metaphors, as film and filmmaking have become the central media in debates of archival reconstruction and reuse.

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