‘no archive without outside’

by tobybee

Two archives have recently been launched: to honour 100 years since the fire, the Forward has put online links to translations of their original coverage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (via Lilith), and, in memory of 50 years since the trial, Yad Vashem has put on youtube over 200 hundred hours of testimony from the Eichmann Trial.

I spent a little while over the last few days trying to figure out what to share with you here: which parts of these archives do I draw out as particularly… what? what point did i seek to make? to share the saddest (as though we can, or should, rank grief amongst victims), the most poetic (as though burning in fires, or being genocided, is worse when experienced by someone who has a nice turn of phrase), the one that moves me the most (as though their ability to move me is the point). For as Derrida notes, in Archive Fever (if I am reading him correctly), the archive is a form of law: an institution of memory and forgetting. The guardians of the archive (the archons) “have the power to interpret the archive”; they place the archives in a dwelling, and from there we learn. The archive is both destruction, and a limit of destruction. It contains the death drive (hence le mal d’archive, or archive fever), and threatens every desire. Yet it also contains the desire to see, to read. Archives, for Derrida, are both ‘the commencement and the commandment’.

So then, I’m not sure how to read or to watch these archives with respect. What precisely they commence, or command me to do. And what I should do when it is begun and propelled. With the acknowledgement of the layers of law that bring to me what I will see – we see through the institutions of the newspaper and the courts after all. But also with the knowledge that I can do no more than dip into these archives. Maybe that’s what we’re meant to do. Who knows.

But then, the point of these archives is the testimony. It’s not my analysis. or is it? what is testimony without analysis. none of us ever just ‘speak’. So here’s an excerpt from one report, from March 28, 1911, of the story of one victim, Yetta Rosenboym. (Go here to read more.)

Yetta Rosenboym

22 year old Yetta Rosenboym lived with her brother Sam at 308 East Houston Street. She began working at the ‘Triangle’ Co. last Friday and was burned to cinder. Her brother was able to identify her yesterday at the morgue by a scar the ill-fated young woman had on her left leg. That foot managed to remain whole, as it lay in water. The scar remained on her foot since an operation she had there when she was 8 years old.

After examining the foot, which was all that remained of the beautiful Yetta, the coroner determined it was her, and produced the permit for her brother to bury her. The young woman was in this country for three years. She comes from Rovno, in the Volyn region.

And here is one video of Eichmann’s Trial. (Go here to watch more)