PRINT February 2009


“Universal Archive”

THE OLD DREAM OF DOCUMENTARY—namely, that its socially enabled and technologically fortified realism would change the world—has been out of reach for some time now. In place of such a starry-eyed promise, pledged in Progressive-era photojournalistic muckraking and exposés, for example, and in most any run-of-the-mill image of machines from the 1920s and of workers from the ’30s, or in the humanistic gush of the camera-toting one-worlders of the ’40s and the UN crusaders of the ’50s, documentary has lately been given an alternative function, one equally freighted with longing and equally tied to modern self-reflexivity but fundamentally less ambitious in scope. “Archive fever” it’s been called, after the English title of a book by Jacques Derrida, and it claims to register something like a malady or a disease, something above and beyond the reasoned ordering of the world generally underlying

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