Identity Performance as Archive Fever

Identity Performance as Archive Fever

May 13, 2013

One is made powerful by the ability- the tendency and need- to change. The product of change itself may not always lead to power; rather, the capacity to change and change again ad infinitum leads to a powerful process regardless of the nature of the change it produces. Power itself is not necessarily inherently dynamic but it comes from characteristics and processes of dynamicism- like those of identity and identification. Beings in power, of power, and with power have the innate quality of changing and being changed, so the power that being itself generates becomes laced with fluidity in time and space. Change thus constitutes power but is also the continued powerful ability to further change: a self-fulfilling reality of the living condition. This tendency for power fulfillment through change provides a direct contrast to the qualities of destruction in archiving instances of that very power as described by Derrida’s interpretation of the death drive in his text Archive Fever. For every generative occurrence of identity as powerful and dynamic, there is a destructive force inherent to that very dynamicism that threatens to dissemble the identity and power the identification with that identity holds. In her text The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection Butler further enforces these ideas by emphasizing the dynamic quality necessary to identification as subject formation. Resistance, as challenging to change, is both a function and constitutor of change. Because identity itself is neither forever nor finite- fixed in neither time nor space- power as a product is inherently made powerful as a quality by its very need to change and be changed. Thus, resistance transforms dynamicism into progressive change.

 Power originates in and further generates the formation of subject. Discourse informs the body and constitutes identities the body takes on, both through identification and being identified. The body by nature changes in and because of time and space. An individual becomes a subject by being subjected to identities through processes of identification. Because identities that then inform identification are based on this changing body, subjection as becoming subject and subjecthood as having become subject are neither fixed nor finite. Butler reinforces this fluidity by claiming that “the subject is never fully constituted in subjection, then; it is repeatedly constituted in subjection” (Butler 84). Subjection, as identification based on the body in external contexts of time and space, is rooted in the physical existence of the body. This identification is the reduction of identity to one aspect- one identity- created externally based on these contexts by interpellation. Because of interpellation, context informs the meaning of the text of the body. This meaning of the body is the body’s truth that is discovered in hindsight both in space and time. Interpellation as signification of meaning in hindsight takes into consideration both the context in which the body exists in space and time as well as the text of the body of which this context informs the meaning. Thus, a text can be “…interpreted as an affirmation or an insult, depending on the context in which the hailing occurs (where context is the effective historicity and spatiality of the sign)” (Butler 96). In becoming subject to identities through processes of subjection both internally and externally, the body is materialized as a site of investment.

Identification is based on consignation, or the desire to unify signs into a single identity and ideal configuration. Derrida claims that the power behind identification directly relates to consignation: “The archontic power, which also gathers the functions of unification, of identification, of classification, must be paired with what we will call the power of consignation” (Derrida 10). Because the body is reduced to one identity through this consignation-based identification, subjection is a process of violence and destruction. The discourse informing identification of the body that generates identities this body then becomes subject to through subjection enables these processes that then inherently destroy it. Butler elaborates on this by claiming, “the body is not a site on which a construction takes place; it is a destruction on the occasion of which a subject is formed” (Butler 92). The body is thus materialized as something that can then be destroyed. Individuality, though rooted in the body through identification as an entity in time and space, is also constantly destroyed as a changing entity in time and space. This violence is both a process that the body becomes subject to through subjection as well as a product laced within the body of the subject generated by these processes of identification.

The violence of identification transforms the body into a prison for the subject, of and as the subject. The body itself does not originate as prison, but rather becomes prison through the process of identification that ties it to a consigned ideal. This ideal manifests as Derrida’s notion of the soul. The soul is an ideal or inner image of what one wants to be as a psychic identity that produces the body. Butler explains “the soul, as an instrument of power, forms and frames the body, stamps it, and in stamping it, brings it into being” (Butler 91). Thus, prisoner becomes an identity of the body as well as a process informing its condition: “the individual is formed, or rather formulated through his discursively constituted ‘identity’ as prisoner”(Butler 84). This condition of being prisoner to the soul, or to this higher psychic identity, requires a prison. The body itself thus becomes this prison that further enables the power of the imprisoning identification process. Thus, the soul through the application of identification it requires produces the body by enabling its very destruction. Power is this very ability to produce destruction.

While individuals are subjected to identity through identification, the subjects that are created from this process are further validated as autonomous through subjection to power. Subjection to identity through identification thus becomes subjectivation to power through dependency. Subjectivation requires and generates power to transform subjects of identity into subjects of authority- which further requires boundaries of internal and external, public and private. The site of this boundary is the body, negotiating and performing the situation of the internal and external. The form of the body as it is inscribed with the power to act as that boundary begins to then inform the content of the body’s identity itself: “the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future (Derrida 17). Because the form archiving is a body that changes in time and space, the archive itself becomes dynamic. The body thus acts as a function of subjectivation: “subjectivation takes place centrally through the body” (Butler 83). Subjection to power- subjectivation- capitalizes on the body’s dynamicism with further generates power. By being subjected to power as a changing being, the body gains power by further being able to be changed.

As an archive, the body produces as much as it records and is constitutive as much as it is instrumental. The archival nature of the body relies on the body’s relationship with the soul, which Derrida claims allows for the body to be an external representation of what is original in the psyche. According to him, the body is a site of preservation of the soul where inscription happens on the skin through acts like circumcision. This impression as archive is not a concept but a product that preserves this truth informed by the context creating it. Thus, the body as subject “’acts’ [as the] content of what is to be archived and the archive itself, the archivable and the archiving of the archive” (Derrida 17). Contrarily, Butler believes that the body is the materiality that precedes the soul. Because this materiality precedes the soul that animates it, it has the potential to be used as an instrument in identity performance not just once but repeatedly as well. This quality of the body as preceding the soul gives power to subjection as subjecting- and repeatedly subjecting- the body to ideals of the soul through identification that produces identity. According to Butler, “it is in the possibility of a repetition that repeats against its origin that subjection might be understood to draw its inadvertently enabling power” (Butler 94). The body as it comes into being thus holds power in the very repetition of self as change over time and in space.

Occurrence in the presence of the death drive yields the potential for reoccurrence for the sake of archiving. This potential for reoccurrence holds the capacity for manipulation due to the situation of the occurrence in dynamic time and space, which charges the repetition of and as archive with power. Subjection and the continued performance of self as a subject in time and space indeed has a repetitive nature that serves a higher archiving function motivated by the death drive. The qualities inherent to the processes of subjection and subjectivation directly motivate as well as generate archive, for “ there is no archive without a place of consignation, without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority” (Derrida 14). Derrida implies that these processes are not just reflective of particular qualities of the subject but also they are instrumental in constituting the archive- and archive fever- necessary to the death drive. Like the subjection as being subjected to identities generated by identification and subjectivation as being subjected to power that serve it, archive fever is infinite. Archive fever is also destructive of finitude because it must inherently self-destruct to function and further ensure impressions and reimpressions. The death drive warrants an archive fever but itself leaves no archive: “It is at work, but since it always operates in silence, it never leaves any archives of its own. It destroys in advance its own archive, as if that were in truth the very motivation of its proper movement. It works to destroy the archive” (Derrida 14). Because both the death drive and the archive fever it generates are processes that happen to and through dynamic entities in space and time, they can thus indeed be interrupted and even redirected. This repetition that serves destruction can in fact serve deconstruction and reconstruction.

Repetition of identification through identity performance is a key possibility for interrupting, subverting, redirecting, and rearticulating the given order in which identities are constructed in the first place. Although repetition is a function of the archive fever generated by the death drive, it also serves as a tool of the process of resignification of norms. Butler explains, “it is precisely the possibility of a repetition which does not consolidate that dissociated unity, the subject, but which proliferates effects which undermine the force of normalization”(Butler 93). The unconscious provides the source of reformulation of norms by reclaiming them. This process requires initial claiming though- it requires acceptance to then re-signify and re-embody of subjectivity norms that can then redirect normativity. Resistance as the possibility to resignify norms and give new meaning to signifiers thus begins with this very acceptance. It is also an innate part of power, which serves in opposition to the power it is necessary for: “resistance appears as the effect of power, as a part of power, its self-subversion” (Butler 93). In order to function, power generates resistance and absorbs resistance into its own processes. Power relies on resistance because it must resist resistance.

By resisting power and offering power something to resist, we can begin to transform the destruction of the death drive into deconstruction. Deconstruction of identities, of subject and subjecthood, allows for reconstruction through resignification of norms. It is because of the unfixed and infinite nature power- and the subjects it both creates and relies on- that resistance can interrupt the power of the given order. Resistance as an alternative to repetition, or as a new use for repetition, thus serves power in providing a context for the dynamic sites in time and space that power must rely on and manifest itself through. The creation of the subject through subjection to identities generated by identification is thus not the root of any sort of corruption; we must accept these very processes before we can use them to resignify the realities in which we exist. We must not resist the resistance necessary to power, but rather use it as an opportunity to explore the boundary between internal and external, between self and other- even if that self is subject to an other of power and authority. By using resistance to change as resistance as change we can change and be changed for the better.


Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1997. Print.

Derrida, Jacques, and Eric Prenowitz. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996. Print.