According to Derrida, there is something perverse about the archive. Usually understood in a positive sense as the site of cultural transmission, and as the temporal pivot between historical traces and the intellectual work to come in an ideal futurity, the archive contains an auto-destructive or “archiviolithic” impulse. In Derrida's model, this negativity is the consequence of repetition, which is the archive's raison d'être, and which is linked in turn to the Freudian death drive. This essay explores a poetics of archival destruction in a range of texts. Concentrating specifically on annihilation by fire, it offers a speculative connection between the hazards of circumstance (or accidents external to the archive) and a proto-gothic pulsion toward auto-immolation within the archive proper. The essay concludes with a lengthy reading of Henry James's The Aspern Papers and the vicissitudes of what might be called “archival desire.”

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