ob | literate: memory of the making

Every writing is an archive of its compositional process. Every text is haunted by the traces of its unchosen possibilities. "Every word was once a poem," wrote Emerson; and "every new relation is a new word."

Too often we—as teachers, as students, as (if) writers—are interested in only the final product, confusing our labor's end with its object, ignoring the material ob-ject, the writing pro-ject, itself. Attention is given only to the fruit of our rhetoric and not to its roots, which would require breaking ground, digging six feet under to unearth buried and discarded potentialities. From the vantage of objective efficiency, there exists only work without work.

Modern technologies facilitate such forgetting, even while they indiscriminately preserve everything, automatically saving whatever might be called progress. There are no eraser marks left blurring the page when it comes to the digital, no streaks from corrective fluid, no blotches of self-censoring ink. On the digital interface, every page has the appearance of genius, as if burst from the writer's head in a single swift and immaculate act. In this, computers function to disavow the possibility of the unconscious and to deny the spectral import of ghosts.

Yet with the most minimal of interventions, the digital can also open a space of radical virtuality, where nothing becomes nothing and all remains remain. With a few lines of code, for example, we can delete the delete key, we can prevent the erasure of our rhetorical traces, making impossible the unmaking of past possibilities. This digital subversion would constitute something less than addition, yet more than mere subtraction: In expropriating expunction, in suppressing the pressing of this key key, traces begin to frantically accumulate. As if on the analyst's couch, in this uninterrupted flow of misfires, the archive of writing, the archive in writing, the archive through writing is revealed.

click here to delete delete  

What this page offers is a simple pedagogical tool to interrupt—by abolishing a certain kind of interruption—some of the problematic presumptions of digital rhetoric. With this elementary app, we hope to disrupt composition strategies that neglect their own archival practice, working against those commonplace writing practices that assume a metaphysics of presence and mastery; instead, we are underscoring the act of writing as a discontinuous genealogy, a fragmented network of signifiers that arise and disappear in the process of weaving a text. By doing something so simple as disabling a writer’s ability to delete whatever she has already typed, regardless whether it was a typo or a half-thought idea, our app attempts to exploit those cracks in mastery produced by digital overdetermination and technological affordances, exemplifying ways in which rhetoric has always already been a matter of the archive. In this, we have followed Derrida’s lead from Archive Fever to reflect on how 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."