Supposing that the Archive is a Woman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In “Supposing the Archive Is a Woman,” I bring the Freudian concept of “endopsychic perception” into contact with found footage works by Bill Morrison and Gustav Deutsch. I trace the many figures of women that circulate in both theories of the archival and experiments with film archives, insisting that we read the materiality of these archival formations against the fantasies of female corporeality at work in histories, ontologies, and archaeologies of technological vision. From Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva to Roland Barthes’ Camera Obscura, Otto Preminger’s Laura to Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, the collector or archivist is often spurred by the image of a missing woman. Gathered by a male figure who is part detective, part archaeologist, the archive becomes a mythic topography of an elusive yet remembered feminine body. Morrison hangs his film's exploration of the paper print collection at the Library of Congress on an archivist's childhood memory of a silent stag film actress. Although based partially on fact, Morrison has admitted that the image of this woman was more a sign of his own passion in editing The Film of Her, which stitches a film of the universe—“of power and creation”—through images of the library’s own micro-universe of endless rolls. At the heart of this character’s quest is recovering the image “of her,” which he will accomplish only to let her, and the archive which she both represented and inspired, slip away, dissolving in the stream of time. Like Morrison, Deutsch derives much of a girl and a gun from early stag films—obtained at the Kinsey Institute—but here the archive is less directly portrayed and more exploded by a morcellating montage of eroticized women. Linking the film-defining maxims of Griffith and Godard to the mythic unity of Eros in Plato’s Symposium, Deutsch returns to the age of cinema’s antiquity to construct a fantasmatic salve against decay, a “female principle” lost and thus violently desired by the male. Both filmmakers re-use early cinema to stage the feminine body as an impossible object out of whose alluring absence (Morrison) or erotic plenitude (Deutsch) film’s fragile history takes visible, fleshly shape.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Silent Cinema
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781315819297
ISBN (Print)9780415735278, 9780415735254
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2015

Publication series

NameAFI Film Readers


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