Excerpt from “The Inverted Nuke in the Garden”

So I’ve just finished drafts of my project papers, and as they address some of the concerns of this blog, I thought I would post a short excerpt from the second one, titled “The Inverted Nuke in the Garden”:

That this total destruction of the archive immediately opens a field for the production of more literature, that clearing away the ground will inevitably make way for subsequent archival accumulation, makes [Hawthorne’s “The Earth’s Holocaust”] parable speak equally to the logic of archives themselves and of the anagogic phase of literature.  For Hawthorne’s speaker does indeed receive an answer to his query about whether or not “everything” was consumed from a “grave friend”: “Come hither tomorrow morning—or whenever the combustible portion of the pile shall be quite burnt out—and you will find amongst the ashes everything really valuable that you have seen cast into the flames.  Trust me; the world of tomorrow will again enrich itself with the gold and diamonds, which have been cast off by the world to-day.  Not a truth is destroyed—nor buried so deep among the ashes, but it will be raked up at last.”[1] Though the parable ultimately ends on a discussion of the human “Heart,” of “the little, yet boundless sphere, wherein existed the original wrong”[2]—that it is this which cannot be destroyed by all the burning Alexandrias one can imagine—the real anagogic lesson of Hawthorne’s tale resides in those very ashes.  In articulating its destructive encyclopedic logic, Hawthorne makes quite clear that one can never totally destroy the archive.  In the very manner that Whitman’s poetry cannot archivally accumulate itself infinitely but must leave off somewhere, Hawthorne’s text makes clear that something will remain, that even the dust and ashes are archival.  If we recall Derrida’s two fantasmatic limits of the text, the infinite book and the destruction of the archive, both Whitman and Hawthorne point to the fantastic nature of these limits.  They cannot be experienced.  As the nuclear cannot be experienced, its material possibility marks the limits of anagogy, both in terms of destruction and accumulation.


[1] Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Earth’s Holocaust,”  Nathaniel Hawthorne: Tales and Sketches (New York: The Library of America, 1982), 904, emphases mine.

[2] ibid., 906.



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