Life, unlimited: Russian archives of the digital and the human | A Bernstein | Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Since the end of the Soviet Union, questions of memory and history have been at the centre of public debates, often focused on the institutions of archives and libraries. This article considers a particular incarnation of arkhivnaia bolezn’ (archival disease, roughly archival fever) with genealogies going back to the pre‐revolutionary writings of the visionary nineteenth‐century philosopher‐librarian Nikolai Fedorov. Specifically, I examine practices among contemporary techno‐futurists seeking to combine Fedorov’s ideas with modern information technologies – both existing and speculative – with the aim of overcoming death and, for some, of surviving posthumously in virtual spaces for now. Based on original ethnographic fieldwork in Russia, the article chronicles immortalists’ efforts to overcome ‘the violence of the archive’ by envisioning and producing a utopian version that is as totalizing as it is personal, designed to satisfy both Orthodox Christian and secular desires for eternal life. In this archive, old and new media like oral histories and genomic data exist alongside each other, both material and virtual, frozen in a vial or uploaded into cyberspace. I interpret the Russian episodes recounted here, attending to the ways in which new archival imaginaries and technologies reconfigure notions of the human self and embodiment.

Scroll to Top