At a contemporary moment of sweeping scholarly interest in and interrogation of the archive, this brief essay returns to Walter Benjamin. Formulating the archive as a fugacious site of ruin and excavation, Benjamin’s approach presents an early counterposition to the modern view of the same as a bulwark of historical permanence and national stability. To illustrate the continuing relevance of Benjamin’s work, the essay turns to recent discussions of the topic “archives of migration” in the German transnational context. Distinct from official archives comprising collected and cataloged documents and objects, these archives present transient sites of negotiation, reterritorialization, and self-determination that work against national projects of historiography and their mechanisms of suppression. The example of bi’bak, a transnational project space in Berlin established in 2014, and its revival of the Turkish-language videotape culture in 1980s West Germany furthermore reanimate Benjamin’s commitment to media’s role in the archaeological processes of the archive, which set it loose.

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