chapter  5
Out of File, Out of Mind
Pages 8

It is well known that almost every administration in the West has been haunted by the professional furor to take notes of everything spoken within its office walls. This practice of total documentation leaves not a single spoken word without a written equivalent. The officials working in these administrations record in order to act, and act only by recording. Administrative execution has, in other words, always meant execution on paper. The phantasmal belief that files can and are meant to record all governmental proceedings and happenings in their entirety has fueled the categorical imperative of Western administrations to make records and keep files. This belief has been fundamental to the administrative practice of recording and filing for at least the last two centuries. Max Weber, the German bureaucracy-expert of the 19th century, transformed this practice into a principle. "The management of the modern office;' he wrote, "is based upon written documents (the 'files'), which are preserved in their original or draft form, and upon a staff of subaltern officials and scribes of all sortS:'1 Weber formulated this principle at the very moment when another medium of communication was emerging: the telephone. This new non -script based means of communication threatened the existence of files insofar as it had the potential to usurp extra-and intra-administrative communications from the documentary universe of the written word. To prevent this from happening, record keeping was implemented as a bureaucratic principle. From then on files began to pile up all over-files which historians, far from complaining about the masses of paper, would eventually take as their preferred source. The administrative workers, however, have since been drowning in files. For them records are the monsters they have to do battle with every day.