I have been invited to a session at the Association of Art Historians 40th Annual Conference in London at the Royal College of Art, 10-12 April 2014. Although I am not an art historian I have covered certain aspects of Maya art in my previous studies. However, it is not my knowledge of Maya art that is the cause for the invitation. It is my coverage of Speculative Realism (SR) and Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) on this blog. Two of my latest articles, one on senses and one on gender, cover some aspects of SR but most of my articles on SR and OOO issues in archaeology are either in press, in review or in preparation. This session, organized by Dr Aron Vineger, allows me to do a Meillassouxian analysis of Maya art. So far I have not come up with an abstract but suggestions are welcome. Here is the abstract of the session:
This panel looks to the debates surrounding the concepts of fact, factuality, and facticity in order to ask questions about the material and ontological aspects of art making in conjunction with those raised by the fact-family of terms in (social) science, history, and philosophy. And if we extend a preoccupation with fact, to the concept of the ‘fetish,’ which shares the same root as fact, we also encompass religion, economy, anthropology, and colonialism. One might make the argument that facticity is one of the most compelling ways of exploring the interconnections between all of these domains.
Some version of the fact/value issue has always been operative in art history, criticism, and aesthetics. For artists and theorists, a notion of the ‘pictorial fact’ has been integral to claims of objectivity, singularity, and a sheer ‘thereness’ in excess of any signification, meaning, and value. This panel is also spurred on by some compelling new thoughts about factuality and facticity that have been launched in the last few years. For example, Bruno Latour’s concept of the ‘factish,’ Quentin Meillassoux’s notion of ‘factiality,’ and Jean-Luc Nancy’s reinterpretation of Kant’s ‘fact of reason,’ have reawakened an interest in and critique of phenomenological and social scientific articulations of fact in relationship to politics, freedom, contingency, and the absolute.
This panel encourages speculative and concrete reflections on matters of fact in relationship to the intersections of art, history, visual culture, ethics, and politics whatever the manifest content, location, or time period.
Contrary to Gunung Padang the information regarding the Hindu temple (candi) of Sukuh is more easily accessible (and less affected by pseudo-archaeological claims). This “Hindu” temple, built around 1437, is located on the western slope of Gunung Lawu east of Solo (Surakarta). Hence, it is roughly 2000 years younger than Gunung Padang in western Java. Despite the presence of Hindu and Buddhist influences in-between their construction periods, both sites have a terraced (“step-pyramidal”) layout.
There are other temples on the slope of Gunung Lawu (such as Balinese looking Candi Ceto). They belong to the last phase of Hindu temple constructions in Java before the royal courts of the island turned to Islam in the 16th century. The main structure is located at the far end of three terraces and it differs from the typical Javanese Hindu temples, probably because the religion had become influenced by other Javanese beliefs. Yes, it looks very much like a small Mesoamerican pyramid (more similar to pyramids at El Tajin than a Maya pyramid).
I recently ecountered the sorites paradox in a book and I realized that I have used this in my licentiate thesis without knowing that it had a name. The paradox is that if you have a heap of sand and gradually remove one grain there is no point at which the heap disappears. The opposite is also the case. If you add one grain to another grain that is not a heap and there is no magic number when the additional grains become a heap. This paradox is also known in evolution; where shall we draw the line between species in time and space? Darwin knew this problem all too well and therefore there is no real “origin of the species”. It is the evolutionary perspective that I used in my licentiate thesis. Here is a quote from this thesis (Normark 2004:46f). Note that I no longer use the term “materiality”:
“The use of chronology has associated the archaeological record with the fossil record (Binford 1983; Schiffer 1976; Thomas 1996). I will use the analogy of the fossil record for another reason. In the fossil record, palaeontologists can distinguish different individuals as examples of species of animals or plants and categorize them into larger group such as classes (mammals, reptiles, etc.). This is similar to the typological approach in archaeology. The slightly skewed picture palaeontologists get as being short-lived beings who study a small and random sample of past species (or rather individuals) can thus be applied to archaeologists as well. We do not experience the slow process of biological evolution itself (neither the Lamarckian, Darwinian, nor Bergsonian). Our parents are not of another species. Two thousand years ago we were the same species, but maybe not two hundred thousand years ago. The genetic changes are usually slow (even if they are “fast” geologically speaking). Species can only be distinguished if we cut out a sequence or a point of time of the past. Even at certain points in time there are species which can mate with each other and produce sterile offspring (such as when a horse and a donkey produce a mule). There is always some variation within every species and form. If we had the opportunity to travel in time and follow each “individual” from the “origin” of life to now, we would not be able to see when one species turned into another. There would not be any species in a continuum. Only an isolated event, an instant, as when an individual dies and is covered by sediment makes it possible to generalize fossilized individuals into species.
Although animals are entities quite unlike artifacts who are manufactured by humans, I believe I can make a brief analogy between them (but not in a social-evolutionary sense) if we relate the artifacts to the events associated with them. Applied to archaeology, this means that what we are seeing in the archaeological records are only events as “points in time” (only literally, not in reality), made possible to distinguish and categorize because of their instantaneous endings. For Bachelard (2000b:66-68), evolution is punctuated by creative instants. This is how the archaeological record appears for us. It consists of “snapshots”, and not of a continuum. These snapshots are separated from what went on before and what went on after by the instant moment when an action ended. We can not see beyond this event horizon. Thus, a building with a long construction history has “isolated points” or “segments” of materiality (our archaeological reference points) in which the past acts or practices are deprived of their temporality and spatiality since for me only the present exist, and the past is non-existent. Some other social practice(s) took place before and after the formation of the materialities we study, but the event itself is isolated as far as the material remains are concerned. The causes for the artifactual effects are not there directly to see.”
In my licentiate thesis I relied primarily on Bachelard’s discontinuous view of time whereas I moved on to Bergsonian and Deleuzian continuous duration in my dissertation thesis and in my various post-doctoral articles (influenced by DeLanda). Since I am now more influenced by object-oriented perspectives, my old view on time as discontinuous is much more suitable to this direction (with some major revisions). I will bring this up at TAG.
Yesterday National Geographic launched the news of a new study of Palaeolithic cave art. It has often been assumed to be made by men. The new study, or at least NG’s coverage of it, indicates that women did the paintings (at least most of them). However, if you read the article it is the hand-prints that have been analyzed, i.e. not the paintings themselves. How sure can we be that the person behind the hand-print also did the paintings? Not sure at all is my non-specialist conclusion or there is some more evidence that was not mentioned in NG.
When I came back to my apartment fifteen minutes ago I found my book package from Amazon.com jammed into the door. Apparently the mail man/woman is unaware or do not care that thieves may walk into the building. However, if a thief stole this package he/she would have been disappointed of its contents. I highly doubt that he/she would enjoy the books Realist Magic and Maya Ideologies of the Sacred. Hopefully I will although I am more interested in the book that was not sent with them but which will arrive next week or so, and that is Hyperobjects.
One of the most intriguing archaeological sites I have visited is called Gunung Padang in West Java. I went there on July 7 during my vacation in Malaysia and Java. Although the site has been known since at least 1914 it is not very well known among people interested in ancient history. Unfortunately the available English information about the site is confusing and sometimes riddled with pseudoarchaeological speculations. If you check out Wikipedia you will get the impression that this site is at least 13,000 years old and possibly the “cradle of civilization” (if you see such claims you can be sure that it is not an archaeologist doing the writing). Fortunately I ran into the archaeologist (Dr. Ali Akbar) who is in charge of the survey and excavation of the site. He could inform me that this megalithic site dates to around 500 BC.
There is a series of terraces that leads up to the top. This form of construction (“step pyramid”) can be found in later Hindu architecture as well. It seems that the site is aligned towards the volcano Gunung Gede. The surface of the site and the walls of some of the terraces are filled with andesite columns. Since little information is available I will simply post some images without information. Go and visit this site NOW!
Earlier today my son, wife and I saw Pixar’s/Disney’s animated movie Planes (a spin off of Cars). Towards the end of the movie the planes arrive in Mexico and the airport at Mexico City had some interesting Mayanesque/Teotihuacanesque architectural features (I guess Teotihuacan’s Avenue of the Dead provided some inspiration). There are some views of modified historical monuments as well, such as Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.
My “new” interest in the 2011/2012 phenomenon was sparked by relating two completely separate studies to what 2012ers and others have been saying for quite some time. I took the opportunity to look what the “2011-prophet” is doing right now. Calleman is apparently planning to release a series of books regarding the emergence of human civilization (which he seems to trace back to roughly 3100 BC…). Now, since I am currently into a more nihilistic perspective where I sense no meaning with existence (quite the opposite of Calleman) I may recall my previous posts regarding the advent of the fourth world and the virtual God. They all revolved around the date of October 2, 2027, a Gregorian date, whose Aztec equivalent indicates something may happen (or not). The nihilistic approach indicates that extinction of existence is the ultimate condition. There is no meaning behind this so is October 2, 2027, the ex nihilo advent of the final extinction then rather than a fourth world?
I looked around to see what information there already is about the year of 2027. A solar eclipse will occur on August 2, only two months before the “end”. Luxor in Egypt will be the place to be to observe this. Jesus will also return. Need I say more? A connection with an ancient capital of Egypt cannot be a coincidence? Only five days later, on August 7, an asteroid will pass near the earth (or will it hit the earth and “move” it. I may be onto something here.
If there is one part of the object-oriented perspectives that I have problem with it is the panpsychic tendencies used to break the correlationist circle. In panpsychism mind is intrinsic to being and therefore exists in and for itself. It need not be correlated with anything else. Such a perspective makes it easier to suggest that consciousness emerge from something already existing (i.e. experience). The alternative is to state that consciousness emerges from something non-conscious which is undoubtedly a more complicated argument. However, I find it hard to accept notions, like that found in “neoanimism”, that even stones have personhood, experience, etc. In the end this implies that meaning is inherent in the objects themselves.
I am beginning to look into Brassier’s eliminitavist nihilism since he wishes to eliminate anything that falsely makes humans feel secure. The destruction of meaning is its goal. Extinction is, in fact, the ultimate fate of all existences. Existence is therefore meaningless. Archaeology studies past extinctions, of what has ceased to be, only traceable in scattered pieces here and there. Connections between various material traces are made in order to form an anthropocentric meaning, both for the past humans but also for the people of today. As such, a nihilistic archaeology could study extinctions on many different levels; the breaking of a ceramic vessel, the burning of a house, settlement abandonment, etc. Past and present humans have invested these events with meaning but it is important to first see them all as something free of any meaning whatsoever. Meaning is secondary.