Posted by: Johan Normark | August 19, 2010

Adding and subtracting perspectives of the past

Can we reach “meaning” in the past? My simple answer is no and I think searching for past meaning is a meaningless goal. I am not referring to the multitude of meanings that can be attached to an object from various perspectives. A stone axe can be given a cosmological meaning, a gender status, an ethnic marker, a trade item, etc. Are we actually adding something to the object that has bearing in the actual object with this exercise? Are we not just giving it various anthropocentric representations that are beyond the actual object? The point is that we are not adding anything to the object by attributing it with various meanings and perspectives. We are in fact subtracting something from it. This may sound more or less as the zero perspective that OOO teaches us. However, I am rather referring to the work of Henri Bergson and his concept of image. 


By image is meant “a certain existence which is more than that which the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist calls a thing,—an existence placed halfway between the ‘thing’ and the ‘representation’. This conception of matter is simply that of common sense” (Bergson 2004: vii-viii).The images are self-existent and not illusions or constructions formed by a human consciousness isolated from the material world. In fact, the brain and consciousness are images themselves, not containers for other images. For Bergson there is only a difference of degree between matter and our perception of it. We do perceive the things where they are. Our perception coincides with matter. The perceiving or contemplating human subject does not hold a privileged position. There is no internal subject who knows itself and represents the external world through seeing and hearing because these already belong to the world of images. Thus, seeing and hearing comes before the subject that sees and hear. 

The image is in-between the mental and the external. It is self-existing, meaning that it reveals itself in a pictorial manner. However, the image of an the stone axe is perceived as a representation. During perception the image of itself is transferred to an image for the perceiver. Since the perception does not add anything, but subtracts, the representation is a waning of the image. Selection occurs and only what is important for bodily functions is of interest. Thus, the brain retains from matter only what interests it. Perception is therefore not the stone axe plus something else, it is the stone axe minus that which does not interest the perceiver (Deleuze 1991:25). Therefore, matter is an aggregate of images and our perception is not an image of an image, it is the same image. The difference is instead the mobility of images. Our moving body is the centre of our own universe and when it moves the orientation of the universe changes. The brain does not produce images, it just directs them into bodily action (Grosz 2004:166-168). 


In short: We do not fill the world with meaning according to Bergson’s reasoning, we pick out and choose what we like in the images. We ignore what we dislike and by this we diminish the images (Bergson 2004). The image, or the material object, is therefore more than its social construction and representation which are transcendent categories not derived from the image itself, but from our own needs. What is immanent in the image is ignored since it is seen as an empty and meaningless container if we do not fill it with human or social content, a position dominant in “postprocessual” archaeologies. What do I suggest then? Skip the search for past meanings, focus on patterns of behaviour and/or assemblage formation instead. 




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