Thursday, 28 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part nine

EU Flags
Flags in one of the buildings of the European
Commission in Brussels
Photo: Anonymous
"... the cultural phenomenon of the Celts as a pan-European symbol, exemplified by the blockbuster museum exhibit "I Celti" in Venice in 1990 -- in tandem with the reinvention of Europe as a confederation of states. Not coincidentally, in the last decade significant amounts of EU money have been allocated to archaeological research on the Celts, at least partly because this emerging political entity is in need of its own prehistoric precedent."
Bettina Arnold, The Faustian Bargain of Archaeology Under Dictatorship in: Archaeology Under Dictatorship
Bettina Arnold's comment was no personal fancy, as is demonstrated by this web page of The European Institute of Cultural Routes, -- the celts -- founding europe which starts:
The Council for Cultural Co-operation retained this theme in 1990, in the context of a movement of interest for this subject as testified by the great exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice and by the success of Celtic music festivals.
The idea soon ran into a roadblock:
The greatest difficulty encountered in the concretisation of this theme on European territories was represented by the impossibility of constituting a network of multidisciplinary experts and of overcoming the feuds among scientific schools. On the other hand, a study was undertaken in Ireland on the question of heritage, tourism and education, by researching an intersection with the topic of monastic influence (Irish monks of the High Middle Ages).
Celtosceptism was an English phenomenon manifested predominantly by John Collis and Simon James in the eighties but which has lost most of its momentum in recent years. One comment in the Simon James article is especially interesting within the context of this series:
 As the archaeologist J.D.Hill has pointed out, if we assume that the peoples of the Iron Age are our close cultural ancestors, we automatically prejudge what they were like. If we are Celts, and they were Celts, then it is all too easy to think that they must have fitted with our ideas of what Celts are, or recently were. They must fit into the Celtic 'cultural package'; yet that package is largely a modern construct, cobbled together from fragments from different times and places.
Yet, in Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' Art, in: Rethinking Celtic Art, p. 12, we read:
We have not entered the rather fraught debates over the Celts, as these arguments are now well-rehearsed.
That they are -- and in the Simon James article, he finishes with:
The roots of the new approach are to be found, I believe, in the post-colonial emphasis on multiculturalism, and the celebration of difference between cultures. This makes it possible to consider the Iron Age peoples of Britain, for instance, not as generic Celts, but as a mosaic of distinct societies, each with their own traditions and histories. 
If Simon James had been Canadian, he might have a better grasp on the concept of multiculturalism as defined in our Multiculturalism Act. Specifically, telling people that they are wrong in how they define themselves culturally such as that their identity is "is largely a modern construct, cobbled together from fragments from different times and places" would seem to be quite counter to Section 3 (1) of the Multiculturalism Act:
(h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures
 I cannot leave out Chris Gosden, as he is joint author in this chapter and he has an interest (as the link reveals) in "issues of identity, especially what it means to be English" as this video also confirms.

Ironically, the term "Iron Age" is even more modern than ideas of being Celtic, dating only to the 19th century. Its application to matters of early Celtic art are even less specific as while Iron Age coinage is a popular euphemism for Celtic coinage, by strict definition it is a confusing term as it should also include the Greek.

While avoiding these issues head-on, re-integrating 'Celtic' Art fully integrates Celtosceptism not only in its use of scare quotes in its title but also in its content.

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