Thursday, 19 May 2016

Jungian archaeology and the Palaeolithic Venus: part three

Cole Porter in the 1930's

"In olden days, a glimpse of stocking 
Was looked on as something shocking. 
But now, God knows, 
Anything goes."

Excerpt from "Anything Goes", lyrics by Cole Porter, 1934.

VI. Paleoporn

In this section of J. T. Thomas' paper,  Cousins of Sarah Baartman he has is no hesitation in pointing out just how extreme can be modern people's ability to project the present onto the distant past, and as I read this section, Cole Porter's song "Anything Goes" sprung to mind.

While we can know nothing at all about the subject of this section, we might question why such a topic would even be projected onto the distant past. We are so bombarded by sensation in today's world it takes rather a lot to shock us and and even Cole Porter might draw the line at much of what appears today. But there are another aspects of this, too:

Malcolm Muggeridge said, "Pornography has always, of course, been popular, and enjoyed a wide, if usually under-the-counter, circulation ... Its avowed purpose is to excite sexual desire, which, I should have thought, is unnecessary in the case of the young, inconvenient in the case of the middle aged, and unseemly in the old."  He also said: "Sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society". Archaeology is basically materialistic and when the subject of art comes up (as it did in section III of this paper), "Art for art's sake" is considered far too modern to be applicable in the Palaeolithic (and that is also true for archaeological claims about much later periods as well). I have always thought this to be a very short-sighted view: The aesthetic sense is part of our humanity and is not culture-specific. Maslow includes both the aesthetic and the religious experience in his "peak experiences" The problem is that you do not find too many materialistic artists and when archaeology write about art it is almost always about the reception and understanding  of art and not the production of art from the artist's point of view. For a more detailed look at this subject, see my experimental series, The Palaeolithic artist.

Joseph Campbell, in Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), p. 211-2, speaks about Joyce's ideas about proper and improper art:
"Proper art is art in the service of what is properly the function of art. Improper art is art in the service of something else. And, Joyce says, proper art is static and improper art is kinetic. Static art produces esthetic arrest. What, then, is the opposite of static art? What does Joyce mean by kinetic art? He tells us:
Desire is the feeling which urges us to go to something and loathing is the feeling which urges us to from something and that art is improper which aims at exciting these feelings in us whether by comedy or tragedy. 
"Pornographic art is art that excites desire, It is not proper art. If you see a picture of a dear old lady, for example, and you think, "What a lovely old soul! I'd love to have a cup of tea with her" -- that is pornography. You are exciting desire for a relationship to the object. Or you open a magazine and see a picture of a refrigerator and a beautiful girl standing beside it and smiling, and you think, "I would love to have a refrigerator like that." This is not art, Joyce says, it is pornography. ... Another type of improper art is art critical of society, art in the service of sociology. Such art excites loathing, and Joyce calls it "didactic art." Those who produce such art I call "didactic pornographers." "

So when you see archaeologists claim that ancient art is functional and not "art for art's sake", they are identifying all ancient art as pornographic on an unconscious level. The artist understands art completely differently and as something experiential. Some artists might believe what the archaeologist says and think that the aesthetic sense only existed in relatively modern people, but most, I believe, would not take such claims seriously at all for any period, even the Palaeolithic. Thus, it is no small wonder that the idea of the ancient Venus sculptures were pornography has bubbled up from a few archaeologists unconscious mind.

VII. From Paleoportraits to Performance Art

Here, a number of other theories are given, all from a modern perspective. There is nothing wrong in doing such providing that each would be either labelled as speculative or would contain supportive evidence either from the Palaeolithic time, or with a demonstration that such is particular to all human beings by their very nature, and thus would be true for Palaeolithic people. Without these criteria, accusations of projection could certainly follow.

The final section of the paper will be tomorrow's topic. Although this section is very short, I will have rather a lot to say about it.

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