|Siksika Nation (Blackfoot) elder texting with family looking on.|
Outside of the Blackfoot confederacy, efforts to "preserve the culture" suffer from a lack of understanding of the culture: as with many First Nations, the preservation of many artifacts and even human remains in museums goes directly against the culture. The key phrase in the following video is: "They say that when these symbols disappear from erosion then the story's finished":
Human remains, too, are supposed to return to nature and only when that happens will the spirit of that person be able to move on. This is also very similar, in part, to the Tibetan practice of sky burial where it is sometimes claimed by Tibetans to also ensure that the spirit does not stay too long with the body. Some First Nation's cultural objects, such as medicine bundles can be specifically bequeathed or are taken care of by appointed guardians; other objects are made by First Nations artists to be sold to whomever would desire them and the proceeds are used by the artists and their heirs to support their families. The objects, themselves, carry information about the culture far and wide; generate interest and in some cases can help to provide information back to the original culture when it becomes lost over time. Many years ago, I met a white woman who had restored much information to the Haida in British Columbia about their culture through such objects.
But all of the above is about living cultures. What of cultures long dead? Remember what I said in the previous part of this topic that cultures are not static and are carried forward by individuals in a very personal way. What do we really (mostly) experience at a museum? The buildings are often impressive monuments to the state: their spacious galleries and high ceilings dwarf the humans inside. This was the very point of such architecture from the Byzantine through western European cathedrals to the buildings of Hitler's architect Albert Speer. Subservience to the state or Church was the purpose. Within the museum, objects can be behind glass or ropes and there will be attendants to make sure that you do not touch what is not. I have not seen it since the building has been renovated, but I hope it is still there, but in Devonian Gardens in Calgary there stood a life size bronze sculpture of Labrador retriever by Sir Edwin Landseer. The artificial patina on its nose worn down by generations of children who had petted it. Do you believe that the artist would have been upset by such activity, or do you think that he would have been pleased that his work had become so believable? Sculptors say that their work is made to be handled. I once encouraged my daughter to run her hands over a marble sculpture by Jean (Hans) Arp. A museum attendant rushed over to stop us doing that.
Decades ago, a study was undertaken to track the movements of visitors to a large museum. It was discovered that at first the visitors would walk slowly around looking at he exhibits. after a while they would walk faster with and with a growing apparency of panic would soon start looking for the nearest exit. They were suffering from sensory overload. Such an experience probably kept them out of museums for some time afterward. Once, a tourist at the British Museum asked me for directions to the Rosetta Stone. I took her over to it and she glanced at it quickly and then walked off. Clearly, it was on her "must see" check list. She could tell people she had seen it. I have been to art exhibit openings where the elite have been sipping wine and talking to each other. They were there to be seen, not to look. When exhibits fail to interest or they are not part of the collecting focus of the museum, they are stored away and rarely seen again. Whenever one is deaccessioned and sold, however, the public (who never went to see it anyway) is encouraged to protest the sale by cultural heritage neurotics. A friend was on an archaeological did in Tuscany and after the dig, all Etruscan undecorated black bucchero ware pots had to be smashed with hammers. The local storage was full of the stuff and they did not want such things "getting into the hands of collectors" because it would encourage looting.
The word "museum" comes from Muse, and the purpose of the Muse is to inspire the production of art. Through such inspiration, even extinct cultures do not completely die away and get forgotten. They pass something of themselves onto future generations. Only when people lose personal contact with a culture does it really die. Academics often assume that the purpose of a museum is to educate. They are merely projecting their own psychology onto the public. Picasso would see and would purchase African carvings from street vendors in Paris (who were from French Africa). The art inspired him and part of that culture lived on his work and changed the course of European art. It is always the individual who does this. So what is wrong with these neurotics who restrict culture (besides propping up nationalisms) and who become fanatical without ever evolving their ideas about the subject? Jung explains:
"If the subjective consciousness prefers the ideas and opinions of collective consciousness and identifies with them, then the contents of the collective unconscious are repressed. The repression has typical consequences: the energy-charge of the repressed contents adds itself, in some measure, to that of the repressing factor, whose effectiveness is increased accordingly. The higher its charge mounts, the more the repressive attitude acquires a fanatical character and the nearer it comes to conversion into its opposite, i.e., an enantiodromia. And the more highly charged the collective consciousness, the more the ego forfeits its practical importance. It is, as it were, absorbed by the opinions and tendencies of collective consciousness, and the result of that is the mass man, the ever-ready victim of some wretched “ism.” The ego keeps its integrity only if it does not identify with one of the opposites, and if it understands how to hold the balance between them. ...
"The current “isms” are the most serious threat in this respect, because they are nothing but dangerous identifications of the subjective with the collective consciousness. Such an identity infallibly produces a mass psyche with its irresistible urge to catastrophe. Subjective consciousness must, in order to escape this doom, avoid identification with collective consciousness by recognizing its shadow as well as the existence and the importance of the archetypes. These latter are an effective defence against the brute force of collective consciousness and the mass psyche that goes with it.
Jung, C. G.. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 8: Structure & Dynamics of the Psyche: On the Nature of the Psyche (pp. 218-221). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
"The neurotic is forced by his neurosis to take this step, but the normal person is not. Instead, he acts out his psychic disturbances socially and politically, in the form of mass psychoses like wars and revolutions. The real existence of an enemy upon whom one can foist off everything evil is an enormous relief to one’s conscience. You can then at least say, without hesitation, who the devil is; you are quite certain that the cause of your misfortune is outside, and not in your own attitude. Once you have accepted the somewhat disagreeable consequences of interpretation on the subjective level, however, the misgiving forces itself on you that it is surely impossible that all the bad qualities which irritate you in others should belong to you. By that token the great moralist, the fanatical educationist and world-improver, would be the worst of all."
ibid. (p. 272).
I will be back with more in this series and a new topic on Monday, Have a cultural evolutionary weekend.
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