Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tracing the Many Lives of Religious Structures

Uthara Suvrathan emphasizes the importance of alternative traces in exploring the complex life-histories of Buddhist and Hindu religious structures in Banavasi, South India. By paying attention to ephemeral as well as more long-lasting religious material culture she offers a way of studying changing patterns of religious practice and cultural memory formation.

MLA citation format:
Suvrathan, Uthara
"Tracing the Many Lives of Religious Structures"
Web blog post. Material Religions. 11 October 2017. Web. [date of access] 

Archaeologists and historians studying religious structures frequently tend to classify temples by the initial dynastic period of their construction, and the literature abounds with phrases like the ‘Chola temple’ or ‘Satavahana stupa’ [i] However, in the academic quest for order in data, we underestimate how frequently monuments are in constant flux. Religious structures in particular cannot be fixed in time, although they might be so in space. By pinning these structures within specific temporal and dynastic periods, we often ignore the fact that religious structures are living entities. We forget that these are complex entities that have complex life histories extending long after that of their initial construction—they were constantly added on to and altered, often spanning the rule of multiple dynasties. By tracing the life-histories of religious structures archaeologists and historians can access an ever-changing pattern of cultural memory formation and religious practice. 

At Banavasi (Karnataka, India) where I worked for several years [ii], my team and I studied several Buddhist stupas, hemispherical structures constructed to enclose Buddhist relics. Site 71 is an extremely overgrown and eroded circular brick mound located about a mile north of the village of Banavasi (Figure 1) [iii]. Based on the form and size of the bricks used in the structure, the stupa was constructed around the second-third centuries CE. Ceramics and terracotta roof tiles found on the structure also date it to an early period, at least prior to the 7th century CE [iv]. It thus falls within a period when Buddhism was widespread in southern India and Banavasi itself was likely an important religious and economic center. The limited historical research on these monuments has so far focused on their form and temporal context and once the structures have been neatly categorized by these criteria their later histories have been largely ignored. 
Figure 1: Site 71, eroded stupa. Photo by author.
It is likely that the core period of the stupa’s use and worship as a Buddhist structure was limited to an early period and declined starting from the fourth-fifth centuries as Buddhist worship in south India was largely replaced by a resurgent Hindu tradition. In Karnataka, Shaivite Hinduism, which focused on the primacy of the God Shiva, emerged as predominant. As Buddhism gradually became less popular, stupas across the region were abandoned and fell into ruin. And yet, even as Hindu temples increasingly became the focus of social and religious life, fragments of “material memory” remained. At site 71 (and at other stupa locations in and near Banavasi) the mound has a looter’s hole on the top. From colonial travellers accounts from the 17th and 18th centuries, we know that the ‘topes’ were often mined for reliquaries by the rather straightforward, though archaeologically unsound, method of digging a hole in the top into the relic chamber. While the looter’s holes in the Banavasi stupas cannot be dated, it is an interesting remnant of a memory or belief that there might be ‘treasure’ in the centre of these structures. 

There is also clear evidence of the later use of site 71. In fact, at present the structure is considered a Hindu shrine although there is some memory among the present inhabitants of surrounding villages of its early history as a Buddhist structure. The hemisphere has been flattened on top, and brick fragments mined from the structure have been used to construct a makeshift shrine consisting of a platform surrounded on three sides by low, roughly-built walls (Figure 2). The shrine itself contains an extremely eroded figure of the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, as well as a fragmentary sapta-matrika panel that represents seven mother goddesses who are a part of the Hindu pantheon (Figure 3). These items have clearly been appropriated from one or more Hindu temples and date to a period after the 16th century. This fits with evidence of a second episode of roof construction on the stupa, where the terracotta tiles are of forms that can be dated to between the 16th and 19th centuries CE.
Figure 2: Shrine on top of stupa. Photo by author.
Figure 3: Shrine elements. Photo by author.
Even more recently, within the last couple of years, a set of cement reinforced steps lead up to the shrine. When we talked to people living and worshiping at the shrine there was no recognition that it was originally a site of Buddhist worship, instead the mound itself has been absorbed into a modern mythos that weaves tales of ancient mounds or 'guddas' that were the palaces of ancient (and unnamed) kings). At most of the stupas that survive in the area, there is evidence of later use and worship, including the construction not just of shrines but of simple stone alignments of unclear purpose. 

Sites like these offer an interesting contrast to other stupas that have been completely forgotten and destroyed. For instance, at site 207 we initially noticed a low circular mound, barely more than an undulation on the ground. Since there were no structural fragments (like brick or tiles) visible on the surface it was difficult to identify it as a stupa. On a visit a couple of months later, the farmer who owned that field had decided to level the ground for cultivation and was using a large mechanical backhoe to dig up the mound. With this excavation, the true nature of the structure was revealed and the distinctive bricks and terracotta tiles that emerged clearly identified it as a stupa (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Site 207, destroyed stupa. Photo by author.
Yet another example of the complex life histories of religious structures comes from a consideration of folk religious practices that often occur outside the traditional ritual spaces of the temple. Throughout South India, folk beliefs populate the landscape with a variety of divine and semi-divine beings, as well as spirits (bhutas) and other inimical forces. In many cases, these small sacred sites do not have built shrines. Instead, they could consist of rounded stones or earthen pots worshiped as forms of the mother goddess (Chowdamma); or places identified as residences of spirits or natural symbols (termite mounds, snake holes). In other cases, these shrines can include miscellaneous architectural or sculptural fragments appropriated from larger structures. These ephemeral forms of construction are a crucial part of the wider religious landscape and as important in lived practice as the larger stupas and Hindu temples. Such small village shrines are simply made of easily available materials and require little labor. Due to their very impermanence the materials they are made of require maintenance and they are continuously cleaned, added to, worshiped. These small shrines are a more organic feature of the village landscape- a rounded stone tucked away under a banyan tree, appropriating the hole of the village cobra, or a broken sculpture under a palm leaf shed. I cannot imagine that such places would leave easily identifiable traces for the archaeologist. And yet, they must have been a part of village life for generations. 

However, the boundaries between these local traditions and more institutionalized Hinduism, where worship was sited within stone temples and mediated through priests, are extremely fluid. Traditionally, if flaws or cracks developed in the central lingam (typically a phallus-shaped symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, worshiped as a generative force) within a temple it was no longer considered worthy of worship. And yet, as sacred items they had to be disposed of carefully and were, by being submerged in the nearby river. Periodically throughout the year these items re-emerged during the dry season when the water level falls drastically. Over some time, these discarded items become the focus of smaller folk shrines, with small walls enclosing them (Figure 5). In many cases worship at these shrines are the province of local families and do not require the intercession of the priest who is attached to the larger temple. However, as the shrine becomes more permanent, the priest re-enters the picture and begins to make more formal ritual offerings on behalf of the people.
Figure 5: Linga on dried river bed. Photo by author.
A more careful exploration of the life histories of small and large structures thus adds greatly to our understanding of the complexity of cultural memory in the communities we study. By foregoing some of our desire to classify the material indicators of history we can begin to explore something of the messiness of human action, past and present! 

This blog post derives from research that will be published in an article that is under review: ‘The Multivalence of Landscapes: Archaeology and heritage’. In Himanshu Prabha Ray (ed.), Preserving Plurality: Heritage in South and Southeast Asia. Routledge. 

[i] ‘Chola’ and ‘Satavahana’ refer to pre-modern dynasties known to have ruled in south Asia. The Satavahanas controlled the central section of the Indian subcontinent from the 1st c. BCE to the 2nd century CE. The Cholas ruled large areas of southern India between the 9th and 13th centuries CE. 

[ii] Uthara Suvrathan, “Spoiled for Choice?: The sacred landscapes of ancient and early medieval Banavasi”, South Asian Studies, Vol. 30.2 (2014); “Regional Centres and Local Elite: Studying peripheral cores in peninsular India”, Indian History (The Annual Journal of the Archive India Institute), Vol. 1 (2014). 

[iii] During my research we recorded and studied over 600 sites, large and small, dating from the third century BCE to the present day. Each site was assigned a unique identification number. 

[iv] Evidence from similar structures elsewhere in the subcontinent, as well as inferences drawn from the low quantities of roof-tiles found at 71 indicate that only certain sections of the structure were roofed. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Feeling Apollo: The Sensual Paradigms of Landscape at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros

Jaimie Gunderson assesses the interplay between body and visual representations at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros. In conversation with aesthetic theory and classical studies, Gunderson suggests that visitors to the Klarian landscape were implicated in two competing sensual paradigms, which enabled them not only to see, but to feel, Apollo.

Gunderson, Jaimie
“Feeling Apollo: 
The Sensual Paradigms of Landscape at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros”
Web blog post. Material Religions. 16 September 2017. Web. [date of access] 

A map of a city speaks of visual order. Contour lines trace valleys and peaks; geometric shapes set meticulously within a neatly defined grid impose on the natural landscape. The grid orders and orients the axes of the city while roads cut through its urban core. In this bird’s eye view, the spatial relationship between architectural and natural forms seems precise, measurable, knowable. A map asserts a logic of representation which posits a knowing subject (a panoptic eye) and known objects (discernible physical features) implying a specific hierarchical relation. In such a systematic layout, every point on the map is flattened into two-dimensional uniformity. There is no sense of the layers that comprise actual life; a disjuncture exists between map and the lived experience of the bodies that hide below its linear representations. 

In this essay I attempt to go beneath the grid in search of the “corpo-reality” [i] of the past, to examine the phenomenological dimensions of human experience according to landscape and architecture. This exploration begins at the sanctuary of Apollo at Klaros. I seek to discover the way spaces might have felt, how the divine may have been given meaning, how someone may have encountered Apollo. I take, what Christopher Pinney terms, a “corpothetic” (sensory + corporeal aesthetics) approach to assess synesthetic, kinesthetic, and bodily engagement with visual representations. [ii] This approach links directly back to the ancient Greek meaning of aisthetikos – perception by feeling – “a discourse about the body” concerned with “all the senses simultaneously.” [iii] My exploration focuses on one particular aspect of the Klarian experience: the landscape, which initiated the sensual engagement of a client seeking the oracle. In this discussion I invoke the aesthetic theory of Gernot Böhme who argues that the primary object of the bodily experience of space is “atmosphere.” [iv] For Böhme, an atmosphere is an ontologically indeterminate quasi-object of perception that lies between subject and object. As the medium of aesthetic experience, atmospheres emerge from the “and” that relates environmental qualities and human states or dispositions. Böhme’s theory of aesthetics is much more than a theory of visual perception, and closely aligns with Pinney's notion of corpothetics. Atmospheres work particularly well in discussions of landscape since the perception of a landscape conjures a certain atmosphere – a “spatially extended quality of feeling” – that is absorbed into the bodily economy of a percipient. [v] There is no singular atmosphere, but an infinite amount of possibilities depending on the receptivity of the percipient. 

History of Klaros 

Before proceeding, it may be useful to provide a brief overview of the history of the sanctuary. Located along the western coast of Asia Minor, approximately 10 miles from Ephesos, the sanctuary of Klaros was one of the leading oracular sites of Apollo in the ancient world. The site claimed ancient origins, attributing its founding and prophetic pedigree to Manto, the daughter of the renowned seer Tiresias, and her clairvoyant son, Mopsus. [vi] The site is situated near the northern coast of the Gulf of Ephesos, nestled in the deep and narrow Ales (modern Ahmetbeyli) Valley. To the north, hills enclose the sanctuary in an arc; to the south, the mouth of the valley opens onto a curving beach. The sanctuary is located between the ancient city of Colophon and the port town of Notion, both of which variously controlled the sanctuary at different points in its history (see map). 

According to the archaeological record, the sanctuary was established in the 8th century BCE. In this period the sanctuary was relatively insignificant as indicated by its omission in Herodotus’s discussion of important oracular sanctuaries, but underwent a significant renovation in the Hellenistic period (4th century BCE), coinciding with the first mention of an oracle related to the re-founding of Smyrna by Alexander the Great. [vii] In the early Roman imperial period, the sanctuary increased in popularity primarily as a result of imperial benefaction. [viii] Decline of the site began around the mid 3rd century CE and culminated in the destruction of the sanctuary by earthquakes in the medieval period. [ix] After its destruction, the site was completely covered by alluvial soil until its rediscovery in 1907. 

Although the sanctuary contained a temple to Artemis, the main draw was the temple of Apollo. The first iteration of the Apollo temple, constructed in the Archaic period, contained an open courtyard and a well, which enclosed a sacred spring. [x] Divination practices during this period are uncertain, but based on the appearance of astragals (knuckle bones) on coinage from Colophon, oracles were likely delivered through cleromancy (the rolling of dice). [xi] Hellenistic renovations in the 4th century BCE turned the building into a peripteral Doric temple and added a two-room subterranean basement (an artificial grotto), where the courtyard once existed, which was accessed via stairs from the pronaos. During this period, divination practices seem to have changed to include enthusiastic prophecy. In the Roman period (1st century CE), the ceiling of the basement was renovated to include support arches in order to accommodate increased weight from the naos where new monumental statues of the Apollonian triad – Apollo, Artemis, and Leto – were installed. 

Image 1: Roman period remains of the Temple of Apollo
Image 2: Support arches in the ceiling of the now flooded basement of the temple
Image 3: Remains of the Apollonian triad cult statues
During this period delegations from various Greek and Anatolian cities came to consult the oracle. The leader of these delegations, the theopropos, had privileged access to the subterranean area of the temple. The delegations also left behind epigraphic records of their visits, which serve as important sources of information for what we can know about the oracular experience at Klaros. 

Image 4: Record of a delegation seeking the oracle inscribed on the remains of the southern propylon

An Ambivalent Landscape 

Landscape played a key role in how a visitor to Klaros experienced the divine. Rather than considering landscape as “a portion of territory subjected to our embodied gaze,” [xii] I characterize it as an actant [xiii] capable of acting on bodies, of inducing feeling, of evoking emotion. This is a conscious move away from the traditional view of landscape as a passive receptacle for human action. Accordingly, my discussion of the Klarian landscape treats the “affective powers of feeling” [xiv] – the atmospheres – that might arise from the “intra-action” – the “mutual constitution of entangled agencies” [xv]– between human and landscape (broadly construed as built and natural environment). 

Like other sanctuaries of Apollo, Klaros was situated amid an assemblage of natural landscape features: mountains, a grove, a spring, a cave. [xvi] Vincent Scully argues that the landscape of an ancient site was considered “holy” before any building was ever built upon it since the landscape features “embodied the whole of the deity as a recognized natural force.” [xvii] Building upon Scully’s observation, John Clarke comments that “[s]triking landscape configurations themselves constituted or manifested the presence of the deity.” [xviii] For Clarke, as for Scully, when a “pilgrim” laid their eyes on the landscape of a holy site, they had an epiphanic experience – they saw a god. This experience was reinforced by the built environment, where “each stone, each tightly-spaced column” was considered a part of the deity, appendages of his natural embodiment. [xix] Scully and Clarke tread dangerously close to Mircea Eliade’s now repudiated notion of sui generis sacred space – a space where the divine “irrupts” before being apprehended by people who subsequently develop the space. Yet their evaluations of landscape, I think, lean more toward anthropology than cosmology in that they seek, as Clarke puts it, to “understand ancient Mediterranean behaviors” in epiphanic experiences and how “visual representation encodes” religious experience. [xx] Landscape, in this view, is just one visual representation by which people organized space in order to make sense out of the world in which they lived. 

Besides the typical natural features, sanctuaries of Apollo tended to appear at the sites of pre-Hellenic earth goddess worship. Evidence for this practice at Klaros was discovered in 1915 in a cave on the rocky face of the eastern hills overlooking the temple, [xxi] which multiple scholars link with the cult of Cybele. [xxii] In terms of natural features, Scully asserts that “wherever [the goddess’s] symbols were most remote, tortuously approached, and largest in scale, and where they seemed to open up the interior secrets of the earth most violently or most dominated a thunderous view, there the temple of the young god was placed and generally so oriented to complement, but also oppose the chthonic forces [of the goddess].” [xxiii] Scully’s statement brings up two points for consideration. First, because Apollo temples were seemingly constructed to both complement and oppose the features of the goddess, built architecture was merely an elaboration of the natural terrain. Otherwise put, natural features and built features were intended to be interdependent expressions of divinity. As a result, the boundaries between the architectural and non-architectural become blurred in an intertwining engagement with both god and human. Second, from Scully’s description we would expect to find dramatic natural features at Klaros. Yet, Louis Robert, director of Klarian excavations from 1950-61, notes that the location of Klaros is neither grand nor in a place of eminence like most temples. [xxiv] H.W. Pleket likewise comments that Klaros is an “inconspicuous” site located in a “charming plain.” [xxv] Indeed the cave at Klaros is neither large nor dominating, but before the temple of Apollo and its artificial cave were discovered, excavators, following a remark made by Tacitus that oracular consultation at Klaros occurred inside a specus (cave), [xxvi] believed that the oracle was housed inside of a real cave. This belief continued until Robert unearthed the temple of Apollo in 1950 and discovered the cave-like basement. The rather demure aspect of goddess worship at Klaros may minimize Scully’s melodramatic framing of the relationship between Cybele and Apollo in the natural landscape, but it does not detract from the juxtaposition of chthonic forces (inclusive of the natural cave and the explicitly pronounced chthonic-inspired architecture of the temple) with the more pleasant and bright features of the site, such as the grove. Whatever the relationship between chthonic goddess and Apollo, the natural and built features worked together to create a unified, yet disparate aesthetic. 

The aesthetic at Klaros thus lay somewhere between disorder and order, the dark and the bright. Wiebke Friese’s research on oracle sanctuaries coincides nicely with the juxtaposition established by Scully and Clarke, as he argues that the natural elements (spring, grove, and cave) of an oracular sanctuary can be classified as part of a locus amoenus or a locus horridus. [xxvii] Friese makes this distinction based on the way in which ancient authors spoke about landscape. Both loci, he notes, were literary tropes – part of a cultural discourse on landscape – that authors applied to real-life settings, [xxviii] which, in turn, I estimate, likely precipitated preconceived notions among visitors of certain landscape experiences. According to Friese, a sanctuary was not limited to a single locus type and could contain elements of both loci. In either case, whether operating singularly or in tandem, Friese suggests that the loci worked to evince the character of the deity. However, he fails to explicate the implications of their juxtaposition on the spatiality of the site as well as how visitors may have been implicated in such landscape tropes. I hope to begin to fill this lacuna by recognizing that each landscape type is its own affective unfolding and, through sensed atmospheres, had physiognomic (read corpothetic) implications for the percipient. [xxix] 

According to Friese, a locus amoenus [xxx] is a romanticized paradise, reminiscent of Elysium – a pleasant place, a happy place. The classic description of this landscape type comes from Ernst Curtius: “[a locus amoenus is] a beautiful, shaded natural site. Its minimum ingredients comprise a tree (or several trees), a meadow, and a spring or a brook. Birdsong and flowers may be added. The most elaborate examples also add a breeze.” Curtius notes that the locus amoenus “forms the principal motif of all nature description” from the Roman period to the late medieval era. [xxxi] An example of this type of landscape in an oracular setting is Apollo’s grove at Gryneum, which Pausanias describes as “most beautiful with cultivated trees” that “are pleasing to smell or look upon.” [xxxii] According to Friese, both the grove of ash trees and sacred spring at Klaros are indisputable elements of a locus amoenus. [xxxiii] This view is endorsed in the literary record, particularly in relation to the grove. For instance, Nicander, a poet from Colophon and a priest of Apollo, [xxxiv] describes the sanctuary thus: “No viper, nor harmful spiders, nor the deep-wounding scorpion dwell in the groves of Klaros, since Phoebus veiled its deep glen with ash trees and purged its grassy floor of vicious creatures.” [xxxv] The author of the Homeric Hymn to Artemis paints a similar picture: “[Artemis] who has made her horses rise from the river Meles, deep in rushes, and drives her chariot all of gold swiftly through Smyrna to vine-clad Klaros, where Apollo of the silver bow sits awaiting the far-shooting goddess who delights in arrows.” [xxxvi] Both literary characterizations evoke feelings of safety and comfort, while emphasizing the verdant and lush foliage: trees, grassy, vine-clad. [xxxvii] These texts conjure the Klarian atmosphere, which unfolds spatially on the real landscape through signification and ultimately mediates human perception. 

Moreover, since the locus amoenus was a propitious place for happiness, creativity, and abundance, a visitor need not worry about the dangers associated with creepy-crawlies – entities that could otherwise turn Klaros into a locus horridus. Within this locus Apollo emerges as the antithesis to a horrible landscape. Fritz Graf carries the paradisiacal characterization of a locus amoenus even further, referring to the sacred groves of Apollo in Asia Minor as the “ideal place …where god and man meet in divine ecstasy.” [xxxviii] Graf’s description harkens back to Greek notions of meadows of love, places where “virginity finds fulfillment in sexuality.” [xxxix] A locus amoenus is, after all, in the words of the Virgilian commentator Servius, “voluptatis plena” (full of pleasure). [xl] An erotic encounter, however, is complicated in Klaros by Apollo’s shared use of the space with Artemis, the goddess of virginity. Given the presence of both brother and sister, Klaros might be seen as an exclusive, inviolable space where union with the god/goddess is not predicated on Graf's notion of ecstatic fulfillment, but on a different form of desire – a desire to gain the god’s knowledge through revelation. 

In contrast to a locus amoenus, a locus horridus contains imposing mountains, deep gorges, unnaturally dark forests, deserts, swamps, and turbulent water features. These untamed landscapes are frequently populated with dangerous beasts and contain foliage associated with death and the underworld (olive, poplar, and cypress trees). Deities associated with these horrible landscapes are generally characterized as “earthbound.” [xli] Examples of this type of landscape include the precipitous cliffs and inhospitable peaks of Delphi, the toxic Plutonion at Hierapolis, and the dark and dense grove at Herakleia. Simply put, a locus horridus is a landscape that evokes fear and uncertainty, seclusion, and stillness. The natural landscape of Klaros largely escapes any negative publicity in literary sources, but the chthonic nature of the artificial cave under the temple is frequently emphasized. The artificial cave is the only element that Friese is willing to consider as an aspect of a locus horridus, but due to its association with the spring, he judges it to occupy a “position between a locus amoenus and a locus horridus.” [xlii] In this discussion he makes no mention of the Cybele cave overlooking the sanctuary, nor does he mention the mountains. While the mountains of Klaros may pale in comparison to the awesome Phaedriades at Delphi, they provide a formidable frame for the sanctuary. The mountains, then, could be included as elements of a locus horridus, but it is the cave – that is, the artificial one beneath the temple – that I turn to now. 

According to Yulia Ustinova, it is a common mistake for modern people to distinguish between artificial and natural caves. She argues that Greeks put emphasis on the “function and symbolism” of caves rather than their “technological and visual aspects.” [xliii] Tacitus, for instance, in his account of the oracular ritual at Klaros, describes that Apollo’s priest descended into a cave and drank from a sacred spring before prophesying. [xliv] Yet he never mentions that the cave was artificial. Iamblichus likewise mentions a subterranean chamber in his description of the divination ritual, but focuses on the function of the ritual rather than the technical details of the artificial space. [xlv] If the sacred grove of Klaros functioned as a shiny, happy space, the cave-like basement did the exact opposite. Caves, Ustinova argues, provided isolation from air, light, sounds, and human society. Within the innermost chamber lay the mystique – and peril – of the chthonic experience. Pliny, for example, notes the danger inside the cave of Klarian Apollo: “there is a pool, by the drinking of which a power is acquired of uttering wonderful oracles, but the lives of those who drink of it are shortened.” [xlvi] Iamblichus adds that when the prophet drinks the water of the spring he is scarcely able to control himself. [xlvii] Although the water is associated with the power of Apollo, it has malefic properties and thus departs from any trope in a locus amoenus. Equally significant for the theopropos within this locus was his descent into the man-made grotto, a claustrophobic and dark space brimming with uncertainty and anxiety. The experience of the artificial cave was far removed from the beneficent grove, but evoked a similar type of desire – a desire for the revelation of Apollo. 

In the Klarian landscape, a theopropos was simultaneously implicated in two sensual competing paradigms, traveling from one to the other. He first entered the sacred grove and then descended into a manufactured underground world. The sanctuary was at once a perfect place and a terrible place; a place of repose and a place of uncertainty. The expansive landscape (features of the embodied god) stood in contrast to the localized body of the theopropos, the site where desire, anxiety, and happiness were realized. The landscape features at Klaros – built/natural, ordered/unordered, dark/light – created a conflict, a perceptible drama that engaged the senses. Yet, simultaneously, the landscape became the extended body of the human, in touch and in sync with the naturally and architecturally embodied god. In this paradigm, there is visual epiphany, as Clarke and Scully note, but there is also a reciprocal feeling made possible through the mediation of atmospheres. Through atmospheres the landscape makes its presence perceptible by articulating various qualities, which are sensed by the theopropos and absorbed into a bodily state of being. [xlviii] As a result, a percipient does more than simply see the god in the landscape. Percipients feel the god. In this sense, the atmospheres of both the locus amoenus and the locus horridus worked to emphasize the “intra-action” between the naturally and architecturally embodied god and embodied human experience. 

[i] This is a term coined by Yannis Hamilakis in “The Past as Oral History: Towards an Archaeology of the Senses,” in Thinking Through the Body: Archaeologies of Corporeality, Yannis Hamilakis, Mark Pluciennik, and Sarah Tarlow, eds. (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2002), 122. 

[ii] Christopher Pinney, ‘Photos of the Gods’: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2004), 193. 

[iii] Pinney, Photos of the Gods, 18-19. 

[iv] Gernot Böhme, “Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept to a New Aesthetics,” Thesis Eleven 36 (1993): 114. 

[v] Böhme, “Atmosphere,” 117-118. 

[vi] Pausanias 7.3.1-2; Strabo 14.1.27. [vii] Pausanias 7.3.1; Pliny HN 5.29; Strabo 14.1.27. 

[viii] The names of Octavian (not yet called Augustus), Tiberius, and Hadrian are all found on or in the temple. 

[ix] Juilette de la Genière believes that the site was destroyed by humans, not erathquakes. See De la Genière, “Le sanctuaire d’Apollon à Claros, découvertes récentes,” Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 136/1 (1992), 206. 

[x] Jean-Charles Moretti, Nicholas Bresch, Isabel Bonora, Didier Laroche, and Olivier Riss, “Le temple d’Apollon et le fonctionnement de l’oracle,” in Le sanctuaire de Claros et son oracle, Jean-Charles Moretti and Liliane Rabatel, eds. (Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée-Jean Pouilloux, 2014), 34. 

[xi] Moretti et al., “Le temple d’Apollon,” 34, 36. 

[xii] Veronica della Dora, “Travelling Landscape-Objects,” Progress in Human Geography 33/3 (2009), 334. 

[xiii] My notion of “actant” follows the vital materialism of Jane Bennett. Bennett borrows this term from Bruno Latour's “actor-network theory” to challenge traditional definitions of matter as passive and inactive, as well as to dissolve the subject/object binary. Actants, which can be both human and non-human, have the capacity to “animate, act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (6). Actants do not act alone, but act within their associations with other actants. See Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ontology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). 

[xiv]Böhme, “Atmosphere,” 119. 

[xv] This stands in contrast to interaction, “which assumes that there are separate individual agencies that precede their interaction, the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through their intra-action.” See Karan Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 33. 

[xvi] In 1931 Karl Lehmann-Hartleben identified this combination of features as characteristic of Greek holy sites. See Lehmann-Hartleben, “Wesen und Gestalt griechischer Heiligtümer,” Die Antike 7 (1931), 11-48, 161-180. In addition to Klaros, a mixture of these features is present at Apolline oracular sites such as Delphi, Ptoion, Didyma, Hierapolis, Tegyraios, and Thurais. For more on the establishment of oracles at groves, springs, and caves see Wiebke Friese, “‘Through the Double Gates of Sleep’ (Verg. Aen. 6.236): Cave Oracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” in Stable Places and Changing Perceptions: Cave Archaeology in Greece, Fanis Mavridis and Jesper Tae Jensen, eds. (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013). More recently, geologists have linked geological features (faults and springs) in the landscape that emit psychoactive hydrocarbon gasses to oracular practices. Geologist Jelle de Boer and archaeologist John Hale detected hydrocarbon gasses in the water at Klaros. See Kevin Krajick, “Tracking Myth to Geological Reality,” Science 310/5749 (2005); John R. Hale, “Delphic Oracle,” in Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Continuum, 2006). 

[xvii] Vincent Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods. Greek Sacred Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 1. 

[xviii] John R. Clarke, “Constructing Spaces of Epiphany in Ancient Greek and Roman Visual Culture,” in Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch, Aliou Cissé Niang and Carolyn Osiek, eds. (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 259. 

[xix] Clarke, “Constructing Spaces of Epiphany,” 259. 

[xx] Clarke, “Constructing Spaces of Epiphany,” 257. [xxi] Charles Picard and Theodore Macridy, “Fouilles du Hieron d’Apollon Clarios à Colophon,” BH 39 (1915), 33-52. 

[xxii] H.W. Parke, The Oracles of Apollo in Asia Minor (London: Croom Helm, 1985), 138. Cave sanctuaries were often associated with an indigenous mother goddess who was Hellenized as Cybele. This is likely the case at Klaros, but clearly attested at other Apollo sites such as Hieropolis and Aezani. See Yulia Ustinova, Caves and the Ancient Greek Mind: Descending Underground in the Search for Ultimate Truth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Wiebke Friese, Den Göttern so nah: Architektur und Topographie griechischer Orakelheiligtümer (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2010), 264. 

[xxiii] Scully, The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, 100. 

[xxiv] Louis Robert, “L’oracle de Claros,” La Civilisation grecque de l’antiquit’e à nos jours 1 (1967), 307. 

[xxv] H.W. Pleket, “Tempel en Orakel van Apollo in Klaros,” Hermeneus 66/2 (1994), 143. 

[xxvi] Tacitus, Annals 2.54. 

[xxvii] Wiebke Friese, Den Göttern, 242. 

[xxviii] Cf. Guichard, “Travels and Traversals.” 

[xxix] Böhme, “Atmosphere,” 120. 

[xxx] The literary construct of a locus amoenus began with Homer, but became a developed trope in the bucolic poetry of Theocritus. Writers such as Vergil, Catullus, and Ovid continued to develop this motif in Roman-era texts. 

[xxxi] Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 193-95. 

[xxxii] Pausanias 1.21.7. 

[xxxiii] Friese, Den Göttern, 253. Friese’s characterization of the spring as an element of a locus amoenus is curious to me since 1) it was hidden away from public view in the artificial cave basement of the temple; and 2) only the prophet or thespiode (there is debate over who actually drank the water from the spring during the oracular consultation) of Apollo had access to it. Nevertheless, Friese considers springs involved in any oracle process, particularly hydromancy, as consistent with a locus amoenus since “water was considered a gift of the gods.” Friese only considers water as part of a locus horridus when a swift-moving or violent river is present. 

[xxxiv] Nicander’s role as a functionary of Apollo is based on a line in the closing of his Alexipharmaca, where he writes that he “is sitting beside the Klarian tripods of Apollo” (9). 

[xxxv] Fr. 31 [Ael. Aris. NA 10.49]. 

[xxxvi] Homeric Hymn 9. 

[xxxvii] Pausanias’s description of “the land of Colophon” in 7.5.10 also mentions the ash trees and grove of Apollo. 

[xxxviii] Fritz Graf, “Bois sacrés et oracles en Asie mineure,” in Les bois sacrés. Actes du colloque international de Naples, 23-25 Novembre 1989, O. de Cazanove and J. Scheid, eds, (Naples, 1993), 29. 

[xxxix] J.M. Bremer, “The Meadow of Love and Two Passages in Euripides’ Hippolytus,” Mnemosyne 28/3 (1975), 269-70. 

[xl] Georg Thilo and Hermann Hagen, eds. Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii Carmina Commentarii, Vol. 3 (Leipzig, 1887), 1.644, 2.89. 

[xli] Friese, Den Göttern, 247. Also see Mark Edwards, “Locus Horridus and Locus Amoenus,” in Homo Viator: Classical Essays for John Bramble, ed. Michael Whitby, Philip Hardie, and Mary Whitby (UK: Bristol Classical Press, 1987). 

[xlii] Friese, Den Göttern, 261. 

[xliii] Ustinova, Caves, 154. 

[xliv] Tacitus, Annals 2.54. 

[xlv] Iamblichus, Mysteries 3.11. 

[xlvi] Pliny, HN 2.232. 

[xlvii] Iamblichus, Mysteries 3.11. 

[xlviii] Böhme, “Atmospheres," 122. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Material Culture and the Construction of Subjects

Marie-Pierre Julien and Céline Rosselin explore the issues at stake in the close physical relationship that people have with objects, proposing that this seemingly quotidian and frequently non-verbal process is a means of constructing human beings as subjects. What is at stake in material culture is not only the production of physical environments by actors but the effects of these environments in shaping people as specific kinds of social entities.

Marie-Pierre Julien and Céline Rosselin 
“Material Culture and the Construction of Subjects”
Web blog post. Material Religions. 20 August 2017. Web. [date of access] 

(This excerpt was originally published in French as: Julien, Marie-Pierre and Céline Rosselin. 2005. “Culture matérielle et construction des sujets” In Marie-Pierre Julien and Céline Rosselin eds. La culture matérielle. Paris: La Découverte. pp. 65-90.) 

Louis-Marie Morfaux [1980] defines the object as "a solid, visible and tangible material reality". One of the characteristics of objects is therefore the immediate perception of their materiality. The expression "material culture" seems appropriate to us since it insists on the materiality of objects, and does not oppose it to a supposed world of ideas. 

Objects have shapes, colors, dimensions, material(s). They have a "basic" function (a pen serves to write), to which different authors add secondary functions (social, aesthetic or symbolic). Objects also have meanings and are polysemic. In this way, these elements allow us to form an idea of what an object may be. But what else is lacking in order to make culture, material culture? 

Schlereth (1993) defines material culture as “a process whereby we attempt to see through objects to the cultural meaning to which they relate or which they might mediate”. [1993, p. 240, translation of the authors]. This definition poses a problem with regards to the materiality of objects: this involves a close physical contact (akin to a love-making one might say) since human beings cannot literally pass through objects. The issues at stake are important because this physical relationship that people have to matter participates in the construction of human beings as subjects. 

From Signification to Action on Matter 

The Object-Sign 
There is a consensus that objects mean. Like words, they constitute a language and, in this sense, participate in the construction of a message. Their function is perhaps not to signify, but they mean, that is to say, according to Roland Barthes (1985, p. 251-252], that "they are never pure instruments [...], they are also something else: they convey meaning". 

The basic theoretical postulate of semiology posits the existence of meaning. Thus, an object means, because even if it means nothing, it means "nothing". By "meaning" is meant a process: the object takes on a meaning for an individual when it relates it to his or her own experiences. Thus, the relation between the object and the subject (perception) is established by an infinite chain of interpreters. 

The subject is not a passive receiver of the message communicated by the object, because it constructs meaning through an active process of perception. The object cannot therefore mean the same thing for everyone: it is polysemic. Thus Jerusalem artichoke had disappeared from the French fruit and vegetable displays because it reminded two generations of consumers who had lived through the 1939-1945 war of years of deprivation and the monotony of meals. After fifty years of absence, this vegetable has no significant sense, taste or smell for the young. In the 1990s, it reappeared in organic vegetable markets valued for its dietary qualities and in the name of dietary diversity. The meaning of objects is therefore not understood in the object: it is socially constructed because it is the result of social interactions [Semprini, 1995]. 

A study of the transformation of family eating practices near Paris, 2013. Photo courtesy of Marie-Pierre Julien.
However, objects are not just signs, and material culture is not just a system of signs, a book that one would have to "learn to read", according to some researchers [Tilley, 1990; Gerbrands, 1990]. Thus, archaeologists Philippe Bruneau and Pierre-Yves Balut [1989] condemn "semiotism which consists in believing that everything is meaning, to refer everything to language and thus leads to mistakenly assimilate the universe of the sign to that of the tool "[P. 41]. The ethnologist Sydney Mintz [1999, p. 24] echoed: "Concrete physical, cultural objects ... are not the same thing as language," each with specific functions. According to him, "things" produce, while words describe. Warnier [1999a, p. 33] suggests a precise situation to support this reasoning: "If I have an idea, you have one and we exchange them we will each have two ideas. If, on the other hand, I have a pen, and you do the same, and we exchange them, each one, in the end, will have only one pen." 

The main criticisms made of a confusion between words and things concern the absence of taking into account the materiality of the objects, their frequent extraction from an active human context and the forgetting of the non-verbal part of human experience [Debray, 1994; Glassie, 1993; Julien and Warnier, 1999; Miller, 1987; Warnier, 1999a]. 

The Object-Matter in Action
Material objects are studied in a context. Also, a change of context modifies the very nature of the object. This affirmation is true on the scale of a society or a social group. For instance, a statuette of Fang reliquaries participates in the cult of the ancestors in Gabon, is an object of art to the Dapper Foundation (Paris) and an inalienable ethnographic object at the Musée de l'Homme (Paris). It is also true at the level of micro-sociology or that of the ethnography of action that is concerned with detail [Piette, 1996]: a chair placed on the sidewalk near a doorway or near garbage cans or in a waiting room differs in meaning from the same chair located around a table in an apartment. Above all it involves different actions and different attitudes towards it. Beyond the interrogation it provokes or the evidence of its presence, its position in time and space induces a real change of qualities (properties, for example). 

19th c. Fang Reliquary from Cameroon, Ethnologisches Museum in Dahlem. Paula Soler-Moya. CC BY 2.0, Image Credit.
The object’s context is defined by the physical location and the universe of meaning in which it is integrated, but also by the articulation between objects, spaces, temporalities and human beings who interact with it.

The attention given to action taken in a specific situation is mainly a fact of the cognitive sciences. Thus, the Revue Raisons pratiques regularly publishes issues devoted to the analysis of the workings of the action of a subject at a given time and place: the kitchen, the company, the laboratory, the room of a police station [Conein et al., 1993] are the spaces in which one can analyze the action taking place, its resources, the objects on which it is based, its temporality, and the people in interaction. 

Cockpit of an Airbus A380. Roger Schultz. CC BY 2.0, Image Credit.
Edwin Hutchins [1994] shows, through his observations of aircraft cockpits, that cognition is distributed. In cognitive activities, pilots delegate some of their cognition to objects: one thinks of the DME (distance measurement equipment) which indicates the position of the aircraft with respect to a beacon on the ground, by the data entered previously in the computer, or of the autopilot which guides the aircraft by the data on-board and the anti-collision radar signaling the proximity of another aircraft. Subjects and objects are considered by Hutchins to be a functional system. This renewed vision of action and cognition describes a process of objectification (from subjects to objects), in which objects (and other subjects present) are considered resources for action or "cognitive mediators", according to Bernard Blandin [2002, p. 155].

Among the resources of action, Lucy Suchman [1987] integrates representations: they are not a prerequisite for action, but are added to those offered by the environment and with which to improvise. A descent of rapids in canoe can be planned, but it is mainly made possible by the interactions, at the time of the action, between the canoeist with the incorporated skill and the constraints resulting from the environment. According to Benoît Grison (2004), Suchman's work is in line with anthropologist Thomas Gladwin’s work on the Polynesian trukese sailors: navigators do not predict the actions to be taken to reach an atoll, but play, and as and when measure navigation, with the currents and islands encountered, the winds and the color of the sea. The action in context and the planned action cannot, however, be oppositional, but intervene differently according to the modes of navigation.

The cognitivistic conception of a human being who plans before acting, like a computer that programs a body to move, poses the anteriority of representation over action. This approach is shared by many researchers, all social sciences alike. Thus, in the case of sociology and anthropology, objects are referred to something other than themselves, to discourse, to structures of thought, to social stratification: they are reduced to the domain of social representations which then explain the action of human beings. It is not a question here of denying the existence of representations, whether individual or collective, but of questioning their supremacy which is prejudicial to the analysis of material culture. Thus, Jean-Pierre Warnier [1999a] takes again the famous painting of Magritte representing a pipe and bearing the title "This is not a pipe". The painter does not try to deceive his world, for his painting represents a pipe, but is not a pipe: impossible to stuff it, to light it, to smoke, to feel its form, its texture, its warmth in the palm of the hand.

To observe the materiality of objects also leads to encountering their resistance. But what are they resisting? Human will? If your will wishes to leave the walls of this house to go outside, your body will have to pass through the door, provided that you open it beforehand. This evidence, often disdained, is anchored in a principle of reality: human beings, like objects, are matter.

Body to Body

Which Body?
Despite the large number of works published on the "body" issue since the 1990s, both in Anglo-Saxon countries and in France, the body is, like objects, relatively unimportant in its materiality. While the responsibility for this is undoubtedly the denial of the body in Western philosophy, social and cultural anthropology is also marked by a past that makes it timid.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, physical anthropology in France classified and then prioritized races through the strictly anatomical study of the physical characteristics of the human body. A step was taken from scientific intention to ideology, and from raciology to racism. The school of Durkheimian sociology and the emerging social and cultural anthropology opposed this ideology by asserting that there were no biological inequalities between races, but cultural differences between societies. They abandoned research on the body, except for Mauss, to preserve only the metaphor of the social body (Durkheim).

The years 1980-1990 are marked, in France, by a renewed interest in this object taken in its historical, anthropological, sociological or philosophical dimensions. The historicity of body practices (health and sickness, physical and sports activities, leisure, clothing, body marking), their inclusion in power stakes, their diversity according to social and cultural groups, show that the body is a material that works and is worked, that marks and is marked.

Scarification, tattooing, haircutting, piercing are not the only ones to leave their imprints on the bodies. As early as 1936, Mauss questioned the techniques of the body, that is to say "the ways in which men, society by society, in a traditional way, know how to use their bodies", to understand the great diversity of ways of moving. The point is simple: ways to walk, swim, dig, wear, hold hands open or closed differ according to age, sex and society. To put it another way, age, gender and sociocultural belonging are inscribed in bodies in action. Also, the techniques of the body, far from being natural, even if they respond to physiological needs identical to every human being (to nourish, to urinate, to reproduce), are educated. According to Mauss, the physio-psycho-sociological arrangements that are the techniques of the body and which define "the total man" are all the more easily realized in individuals as they are constructed by and for "social authority". The notion of habitus takes its place as a corporeal memory shared by the members of a society and inscribed in singular bodies. Mauss thus provided the basis for a reflection on the social incorporation that the sociologist Bourdieu appropriated.

Social Incorporation
For Bourdieu [1980], agents incorporate schemes of perception, thought and action through the inculcation of social values. This inculcation is anchored in the body and allows us to act without having to think (what we call "practical sense") to the point that actions appear natural to those who realize them. The body in action is the place where objective, external structures (social norms objectified for instance in institutions) and subjective, internal motivations are articulated. The adoption of a sport is therefore explained by the adequacy between the social uses of this sport and the corporeal pattern "depositary of a social vision of the world, a whole philosophy of the person and the body proper" 1979, p. 240]. For instance, the practice of rugby by the bourgeoisie is possible only if "the feeling of high dignity of the person" is safeguarded.

Bernard Lahire [1998] criticizes Bourdieu's posture, which, despite the desire to go beyond the dualism of objectivism/subjectivism, is essentially on the side of social structures, finally leaving little room for the actor (i.e., the one who acts rather than is acted upon). According to the author of L'Homme pluriel, actors (children, adolescents, adults) do not incorporate structures, but "internalize modes of action, interaction, reaction, appreciation, perception, categorization, etc., by gradually entering into social relations of interdependence with other actors or by maintaining, through the mediation of other actors, relations with multiple objects of which they learn the modes of use, the mode(s) of appropriation" (1998, p. 204].

Incorporation is a rare sociological notion that directly affects the body [Berthelot, 1988]. The body is too often a pretext evoked to defend a theoretical choice: the body, suffering, bruised, victim, is mobilized to show or denounce the weight of social structures on individuals without power (agents); The body, in its creative, innovative capacity, as a place of self-realization for the supporters of the autonomy of individuals (actors). The respective postures of Bourdieu and Lahire and the collective work A Body for Self [Bromberger et al., 2005] illustrate the differentiated treatment of the body according to the theoretical points of view of the authors.

An Incarnate Being
Jean-Michel Berthelot emphasizes, however, that the body is "a privileged place for the intelligibility of the social" [p. 83], in which the biological and the social are articulated, physical determinations and symbolic resonances, the collective and the individual, the structural and the actantial, the cause and the sense, the rationality and the imagination, the constraint and freedom. He then engaged sociologists to make a real sociology of the body in which the body would be an epistemological vector: the body as producer and being produced, a place of suffering and pleasure, alienation and reappropriation, and affects.

It is also against dualisms of all kinds that Anglo-Saxon authors have elaborated the notion of embodiment. Central to feminist studies, this notion aims to show that the subject is an incarnate being. The collective under the title Embodiment and Experience [Csordas, 1994] is inspired by phenomenology to renew the analysis of the body in anthropology: The body is not a passive object on which culture is inscribed; it is not reduced to representations or to being a biological organism or a center of individual consciousness. The authors show how the body expresses emotions, experience pain or political violence. However, in the absence of a consideration of bodies in action, this phenomenology falls into a "metaphor of being-in-the-world" [Warnier, 1999a].

The theories of social incorporation or embodiment forget that the body is matter, as objects are. The materiality of bodies is not the exclusive domain of the organic: moving, grasping, caressing, carrying, bumping, these daily renewed actions are possible because the body is matter and encounters other matter, other bodies and objects.

The Subject Against Objects…Very Close Against 

According to Dominique Desjeux et al. [1998, p. 193] there are four ways of looking at objects: as a sign (Semprini), as an analyzer of action (Desjeux, Kaufmann), as actant (Latour) as matter (Warnier and the research group Matière à Penser, MàP). If all these approaches theoretically integrate the relation between subjects and objects, they do not always raise the question of the effect, on the subject itself, of action on objects and on others. "What does this do to the subject?", as Jean-Pierre Warnier put it, and "How does that work?” are questions that are far from being resolved.

Yet, as early as the nineteenth century, philosophy was traversed by the question of alienation. Marx (1867) explores the modalities of alienation in the creation and use (praxis) of objects, and introduces into the analysis, the political and social dimensions of this process. The workers who produce cannot reclaim the fruit of their labor because it does not belong to them. Objects thus become a means of power of the ruling class over the working class: through the management of scarcity of products, the rates imposed by machines, but also because of the possibility of replacing humans by machines in increasingly complex actions. In the capitalist framework, the process of alienation is reduced to its negative part, the appropriation of objects being impossible for the majority of the population which nevertheless produces them.

Marx's contribution is to have introduced power into the relationship between individuals and objects by taking into account their materiality and that of their bodies: "It is first of all evident that a worker who, throughout his life, performs one and the same simple operation, transforms his whole body into the automatic and special organ of this operation, which he accomplishes in less time than the workman who alternately performs a whole series of operations." [Marx, 1919].

Marx's heirs often reduced the idea of alienation to a moral and political debate about the positive or negative aspects of the relation to the object. In the sciences of technology, this is considered by some to be binding on the bodies and by others to liberate the mind. Feminist studies, which rarely work directly on material culture, call upon it either to demonstrate the exercise of male power over women's bodies (technology is directly suspected as a so-called masculine attribute), or to illustrate the capacity of creative women to appropriate it to build their own subjectivity [Davis, 1997]. Finally, consumer goods are reduced either to the expression of the power of international firms or to the tool of a creation of the self.

Are objects binding or liberating? Undoubtedly both, in their dialectical relations to subjects. According to Miller (1987), although Hegel, unlike Marx, is not interested in the materiality of objects, it allows us to understand consumption as a means "by which society reappropriates its external form [material culture] that is, assimilates its own culture and uses it to develop itself." [1987, p. 16]. From the concepts of Hegel's alienation and mediation, which he unites under the neologism of "objectification," Miller explores the modalities of the mutual construction of society and its cultural forms through social subjects, individual or collective. 

WSDOT Soccer. World Cup tournament held at Perrigo Park in Redmond. CC BY 2.0, Image Credit.
This analysis can be applied to areas other than consumption. In the case of sports practices, an individual cannot become a footballer before having touched a ball and played in a team. The ball pre-exists the footballer, but as long as it is not used, it is an inert thing that can have multiple roles, although it was originally designed for football practice. It is in the process of invention-appropriation, or alienation-mediation, that resides the reciprocal construction of the subject-footballer and the object-soccer ball. The first time the player touches the ball, he is awkward and is completely absorbed in sending this ball exactly where he wants it: he only thinks about his relationship to the ball. The mastery comes later, the control of the ball is gradually inscribed in the person, to the point that, if the player becomes a good dribbler, the others will be able to designate him by this quality. It is this total process, through which the subject and the object are constructed together and for each other, which Miller designates by the term of objectification.

The analyses of the relations between objects and subjects in terms of constraint or freedom operates a rupture in the objectification described by Miller. The philosophers who define the technique as escaping the control of humans are called discontinuists [Goffi, 1988]. But subject-object relations are not static and cannot be reduced to the two terms that compose it: they are dynamic and continuous processes allow both the construction of individuals and of societies. The question then is to understand how this objectification is made possible. One of the answers given by continuists in philosophy, but also by anthropologists and paleontologists, is to re-evaluate the limits of the body, what is specific to it (subject) and what is external to it (ob-ject). It is on the basis of this questioning that the relationship between objects and subjects is conceived.

Human Objects and Mechanical Bodies
Many philosophers and anthropologists are inspired by Aristotle to understand the quasi-organic links that would unite human beings with objects: the hand of man is polyfunctional, that is to say that it contains a multitude of tools and, at the same time, unlike animals, humans possess tools that are external to the body. Tortoises have a carapace to sleep or protect themselves, but they cannot remove them to swim. To Aristotle, the organism is thus associated with a machine.

The idea of an analogy between the human body and tools or machines goes through the history of philosophy and medicine (for example, in Descartes or Borelli), and has been fueling for three hundred years the imagination of engineers and artisans wanting to explore the boundaries between the animate and the inanimate [Morus, 2002]. This analogy has strong implications, for example in the teaching of gymnastics in the nineteenth century: fatigue is seen as a residue of combustion, heat as a generator of movement. Mauss, for instance, learns to swim like a steamboat.

Ernst Kapp (1808-1896), one of the founders of the philosophy of techniques and a disciple of Hegel, considers tools as the prolongation of human organs in motion: the closed hand gives birth to the hammer by an analogy not only of forms, but also functions in the structure of body movements. This organic projection or "exudation" is not the result of a rational activity, but of an unconscious impulse. He envisages "technical inventions as material realizations of the imagination and technical activity as the projection of our organs" [Goffi, 1988, p. 77].

The majority of his successors of the twentieth century retain the idea that tools are a material translation of an immaterial datum: material culture is a sign and symbol of ideas [Pitt-Rivers, in Schlereth, 1993], technique is psychic expression [Mumford, 1950], the concretization of the object is "the physical translation of an intellectual system" [Simondon, 1958, p. 46].

The analogy between objects and subjects is surpassed by Leroi-Gourhan who proposes that we think of technique as an integral part of the human being, as exteriorization, and the object as a prosthesis. As a continuation of his work, researchers at Compiègne University of Technology show that if the tool is an external memory of society, it has two modes of operation: "seized" and "deposited". Seized, the tool is practically part of the body; when it is deposited, human beings release their imagination to invent and make new objects [Lenay et al., 2002]. "What characterizes the tool is the to-and-fro between these two modes." (p. 216]. According to the authors, the distinction between the inventor, the manufacturer and the user makes the tool a profoundly social object. The idea of objects as an extension of the body, as prostheses, is also found in certain Anglo-Saxon feminists, in the same desire to break with a logic of opposition. Thus, the cyborg [Haraway, 1991] is a hybrid of human and machine: the body extends to cyberspace through the computer that allows the body to communicate and feel, to the point where the boundaries between the computer network, self, body and environment disappear. If Leroi-Gourhan's approach biologizes the tools, Donna Haraway reduces the body, despite the initial ambition, to technological artefacts that can be transformed (into a raw material), transcended or even erased. It seems that, between subjects and material objects, there can be only a competitive relationship from which a victor must emerge: the human is mechanized or the object becomes human. 

Cyborg from the Teen Titans. New York Comicon, 2014. CC BY 2.0, Image Credit.

For Bruno Latour [1991, 1996], this pitfall is inherited from modern philosophy: it separates not only the body from the spirit, but also objects from humans, the social representations of material constraints, only to try to understand their dynamic relations, or to synthesize them, in a second phase. This separation is specific to so-called "modern" societies. Latour refuses this "purification / conjunction", as we saw in his discussion with Pierre Lemonnier on the technical question, and proposes "not to regard objects as objects but as partners associated with humans, evidently as much the old material world as the old human world". He considers the actor and the object as two elements of a "hybrid," two elements whose importance and role are equal within this hybrid. Latour's approach is epistemologically interesting, but it can raise ethical questions if reasoning, pushed to its completion, makes object and subject equal.

The relationship between objects and subjects is not just a conflictual relationship, but it can be. It is not a relationship of analogy or reduction from one of the components to the other. We maintain, with the great majority of the objects that surround us, a close and implicit relationship which participates in our construction as a subject.

Construction of Subjects 

Symbolization in Action
Many psychologists have stressed the importance of the process of introjection and projection in objects and in others, from birth, for the construction of subjects (Piaget, 1937; Klein, 1952; Winnicott, 1971; Dolto, 1984]. In particular, we will explore the research of the psychoanalyst Serge Tisseron who wanted to integrate the dimensions of the biological, psychological and sociological in his analysis. Subjects are constructed through three types of symbolization: sensori-affectivo-motor, visual and verbal [1999]. Symbolization leads "sensations, emotions and body states experienced in certain intense experiences to the creation of representations which, at the same time, testify to these states, allowing them to be recalled and entered into a relational dynamic. [...] Some objects contribute, others oppose it"[p. 21].

To understand how material culture affects the subject, let us take an example of sensorial-affective-motor symbolism given by Tisseron in an oral communication at the University of Paris-V. Behind a window, he observed a woman walking in the street accompanied by three little girls. She seems hurried and is walking fast. The sidewalk is congested and she stumbles on a sheet metal. She loses her balance but re-establishes it. She turns, looks at the sheet, curses it and goes on. Presumably, the incident disrupted the girls. The first goes to the metal plate and imitates the woman: she strikes the sheet, pretends to fall and regains balance, turns, pronounces a few words and joins the woman. The second performs the same sequence of actions. The third, smaller, pretends to hit the sheet with her foot and catches up with the others. Thus, the small girls reproduced the incident, but immediately gave it a meaning: that of the gestures and words made by the woman with regard to the sheet. This attitude was dictated both by the pain (dorsal or foot), which caused a strong emotion (redness in the face, feeling of shame), and was able to express itself verbally because of a socio-cultural context in which this sheet metal in the middle of the pavement is interpreted as not being in its place, even dangerous. Through the sharing of this experience, the woman transmitted to her little girls a meaning to the meeting of her foot with the sheet metal and to the emotion felt. Symbolization has transformed an action that is at once physical, psychological and social into representation. Now, the little girls have learned a form of reaction to this kind of situation that is a priori socially acceptable since it comes from an adult.

The other two forms of symbolization are also regularly mobilized whenever possible. Since movement is by nature ephemeral, the advantage of image symbolization is to add a permanent trace to what can be looked at, touched or felt. On the other hand, speech and words provide abstract means of recalling events, facts, images, ideas, at will, and make it possible to communicate them. Moreover, this third means of symbolization makes it possible to elaborate a critical point of view on its own experience and its symbolization, particularly by discussing it with others. The mastery of these three modes of symbolization follows the evolution of the child, but once the language has been mastered, all three modes are used throughout life. Tisseron's work shows that these three types of symbolization can be contradictory to each other, thus highlighting the non-uniqueness of the subject, which can lead to madness in extreme cases.

The woman's foot hitting the sheet metal is a troubling experience in the sense that it engenders a disorder that is especially emotional, but also because it disturbs the implicit nature of a daily walk on a Parisian sidewalk.

Incorporating Objects
The ease with which everyday objects are forgotten is disconcerting. There are two ways of understanding it: either the object has been stored in a cabinet and escapes the senses, or the object is integrated into daily actions and no longer attracts any special attention. Be that as it may, the forgetting of the matter of objects, even the objects themselves, is partly related to our corporeal commitment, i.e., our actions or non-actions on objects. 

How is it that when we wear new shoes they make us suffer the first few days, but are now forgotten to the point where we could doubt, at least corporeally, their very existence? We incorporated them into our feet. This does not mean that they merge with our foot or that the foot has become a shoe, but they have become prostheses. 

A biological conception of the body does not make it possible to assert the prosthetic character of the boot in the same way as an artificial hand: it does not replace a failing member. Yet, like the rider and his mount [Jousse, 1974], the pilot and his plane [Berthoz, 1997], we are one with the objects that we have incorporated. To admit that objects can be real prostheses forces us to consider Man, following Mauss, as a physio-psycho-sociological whole. 

Jousting game, Spain. Dan Brickley. CC BY 2.0, Image Credit.
The body schema, or body image, can be an analytical tool that allows us to think about this incorporation. Paul Schilder [1935] has given this concept its present form: it is a dynamic system integrating all the perceptions of the organism, which allows the subject to have a three-dimensional representation conscientized or conscientisable of himself. 

The body schema can incorporate elements of the outer world and "spread in space" [1935, p. 229]: it is plastic. I incorporate my shoes in this double movement. Moreover, sensations do not occur at the point of contact between the body and an object, but at the end of the object. The foot does not feel the leather of the shoe, but the ground it treads. Finally, the perceptual body, whose senses are informed by affects and culture, incorporates objects into action. Footwear is incorporated by walking. 

On the basis of identical observations, Maurice Merleau-Ponty [1945] uses the term "body synthesis" to place perception at the center of "being in the world". Learning new movements presupposes the power we have to expand our body as a being in the world or to change its mode of existence by appending new instruments to it. 

These ideas are supported by research on the ghost limb in neurology: persistent sensations in the amputated limb, such as pain, also include the sensation of the ring around the finger [Ramachandran and Hirstein, 1998]. 

On the psychological level, the unconscious image of the body sometimes supplants the body schema [Dolto, 1984], reducing the latter to its strictly physiological dimension. However, from 1935 onwards, Schilder integrates the three dimensions of biology, psychology and anthropology. In the development of the child, the construction of the image of the body is revealed by specular recognition or the possibility of recognizing oneself in a mirror. It turns out that the animals capable of this recognition are also those who use tools, excluding for example, dogs.. 

The corporeal schema is educated and also socially constructed: Hans Joas [1999] shows the primary role of intersubjective structures, of the interactions of bodies, in the relation to his own body of the acting subject. The relation to the other (incarnate) is implied in the constitution of the social subject. These interactions transform it into its cognitive, emotional, psychophysiological, psychological and social dimensions, because they can also lead to a genuine incorporation of the body of others: in co-operative relations in work, in sports and in children’s education. 

The incorporation is not so much that of objects as that of enacted objects: the tennis player does not incorporate his racket, but his racquet in reverse or in a forehand, with a given power and ball effects, A position on the ground, a particular moment in the sequence of gestures. 

Incorporation is therefore the transition from a relation of externality to the "self-evident", a relation of evidence, making the synthesis between time (learning and its actualization in a given situation), space, The acting subject, other humans and the object. Disturbance of any of these factors may lead to permanent or temporary excorporation of the objects. 

The incorporation of objects is not determined once and for all, even if traces left after the excorporation can be identified: a change of shoes always requires adaptation to the new pair, certainly because they are new but also because they are different from those which have been incorporated into the step previously. 

The incorporation of objects is part of a set of mechanisms which reveals the indispensability of material culture to every action and demonstrates the reciprocal construction of the acting objects and the bodies in action or, to put it differently, objects and subjects. The distinction that Mauss makes between technique of instrument and technique of the body rests on a very reductive conception of technique, of matter, of gesture and therefore of their relations. Marie-Pierre Julien [Julien and Warnier, 1999] shows that he cannot describe the techniques of the body without himself mobilizing the objects on which they are based: the high heels of women, the spades of the French and English soldiers. The rupture is what does not allow him to understand why he cannot walk with slippers when he can do so with shoes. 

Subject of the King, Subject of the Verb 
The use of the term "subject" is shared by many fields: medicine, experimental psychology, law, philosophy, linguistics, political science, psychoanalysis, sociology, history. The 1950s and 1960s, however, were marked by the "death certificate" of the subject, who, it was said, had died under the redoubled blows of the sciences of man and society, especially structuralism. We received the announcement, but if we do not go to his funeral, it is because this notion still has something to say to us on condition that we take cognizance of the subject that was buried. The subject as a pure consciousness, as understood by the French philosophy of consciousness, from "Descartes to Sartre", called for moral responsibility, political commitment, freedom and especially unity. A coherent subject, full of his achievements, is apparently dead. 

Michel Foucault [1994] is interested in the two meanings of the word "subject" - which Arnaud Arendt [1961] defined both as an actor and a patient: "subject as subjected to the other by control and dependence, attached to one's own identity through consciousness or self-knowledge. In both cases, this word suggests a form of power that subjugates and subjugates "[p. 227]. Sylvie Fainzang (2001) uses the definition of an anthropologist in the study of the patient, the doctor and the prescription: "The use made here of the word" subject " to refer to the individual's acting and acting character, that is to say to the partly chosen and partly imposed role that the individual is called upon to play. The individual is a subject, as is the subject of the verb, that is, the author and sometimes the master of his acts, but he is also subject as the subject of the king, that is to say, partly subject to, or subservient to, a force that surpasses it, in this case social determinants, the political context and cultural influences, in other words, other laws and rules than its own." 

This subject is not far from the man of Rousseau, born free and everywhere in chains, except the chronology of the states (at first free, then in chains). Human beings are subjects because they are caught in networks of actions on the actions of others (Foucault) involving other humans and subjects. These networks are described by Elias through the notions of systems of interdependence and configurations. In court society, Elias (1969) shows how it is impossible to understand the government of France under the monarchy of the Sun King without inscribing Louis XIV among the courtiers. To attend the rising of the king is an honor. Absolute monarch, the king exercises his power by accepting or refusing this or that in his room. However, as soon as he wakes up, his actions are subject to the eyes of the courtiers. In Versailles, all the gestures of one are subject to the gaze of the others. Valets and nobles thus exercise supervision and control of the actions of each one. This explains why courtiers never stay there for very long. The Sun King, his courtiers and all the servants cannot exist without the others: "There is a fabric of interdependencies within which the individual finds a margin of individual choice and which at the same time imposes limits to his freedom of choice." [1969, p. LXXI]. 

The subject in question is hence a social subject both actor and acted upon, a concrete part of networks of actions and interdependencies. 

According to Maurice Godelier [1984, p. 9], "unlike other social animals, men are not satisfied with living in society, they produce society to live; in the course of their existence, they invent new ways of thinking and acting on themselves as well as on nature that surrounds them. They therefore produce culture, and make history, History." Culture is constructed in actions on matter. 

Objects become material culture when they are integrated into shared actions, that is to say, a source of union and disunion, as Joël Candau defines it: "By this ambiguous character, the word "sharing" refers perfectly to the two modes of sharing which constitute the object of anthropology: the moment when the ties between individuals are formed or, when these ties preexist, the moment when they unravel. In short, we must try to understand this particular, singular moment when the social, the cultural is born, gives itself form or sometimes dies or is annihilated. Thus, anthropology "has the vocation of explaining at the outset the always mysterious circumstances which make it possible that material or ideal ties are tied (or untied) between individuals, thus allowing the emergence of a modality of the social that is 'culture' or 'society' or, more modestly, to be considered as a social or cultural phenomenon. This is the time of sharing." (Candau, 2000, p. 113]. 

The pen, the amphitheater, the mobile phone and the lodging of a room are shared by students and constitute in this sense elements of student material culture. But that is not enough. The reflections of the French research group MàP invite us to take into account what is at stake in action on matter, which is the encounter between embedded knowledge and reflexivity, matter and ideas, humans and objects, in given time-spaces. And what is at stake is not only the production of physical environments by actors: pens, laptops, housing, etc. constitute the material culture of students because these subjects, by incorporating them, are constructed as students. 

The Unspeakable 
Objects belong to a universe of the unspeakable: they do not speak and it is not always obvious that one should speak about them. Caught up in everyday actions, they often tell us more about what to do than what to say. The "practical sense" provides, according to Bourdieu [1980, p. 115], a "mute experience of the world as self-evident". Many researchers have thus shown that the action is not always embarrassed by explanation or even comment. Marie-Noëlle Chamoux [1996], in support of the data collection work prior to the Diderot's Encyclopaedia, highlights the difficulty of putting into words the action and in particular the technical action: "The action and the discourse on action are not to be confused "(1996, p. 3]. 

How then can we understand what is not of the order of saying, but of the order of doing? Labor psychologists and ergonomists are confronted with these methodological problems, which seek to understand or improve the working conditions of operators. The know-how of those whom they consider to be experts is little or not explicable, so it is rather an implicit knowledge emerging from their in situ experience. Knowledge often exceeds what we are able to say. It is because "man is an animal that thinks with his fingers," according to Maurice Halbwachs [Warnier, 1999a]. 

Even if the subject does not speak, bodily practices, especially during learning, are accompanied by language practices [Faure, 2000]. In the transmission of know-how, there is certainly knowledge of the body [Chevallier, 1991] based on material culture, but there are also words whose sole purpose is to explain action as something to do or not to do: in physical practices, the counting of danced gestures, the professor's phrase that rhythms the activity at the beginning of each exercise, also participate in a "learning by body" [Faure, 2000]. 

"Boxing Evening", Lorenzo Bittini. CC BY 2.0, Image Credit.

In order to understand action, the relationship to objects, and language interactions in the context of work, sports or everyday life, some researchers choose a method of ethnography that pushes the point of participant observation, to the verge of making themselves as others: Diderot enters the workshops and then becomes an apprentice, Hutchins becomes a jetliner pilot and Loïc Wacquant [2000] is initiated into the practice of the boxing. All three thus engage their bodies in material cultures specific to social groups.  


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