It is widely acknowledged that the practice of archaeology emerged in the modern period. However, this article makes the more radical claim that modernity represents the ground of the possibility of archaeology. Archaeology is deeply connected with modes of thought, forms of organization, and social practices that are distinctively modern. So ironically, archaeology studies past worlds through an intellectual apparatus that is thoroughly embedded in the present. In this essay, the various strands of archaeology's debt to modernity are investigated, and it is suggested that the discipline can aspire to a "countermodern" position by embracing considerations of meaning, ethics, politics, and rhetoric.
By saving and restoring the past, archaeology renders ruins "unancient" and modern. But does this rob ruins of their mystique, as some commentators have claimed? Can modernized ruins still mesmerize? Do we have a meaningful relationship to ancient sites fenced off from their urban and natural setting, trampled by tourists, and littered with Kodak boxes? A look at Greek modernism shows that Greek poets returned to the classical past despite its glorification for two centuries. Rather than seeing in ruins sites for rapture, as is true for Western travelers, they problematized them, coming to terms with their existence and the weight of their meaning.
In late 1933, five of the leading proponents of architectural rationalism—the engineer Gaetano Ciocca and the members of the architectural firm Banfi, Belgioioso, Peressutti, and Rogers—presented a "totalitarian" city plan for the Northern Italian city of Pavia that sought to transform Pavia into a model fascist city, laid out according to the criteria of rationalism and functionalism. But, in so doing, they also sought to excavate Pavia's archaic Roman city plan. This essay explores how modern architecture's pursuit of a zero degree of representation and construction, its revolt against merely ornamental forms of historicism, its blank slates and utopic grids, closes the door on antiquity only to reopen it once again in the mode of an archeology of archaic structures. It is thus not by accident that in his 1923 Towards A New Architecture, Le Corbusier placed the lesson of Rome at the center of his plea for an architecture of engineers. The lesson of Pavia will take the argument one step further: namely, that there exists a distinctively avant-gardist antiquarianism that, instead of imitating the past, makes it new.
This paper discusses the relationship between modernity and archaeology from two directions. The first half examines the historical development of archaeology in relation to the concept of prehistory where prehistory is viewed not as a chronological period but an ontological condition, defined by a dialectical tension between discourse and materiality. The second half explores this dialectic through archaeological approaches to the modern world, especially the present, and argues for a greater need to frame archaeological practice as cultural performance. In particular, it is suggested that archaeology be viewed as an engagement with the unconstituted present, where historicity is affirmed as an act of cultural production which should be socially situated at all levels of practice.
Bataille, Georges, 1897-1962. Lascaux ou la naissance de l'art.
Cave paintings -- France -- Lascaux Cave.
Lascaux Cave (France)
This essay resituates Georges Bataille's Lascaux, ou la naissance de l'art in the context of archaeological investigations into the origins and the social dynamics of mark-marking. As opposed to other accounts of the book, "Bataille Looking" is concerned specifically with the ways in which Bataille's argument and methodology reflect the conventions of the early twentieth-century discipline known as "prehistory" while at the same time anticipating the insights of contemporary research on the peculiar conditions responsible for the emergence of ancient visual culture. Bataille's attention to the phenomenon of superimposition–the layering of one image on top of another–leads him to hypothesize what contemporary researchers are increasingly confirming, namely, that mark-making derives from the rhythmic repetition of gestural routines.