Mean and Moody. Still the greatest thinker of the 19thC
Love him or Loath him, you can’t hate him.
If you get a chance to see the V&A exhibition take it.
I understand it is about to go international having had a sell out success in London.
This Sculpture in Jesmonite places my choice of the most prominent and influential thinkers of the 19thC that contributed most to the social/political life of the Twentieth, but did not live long enough to see it.
For all four thier thinking led to unforeseen and unintended consequences that would have surprised and sometimes horrified them.
“Did the Celts Exist?“ Charleton Wyman 16/12/94.
This ontological question is pernicious in that it challenges a word already in evidence. Celts must exist in a least some sense as such a concept is suggested by the existence of the word itself. However, Celt is more than just a word and corresponds to a set of meanings. It is these meaning which determine an answer, or set of answers in the affirmative. Meanings rely on context. And this word like many others has a multitude of contexts which pertain. There are six contexts for Celt identified by Renfrew(1987). A Classical designation, a people who call themselves Celts, a language group, an archaeological definition, an art style and a warlike spirit. Where this in itself reveals a basis for confusion not everyone would divide the meaning in such a way as such divisions are somewhat overlapping and the voracity of their claims to Celt or Celtic vary enormously. However, the first definition would seem a chronologically sensible place to start. The word and its roots have been used since the onset of written history. In the context of Ancient Greece we must rely in part on a minority (literate) opinion to offer its own meaning. celtoi were first identified by Greeks who came into contact with a culturally different group inhabiting Europe.
Early contacts by Greeks at Massilia brought descriptions as to physical appearance: tall and fair as opposed to short and olive skinned (Mac Ed. 1977). There is good reason to assume that there was a people in the 1st century BC who knew themselves by this name and became ethnically defined by the civilised world. This early definition was to be extended to the rest of Europe and the “kindred races” beyond the Rhine. Tacitus was responsible for the sundering of the Germani from the Celts forging an artificial division which cannot be justified by material culture distribution. The reading of the classical writers has led to the formation of a Celtic caricature, taught to school children (Macdonald Educational 1977) and portrayed in museums and other forms of popular media. It has been strapped to material culture finds of La Téne art uncritically which defines Celt as a unity from the point of view of a political perspective of single sovereign bounded nation states inherited from an earlier perspective of Roman imperialism which conveniently lumped together the diverse peoples of Europe. This caricature is based on the “facts” of history offered by the Classical authors. The warlike Celts spent much of their time fighting. They were uncivilised and indulged in acts of barbarity which included human sacrifice. They were to be distinguished by their dress, particularly their hair which was caked with clay and formed into spikes. It is often said they were never united. This reflects a simple contradiction in that the categorisation of Celts as a group is unjustified by the statement, simply a contradiction in terms. Their unity when it did occur was in the face of a common threat. Defined en mass, client kings could then be seen as both collaborators and traitors as it suited the prevailing power. There is some evidence that a ethnic group applied the term to themselves at this time. Caesar, however restricted the term to those Galli that inhabited the region bordered by the Marne, Seine and Garonne. Both the Germani and Britanni were linguistically distinguished from Celts (Hubert 1934, Collis 1994), there being no suggestion that Britons were either Celtic or Galatian (Dio. Sic. V.3.2.). So Alpine and Massilian dwellers were Celtae the rest of those inhabiting the Roman defined area know as Gaul were otherwise known. Already by the time of Strabo we see a confusion of the term. He points to a inconsistency between the Roman and the Greek designation. Those that inhabit Narbonensis are those “who men of former time called Celtae”. Whom the Greeks called “Celti” were actually Galatae “on account of the fame of Celtae, or it may be also that the Massiolites, as well as other Greek neighbours contributes to this result on account of their proximity” (Strabo Geo. 4,1,14). His description, generalised to include all Gallic and Galatic peoples, can still be clearly recognised in many popular texts and applied to “Celts”. They are simple, war mad, high spirited, quick to battle and easily defeated by a strategem but not ill mannered and are able to learn. His words cannot be used to support the application of the term to any of the British tribes. Significantly the Germans are the most alike of these people. The British are different in that they are taller, bandy-legged and not so yellow haired being also more simple and barbaric. The Ierne (Irish) are the most savage of all being man-eaters and have intercourse with their mothers and sisters (Strabo 4,4,2, 4,5,2 (p237 & 259)). It is likely that the term Celt, if it can be said to be applied emicly at all cannot be applied to those in the regions of Britain. Paradoxically the British Isles is thought, by many, to be the last refuge of the displaced Celtic people having a unbroken tradition of Celtic culture (Delaney 1986). So it would seem that the group known as Celts dwelled in the regions of southern Gaul in the first century. Since that time the history of the Celts becomes on of a transference of a name and not the movement of a people (Guest 1883, p1).
For archaeology, Celt is a term for the ethnic group associated with two archaeological cultures, Halstatt and La Téne. Certain similarities in decorative style are used to justify this material typologically. It varies, however from “Celtic art” which is a designation used for medieval decoration and quite different from that of the first century BC. Despite Clarkes’ warning that “an archaeological culture” is just that: not to be confused with an ethnic group, archaeologists have applied the term casually to confuse them. The Halstatt culture is dated to around 700BC-500BC and La Téne is chronologically defined to develop from 500BC onwards. Fine pottery and decorated metalware comprise this material culture and maps of its spread across Europe abound in endless repetition through the popularist books (Powell 1958, Norton-Taylor 1974,). This evident confusion leads Otto Hermann Frey (Moscati, p77) to ask: “what was the original homeland of the Celts?”, without first considering whether the question is an appropriate one. What is the kind of claim he his making by asking the question? The answer, he thinks, lies in the region of sixth century Halstatt “Celtic Princes”. He assumes that the Celtic culture of Narbonensis had to have come from somewhere, why not German territory? It is just as possible that the people of Narbonensis stayed there all along and the material culture forms developed in situ or with outside influence. Once it is realised that a material culture expansion is not equal to a movement of a people then the question is null and void. Another assumption demonstrated by this is the puzzling question of the Halstatt to La Téne transition, surely just another non-question (Collis 1994)? We should feel no surprise that Venclová’s (1993) sceptical analysis of “Celtic” shrines reveals diversity reflecting local traditions. Archaeological discourse on this matter ignores the tribal divisions described by the ancient authors wiping out all particulars in the interests of generalisation. What was once a method to characterise “uncivilised” peoples for colonisation can be seen now as a move to wipe out national differences in the name of pan Europeanism.
The myth of a pan European culture of the first century BC cannot be said to have derived from classical authors who on the one hand see them all as “barbarian” (Hall, 1989) still recognised at least some differences. The term lay dormant until a Scotsman named Buccanan introduced it to describe peoples who had never known the term. This usage was further developed by Edward Lhuyd (- d.1709AD) (Norton-Taylor 1974, p19) who used the term to describe a linguistic “family”. He recognised similarities between Welsh, Irish and Scots Gaelic and Breton. Assuming a single and common root he dubbed these languages “Celtic”. We have already seen that Caesar applied Celt to refer to a people of Southern Gaul. John Collis (1994) is at a loss to explain Buccanan’s use of the term. We might venture to suggest that these two non English Britons’ interpretation may have been politically informed, wishing to seek common ground with the French, seeing the (Germanic) English as “other” (paradoxically even Germanic people can now be Celtic). It is known that Lhuyd’s grandfather paid for and recruited a troop of cavalry for the Scottish king in the civil war (Roberts 1980). To take a less political view it could be suggested that the term was based on the rather superficial view of Ephorus who divided the world into Greece and four peripheral nations, Indians to the east, Scythians to the north, Ethiopians to the south and Celts to the west (Tierney). Whatever reason Lhyudd chose the term it has remained with us since. It is the growth of the term and the multitude of associations it implies which have enabled its survival, perhaps satisfying some needs.
Linguistics has grown from that time and has been used to reconstruct history. It has applied a tree like evolutionary form which assumes that similarities between languages arose from a common origin (fig 1).
It must be noted that all these languages to the left are putative in that none actually existed in their own right. This method could be rejected as destroying cultural particulars reducing the language forms to gross generalisations. Thus Renfrew has criticised this methodology as presupposing an urheimat, urvolk and ursprache (Renfrew 1987, p77). The philosophical basis for this methodology may be said to have two foundations. Christian ideology is founded on the concept of a an origin. It is a Western obsession that all phenomena have origins. All languages are thought to derive from the time when god dispersed humanity from the tower of Babel to the four corners of the earth. Covalent with this view and to some degree a replacement for it we have evolutionary theory which applies a similar tree like form influenced by Charles Darwin (ibid., p102). A tree like development can be easily justified for the evolution of species as species once divided cannot be rejoined. This is not so with language, they are not immutable and may mix freely. A treelike pseudo-evolutionary pattern as applied to language is useless. Quoting Trubetskoy (in Renfrew, p108); ” … it is just as plausible that (ancestor languages) were originally quite dissimilar, and that through continuing contact and mutual influence became closer” we might suggest that languages can develop both by aggregation and by divergence. It is simply not possible that the peoples of Europe spoke a mutually intelligible language. If I now suggest a sequence which may be more familiar (Fig 2), it is plainly demonstrable that in order to follow a single root or core of a language into the past it is necessary to privilege certain aspects of the language system if the scheme of Fig 1 is to be used.
We may also reflect that English, nominally a Germanic language (Fig 1) is also and to a “higher degree” a Western or Atlantic language having basic features in common with Insular Celtic, French, Spanish and Basque. Scots Gaelic, nominally Celtic relates to West Norse and Lapp (Wagner 1971, p203ff, Roger 1884). A choice is made between a language’s various influences. This choice will inevitably be informed by history. The linguists whose chief concern is “Celtic” languages have privileged a connection with first century Gaul. Linguistics has a methodological problem which privileges certain typologies in the light of historical presuppositions and may be seen as an example of a methodology that “produces object in advance”(Shanks and Tilley 1992, p48). For this reason it is easy to see how Renfrew has overturned the previous chronology for the emergence of Indo-European by making it contemporary with the Neolithic. It is demonstrable that the branches and twigs of causality sprout in both directions. Language then may be seen as a process and negotiation and we may safely jettison the prime mover Indo European. We should also realise the basis upon which Welsh, Breton and Irish and Scots Gaelic are termed Celtic: surely no more than a misnomer.
Henri Hubert (1934, ix-x) saw the Celts as “involved in the politics of the whole world… agents for the unification and progress of mankind … native and homogenous”. He saw them as a poetic culture pressed from behind by a lower culture, the Germans and in the enviable position where Rome allowed certain metal qualities to survive.This enabled to flourish the lyric stories of Parsifal and Tristan which could just as easily be claimed for Frankish and British heritage. Despite the Frankish role in the establishment of the French state Hubert sees the Celts “making the France of today.”
What is fascinating is how this identifying term has come to mean so much to so many people. It has managed effectively to sunder English people from other inhabitants of the British Isles and Germans from the rest of Western Europe. The currency of the term as a racial division is closely associated with its linguistic one. Indeed it is one of the few facts used to justify it. Despite the difficulties in the terminology Celts are big business and are being used in a propaganda exercise to justify European roots (Collis 1994). Despite the simple logic of Collis’ position it is clear that the term is here to stay. I would have to conclude that the Celts do exist. You have only to ask those inhabitants of Ireland, Scotland and Wales that have a little knowledge of history. But I would conclude with J.C. Roger (1884, p89, p12) that Celticism is “a large superstructure raised upon a slender foundation” and that ” the entire system is the result of national vanity, evolved out of the inner consciousness of a few, whose conclusions have been gulped down implicitly by a large number of persons, who are either unable or unwilling to examine the matter for themselves”. Despite the slender foundation Celticism serves a need for roots and origins which if pandered to, could eventually lead, once again, to European conflict as Kossinna’s Germanic Celtic distinction was used.
Today Celticism seems to be enjoying a renaissance. The introduction to Moscati claims that the ultimate origins of all the peoples of Europe may be found in the study of the Celts. Moscati claims a multitude of items for Celticism including, the Gundestrup cauldron (oddly claimed as Thracian workmanship) found in Denmark. Even the remote Ireland, where little if any La Téne ever penetrated is accepted into the cosy Pan-European fold. Germans can now be thought of as Celtic as the Austrian Halstatt finds are thought to developmentally precede La Téne. No one is now safe from this term and despite the frustration of sound archaeologists such as Collis the term is here to stay. The term is so general that it is meaningless. A confusion of race, ancient nation and language.
Collis John, 1994, “The Celts: the development of a Myth”, lecture delivered SDUC.(December).
Delaney Frank, 1986, The Celts, Hodder and Stoughton.
Guest, E. 1883, Origions Celticae, Macmillian.
Hall, Edith,1989, Inventing the Barbarian, Clarenden Oxford.
Hubert, Henri, 1934, The Greatness and decline of the Celts, Keagan Paul.
Macdonald Educational, 1977, The Celts, MAC.
Moscati (ed), 1991, The Celts, Thames and Hudson London.
Montagu, Ashley, 1974, Frontiers of Anthropology, Putnam NY.
Norton-Taylor, 1974, The Celts, Time-Life.
Powell, TGE., 1958, The Celts, Thames and Hudson London.
Raftery J, 1960, The Celts, Mercier Press Cork.
Renfrew, Colin, 1987, Archaeology and language, Jonathan Cape.
Roger, James Cruikshank, 1884, Celticism: a Myth, E W Allan, London.
Ross, Anne, 1970, Everyday life of the Pagan Celts, Batsford.
Shanks and Tilley, 1992, Re-constructing Archaeology,, Routledge, 1992.
Strabo, The Geography of..III,VI-VII, H. L. Jones (trans.), Heinemann LOEB. 1961.
Tierney, JJ, 1960, The Celtic Ethnography of Posidonius in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Vol 60, sect C, p189ff.
Venclová, Natalie 1993, “Celtic shrines in Central Europe:a skeptical approach”, in Oxford Journal of Archaeology 12(1).
Wagner H, 1971, Studies in the Origins of Celts and of Early Celtic Civilisation, Institute of Irish Studies Belfast.
The Franks were a Germanic group.
“Are we any nearer to knowing why Palaeolithic art was produced than we were 100 years ago?”
The discovery of the site of Altimira came at a time when the origins of human kind were being hotly debated. The art was of great antiquity and those wishing to support the emerging evolutionary theory were interested in portraying this art as primitive. When we consider the limited tools available to the artists we are struck by how well executed it is. It would not be easy to characterise the art it terms of suggesting primitiveness of skill but it was not necessary to see the art as saturated in meaning. The art was thought to have been produced for reasons of pleasure: art for art’s sake. This interpretation fails form many reasons. Why are the representations of animals defaced by lines across the body or why does a horse have many heads in different positions? (Fig 3) Many new ideas have since been introduced to explain why the art was produced, as the spatial and temporal distribution and types of art discovered has increased. Much of the art is mobile and comes in the form of a few scratches on rocks, bas-relief, to the beautiful Willendorf Venus. Rock paintings range from simple dots and smears to expertly executed representations of animals. To answer to question it is necessary to understand what is meant by the word why. Explanations of this kind follow three main trajectories. The first relates to the human innate ability to do art, the second involves the human subject responding to some social structural or environmental pressure and the third allows the individual artists to pursue the art as a purposeful agent. All three approaches are equally valid, not necessarily divisible and produce different kinds of explanation.
The first category reflects the ability to do art is a distinguishing feature of the species homo sapiens sapiens as the evidence for symbolic or artistic activity in the Neanderthal period is minor. This ability is seen as a major step in the evolution of humans and has led to inference concerning cerebral structure in which the brain is seen as a series of modular structures (Mithen 1992). The cognitive abilities of modern humans relies on an increase in the interconnectivness of these modules which enables analogous and symbolic thinking. This approach is vital to the debate on the human evolution during the middle to upper Palaeolithic, but only offers explanation that humans do art because they can. This could be argued as the only sure answer to this question: humans do art as it is in their nature to do so. This has little explanatory value, however and adds to a field of interpretation in art study which has many avenues to explore.
The second and third approaches involve the question of functionality. The second category can be invoked to make the artist respond to some etic meta-force such as population pressure or restriction of resource base. I shall not be discussing such approaches as they reduce art to an unrecognisable activity in which the human agent is utterly ignored in favour of determinism. Art as a meaningfully constitued phenomenon of material culture both effects and enables behaviour. The stylistic quality of art is seen as a social tool which transmits information and builds social strategies (Gamble 1991). This has implications which involve the artist as a social phenomenon and an individual agent Art “as information” is a theme also followed by Sieveking and Marshak (ibid.). The chief difficulty here is that the information transmitted by art cannot be identical to the information received. Perfect understanding of the communicative intentions of the artist would necessitate that the observer has a perfect understanding of the codes and symbols employed by the artist. Without knowing these conventional formulas “in their totality” we cannot go far beyond representational meaning (Sieveking 1991). Art interpretation is highly subjective and the art may well have functioned in many ways not intended by the artist, however. Thus the art communicated (and is still communicating) differing stylistic messages throughout its long history. I would suggest, however, that such a perfect knowledge of the intentional stylistic meaning is not necessary as all observers of the art would respond in different ways in any event, then as now. Easy to understand, but hard to justify as a valid interpretation: is Mithen’s (1988) suggestion that the art served as some kind of information system about the state and location of certain resources. Depictions of hoof prints, faeces, marks on vegetation, on the ground are thought to help in the tuition of tracking and locating prey. This view has difficulty in that it does not correlate with the use of art in know hunter/gatherer societies. He lists depictions of hoof prints and so on offering ethnographic information on how hunters hunt. He states that hunters use their eyes, ears and noses to justify depictions of visual, representations of audible and olfactory depictions (faeces) but offers no direct parallel where art is used as a teaching aid. Indeed the absence of such evidence in his ethnographic analysis would suggest to me that hunter gatherers need no such aid. By reducing the depiction to a kind of text book, this interpretation trivialises the art and the skilful art of hunting, ignoring the more abstract meaning shared by art the world over.
Further to the theme of trivialising interpretations is the idea of trophyism and what Bahn & Vertut (1988) have compared with Playboy images (ibid., p165). The idea that the images act like a record of kills (ibid., p153) to impress girls and improve status are rejected as trite. A kind of trophyism is sometimes expressed by personal ornament exemplified by winning your first feather. But to extent this to cave walls would be inappropriate in a public space or ritually restricted space that the caves may well have represented. Such an idea would involve the reservation of a particular part of the cave surface for each individual hunter to record his kills. (Something like a dogfight debriefing where each pilot tells the C.O. how many planes he has shot down to record on the blackboard.) An emphasis on the individual of this sort is at odds with many ideologies we find in hunter/gatherer societies which often emphasis the group over the individualisation assumed by this model. Notions involving sexuality have likewise reflected the wishes of the interpreter (Bahn & Vertut). Following on from sympathetic magic for hunting the notion of fertility magic suggests that animals were drawn in the hope that they would reproduce and provide food (ibid. p159). There are few unambiguous images which suggest copulation or other sexual activity. Much of the art is in the form of scratch marks on mobile rocks. Examples of this reveal much about the interpreter as an ink blot test might. The example given of a comparison between an early tracing of a “human” subject and a recent one is most illuminating in this respect (ibid., p162(fig 108)). Later concerns with “explicit and inviting” sexual poses of women reflects the sexual interests of Western society. What we know about sex in traditional societies is that it is often a highly ritualistic, sometimes open, but always meaningful and integrated into the social system free from the suppressed and dysfunctional problems and obsessions of civilised society(Mayberry-Lewis 1991) which these interpretations seem to reflect.
A structuralist interpretation relates to models 1 and 2. Structuralism assumes that social forces structure existing neural configurations, that concepts and ideas are defined by and related to one other, dualities (Harland 1987). Thus maleness can only be understood in terms of femaleness, light by dark etc. Representation due to gender, place, position and so on will be reflected in particular themes of art. Leroi-Gourhan(1982) has proposed a structuralist interpretation which includes a detailed topographic and spatial organisation of species and their related themes to understand the “high cultural level” of the society which created these underground monuments. The monuments, divided into sanctuaries for ritual purposes, reflect a control of the outside physical natural world by making the outside inside. This is an attractive theme which parallels Ingold’s notion of a social appropriation of natural forces. The difficulties with this idea is the many contradicting gender associations within the interpretation of Laming-Emperaire and Leroi-Gourhan (Bahn & Vertut 1988, p165ff). To be fair, the difficulties may be explicable in terms of the length of time that such painting were executed providing the interpretation abandons the belief in a consistent and coherent semiological continuity. Interestingly Leroi-Gourhan has identified various geometric forms (Fig One.)
His categories: pure geometric, geometric figurative and synthetic figurative (Leroi-Gourhan 1982, p15) could easily be used to support a more recent set of conceptual divisions: those found in the trance in art interpretations of David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson. Their studies of South African art and San ethnography have exploited an unparalleled opportunity to bring together these two areas. I estimate that, when combined with structuralist theory, this approach may provide new insights into Palaeolithic art. Leroi-Gourhan’s categories may be considered to be have a direct analogue with Ronald Siegel’s three stages of trance: entoptic(pure geometric), construals (geometric figurative) and Iconics(synthetic figurative). Although such an idea would require more work it could demonstrate some fundamental propositions in art. In a natural landscape there are so few straight lines that it could be said that nature abores clean edges (exceptions, rock strata, horizons). The occurance of lines and geometric shapes in so called “primitive art” requires explanation which is provided by entoptic theory. This holds that geometric shapes derive from the fundamental neurophysiological structure of the visual cortex. These shapes can be “seen” at times when the normal visual work of the nervous system is interrupted such as: concussion, under the influence of drugs, extended periods of visual depravation, and trance states. Such shapes are universal and relate to background neural activity. The appearance of geometric shapes and dots may indicate any of the above activities and may help understand the human activity of geometry and building. Of particular interest would be dance or drug induced states of trance involved in shamanistic ritual activity proposed by many of those involved in palaeo-art studies.
The main difficulty with this question is made by Mithen(1988,p323) when he says:” Any attempt to provide one all-encompassing explanation for paretial and mobile paintings, engravings, bas-relief and sculpture produced over a 20,000 year period is hopelessly optimistic”. Many of the interpretations have denigrated the previous ones in order to provide justification for their own rather than building new ones by synthesising ideas and recognising the necessary plurality in art interpretation. If the sheer number of interpretation was a measure of how close we are to knowing the reason for the art then we would indeed by close. However many of the attempts at answering this question fall far off the mark. It is possible that all answers have an element of truth to them in at least one depiction of the thousands in existence. But perhaps we will have to admit that we shall never know for sure. As the discourse of Archaeology changes new questions are being asked. In his study of Scandinavian rock art by Chris Tilley(1992) this question is never asked per se, although it is answered. The initial aim of the study, assuming material culture to be meaningfully constituted, is to determine grammar in the various motifs of the art and then attempt to provide meaningful analyses by the application of divers theoretical approaches (Post-structuralist, Marxist and Hermeneutic). The resultant statements provide a series of logical, mythological meanings and inference of ritual practice as well as suggestions of power relationships, which are, although inconclusive, convincing and not incompatible. Indeed the very ambiguity of the interpretations convinces as art is by nature polysemous. Any interpretation which attempts to reduce it to a single explanation fails to express meaning or demonstrate understanding. More work which builds on a post-structuralist or semiological approach could prove fruitful, provided an emphasis on meaning rather than knowing were employed. This would undo the assumption of a single totalising framework demanded of explanation which makes so much archaeology turgid and predictable.
Bahn & Vertut, 1988, Images of the Ice Age, Facts on File.
Dowson Thomas 1986, Dots and Dashes : Cracking the entoptic code in Bushman Rock Paintings, South African Archaeological Society Goodwin Series 6, p84-89.
Gamble, Clive. 1991, “The Social context for European Palaeolithic Art”, in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (PPS) 57,1, p3-16.
Harland, R.1987, Superstructuralism, Routledge.
Leroi-Gourhan, 1982, The Dawn of European Art, Cambridge.
Lewis-Williams,David & Thomas Dowson,1989, Images of Power, SBP, .
Mayberry-Lewis, 1991, Millenium, Viking(Penguin)
Marshak, A 1991, “Style and aspect of the female Image”, PPS 57,1.
Mithen, Steve, 1988, “Looking and Learning: Upper Palaeolithic Art and Information gathering”, in World Archaeology 19,3.
Mithen, Steve, 1992, From domain specific to generalised intelligence: a cognitive interpretation of the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic transition” in The Ancient Mind, Renfrew and Zubrow (eds.), Cambridge.
Sieveking Ann,, 1991, “Palaeolithic Art and Archaeology: the mobiliary evidence”, PPS 57,1, p33-50.
Tilley, C,1992, Material Culture and Text: The Art of Ambiguity, Cambridge.