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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Epilogue: Ebenezer Scrooge as Archaeologist

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including -- which is a bold word -- the corporation, aldermen, and livery. Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years' dead partner that afternoon. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change -- not a knocker, but Marley's face.

Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

- A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The archaeologist of the door knocker becomes like Ebenezer Scrooge in his experience before his own knocker. In the critical examination, the door knocker changes suddenly in front of our eyes from a thing we “know” to something troublingly foreign. It takes on a new character. It becomes the site of relationships and social values, symbolic and somatic meanings, and a multiplicity of sensory experiences. It changes from a thing, into a series of things, many of which we did not expect. Put simply, in the study of the door knocker as a critical thing, the door knocker comes to life and shifts form.

When we look again, like Scrooge, we see the door knocker again. But it can never just be a door knocker anymore.

And when Scrooge finally opens the door, he cannot shake the sensation that he took for granted has been destabilized as a fixed meaning. This is the semiotic crisis of shifting meanings beneath shifting signs, and it is this crisis, this peril of unknowing what you already “know” that is the most rewarding and necessary component of the study of things.