Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
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A few ideas that have emerged from my readings so far.
Ishtar Gate, Babylon: reconstruction model.
A contemporary akitu
Disclaimer about reading Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord for the purposes of discussing the Assyro-Babylonian Akitu Festival
Some of you might be wondering why on earth we are reading a chapter from Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle for a discussion of the akitu festival. What is the occasion? For those of you who are not familiar with him, he is a member of artistic and political movement of Situationist Internationale of late 1950s to 70s, who "worked aggressively to subvert the conservative ideology of the Western world", capitalism, modernity. Wikipedia describes this movement as "a very small group of international political and artistic agitators with roots in Marxism, anarchism and the early 20th century European artistic avant-garde". With their artistic, urbanistic and cultural theories, the group had a substantial impact on the revolutionary events of 1968. (Ironically the group named their utopic ideal city "New Babylon" which is sort of an urban manifesto that attacks contemporary cities). Henri Lefebvre was influenced by them quite a bit.
In the Society of the Spectacle (which is one of the most significant texts that the group has ever produced), Guy Debord is really concerned with attacking modernity, capitalism and everyday life in the late 20th c. and not so much with creating a grand social theory for past societies (I don't think we should use it as such). It is a critique of modern society. But precisely for this, it is I think very useful to read him and understand his theory of the spectacle, to grasp our own interpretations of spectacular events in antiquity. Those contemporary interpretations immersed in their Western capitalist mentality often tend to read a similar scenario in the ancient past where the society, the participating bodies are seen through a filter of passive spectatorship and not as embodied agents that in fact constitute the concrete reality of those spectacles (e.g. the scholarship in theorizing rituals and festivals for instance- see Bell's chapter). The so-called Homo Spectator. This I hope we can critique a bit.
Debord writes at the end of his Preface to the 3rd edition of the book: "This book should be read bearing in mind that it was written with the deliberate intention of doing harm to spectacular society. There was never anyhing outrageous, however, about what it had to say."
I hope you can read his chapter bearing all of this in mind. I am particularly interested in the spectrum he creates between the representation in the public realm vs. the ontologically grounded social reality on the other. Politics and ideology plays a big role in the placement of the social event in that spectrum. My question is how do we understand the role of politics in such a spectacular event in the Assyro-Babylonian public sphere, where the spectator is not necessarily imprisoned to that kind of passive role (say compared to a TV-audience).
I hope you will enjoy reading him.