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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
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The unbound: performativity of bodies, spaces, things II

A Response to Discussion Week 5: Oct 6. Çatalhöyük: social memory and everyday performance

Other responses of the week

Omur Harmansah Posted: October 19, 2006. Thursday: 1:35 am.

Picking from where I have left last week: the unbound world of the everyday practices, fluid, improvised, spontaneous, agitated. The human body is the agent in its practices, the embodied subject is overpowering with its language of gestures, its ways of using and inhabiting the crevices of social and intimate spaces, its configurations of bodily time through real life situations and its irreducable materiality. This can be partially read in Connerton’s discussion of “incorporating practices” as ritual-like real life situations where social signification is not prescribed or controlled but is the outcome, the seredipitous residue of bodily performances. There is no separation of the performer and the spectator here: all subjects appear as actors, while performances are not discursively directed at particular audiences.

The contrasting pole, Connerton’s “inscribing practices” is the discursive field of the controlled public space: it is the theater, spectacle in the publlic sphere, the extraordinary event. It is primarily a field of representations where cultural significations are intentionally structured apriori to the event, social space is given, social time is prescribed, structured. This is where spectators and the performers are clearly segregated: actors/agents have a apparent predominance over the spectator/patients. Extreme examples of these that come to mind are official ceremonies in nation states. These two that I have tried to portray are of course two extreme poles, and we will have to consider performances appearing in a wide ranging spectrum between the two, in complex and hybrid forms. An operatic performance may have a prescribed text behind it while the performers may transform it drastically through their unexpected embodied performances. Even though spatially well segregated, performers and spectators may be bound through such affective blending of the voice and the body: the well-structured space of the theater may be transformed into a liminal space of a drastic event.

What Connerton refers to as “mnemonics of the body” is also crucial: the material sedimentation of the past in the body, balanced with an anticipation of the future. The past is sedimented in the body through habitual performances, much repeated and learned gestures, physical inscription of material transformations through life. An interplay between such sedimented past and the expectations from the body based on those embodied histories, guides the performativity of the subject. Equally important to emphasize the subject’s affective dispositions within real life situations: the characterization of the body as agentic “knowing subject” with particular reactions to society’s structural impositions.

It is important however, to situate the embodied individuals in their social, cultural, historical context, without assuming universal generalisations, as Ian Hodder and his colleagues attempt in the context of the archaeological work on the Neolithic inhabitants of Çatalhöyük. Using the richness of material evidence for practices of daily life in domestic spaces, they can start to speak about both discursive and non-discursive practices, ranging from making of a particular wall painting to daily sweeping of platforms. It seems to me that one of the most important conclusions of this work was to illustrate that bodily practices in the everyday realm are essentially spatializing and performative: consider the intensive plastering/whitewashing of walls and platform surfaces, embedding of animal parts in the walls, both representationally outstanding and in invisible forms, often routinized but punctuated with special events. Çatalhöyük offers multilayered spaces as a palimpsest of cultural practices, through which temporality, social organization of time can not only be studied but also theorized.