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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
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

The role of the individual in social memory

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

Other responses of the week

Brad Sekedat Posted: October 20, 2006. Friday.

It came up in our last class meeting that authors like Ian Hodder were stressing the importance of passive, Foucaldian like discipline on the human body at Çatalhöyük. For instance, the body is passively acted on by the way it moves through the house. Where one can walk is in part determined by the location of the burial mounds on the floor and the wall partitions that are characteristic of the Neolithic houses. Because movement through these houses is restricted to certain portions, the body is being conditioned, and gains a sort of memory for its everyday performance. While I agree that this is an important aspect of Hodder’s article, one aspect that was not covered was the role of the body and the individual in actually creating those spaces and thereby creating the forms of social memory that have been interpreted contextually for each of the houses at Çatalhöyük.

One of Hodder’s main points comes out of the constant act of plastering and painting and repainting and replastering of different rooms in rather short periods of time – within 150 years, for example. This act quite literally recreates the interior space that influences the acts that condition bodily memories. In some respects, this can be taken as the consistent refashioning of bodily memory throughout generations. In other words, newer generations are taking an active role in the creation of their space, changing it to reflect their own wants or needs, and in this sense are taking an active role in the creation of their own bodily memories. The individual is thereby not entirely removed from the equation, and is not only an passively disciplined social creature, but brings something of its own experiences and visualizations to the creation of performance and performative space.

If we think about specific examples, the wall paintings seem to be the clearest. The act of plastering has both an effect on seemingly trivial things like the physical depth of the wall, and thereby the way the room is experienced, but the act of re-plastering also involved covering up the previous layer’s decorations, acting both to bring the individual(s) closer to that visual representation while also having the potential significance of acting as an act of closer, distancing the individual from the past. This is in contrast to some of the apparent constant reminder of the past that are present in the burials mounds in the floor, which are visible through their varying elevations. More to the point, however, is that the new painting or decoration is a form of expression for the individual doing the painting (commissioning the painting?). It may be a way to assert their bringing of the space into meaning for them, going along with this act of closure on the past.

These acts are still conditioned through the social and cultural experience, represented through thematic designs, etc., but the above does highlight that there is some non-passive involvement of individuals in shaping the conditions that lead to social and bodily memory. There is a blending of both social processes and individual acts required for both social and bodily memory.