Brief Reply to Leo S. Klejn

By Renfrew, Colin | Antiquity, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Brief Reply to Leo S. Klejn


Renfrew, Colin, Antiquity


It was with great pleasure that I learnt that Leo S. Klejn was to review Figuring It Out, since he achieved a well-deserved reputation already in the 1970s as a keen and highly independent critic of theoretical archaeology in the West. So I am naturally delighted that he has read the book with such close attention, and with many relevant comments. For instance his emphasis on the role of photography in changing ideas about representation in the visual arts is well taken. Only in the last section, where he identifies the book as 'postmodernist' would I wish to disagree. And presumably it is his remarkable peroration with its military metaphor - where I am identified as, 'a great leader, commander in chief; although unfortunately of the wrong army--which has motivated the Editor of Antiquity to invite me to write a word of comment.

My own view of postmodernism is probably as critical as that of Professor Klejn, and certainly I have no desire to lead its 'armies'--and distinctly ragged battalions I would imagine them to be. But why the military metaphor? It seems to me that Klein is re-living some of the battles of the 1980s and 1990s, when the self-styled 'post-processual' archaeologists (including Shanks and Tilley) delivered their robust critique of processual archaeology. My own position has always been to question what I see as the defective epistemology--the relativism, the vulnerability to pseudo-archaeology--of the more doctrinaire interpretive archaeologists, while welcoming their initiative in entering the symbolic field. For that reason I have advocated a cognitive archaeology which would seek to be 'processual' in the broadly scientific tradition of the New Archaeology, yet would deal with the symbolic and projective aspects of human experience. I respect the initiatives in the field of gender archaeology, and the archaeology of identity, and indeed of landscape archaeology which have come largely from researchers who would place themselves in the 'post-processual' tradition of interpretive archaeology. Indeed I feel that their best work (just as I felt with the Marxist prehistorians of yesteryear) could without difficulty be translated into a processual or cognitive-processual mode of thought and expression.

Ultimately I think Klejn misunderstands the nature of science. My book deliberately sets out to use inspiration from the work of artists, inspiration which involves feelings and reactions which are indeed in large measure subjective, to promote new understandings and new ways of thinking. If the matter were to end there, then his strictures might have some validity and the enterprise might be dismissed as merely 'postmodern'. But in the field of science (meaning here systematic knowledge, and not necessarily number-crunching by men in white lab coats) it is not the source of the inspiration but the use to which it is put that is crucial. …

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