The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity

The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity

The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity

The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material Culture in Modernity

Synopsis

"How can culture and experience be conceptualized when theorists drag social meaning back and forth between institutions, objects, or acts, as if the dense communication between persons and things were only a quick exchange between surfaces? This volume challenges mentalist approaches to material culture through the historical and ethnographic analyses of sensory memory. The sensory landscape and its meaning-endowed objects bear within them emotional and historical sedimentation that pose crucial questions: What cultural practices enable the sensory-affective experience of history? How does the history of perception speak to the perception of history? The editor, in her four essays, discusses sensory memory as a cultural form not limited to the psychic apparatus of a monadic, pre-cultural, and ahistorical subject but embedded and embodied in a dispersed surround of created things, surfaces, depths, and densities that are stratigraphic sites of sensory biography and history. The volume demonstrates that any ethnographic discussion of the senses involves a priori claims about modernity. Thus the senses are explored in contemporary political and racial violence, exchange practices, the emotions, national identity, food-ways, spatial organization, leisure activity, and the electronic media. Well-known authors examine personal and social investments in objects and substances as the tip of a submerged collective language of materiality that firmly grasps the mutable structure of contemporary experience. Social memory is treated as a meta-sensory organ and shown to be a culturally mediated performance that is activated by material acts and emotionally tangible artifacts." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The contributors to this volume share an interest in the anthropology of everyday life, a frequently ignored crucible for the formation of modern experience. They see everyday sensibilities interacting, in often unacknowledged fashion, with the possibility and truth claims of theoretical discourse. In this case the anthropology of the senses is a central passageway into a self-reflexive epistemology of the modern life-world. The senses in modernity are the switching place where the structure of experience and the structure of knowledge converge and cross.

These themes are deliberately recovered by the authors from the external and internal cultural-historical margins of European and American metropoles. For the construction of modernity can be best witnessed not at the center, which is a perceptual effect, but at the verges; at sites where modernity is an unfinished and contested hegemony Thus Susan Buck- Morss looks at the perceptual impact of early cinema in revolutionary Soviet Union, Jonas Frykman at the construction of redemptive nature by an embryonic Swedish urbanity, Allen Feldman at the censorship of the pain of racial and ethnic alterities; and I explore the mutual displacement and admixture of both modern and pre-modern sensory memory in the particular developmental circumstances of post-World War II Greece.

The present essays and their methodologies, as much as they are new advances, draw on longstanding research concerns of the contributors. At a quick glance, the contributors have had a common interest in how historical representation and experience are embedded in material culture. They have now turned to perception as a way into the construction of material culture as a historiographic space. Jonas Frykman in his previous studies has been concerned with the social and architectural history of private spaces in Sweden from the 19th century to the present. Susan Buck-Morss opened up new and disconcerting prospects on the perceptual forms of everyday modernity by turning with a renewed vigor and depth to Benjamin's treatment of commodity fetishes as bearers of expelled historical consciousness and utopian hope. Feldman, in his ethnography of the body in Northern Ireland, identified sensory fictions as essential to the material cultures of the state and ethnicity. He treated political violence as a material performance that deposits narratives on . . .

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