Monday, October 22, 2012


“Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.” Karl Marx (quoted from Burgin, 1996)

Now it is widely accepted that subject and object, mind and matter, human and thing co-constitute each other (Hodder 2001: 155).  “Persons make things and things make persons,” writes archaeologist Christopher Tilley (2004: 217). “Consciousness does not occur in our brains, but is dynamically distributed, boundary crossing, offloaded, and environmentally situated within materiality” (Noe 2008: 68). The seemingly irretrievable wedge between the material world and the human mind, placed there by Enlightened, Cartesian thinking, is finally being dissolved (Olsen 2010: 64).[1] There is no purely ‘subjective’ understandings of place, landscape, or material thing, because both experience and interpretation derive from and relate to the objectivity of the material presence of things we perceive (Tilley 2004: 219). This insight has inspired, within the humanities, a renewed interest in the material world and materiality’s role in the construction of subjective experience. It has also provided a common language through which many different human endeavors can now communicate (Hodder 2011: 173).
            Can we study materiality with regards to something so seemingly immaterial as masculinity? Whether it is a type of consciousness, an performance, a trend/habit of human activity, or an imaginary concept, there must be material (bodies, adornments, clothing, occupations, images, role models) upon which masculinity is based. Anthropologist Jean-Pierre Warnier (2001: 6) asks, “Are not all our actions, without any exception whatsoever, propped up by or inscribed in a given materiality?” A review of the literature on materiality (Hodder, Ingold, Donald, Warnier, Tilley, Abram, Noe, Olson) delivers three major insights that may help our investigation into the material component of masculinity: one, a person’s perceptual field extends beyond the body and into incorporated things; two, the material world has agency over human actions; and three, identity and its memories profoundly depend on material things.  

[1] Postmodern literary critic Katherine Hayles investigates the social and cultural processes that led to the conceptualization of information as separate from the material that instantiates it. See: How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics,(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.)

How incorporated tools act as perceptual extensions is described best by the Blind Man’s Cane analogy. Warnier (2001) looks to Paul Shilder’s essay The Image of the Body (1935), where he wrote that the blind person’s cane is integrated into his consciousness field to such an extent that his perception is not projected from his hand, but from the tip of the cane.  ‘The body’ can thus extend to include lots of objects, rendering its boundaries flexible (Warnier 2001: 7). For this reason, Malafouris (2008) says material things should be seen as continuous and active parts of the human cognitive architecture. People ‘think’ through material culture, and therefore, materiality is what Malafouris, along with DeMarrais (2004) and Menary et all (2010) call “the extended mind.” I like to think of social media as extensions of our perception, and we can "poke" people with it. Now there is a Facebook Jacket  that squeezes you whenever someone likes you online.

Expanding on the pioneering work of Marcel Mauss (1936), Warnier also shows that the ‘techniques’ of the body (such as walking, eating, sitting, and dancing…what Ingold (2000) calls our “skills”) are almost always locally determined, and therefor variable from society to society.
            Things move people, and also keep people around. Archaeologist Christopher Tilley examines in Body and Image (2008) how rock art moves people’s bodies into viewing positions. Likewise, the paintings on the gallery wall, according to Merleau-Ponty, move us into to the best possible place from which to view them (1962: 302). Bricks trapped Neolithic people into long-term relationships with walls (Hodder 2011: 161). Bells, according to Richard Raff (2003) rang the size of towns in early America and determined how far away from the bell people could move. The domestication of wheat domesticated humans into continually harvesting, pounding, and roasting it (Hodder 2011: 162). Technology used humans to progress itself (Kelly 2010).

 “In this futuristic ontology, we are already beginning to glimpse and evolutionary Entelechy—a symbiotic consciousness of human, elemental, psychic and celestial intelligences. In the smuggled esotericism of children’s literature, comic books and science fiction, an archetypal group of four becoming one is being foreshadowed. For example, we see this grouping expressed in Fantastic Four and The Wizard of Oz.” William Irwin Thompson. Bolts from the Blue.

Material forms act as key “sensuous metaphors of identity” (Tilley 217). Even cultural myths and cosmologies depend on them (von Dechend, 1998).[1] Focusing on ancient stones in landscapes, Tilley uncovers how our prehistoric social identities were created, sustained, reproduced and transformed through the agency of stones (namely by their ability to demarcate place). Things can also communicate subjective states across time. For example, the hundreds of thousands of personalized, handmade daggers carried by French and English soldiers in WWI tell us something about the subjective state of the soldiers that the soldiers themselves cannot, and will not, communicate (Warnier 2011: 398). The dagger was not just a hunk of metal, but an ensouled consort integrated (and ‘introjected’) into the consciousness field, and “motions and emotions,” of the fighter.  “Weapons and various items of equipment…were embodied and became one and the same with the subject....” (363). Forensic evidence shows that the daggers were never used, but the fact that the soldiers desired them opens the door to an element of their subjective experience.  “The dagger suggests that, in addition to being the passive victims of mass industrial killing, the fighters were also willingly prepared to mete out extreme violence on the battlefield.” (398).”
            This newly understood psychic dependence on things is also seen in memory’s dependence on “external storage systems” such as writings, artifacts, places, foods, and computers. According to Merlin Donald (1991), technologies and media, which he calls ‘exograms,’ have constituted part of human cognitive architecture since the upper Paleolithic. With the use of these material things, thoughts and memories “become more durable and more easily transmissible and reformattable across media and contexts and are plugged in to vastly larger databases of inherited knowledge (Donald, 1991: 314-9, see also Hodder 2012: 35). Warnier points out that this is because material objects have the advantage of being fairly permanent. “They help the psyche in its work of establishing duration, memory and a sense of continuity (Warnier 2001: 17).” This is one reason ancient stones in the landscape were so important in establishing ‘place’ (Tilley 2004). Michel Serres says our relationships would have been “airy as clouds were there only contracts between subjects. In fact, the objects…stabilize our relationships” (1995: 87, quoted in Olsen: 9, and Hodder 2011: 159). This has also been emphasized by M. Kwint et all (1999) in Material Memories, which examines the way objects 'speak' to us through the memories that we associate with them.

[1] See Hamlet’s Mill: and essay investigating the origins of human knowledge and its transmission through myth, by Giogio De Santillana and Hertha von Dechend (1998), David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. New Hampshire. They’re argument is that there is an astrological demention to myths. 

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