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Routledge Research in Museum Studies
TIME AND THE MUSEUM LITERATURE, PHENOMENOLOGY, AND THE PRODUCTION OF RADICAL TEMPORALITY Jen A. Walklate
Time and the Museum
Time and the Museum: Literature, Phenomenology, and the Production of Radical Temporality, is the first explicit in-depth study of the nature of museum temporality. It argues as its departure point that the way in which museums have hitherto been understood as temporal in the scholarship – as spaces of death, othering, memory, and history – is too simplistic, and has resulted in museum temporality being reduced to a strange heterotopia (Foucault) – something peculiar, and thus black boxed. However, to understand the ways in which museum temporalities and timescapes are produced, and the consequences that these have upon display and visitor response, is crucial, because time is itself a political entity, with ethical consequence. Time and the Museum highlights something we all experience in some way – time – as a key ethical and political feature of the museum space. Utilizing the fields of literature and phenomenology, the book examines how time is experienced and performed in the public areas of three museum spaces within Oxford – the Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers, and Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Using concepts such as shape, structure, form, presence, absence, authenticity, and aura, the book argues for a reconsideration of museum time as something with radical potential and political weight. It will appeal to academics and postgraduate students, especially those engaged in the study of museums, culture, literature, and design. Jen A. Walklate (University of Aberdeen) is a museologist, historian, and literary theorist, studying the intersections between museums and other cultural media, including literature, drama, and comics. She utilizes novelistic and poetic forms and concepts to open new ways of considering visitor experience in museum contexts, and literature as an analytical framework for understanding the construction and performance of museums. Drawing upon this study, she is looking at new ways to create more representative, inclusive, egalitarian, and intellectually open institutions.
Routledge Research in Museum Studies
This series presents the latest research from right across the field of museum studies. It is not confined to any particular area, or school of thought, and seeks to provide coverage of a broad range of topics, theories, and issues from around the world. The following list includes only the most-recent titles to publish within the series. A list of the full catalogue of titles is available at: https://www.routledge. com/Routledge-Research-in-Museum-Studies/book-series/RRIMS Museums, International Exhibitions and China’s Cultural Diplomacy Da Kong Curating Lively Objects Exhibitions Beyond Disciplines Edited by Lizzie Muller and Caroline Seck Langill Theorizing Equity in the Museum Integrating Perspectives from Research and Practice Edited by Bronwyn Bevan and Bahia Ramos Revisiting the Past in Museums and at Historic Sites Edited by Anca I. Lasc, Andrew McClellan and Änne Söll Museums, Societies and the Creation of Value Edited by Howard Morphy and Robyn McKenzie Human Rights Museums Critical Tensions Between Memory and Justice Jennifer Carter Time and the Museum Literature, Phenomenology, and the Production of Radical Temporality Jen A. Walklate
Time and the Museum
Literature, Phenomenology, and the Production of Radical Temporality
Jen A. Walklate
First published 2023 by Routledge 4 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2023 Jen A. Walklate The right of Jen A. Walklate to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-1-032-16406-9 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-032-16410-6 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-24844-6 (ebk) DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446 Typeset in Times New Roman by KnowledgeWorks Global Ltd.
This book is dedicated to my former supervisor, and friend, Simon J. Knell, who wouldn’t let me call it Tears in the Rain. In Memory of T. G. Cresswell, who taught me to never be good.
List of Figures Acknowledgements PART I
1 Frame PART II
Introduction: Contours in Time
Introduction: Time and Spirit
viii Contents PART IV
Consequences and Meanings
Conclusion: After-Words163 Coda: In Extremis178 Bibliography Index
2.1 Star House Pole, Pitt Rivers Museum. Copyright, the Author 59 3.1 ‘The real Alice’, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Copyright, the Author 75 3.2 The Pitt Rivers Staircase, Pitt Rivers Museum, Copyright the Author 81 3.3 The mis-en-page of the Pitt Rivers Great Court, Pitt Rivers Museum, Copyright the Author 83 4.1 Knossos Palace, Ashmolean Museum, Copyright, Ashmolean Museum101 5.1 The Pickling Block, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Copyright, the Author 117 6.1 The Augustus of Primo Porto, the Ashmolean Museum. Copyright, the Author 141 7.1 The Coromandel Screen, the Ashmolean Museum. Copyright, the Author 150
On the problem of language in relation to time, O. K. Bouwsma writes: ‘What, in certain aspects, makes this a playground is also what makes it a labyrinth.’ The same can be said to be true of gratitude. Words don’t convey such an internal feeling, and I have never in any case been much good at communicating such experiences, at least in part for fear of misattributing a contribution, or entirely eliding the name of a significant person. If you are not, therefore, mentioned here, do not for one moment think that I am not grateful. You are implicit in all the pages of this book. To Simon: for trusting me to find the way through to my thesis, and in apology for the many times I put your eyebrows into your hair, this book is dedicated to you. To Ross and Viv: thank you for tea, oranges, and unconditional confidence. To the Department of Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen: I am honoured by the opportunity to complete this book in the Silver City. To the Pitt Rivers, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Ashmolean: I appreciated the chance haunt your galleries. To Gudrun: Þakka þér fyrir for being demanding. To Steph: I am indebted to you for the ‘supersonic years.’ To Jen: to paraphrase a wise one, good tea, nice office, dear friend. To Deckard and Batty: every day you remind me that ‘time with cats is never wasted.’ To Will: I am forever grateful for our entanglement, even at opposite ends of the universe. To my parents, Fran and Bob: thank you for tolerating multiple degrees and a peculiar career path. To my Grandad, T. G. Cresswell: thank you for the gift of contrarianism. Sometimes, it lets you see things others miss. This book is in memory of you.
Introduction In Being and Time, Heidegger positions temporality as the central phenomena which all other philosophical and ontological concerns orbit. ‘Time,’ he writes ‘must be brought to light and genuinely conceived as the horizon of all understanding of being and every interpretation of being’ (Heidegger 2010: 17). Were we to suggest a concrete example of this argument, we could do worse than offer the museum, in all its forms, up for examination. For museums are indebted to time. They not only exist within it; they shape cultural perceptions of it. They manipulate it and, in their turn, are manipulated by it. They multiply the chronic capacities of objects, projecting their relevance across time and space. They pull distant pasts – and other presents (other futures, indeed) – into the Now of their buildings and their visitors. It could be argued that it is the temporal quality of museums which makes them one of the most powerful invocations of the complexity which is human consciousness and experience. Indeed, it is a commonplace that the nature of museum time is somehow unique – that the museum is situated in a heterochrony, a heterotopia – that it is special. And yet, this deification of museal time allows it to be side-lined as an investigative topic, for once something is deemed ‘strange’ it can more easily be left aside and black boxed as something already dealt with. The fundamental purpose of this book is to remove museum temporality from the pedestal on which it has been positioned, to re-equip it with the power it has always held, and to offer to readers – museum workers, designers, and academics – a set of tools with which to investigate and understand it. There are several key reasons for this, not the least of which being that museum time, and indeed time in general, is fundamentally political: an issue of power, and of ethics. The book will posit that various agents, living, non-living, and dead, have a role in producing museum time, and will argue that museums understood as sites of radical temporality have a political, and ontological, weight. The rest of this introduction seeks to present the author’s stance on time in general, then some reflections on the ways in which museums and temporality have been entangled in the disciplinary literature, and finally to discuss the shape of the remainder of the book. DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-2
The Nature of Time Before I start, I want to clarify one thing: this book does not, for the most part, deal with what we might call ‘common sense’ or clock time. For one thing, globalized clock time as it is contemporarily understood is comparatively recent, and for another, it has a structure and presumed universality which does not admit temporal understandings outside of a highly industrialized capitalist model. We should also distinguish between the measure of a phenomena, and the phenomena itself. Greenwich style clock time is only one of a manifold of ways in which temporality itself might be measured, and we are not, here, interested in the ways in which time is presented through measure, but in temporality itself as a distinct, experiential thing. That said, we need to define what we mean when we talk about the phenomena of temporality in this book. Though time is such a fundamental part of museological practice, its black boxed nature in the literature means that it is vital to define terms before beginning the exploration of time in the museum. There is plenty of literature, philosophical, anthropological, and scientific regarding the nature of time and of temporality in broader human experience, and whilst we do not have time, here, to review all of it, it is necessary to address in brief some of the fundamental questions which this literature throws up in relation to the ontology of time itself. These questions regard the objective reality of time, and how time is made manifest to consciousness. The Objective Reality of Time Substantivalism, or absolutism, argues that time has an objective reality outside of the human mind (Le Poidevin 2003: 27). Relationists such as Leibniz argued that time was only an ideal thing – that is, it only existed in relation to things within it, which were constantly perishing and finding themselves with a new duration: It cannot be said that [a certain] duration is eternal but [it can be said] that the things which continue always are eternal, [gaining always a new duration.] Whatever exists of time and of duration, [being successive] perishes continually: and how can a thing exist eternally, which (to speak exactly) does never exist at all? For, how can a thing exist, whereof no part does ever exist? Nothing of time does ever exist, but instances; and an instant is not even itself a part of time (Alexander 1956: 72–3). However, in this book, we are taking an approach that more closely aligns with phenomenology, which itself takes a lead from the transcendental idealism of Kant. Here, we argue that time is a form of perception: that it neither arises from the subject (the perceiver) nor the object (the thing being perceived), but instead is a subjective ‘condition of the possibility of
Time 5 perception of the world’ (Kant 1998: 43). Whether it has an objective reality outside this perception or otherwise is immaterial: in the case of the museum, it is the human experience which matters. Crucially, this enables the museum producer and the museum visitor to understand that socially agreed measures and understandings of time, whilst of pragmatic use, are to some degree a fiction: and consequentially that these fictions vary from culture to culture, and across the broad scope of history. Understanding time as a facet of human experience, we can more closely examine the phenomenological approaches to temporality which form a key basis of this book. Husserl, for example, who focused on the lived experience of time in inner consciousness, argued for an egological notion of temporality, which states that time is entirely subjective (West-Pavlov 2013: 43), and this attitude was visible throughout much of the philosophy, psychology, and modernist literature of the early twentieth century. Phenomenological approaches focus on private, not public, time, and how it is experienced in consciousness and the body. Henri Bergson developed this into the complex idea of durée: that is, lived duration as the ‘immediate data of consciousness,’ where there is no simple juxtaposition of events and thus no mechanical causation, a place in which free will is possible (Bergson 1959: 91). Durée, for Bergson, was a heterogeneous multiplicity, in which ‘several conscious states are organized into a whole, permeate one another, [and] gradually gain a richer content’ (Bergson 1959: 122). Heidegger’s arguments regarding Dasein went further. Dasein means, literally, ‘there-being’ (da-sein) and can be used as a term to understand the conscious form of Being that humans possess. Dasein’s mode of being, Heidegger argues, is made possible by temporality, which is understood as exclusive from Time (as measure). Temporality, in Heidegger’s terms, temporalizes possible ways of itself (Heidegger 2010: 377). All processes of nature, living or not, take place within this, and thus Heidegger argues that time is more than relative: it is the ‘truth’ of space experienced by an individual (Heidegger 2010: 481). West-Pavlov puts it succinctly: time is not a thing as much as it is ‘the fabric of our existence, outside of which no knowledge is possible’ (West-Pavlov 2013: 70). West-Pavlov’s resolution to the problem of time’s reality is ‘immanent time’: that is, time which does not exist as a separate category, as such, but is process itself, multiple and auto-poetic, without stable beginnings and endings, ideal and real (West-Pavlov 2013: 50–53). This book argues that the only reality which really matters when talking about museum temporality is that of design and experience, the intentions with which museum temporal structures are created, and the ways in which those constructions are encountered and interpreted by the museum’s conscious inhabitants who can be characterized as Dasein. Temporality in the museum is real in certain ways – in that it is experienced – but that experience is perceptual, relative, and immanent. Interrogating the reality of time in the context of museology is a political and ethical act, a step towards unpicking Eurocentric, colonialist, capitalist, imperial, and historicist
6 Contextualizing presumptions about past, present, future, linearity, and chronology, which still underpin museum ontology and design today, and thus a fundamental step towards a museum which is powerfully and radically temporalized. Time Made Manifest We perceive time through sensory engagement. Given that these senses are largely engaged in perceiving the physical world, we perceive time through the medium of space: through movement, or alterations in state. We also perceive it cognitively, through memory and expectation. Fundamentally, however, both the physical and cognitive forms of time are experienced through process and fluctuation: through change. Time has been understood as change for several thousand years: Heraclitus watched time flow like a river (Kahn 1979: 53) and Aristotle deemed ‘time,’ in terms of human calendrics, to be an unreal measure of real natural movements (West-Pavlov 2013: 32). In this book, we follow Robin LePoidevin in highlighting the need to differentiate between the different types of change which one might encounter when dealing with temporality: first-order change, which refers to events that happen to objects, and second-order change, which refers to the inexorable slippage of things from future to present and past (Le Poidevin 2003: 16–17). It is critical to understand both these forms of time-as-change when exploring museum temporality, because they offer different granular levels at which time is expressed within the material world, and in the cognitive worlds of the visitor and the museum designer/interpreter. It is also important to clearly state the ways in which, in this book, we shall be interpreting the nature of past, present, and future. Following James, it is argued here that the notion of a fixed present is specious – there is no such solid thing as The Present, because it is constantly slipping into the past before our minds have been able to grasp it – imagine the distance, if you will, between hearing the thud of a cricket ball being hit, and actually seeing it connect with the bat. A more useful way of understanding the nature of ‘present’ comes from Husserl. He conceptualized the present as a saddleback (West-Pavlov 2013: 43) in which ‘retentions’ (parts of the past remaining on the horizon of experience) stretch out into a ‘comet’s tail’ behind the ‘now-apprehension’ and upon which the future is always falling in the form of protentions (Kern 1983: 83). In a pattern such as this, LePoidevin argues, the future and the past are not symmetrical, for whilst the past has ‘truths,’ the future does not. Whilst it is not illogical to argue about the distinction between the past and the future (there must be some, after all), given the difficulties faced in attributing ‘truthfulness’ as such to the past, it seems more suitable to follow a more Derridian model, and argue that the asymmetry is a product of qualitative rather than quantitative difference: that the past leaves a mark of différance upon the present – a ‘trace’ – which is experiential and quantifiable; whereas, if the future leaves a trace in the form of expectation and imagination, it is wholly speculative (Derrida 1997: 62).
Time 7 This has two fundamental consequences for the museum experience: one, the idea that the present is specious has implications for the way in which museum practitioners and theorists understand and describe visitor experience within them; and two, distinguishing between the complexities of past and future suggests that the relationship is something that museums cannot afford to take for granted. The way in which temporality is being conceptualized here is akin to the nature of memory; overlapping and saturating the now with what has been and what is yet to come. This suggests that we cannot understand temporality as simply linear, but instead that we have to comprehend it as something much more rhizomatic. The understanding of history in such a way is not unprecedented: a key publication is DeLanda’s A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, which draws upon both the contingency outlined above, but also upon scientific, materialist approaches, and Deleuze and Guattari to posit a history of overlapping, synchronous ‘phase transitions’ in which linearity is produced only by the people looking back, and in which the future is a Borghesian splayed hand of potentials (DeLanda 2000: 15). This approach stretches into all areas of the human sciences, including not just history, but also social geography, in the global complexity theory of John Urry (Urry 2003). The following analogy is simplistic, and fails to account for the threedimensional nature of space, but it is a useful one for illustrating something of the complexity which this book is attempting to express with regard to the nature of time. Imagine a handkerchief, potentially infinite in extent: this is space-time. Every point on every thread of this handkerchief is a saturated temporal event. Laid flat, and depending upon your perspective, relations can be drawn between each of the threads. But the handkerchief can also be crumpled, such that all points are potentially entangled with each other in the complex fabric of experience, which is sensory and cognitive, predicated upon change, and can be brought into different relationships with each other through the folding of temporality which occurs in memory and expectation. What this book aims to posit, then, is that there are manifold possibilities to be found in a complex, non-linear, radically temporalized museology.
Museums and Temporality In order to achieve this, however, it is first critical to explore the ways in which museums have historically been temporalized. In art curation scholarship, some focus has been placed on curatorial praxis as embedded in temporality through themes such as presence and the contemporary (see Schubert 2019, for example), and the relationship between museums and the academy is often visible in shared disciplinary constructions of time, such as deep time in geology, the ethnographic present in anthropology, and the variety of temporalized narratives espoused by different schools of historical thought. These have had distinctive consequences upon the ways in which museums have presented ‘time’ – at least in a narrative sense. As
8 Contextualizing constructions with cultural consequence, some of these ideas will appear throughout this book, but as we noted previously, time as a specific form of measure is less important here than the phenomenological experience of temporality itself. Time, as we understand it here, is not generally directly addressed in the museum literature, though this is beginning to change with the publication of such volumes as Pels and Modest’s Museum Temporalities: Time, History and the Future of the Ethnographic Museum (2021). Instead, it is usually tackled through subsidiary subjects, and as a result, scholarship on the issue has a long and fragmented history. Here, we shall explore it through a number of those key themes into which it has been implicitly categorized: death, othering, memory, and history. Each of these themes has a ring of the extraordinary about them, whether through a process of distancing or the suggestion of an intensity of affect. This sense of the peculiar runs through the literature on museum time, as we have noted above, no matter whether the attitude of the author is positive or negative about museums and heritage sites in general. And so, the purpose of this section is not merely to review and regurgitate this attitude, but to question it, and to question the validity of the themes into which discussions of museum temporality have arranged themselves. Insodoing, we can set up the rest of the book as a place in which method, as much as attitude and appearance, is used to investigate and reveal a picture of museum temporality which is both more quotidian, and more bizarre; a temporality which is legible, adaptable, and expressive. Why not begin at the end, with death? Death Death is perhaps the ultimate expression of the temporal nature of existence: during death, there is nothing but an embodied, excessively intense present, after which there will be no more Now; and after it, there is nothing but the abject transgression of the empty body – abject and transgressive, because its mannequin complicity with nothingness reminds those around it of their own tenuous mortality. Remarking upon Oedipus, the poet Friedrich Holderlin writes that, ‘… at the most extreme edge of suffering, nothing exists besides the conditions of time or space’ (2009). Perhaps this – this excessively present quality, this mannequin abjection – is why the museum has, since at least the time of Quatremere de Quincy, been associated with death. This association has come in two forms: museums as active producers of death; and museums as places which hold the relics of the dead. Murderers and cemeteries. Museums as Murderers Adorno once argued that the word museal suggests that the objects contained within no longer have a vital relationship with their observer (Adorno 1981: 175) – implying that museumification is an act of violence
Time 9 which removes objects from the social sphere and into an idealistic space maintaining hegemonic power. In this disruption, objects are brought into an environment deemed divergent, ‘ahistorical’; a place of ritualistic performance (Duncan and Wallach 1978: 29). In this light, a museum is a place with a heavy, timeless aura – a void, implies Blanchot, which ‘lends itself to being filled up with everything it isn’t’ (Blanchot 1982: 11). Museums are murderers, then, inasmuch as they are seen to strip away the ‘true’ meaning of material goods – that is, the purpose for which they were originally made. The work of art, writes Blanchot, ‘does not take shelter in a museum’ – it is an active agent in social life, impossible to remove without mortally wounding it (Blanchot 1982: 204). But such arguments imply two assumptions – one, that museums are places entirely separate from and devoid of living sociality; and two, that there is a true meaning of any object which is singular and inherent, locked permanently into the thing itself. The first assumption – in the contemporary world at least – is demonstrably untrue: there is a plethora of literature on museums as sites of interaction, and as agents of social justice. And the second is very much reducible to an ontological debate regarding the ‘thingness of things’ (Heidegger 2001: 161–80); in other words, in where or what the meaningfulness of the object lies. If the standpoint taken is that objects only have meaning as a consequence of the ‘vigilance of mortals,’ (Heidegger 2001: 179) then objects are relational – their meaning produced in their interaction with conscious minds. Such interactions can and do occur in the space of museums, where objects are reconfigured – Huyssen said, ‘resurrected’ (Huyssen 1995: 195) – and made meaningful anew. And if a thing has and is able to have both presence and meaning – that is, possess material and immaterial qualities – isn’t it illogical to call it ‘dead’? One might argue that preserving something physically, preventing it from its normal form of decay, is also a kind of murder: that preservation, which lies at the heart of museum work, is in itself a form of crime against the material truth of an object. Yet, again, that presumes that the meaning of something lies simply in its physical embodiment. I would argue, instead, that when objects which are designed to decay are taken and preserved under a museum’s care, it is not a violence against the object, not the murder of the object, but an act of callous inconsideration for the values of the people from which the object comes. That callous act does not kill an object – it does something far worse, which is to not simply change, but to fundamentally destroy, its intended meaning, and thus drive a wedge of understanding between a museum and a people, in the presumption that preservation of the authentically physical, a very Western form of remembrance, is the ultimate goal for any object or its maker. Outside of such extreme cases, it could be argued that it is in the very nature of museums not to cause death – which is terminal nothingness – but merely to incite change, and cause the multiple potential meanings of apparently singular things to blossom. Pearson and Shanks posit rupture – which
10 Contextualizing allows things to perform the changes which they undergo – as ‘essential to the authentic imagination’ (Pearson and Shankes 2001: 118). This is visible in the multiplicity of meanings which museum objects possess – their ability to represent more than they would have represented in their initial lives. Museums as Cemeteries According to Sherman, it was Quatremere de Quincy who first designated museums as mausolea (Sherman 1994: 123). And the appellation as a place of burial stuck, from the modernist avant garde and Adorno, to postmodernism and beyond. The nature of the words used when describing museums as tombs is interesting: call them mausolea, as did de Quincy, and you evoke the lost royal memorial at Halicarnassus, built for Mausolos, the king of Caria. Call them sepulchres, as did Adorno (Adorno 1981), and immediately they are rendered as something much more ritualistic and holy – sepulchre being used in particular to designate the cave outside Jerusalem in which Christ was said to be entombed, and related to the Sanskrit word for ‘honours’ – saparyati. And the museum’s position as a burial ground is constantly shifting and ambivalent. Witcomb notes how modernist and protomodernist figures, including Nietzsche, Valery, Adorno, the Futurists, Surrealists, and the Dadaists, conceptualized museums as tombs requiring oblivion (Witcomb 2003: 8) – in the Futurist Manifesto Marinetti wrote, ‘We want to destroy museums, libraries, academies of any sort, and fight against moralism, feminism, and every kind of materialistic, self-serving cowardice’ (Marinetti 2011: 5). Yet, as was almost inevitable, the avant garde became a tradition, canonized and codified and buried in the museum it so hated. The postmodernists would come to see museums as ‘empirical relics of modernity,’ things speaking of ‘modernity’s antiquity,’ things to be destroyed (Knell 2007: 2). Here, there is a ruinous quality, recognized by Giebelhausen when she speaks of the sense of suspension and void one encounters in a museum (Giebelhausen 2012): a building where ruined objects – ruined physically, and missing bits of their meaning – are placed on display. The museum is a cemetery in that it and its contents perform substitute remembrances of times, events, and people which are no longer – the metonymic actions of stuff and headstones. However, Andrea Witcomb argues that we need to move beyond the association of museums with places of stasis and death, and indeed that ‘[t]here never was a moment when the museum conformed entirely to the critique’ (Witcomb 2003: 9). If what we discussed above regarding the relational nature of objects is correct, then the association between museums and mausolea is lessened. If we conceptualize museums instead as spaces where manifold interactions are had and multiple meanings made manifest, it seems that they are places more ambivalent and fluctuating: places not where time has ended or been arrested, but ‘where time seems to oscillate’ (Giebelhausen 2012: 236).
Time 11 Othering Death is a form of othering. Kristeva wrote of the corpse as the ‘most sickening of wastes … a border that has encroached upon everything’ (Kristeva 1982: 3) – a place which reveals the abject nature of the body once consciousness has departed; the not-I (Kristeva 1982: 1). But there are other forms of othering which occur in relation to museums, and they too are heavily temporal. Their temporality stems from their act of distancing, their almost reification, which situates museums and their objects outside of the everyday. There are two forms of othering to be discussed here in relation to museums: the othering of and the othering within. The Othering Of By ‘othering of’ is meant the othering of museums themselves. This othering is an action of language and attitude, committed both by those running the museum, and from the outside by those (in positions of greater or lesser power) looking in. Museums are othered through remoteness – the charge of elitism which has been laid at their feet and enacted by them historically, their position as ‘architectures of secular power’ (von Naredi-Rainer 2004: 9), the intimidating nature of their entrances (Heumann Gurian 2005), their ambivalent status as places of the sacred, or the profane. Perhaps, too, we can see the othering of museums in the expectation of their capacity to produce resonance and wonder, (Greenblatt 1991) even, as Ekman suggests, as sites of antaeic magic (Ekman 2012). Perhaps, the most obvious act of othering is that enacted by the word heterotopia. It was Michel Foucault who designated the museum as such, but many have taken on the concept and used it since then as shorthand for the museum’s perceived alterity (Bennett 1995 and Lord 2006, for instance). But what is the heterotopic museum, if we look closely? In his extensive description of the heterotopia in ‘Of Other Places,’ Foucault assigns them five characteristics – 1) that they belong to every society and fall roughly into two forms – heterotopia of crisis, and heterotopia of deviation; 2) that they are defined by the cultures in which they exist, and change in relation to those same cultures; 3) that they bring together apparently incompatible sites; 4) that they are linked to slices in time called heterochronies; and 5) that they are closed, or penetrable only by the possession of particular means or qualities (Foucault and Miskowiec 1986: 24–27). In The Order of Things, they are described as places which turn the commonplace inside out and deny it validity: ‘they destroy syntax in advance, and not only the syntax with which we construct sentences but also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things (near to and also opposite one another) to “hold together”’ (Foucault 2005: xviii). The heterotopia of The Order of Things seem much more malevolent than those in ‘Of Other Spaces.’ If museums are the heterotopias of The Order of Things, they are ‘disturbing,’ disruptive to meaning and identity. Are
12 Contextualizing museums truly like this? Yes, and no. Yes, because in abjection – in bodies and ruined objects – they indicate the fragility of individual and cultural consciousness, and therefore the fragility of meaning. No, because they are used as mnemonics, as places to remember who and what the Earth and its inhabitants have been and are. But we can best designate the museum as a heterotopia (or not) through an exploration of their characteristics as laid out in ‘Of Other Spaces.’ It seems obvious that museums align with the final four of Foucault’s five characteristics. (2) Museums, their meaning and function, are continually modified as societies change, and as the concept is transferred out of the European milieu across geography and culture. (3) Museums juxtapose at least the remnants of sites distant in space and time, including the visitor, who is other than the objects, other than the museums, and who therefore, on entering the space, takes part in a masquerade of ghosts. Lord’s argument that it is banal to designate the museum as a heterotopia because it is a space of the difference of objects (Lord 2006: 4) may go some way to accounting for the diversity of contemporary museums whilst retaining their status as heterotopia, but it fails to account for the divergent heteroclite which is the visitor. (4) Museums are associated with heterochronies – moments when a break is made with traditional time – as we have seen in our discussion of them as cemeteries, and as can be observed in their capacity to pull multiple histories and locales together. (5) Museums are also understood as closed – one might cite the example of the contemporary art museum, the meaning of which proves impenetrable unless one has the language to decode and read it. It is more difficult to read them as places of crisis or deviation (1) – certainly, if they are read as the bastions of cultural hegemony which they have historically been deemed. That said, if they are understood instead as places of abjection, as places which, in their jigsawing of times and locations, force us to reconsider those things we thought ordinary and inalienable as culturally specific and mortal – then perhaps they are places of crisis after all. But a comparison of museums with the features of heterotopia does nothing to examine the validity of the concept itself. And because it is a concept with such heft in the museological landscape, there is no doubt that we must do so. Beth Lord uses the concept of heterotopia to undermine the reading of Foucault’s conception of the museum as a negative thing, an ‘Enlightenment institution that embodies state power’ (Lord 2006: 1). But her discussion does not question the validity of the heterotopia as concept; indeed, she modifies its designation into something simpler and more positive – a space of representation (Lord 2006). This leaves behind the complexities – sinister and otherwise – outlined above, and it fails to ask if such a concept has validity or reality at all. What needs to be questioned is the term itself. It is very easy to use ‘heterotopia’ to explain away in one word the peculiar, enchanted temporality museums are seen to have. But heterotopia is a construct, one which collects the diversity of sites which have the potential to be counter-hegemonic, and
Time 13 packs them safely into a term which can be trotted out by those in power over the representation of culture and of museums. Furthermore, the association implicitly drawn with the Utopia – the non-place – has the potential to make any such site (already withdrawn from conventional reality) seem less real, and thus render it toothless (I have published critiques of the heterotopia in this vein in Walklate 2018). Instead, perhaps it is more appropriate to suggest that museums and the locations within which they are associated in the heterotopic schema – funhouses, fairgrounds, and sites of spectacle – can be sites of antaeic magic; sites in which place and environment intensify the experience of objects through their physical (and perhaps conceptual) context (Ekman 2012). Antaeic magic is a quality places possess, rather than a type of place; as such, it recognizes the diversity of places and affords them power; and, with that power, culpability. It means that those sites are open to questioning, to critique; but it also means they have the power to be radical and revolutionary. Designations – temporal, physical, and locative – are powerful things. They build representations of institutions and peoples into the cultural mindscape. To opaquely enchant the museum, to make it a heterotopia, is therefore dangerous, because the remoteness which is a consequence of this glamour both removes the power of society to effect change upon museums, and prevents museums themselves from enacting substantive social change. Firstly, this is demonstrably untrue, as we may see later. And, secondly, given the museum’s long history of othering within, this is a substantial ethical problem. The Othering Within By ‘othering within’ is meant the ways in which museums ‘other’ and exoticize the cultures and objects put on display. It is easiest to level the accusation of othering at anthropological collections, many of which have their origins in the colonial era and its fashion for ‘salvage anthropology.’ Here, we can turn to Johannes Fabian and Time and the Other for some insight into what occurs in museums with regard to their presentation of cultures. When he speaks of the ‘schizogenic’ (Fabian 2014: 21) time of anthropology, he is speaking of a process by means of which the people under scrutiny in the study become othered through the politically temporal act of writing: On the one hand we dogmatically insist that anthropology rests on ethnographic research involving personal, prolonged interaction with the Other. But then we pronounce upon the knowledge gained from such research a discourse which construes the Other in terms of distance, spatial and temporal. The Other’s empirical presence turns into his theoretical absence, a conjuring trick which is worked with the help of an array of devices that have the common intent and function to keep the Other outside the Time of anthropology (Fabian 2014: xxxix).
14 Contextualizing In the museum, this conjuring trick is worked through many devices, notably language and spatial design. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, for instance, is often thought to perform such othering – and it uses the past tense, occasionally, when referring to certain peoples, and has a very overt Victorian aesthetic. Though – as we shall see – the situation with the Pitt Rivers is more complicated than it at first appears, this kind of othering remains a problematic act of distancing, which exoticizes people, placing them out of the present time, and thereby strengthening cultural barriers and presumptions. To prevent such barriers forming, and to increase integration, museums must begin to pursue another politically temporal agenda – one of ‘radical contemporaneity’ (Fabian 2014: xxxix). It is not just people, but objects (sometimes as surrogates for cultures) which are othered in this way. The museum is a place of ‘schizogenic time’ inasmuch as material culture is preserved in order to provide a very present tense experience of the past, but remains conceptually located elsewhen. It is interesting to speculate how a ‘radical contemporaneity’ in regard to objects might change how they are used, viewed, and valued in museums. Might it allow us to decentre Western notions of the meaningfulness of things, and provide another context for the telling of human lives? The othering which occurs in museums is not limited to anthropological collections. As ‘institutions of secular power’ (von Naredi-Rainer 2004: 9), museums have historically had the charge of elitism levied against them – many have written of their exclusionary qualities. One of the most well-known is Gurian’s concept of ‘threshold fear’ – that the nature of museum facades (including both their entrances and their reputations) is intimidating enough that it puts people off visiting (Heumann Gurian 2005). The museum is also capable of othering the visitor once they are inside, if the display is such that visitors cannot translate the meaning of the items and ideas on show. These kinds of othering are all temporal, because they remove museums from the everyday temporality of the visitor – the experience becomes an ‘extraordinary phenomenon’ (Higgins 2005: 215). And this is where the heterotopia creeps back in – in a less-than-positive fashion. But it should be obvious that that heterotopic state is not inherent, but a form of performance. If museums do seek radical contemporaneity, do seek to connect with their visitors and originating communities, and to draw those two together, then this negative heterotopia is something that requires dismantling. Because museums have not only been associated with sites outside of the every day – in his discussion of world exhibitions, Walter Benjamin brought museums and their kind into proximity with pleasure and consumption (Benjamin 2002: 7–8) and they have been aligned with marketplaces, bazaars (Klonk 2009: 28), department stores (Noordegraaf 2009: 173), and fairgrounds (Bennett 1995). So perhaps they are less radically other than they have been theorized to be; and, as such, regain the remarkable affective power of the quotidian.
Time 15 Memory The connection between museums and memory is a commonplace. It has appeared as the focal point of texts including Crane’s Museums and Memory, Maleuvre’s Museum Memories: History, Technology, Art, Gaynor Kavanagh’s Dream Spaces: Memory and the Museum, and Arnold-deSimine’s Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia. And for good reason – museums are places wherein artefacts of significance are put in order that someone might be able to learn from them, and remember. As ever, though, the situation is more complex than that: for memory is not inert or inalienable, and neither is its purpose necessarily simply to remember the past. It isn’t the purpose of this section to repeat that which has already been said with more clarity and detail than there is space for here – but it is important, briefly, to situate the role of the museum as memory-complex within the contemporary temporal environment. In The Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine, Horst Bredekamp wrote that during the early modern period, the ‘Kunstkammer became a metaphor for the human brain gradually reacquiring Edenic wisdom’ (Bredekamp 1995: 40). This is not simply an attempt to retrieve individual memory, or to memorialize a past event: instead, it is an attempt to recall an entire state of cultural consciousness – and, at that, one which never really existed to begin with. Yet fictional states have power; they provoke saudades for that which cannot be, and which never was. Because collections are always partial, because they can only ever show glimpses of what was, because museum staff and the cultural climate manage the dialogues which museums espouse, the memory generated will always be curtailed and tendentious – always a phantasmagoria, always illusory in its wholeness. The memorial phantasmagorias which museums build are significant in the creation of imagined communities (Anderson 1991). They are provocateurs for nostalgia and hiraeth – sites of longing and loss, which can become dangerous if their complete veracity remains unquestioned; one might, for example, consider the controversies surrounding Confederate monuments in the United States, or the United Kingdom’s putative culture war surrounding the colonial and slavery links of public heritage. Such dangers are particularly acute if institutions and objects are lieux de memoire; sites symbolic of community cultural heritage (Nora 1989). Lieux de memoire tend to be partial survivals, synecdochic, and tend to indicate a loss of continuity with the past – the past, as Nora put it, as ‘radically other’ (Nora 1989: 17). As a consequence of this loss, there is a disintegration of the history-memory divide; again, a potential danger with regard to the perceived authenticity of memory. What memory brings, ultimately, to a discussion of museum temporality is a quality of fragmentation, of ruin. In ‘The Inhuman,’ Lyotard recalls the previous discussion of museums as cemeteries when he described museum objects as ‘traces’ of their past presence – in other words, the performative
16 Contextualizing absence of what they were (Lyotard 1991: 145). As places of absence, as lieux, museums are again positioned as peculiar – ambiguous, ‘hybrid,’ and ‘mutant,’ with the capacity to stop time (Nora 1989: 19). But museums are not just about remembering the past – the acts of preservation, museum construction, and display are inherently proleptic, because they presume a future in which they will perform the past. Museums always recall, through a glass darkly, what is yet to be. History The genealogy of museums is complex and contested – the connections between the contemporary institutions and historical forms of objectidea-performance are tangled, and range from ancient mouseia to medieval reliquaries (Smiraglia 2013) to wunder- and schatzkammer, to historic houses, to gardens, to theatres. A discussion of this tangled ancestry would encompass this entire chapter and prevent the inclusion of the topics which are most vital in this instance. In any case, museum histories are manifold, and far more detailed than I can be here. What this section is not, then, is a potted history of the museum form. Instead, it is a short exploration of the ways museums are seen to relate to history as both the past and the discipline: through representation, reflection, and formation; through microhistories of people, places, and objects; through broader histories of intellectual endeavour; and, though their individual statuses as historical, changeable, and ephemeral objects in their own right. Nonetheless, highlighting the tortuous family tree of museums serves to frame the need, here, to be aware of our contingently contemporary position, and that the performative qualities and activities of museums are always themselves open to interpretation. Museums are not, then, keepers of history; they are its storytellers. This representative quality is reflected particularly well in contexts with difficult histories, or which are undergoing political transition. Huzhalouski expresses this in his survey of the changing state and experience of Belarusian museums in Soviet and post-Soviet times, and articulates clearly the problem of the definite article: ‘The Soviet communist regime saw history as a powerful tool for legitimizing its power and it sought to represent itself as the rightful heir to progressive national historical traditions’ (Huzhalouski 2015: 213). Museums, as representatives of history, are political agents in the manufacturing of that history, and can also be used by those with particular agendas – agendas which might not be the museum’s own. Huzhalouski’s article also indicates how changeable the story represented can be – what can be hidden and what can be brought to light. Museums make their representations through a variety of sources; objects, diverse in form and purpose and meaning; the buildings in which they are housed; the interpretive media which are placed around them. Thus, they contain a manifold of histories, which may appear, intentionally
Time 17 or otherwise, through the rearrangement of these sources. History in both its forms, is manifold and heteroclitic, and so are the institutions that tell it. But it is not just, of course, the institutions that tell history and make it have meaning. As Pascal Geilen has noted: … history and heritage do not simply appear in the consciousness of museum visitors. What is perceived as relevant history or heritage, is offered to the visitor as an artefact or as an event of some historical importance. The mediator decides what is worth inheriting, so to speak (Geilen 2004: 152). Geilen also identifies three forms of relational spatio-temporality which appear in museums when they present history/the past: local, global, and glocal time. The first is a linear and pluperfect time – closed and untouchable, and often very dependent upon a particular place, hence local time. The second type, global time, is a situation in which localization gives way to universality, an emotional but generalized ‘pastness’ (Geilen 2004: 154). According to Geilen, institutions which utilize these forms of time erase their own role as mediators – denying either their own work in the construction of the past, or indeed that it is constructed at all. However, glocal time, which recognizes the role of mediation, allows for a complexity of locales; and, thus, of times, synchronized only by their connections to each other, through phone calls, Instant Messages, and Internet Relay Chat. Understanding glocal time as it manifests in the present ‘generates a new, polyphonous, view of days gone by and different heritage presentation may continuously come up with ever different time loops’ (Geilen 2004: 155). So, history is clearly mediated through museums. It is also, in the manipulation and interaction with the contemporary moment, made by them. Petkova-Campbell, writing about the complex histories of communist museums in Bulgaria, quotes George Orwell: Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past (Petkova-Campbell 2013: 224). It’s a hackneyed statement – largely because it is, to most intents and purposes, true. The past – heritage – is a product of the present, or, as Tunbridge and Ashworth write, ‘a series of accepted judgements’ (Petkova-Campbell 2013: 223). Museums can be, and are, used to produce narratives of the past to suit a particular present. The EuNaMus project found that ‘National history museums provide foundational narratives and a sense of continuity’ (Knell and Aronson 2012: 30). Museums such as this have a role in the development of nations, but it is not a simple one. Aronson and Knell describe two forms of display – the interpretive, which utilizes objects to produce implicit, non-rational, understandings in people, and the narrative, which
18 Contextualizing begins with ‘a coherent and developing discourse’ (Knell and Aronson 2012: 37). These narratives, they argue, come in three forms: internationalist; based on the nation; and ideological. The first imposes its own view on the artefacts of others, the second defines and builds an often essentialist view of the nation, and the third is an extreme instrumentalization of the past for the benefit of a particular governmental regime or a country undergoing post-totalitarian reformulation (Knell and Aronson 2012: 38–40). As an example of the ways in which museums might be used in ideological narratives, we might consider ministerial uses of heritage in the United Kingdom in 2020 and 2021. On 22nd September 2020, Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, wrote to Arms Length Bodies (ALBs) across the United Kingdom arguing for the retention of contested heritage and provoking sector-wide concern by implying that funding could be withdrawn if institutions failed to consult ministers on decisions concerning such heritage. This was followed in January 2021 by Robert Jenrick’s announcement of ‘new laws to protect England’s cultural and historic heritage,’ also known as the retain and explain policy, which has itself provoked controversy. Many have accused ministers of trying to provoke a culture war, pitting conservative leaning individuals against the ‘woke’ left. Who controls the present controls the past, indeed. Museums and their kin also manifest the fears, desires, and experiences of their contemporary stakeholders – even if their subject matter or aim is in theory a-political. Take science centres, for instance. Toon notes how the growth of science centres in 1960s America was a product of fear – the fear, after Sputnik, that the Eastern bloc were leaving the West far behind in terms of technological achievement (Toon 2005: 106). Despite the fact that a centre might have a-historically presented content – being a place attempting to articulate eternal scientific truths – often, their wider historical-contemporary context influences their motivations and presentations. The same is true of museums. Ali Mozaffari discusses the National Museum of Iran, which has gone from being a museum in a country identifying with a pre-Islamic Persian origin, to a museum in a highly Islamized society (Mozaffari 2007). The displays have not changed hugely with the regime – however, the way the objects are understood has. In the Islamic context, the pre-Islamic objects have gone from being culturally, ancestrally resonant items, to examples of the righteousness of faith – the objects are no longer historical carriers of culture, but a-historical bearers of transcendental truth (Mozaffari 2007: 100). Museums are also entangled with smaller scale, local, histories – microhistories, if you will. Object biographies detail the individual histories of collections items; museums have histories of their founding and building written (such as, for instance, Brown’s Ashmolean: Britain’s First Museum, or Garnham’s Architecture in Detail: Oxford Museum). But museums also are impacted by and impact upon individual lives. The Pitt Rivers, named for the founding donor – a colonial general and weapons collector – could
Time 19 be cited as a prime example. In fact, however, though it may appear, superficially, to have changed very little, this museum is now the product of many hands, and many professional lives, and is as a consequence a very different institution than that founded in the time of the General. Conclusion Museums, demonstrably, have specific connections to temporality, some of which we have addressed here. The themes above were primarily chosen for their visibility; there are, of course, other elements of the temporal museum which we shall encounter later in this book. But for the moment, it is necessary to acknowledge that the temporalization of museums in the literature has been primarily focussed upon the ways in which the time of museums is different than the mundane present – whether deathly, othered, memorial, or historical. It is separated and made distinctive. We have also seen, however, that temporality has a mutually creative relationship with museum space – that they fundamentally shape each other, and that this shaping can be turned to political ends. In the rest of the book, we shall address some of these questions in more detail.
What Follows The chapters which follow focus on developing the central argument of this book: that museum time needs to be understood as something more than simply ‘strange’ and that there are languages and methods in existence which can allow this to happen. In Chapter 1 ‘Frame,’ we explore the ways in which literature – in terms of both production and theory – possesses a temporalized language which museology can borrow in order to address its queries regarding time; a language which it can use to both analyse and manipulate temporal structures which have always been present in museum space in a much more controlled and rational fashion, utilizing phenomenological elements in the transference from page to space. In Chapter 2 ‘Linearity,’ we tackle a major form of temporal construction, and explore its museal forms and the implications, political and social, that its presence in such spaces has. Chapter 3, ‘Non-Linearity,’ explores the manifold other forms of temporal ordering which have potential in museum spaces, and which demonstrate that there is more than one way through time. With Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7, the book delves into more abstract temporal territory, whilst retaining the pragmatic language offered by literature. In Chapter 4 ‘Presence,’ the book explores how things come into conscious apprehension in the museum – how they make themselves present and apparent – and how this impacts existing understandings of museum temporality. Chapter 5, ‘Absence,’ presents the counter to that – how the missing and the void are articulated and felt in the museum space, and what this might mean for the ontology of museum
20 Contextualizing time. Chapter 6, ‘Authenticity,’ explores a well-known question of museology – that of authenticity – from a new angle. By exploring authenticity as a temporal issue as much as an ontological one, it allows not only an exploration of the way in which the nature of objects impacts upon the perception of museum time, but furthermore an exploration of the ways in which objects might be understood and valued differently. In the final chapter ‘Auracity,’ the book again addresses a feature of museum practice and theory from a very temporalized angle, examining how the idea of the aura, and other associated concepts, have an impact upon the perception and performance of museum time. In the conclusion, all these explorations are drawn together, and we offer some implications for the time-bound creature which has been haunting the volume, in a Derridian sense, the whole time: the museum of the yet to come.
Introduction As we have discussed, the literature on temporality in museums is disjointed, lacking a coherent framework for investigation. In order to explore temporality in the museum, it is necessary to establish both a language and a methodology: to speak time, and to act within it. We must begin with the form of time that we can sense: space. To encounter temporality is to engage in a conscious dialogue with the environment and experience. Therefore, in the first part of this chapter, we turn to phenomenology to provide a philosophical grounding for our method, and the basis of the embodied investigative practice it requires. But phenomenology alone does not enable the thorough articulation of temporality in terms which are graspable, specific, and measurable. And so, in the second part of this chapter, we turn to literature, a discipline which has both pragmatic and poetic entanglements with temporality, and which has a full gamut of terms and phrases with which to speak the many names of time. It is this other field of performative culture, this other discipline which also lives and dies on interpretation, which will provide us with the language we need to articulate in greater clarity the true strangeness and mundanity of museum time, beyond the heterotopia.
Case Studies This book is centred specifically on three museums – the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), and the Pitt Rivers Museum, all located in Oxford, UK. The choice of specific case studies is a key element of the methodology applied, which, as shall be seen, requires an in depth and focused approach to specific places at specific times. Though the method overall might be employed in almost any institution, Oxford was selected, not merely for its rich museum population, but its own varied temporal layering, built up over centuries of inhabitation and fame, and for its topical connections to fictional worlds, DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-3
22 Contextualizing such as Wonderland and Middle Earth; for narrative and thematic cohesion, as well as museological concerns. All the case studies fall under the operational aegis of the University, giving them an overall unity, as well as tying them into the life of the city itself. Their institutional and collection histories are deeply entangled; and to this day, they collaborate on research and loan parts of their collection to each other. In the case of the Pitt Rivers and the OUMNH, the connection is literal and physical, with the buildings backing onto each other, and the primary public access point to the Pitt Rivers being through the Great Court of the OUMNH. One might argue that the singular location of these buildings is a limitation on this study; that is as may be, but the coherence that it offers, as well as the variety in terms of institution and collection type offers a counter to such a concern. With that said, this section shall introduce the case studies, presenting their value to the project whilst also recognizing the scholarly literature which surrounds them. The Ashmolean has a claim to being the world’s oldest extant public museum, thus holding distinctive temporal and historical interest (Brown 2009: 9). It plays upon this history in certain parts of its display, referencing its founding fathers including Elias Ashmole and the Johns Tradescant, and the ‘Ark’ which was the founding collection’s original home. That collection has seen much change over the institution’s four-hundred-year history, and many of the original items have been dispersed. Some now reside in the Pitt Rivers and the OUMNH. The porosity between all three institutions heightens their relevance to this book’s temporal analysis. The Ashmolean has also seen significant physical change to its buildings. It was originally housed on Broad Street in the building now home to the Museum of the History of Science, but is now situated on Beaumont Street behind the iconic frontage designed by Charles Robert Cockerall and built between 1839 and 1845. Later, under the Keepership of Arthur Evans, the Fortnum bequest was used to build new display space behind the University Galleries. The two institutions finally merged in 1908 to create the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology as it exists today (Brown 2009: 17). Of perhaps most immediate relevance here, however, is the redevelopment undertaken by Rick Mather and Metaphor in 2009. The (relatively) recent nature of this transformation and the high level of publicity it engendered also make the Ashmolean a suitable case study. Now that the space has had time to settle, and staff have been able to live with and accustom themselves to the new building, it is a good time to question the displays and design, both on their own terms, and in how they relate to the older parts of the museum still accessible to the public. How could a museum with four centuries behind it, visibly palimpsestual and evolutionary display spaces, and a display strategy entitled Crossing Cultures Crossing Time fail to excite intrigue as a temporal site? Much of the scholarly literature around the Ashmolean has, of course, focused upon its collections, rather than the museum itself (see, for
Frame 23 example, the extensive works of Arthur MacGregor). Whilst this is perhaps understandable, given the age and renown of the collections, it is not our focus here. Given the nature of this book and its emphasis on experience in space and time, what I am concerned with here is primarily literature which deals with the architectural and sensory qualities of the space, across history and the present, as well as discussion of the display strategies employed in the renovation. In the case of the first, of particular relevance here is Constance Classen’s paper, ‘Museum Manners: the Sensory Life of the Early Museum’ (2007), in which she explores the ‘corporeal practices’ which visitors to early museums might have engaged in, particularly during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with her central case study being the Ashmolean. Because of the transient nature of many of these encounters, Classen is, like most historians, forced to rely on the written word to intimate and interpret the actions which would have been taken in relation to objects – holding them, smelling them, and breaking them apart. Regardless, the paper is evidence of the value of an embodied encounter with the Ashmolean – and provides an inspiration for my own reported encounters here. In the case of the display strategies and responses to the renovation, a number of reviews were written, including that by N. James, of the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, which details the Crossing Cultures Crossing Time theme, along with a comparison of the new display and interpretation style with the ‘cool, lucid, dry typologies’ of the past (2010: 556). This book, then, seeks to contribute to the literature on the Ashmolean Museum in a relatively unique fashion, applying its literary and phenomenological method to these galleries which are both very old, and quite new. The Pitt Rivers is significantly different from the Ashmolean. Far younger, but now with a much older aesthetic feel, it provides an interesting stylistic and architectural comparison. Its subjects of ethnography and anthropology are distinctive enough from the art and archaeology of the Ashmolean to provide a comparative temporal landscape for this project. But it is, like the Ashmolean, a hugely historic and time-bound space; its reputation, in fact, is based in part upon a hugely temporal notion – that it is a fossil, a fly in amber, a Victorian Museum preserved for the present (Gosden et al 2007: xvii). But this is not the case – its collections have been updated throughout its history, added to and rearranged, and architectural renovations are continually occurring; in 2010, the Upper Gallery was reopened after a redesign (Pitt Rivers Museum n.d.a). Thus, the Pitt Rivers, a museum of anthropology, is a complex nexus of temporalities, a visible palimpsest of display styles and curatorial hands from the handwritten labels of the late nineteenth century to the work and interpretations of the current artist in residence. The Pitt Rivers Museum is also hugely self-reflective and has as a result a strange historical position in regard to itself. As Knowing Things, the book born out of the Relational Museum project, shows, it is an institution happy to perform the same anthropological acts upon itself as its
24 Contextualizing users and makers have, and continue to, upon others (Gosden et al 2007: 7). It is, therefore, an institution open to the kind of deep exploration for which this book aims. As with the Ashmolean, and as to be expected, much of the literature on the Pitt Rivers deals with its extensive collections – some half a million objects. Much of the literature also takes as its core theme the people and relationships which have been central to the development of the collection over the past 140 years, with the Relational Museum Project as a key example. Alongside this, however, and more thematically relevant to this book, is work done on the political and sensory-emotional impact of the Museum. In the case of the former, we could cite the ongoing projects which are done by the museum itself, such as the public engagement projects Beyond the Binary and Radical Hope, Critical Change, their extensive research and restitution projects, such as Labelling Matters, African Restitution Research and Maasai Living Cultures, as well as its involvement with Matters of Care: Museum Futures in Times of Planetary Precarity. It is a museum which grapples with its troubled past, alongside with an equally complex present and future. In the case of the sensory and emotional role of this museum, a key author is Sandra Dudley, whose paper ‘What’s in the Drawer? Surprise and Proprioceptivity in the Pitt Rivers Museum’ explores the power of the active discovery of objects through opening drawers and moving bodies, alongside the impact of surprise and delight provoked by such engagements (2014). Often thought of as a-temporal, and yet in actuality deeply mutable and self-aware, an institution famed in poetry, and in many ways just as iconic as the Ashmolean, if for very different reasons, the Pitt Rivers cannot help but be an attractive proposition for our literary readings and our temporal excavations. The final museum in which the book is set is also intensely iconic and imbued with literary intricacies and scientific intrigue. Officially accepted by University Convocation in 1853, the OUMNH had had support within Oxford academia since the 1840s (Vernon 1909: 55). Its building, controversially gothic and ecclesiastical, was completed in an area formerly belonging to the University Parks in 1860 (Vernon 1909: 55). In its current name and content, this museum speaks of history – but this is a history far longer than that of human thought and culture. The subject of the OUMNH is a history of the earth and all things which have existed upon it. It is a deeply secular museum – it played host to the ‘Great Debate’ on Darwin’s Origin of Species in the year of its founding – and yet its architecture is that of a cathedral (Vernon 1909: 55). Neither does its temporal complexity end there, for it is very visibly a scholarly institution, containing timescapes outside the display area – its research rooms and use as an active teaching space much more obvious that those of the Pitt Rivers or the Ashmolean. This is a museum in which spaces of study and spaces of spectacle meet and are confused.
Frame 25 Once again, the collections dominate much of the scholarly discourse. However, here, there is also an extensive focus on the architectural history of the building, as well as its role as an institution of hands-on, powerful, science education, especially for younger children. In the article ‘Iron and Bone,’ Kelly Freeman focuses on the slippage between the ‘skeletal’ architecture of the museum and the fossilized bones it holds within (Freeman 2016). The paper, like Garnham (2010), considers the competition and consequence of the construction of the ‘Nisi Dominus’ building, a literal cathedral to nature, called ‘Unless the Lord built the house’ (Freeman 2016: 14), and offers many details about this unique, and largely unchanged, piece of Victorian engineering. As you might imagine, this kind of space is intensely evocative, and this intensity is also found in the literature on learning and experience within the Museum. In her thesis ‘Crystal Teeth and Skeleton Eggs’ (now published in edited form as Snapshots of Museum Experience), Elee Kirk writes powerfully of the running, the touching, the shouting, and the gasping of children in the Great Court of the OUMNH (2014: 3–4). And whilst I did not myself run, or shout, I did touch things, and I did gasp; so, in this book, I am not writing of the learning experience of children, but the phenomenal experience of the adult, through a lens framed by literature. For, you see, the OUMNH is also a massively transtextual space. Not only are the histories of its collections entangled with those of the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers, it is physically connected to the latter. Of all the museums under study here, it is arguably the one which holds the closest links to the fictional worlds of Lewis Carroll. In a case entitled ‘The real Alice’ the background to Alice in Wonderland is illuminated with text and taxidermy, and, in a neighbouring case, casts of the remains of the original Oxford Dodo are on display. The Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers use quotes, images, and references to fictional worlds; the OUMNH has a physical, intrusive link to that nonsensical timescape of Wonderland.
Museums, Phenomenology, and Temporality To clarify: here, phenomenology is understood as the investigation of conscious experience directed towards an object, from a first-person point of view (Smith 2018). In the vein of Heidegger, this book employs a hermeneutical approach; that is, it focuses specifically on interpretation in context. It uses Being and Time as ground for its understanding of temporality as a conscious experience and the idea of the phenomenological walk, and walking as arts practice, which has been documented by Pink et al (2010), to provide the pragmatic precedent for the way in which the spaces detailed here have been encountered and analysed. In Being and Time, Heidegger asks the question of what it means to be (Schmidt 2010: xvii). Its central figure is Dasein – that is, that which acknowledges its own being, something conscious (Heidegger 2010: 11). He utilizes
26 Contextualizing phenomenology – the action of interpreting phenomena – as the method by means of which to understand this being, Dasein. Space and time are characterized as phenomena. Crucially, Heidegger stresses not only the importance of a hermeneutic approach for this investigation, but also that the horizon of all being, its fundamental meaning and purpose, is temporality (Heidegger 2010: 17). This investigation involves all these elements. Like Being and Time, it emphasizes the importance of a being like Dasein (for instance, a visitor or interpreter or this researcher might be figured in this role). The attempt to understand museum temporality is a quest to understand the phenomena which make it up – the articulations of space, of time, and the conscious interlocutors which act within these realms. The approach is hermeneutic, in that it interprets these phenomena and their own individual meaning in context, in very particular times and places – the museums which act as the case studies for this volume. It seeks a conscious praxis within museum space: a form of interpretive inhabitation in which both mind and body are engaged. Phenomenological literature, such as The Poetics of Space, provided some conceptual information – Bachelard’s text celebrates the sensorial qualities of space, and the text itself is highly sensual (Bachelard 1994). But the focus of The Poetics of Space is the imagination, and the spaces described are very abstract. In the approach taken here, a much more concrete phenomenological method was needed – the phenomenological walk. This is a tool increasingly applied in ethnography and social geography (Pink et al 2010) and provides the embodiment which is so ‘integral to our perception of the environment’ (Pink et al 2010: 3). The premise is that an individual takes an attentive approach to a journey on foot, then records that journey, using the sensory and intellectual impressions as the data set for analysis. I also want to acknowledge, at this point, that the idea of embodiment, which is so central to phenomenological explorations of the world, has been utilized for powerful political statements, in particular by feminist and critical race theorists. There is not space here to address fully and with appropriate gratitude, all the literature produced by these thinkers. But the power in these texts lies in their understanding of embodiment, specifically that which is racialized and gendered, as politically active, and externally observed. My method is framed more by an individual, experiential encounter with space, rather than a performed or observed identity, and is as much influenced by the fact that I am small in stature as it is by the fact that I am a white woman, though I recognize that this identity gives me certain privileges, and the capacity to feel welcomed in museum spaces. This exercise is focused not on my external subjective appearance to others, but upon my own, internalized, and individuated understanding of the museums I was researching within. Another factor which shaped this particular focus is that the purpose of the project was not merely to record impressions of space, or to capture
Frame 27 all details; there was a target subject – time. Therefore, in order to ensure a focus on temporality, it was key to provide some sort of framework through which museum spaces might be read during a phenomenological walk. This initially proved difficult to establish, however, as I began to reconsider my previous experience with narrative and poetry, I began to build one. Literature is extremely valuable for a study of museums and temporality, as a parallel form of cultural production which is blessed with numerous diverse and very precise methods for understanding and modifying the behaviour of time. In the studies throughout the rest of the book, four sets of questions focusing on plot, perspective and rhythm (key temporal qualities and themes of literary texts) were deployed to frame the phenomenological walk. In the following section, some of the background to these questions is briefly explored and some key concepts introduced.
Museums, Literature, and Time A language is needed with which to present the forms of time uncovered during the phenomenological act of interpretation; a language which is expressive and understandable and can be translated easily into the museum context. That language does not exist in museum studies, as yet – but it does in literature. The combination of museology and literature does not immediately spring to mind: however, there are many ways in which they are alike and, before introducing the concepts and terminology which permeate the rest of this book, we need to explore why this is the case in order to justify their alliance. Literature and museums are both what Lessing called ‘temporal arts’ – that is, they reveal their completeness over a period of time, rather than all at once (Lessing 2005: 21). Both media manipulate objects, characters, and events to tell stories. Whilst this book does not claim that museums and literature are wholly analogous, it acknowledges that they are products of shared cultures, both subject to theoretical and political change, and influenced by artistic and broader cultural movements. Literature, with its longer history of both production and academic critique, has developed concepts and terminologies that museology has not; this is why museology might draw on it, as film studies has. This is not to claim that this book is the first time that museum studies and material culture studies have drawn on the concepts of language and literature – far from it. Susan Pearce was informed by Saussure and Iser in her study of the multiple discourses which might be constructed around events and objects to create ‘the past’ (Pearce 1994: 19). Literary notions have also long been applied to the analysis of space – Benjamin’s Arcades Project and Blanchot’s Space of Literature are just two examples. Elizabeth Weiser applies concepts directly from rhetoric to the way in which museums perform politically, and, following Greg Clark, suggests that museums are
28 Contextualizing ‘rhetorical landscapes’ (Weiser 2009). There are those in museum and art production discourses who apply literary concepts to space to this day – Jane Rendall in Site Writing (Rendall 2010), for instance, who suggests that a more site specific, creative form of art criticism is needed. In turn, she cites Mieke Bal, who used narrative and semiotics to read museum spaces in ‘Telling, Showing, Showing off,’ and ‘The Discourse of the Museum’ (Bal 1992; Bal 1996). Sophia Psarra uses narratology as an intellectual framework to explore architecture and exhibition design (Psarra 2009). In Museum Making: Architectures, Narratives, Exhibitions, the authors seek to demonstrate the concept of ‘narrative space,’ and to reclaim narrative from its negative museological associations, though the technicalities of narrative and narratology are not readily apparent in most of the text (MacLeod et al 2012). Paul Basu, in a more technically astute paper, highlights the uncanny and disturbing effects which might be engendered when literary constructs are deployed in museum space (Basu 2007). These provide precedents for the activities undertaken in this book. What none of these texts do, however, is apply a variety of literary devices to a singular concept: to explore temporality in museum spaces. Therefore, the rest of this chapter provides the overlay – the language with which to express the experiences gathered using the focused kind of phenomenology described above. It offers brief reflections on four broad themes of literature which have temporality as their core feature: narratology; perspective; grammar; prosody. This tour through literary time is intended to prime the reader for the concepts and terminology which will be deployed in the remainder of the book. Narratology Narratology is the study of narrative; that is, the manipulated structures by means of which stories are told and events related. Jerome Bruner called narratives ‘a version of reality whose acceptability is governed by convention and “narrative necessity” rather than by empirical verification and logical requiredness …’ (Bruner 1991: 4): they are the means by which human beings perpetuate their perceived reality. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that narrative has figured highly in the literature of the New Museology and beyond – Bal, Psarra, and MacLeod were cited above, and they are amongst others. Narrative is not an unprecedented term in the museum lexicon. Yet the ‘narrative’ that museum theorists and practitioners tend to use is more defined by its affective rather than technical nature. The ‘narrative space’ of MacLeod et al is less about using narratological strategies to create affect/effect than it is about those narrative effects/affects themselves. The intention here is to explore a variety of narratological strategies which might be used to unravel and explore the construction of museum time, as much as understand its
Frame 29 consequences. For those who wish to explore narrative in more detail, a key text is The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, by H. Porter-Abbott (Porter-Abbot 2002). One of the central features of narrative construction is plot – the way in which events and the absence of events (or elisions) are ordered and shaped. Plots have both shapes and features – that is, overall structures, and specific kinds of interpretive phenomena that take place within them, respectively. There are different narrative shapes (or structures) which exist all over the world. In Western Europe, some of the most well-known are the linear, the reversed, the cyclical, the ‘hopscotch’ and the framed, and any single iteration of one of these might contain different causal relationships. Beyond Europe, there are structures such as the Southeast Asian kishōtenketsu and Japanese jo-ha-kyū. The linear narrative appears to be the simplest – it moves in the direction of chronology and the presupposed natural order of events from earlier to later. Aristotle, who favoured action above character in regard to the telling of a story also favoured the linear causal plot, because such structures tend to relate whole and complete actions, which he deemed beautiful (Aristotle 1968: 15–16). In the linear structure, relationships between time periods and events can be established, and cause and effect move towards an end. Thus, the narrative structure can be used to explain particular conditions and to speculate upon possible futures. As Mendilow notes, these plot structures can be used to provide an explanation for and purpose to existence in time (Mendilow 1952: 58). They appear in museums in the form of timelines, or chronologically ordered exhibitions, such as that in the Main Exhibition space at the Imperial War Museum North, which chronicles global conflict from the First World War to the present. Causal plots provide comfort – they validate and explain actions and agents. But they are not as simple as they appear. Chronological form can suggest causality, and this can create the appearance of cause-effect relationships where there are none. This is known as the propter hoc fallacy (Porter-Abbot 2002: 39). The linear plot is deceptive, for whilst it appears to provide complete wholes, it is always naturally eliding events which do not have importance in its message (Auerbach 1953: 8). Character becomes secondary to the mechanical progression of the narrative; we will return to this when we discuss temporal features such as anachronies. Classical narratives and teleological, biblical narratives both reduce psychological specificity for fate and universal applicability, respectively (Auerbach 1953: 319; 11–17); these are universes in which particular ends are inevitable, and free will a forlorn imagining. This form of temporal construction is commonplace in museums, which, as institutions with a hold on the public perception of history, and with a history of involvement in Western domination and colonialism, have a responsibility to deploy such narratives with caution.
30 Contextualizing Reversed narratives, such as Martin Amis’ Time’s Arrow (Amis 1991), might be thought to disrupt some of this singularity. They can be disorienting and even nauseating. However, certainly in the case of Time’s Arrow, the narrator, in order to be intelligible to his audience, cannot run his language backwards. And when this situation appears in Slaughterhouse 5, as the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, watches a war film backwards, it can be read as a tragic comment on humanity’s inability to undo the catastrophic effects of its actions. When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly so they would never hurt anybody ever again. The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed (Vonnegut 2003: 53). Reversing the narrative merely underscores the reliance of human consciousness on linearity, and meditates on our inability to withstand entropy or undo our mistakes. And reversed narratives retain many of the same selective qualities of standard linear forms – teleology, elision – and they continue to mask them. Such narrative structures might provide a strange experience for a museum visitor; but their infrequency means that their value, pedagogic or political, is uncertain. Many cyclical narratives take influences from either Giambattista Vico, an Enlightenment political philosopher who wrote of a form of echoic, but non-identical return in his book The First New Science (Vico 2002), or from Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘eternal return,’ presented in Thus Spake Zarathustra (Nietzsche 1967). The first is famously found in James Joyce’s Ulysses (Joyce 1992) and is rather less sinister than the eternal return. The eternal return of the same can be used to completely retard progress and change. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera writes: If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of the eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht) (Kundera 1984: 5). Cyclical repetition can be a very effective plot device which is used to frustrate readers and heighten particular emotional states. It can also be
Frame 31 used as a character device – to retard or enhance their development. In the case of Billy Pilgrim, the character becomes distant and impersonal, impossible to engage with. But in the film Groundhog Day, the cyclicity sits alongside the linear development of both the protagonist, Phil Connors, and his burgeoning relationship with Rita Hanson. Connors, a weatherman, is sent to a small town to report on its Groundhog Day celebrations, and gets stuck repeating the same day over and over again, with minor differences in a more Viconian tradition. Ultimately, after a certain amount of hedonism and repeated suicide attempts (perhaps reflecting the Nietzschen ‘heavy burden’) on the part of Phil, his successful conquest of Rita breaks the cycle of repeated days, and the narrative resolves in a fated linearity (Ramis 1993). Are there ways of breaking linear narrativity? Yes, if we understand the distinctions between the various elements involved in the telling of narrative. Beyond the difference between the reader’s experience and the text, which is clear, there is also a distinction between the temporality of the world from which the story comes – the fabula – and the plot structure, or the way time is selected and structured to present a narrative story – the sjuzet (Porter-Abbot 2002: 18). The sjuzet is what shapes the storyworld – it is the structure that contains the elisions and the oddities of movement. This can be used to disrupt or highlight the singularity and elision which a standard linearity can impose upon a fabula. It is seen with clarity in Julio Cortezar’s Rayulea, also known as Hopscotch, which is made up of vignettes which can be read linearly, but also using a ‘radically non-linear itinerary’ chosen by the reader (Heise 1997: 77). It asks for readerly participation and choice, turning the narrative into something far more relational and ‘writerly’ (Barthes 1990: 4). In the museum context, objects can be interpreted as fragments of the fabula, and the way in which they are arranged and interpreted, through cases and text panels and other objects, can be identified as the sjuzet. And it is not too great of a conceptual leap to see, in Barthes ‘writerly reader,’ the heteroclitic visitor identified in the New Museology, and Hooper-Greenhill’s post-museum. Understanding the different levels of temporality which are part of narrative construction (reader, fabula, and sjuzet) allows us to separate entropy, or shared chronological linearity, from the more personal experience of time which remains sequential, but not necessarily linear in a Newtonian sense. The Bergsonian idea of durée, the fluctuating landscape of the interior (Bergson 1959: 94), can be utilized to express the highly subjective experience of sequential consciousness; built from connections which are entirely personal, and entirely unique. This focus on consciousness is found in Proust and Woolf – In Search of Lost Time and To the Lighthouse are examples of the use of the interior landscape of the mind as a vehicle for an articulation of temporality which is entirely distinct from that which is measured by historical chronology, or by the clock (Proust 2005; Woolf 1996).
32 Contextualizing As soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set … (Proust 2005: 54) It is indeed easy to see the museum visitor in this stream of consciousness. The visitor becomes the focalisor for the creation of the museum experience, which is made up of their fleeting impressions and thoughts. On the other hand, one might engineer the presentation of such stream of consciousness by a museum, through tangential connections and historical inconstancy. Framing is not a narrative structure in the same way that these previous examples are, but it is a form of narrative layering which has implications for the way stories and their constructions are viewed and interpreted. The most famous use of framing, or enveloping narratives, can be found in the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in which the focalisor for the overarching narrative, Scherezade, acts as a narrator, telling stories within her own story to save her life – stories are nested in stories (Mendilow 1952: 57). Other examples include Boccaccio’s Decameron and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Boccaccio 1995; Chaucer 1987) – all foreground the distinction between the sjuzet and the fabula. Nested – or at least, parallel – narratives can be found in many museums. One might, for example, cite the Neues Museum, Berlin, which envelopes the telling of European and Egyptian archaeology in the context of a museum – and a Europe, indeed – ravaged by war. In order to open the possibilities for museological narrative structure beyond these western forms, it is important to look at narrative structures from elsewhere in the world. The examples used here are kishōtenketsu and jo-ha-kyū. Kishōtenketsu, which originates in Chinese four-line poetry, follows this form – ki, or introduction, shouku, or development, tenku, or twist, and kekku, the conclusion (Barrett 2014). The ki sets up a situation which the shouku develops, the tenku adds another element, and the kekku draws the shouku and tenku together, often with new information (Barrett 2014). This form can often be found in Japanese four-panel comics called yonkoma (Barrett 2014). Jo-ha-kyū is a ‘tempo and an energy concept’ (Berberich 1984: 12) which appears across Japanese art. It can be roughly translated to mean slow, quicker, quickest, and involves the building up of pace throughout a poem or play, with the resolution coming quickly and purposefully (Barrett 2014). Not only do these forms structure narratives in ways different from Western tradition, they impact upon the ways in which the stories they tell and the arguments they make are both formed and understood. One reason for briefly discussing these narrative forms here is that it is important for both writers and museum practitioners to understand that narrative structures are culturally specific, and none of them are eternal, or more truthful
Frame 33 than another. Narratives are always constructed. For museums, this means that practitioners, designers and academics need to think about cultural specificity of the narrative structures that they use, and their appropriateness in context. It is now time to turn to more internalized features of narrative structure. Here, we are going to focus on anachronies, transtextuality, and chronotopes. Gerard Genette defines an anachrony as something which disjoints the relationship between the fabula and the sjuzet – though he, not working in the tradition of Russian Formalism from which those terms come, called them erzählte Zeit and Erzählzeit, respectively (Genette 1980: 36). Anachronies might also be defined as perceivable oddities within the presentation of a narrative that departs from linear logic. They come in a variety of standard forms: in ‘prolepsis,’ the narrative moves forward before returning to the departure; in ‘analepsis’ it moves backwards in the same fashion (Genette 1980: 40); in ‘ellipsis,’ chronology leaps forward and there is no return; and in ‘paralipsis,’ an event or moment interpenetrates a coterminous narrative (Genette 1980: 40). One could also argue that the in media res construction which Auerbach discusses in relation to the Odyssey (Auerbach 1953: 4) – which starts in the middle, then reverts to the start, then to the middle and then beyond – is also a form of anachronic construction, though it might be seen as a narrative structure in its own right. These anachronies have a variety of consequences for the narrative structure and interpretation of any given piece of text; we will discuss this in more detail in examples which arise in the following chapters. In museums, anachronies have not only narrative consequence, but political and socio-cultural implications. Another phenomena which impacts upon narrative is the way in which any given text relates to other texts around it. Genette calls these relationships ‘transtextuality,’ and, tentatively, identifies five forms (Genette 1997: 1): intertextuality; paratextuality; metatextuality; hypertextuality; and architextuality. Intertextuality is the co-presence of two or more texts, with at least one present in any of the others – quotations are the prime example (Genette 1997: 1), and these appear in museums, as we shall see below. The ‘paratext’ is that which surrounds and extends the text, the ‘undefined zone’ between the inside of the text and the outside world, which might include covers, prefaces, and introductions or forewords (Genette 1997: 2); in a museum, this might comprise marketing materials and internet sites. Metatextuality occurs when one text refers to or speaks of another, without necessarily quoting directly from it; this might take the form of a critique or a commentary (Genette 1997: 4); in the case of museums, this might be an exhibition review. ‘By hypertextuality,’ writes Genette: I mean any relationship uniting a text B (which I shall call the hypertext) to an earlier text A (I shall, of course, call it the hypotext) upon which it is grafted in a manner which is not that of commentary (Genette 1997: 5).
34 Contextualizing Genettian hypertexts, then, must not be confused with hyperlink-based works of the same name; they are, instead, texts which derive from other texts, unable to exist without them. From a certain angle, we might understand the Victoria and Albert Museum as a hypertext to the South Kensington Museum, and before that, to the 1851 Exhibition. The final form of transtextuality is the architext; that is, the categories which surround and form a literary work. This might include modes of discourse or indeed genres. In literature, this might be modernism, or science fiction, respectively. In museums, the entire form of the museum – as understood in its contemporary, Enlightenment derived form – can be considered to be an architext, but we might also understand the various genres of museums – ethnographic, natural history, social history, and art galleries – as architextual groupings in their own right. This is where we link to the final feature of narrative forms which we shall discuss here – the chronotope, which itself is closely connected to genre forms. Again, this is a term which has already featured in museum literature – Pascal Geilen used to it discuss the varied ways in which museums represent the past (Geilen 2004). However, Geilen’s use of the term does not tackle the complexity which is to be found in the original literary usage. The term first appeared in an essay called ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,’ written by the Russian literary theorist, M. M. Bakhtin (Bakhtin 1981: 84–258). The chronotope is more than genre – though it is related to it. The chronotope of a text is the expression of the ‘intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (Bakhtin 1981: 84). That is, the ways in which time and space are utilized, portrayed, and interact within literature produce particular forms – the chronotopes – which can be identified and analysed. Bakhtin identifies a variety, including the adventure time of Greek romances, the adventure of everyday life, and the biographical time of ancient biography and autobiography (Bakhtin 1981: 84). He notes that these are not all the forms one might find, and indeed that further investigation might render his ‘notes towards a historical poetics’ redundant (Bakhtin 1981: 85). Whilst Geilen’s appropriation of the term is interesting and, in many ways, appropriate, his tripartite definition of local, global, and glocal time does not express the fullness of forms which the chronotope can express: the purpose of this book is to enhance this exploration, though perhaps not the definition, of the production of chronotopic spaces in specifically located museum contexts. It is clear, then, that there are many ways in which narratological form in literature relates to time; and it should also be clear that these relationships might translate to some degree into the museological realm. But literature is not limited only to plot and narrative – there are other, equally as important elements in the construction of temporal experience in literature which also have consequences for museums, and it is to them that we shall now turn.
Frame 35 Perspective All literature, and all museums, present and require perspectives to make their meaning known in particular ways. It has to be acknowledged that in both the reading of a text and the visiting of a museum there are always at least two perspectives at play on two different levels – that of the speaker/ text/museum, and that of the observer/reader/visitor (Barthes 1975a: 260). Readers/visitors are diverse, and there is no room at this point to go into detail about their varied relationships to texts/museums. What we shall discuss, however, are the various possible perspectives which a text/museum may present. These include positions such as author, scriptor, narrator, and focalisor. We shall also discuss more grammatical positions, such as the first, second, and third persons. These perspectives are linked to the production of temporality through the ways in which they bring the landscape of the literary work closer or more distant, how they position it in relation to the reader’s present, and how closely temporally linked the producer of the narrative is to the fabula of the piece. In ‘An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative,’ Roland Barthes distinguished between varied parts of an entity often thought of as singular – the author. In fact, the term ‘author’ should be applied only to the named individual who is positioned on the front cover of a text; they are a supra-figure, containing a variety of other entities inside them. ‘The one who speaks (in the narrative),’ Barthes writes, ‘is not the one who writes (in real life) and the one who writes is not the one who is.’ (Barthes 1975a: 261). He emphasized this still further in the later paper, ‘The Death of the Author,’ in which he would present the terms ‘scriptor’ and ‘narrator’ as two different beings relating to ‘the one who writes’ and ‘the one who speaks,’ respectively (Barthes 1977). The scriptoral identity is particularly complex; it might relate to the named author, but it exists only for the duration of the writing of the text; or it might relate to the reader, who interprets and changes a piece of writing each time they encounter it, arising uniquely in each individual encounter. In S/Z, Barthes terms this activity ‘writerly’ reading (Barthes 1990: 4). The scriptoral identity has few obvious implications for the temporality of a text beyond the speed/perspective of the readerly encounter – however, due to the physical and often writerly nature of museum experience, it will be shown later to have more significant consequences for museum temporality, and so it is important to introduce the term here. The narrator, on the other hand, which is an entity created only in the body of the text, has very direct consequences for the way in which a text is perceived as a temporal being. They are the ‘voice’ in which the text is written – Jonathan Harker is one of the narrators of Dracula, for instance. Their role in generating temporality in a text is partially a factor of grammatical positioning. By this, we mean whether a text is written in the first, second, or third person. But this perception is also affected by the conceptual spatial position of a narrator in regard to their fabula; are
36 Contextualizing they homodiegetic, or one with the storyworld, or are they heterodiegetic, removed from it? We shall deal with both below. The first person is written from the position of ‘I.’ First person narratives utilize a variety of different temporal positions. Those which are written ‘backward from the present’ (Mendilow 1952: 107) can be used to position the fabula at a distant remove from the narrative-as-told, and thus place the story told as a whole in a more remote past. But this is indelibly tied to tense and tone. This relationship is complex, for even if the tense used is past, a sense of immediacy can be invoked by the use of the term ‘I.’ In this extract from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, for instance, the experience of the narrator appears very immediate and present, despite the past tense, and this is entirely due to the ‘I’ positioning of the narrator, and the wealth of vivid detail he recalls: I closed my lids, and kept them close, And the balls like pulses beat; For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky Lay like a load upon my weary eye, And the dead were at my feet (Coleridge 1954: 225). This is what is known as homodiegetic positioning – one with the storyworld (Genette 1980: 244). Third person grammatical positioning – that which uses ‘They’ rather than ‘I’ – tends to take a more heterodiegetic stance – that is, other than the storyworld (Genette 1980: 244). However, it too can provide varied degrees of remote and proximal positioning. Once again, tone and tense can be combined to create remote, even apparently omniscient positions on the action of the story, or a more journalistic sense of immediacy. The uncommon second person – that which uses ‘You’ – directly engages with the audience (Porter-Abbot 2002: 64). So, whilst the narrator is, by default, in a heterodiegetic position with regard to the action, the reader is press-ganged into homodiegetic participation. In Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, for example, the reader is told what they are doing and what they will do: You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone (Calvino 1981: 3).
Frame 37 This is a very overt emplacement of the reader in the text, and it distinguishes them quite clearly from the narrator, who retains a great deal of control and an entirely separate position. However, the second person can be used much more subtly, as it is in Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, Only you can hear and see, behind the eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams. From where you are, you can hear their dreams (Thomas 1954: 3). This places the reader in much closer proximity to the position of the narrator, rather than being a character in the text; you see along with them, and along with the characters whose dreams you hear. Nonetheless, the reader’s encounter with the storyworld, and the temporality of their experience, remain controlled by the narrator. Second person is interesting to look at in terms of temporal experience, because it forces a consideration of the temporal structures involved in reading in a way which the more ‘natural’ first- and third-person narrations do not. Any given text may utilize a combination of grammatical persons and vary in the level or type of diegetic involvement. Switching between these positions highlights the constructed nature of the narrative experience and jolts the reader out of their complicity with the text up until that point. Porter-Abbott calls these different lenses focalisors, rather than ‘points of view’ (Porter-Abbot 2002: 66). The focalisor is distinct from the narrator; in the first person, for instance, the narrator may be the focalisor to, but in the third person, the roles are distinguished. The narrator may be writing in the third person, but from the perspective of a particular character. Virginia Woolf does this to great effect in To the Lighthouse, to the extent that the narrator is almost completely subsumed by the character of Mrs Ramsay: She had a sense of being past everything, through everything, out of everything, as she helped the soup, as if there was an eddy – there – and one could be in it, or one could be out of it, and she was out of it. It’s all come to an end, she thought, while they came in one after another, Charles Tansley – “Sit there, please,” she said – Augustus Carmichael – and sat down. And meanwhile she waited, passively, for something to happen. But this is not a thing, she thought, ladling out soup, that one says (Woolf 1996: 125–126). Here, the clarity with which Mrs Ramsay’s interior world is rendered means that her emotional time is experienced, very directly, by the reader. This
38 Contextualizing is both third person and homodiegetic; temporal experience is expressed in a way very close to that of human perception, and this can be used to destabilize narrative continuity and the idea that temporality is an entirely objective and measurable experience. Perspective can also be manipulated in a variety of ways. Perspectival framing – which should be differentiated from ‘framed’ novels – is a device for this which Porter-Abbott recognizes (Porter-Abbot 2002: 25). This is most obvious in graphic novels, where the pages and panel frames position the reader in relation to a particular scene. This very physical way of shifting perspective can also be applied in museums, which utilize their physical structures and physical movement of the visitor to shape perspective – as noted by Stavroulaki and Peponis in ‘The Spatial Construction of Seeing in Castelvecchio’ (Stavroulaki and Peponis 2003). However, it is not necessary to shift perspective by graphical means – shifts can be achieved through the switching of grammatical person, tense, and diegetic positioning throughout a text. The choice to shift – and, indeed, the choice not to shift – is vital in giving a text character. Single focalisors can create a sense of unity and singularity (Meyerhoff 1960: 29); though the focalisor in Swann’s Way moves around psychologically in regard to tense, they remain the single ‘will to order’ which gives the piece its sense of identity (Meyerhoff 1960: 47). However, works without any shift – either in perception or in tense – can result in tedium. Shifts can be engineered by means of various devices. The ends of chapters, scenes, acts, and verses are obvious points for the focalisor or position of the audience to change (Porter-Abbot 2002: 114). Particular phrases – ‘and now it is time to turn to …’ – can also be used to baldly state the shift which is about to occur (Auerbach 1953: 243). Similarly, indirect libre – also called ‘free indirect speech,’ and meaning third person grammar using the perspective of the first person – can be used to change position without changing the flow of a narrative: Gervaise didn’t want a big wedding. What was the sense in spending all that money? (Zola 2000: xxiii; 63) Here, the narrator offers a glimpse into Gervaise’s thought processes by shifting to indirect libre in the second sentence. Shifts can, as in the Chanson de Roland, allow a single scene to be retold a number of times, allowing the audience to gather a more complete picture of an event than any of the characters (Auerbach 1953: 103). They can also be used to indicate a shift in the focalisor – that is, a change in the opinions or knowledge of the character. This is often what happens in sonnets, which formally require a twist in perception at the end, called a volta, which Shakespeare uses in Sonnet CXXX – he spends most of the poem comparing his mistress unfavourably to various natural phenomena, but in the final
Frame 39 two lines he states that she is of the rarest sort, and that all comparisons are false (Shakespeare 1958: 1058–1058). Shifting around in terms of focalisor, tense and diegetic involvement can also be confusing – as Auerbach notes in relation to the Chanson de Roland, its habit of repeatedly telling events using different focalisors and diegetic position can become very confusing for a reader, who may have difficulty distinguishing a new scene from a repeat (Auerbach 1953: 103). Perspective, as shall be discussed in the following chapters, is a device which museums can utilize to bring their visitors into relation with their objects. The museums’ voice can have the same temporal consequences as a narrator; single artist exhibitions can provide a particular focalisor. Locating the visitor in a particular position in relation to an exhibition or a museum can affect their involvement in the exhibition topic and the objects, and the sense of reality, proximity, or distance they can ascribe to them. However, perspective, along with plot, deals primarily with the overarching character of works; they provide the macro-level of literary temporality. In order to more clearly understand the micro-level of literary temporality, and in order to investigate strategies which might be utilized at the case and object and interactive level of museums, we need to turn to language and rhythm, which can provide us with that specificity. Language Words, and the ways in which they are used, are crucial for the way in which a literary work generates the colour and effect of its timescape and the way in which the reader relates to the work and its storyworld. Each different word type has a different role in how texts are understood (Radford et al 1999: 149); as a consequence, they play varied roles in the construction of temporal experience. In this section, we will briefly introduce those word classes which have significant roles in the production of temporality; then discuss key ways in which words are combined to generate temporal experience through tense and archaism/Otherness. Before beginning to discuss the role of word classes in temporal production, it is important to state that the word classes themselves do not have direct corollaries in museum spaces. It would be all too easy, for instance, to suggest that objects are nouns, that the colour of rooms is an adjectival performance, but these features do not behave in the same way, and they do not bear the same semiotic relation to reality that words do. Given this, in the book over all we will not so much consider word types as central as much as the functions they perform, and the ways in which various elements which go to make up a museum might take on one, or more of these functions, in different contexts and at different times. Categorizing them in this section by word class rather than purely thematic function is done purely for the ease of translation from literary and linguistic studies. With this in mind, let us consider the ways in which words make their play in literary time.
40 Contextualizing Verbs, which are used to relate action, characterize the sense of experienced or contextual time any given text presents. Certain verbs can be used cumulatively to propel the reader forward in a text – ‘sprang,’ ‘galloped,’ and ‘cried,’ for instance, are used densely to generate a sense of urgency in the poem ‘How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ (Browning 1986). Other verbs, however, which indicate slowness of movement – such as slouch – create a heavy, lethargic somnolence to a text. However, this is only to do with the specific character of those actions, rather than the function of verbs as such. Verbs can also be used to represent states of being, in ways that can seem less transitory than action (Nelson 1998), particularly when ‘inflected’ in particular ways, or given the addition of auxiliary verbs (Declerck 2006: 94). It is verbs which provide tense to a particular piece of text; we will return to tense later in this section. Nouns are ‘thing’ words; that is, they denote experiential phenomena, and as a consequence they relate directly to the lived timescape. Most obviously, perhaps, the nouns used, or not used, in a text can be used to identify the historical period in which the story is set, or in which it was written. But they are more than simply aesthetic colouring for a text; they can be used in more strategic ways. Their semantic qualities can be piled up on each other to bring particular qualities of speed to a text – for example, in the following extract: Not the labile units of memory nor the dry transparence, but the charring of burned lives that forms a scab on the city, the sponge swollen with vital matter that no longer flows, the jam of past, present, future that blocks existences calcified in the illusion of movement: this is what you would find at the end of your journey (Calvino 1997: 99). ‘Jam,’ ‘scab,’ and ‘sponge’ all have connotations of barriers and the turgid; they make the text seem sluggish. But there is more than that happening in this extract. Here, there are abstract and concrete nouns – ‘memory’ and ‘movement’ as compared to ‘scab’ and ‘sponge.’ Abstract nouns are more elusive than their concrete cousins, which can be used in a text to provoke a far more sensory and immediate reality (Radford et al 1999: 149). Adjectives and adverbs, the describing words, are ‘those doors of language through which the ideological and the imaginary come flowing in’ (Barthes 1975b:: 14). These words indicate the qualities and duration of a being or event and thus are key in generating the ways in which the temporalities of texts are articulated. And whilst those adverbs and adjectives denoting speed are perhaps the most obvious – ‘slow,’ ‘swift’ – again, it is more complex. There are, for instance, stative and dynamic adjectives. The first denote the condition of a noun – ‘small,’ ‘big,’ for instance – and suggest that those states have some sort of permanence. Dynamic adjectives, on the other hand, which describe qualities – ‘brave,’ ‘calm’ – can describe states which are transitory, or at least not always centrally prominent and obvious (Nelson 1998: 3).
Frame 41 Adjectives and adverbs can also be used to emphasize the transience or permanence of a particular noun or situation – Prospero’s ‘cloud-capp’d towers’ in the final speech from The Tempest evoke an insubstantial and labile reality, fantastical and easily torn down (Shakespeare 1958). Precise, even profane description, on the other hand, can be used to lessen the distance between the everyday and the fictive or fantastical. This can be turned to political and social justice ends, as with Zola, whose realism regarding the poor of Paris (which bordered on the grotesque) was not an Othering, but a plea for their recognition and redemption (Zola 2000: xxiii). Irvine Welsh is an example of a contemporary writer for whom the language of the disenfranchised is used to articulate their humanity (Welsh 1993). We talked, above, about tense, and it is important to speak about the ways in which this feature of language is used to engineer experiences in time. The present tense, for example, is vivid and intense, typically; it is used to say, ‘this is happening now, and you are here’ (Schriffin 1981: 46); it has an almost sensorial quality. The past tense, on the other hand, can be used to create a sense of distance, and even the ideal. In Wordsworth’s ‘A Slumber Did my Spirit Steal,’ the past and the present are used to emphasize each other (Wordsworth 2001: 566). The first stanza, set in the idealized past, delays and thus empowers the more tangible present of the second, which relates the death of the author’s paramour, and his present state of distress. The change is shocking, and bleak. The idealized past can be used to present Arcadia, or the fantastical. But the past can also be used to distance oneself from something which is painful or traumatic, and locate oneself in a more comforting present. The future tense can be argued to be even more complex, as it must display differing degrees of certainty, because the future is not yet sure. It uses modal verbs to do this – can/could; may/might; shall/should; will/would (Nelson 1998: 4). The future tense can also be used to depict a kind of saudade – a longing for that which will never be, and probably never was (Ricks 1989: 116). Briefly, it is worth looking to the ways in which words can be used to exoticize and other, and thus distinguish literary timescapes from those of the reader. A clear manifestation of this is when a text faces the consequences of language change, and is termed ‘archaic.’ Language changes, consistently, over time and this can be used in literature to particular effect (Campbell 2004: 3). Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for instance, are no longer evocative of a temporally local world, but a historical world now lost for all time. But archaic terms can be used deliberately out of time, to evoke longing or the eternal; this was common in eighteenth and nineteenth century poets such as Keats, who conjured romantic visions of places and times which were not quite historic, and not quite mythic. Words can also be used to estrange, to place the fabula of a text entirely outside the readers’ experience, or to jolt them out of too much identification and remind them of the weirdness of these worlds. Science fiction is characterized by such estrangement1; but the grand master was Lewis
42 Contextualizing Carroll, who utilized basic morphological understandings of language to produce nonsense forms which were gross parodies of language. Somehow, it is still clear what they mean. Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsey were the borogroves, And the momeraths outgrabe … (Carroll 2003: 209). Because they clearly have particular meaning – the nonsense words are clearly identifiable as nouns, verbs, and adjectives – the fantastical world of Wonderland is not chronologically distant from the reader’s own, but parallel to it. This remains true even a century and a half after it was originally published. Words can be used to build temporal locations and feeling, just as the individual parts of museums can be put together to particular effect. Museums, of course, often use language as part of their exhibitionary strategies – and in this case there is a direct correlation here between museums and literature which we can apply. For instance, the use of the ethnographic present in museums – which we shall return to later – can be used to place cultures and peoples into unchanging, eternal moments, trapping them and (conceptually, at least) preventing them from making any progress from the perspective of their (probably White, European) observers. How museums express themselves in words paints a very particular picture of their perspective on the world. But language alone cannot express ‘all the possible shapes that time can take’ (Carrière 1999: 97). There is a deeper level of temporality – rhythm, perhaps the most embodied element of literature. It is this which words, which narrative, which perspectives, sit upon, and to which we must now turn. Rhythm Rhythm is something instinctively human; more basic than languages, more innate than culturally codified narrative structures. Rhythm is time as lived. But rhythm is deployed to strategic ends in the production of literature, in particular poetry. Prosodic analysis is one of the key methods by which poetry is read rhythmically, and here we will explore how punctuation, line structure (lineation), visuality, repetition, rhyme, and stress are all deployed to create rhythm. In his analysis of poetic punctuation, John Lennard argued that, in English at least, punctuation has no rules, as such – merely conventional and unconventional uses (Lennard 2005: 106). He explored not only conventional punctuation marks (full stops, signs of omission, for instance), but also the physical structures of poetic form, such as stanzas, lineation,
Frame 43 and pagination (Lennard 2005: 105–152). We can also take Lennard’s visual argument further, into the realm of the comic book, where panels, frames, gutters, captions and speech balloons can all be deployed to rhythmical effect. Punctuation, then, can be used to shift, to pause, to begin, to cease, to flow, to turn back. Individual units of text produce particular senses of time and rhythm through their size: long paragraphs and stichic verses have a fluidity which suits meditative texts (Fussel 1979: 110); short blocks of text do not allow a consistent rhythm to develop, and can be used to signify transience, or even jolt the reader; such as when a single line is differentiated from a main block of narrative, or a poem ends with a short and sudden line. Stops can be used to various degrees of intensity; to present either a breathy pause, or a complete stop (colons and full stops, respectively). They can also be used to signal a shift of some sort; conceptual, temporal, or geographical. In poetry, the deployment of a stop, or pause, in the middle of a line is called a caesura, and it has considerable impact upon the rhythm of the poems. The caesura has an almost opposite in enjambment, the continuance of a phrase over a poetic line break without the use of a stop. Texts sometimes do without standard punctuation; Haikus, in particular, tend not to define their outer limits in this way (Cobb n.d.). This gives them a timeless, almost infinite quality (Cobb n.d.). Ultimately, punctuation is a visual means by which texts indicate digression, suspense, and speed. But there are other, aural, devices, by means of which textual rhythms are produced. Echoic devices – rhyme, assonance, consonance, and alliteration – can be manipulated in poetry and prose to present and occupy time. Full rhyme and alliteration can be used to create a sense of unity within a text, relating different parts to each other (Lennard 2005: 190). These are perhaps the most demonstrative echoic devices; the others, such as half-rhyme, are more subtle and uncertain. The meaning and consequence of these echoic devices relies heavily upon how they are positioned within a text. A quatrain – or four-line unit of poetry – might be rhymed abab, in a way which forces the rhyme to look forward and back, creating a complete unit. Or, it might be rhymed aabb, which divides the stanza into two clear couplets (Attridge 1982: 84). Rhyme can create a regular, steady pace, and a driving quality to a text. However, regular, ongoing repetition of sounds can create a haunting quality to a text, ritualistic and compulsive, locating the poem in a place which seems static and unable to progress (Chisholm 1997: 28). However, free rhyme can be equally as disturbing. Free rhyme does not mean that a verse is unrhymed; it means that rhyme occurs in a very irregular way, which disrupts the reader’s expectations, the pace of the poem, and standard poetic forms. Even more microscopic than echoic devices such as rhyme is metre, the way in which stressed and unstressed beats are patterned throughout a text (Lennard 2005: 1–2). English poetry combines accentual and syllabic stress to shape its metre, and perhaps its most famous child is the iambic
44 Contextualizing pentameter – the metrical line type beloved of Shakespeare. Metrical lines are made up of ‘feet’ – the ‘iamb,’ ‘phyrric, ‘spondee,’ ‘trochee,’ and ‘anapest’ – which all have different quantities and patterns of stressed and unstressed beats. Maintaining a consistent metrical structure produces a sense of continuity; changing it can create tension, signal a shift in perspective (Attridge 1982: 78). Constant stressed syllables connote slowness and difficulty; unstressed syllables suggest rapid, light movement (Fussel 1979: 35). In what is known as ‘falling rhythm,’ stress is placed at the start of the syllable; in ‘rising rhythm,’ stress is placed at the end. Metrical lines can also be manipulated and undermined by adding or eliding syllables. Metre has been criticized for its arbitrary divisions and frameworks in which not all poems fit (Attridge 1982: 11; Fussel 1979: 17); the foot in particular is a problematic concept open to individual interpretation to some degree, and many poets seek to break free of metrical rules. But the way in which poetry is patterned through stress is what makes it different from the language of the everyday; its rules may be arbitrary, but that does not make them less meaningful. As Eliot wrote, ‘freedom is only truly freedom when it appears against the background of an artificial limitation.’ (Eliot 1965: 187). Museums, too, use rhythmic devices, intentionally or otherwise, to affect the visitor’s experience. They have breaks – doors, corners – they often use call-backs and rhyme when objects are similar or related, and their objects and cases are deliberately arranged in ways which can be read through the language of rhythm and metre. We will explore more of this in the following chapters.
Conclusion Using the four themes outlined above, I developed a set of frameworks, in order to analyse museum spaces through phenomenological walks dedicated to narrative, perspective, language, and prosody. What follows in the next chapters are the consequences of these walks. The chapters are not framed around these topics, because it became apparent that other themes were more central to the character of museum time and its radical nature. However, these four original themes provided the necessary building blocks for those to emerge, and they will themselves appear throughout. The purpose of this chapter has been to outline and justify the interdisciplinary methodology applied in this book. Museum studies and museology are disciplinary hybrids, magpie subjects which borrow from a variety of disciplines to conduct research on their subject, and which are enriched by this diversity. The purpose of this chapter was also to introduce the reader, briefly, to some of the concepts and terminologies from literature which will appear later. The combined application of phenomenological and literary practices to the museum as subject allows us to not only explore a specific concept – temporality – but offers to museum designers and practitioners
Frame 45 another set of terms and a language with which they can describe their spaces and places. Prefigured by ‘narrative space’ and related concepts, this book seeks to develop a sustained study which is deep, and technically accurate, across all of these disciplines, and to use time and temporality as vehicles through which to demonstrate the value of literary practice in a museum context.
Note 1. We shall discuss this further in Chapter 3.
Introduction Contours in Time
Time is frequently described spatially, in terms of either direction, movement, or speed. Narrative forms of time, particularly in the European tradition, are typically described using spatial metaphors – linear, cyclical – as we described in Chapter 1. As a consequence, before taking on the more ambiguous and abstract consequences of time in museum spaces, it is worth considering the more prosaic and measurable questions of space, direction, and shape. How time is presented and experienced in museums in a geometrical sense, then, is the focus of the next two chapters. Chapter 2, on Linearity, explores that most comfortable form of narrative structure, why it is useful, why it is powerful – but also how it can also be limiting, threadbare, and illusory. Chapter 3 argues that there is a need to acknowledge and illustrate other forms of narrativity in a museum context, from an effective and ethical position.
Introduction Temporal passage has often been conceptualized in the form of an arrow in flight, linear and unidirectional (Le Poidevin 2003: 202–203). Standard Western historical chronology, in which events are arranged in causal orders running from earlier to later, is an iteration of this concept which is widely recognized and accepted, as it is useful for creating structured expressions of history and relating everyday experiences both communal and personal. Abstract and phenomenological approaches to time have often found some kind of linearity useful – Heidegger’s concept of Dasein, for example, suggests that all conscious beings are always moving forward, into their future: A constant unfinished quality [Unabgeschlossenheit] thus lies in the essence of the basic constitution of Dasein. This lack of wholeness means that there is still something outstanding in one’s potentiality-for-being (Heidegger 2010: 227). This chapter uses literary concepts, including those related to narrative, tense, and rhythm, to understand how linearity is produced in museum space, and to what purpose; for there are many implications and consequences to its use for museums as political and moral creatures. It explores the design concepts which are suited to the linear form, and furthermore, how that form is produced through graphics, language, and object arrangement. It shall also explore how the museum as a material artefact itself is not immune from entropy; an expression, if there ever was such a thing, of temporality as change and forward movement. Literary criticism has form, here, in the philosophical as well as the material realm. Derrida once wrote that if language was linear – dominated by newness and movement, much like Dasein – then ‘the meditation upon writing and the deconstruction of the history of philosophy become inseparable’ (Derrida 1997: 86). Analogously, our exploration of linear experience in the museum space has DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-6
Linearity 51 a great deal to say about the ways in which it tells and represents history and the future; and potentially points towards a way in which that might be deconstructed. The chapter will begin by introducing its key concepts of narratology, plotted structure, rhythmicity, writerliness, and the future. Then it will examine the Ashmolean’s redevelopment design rationale, Crossing Cultures Crossing Time, through the lens of narratology, focusing upon its implications for a connected, causal and universal history, the issues of elision, and the problematic and fragile nature of Grand Narratives (Bruner 1991; Lyotard 1984). Following this, it will discuss the ways in which the architecture and physical environments of museums produce linear forms of temporality, specifically in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s (OUMNH) ‘cloisters,’ and the Ashmolean’s Egyptian Galleries, and follows this with a discussion of the ways in which graphics and textual communication – such as the OUMNH History of Life Timeline – can perpetuate teleological models of history which can, and do, claim neutrality and objectivity. The next section focuses on objects, which form crucial parts of what we might term the ‘plot structure’ of the visitor’s experience, and which might also act prosodically, creating rhythmical patterns within the space. It utilizes the Perfection of the Rifle cases in the Pitt Rivers to discuss how the positioning and interpretation of these guns suggests an inevitable narrative to their history and development, and discusses how the OUNMH’s March of the Mammals and the Ashmolean’s Precious Cargoes exhibit synechdocically demonstrate linear movement and gesture. Finally, it considers the way in which the Pitt Rivers Combs case utilizes a reverse linearity to produce a pejorative reading of the ‘degeneration of the human form’ in Congolese art. In the last section discussing agents of museum temporality, the chapter focuses on visitors, introducing them for the first time as active, ‘writerly’ (Barthes 1990) participants in the construction of museum experience, engaging in an apparently linear ‘journey’ through the museum space, which is oriented towards a future end point. The final section of this chapter takes a slightly more abstract perspective and focuses on that which is inherent in any concept of linear time – the future. Taking a lead from the anticipatory quality of Derrida’s hauntology (1994), the section discusses the issues of permanence (Lubar et al 2017), immutability, immortality (Pearce 1992), taphonomy (Lubar et al 2017), anxiety (Kierkegaard 2014; Walklate 2019), and potential (Kierkegaard 2014; Fukuyama 1993; Dinshaw et al 2007; and Halberstam 2005).
Telling Stories: Design, Narrative, and Linear Ordering The value of linear narrative in the museum – as in literature or history – lies in its ability to tell a cohesive and lucid story, and for expressing an educational message (Geilen 2004: 153; Ravelli 2006: 17). It might be used
52 Temporal Shapes in confined spaces – such as a single case or series of cases, to tell one specific story in an easily comprehensible fashion. But it can also be utilized throughout a whole gallery; and indeed, a whole institution. The design rationale behind the Ashmolean’s redevelopment, which was opened in 2009, was known as Crossing Cultures Crossing Time (Brown 2009: 25). The floors were arranged chronologically, more or less, from the ground up, beginning with the Ancient World, and finishing with European Art from 1800 to the Present Day in a merging of the building produced by Rick Mather, and the older galleries which housed Western Art. Thematic galleries were in the basement. The galleries on each floor – aside from the thematic basement – were also arranged largely chronologically, though with the occasional disparity, such as Arts of the Eighteenth Century (gallery 52) preceding Arts of the Renaissance (gallery 56) in the numerical ordering of the galleries. The purpose of the conceptual structure was to show the connection between times and places across history, and it implied a connected, causal, universal history ranging from ancient times until the present (Brown 2009: 25). This structure remains largely in position, though the basement galleries have a slightly new arrangement, which was updated again in 2019, and the Ashmolean’s website no longer advertises the narrative design as obviously as it once did. The building itself connotes the Crossing Cultures Crossing Time design; the visitor who looks up from the ground floor looks through the space created by the lightwell towards the historical future, designed and laid out ready in front of them. From each of the upper floors in the Mather extension, the visitor may look down through the archaeological layers of the displays below and imagine the past that they have already traversed. The presentation suggests a sense of fate; a causally based history which seeks to connect as many parts of the world together as possible in a universal timeline running inevitably from the ancient past to the present day. This linear narrative is riddled with elisions. The Ashmolean cannot display all the cultural and economic connections which have influenced world history and indeed its displays are heavily focused upon European and Asian histories with little account of Africa, the Americas, or the Antipodes. To assume the Ashmolean’s ‘global’ history to be comprehensive would be to deny those other histories and to place the Greco-Roman and Asian cultures at the fulcrum of global events. If, as Bruner claims, ‘[n]arrative “truth” is judged by its verisimilitude rather than its verifiability’ (Bruner 1991: 13), such narratives are dangerous; they appear to be real, and in so doing, they create a reality which denies all others. Bruner’s explanation suggests that mutually exclusive narratives – at least in fiction – can stand alongside each other with no need for argumentation: but this is a form of cultural relativism which cannot hold true here, in the museum – seen as a space of truth – and in this post-truth time (McIntyre 2018). Considering not only a postmodern ‘decentring of the centre’ but the necessity of acknowledging the colonial and racist contexts of museum spaces and their institutional structures,
Linearity 53 such unquestioned narratives claim a legitimacy and verisimilitude which disregard other lives and experiences. Crossing Cultures presents a Grand Narrative, a form of story which uses its own structure to legitimate itself, and which is easily mistaken for complete and truthful knowledge (Lyotard 1984: 18–23). ‘Once shared culturally … narrative accruals achieve, like Emile Durkheim’s collective representation, “exteriority” and the power of constraint’ writes Bruner (Bruner 1991: 19). The tale Crossing Cultures tells is one in which the agency of individual human participants seems lessened in the face of the tectonic forces of world history and fate; it constructs a ‘cannon’ which allows a chosen few of those reading it to defend themselves against the alienation and solitude of the human condition (Bruner 1991: 20). But Grand Narratives are fragile: as Bruner writes, when they are breached, the breach is clear and visible (Bruner 1991: 20). Any visitor to a museum whose conceptual structure is as totalizing as this should remain aware of the implications that the Grand Narrative has for their personal free will and control over their own future, as well as for humanity more widely.
Perpendicular Buildings: Architecture and the Arrow As we stated, the Ashmolean’s organizational strategy is mutually dependent for its overall effect on the physical environment which surrounds it. This is true of each of the case study museums presented here – various environmental factors determine how linear forms of temporality arise, from the shape of the rooms and corridors to the layout of cases and the organization of the liminal, functional architectural spaces which exist between the display areas. In this section, we shall explore in more detail how linearity arises in the built environment of the Oxford Museums, and the effect of this upon the museum timescape, using semantics, narratology, and prosody. There are certain chronotopic environments, in both literature and museums, which perpetuate the dominance of linearity through their stylistic and generic forms. In Mimesis, Auerbach used the Bible as an exemplar of the linear and teleological Grand Narrative (Auerbach 1953: 3–23). It is therefore unsurprising that the environment amongst the Oxford Museums which is perhaps most deeply embroiled with linear thinking is based on an ecclesiastical form; the OUMNH deliberately models the form and style of a gothic cathedral. In his architectural profile of the institution, Trevor Garnham uses the terms ‘nave’ and ‘cloister’ to refer to the central aisle and the colonnades or arcades which surround the great court (Garnham 2010: 8). Seven sets of columns and six cases describe the nave and transept of this space, and above it the arcades of the Lower and Upper Galleries evoke the enclosed cloisters of a monastery. In fact, the overall dimension of the covered court, 112ft, is exactly the same as the cloister at Westminster Abbey and is divided into eight bays like its south side … The number eight may have been used for its
54 Temporal Shapes relationship to the octagon, suggesting the transition from the square, which represents terrestrial order, to the circle which represents the aspiration to eternal order (Garnham 2010: 8). These sacral framings suggest that the building was created in a cultural milieu driven by an eschatological urge to reach some future apotheosis: whether that was religious or scientific, or both, is, from the architecture alone, difficult to judge. Natural Science struggled to gain a foothold at Oxford in its early years as a discipline; the University being heavily based in classics, philosophy, and theology (Garnham 2010: 1). If, as Lyotard suggests, one of the purposes of the Grand Narrative is to legitimate narrators and the cultures from which they come, then perhaps it is not surprising that, in order to validate the new discipline of Natural Science against those who would decry it, the builders of the Oxford University Museum appealed to the physical environments and connotations of the religious meta-narrative which, at the time, held sway in the University, but which its own scientific sjuzet would eventually supplant (Lyotard 1984: 23). Environments in museums are not only connotative in regard to linearity – they are denotative, expressing, performing, and suggesting a forward progression both chronological and phenomenological. In this regard, the arrangement of rooms and the connections between them are crucial. How galleries are placed in relation to each other can have significant implications for the way the objects within those galleries are viewed in the context of an overarching story. The Ashmolean’s Egyptian Galleries are arranged in a broadly chronological fashion, looping round in a circuit that begins and terminates in the Randolph Sculpture Gallery, and follows a narrative (with some thematic diversions) which runs from the pre-dynastic period to the Greek and Roman eras. The linear nature of this display is enhanced by the presence of timelines – one on the introductory wall text in Gallery 22, ‘Ancient Egypt at its Origins,’ and the other on the wall in Gallery 23, ‘Dynastic Egypt and Sudan.’ The ways in which objects are placed draw the museum visitor through time, as well as space; the Ancient Egypt and Sudan Galleries are entered by passing between two marble sphynx – one an original from c.AD50–200, and the other a more recent companion, commissioned by the Earl of Arundel, who collected the first in Rome.1 One is then drawn through the first gallery, a long and narrow space, by the arrangement of cases – wall cases and a long table case displaying the Hierakonpolis Main Deposit – towards the far wall of the gallery, where replica matwork hangings back a small statue of King Khasekhem, the final king of the second dynasty, and the first who is known to have had statues of himself created.2 Thus, the visitor is drawn from the pre-dynastic, pre-unification cultures of what would become Egypt, into the pharaonic, united culture which is so well known. After passing through the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms,
Linearity 55 along with their Intermediate Periods, and in the gallery named Egypt in the Age of Empires, which details the fall of the Kingdom to Greece and Rome, one finds oneself passing through a pair of ionic columns, and back out into the Randolph Gallery of Greek and Roman Sculpture; a pleasingly neat ending. The shape of the display space can also facilitate linear expression. When deployed as ‘functional spaces’ – that is, spaces which have little lexical or contentual meaning, but a vital grammatical role in the structure of a museum as a whole – corridors can certainly incite progressive forward movement by linking disparate rooms into an overall narrative structure. However, it is its role as a space of display in its own right which is of more interest here. In the OUMNH, the ecclesiastical cloisters which characterize the space are deployed in a way which enhances the linear character of the displays contained therein. The corridors which house the History of Life displays are visual analogues of the unidirectional story the cases tell. Enclosing the narrative conceptually and physically, the cloisters admit little questioning of its validity and few opportunities for digression from it. In this instance, the presentation is well supported by scientific knowledge, but the architectures which enhance it may also be deployed for purposes far less evidenced and far more ideologically manipulative. The display of stories in such enclosed and directive ways enhances their status as fact, and thereby the authority of the institution displaying them, even if representing the views of only one group of people or one individual. The truth of the story of evolution, as told in the History of Life cases in the OUMNH, is given certainty; the order of time, history, and the pattern of causal connections is known, for all time, and is non-negotiable. Corridors can also be used to create stability and continuity in the personal experience of the museum visitor. In the Ashmolean, Italy Before Rome is a bridge between the galleries of Greece and Rome, with a wall opening onto what is currently the Ashmolean Story gallery on the floor below. Yet, it is also a display space in its own right. Allowing the display space to bleed out into the functional areas of the building means that visitors are able to proceed with their phenomenological encounter with the museum without breaking the continuity of the plot and without changing their diegetic position. The corridor as the display space perpetuates the illusion of the totalizing narrative, because, unlike its more overtly functional form, it does not alert visitors to the constructed, manipulated nature of the museum. Display cases have a fundamental role in creating linear temporal movement in both narratological and prosodic senses. The ceramics cases of Islamic Middle East, a gallery on the Ashmolean’s Asian Crossroads floor, are arranged in a long line down the centre of the room. These three long cases enable the objects to be displayed in one long chronological line, enhancing the unidirectionality of the historic narrative of Islamic ceramics through their form. A similar visual and physical deployment can provide
56 Temporal Shapes the regular continuous rhythmic structures that facilitate phenomenological linearity. Arranged in unbroken rows down the sides of the Ashmolean’s narrow Textiles gallery, repetitive, smooth wall cases collaborate to enhance the visual orientation created by the ‘Fragments’ table case and the deliberately directive manikin in the upright costume display, who, dressed in the clothes of T. E. Lawrence, faces and gestures in the direction the visitor should be travelling. As stable metrical structure and the expectation of resolution draws a reader through the lines of a piece of rhymed poetry, so too do the aligned cases of Textiles pull the visitor through from beginning to end, and into the next gallery, Reading and Writing.
Lines of Communication: Using Text and Graphics to Perpetuate the Arrow’s Flight The graphical and textual communication devices of a museum also have a significant role to play in establishing and perpetuating a linear notion of temporality, particularly that of shared, datable chronology. In this part of the chapter, concepts of narrative drawn in particular from Eirich Auerbach, and grammatical notions of tense and aspect will be used to analyse the temporal function of timelines and text panels, and explore their overall significance in the museum’s expression of unidirectional time. The visual representation of history is vital, because it can legitimate or deny different ways of telling the past. West-Pavlov notes how the timeline ‘has contributed significantly to the legitimization of professional historians’ defence of “narrative or diachronic, as against an analytical or synchronic, mode of representation” typified, for example, in an 1850 prohibition to French “historians in universities … from departing from the chronological order in the presentation of materials” (White and Manuel 1978: 8)’ (West-Pavlov 2013: 66). Running around the base of every case in the OUMNH History of Life displays, a timeline keeps the visitor within a defined chronological frame and like the corridors around it, suggests that the fabula of life on earth may be ordered and historicized in only one way. However, the timeline, as we know it, appears only in the eighteenth century, with Joseph Priestley’s Chart of Biography and The New Chart of History, which line their pages vertically in increments of one hundred years, dots between these divisions marking decades (Rosenberg and Grafton 2010: 117). Along these charts run horizontal lines, representing the lives of famous individuals in the case of the former chart, and the lengths of empires in the case of the latter (Rosenberg and Grafton 2010: 118–121). Though these were popular and innovative ways of conceptualizing history, and provided a useful tool for organizing and thinking through history in an aesthetic and conceptually pleasing sense, Priestley recognized their problems; their lack of synchronicity and the multiple
Linearity 57 plots and subplots of human events, their inability to account for the folds and overlaps in history, and the back and forth relations which characterize causality and consequence in the telling of narrative (Rosenberg and Grafton 2010: 20). However, there are times when the linear timeline can lead to enhancement. By giving objects a historical position in relation to events and to other objects, the timeline can return vigour to items which might otherwise be considered ‘dead.’ Writing upon the Old Testament, Auerbach noted how the ‘vertical connection’ of events and characters within the biblical narrative turns these entities into creatures ‘fully developed, … fraught with their own biographical past, … distinct as individuals …’ (Auerbach 1953: 17). By clearly placing the fossils of History of Life into a story, the timeline turns them into characters of events necessary for the perpetuation of said story, and thus allows them to live, in some altered form, once more. Nonetheless, the timeline is always reductive, restricting the manifold flows of being into a singular narrative. It is problematic as a consequence, because it can so easily tie into apocalyptic, teleological and colonialist models, and imperative, positivist readings of history which lay out preordained events and structures, leaving no room for co-temporal difference, divergence from the plan, or possibility. It is very easy for the visual representation of temporality to become a substitute for the real thing; easier to grasp than the shifting being temporality actually is. The timeline’s implicit claims to objectivity, and its naturalization in contemporary modes of temporal representation, make it dangerous as well as useful; Henri Bergson called it a ‘deceiving idol’ (Bergson 1988: 207). A museum’s use of language and texts, crucial for the ways in which the visitor engages with and understands objects, is also vital for the facilitation of linear structures (Ravelli 2006: 1). Tense, conveyed through verbs, can be used to express the linear construction of past and present activity occurring with the various sjuzet that museums put on display, whether that sjuzet details the history of an object, the development of a collection, or the activities of an institution. On the Lower Gallery of the Pitt Rivers, a panel displays the story of the ‘Court Art of Benin’ using a number of tense forms, past and present: a combination which, in itself, expresses continuity. However, it is the present continuous ‘are working’ and the future modal ‘can’ which most expresses linear orientation. ‘Today,’ says the panel: Museum staff are working to ensure that the collections held here are made available to Benin scholars so that they can use them in their research. The combination of the present continuous with the modal verb ‘can’ implies a linear connection between the present and the future; and we will discuss the future in more detail in the final part of this chapter.
58 Temporal Shapes
In Serried Rows: Arranging Objects in Line Objects are visible evidence of the events related by the museum, material analogues for the absent reality that words alone cannot provide. Barthes writes: Myth can be defined neither by its object nor by its material, for any material can arbitrarily be endowed with meaning: the arrow which is brought in order to signify a challenge is also a kind of speech. True, as far as perception is concerned, writing and pictures, for instance, do not call upon the same type of consciousness; and even with pictures, one can use many kinds of reading: a diagram lends itself to signification more than a drawing, a copy more than an original, and a caricature more than a portrait (Barthes 2009: 132). Objects can be understood as standing for those events, but also as events in their own right, in the plotted structure of the visitor’s experience. They may also act prosodically, creating a rhythmic pattern that drives the museum visitor on. In this part of the chapter, each of these functions will be examined in the context of the Oxford Museums. There is little doubt that an intentional use of linearity underlies the conception and arrangement of Perfection of the Rifle, a series of cases displaying the evolution of firearms on the Upper Gallery of the Pitt Rivers. Pitt Rivers argued that material culture, if understood and shown developmentally, was evidence for evolution, a theory to which he adhered (Gosden et al 2007: 98). Given his particular interest in firearms and weaponry, it is not surprising that this display should be arranged so as to give weight to his Grand Narrative claim and echo the fashion in which he might have displayed the objects himself. This structure suggests inevitable narrative force and direction and its ending – with the UZI submachine gun, which, interestingly enough, faces in the opposite direction to the other weapons as though confronting them3 – suggests that, in this particular weapon of war, perfection has been reached. Intentionally or otherwise, it implies an end to the process of firearm development. Though fraught with this underlying teleology, each individual gun, from the Webley Revolver to the UZI becomes a character: each gun becomes a significant part of the story; in Barthes terms a ‘cardinal event’ in the perpetuation of that fixed and concrete narrative (Barthes 1975a: 248). Objects can also be used as synechdoches for activity and gesture, and, though they may be static themselves, their grouping and arrangements may recall entropic temporal progression. In the OUMNH, the ‘March of the Mammals’ display directly echoes the onward tramp of the animals to Noah’s Ark, and in the Ashmolean’s West Meets East orientation gallery, the central table cases, and the objects within them, are laid out in a tiered fashion which mimics the shape of a ship transporting its ‘Precious Cargoes’: the notions of travel, trade, and exchange metaphorically engineered through the shape of cases and objects,
Linearity 59 enhancing the sense of adventure and journey which are so much a part of the Ashmolean’s narrative chronotopic character. Objects, however, do not just measure or use metaphor to illustrate progressive action: they may also incite such movement in the visitor with whom they come into contact through a metrical use of rhythm. Dramatically placed and lit, the iconic Star House Pole in the Pitt Rivers acts like a poetic ictus, a point of stress enticing the visitor towards it, into and through the Great Court from the shop and staircase. Through prosodic means, that sense of wonder spoken of by Greenblatt – the ‘power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention’ (Greenblatt 1991: 42) – is provoked. If the visitor turns around upon reaching this they are again faced with another metrical lure; the bark kayak Salama, hanging brightly in the darkness above the Clore Learning Balcony, unavoidable once seen. Such ictic objects can be used in succession to stimulate the continued movement of a visitor through a space. Displayed one after the other down the central nave of the OUMNH, the whale jaw, Tyrannosaurus rex and Spider Crab become key investigative touchstones, objects which, like words heightened through their placement in a metrical line, draw the visitor into and through the Great Court in a very physically linear way (Figure 2.1).
Figure 2.1 Star House Pole, Pitt Rivers Museum. Copyright, the Author
60 Temporal Shapes Objects can also be arranged in such a way which suggests a reversal of progression, and which raises moral questions in terms of social and cultural perception. The Grand Narrative can be turned on its head to produce a pejorative image. The ‘Combs’ case in the Pitt Rivers contains an entire section dedicated to the ‘degeneration’ of the human form in the designs originating in the Congo. The language of the now old labels implies that the Congolese art forms are progressively degenerating as they become more abstract. Though there is no reason to suppose that the increased stylization of the figure necessarily evidences atrophy in artistic capability, the implication is certainly there in the language used. Whilst the West improves – and builds guns – Others regress – and develop abstract art – and so what might be termed an increase in metaphorical imagination in one environment is deemed a de-evolution within this particular culture. Hierarchical positions of power, particularly the placement of the museum worker, anthropologist, and academic of the West at the pinnacle of human evolution and artistic achievement in diametric opposition to the Other are, in the instance of the combs, plainly visible – and plainly problematic.
Writers and Readers: Museum Visitors and the Dialogic Arrow Any given narrative form requires not simply components, such as objects and texts, but also creative and conscious agents. In the case of the museum, there are a manifold of creative participants involved in the production of narrative structures such as linearity. Since the actions of agents such as curatorial and interpretive staff are implied in the components discussed above, here I want to focus on the museum visitor – who might be identified as a reader of sorts – through an analysis of my own observations and experiences within the Oxford Museums. As the phenomenological walks in which I was engaged positioned me as a particularly active kind of visitor, I must recognize the specific nature of my experience, though I attempt to support these readings through illustrative examples from the museums, and literature pertaining to the narrative construction of self. Whilst, as we shall see later, the narrative construction, remembrance, and telling of self can be decidedly non-linear, we shall for the moment take a more conventional stance and examine the involvement of the visitor in the construction of linear, or -linear-like, museum experiences. It is firstly necessary to note that visitors may take various roles in their encounter with museum narratives, and that these may be more or less active. Barthes’ notion of readerly and writerly engagements is a useful way in which to distinguish agency here. Linear narrative constructions have relevance to both. In ‘The Narrative Construction of Reality,’ Jerome Bruner (1991) writes that particular narrative processes – narrative seduction and narrative banalization – can produce a readerly response; that is, an acceptance of the given narrative and offered interpretation without any kind of transformative action. Narrative seduction involves the masterful
Linearity 61 construction of a narrative structure such that, regardless of how bizarre or unlikely the content may actually be, it appears to the reader as absolutely and unavoidably true, without space for ambiguity. Narrative banalization, on the other hand, offers a version of events which is so utterly conventional as to admit no error. The social authority of the museum along with its use of normalized devices such as the timeline as described above, can certainly be construed as producing narrative banalization, thus inculcating unambiguous models of reality which a readerly visitor might view as absolute. But visitors are not simply passive, and the production of museal linearity requires at least some form of active participation: as Bergson noted a succession of states requires a conscious mind to perceive them, one ‘that can first retain them and then set them side by side by externalizing them in relation to one another’ (Bergson 1959: 120–121). Barthes once wrote that the goal of literature was to generate a text which made the reader ‘no longer a consumer, but a producer’ – a ‘writerly’ text; or, in the museum, a dialogic and discursive space inhabited by an ‘active visitor’ (Barthes 1990: 5). The museum’s visitor is no unthinking element controlled solely by the rhythmic and grammatical whims of the institution, but is a writerly, scriptoral participant in the production of its movement and gesture. Much as we can distinguish in written narrative between fabula and sjuzet we must also highlight layers of narrativity when it comes to the museum visitor. Whilst there is a conceptual level to their museal journey, generated by the way in which information is fed to them, there is also the phenomenal level of experience – their own embodied physical journey throughout the space, understood at least as ground for narrative in its own right. These two levels can be more or less divergent from each other dependent upon context – the cloisters of the OUMNH, for instance, produce a phenomenal experience which explicitly reflects the linear timeline presented in the cases – a ‘banal’ congruence of content and experience, each reinforcing the other. Congruent content can, however, encourage a more active engagement from visitors. On the north-eastern end of the Upper Gallery, the OUMNH displays a model of the Sun, a label next to it telling the visitor that, opposite, models of the Earth and Moon sit in a perfectly scaled orbit. This set of objects, or collective object, cannot be immanently envisaged and must be travelled through in order to be understood as a complete whole. So, the label engages the visitor, visibly encouraging them to complete the display, to be propelled by the first object and its given context towards a final revelatory completion. The museum as text and the visitor collaborate and allow each other to move on, contributing to the perpetuation of both reading and narrative time. The congruence of the narrative structure of content and that of experience may also be much more flexible, and in some cases the agency of the visitor may have a much greater influence over the fabula of content with which they are presented. The Pitt Rivers, for instance, a place well known for its crowded cases and disinclination towards telling singular stories,
62 Temporal Shapes relies for the production of narrative experience upon the status of the visitor as Dasein, as becoming. ‘Explore the museum as you like’ reads the Welcome Panel, encouraging the visitor to construct an experience in whatever form they wish. The museum presents not a grand, teleological, linear fabula through which the visitor is railroaded, but the opportunity for a more fragmented and picaresque experience. The visitor is explicitly invited to ‘construct’ a narrative of reality through the way in which they explore the Pitt Rivers (Bruner 1991). In the traditional model of the self-story, as Sermijin et al note, the personal and public telling of this construction should be unified in a linear plot – experience, narrated cohesively, easily located in the measured clock time of daily life (Sermijin et al 2008). As we shall see in later chapters, however, and as my own experience suggests, the narration of self, and of museum experiences, are much more fragmented and partial. When discussing construction, it seems apposite to reflect for a moment upon Bruner’s notion of narrative accrual – that is, the process by means of which fragments of information come together in cohesive wholes which might form the stories of individual events, autobiographies, or even complete cultures and histories. Bruner argues that even the most individual of these accruals gains meaning through context – that is, they ‘depend upon being placed within a continuity provided by a constructed and shared social history in which we locate ourselves and our individual continuities’ (20). This reliance on a kind of cannon – a collection of related materials with causal features – does imply a certain need for the lucid and cohesive form of linear narrative. And as noted at the beginning of the chapter, Heidegger’s Dasein contains an implicit linearity in its presumption of possibility, becoming and the future. Regardless of this canonicity, however, the key thing this section seeks to highlight is that, to paraphrase Bruner, ‘knowledge [and narrative structure] is never “point-of-viewless”’ (3). The construction of temporal plots requires both museum content, and the conscious minds who come to ‘read’ it.
The Future Before closing out this chapter, I want to take a moment to focus on that which cannot be ignored in any discussion of linear temporal construction. The very concept of linear time inherently contains within it the prospect of a future yet to appear. The space of the museum – the very idea of the museum, indeed – is a hauntological one. Hauntology, a portmanteau created from ‘haunt’ and ‘ontology’ by Jacques Derrida, is a state of events which contains within itself first times and repetitions, which folds the effects of eschatology and teleology – so linearly futural – into itself (Derrida 1994: 10). We think of haunting as the return of something from the past – the ghost – and can easily see museum objects as ghosts of a previous world. But the hauntological perspective offers something different – as
Linearity 63 Derrida writes, ‘haunting is historical, to be sure, but it is not dated…’ – the ‘specter of communism’ of which Marx wrote was anticipatory; yet to come (Derrida 1994: 2). And the museum, and its objects, are themselves expectant of future visitors, future roles for themselves, and, more generally, a future in which those things might take place. Permanence, Immutability, and Immortality As Lubar has written, the museum of the long nineteenth century, tied as it was the preservation of vanishing worlds and social betterment, developed for itself an ontology of permanence (Lubar et al 2017: 2). This ontology presupposes an ongoing state, a futurity, not only of the objects, but of the people who collected them; and the museum could, indeed, be a technology to shape this future (Lubar et al 2017: 5). In Museums, Objects and Collections, Sue Pearce writes that ‘The extended self which collections represent is intended to extend beyond the grave’ (Pearce 1992: 63). The very names Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers, are evidence of the ways in which museum construction can perpetuate a kind of abstract life after death, even one or three hundred years later. There is a shorter extended life, perhaps, for those whose hand has left an imprint on the collections and displays – the keepers, curators, and designers who exist and will exist in the museum space as a system of Derridian traces; the absent presences (Derrida 1997). We shall return to these absent Others in Chapter 5. In the case of the ethnographic museum – the Pitt Rivers, for example – the very idea of futurity has a problematic political cast. The colonial collecting of the Victorian period was marked by a distinct evolutionary theme; the idea that the ‘savage tribes’ of Darwin’s The Descent of Man were in decline due to competition with the ‘civilized races’ (Bodley 1992: 39). Pitt Rivers’ conception of ‘salvage anthropology’ was only one amongst many manifestations of the conviction that the extinction of tribal peoples was not only inevitable, but imminent (Bodley 1992: 39). Their future was denied to them; and the denial continued in the form of the schizogenic time of anthropology (Fabian 2014), which positions the non-Western Other into a perpetual present that is still to be found in the tensed texts of museums such as the Pitt Rivers: the Nuer and Dinka are described in entirely the present tense in the case dedicated to them on the Upper Gallery.4 The text in the Nuer and Dinka case is aged, and only reverts to the past tense when discussing Evans-Pritchard’s investigations in the 1930s, thus offering Evans-Pritchard a locatable historicity not afforded to the Nuer and Dinka. The text also understands 1979 to be recent: at the time of writing this book, this date is more than 40 years in the past. This is a classic example of the way in which non-Western Others are positioned in a perpetual present – which may shift date, but remains eternally now – by traditional anthropology, and anthropology museums: offered an aspic immortality, preservation in a glass case. As Nietzsche noted in Untimely Meditations, the historicity of the human being – their awareness of
64 Temporal Shapes past, present, and future – forces a subjectivity upon them; it is impossible for the human to gain an objective image of itself (Nietzsche 1983: 57–123), and in precisely this failure of objectivity and reflection did the positivist certainty of the colonizer blind them to the possibility of other ways of being human, across the scope of the past, present, and future. Museum Taphonomy Museum taphonomy – the study of how museums decay – speaks to the ephemerality and non-permanence of museums (Lubar et al 2017). Despite the centrality of the idea of permanence to the contemporary museum project, the material objects and abstract ideas which museums hold are as subject to entropy as the rest of the world. Objects can be displayed with the deliberate intent of exploring the inevitable deleterious effects of temporal movement. In the Ashmolean, this deterioration is utilized very visibly: from the fragments of cloth displayed in the centre of the Textiles gallery to the broken lekythoi which are displayed on the staircase leading to gallery 16, Greece. It is interesting and suggestive that the lekythoi are displayed in a case entitled ‘Libations to the Dead’: if museum objects are, as Sue Pearce has written, connections between the dead and the living – gifts from those who have gone to those who are now (Pearce 2010: xvii) – then these libations are a temporal double agent, speaking to the now but being offered to the then. They remind the visitor that they too will die; representative images of the end, supplementary (in the Derridian sense) for that experience which is literally unknowable (Derrida 1997: 184). The Ashmolean’s Conservation galleries give voice to the debates and fears surrounding such entropic degeneration. The very act of conservation is bound up with the recognition of natural degenerative processes and the combating of their effects, and the ethical issues surrounding it are manifold. Through conservation, human beings manipulate natural entropic temporality, seeking to preserve a romantic ruin in a deliberate attempt to escape this other, less appealing form of linearity. But it cannot be avoided: objects and museums will inevitably loose elements either of their physical form, or their meaning and history – in either case, there is loss (Lubar et al 2017). Museum taphonomists and projects such as Active Collections (Active Collections) argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing, that a focus on permanence can be deleterious to museums and their missions, and that embracing ephemerality could refocus museums on their most important features: not their collections, not their corporeal forms, but the benefits they bring to society. Anxiety Over psychologizing, for a moment, one might suggest that there is an anxiety at the centre of the struggle for permanence. Anxiety is an emotion directed at something which is unknown, which is potentially unknowable. I have written
Linearity 65 elsewhere on the fundamental anxiety which exists at the heart of the museum and upon its futural nature (Walklate 2019). If the museum is hauntological, it is also inherently anxious – its specter is something which it cannot know. In museums, material traces of the past speak to a desire not to forget, and not to be forgotten. Many museums, as Cameron has written, have ‘delusions of grandeur,’ and are victims of a ‘psychotic withdrawal’ which isolates them from the reality of the world (Cameron 2004: 64). They imagine their importance to be fundamental, and thus their forms to be inviolable. However, if the museum is impermanent, as Lubar argues (Lubar et al 2017), then so is everything it remembers, and this is utterly, fundamentally, opposed to its contemporary ontology. But the truth of the matter is that museums close and objects die or move on; at least one in five regional museums at least partially closed in 2015 and 2014 (Brown 2016). No wonder museums are anxious. Potential (Unrealized) Anxiety is closely connected to desire (Walklate 2019). To a futural wish for something yet to come. Kierkegaard’s statement that anxiety is ‘freedom’s actuality as the possibility of possibility’ discusses the clifftop feel of the realization of the potential for a new and different future (Kierkegaard 2014: 51). The museum which engages in psychotic withdrawal cannot cope with this realization, and turns inwards upon itself, forming a heterotopia in truth. The assumption that museums will exist in perpetuity speaks of the liberal teleological history of Francis Fukuyama: where the future is put into the category of the past, and is already known (Fukuyama 1993). But other institutions begin to look outwards, working towards a future in which their very existence might be challenged. The future is a privilege – certainly, the future-as-past. Queer theory, which is beginning to find its way into both museum studies and museum practice5 challenges normative ideas of futurity. Dinshaw writes: I’m aiming to develop in my work what I call a postdisenchanted temporal perspective, one that opens up to an expansive now but – unlike, say, a medieval Christian view of time and history – is shaped by a critique of teleological linearity, that is, rejects the necessity of revealed truth at the end of time or as the meaning of all time (Dinshaw et al 2007: 185–186). Two key elements of the queered future are the questioning of reproduction, and a foreshortened future – this latter, according to Halberstam, is where queer temporalities emerge most spectacularly, particularly in relation to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s (Halberstam 2005: 2). I mention this because, as Halberstam notes, the crisis presented the opportunity to rethink the temporal condition – not around the future, but around an intensified present (Halberstam 2005: 3).
66 Temporal Shapes In the end, futurity is about survival. About not dying. Museums are hauntological because they point towards their own Ghost of Museums Yet to Come, but anxious because they are also haunted by a future in which the name on the gravestone belongs to them. Despite being institutions which have for so long been thought of as sepulchres, and which inherently carry death and the dead around with them, museums have developed an aversion to their own mortality. Though the existence of their modern form stretches back only a couple of hundred years, they have managed to argue for their position as a fundamental necessity of culture. I love museums very much, but they are not a necessity. With museums, Western humanity found a method of perpetuating and shoring itself up in the face of a future over which people – especially after the death of God – had neither certain knowledge nor control. Museums are a buffer against the inevitable end of all things, the unavoidable fact that every person who will ever live will also die, that every object ever made will return to dust, and that all the stars in all the galaxies will eventually go out.
Conclusion Every museum is subject to change over time. Every museum sees an increase in dust and grime in areas impossible to clean. Every museum suffers unavoidable damage: scrapes on delicate wooden cases and black footprints on soft Portland stone. No museum is immune from the ravages of time – not even the Pitt Rivers. Each and every institution is subject to progression, and equally subject to decay. Linearity is produced through a variety of means in museums, which we have explored in this chapter. Design, narrative, architecture, text, graphics, objects, and the people involved (as both writers and readers) – all have a role to play, as they do in many forms of museum time. And there is a reason why this form is used on a frequent basis; this chapter has shown that it has distinct advantages, from coherent communication, educational clarity, stable and continuous experiences, to the reinvigoration of objects through historicization and metaphorical congruence with the subject on display. Yet, there are difficulties with this form that should be addressed. Linear directionality, oriented towards a future, is so intrinsic a part of Western human perception that to question its legitimacy seems at first outrageous. But this form of temporal understanding has such wide-ranging and complex implications that to fail to question it or posit alternatives would be restrictive. When particular structures and tropes are deliberately deployed to shape experience and display human and natural life-worlds extant and arising, the social, ethical and philosophical issues are highly acute. Unilinearity has certain eschatological undertones (Delumeu 1999: 88). Embroiled in a certain sense of progress towards a final end, the Biblical
Linearity 67 Grand narrative presupposes a deistic, guiding hand. Whilst not overtly religious, perhaps, any linearly oriented display risks falling to a similar form, and perhaps becoming victim to the incorrect apportioning of causality; the literary propter hoc fallacy (Porter-Abbot 2002: 39). It may bring a sense of comfort, of security and certainty, companionship and reason in the universe, and be advantageous for the generation of united identity, continuity of history and for the telling of stories, but it is also bound and limited to a singular and particular construction of events which may be based upon a false premise. The chronological causal narrative, as has been shown above, can be used to inaugurate and perpetuate underlying Western hierarchies and biases. This kind of narrative can, as Lyotard suggested, create social structures with a singular, dominant narrative, limiting the ability of those who live within it to question and define ‘what has the right to be said and done’ (Lyotard 1984: 23). The Grand Narrative determines these cultural rights and furthermore, by being a product of them, it is able to legitimate itself (Lyotard 1984: 23). This is clearly apparent in the close connection that we have established here between linearity, the museums ontology of permanence, and anxiety related to their future. The argument here is that the museum’s desire for a future and for permanence might well be at the root of its fundamentally anxious nature. But this anxiety can render them subject to a liberal teleology, the risk of which is that they will become heterotopia in truth, institutions which cannot see beyond their own ontological desires. However, if they are able to re-evaluate their relationship with permanence and futurity and open themselves to Dinshaw’s ‘post-disenchanted temporal perspective,’ which considers the now as the most vital and expansive temporal locale, and which denies the necessity of revealed and absolute truth, then they may find themselves to be, as perhaps many wish, more effective in the present. One intention of this chapter was to indicate that linear temporal movements need not be restricted to Newtonian causal chronologies. The linear movement of a museum visitor can also be engineered through rhythmic means, which appeal not to the abstract Newtonian time which Henri Bergson termed temps, but to the lived human time which he termed durée – pure duration (Bergson 1959: 91). In duration, linearity does not dominate. A number of Modernist writers such as Woolf, Faulkner, and Proust exploited the human mind as an entity which ‘refrains from separating its present state from its former states’ (Bergson 1959: 100). In durée, tenses slip, and temporal structures become rebellious. In Chapter 3, these disturbances to linearity will be explored: and perhaps they will indicate to the reader ways in which time might be innovatively manipulated within displays, how it may be freed from overly linear structures, and what that might mean for the ethical and political status of the museum as an institution.
68 Temporal Shapes
1. Wall text, Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Ashmolean, and Marble Sphynx. 2. Wall text, Ancient Egypt and Sudan, and Ashmolean. 3. Though this arrangement is probably a practical one, given that the most recent guns in this display, including the UZI, are all from the late 1980s, one could infer that this is a final weapon, looking back on a barbaric past, and that in the future we are now living in, there is no more war. 4. Notably, this is also the gallery which contains the weapons. 5. Projects such as Queering the Museum and Prejudice and Pride stand out in this regard.
Introduction In durée, tenses slip, and temporal structures become rebellious. Echoes, transtextual references, and anachronies blur the boundaries between past and future, certain moments and events are punctuated and sharply delineated from each other, conscious observers are pulled in and out of temporal proximity to things and events, and instability in rhythm and chronology disrupt linear progression. In Chapter 2, we began to talk of hauntology, and of the revenant. Whilst we talked mostly in the sense of the future in that previous chapter, and thus accorded hauntology a semi-linear character, the truth of the matter is that the hauntological is decidedly non-linear. In the ‘Exordium’ to Specters of Marx, Jacques Derrida writes: A spectral moment, a moment that no longer belongs to time, if one understands by this word the linking of modalized presents (past present, actual present: “now”, future present). We are questioning in this instant, we are asking ourselves about this instant that is not docile to time, at least to what we call time. Furtive and untimely, the apparition of the specter does not belong to that time, it does not give time, not that one: ‘Enter the ghost, exist the ghost, re-enter the ghost’ (Hamlet) (Derrida 1994: xx). Derrida states that one cannot control the specter: it is ornery and irredeemable (Derrida 1994: 11). It is this rebellious character of language that we now explore; and the specter shall return, throughout, as it has already begun ‘by coming back’ (Derrida 1994: 11). Creators of fiction and poetry have learned to harness certain techniques and features of language to attempt to express the more refractory aspect of temporal experience, techniques which manipulate plotted structures, the diegetic involvement of characters and readers in prose and the patterns of stress and rhyme in poetry. Similar features are also to be found in museums and, whether deployed intentionally or more organically emergent, they are of profound interest for the analyst of museum temporality. This chapter will explore DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-7
70 Temporal Shapes how transtextuality, anachrony, diegesis, prosody, and punctuation can shed light on the instances where museum time becomes truculent, and fails to comply with the arrow’s flight. It will, ultimately, argue that approaches to museum time which simplify its structure are complicit in not only a misunderstanding of museum performance, but also the perpetuation of the museum’s traditionally Western, and therefore implicitly colonial, attitude towards time.
Transtextuality: Pulling Times and Spaces Together In Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, Gerard Genette wrote of the ‘transtextual’ characteristics of literature: the various relationships which texts construct between themselves, of inter-, para-, meta-, hyper-, and architextuality (Genette 1997). A similar set of linkages is apparent in the relationships existing between the spatial and temporal locations, which arise in the physical and abstract museum environment. The architecture, medial devices, and objects of museums can be deployed to refer to worlds beyond their immediate spatio-temporal bounds, creating for these institutions meaningful bonds both translocational and transchronic. In the Ashmolean, there are certain spaces which invite comparison with the porous environment of Walter Benjamin’s Naples. In his essay on this city, written in 1925, Benjamin told of an interpenetrative environment, in which visual encounters and the various aspects of life co-mingle, almost without consideration for boundaries or privacy. ‘Just as the living room reappears on the street, with chairs, hearth, and alter, so – only much more loudly – the street migrates into the living room’ (Benjamin and Lacis 1996: 420). Islamic Middle East is a gallery of high visual and auditory porosity – ‘integration’ in Psarra’s terms – from which the Ancient Worlds orientation gallery, the museum’s restaurant, the galleries of Music and Tapestry and West meets East, and the bridge between Eastern Art and Mediterranean World can be seen, and between which sounds echo (Psarra 2009: 50). These spaces, pulled into the environment of Islamic Middle East in a way akin to literary intertextuality, become ‘simultaneously animated theatres … at the same time stage and boxes’ (Benjamin and Lacis 1996: 416); places of present enactment, but also places which frame distant and future stories. Crucially, this interpenetration, this porosity, prevents the formation of permanent states; Benjamin said, ‘[n]o situation appears intended forever’ (Benjamin and Lacis 1996: 416). In this point of intertextual nexus, narrative plotted linearity is disrupted, both in terms of the historical chronology constructed by the Ashmolean’s display structure, and in terms of the experiential plot constructed by the writerly visitor. In Islamic Middle East, events and galleries more linearly ordered in the designed structure are disordered and reconfigured, cultural connections, loose influences, and possibilities emphasized over direct causality: the linear teleological mindset, susceptible to the propter hoc fallacy,
Non-Linearity 71 which the Ashmolean risks falling into, undermined by the more open potential recognized by and in this double height, open gallery. For the visitor too, Islamic Middle East is a disruptive space. It upsets the tense structure of their personal plot, drawing both past and future events and experiences into the present. The Now becomes rife with possibility – open to many futures and a place where the past can be recalled. In Islamic Middle East, tenses curl spatially, the visitor’s abilities to recall and expect given a physical, architectural analogue. There is, also, a sense of the anti-hierarchic about this; every visitor in the museum – like every pauper in Benjamin’s Naples – becomes ‘sovereign,’ participating in a unique moment in the artistic panorama of the museum. Their sovereignty is a kind of empowerment, their role unique and permissible. In a sense, this naturalizes the museum experience. Modernist writers such as Proust played with tense in order to come closer to representing the movement of the human psyche, to relieve the inadequacies of ‘realist’ linear novels: it could be argued that Islamic Middle East expresses just this concern (Houston 1962: 41). Modernist fiction which mingles tenses or uses stream of consciousness is often considered difficult – it is often deliberately different to the more naturalized, yet far more false linear narrative, and because of this it makes its reader aware of the reconstructed nature of itself and of all narratives. Islamic Middle East is a space which does precisely this: showing the museum’s narrative from a different intertextual angle, it jolts the visitor out of their homodiegetic relationship with the space, forcing them to consider the Ashmolean, and by implication all other museums, as constructed subjective artefacts rather than bastions of eternal, absolute truth. Following on from this, in many ways, the disruptive openness of Islamic Middle East is also an act of estrangement. This is a poor translation for many complex concepts: in this case, we are referring more closely to Bloch’s verfremdung (Bloch 1970) and Shklovsky’s ostranenie, than we are to Brecht’s verfremdung (which is subtly different to that of Bloch) (Brecht 1961). Shklovsky’s ostranenie refers to art’s ability to ‘create the sensation of seeing, and not merely recognizing, things’ – that is, ostranenie is that which refers to a way of seeing in which the ordinary is made strange (Shklovsky 2015: 162). Verfremdung, in the Blochian sense, is a furthering of this idea, and places the concept of estrangement in opposition to alienation (Bloch 1970). Whilst alienation, for Bloch, is the divorce of self and self-identity, the person experiencing estrangement achieves a kind of insight into their condition. That is, the beholder achieves insight by means of the estrangement – effect which can turn into its dialectical opposition – the recognition, or “Aha!” experience; insight into what is closest to the beholder grows out of his amazement at being confronted with what is farthest away (Bloch 1970: 124).
72 Temporal Shapes In the case of Islamic Middle East, the visitor not only encounters the Ashmolean as a constructed subject; they encounter themselves. By looking back onto the places they have been, and the places they may go, they are enabled to understand their route, and their experience of objects as unique, subjective, and unfolding over time; they begin to see the narrative of their journey not simply as a singular experience, but as a set of individual moments; the present as infinitely divisible parts. Windows, both interior and exterior, also indicate the transtextual nature of museum space and significantly affect the temporal characteristics of their environments. Inside, they create porous transtextual linkages such as those in Islamic Middle East. Windows onto the outside world, however, link the interior timescape of the museum to that of the everyday, show how their heterochronies – their ‘slices of time’ – are not, as Foucault argued, separated from each other by an ‘absolute break’ in temporality. The windows are architectural reminders that the museum is not an isolated temporal site, but one connected to the outside world by the visitor, who segues between them with their own form of temporal durée. In spaces without windows, these reminders are limited, and the present temporality becomes much more intense. In the Pitt Rivers, there are no windows, and thus it seems almost an archetypal heterotopia. But visitors still enter its door; connections are still made to the outside world. Despite its visual illusion of isolation, the Pitt Rivers cannot help but be transtextual. The architectural features of the Oxford Museums also permit a different kind of transtextuality to arise, one which disrupts a singular narrative flow with coterminous temporal sites, sites which exist alongside and are at times bound in a mutually generative relationship with the display space. There are parts of the museums which most visitors only glimpse. Locked doors to teaching, research, or storage spaces appear in each of the Oxford Museums. On the basement floor of the Ashmolean, two doors flush with the wall hide the rollerstacks which house the undisplayed collection. Unobtrusive, but still visible, they indicate the present of the display space’s hypotext – the earlier expression of the collection onto which the galleries are grafted and rely. A closed door such as this is easily missed; however, when there is a window through which the places behind the scenes can be seen, such as that which leads from the Wellby Gallery to the Print Room of the Ashmolean, this hypertextual relationship is made explicit and the holistic, engulfing, and natural character of the museum once again disrupted. The walls of the museum, the hyper and transtextualities say, cannot encompass the whole of the present. The museum is thus haunted by the specter of that which is there, but which cannot be seen; the eerie (Fisher 2016) hidden aspect of the museum. The display media used in a museum, both textual and graphical, can engineer subtle transtextual connections to disrupt the flight of Time’s Arrow. The transtextual role of graphics will be taken up in the section on remediation in Chapter 5 – here, the written text is the focus for analysis. Textual quotations are, in Genette’s terms, intertextual, for they create visible connections between spatially and temporally distanced locations.
Non-Linearity 73 In China to AD 800, a gallery on the ground floor of the Ashmolean, connections are made between the present and the Yangtze Basin of the ninth century through the quoted poetry of Lu Guimeng. Combined with diaphanous watercolour paintings of kilns, the poetry gives a cultural context to the pottery displayed, gives a sense of their historical locale, and indicates their emergence from a specific point in chronological time. Yet, this time is no longer physically tangible; the poetic nature of the words and the loose, painterly qualities of the watercolours suggest how fictionalized and limited any imagining of the past could be. Royle writes: It is a question, then, of phantom texts – textual phantoms which do not necessarily have the solidity or objectivity of a quotation, an intertext or explicit, acknowledged presence and which do not in fact come to rest anywhere. Phantom texts are fleeting, continually moving on, leading us away, like Hamlet’s Ghost, to some other scene or scenes which we, as readers, cannot anticipate (Royle 2003: 280). References and quotations can have multiple referents and are able to link temporal landscapes past, present and future, real and fictional, together, breaking the conceptual, if not the physical, boundaries imposed by the present. Next to the ‘Twelve Caesars’ display in the Ashmolean’s Rome gallery is placed the following label text, which begins with a quote from Oxford scholar Henry Liddell: Suetonius certainly tells a prodigious number of scandalous anecdotes about the Caesars, but there was plenty to tell about them … As a great collection of facts of all kinds, his work on the Caesars is invaluable. Oxford’s Henry Liddell, (1811–1898), co-author of The Greek-English Lexicon, and father of Alice, who inspired Alice in Wonderland. This piece of text offers multiple transtextual connections. Most simply, it acts intertextually, bringing the words and by implication the historical context of Henry Liddell into the present of the museum visit. But this statement was already transtextual in its original context, referring to the work of Suetonius in a more abstract, critical way – a metatextual link to Classical histories. This link brings Suetonius’ world into the Now, and intimates its passage through and mediation by the timescape of nineteenth-century Oxford academia. This is not a clean quote, covered as it is by the temporal detritus of historic and contemporary interpretation. This particular text panel has a number of references attached to it, which make its transtextual status even more complex. It mentions Liddell’s work on The Greek English Lexicon – an important work still in use today after over one hundred and fifty years – thus calling upon the chronotopic environment of the university. It also tells the reader that Henry was the father of Alice, the child who inspired Lewis Carroll to create Wonderland. So, this
74 Temporal Shapes one reference, and by implication the space and objects around it, is linked, however invisibly, to all other references to Alice’s Adventures, to the books themselves and to the iconographic and tourist industry they spurred – a tourist industry used in both the Ashmolean and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH). Transtextuality, in this instance, allows an isolated museum space discussing Rome to connect with one of the most pervasive and influential objects of contemporary shared knowledge – the historic city of Rome and its inhabitants equally as tangible as the denizens of the nonsense world of Carroll. But quotations are themselves a product of manipulation; they are not as solid or objective as Royle claimed. In On Longing, Stewart writes of the limitations of the quotation: For although the quotation now speaks with the voice of history and tradition, a voice ‘for all times and places,’ it has been severed from its context of original interpretation, a context which gave it authenticity. Once quoted, the utterance enters the arena of social conflict: it is manipulatable, examinable within its now-fixed borders; it now plays within the ambivalent shades of varying contexts (Stewart 1993: 19). So, whilst the quote from Liddell has been used to offer some historicity and thereby authority to the discussion of the ‘Twelve Caesars’, it has also entered the ambiguous realm of interpretation; now detached from its original context, this quote becomes something for the Museum to use to offer itself and its displays a historical kind of authenticity. But it is the Museum which has power over the quotation, and not the other way around. All museum objects are, in some sense, transtextual, for they all draw fragments of other times and spaces into the present. Loan objects make this very apparent; in Oxford, the frequent proximity of the lending and receiving institutions exaggerates the intertextual nature of objects till further. In the OUMNH, there used to be a small display entitled Musaeum Tradescantianum, showing some of the ‘naturalia’ collected by the Tradescants which were part of the original founding collection for the Ashmolean and which have since been moved to the University Museum. The temporality of the transtextual link is dual – one fork leads to the Ark of the Tradescants and the Ashmolean of the past, and one, more inferential, to the Ashmolean of the present. Now even this display is gone, that story of intermuseum transtextuality is hidden, but it is still there, behind the scenes: a haunting. In Of Grammatology, Derrida defined différance, the constant fluidity of linguistic signs (words) in relation to their referents (Derrida 1997: 23). He was pointing to the non-identical nature of the written word and the concrete object to which it is attached, and thereby intimating the arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign. This ambiguity is well evidenced in certain museum objects which, by tapping into intertextuality, can occupy multiple identities
Figure 3.1 ‘The real Alice’, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Copyright, the Author
in a single corporeal site. In the Great Court of the OUMNH, there is a case called ‘The real Alice’ (Figure 3.1). Purporting to tell the story behind Wonderland, the case refers to various temporal and textual sites – the historical reality of Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell, the fictional word of Alice’s imagination and, by physical presence, the OUMNH itself. So, the objects within it are faced with manifold selves: the taxidermy animals at one and the same time scientific objects and the avatars of sentient beings in a fantasy universe. At the same time, however, they are none of the things they appear to be: semiotic objects, they are not animals, not fantasy creatures, and they are not natural science; they are its product, its mode of speech. Transtextual relationships disrupt tensorial structures – often, they make these structures and their limits visible. In the next part of the chapter, focus will turn to the anachrony; a narratological concept which commits precisely this kind of temporal disruption, and which can be successfully used in the analysis of museum timescapes.
Anachronies: Disrupting Tense and Time in Narratives In Narrative Discourse, Genette described some of the temporal complexities involved in the dramatic structure of prose, in which the ordering of the narrative – the sjuzet – need not align with the chronological history of the fabula,
76 Temporal Shapes the milieu from which the events of the sjuzet are selected (Genette 1980: 36). Various forms and intensities of these may be brought to bear upon the exploration of museological timescapes. To facilitate the clarity with which such complexities can be explored and described here, it is worth utilizing the schema employed by Genette to define the relationships between the order of events in a narrative and the chronology of the fabula. Using letters A, B, C, etcetera, to describe the order of occurrences as they arise in the narrative structure, and numbers 1, 2, 3, etcetera, to define their chronological position, he offers a useful framework for demarcating the various anachronies present in museum exhibition spaces. The following text comes from the notes from a phenomenological reading, conducted by the author in the now defunct Ancient Worlds orientation gallery at the Ashmolean, in 2011, which served as both the introduction to the ground floor, and to the whole Museum. Ancient Worlds is a complex temporal environment displaying many anachronic features which affect not only the sjuzet of the gallery, but of the plotted picaresque experience of the visitor as well. A walk through of Ancient Worlds applying Genette’s formula follows, and though individual variance in terms of visitor engagement should always be taken into account, this typical structure can nevertheless provide an illuminating example of how and where anachronies appear, and suggest how they might be used to enhance the museum experience. Here, the letters are used to mark the points in the visitor’s physical narrative experience, the numbers to the chronology of the gallery sjuzet. You enter Ancient Worlds from the Atrium which follows the Ashmolean’s impressive front doors. On your left is a panel welcoming you to the museum; and though the elaborate mise-en-page of the gallery provides many potential initial engagements, it is this deliberately initiatory panel which you, being the ‘Ideal Visitor,’ take as your narrative starting point – thus it becomes point A. However, as its contents describe the general condition of being in the museum rather than directly refer to the Ancient Worlds gallery and its contents, it has no firm temporal reference point within the sjuzet of the gallery itself. Thus, its situation in this regard can be marked with a zero – 0. This panel is followed by one which actually introduces the Ancient Worlds gallery and its themes of travel and transport (B). Contextualizing the present space, it can be positioned as 1 within the gallery’s own sjuzet. Directly after this panel are two features which complicate the relationship between visitor plot and gallery sjuzet – an interactive (C) and a timeline displaying the position of other galleries on this floor in regard to wider human history (D). Placing objects to be encountered later in the museological experience along a chronology within the historical scope of the Orientation gallery, the timeline refers to points in the museum’s fabula at several different moments in time which lie ahead of the present; and thus can be given the number 2.
Non-Linearity 77 On the other hand, the contents of the interactive occupy a virtual position parallel to the gallery’s sjuzet but not necessarily directly involved with it: thus it can be termed C-p, the p used instead of a number in recognition of its peculiar paraleptical status. Two maps, one above ‘The Ancient World’ panel, and one upon the opposite wall, occupy, like the ‘Welcome’ panel, a strange achronic position in regard to the sjuzet of the gallery itself. Thus they can be deemed E-0 and G-0, respectively. The statues which peak up out of the basement to occupy the space where a wall opposite the atrium’s entrance would usually be are, in terms of the physical layout, in position F. However, they do not add directly to the museum sjuzet but intimate the floor below – they are intertextual, in that sense, and thus can be given i to denote their position in the gallery’s conceptual sjuzet. The anachronic structure of the gallery can be shown more simply like this: A-0, B-1, C-p, D-2, E-0, F-i, G-0. This is indicative of the fact that the temporality of physical experience and that of conceptual abstract sjuzet need not always directly correspond. Genette’s framework has its limits, however. After these introductory points, the chronologies of both narratives in Ancient Worlds become extremely distorted and complex, for the gallery is an open space in which the route of the visitor is fairly free. Genette himself notes how his anachronic framework breaks down in the case of texts in which ‘temporal reference is deliberately sabotaged’ (Genette 1980: 35). Yet, it is still a useful tool to use when exploring the temporal relationships existing in any museum space and it has potential to be used with the purpose of creating powerful narrative experiences – it might even help the museum maker step beyond simplistic notions of narrative, to use it in its proper, formal, and structural sense rather than as a rather indeterminate concept. It has the potential to open to the museum varied and complex narrative forms. Genette’s model is also of use in the analysis of text panels and labels where it may be used to analyse their particular manipulation, graphical, and textual, of the museum’s sjuzet. The timeline in Ancient Worlds provides one such example, containing as it does information about both the history of the objects and the order of the galleries through which they shall be experienced. The timeline is a device which inherently and pointedly emphasizes the relationship between the museum as sjuzet and the fabula of the world from which it selected things to collect and display. It is also indicative of the potential for the cotemporal existence of two different shapings of fabula two entirely different sjuzets; that of the objects as displayed on the Ancient Worlds floor and that of their arrangement on the timeline. Almost coterminous in the timeline and roughly in historical time, an Augustinian coin and a Yemeni alabaster are the first objects to appear. These shall be termed Ai and Aii, respectively, by virtue of
78 Temporal Shapes their chronological proximity. Next comes a Greek gemstone depicting Alexander (B), then a Chinese buckle (C). Next is an Etruscan statue (D), then a Cypriot bronze (E), a Mediterranean seal (F), an Indus seal (G), an Egyptian Lapis Lazuli (H), and finally an Iraqi ram seal (I) and a Ukrainian figurine (J). However, the order in which the objects appear in the galleries themselves does not match with this order on the timeline – the two sjuzet diverge. Following Genette, this disjunction can be illuminated with the following formula, in which the lettering denotes the order of appearance in the timeline and the numbering the order that the objects are encountered in the movement through the galleries: Ai-4, Aii-1, B-6, C-2, D-5, E-8, F-10, G-3, H-11, I-9, J-7 The divergence between these two sjuzets indicate how many inversions occur within museum spaces, how many different manipulations of temporality co-exist, and how the singular progressive linearity of the museum suggested can so easily be disrupted. For Genette, such analysis in literature highlighted two anachronic forms in particular; those which are retrospective, and those which are anticipatory. The first of these, also known as a ‘flashback,’ he termed ‘analepsis,’ and the second, the flash-forward, ‘prolepsis’ (Genette 1980: 40) (Derrida (1997) writes: ‘… in the indecomposable synthesis of temporalization, protention is as indispensable as retention’). Alongside these forms, he also identified ellipsis, in which time leaps forward without return, and paralipsis, the interpenetration of a moment into a coterminous neighbouring narrative (Genette 1980: 51). How might such structures be more intentionally exploited in a museum, what effect might they have, and what might they suggest about the nature of temporality in museums? As noted in Chapter 1, analepsis can be used to contextualize a current situation. This is not just of use in literature, but also in the museum, for it might be used to explain and legitimate an object’s presence in a gallery or the historical situation the gallery describes. The selection of these explanatory or contextualizing elements is fraught with ethical questions which every museum using analepsis should be aware of. Used to legitimate situations, analepsis can also imply singular causality; can be used to restrict the chaotic pattern of events to a preordained structure. Once again, there is the dangerous potential for the appearance of the propter hoc fallacy, and the arrival of a teleological structure which denies the presence of otherness and variety in the world (Lochhead 2002: 6); in an institution such as the Pitt Rivers, which has a problematic past involving the promotion of social evolutionism (Gosden et al 2007: 97–98), such elision, were it found, would stand counter to the prevailing discourse about decolonization and diversity. Genette also discussed repeating or recollective analepsis (Genette 1980: 54). In In Search of Lost Time, his exemplary text, recall is a fundamental feature: it invites the comparison of the past with the present, highlighting issues regarding the maintenance and building of identity, and raises
Non-Linearity 79 broader questions about the voluntary or involuntary nature of nature of memory in which museums are so deeply embroiled. Motifs which repeat throughout museums, such as the Cycladic figurines which occur in different contexts at several points throughout the Ashmolean – as prehistoric archaeological artefacts and as inspirations for works of modern art – can provide the impetus for just such recollective moments. On the second encounter, the visitor may recall the first, implicitly recalling their own knowledge development and extending the number of identities to which the figurines can belong. It is also important to consider whether the analeptic jump is resolved with a fully detailed return to its point of departure. This kind of complete analepsis is very useful for determining the causal relationships of any present timescape. In the Oxford Museums such complete analepsis do not appear to exist, unless we concede that the entrance and exit points for all the institutions are located in the same place. Partial analepsis also exists, however, and in this the end of the recollected element remains unconnected to the point at which the main narrative is resumed. Such forms may be used in a museum to underline a historical or conceptual break, or for emotive metaphorical effect to emphasize the discontinuity and even dissociation which often accompanies cultural or personal trauma (Dietrich 2000: 86). Thus, whilst it can foreground unity and continuity of identity, analepsis can also indicate painful discontinuity and rupture. As much as it is about retention and remembrance, it can also be about loss and forgetting. Prolepsis is more infrequent in literature, but in museums – the orientation galleries in particular – the yet to come plays a very visible role. In the ticket atrium of the Ashmolean, the text and synecdochic representation of objects from other galleries in the timeline indicate particular situations which the museum’s visitor will perform or experience at some point in the future. These can incite expectation and anticipation, and, like a rhyme, the hope of their resolution can be used to spur the curious visitor on. However, there is something more sinister at play here, a certain prophetic and deterministic quality to such narrative occurrences, and when they are resolved through their realization rather than remaining anticipated and imagined, the narrative leading to them and the source of their prediction are ratified and given authority. Once more, it seems, free will can lose out to predestination, and an almost deistic sense of fate. Museums must remain aware of these ‘hidden’ teleologies, recognizing them for the useful purposes which they serve, but also being wary of their more authoritarian implications. Aristotle wrote of a particularly interesting anachronic narrative form, known as in medias res, which was used by Homer in his construction of epic poetry (Aristotle 1968: 43–44). Using both anachronic forms, in medias res dramatic structures begin in the middle of a story, then jump backwards in the fabulaic chronology in order to describe and perhaps explain by what means and for what reasons the situation at the point of departure came to be. In the Odyssey, identified by Auerbach as an exemplar of epic in medias
80 Temporal Shapes res, the jump occurs at a powerfully emotive point: the moment in which Odysseus’ old nurse recognizes the aged beggar whose feet she is washing as her lost master (Auerbach 1953: 3). Though this use of anachronic forms does not arise with any clarity in any of the Oxford Museums, it is a particularly useful form for museum makers to consider – for it can incite quite powerful emotional responses, but also break up the intensity of the moment by relating a story within it. The reader or visitor is thereby given a chance to recover, but when the moment of departure is recaptured at the end, that intensity can be relived and resolved. For the museum maker, this could be an extremely powerful tool for designing impactful experiences; nonetheless, given the problematic nature of teleology, it should be engaged with care.
Moving In and Out of Time: Shifts in Diegetic Involvement Anachronies manipulate the order and position of events with regard to a narrative. However, as Chapter 1 showed, it is also possible to manipulate the position of the various scriptors – authors, narrators, focalisors, and readers – in relation to a text. This shift in diegetic involvement may in some cases arise alongside a disruption in the linear progression of a narrative itself – though there need be no causal linkage. However, even when it does not, diegetic shifts do have a significant affect upon how that narrative is perceived and, for the scriptor being shifted, temporal disturbance may indeed occur. In the section below, the focus will be upon how this latter kind of disruption arises or can be engineered in the museum. Particular regard will be given to the visitor’s relationship with the museum’s displayed narrative structure, but also, equally importantly, their relationship with their own experiential sjuzet. Throughout this section, the terms heteroand homodiegesis will recur, for they provide a subtle literary way of distinguishing between the various degrees of visitor involvement. Firstly, it is valuable to consider the ways in which the museum sjuzet is broken when a visitor’s perspective is physically and forcibly altered. In the earlier discussion of transtextualities, attention was placed upon the glimpses into spaces outside the museum display, particularly back of house areas, and the ways in which these break the continuity of the display by showing the coterminous existence of other spatio-temporal environments. But these visions of alternative plots also reduce the visitor’s homodiegetic involvement in the museum sjuzet by breaking its illusion of completeness. Staircases also have a role to play in dispelling this illusion – but it is a complex one and the effects of staircases upon the diegetic relationship between visitor and museum narrative structure are many. There are some which seek to preserve institutional continuity and the homodiegetic position of the visitor within their experience of the museum. The staircase up to Western Art from the Ashmolean’s entrance lobby is a prime example.
Non-Linearity 81 Part of the old Cockerell building and thus traditional in its neo-Classicism, it nonetheless segues well into Mather’s more minimal, contemporary interpretation of the style, providing a subtle shift in tone between the new and the aged parts of the institution without breaking the diegetic illusion too dramatically. However, there are also staircases which make clear distinctions between themselves and the display spaces of the museum. When the visitor, of necessity, encounters them, they break the exhibition space’s theatrical pretence at singularity, unity, and truth. Part of the extension to the building which now houses the Balfour Research Library, the Pitt Rivers’ staircase (Figure 3.2) is an area obviously differentiated from that of the display. The alternation between this functional, light, and modern space and the dark traditionalism of the galleries themselves forces the visitor to the Pitt Rivers Museum to continually switch their diegetic involvement – from that of a picaro immersed in weaving the objects presented to them into a personally cohesive whole, essentially, a character within the text – to that of a heterodiegetic, distanced observer, someone outside the manifold stories that the Pitt Rivers seeks to tell. Such an effect is also to be found when an empty display case or insect trap appears, and thus creates holes and gaps in the Museum’s constructed world, showing its incompleteness and mutability.
Figure 3.2 The Pitt Rivers Staircase, Pitt Rivers Museum, Copyright the Author
82 Temporal Shapes This manipulation of the visitor is almost metafictional in its consequences, for it encourages an awareness of the curated, contrived nature of the Pitt Rivers, awareness that its displays are only one of many sjuzets and styles in which the objects concerned could have been displayed. We discussed, before, estrangement; here, we have one of the ways in which it might be utilized to good political effect. In each of the Oxford Museums there are points at which visitors are able to stand back from their own experience and reflect upon it from a more heterodiegetic position. These sites are often places from which visitors are able to take a bird’s eye view upon a place already experienced: in the Ashmolean, the lower galleries can be viewed from the bridge displaying Italy Before Rome, and the Great Courts of the Pitt Rivers and the OUMNH can be seen from the balconies above. By shifting their perspective in this way, the visitors are placed in a much more externalized position in regard to their personal museum sjuzet able to look back upon the position they once held in the narrative and reflect upon their own actions and responses by observing the people still occupying those spaces. Yet even at these points, they remain participants in their personal museum diegesis, for all that they may realize their developmental progression within it. Whilst they may come to understand in part that this experience is a constructed sjuzet and that, as a result, it has boundaries, they remain unable to escape it: their personal experience, though only a single example of the multitude of others around it, is the only one that they can know.
Prosodic Disruptions: Metrical Events and Rhyme Schemes in the Museum Prosodic structures, as Chapter 1 suggested, can be used not only to create unity, continuity, and linear movement, but also to disrupt and undermine them. Lennard’s analysis of poetry suggests that an echo’s particular effect is a result of two factors, the intensity of the echo and its position within the written line, which combine to create unique prosodic moments (Lennard 2005: 190–191). Such echoic forms appear in the museum; one role of the section below is to examine how these affect the temporal character of an institution. Its second role is to consider the patterns of stress within a museum, for metrical form is a similarly critical part of a poem’s – and a museum’s – rhythmic and temporal character. Rhyme and stress can halt or speed up the movement of a poem or change its tone or direction: their role in undermining simple linearity is similar in the case of a museum. The temporary cessation of linear flow is dramatically enacted in the visitor’s initial view of the Pitt Rivers’ Great Court. Both the intense similitude of the cases, in terms of colour if not in form, and their position at the opening of this museum experience produce a moment high in wonder, arresting the visitor’s onward progression. A visual poem such as Apollinaire’s ‘Il Pleut’ arrests the eye’s attention upon the shape and form of the piece, rather
Figure 3.3 The mis-en-page of the Pitt Rivers Great Court, Pitt Rivers Museum, Copyright the Author
than drawing the reader straight into its words (Hirsch n.d). In the visual poem and the mise-en-page of the Great Court (Figure 3.3), everything is seen as a flattened form, singular and all at the same time. The enhanced icticity of the mise-en-page, whether of the text or the museum, results in a moment of pause before the visitor or reader is able to continue with their exploration of the text, or the display. Echoes and rhymes of varied prominence can be used to create anachronic structures which, like the glimpses of past experiences outlined in the section above, pull the visitor out of their comfortable homodiegetic position, but which also create a sense of continued, self-aware museal identity. This is of particular importance when that continuity needs to be maintained over a physical or stylistic break. In the Ashmolean, classical statuary ties together the Mather extension and Western Art, which are so stylistically and topically different. Of particular note is the shared image of Laocoön, the bust of which in the Britain and Italy gallery may be interpreted as a synecdochic reference to the complete statue displayed in the Cast Gallery of the new building, and even onwards to the work of Lessing and to the physical original now held in the Vatican’s Museums. Here, the echo unites two spatially distanced areas of the Ashmolean, and between two distinct interpretations of the material object – the Laocoön as both art object and archaeological study. At the same time, recursion and recollection allows
84 Temporal Shapes comparison to be drawn between the different stylistic contexts in which the object is presented. Temporal shifts, emphasized by echoic structures, can change the interpretation of an object – and the visitor’s perception of it – and can alter the way in which the visitor understands the distinction between the museum’s various sjuzets and that of their own personal experience. Vallee calls echoes ‘a haunted variety of rhythm,’ which offer an opportunity for both self-recognition and transformation (Vallee 2017: 100) – in the Ashmolean, experiences of the Laocoön are non-identical, and pointedly avow the non-uniqueness of the visitor’s experience, allowing them to experience their own subjectivity as a visitor in a highly curated world. Whether positioned internally, at the beginning or at the end of the museum experience, and however intense they are, such rhymes and metrical features can have significant and unique effect upon the perception of temporal movement within any museum, as they can in poetry. Recognizing this would enable museum makers to not only manipulate experiences and objects, but also more subtly negotiate the relationships between those objects and experiences and the visiting audience.
Punctuation and Lineation: Sharp Shifts in Temporal Trajectories Rhythmic structures are influenced by the devices of punctuation and lineation that break up pieces of prose or verse. According to Lennard, there are various forms of punctuation and we have already examined the functions of stops, signes de renvoi, and lineation in literature (Lennard 2005: 105–152). Below, the ways in which the concepts and various forms of punctuation might be utilized to examine the temporal landscape of the museum will be explored, with reference in particular to the various degrees of stops and signes de renvoi – signs of sending back. Between the Mather extension and Western Art, there is a clear break. Visitors step through a set of automatic doors out of the noisy, exploratory space of the Mather and into the hushed, contemplative enclaves of Western Art. Acting like the line break which comes between the body of verse and the final couplet of a Shakespearean sonnet, a set of automatic glass doors bifurcate the Ashmolean. As in the sonnet, this break enables a shift in tone – a volta. Architecturally divided, both halves of the institution express very different notions of the museum ideal: one open, modern and visitor friendly, the other quiet, antique, and rarefied. These two sites have distinctly different temporal characters, two different chronotopic forms. In the Mather, the time of the everyday is given freer reign, embroiled as this set of galleries is in the networks and flows of the historic and the contemporary world; this area, for instance, is where the shop is, and the temporary exhibition area. Western Art, on the other hand, is far more traditionally heterotopic. Standing almost isolated and enclosed from both the Mather galleries and the outside world, Western art is pervaded by a sense of the
Non-Linearity 85 ‘aesthetic cult,’ belonging to a seemingly static, eternalized space. Linearity is again complicated – both galleries exist simultaneously; therefore, there cannot be only one singular linear narrative route to go down. When the visitor crosses the boundary between the two spaces, the enclosed singularity of each, no matter how linear or causal their separate narrative structures might be, is shattered. More subtle shifts, far more akin to the softer forms of stop – colons, semi-colons, and commas, for instance – can also be used to isolate certain galleries within the museum space. Within the already rarefied environment of Western Art, there are yet deeper enclaves of intense contemplation. Their entrance exaggerated by a door frame, the Nineteenth Century Art galleries – particularly those displaying landscapes and genre paintings – act as side chapels, isolated subclauses in the museum which provide moments of enclosed cessation and pause and which, placed alongside other galleries and with only one door, act as diversions from the onward flow of the visitor’s experience and the main thrust of the museum sjuzet. In the Pitt Rivers, blue circles surrounding a white I appear in a number of the cases. The role of these symbols is that of a signes de renvoi; in other words, they act to associate the object to which they are attached to ‘marginalia’ – to one of the other case texts which sit alongside or within the displays. The visitor is forced out of a structure based upon the linear observation of objects and texts into one based upon marginal references and paratexts. Their progress through the museum is paused upon one particular object, contemplation of its specific features encouraged using a punctuative, paratextual notion to disturb the homogeneous flow. One might interpret the blue circles – and other signes de renvoi – as evidence of the specters which haunt museums – and specifically ethnographic museums, whom we shall discuss in more detail in Chapter 5, Absence. The blue circles teach us how to talk to the phantom because they force us to look not just at the decontextualized object, but its information, story, and context, and at the gap which exists between both of these. He should learn to live by learning not how to make conversation with the phantom but how to talk with him, with her, how to let it speak or how to give it back speech, even if it is in oneself, in the other oneself: they are always there, spectres, even if they do not exist, even if they are no longer, even if they are not yet (Derrida 1994: 221). The object thus becomes phantasmic. And the visitor, again, becomes estranged, as the process of object-label equivocation which is so much a part of museum visiting is brought into question – we know it is important to look at both, but why and to what purpose do we look? The distinction is brought to light between the sign of the object, and that which it signifies; we will return to this distinction later.
86 Temporal Shapes
Free Verse and Fragmented Plots: Irregular Temporalities Once the metrical structure of a poem is set up, it is often expected to continue in a stable fashion (Attridge 1982: 78). When it does not, it may signal a change, in pace, time frame or topic, for example, and it may also incite a certain level of discomfort and tension between the reader and the text. In the Pitt Rivers and the OUMNH, the highly regularized Great Courts, colonnades and balconies mean that the metrical structure of the building itself does not interfere to any great degree with the sjuzet or visitor experience. The Ashmolean, on the other hand, belies the connotations of balance and symmetry which come with its neoclassical facade. Most rooms in the Mather extension have multiple doorways, and rarely repeat a form or location from floor to floor, thus making the footprint for each level of the Ashmolean unique. This undermining of rhythmic stability results in a fragmented environment in which the visitor is forced to concentrate to maintain a sense of a united whole. The visitor, in fact, is faced with a number of choices as soon as they enter, for the Atrium immediately provides three options for exploration: straight ahead, into the ticket gallery and the Ancient World displays, up to the right via a neoclassical staircase to the removed realm of Western Art, or left though the ritualistic arcade of the Randolph Gallery of Greek and Roman Sculpture towards the Egyptian Galleries. The Ashmolean is a space in which pace is unsteady and in which topical shifts are frequent, and often lack a simple logic. At the back of the Textiles gallery, for instance, a staircase mysteriously counters the thematic and spatial logic to bring the visitor out into an interstitial zone on the floor above, near the Greece gallery. The constant undermining of its established chronological narrative structure creates a sense of physical and psychological disorientation which is central to the form of the uncanny written about by Jentsch, who describes not only the uncertainty experienced when faced with something which may or may not be living, but also the profound ‘lack of orientation’ involved in not being quite at home (Jentsch 1906: 8). Like cases, the interpretive media used within museums are frames which may also contribute to the perpetuation or disruption of linear flow. They may do so through visual effect or simply through their placement within a display environment in a manner not dissimilar to the pattern of stress presented within a poem. The original timeline of the England 400-1600 gallery used huge quantities of irregularly positioned images and pieces of text to undermine the simple, causal narrative which a history gallery might be expected to present through displaying emphasis in a strong and highly irregular fashion, rather like the metrical and rhyming schemes of free verse. Since the initial research, this has been altered, and the gallery’s timeline is now much more akin to that of the other galleries. The interpretive media, however, do not impact only upon movement within the level of the story being told, but also upon that of the visitor’s
Non-Linearity 87 experience. For example, the panels of the Ancient Near East and India to AD600 galleries are positioned in unexpected locations which interfere with the logical unfurling of visitor progression, disrupting their smooth engagement with the subject and to some extent breaking the museum’s theatrical illusion; case patterns which are irregular in this way break the fourth wall, forcing the visitor to constantly re-engage with the fabula on display. Museum visitors are somewhat picaresque characters, responsible for the creation of their own sjuzet and acts of meaning making. In Barthes’ terms, they are writerly beings; ‘no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text’ (Barthes 1990: 4). There are places in the Oxford Museums in which a lighter narrative touch from the museum maker enables the visitor to act in a more picaresque fashion – in the Pitt Rivers, where they are invited to explore the museum as they like, or the OUMNH, which retains a sense of an open, ‘abstract’ space in which, in Acland’s terms, ‘the intelligent learner may take a general survey of a great field of knowledge’ (Acland and Ruskin 2010: 19). Positioned as such a picaro – a character that can unite the disparate episodes of a fragmentary literary work – the reader is able to reframe any narrative logic, however linear, imposed by the museum and create their own unique dramatic structures (Wicks 1974: 244). Products of durée and chance, such structures make it clear that any determinedly teleological linear structure is limited; and perhaps, deeply controlling.
Conclusion This chapter has made it clear that the oversimplification of the shape and behaviour of time within museums tells an incomplete story. It has also highlighted the more political problems involved in such oversimplification, and, most particularly, some of the ways in which this can perpetuate colonial attitudes towards history and representation. Elsewhere, I have argued that a more disruptive attitude towards museum time is needed, and have proffered the carnivalesque as a potential approach (Walklate 2018). Here, we have been able to explore a number of concepts and techniques – transtextuality, ostranenie, verfremdung, anachronies, and echoes – which might permit a more carnivalized and disruptive approach to museum temporality. Such a disruption is empowering – in non-linear museum time, the visitor becomes writerly, is given ‘sovereignty’ over their narrative experience, and is able therefore to recognize each visit as a sequence of unique, constantly unfurling moments. The visitor is much less a passive observer of a static museum narrative, and instead something closer to Heidegger’s Dasein. Disruptive time also gives lie to the characterization of the museum as heterotopia by indicating that, both internally and externally, and through the means of space, objects, and people, all museum timescapes are porous and open, and rather than places where time builds up and up, museums are actually places of flux. In these places, tenses and temporal moments ebb and
88 Temporal Shapes flow in presence and prominence, and currents occur. But museums are also filled with unique and transient temporal events, singular experiences which ripple through the museum like the waves of a stone thrown into a lake. Non-linear time is the time of the spectre; and, in the museum, this is no different. The time of the spectre is ‘out of joint,’ but it is also a time of remembrance and possibility. When the museum is understood as temporally disrupted and disruptive, as a place of Dasein, of fallenness as well as care, as a non-heterotopic site of flux, it is understood as open to debate, to questioning, and to other modes of being – to radicality and potential.
Introduction Time and Spirit
The four chapters which follow, on presence, absence, authenticity, and auracity are all concerned with more abstract concepts than those of the previous section. Time, of course, cannot be grasped and held, and thus when discussing it in any capacity we are bound to a realm of a certain subjectivity – an experience, a feeling, and a mood. When discussing presence, absence, authenticity, and auracity in museums, we might well encompass them all under the category of atmospherics, which I will use here as synonymous with spirit. The study of atmosphere in architecture is a study in the feeling and experience of space but it can also be a feeling and experience of objects, alone or in connection. The chapters which follow address both of these things – space and object – as crucial to the production of temporal ‘spirit’ in a museum venue, but to them they add something just as vital, and even more alive – the human.
Introduction The presence or absence of any given thing is inherently entangled with its temporal nature, and seems initially such an easy thing to define. It is a definition marked out by spatial and temporal features – something is considered present if it manifests tangibly in the current moment. The precise characteristics of that presence however, and the effects it creates within its surrounding environment, are complex and many. To understand the temporal nature of museums as fully as possible, these complexities must be explored and analysed. Though it is important to stress that encounters with objects of all kinds have a significant non-linguistic component, literature retains a foothold here. Despite the fact that it is one of the most abstracted and purely symbolic of all representational forms, its awareness of this, and the corpus of terminology it has built around articulating and explaining the impact of this symbolism mean that it has a rich analytical language which museums – one of the most concrete and ‘thingly’ of representational forms (at least, on first glance) – can use to illuminate and enhance their understanding and use of their objects and their effects. Both literature and museums are objects of perception which have a present reality, but which can evoke times past and yet to come, and both are at one and the same time material, and something completely beyond corporeality. In this case, we are understanding the concept of presence as the ‘fabric of the trace’: that is, what is left behind in the world as a consequence of action (Derrida 1997: 65–66). This fabric is vital to the question of museum temporality – and temporality in general – in that it is presence which allows us to experience space and time. If presence lies in difference, then it is that very difference in shape, texture, movement, and emotion, which permits the human to experience time: which permits the human to experience experience itself. In this chapter, we shall explore how presence is perceived, how different ‘agents of presence’ – that is, perspectives and roles – make themselves known, how different atmospheric states constitute presences all their own, and how presence is something which reminds us of our reliance on temporality for being, through the key literary themes DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-10
Presence 93 of mis-en-page, visual poetry, authorial/focalising presences, chronotopes, and atmospheres.
Perceiving Presences The presence of objects and their surrounding environments is perceived through all the human senses. Each sense connotes a different kind of presence, and the intensity of that presence is dependent both upon the inherent characteristics of the subject of perception and the milieu which surrounds them and their observer. Optical relationships are often prioritized in the museum space, but developing work in sensory museology argues that visuality is not the only means by which one might experience museum objects and spaces (Classen 2017), and in the case of temporality, an ocular-centric perspective in fact only serves to limit the ways in which one might understand time, and, as we shall demonstrate here, extending it dominion over all other sensory entanglements is a political act of exclusion. The Visual Generating visual forms of presence relies, in part, upon the inherent characteristics of the object concerned. Dramatic visuality makes a statement, claims for the object a concrete existence in the here and now. Both the Ashmolean and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) announce themselves with their overt and performative facades, delimiting their positions in the wider physical and social worlds. The solidity of their architectures, and in these cases in particular the connotations of stone and brick, lend a tangible permanency to the institutions. But there is another, more abstract and ineffable effect of their dramatic performativity. The theatricality of the mise-en-page, the immediately apprehensible layout of a text, a museum facade, or an entrance such as the spectacular Great Court of the Pitt Rivers, allows such a site to proclaim its own immanence. Such mise-en-page environments may be seen as akin to visual poetry; a form in which the physical shaping of the verse is as meaningful as the text, and which is thereby able to create an immediacy of experience (Bohn 1986: 30) which can lead, if only for a moment, to the ‘exalted attention’ of wonder, the heightened intensity of the totalizing present from which all external disturbances and all movements are excluded (Greenblatt 1991: 42, 49). Visual poetry, however, once the mise-en-page is broken down into its constituent parts, takes on the successional qualities of all literature; it still has to be read (Bohn 1986: 65). Similarly, when the visitor moves beyond the facade or mise-en-page of the museum, they are no longer looking from the outside at an object of intense immanence, but at an environment with temporal extent in which they are immersed, and in which they will encounter other objects which, in various ways, will claim a concentrated, demonstrative existence. These are not singular and solitary, unlike the mise-en-page,
94 Temporal Atmospheres but parts in a broader, sequential structure. Therefore, whilst for some such as the Star House Pole of the Pitt Rivers or the Painted Augustus in the Cast Gallery at the Ashmolean, their colour and size alone would be enough to demonstrate their presence, others are, of necessity, given visual prominence through the relational devices which this structure permits. Location and framing are crucial in this regard. Even the already powerful totem pole benefits from its situation directly in the sight line of the entering visitor. Metrically arranged verse places stress upon certain syllables in its line through their position in a sequence of other syllables, drawing the concentration of the reader towards them and thereby according them prominence. This form of rhythmic arrangement works too in the museum, affording the objects to which it is applied an enhanced ictic presence. These qualities are further heightened when the object is located near the beginning or end of a defined museum space; in the case of the Star House Pole, its final location in the ‘line’ of the Great Court creates an emphatic rising rhythm, of which it is the culmination. The way in which an object is visually framed determines the viewer’s prosodic and perspectival relationships to it. Whether or not the object has a role in their current sjuzet – and, if it does, what the nature of that role is – is determined by the devices which bring it into, or distance it from, the experience of the visitor. The cast of the Laocoön housed in the Cast Gallery in the Ashmolean is brought into the neighbouring gallery of Rome not through physical relocation, but through the steps and glass doors which surround it and direct the eye of the visitor towards it. These devices permit a transtextual relationship to arise, in which the visitor to the Rome gallery is made aware of the existence of the Cast Gallery by virtue of the latter’s synecdochic presence in the former. This is a simple strategy which produces a complex presencing; the insertion of the Laocoön into space where he is not, the drawing of another, as yet abstract and unknown, space into the Greece and Rome Gallery. A parallel presencing; co-presence. On the other hand, in the Pitt Rivers, there is no visible narrative frame surrounding the entire experience. There are no windows in the display area, and the building itself is barely visible from the outside, surrounded as it is with other Oxford University buildings, including the Natural History Museum, which visitors must move through to get to the Pitt Rivers. The Museum is famous for inducing headaches and ‘museum fatigue,’ and it is likely that this is, in part, a product of the intensified heavy atmosphere of the space. The lack of narrative frame intensifies the present within the Museum, lending the Now of the visitor experience a substantive rhetorical weight. This is further intensified by the lack of a progressive narrative structure; the Pitt Rivers, typological as it is, wounds the linear and historicized temporality one encounters in many museums, disorienting the visitor and placing them into an excessive, lengthened Now. This antic present of the Museum results in an ardent and insistent presencing of the nature of space and time itself; the Pitt Rivers is visually heavy.
Presence 95 The Haptic Visual contact is not the only means by which presence may be generated. Constance Classen wrote that ‘[t]he culture of touch involves all of culture,’ (Classen 2005: 1) and there has for some time been an increasing concentration in anthropological and museological studies, both practical and theoretical, upon the notion and politics of touch (for example, Chatterjee 2008). When the object or fabric of a building can be touched, the nature of temporal presence takes on a subtly different quality. When the visitor to the OUMNH strokes one of the touchable taxidermy creatures – one, in particular, was named Mandy the Shetland Pony, and she is now no longer on display – that contact breaks the representational, symbolic quality of the purely visual image they have hitherto enjoyed. In the museum, the power of touch makes the object, however decontextualized, something which a word, being only an abstract inscription, never can be – much more completely the thing which it designates and represents. Through touch, Mandy and her colleagues become creatures whom, though removed from their original lifetime context, continue to have a concrete existence in any given moment. These objects are perfect exemplars of the way in which museums produce, not the death of the object, but a strange and eerie half-life; the eerie is something which shall return in Chapter 5 The Auditory Vision and touch give concreteness to things in the vicinity of the perceiver, but the ways in which they do so are subtly different. Whilst touch confirms the proximity of an object to the entity experiencing it, vision permits the perception of things much further away. Sound, too, permits the apprehension of things distant and unseen. In each of the Oxford Museums, the auditory environments are complex and contingent upon their changing occupants from moment to moment. This notwithstanding, there are clear and definable ways in which the behaviour of an auditory environment connotes a sense of presence of and within an experiential milieu; and the Ashmolean exhibits two extreme forms which help to characterize and differentiate its two distinctive halves. In the echo-filled Mather extension, sound bounces off the Portland stone from every angle, emanating from one space and re-emerging in another which need not be spatially contiguous. In this way, sound crosses spatial and temporal territories, acknowledging the coterminous presence of other environments and experiences by creating auditory transtextual linkages. Given this audible awareness of other spaces visitors may experience the exhibition spaces around them in a much more distanced way, the awareness of another place removing them from total, bounded immersion in their own. Mark Z. Danielewski once wrote that echoes were a form of ‘acoustic light,’ for they illuminate space and time
96 Temporal Atmospheres (Danielewski 2001: 47), and we have already noted the power of the echo for self and spatial identification. At the other end of the scale, Western Art reverses this act by lessening the mobility and penetrative potential of sound. The fabric-lined walls and wooden floors soften noise and dampen echoes, and at the same time the far less porous and open architecture diminishes the ease with which it can travel. As a result, it is the immediate environment which comes to matter, the presence of the enclosed gallery far more intense and immersive now that external distractions have been obliterated. Thus, by placing constraints upon sound, the Ashmolean creates discrete chronotopic sites; removed spaces within the museum itself, internalized heterotopias whose concentrated presents reify the objects contained within, but at the same time absorb them into an overarching plenum. All these forms of presencing rely upon an experiencer to bring them to fruition. They also demand a creative hand to arrange their devices in the first place. The ways in which these creative hands make themselves known within the museum environment is also of interest here; their historic location in regard to the museum and its visitors and the nature of their activity of distinct, direct importance upon the temporal character of any museum.
Perspectives: Authorial, Narratorial, and Focalizing Presences The study of literature has long explored the complex ontologies of its creators, especially in terms of their presence in a text. There are at least two forces at work in the production of any literary piece – the author and the reader. Roland Barthes, in S/Z, claimed that the literary establishment unnecessarily ‘divorced’ these two forces, reducing the activity of the reader (Barthes 1990: 4). He suggested that the reader – who finds an indirect analogue in the museum visitor – should not be considered a passive participant in the performance of the work. In the same book, he wrote of the ‘writerly text’ – that is, a text which readers interpret and manipulate in their own way, turning that which is written on the page into something personally meaningful (Barthes 1990: 4). Similarly, it should be remembered that the visitor to any museum, however manipulative its mode of display, always retains some writerly, hermeneutic, control. So, it is to those who occupy a more traditionally authorial position that this chapter turns – to the curators and designers, to the collectors, past and present, and to the more abstract entity of the institution itself. How do these beings present themselves within the museum spaces concerned, how do they interact with the sjuzet, with the visitor, and with each other, and what can literary tools offer to help illuminate this? Authorial voices make themselves known in ways both demonstrative and restrained. In a museum, as in a novel or poem, the most overt method of designating authorship is to append a name to it. Both the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers carry such names, and in the case of the latter, the General
Presence 97 whose collection founded the museum has a distinct presence within it. On the Upper Gallery lies the display of weaponry, in which he had an especial interest, and in the section on firearms his presence is once again accentuated by a small corner case in which his photograph and his interest in this form are prominently displayed. Along with this, the historic character of the displays and the traces of his evolutionary arrangements which remain as well as the dominant objects of interest to him – the boats and paddles in particular – contribute to a sense that his hand still has a heavy presence within the modern institution. A museum, which must continually change if it is to survive, is consistently undergoing revision and re-inscription by many authorial hands. Throughout their histories, all three of the Oxford Museums have continued to acquire objects, change their ideas about those objects, and reconsider their own functions as museums, and thus have regularly needed to redisplay their ever-growing collections. Despite its seeming immutability, the Pitt Rivers contains the most evidence for the palimpsestual nature of authorial activity. Whilst the Ashmolean’s 2009 redisplay entailed a sweeping away of the old displays, the Pitt Rivers’ ongoing development has involved their enhancement, thus allowing the history of the museum a continual role in the present. Many of its displayed objects have retained the original tags appended to them when they first entered the museum. The various curatorial hands and eras are thus present throughout the museum as a whole, showing overtly how – and by whom – the space and collection has been continually re-inscribed. That continues into the present; the Museum’s recently announced Labelling Matters project suggests that even the concept of the labels themselves is open to revision. One of the most fascinating features of the Pitt Rivers is its emphasis on its manifold authors. Whilst the Museum might be named after General Augustus Henry Lane Fox ‘Pitt-Rivers,’ his voice is by no means dominant in the institution or its displays. Whilst the typological arrangement is a consequence of the General’s founding injunctions, the social evolutionary theories he propounded and which the early Museum followed, are now wholly disavowed (notwithstanding the occasionally dubious moment, such as the combs cases discussed in Chapter 2). And whilst the weapons collection which was a particular interest of the General’s is still present, it has been substantially augmented since his time. The other, and perhaps more immediately apparent way in which the contemporary Pitt Rivers Museum displays its multitudinous authorship is through naming in displays. Here, contemporary and historic contributors to the museum’s performance, whether collectors or curators or donors, are named side by side, all vital parts of the Museum’s contemporary identity: Nyema Droma, Clare Harris, Laura Peers, Nika Collison (of the Haida Gwaii Museum), Beatrice Blackwood, Makereti, Diamond Jenness, Henry Balfour, and more. It is significant to note that several of them are women. Thus, the Pitt Rivers is revealed to be not at all a ‘box room of the forgotten,’ static and
98 Temporal Atmospheres forlorn, but a vital and relational space dependent for its existence on both the living, and the dead. Diverse authors need not be named, however, but can be made visible and present within the display space through their stylistic character. Most of the new displays in the Ashmolean, though selected and arranged by their relevant specialist curators, are cohesive in overall tone and style and largely indistinguishable from each other. Immediately after the redisplay, there were two galleries which were highly distinctive: England 400–1600 and European Ceramics. Both contained forms of presentation which ran counter to the typical ‘Mather’ neoclassical purity of style; in the England gallery, the eye-taxing graphics were so much busier and more colourful than their counterparts elsewhere, and in European Ceramics a closely packed density of objects came as a shock after the comparative minimalism of the surrounding gallery spaces. David Berry and Timothy Wilson, their respective ‘authors,’ each had positions within the Ashmolean which might go some way to explaining this disparity. Berry was brought in temporarily to see the England gallery through to completion and so didn’t have the same institutional investment as more permanent members of staff, and Wilson, Head of Western Art, came from a display tradition quite distinct from that which pervades the rest of the new extension.1 It is worth noting that, whilst the European Ceramics displays have remained the same, England 400– 1600 has seen significant alteration, rearranged in a way which conforms more closely to the other galleries in the Mather extension. In this there is evidence of the mutable authorial voices of an institution, and the historically proximal changes which rewrite museum spaces and thereby create historical elisions. Rather than ‘authorship’ in the sense of a named and identifiable individual, those who study the identities which present themselves in literary texts often focus on the narrator, or the narrative voice (Porter-Abbot 2002: 64). They examine how they present themselves in relation to the text concerned, whether in the first, second, or third person, singular or plural, and whether heterodiegetically distanced or homodiegetically immersed in the story concerned. As the medium by means of which the reader relates to the contents of the text, the voice is a vital component in the realization of the textual timescape. In the museum, it is no different; narrators and, as shall become clear, focalisors, are as equally critical here as they are in a novel or poem. The choice of whether to use personal pronouns such as ‘we’ can have a marked effect on the nature of a museum’s perspectival performance. The Pitt Rivers Museum’s gallery texts already tend towards a heterodiegetic style of narration, which positions the museum at a distinct remove from the content it is trying to express. This is heightened by the lack of personal pronouns, and the use of proper nouns to distinguish ‘The Staff’ from ‘The Museum.’ Thus, as the following gallery text shows, the Pitt Rivers Museum becomes a character, distinct from its staff; and both are
Presence 99 distanced from, and independent of, the content they relate and the visitor to whom they relate it. The Museum’s displays recall museums at the time of its founding in 1884, when General Pitt Rivers gave his personal collection to the University of Oxford. Staff have chosen to keep the Museum’s historic appearance because it represents an important moment in museum history, but they also actively research and add to the collections. This is one factor which enables the Pitt Rivers to enfold and immerse its visitors in the space, for it allows those visitors to occupy a position similar to that of the staff, and separate from the institution. Here, it is the visitor who is, ostensibly, in control – a fact enhanced by the use of the second person in the case texts; ‘Explore the Museum as you like,’ reads the ‘Welcome’ panel. It is, then, the visitor and their activity within the space which determines the nature of their experience, they who shape their own unique sjuzet. This is, in theory, the case with any museum but, in being ostensibly plotless, the Pitt Rivers Museum foregrounds the visitors’ creative role, deliberately placing them within an as yet untold narrative – their own experiential sjuzet – in which they are an unusually active picaro. The notion of the focalisor, as employed by Porter-Abbot, is also useful to describing and distinguishing between the different creative entities which are made present within a museum. In Porter-Abbot’s terms, the focalisor is the conscious position through which the events within a literary sjuzet are framed and viewed (Porter-Abbot 2002: 66). This may be: the narrator – if the text is written in the first person; another character – if the text is written in the third person; or the reader – if it is written in the second. In a sense, the text and the museum are products of their focalisors – any inherent characteristics always coloured and manipulated by the lenses trained upon them. Many focalisors are present throughout the Ashmolean, all enabling the visitor to gain a different perspective – often very temporally distinctive – upon the collected objects and the institution. Individuals historically associated with the collections are often used not merely to contextualize the history of objects, but also the history of the discipline through which they are examined. Thus, in the European Prehistory gallery, Sir John Evans is represented in textual form and through his cases, arrangements, objects, and tools of collection, becomes the focalisor not only for that evocative display, but also of the history of collecting and the development of archaeology as a discipline. Although it is historic characters who dominate, there are some more contemporary museum workers who make themselves apparent. In the Conservation galleries in the Ashmolean’s basement, the role of the conservator past and present is used to shed new light upon the objects – which are seen less as items of display than things to be protected and rebuilt – but upon the activities which occur day to day within the museum’s back of
100 Temporal Atmospheres house areas. In these galleries, there is also a further perspectival complication; through an interactive mock-up of a conservator’s table, the visitor can place themselves, homodiegetically, in this focalising position which is so different from their own. Communication between coterminous sjuzets is thus enabled; the visitor made more than ever aware that beyond the display lies another active landscape which is, in part, responsible for the character of that display. Throughout the Oxford Museums, many perspectives make themselves present, whether overtly or with more subtlety, and each contributes to the museum’s continually renewed realization. It is worth returning to Barthes at this juncture, for his work offers a concept which this more fluid world could put to good use. In ‘The Death of the Author,’ he posited the notion of the ‘scriptor,’ an entity identified and born with the creation and reading of a text, and in existence only for those periods of activity (Barthes 1977: 145). It is a notion valuable to the museum, for it might enable those who create exhibitions and displays to have a more individual, overt, and personalized voice within the museum space, and a much more mutable and nuanced role, distinct from that of the dominant, and often singularizing, museum voice.
Presencing Atmosphere There are certain environments which, through a combination of intense factors, are given a weighty and singular character. These are spaces in which the atmospheres are so resonant that they take on an almost tangible presence. We will be discussing particularly auratic qualities in Chapter 7; so for now, we shall simply discuss how atmospheres make themselves present. Atmosphere is a concept fundamental to aesthetic discourse, yet all too often it can be dismissed as something ontologically indeterminate and hazy, and thus beyond rational explanation (Böhme 1993: 113–114). For Gernot Böhme, however, there is something far more specific about the concept: atmospheres are neither something objective, that is, qualities possessed by things, and yet they are something thinglike, belonging to the thing in that things articulate their presence through qualities – conceived as ecstasies. Nor are atmospheres something subjective, for example, determinations of a psychic state. And yet they are subjectlike, belonging to subjects in that they are sensed in bodily presence by human beings and this sensing is at the same time a bodily state of being of subjects in space (Böhme 1993: 122). In this definition, atmospheres are interpretable by means both subjective and more materially evidenced. There are certain atmospheric sites which can be said to have a kind of resonant presence – that is, a presence which is powerful in a particular affective and metaphorical way. In museums, it is possible to construct a slightly simplistic, but useful, typology of such sites:
Presence 101 two which are particularly useful in the exploration of museum temporality are the ‘site of memory’ and the ‘site of rhetoric’ (Weiser 2009: 33).2 Sites of memory are characterized by ruins and reconstructions. ‘Ruins,’ writes Edensor, ‘are sites which have not been exorcized, where the supposedly over-and-done remains’ (Edensor 2005: 829). These are haunted sites from which the past has not been exorcized; they are sites of the historic specter. Sites of rhetoric, on the other hand, are figurative, theatrical sites, which rely on display strategies to affect a sense of presence; they are sites of performance, and of interpretation. It is true to say that the two types of site overlap, but the typology remains useful for our purposes here when talking about how such displays behave, and what affect they create. A quality of the ruin – and indeed of the recollective reconstruction – is its ability to represent, to different degrees of completion, fragments of the past as constituent elements of the present. The ‘ruined’ nature of the decontextualized museum object has long been understood, and it is not the focus here, but it is worth remarking that the above quality of the ruin may quite legitimately be applied to any object, and any museum in which such objects reside: objects in museums can easily be said to be the over-and-done of the world, that which has been left behind, and museums themselves, as sites which hold them, are filled with unexorcized ghosts. Here, however, it is to the more deliberate and illustrative evocation of the ruin and its counterpart the reconstruction upon which attention is focused. In the Ashmolean, the concept of the ruin is appropriated in the partial reconstruction of a room in the Knossos Palace (Figure 4.1). Composed of
Figure 4.1 Knossos Palace, Ashmolean Museum, Copyright, Ashmolean Museum
102 Temporal Atmospheres actual fragments augmented by visibly artistic representation of lost elements of the original building, it is part ruin, part poetic reconstruction of a ruin, used to evoke a lost complete environment and its current degraded status. It is pertinent to note that Arthur Evans, who excavated much of the Ashmolean’s holdings from Knossos, rather controversially sought to reconstruct the lost architecture of the palace itself: it is difficult to judge how much of this reconstruction is evidenced, and how much based on his imagination (Brown 1983: 12). The reconstruction in the Ashmolean, which is visibly partial and imaginative, takes on a different cast in light of this information. Like The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot’s highly allusive modernist masterpiece, it uses quotation and imitation to turn itself and the room around it into a collage of past and present. But its current materiality also allows it to perform a meta-fictional announcement. By foregrounding its own piecemeal corporeality, it highlights its status as object as well as interpretive decoration or display media. Thus, its presence is dualistic, for it leaves enough information to enable the visitor to perform imaginative closure, to build a lost palace and world around the synecdochic fragments that remain, whilst also allowing those fragments to be understood as objects, tangibly present and complete. Lyotard noted that it is not only the site depicted which is made present by a painting, but the very act of painting, and the same can be argued for the reconstruction, which indicates the act of reconstructing, and original building before that. The whole space of exhibition becomes the remains of a time; all the places, here, indices for other, past, times, the olden days; the look, now, of the looker, the visitor, on the paint makes it into the sign of the paint it was, in its position of pose and the beginning of the work, at the moment of the opus’s operation … The exhibition, says J-L. Deotte, submerges every position (Lyotard 1991: 145). Both paint and photograph permit that which is not materially present to have, if nothing else, an existence in the minds of the observing visitors, thus collapsing distances of space and time. In photographs of a ruin, the reader is invited to imagine a coterminous locale with a shared temporal but divergent geographical present. However, the painting of the ruin, such as the landscapes of Canaletto on display in the Ashmolean’s Britain and Italy gallery has, because of the less realistic nature of the images the medium of paint produces, a heightened fictivity about it. Particularly in the eighteenth century, the picturesque ruin featured strongly in the cultural imagination as an aspect of the sublime (Gilpin 1794: 7). The romanticism which surrounded the ruin at this time means that these images can never be deemed entirely accurate; the ruin becoming a poetic thing to manipulate and metaphorically enhance. The ruin and the reconstruction can themselves be used to enhance the environment around them. Other than the Tea House, which we shall
Presence 103 discuss later, the most physically complete reconstructions3 are to be found in the Ashmolean’s Western Art Galleries. Two are of particular interest, as they share certain qualities but also differ quite markedly. These are the Mallett Gallery – also known more generically as European Art – and the ‘Georgian Dessert Table’ display in the European Ceramics gallery. Both use objects in specific arrangements to reproduce historic environments. Both are synecdochic, in that they use evocative components of their original environments to stand for those environments in totalis. Like the ruin, these recreated environments give present tangibility to the objects and spaces of the past. The significant difference between the two is marked by framing and the readerly distancing this framing creates. In the Mallett Gallery, the reconstruction is immersive; the visitor is enveloped in deep red damask and aristocratic domesticity, the paintings and sculpture which would elsewhere be the focus becoming, instead, constituent parts of an overwhelming chronotope of stately grandeur. The frame, here, encloses both contents and visitor – the object of observation, it might be said, is the frame and its constituent parts. The ‘Georgian Dessert Table’, on the other hand, however complete its layout and however it might represent traces of opulent domesticity, is deeply affected by its encasement. Given a heightened ictic presence through objectification in a glass case, it is at once made demonstrably visually powerful, less ambient than the decor of the Mallett Gallery, but also much more haptically and spatially distanced. Rather than the complete immersive environment, this is a visible quotation, a collage piece of a past world superimposed upon the visitor’s present, but quite clearly independent from it. This is a truly synecdochic act, for the visitor is invited by the appearance of the table to fill in the rest of the room which would have existed around it in its original setting. Even a single object or group of objects can perform in this evocative way; the lekythoi in the Greece gallery are arranged as they would have been at a burial and are able thereby to conjure up an image, however generic, of the funereal environments of the ancient world. Space and display thus become locations in which objects presence that which is other than themselves: not simply the past, but the action of time itself. The synecdochic substitution of part for whole is not the only figure of speech which can be appropriated to describe reconstructed forms. Metonymy, in which something is made to stand for a closely related object, is also at work. In the Rome gallery, vertical floor cases evoke corridors surrounding an enclosed inner space, in which those floor cases become walls, the tabletop cases and benches which fill it becoming the furniture of an ancient domus. The objects on display enhance this; small items of jewellery and cooking equipment. Enclosure and evocative techniques are crucial for the creation of a powerfully present atmosphere. When the environment created is particularly chronotopically iconic, its power is most apparent. By means of metaphor, quotation, framing, and plotting, literary authors and museum makers can
104 Temporal Atmospheres create environments of acute presence, rhetorical sites containing the thickened space and time which characterizes the chronotope (Bakhtin 1981: 84). Chronotopic sites exhibit certain surface metaphors and stylistic features which associate them with particular sites, and particular forms of presence. These are visible in the Ashmolean and the OUMNH; both institutions use their facades and interior decorative features to connote the sacral sites of the classical temple and the Gothic cathedral, thus emphasizing particular kinds of atmospheric presence: a sacred space, devoid of the messy time of the everyday, and pointing to a kind of certain eternality. The Ashmolean also uses stylistic features, narrative forms, and rhythmic structures to create another closely associated chronotope, the art gallery, which presences not only a specific kind of atmosphere, but a specific kind of history. There have, historically, been two main stylistic versions; the demonstrative decorative space of the nineteenth century, which foregrounded the framing environment as much as the objects, and that of the mid-twentieth century which sought deliberately to elide decorative language (Celant 1996: 374, 377). The disparity between these forms indicates that it is not merely style upon which the chronotope relies, but also the connotations which arise from its contents and their arrangements. Both are apparent in the Ashmolean’s Western Art galleries, and it is useful to compare the Britain and Italy and Modern Art galleries as examples of these two forms of the chronotope. The toplighting, rich red damask walls, wooden floors, and heavy gilt frames of the former are typical of the nineteenth-century installation, which emphasized not the individual pieces but the story of art in which they were implicated: here, history itself hangs as a heavy presence, and the masters – and those in power – are in control of the narrative. In Modern Art, however, the white, seemingly undemonstrative walls accentuate the paintings and sculptures, the visitor invited into close proximity with the discrete objects. The abstract but pervasive environment of the Romantic lyric poem is swapped for the detail of the imagist piece; the broad immersion and distanced objects of the Britain and Italy gallery distilled to the acute, penetrating contemplation of a single specific thing. Both distancing and proximity have a similar effect, however; according the object concerned a special, reified status. But here, the presence of the controlling narrative is not gone – it is simply invisible. The function of plotting is to manipulate socially conventional temporal movement into affective artistic forms; the sjuzet for the museum environment, therefore, is fundamental in shaping its atmospheric qualities. Throughout ‘Forms of time and the chronotope in the Novel,’ Mikhail Bakhtin notes the importance of plotted structures in the realization of textual genre (Bakhtin 1981). This is certainly also visible in the museum – earlier, in Chapter 3, the relationship between the topical content of a museum and its plotted structure was intimated even where no clear narrative was articulated. Certain of those sjuzet forms, however, can be used to enhance environmental presence.
Presence 105 Firstly, there are those sjuzet forms which disengage from the historical chronology of the social world by entirely lacking reference to its calendric progression. The Greek and Roman Sculpture gallery in the Ashmolean is just such a site, for it lacks internal movement, is arranged without a progressive narrative in a way which intensifies its character as a bastion of an eternal, static Now; instead, the sculptures simply stand, with blank eyes, ensconced in their alcoves. Excessive internal movement, however, can also generate an intense, if disorienting, atmosphere. The temporal copresence which characterizes In Search of Lost Time was a result of Proust’s disordering manipulation of tense. A similar intensity characterizes the Great Court of the Pitt Rivers, in which objects from across history and geography are brought together in a picaresque arrangement based upon type rather than chronology, brought into a sequence only by the action of the visitor. Here, the continuous present of history, with its constantly fading atmosphere, is replaced with the palpable, extended Now of human culture.
Conclusion Presence is a fundamentally temporal phenomenon, and it is also essential to the performance of a museum, physical or digital. All physical and sensory encounters with presence occur through temporal congruence – the coterminous existence of two or more entities in the same ‘space,’ either corporeal or cognitive. At the beginning of this chapter, we discussed objects and displays that are particularly charismatic, and how their presence is not simply subject to temporality, but is an active shaper of human temporal experience, in particular through rhythmic intensity. It is not only objects which can have an active or charismatic influence on the temporal qualities of a museum – the active and writerly visitor, and the often elided but no less active staff ‘authors’ are also crucial. And indeed, it could be argued that without their literal cognitive presence, the museum and its temporality would be both meaningless and non-existent. These individuals are, therefore, temporally meaningful and productive in both their presence and, as we will discuss in Chapter 5, their absence. This chapter has, in particular, noted the value of the idea of the focalisor, a term which allows for a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between museum workers and their visitors, and also allows for the production of more complex narrative structures and temporal interpersonal relations in these spaces. We also broached the topic of charismatic spaces and related them to Böhme’s concept of atmosphere. In doing so, we offered the start of an atmospheric typology of museum spaces, focusing on two forms of a particularly temporal nature – sites of memory and sites of rhetoric. These sites are related to, but subtly different from, Bakhtin’s chronotopes, for there are not necessarily genre specific, nor do they necessarily contain specific defining features.
106 Temporal Atmospheres All of these factors – sites, individuals, and objects, create nexus points of presence – distinct and evocative. Octavio Paz calls presence, ‘the cipher of the world, the cipher of being,’ and it is worth interpreting cipher in its two meanings: as encrypted code, which we might associated with the sign of semiotics; and as an alternative designation for zero, which we might designate as meaningful nothingness. Paz also calls presence ‘proof of the otherness of the world,’ and ‘the trace of the temporal wound’ – which, I suggest, reminds us of our identicality with and alterity from the Now, something which punctuates eternity and returns us to time (Paz 1973: 30). Presence is indeed indicative of otherness – it is the mark of that which is different and, corporeally and cognitively, presence is experienced by individuals in a multitude of different ways. It belongs to all things which have an alter: to the living, to the dead, and to those things which have never been either. It is experienced through the medium of distance. All that is required for presence is that ‘trace of the temporal wound’ – and that trace can change over time, is relational, and can build up and up with other presences to become a cacophony of ghosts. As pure trace, presence is hauntological, and in this way, presence is shown to be not the opposite of absence, but its antumbra; absence is not the negation of presence, but the outline of the shape it casts in the world. In Chapter 5, we shall explore this idea more fully.
1. This information was taken from a lecture given by David Berry detailing his work on the 29th July 2009, and from observation of the Western Art team during the author’s time working at the Ashmolean. 2. The phrase ‘sites of rhetoric’ is one constructed independently by the author – however, it finds a counterpart in the ‘rhetorical locations’ of Elizabeth Weiser. 3. And I am using the term in a loose sense; these are reconstructions of a type of space, not a specific real space.
Introduction Presence always has a shadow; there can be no presence without absence. Absence is not nothing – not negation – it is itself a part of the presencing of reality and its existence, and as a kind of cipher, a kind of zero, is also indicative of the nature of temporality in any given museum space. In Of Grammatology, Derrida suggested that the written word can never be more than a shade; that writing was perhaps the most abstracted of the devices by which humanity represented the flickering shadows and reflections visible in the dim light of Plato’s Cave (Derrida 1997: 18). He was not the first to do so – indeed, Plato had himself dealt with this very issue in the dialogue Cratylus. In this piece, the central problem encountered by Socrates and his interlocutors is the relationship between language and things. After discussion, Socrates addresses Cratylus, who believes in the truth of names, thus: SOC:
But let us see, Cratylus, whether we cannot find a meeting point, for you would admit that the name is not the same with the thing named? CRAT: I should. SOC: And would you further acknowledge that the name is an imitation of the thing? CRAT: Certainly. SOC: And you would say that pictures are also imitations of things, but in another way? CRAT: Yes (Plato 1970: 181–182). Names and things, then, are divided from each other, the connection between them a strange and empty space visible as the estrangement of word and object. The purpose of this chapter, then, is to argue for the fundamentally ‘astray’ nature of museum space; that to understand the temporal, indeed the untimely, nature of museum spaces, we must explore the missing DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-11
108 Temporal Atmospheres and the misplaced, and the gap between the name, and the thing named. The chapter shall examine the ways in which we perceive absence, how perspectives and personalities absent themselves, where and how absences are located, how replications and repetitions are a form of present absence, what is hauntological and haunted about absences, and how absences desert the world through fascination and abjection.
Perceiving Absences Before we begin, here it is worth discussing the nature of absence. Absences are not the same as voids – whilst absences are only absent themselves, a void is total negation of a surrounding area. C. B. Martin has written that: Absences only exclude what they are absences of from their spatiotemporal region, whereas voids exclude everything (Martin 1996: 62). The void, then, is a kind of absence. But not all absences are voids. How do we know an absence? By what means does it make itself visible in the real world? Boris Kukso (2006: 22) writes of the Eleatic Principle; that is, the idea that everything which exists makes a causal difference to something. Without oxygen, we die. Whilst we do not perceive it in everyday life, we are aware of it when it is gone. Therefore, an absence presents itself through causal difference; absences have to be perceivable. So, how are absences in museums perceived? By virtue of those things which are there, around which absence these things have been shaped, and via the way in which the presented things and spaces impact upon our consciousness. The implication of this, therefore, is that everyone will have a different experience of absence in every museum, depending on their history and personality. Can we, then, claim a particular kind of museum absence, given such potential diversity? The answer is both no and yes: no, because the precise content and trigger might be different for different individuals encountering the museum; yes, because the causal pattern by means of which the absence was produced – the museum’s eleatetics, if you like – is the same in principle. Museums have their own kind of absences by virtue of the fact that they are designed to produce a heightened sense of presence, a concentrated kind of looking, and so as a consequence, the nature of the absence or loss is amplified – as is the passage of history in a ruin. But it isn’t simply the principle of museums which causes them to make absences visible; it is also the way they design and display things. We shall explore this throughout the chapter. The first thing, however, which museum objects present as absent, are the people involved in the history of the objects – the makers, owners, collectors, and curators.
Absenting Perspective As it is with literature, so too with museums. In the relational complexity of the contemporary institution, the multiple perspectives which are responsible for the museum as text are frequently subsumed in a manifold of somewhere-nowhere, a ‘time of citations’ which can only ever come after something, can never be original (Barthes 1977: 146). In ‘The Death of the Author,’ Roland Barthes suggested that a text had no singular authority, but was instead a composite of multiple writings in dialogue – product of ‘scriptors,’ entities born along with the text who cannot exceed its production (Barthes 1977: 146). Similarly, all dialogic participants in the production of museum spaces can be understood as scriptors, and with that understanding comes a clarity as to their fundamentally unstable and hauntological nature. Nonetheless, they each have further features specific to their roles which demarcate absence which it is necessary to examine here. In what follows, we shall trace an almost chronological route through an objects’ relationship with conscious minds, in order to identify our dialogic interlocutors – from makers, owners, and collectors, to curators, visitors, and finally to the fully absented creature which is the museum itself. Absent Makers The presence or absence of an object’s maker is a fundamentally political condition. The importance of attribution in an art gallery contrasted with the anonymity of a ‘museum’ object of the non-art variety is a pointed reminder of the way in which certain forms of human cultural production accrue value. Take the Ashmolean, for instance, in which named artists in Western Art are (usually) given credit for the objects they produce by having their name visibly appended to those objects, sometimes even to the galleries that they are in: ‘Pissaro’ and ‘Sickert and His Contemporaries,’ for example. Of course, as we pointed to in the Cratylus extract, the name is not ‘the same with the thing named’ – nonetheless, it brings into play a fragmentary reminder of the artists. Their non-presence is apprehensible and, therefore, a manifest absence with power and effect. But this, in the same building as many pointedly unnamed or anonymized objects, only highlights the failure to recognize those ‘non-artistic’ makers, whose non-presence is not absence, but the void, a complete erasure. Whilst for some objects this anonymity might be excused due to a genuine lack of information, or perhaps the sheer age of the object, one might still consider the reasons for which the information was not recorded in the first place; it is not likely that every single object had a totally anonymous history. This has social and political consequence and is not simply an abstract and speculative problem; the language used in the China galleries is devoid of any personal pronouns, resulting in a distancing and exoticization of both the objects and the people who made them. Anonymity produces an
110 Temporal Atmospheres Other, and a fictional one at that – one extant only in a fantastical ‘historicized’ Orient.1 It is not only the objects which have makers, of course, but the museum buildings themselves. Whilst the legacy of their former existence is written in the buildings they designed and built, the relation of this to presenceabsence is complex. Sometimes, their name may, or may not, be clearly associated with the building – and here we are not simply looking for the names of architects and designers, but the names of those who actually put their hands to stone, and brick, and mortar, and built those buildings. However, in the example here, we are going to discuss architects – Cockerell, and Mather. The Ashmolean’s current home is not its first. Originally, it was housed in what is now the Museum of the History of Science on Broad Street, Oxford. In 1845, however, Charles Cockerell constructed the renowned neoclassical building on Beaumont Street (Brown 2009: 1) where the collection remains to this day. However, by the late twentieth century, the Museum behind the façade had become a warren that ‘demanded heroic efforts by visitors and staff to use and navigate’ (Brown 2009: 19). In 2001, Rick Mather Architects were commissioned to create the new Ashmolean which finally reopened to the public in 2009 (Brown 2009: 20). The Ashmolean retains its Victorian façade, but behind this lies a modern – and, to a degree a modernist – museum: at least, outside of the rather more traditional Western Art galleries. Thus, from the outside, the Museum remains as it always has been to those still living – Cockerell’s building – windowless, neoclassical, and intimidating. From the outside, the new Ashmolean, and Rick Mather along with it, are invisible. What lies behind the Cockerell building is, from this vantage point, a void – a nothingness – until one enters it. Once inside, however, the visitor is utterly enveloped by the newer Mather building, with only a modernist aesthetic nod to neoclassicism any indication of what lies outside; aside, perhaps, from the occasional intrusive staircase. The only difference here is that the frontage of the building comes, always, prior to the inside, thus still existing in memory and so not void in the same way that the Mather building is. In these comparable and yet divergent ways, then Cockerell and Mather engage in dialogue across almost two centuries in a place where each architect has left a visible trace of their non-presence. Absent Collectors The collector has a complex temporal relationship with the collection, and it is one which is primarily characterized by absence. The entity which becomes the collector must, of course, always predate the collection; but the nature of their status remains open to question. As Barthes’ scriptor is birthed alongside and exists only with the text, and only for the period of its writing, it would be possible to argue that the collector is born only
Absence 111 at the moment that the accumulation of objects becomes a collection – the moment of realization that Pearce spoke of when discussing the collector of pocketknives (Pearce 1995: 174). But we should also acknowledge the close sense of identification which occurs between the collector and the collected. As Susan Stewart writes, ‘… the book collector is caught up in the maniacal desire of the museologist; his or her nostalgia is for an absolute presence between signifier and signified, between object and context’ (Stewart 1993: 34). The collector’s identity is also considered by some to be fundamentally bound to the collection and its performances. After the end of the collection, when the collecting stops, then, what is there left but something missing (Pearce 1994: 185)? Without the act of collecting to drive them, and with the collection complete, what is there left of the creator but a form of death – a changed identity as someone no longer a collector (Pearce 1994: 185)? We shall deal with the relationship between museums and mortality in the Coda; for the moment, let us reflect on what this means specifically in relation to absence. What happens to the collector when they are gone, but the fruits of their labour – their collection – remains? Whilst one might argue that there is a spectrum which describes the post-mortem relationship of collector and collection, the two clearest ends of that spectrum are the collector who is forgotten – who is, then, void – and the collector who is remembered – the absent collector made visible by the presence of their memory. In the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers, it is the latter which predominates. But the memorialized collector develops a new, and strange relationship to their collection, one which is more egalitarian and less proprietary. The remembered collector, certainly in these cases, achieves a kind of symbiosis with the collection, in which they are objectified as parts of the collection themselves; this is very visible in the inclusion of an image of Pitt Rivers himself on the Upper Gallery of the eponymous museum – the gallery which houses the collection of weapons. In this objectification, they are removed from the realm of the human to the world of the material artefact, deferred in their full and rounded humanity for, instead, something archetypal – in this case, the Great White Collector. The collector, and their collection, are mutually dependent, and in their unitary nature, they provide the opaque object from which the shadow of absence is cast. What is the shadow which the collector-collection throws into such relief? It is entropy. Collections are metonymic, creating ‘patterns which exist only in our corporate imaginations’ (Pearce 1994: 183); producing order out of chaos; something where before there was nothing, only things in their disparate heterogenity. The actions of the collector produce the system of knowing around a set of objects, and it is this system of knowing which defines them as a collection. But systems of knowing only exist non-materially – the relationships between objects, and the relationships between objects and people, are abstracted and distanced, even if received through the senses. The experience of touching a taxidermy
112 Temporal Atmospheres pony is that and that alone, and even combined with other senses, it is not the experience of the pony as such, but the poor human equivalent of encountering the pony which our senses will allow, all disjointed and partial. And whilst collecting brings the object and the collector into a relationship, that relationship is determined by something relational and relative, something which, ultimately, is a figment of the collector’s imagination; only ever a shadow. Stewart’s statement that ‘[t]he reflexivity of the modernist use of language calls attention not to the material existence of a world lying beyond and outside language but to the world-making capacity of language, a capacity which points to the arbitrariness of the sign at the same time that it points to the world as a transient creation of language’ (Stewart 1993: 5) can be applied here – the world seen, in part at least, as the transient creation of the collected material world; the world as the absence behind the signs that present it. One cannot discuss the relationship between collectors, collections, and absence without addressing the nature and purpose of collecting itself. In On Longing, Susan Stewart distinguishes the purchasing of souvenirs from collecting. Whilst the souvenir, she writes, displaces attention to the past, the collection dominates the past, forcing it into service in order to authenticate itself (Stewart 1993: 151). Those who purchase souvenirs, then, can be said to have a markedly different orientation to both presence and time – they look, melancholically, perhaps with saudades, to the past which is no longer – which is absent, and made visibly so by the presence of the souvenir. The job of the souvenir is not to be an object in its own right, but the memorial of an event. The object collector, on the other hand, can be said perhaps to have a presentist/presencing attitude towards ‘the past,’ in that the past is itself an object in the work of the collection, not its subject. Of course, such discussions are somewhat general, and rather homogenize the nature of collecting, and the interests, philosophies, skills, and purposes of the manifold individual collectors who furnish not just museums, but their lives and the lives of their loved ones, with their passion. It can be said, however, that if presence and absence are both forms of the ‘trace,’ then what the collector builds and leaves behind are the fire, and burned-out ruins, of their passion. Absent Curators Derrida writes that the specter always begins by coming back (Derrida 1994: 11): this, precisely, is how we can characterize the patterns of behaviour exhibited by the absent curator: the curator whose hand is always felt in the display, but who for the most part is not themselves visible in it. The curator’s absence is presented primarily through the means of the trace – that is, ‘the part played by the radically other within the structure of difference that is the sign’ (Derrida 1997: xxxv) – the discrepancy that exists between the exhibited collection (the representation of a curator and their acts) and
Absence 113 the curator (individually, in their own right at any given and unique moment in time). Even if a curator is present in their own specialist gallery – doing a presentation, say – they remain differentiated from the curator who built the display as scriptor, due to the passage of time which has elapsed between the making and the presentation. Curators, whoever they are and whatever presence they have in relation to the exhibition, and whether they are in the past, present, or future tense, are always haunting their displays. There is an interesting transition in the figure of the curator which comes with temporal distance. As we have already seen, the individual named Pitt Rivers has become an object in his own museum – so, too, though perhaps less overtly, has Ashmolean. This seems to happen, also, to curators and keepers – particularly those who had their tenure during a particularly significant time for the institution. In the case of the Ashmolean, some of the most apparent keepers of this kind are Robert Plot (the first keeper), the Duncan brothers – under whom the state of the collections began to improve after an extensive period of decay, and Sir Arthur Evans – arguably the man who transformed the Museum into the institution it is today, and who probably casts the longest shadow over the displays; the Minoan reconstructions displays, which we discussed previously, are a direct result of his activity (Brown 2009: 17). In the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), one of the most dominant figures is William Buckland – though he might be interpreted to be rather more a collector (he died before the OUMNH was founded but did act for a time as the ‘unofficial curator’ of the collection in the Old Ashmolean, in his capacity as Reader in Mineralogy) (Oxford University Museum of Natural History n.d.), the significance of his influence upon the OUMNH cannot be underestimated. Known to both Henry Acland and John Ruskin (amongst the most wellknown of those who pushed for the founding of the University Museum) some of the fruits of his geological labours remain there – the Megalodon, and the models of rock formations which he produced. These significant actants are made present in their museum spaces by means of both their objects and their names – images sometimes objectifying them still further. But the most salient point here is not the ways in which they are made visible, but the way in which their visible absence infers the existence of a multitude of other similar influential actants, historical, and contemporary, who go – at least, as far as the museum displays are concerned – unannounced and thus void. A multitude of hands go into building a museum – the Pitt Rivers’ famous palimpsestual labels attest to that. Neither are these individuals simply curators. Buckland, for instance, had a storied academic history with the University of Oxford (Oxford University Museum of Natural History n.d.). The University Museum remains an active teaching site, and testament to this are the doors which ring its outer edges and which have the title of the professor who inhabited them over their mantle.2 These doors are indicative of the presence of the other life of the University Museum, and the other individuals who leave a trace on the
114 Temporal Atmospheres display through their research, their continued collecting, development of the collections and the teaching of the students who walk through its halls. It is also worth thinking about the relationship of curatorial interpretation and display style to the notion of absence. In Chapter 4, we mentioned the displays of Timothy Wilson and David Berry, and how their idiosyncratic style of display made their characters very present in the museum space. On the obverse, however, these highly characterful displays have an impact upon the galleries which surround them; making the character and identity of the other curators more visibly absent, rather than the simple void they would be without the presence of these identifiable figures within the exhibition space. At the time of writing this book, one of those displays has been modified to align with the Ashmolean’s standardized look; for those who remember what it was like before, this is a substantive, and voiding, change. Standard interpretive styles and devices, however, don’t completely remove the idea of the curator; rather, they remove the individual, named curator, the actual person, and replace them instead with an abstracted curatorial figure. For instance, labels reading ‘This object is fragile – do not touch!,’ such as those which appear in the University Museum, come from an unnamed authority, non-specific, but resolutely curatorial; the Platonic curatorial form of which all actual individuals are mere human traces. Curators do, however, commit acts of self-deferral through the use of other voices, and other figures, external and historical. In the case of the Pitt Rivers, for instance, there are frequently artists interpreting the collections, offering a different perspective and cast upon the objects. There might indeed be a good ethical reason for the curator to absent themselves in this way; it allows them to divest authority from the museum to figures who might be more appropriate to present the collections (though, as always, the voice of the museum hides behind such apparently representational acts, pulling the strings which make them work). Museums have many curators, most of whom are largely absent from the displays except by means of the traces they leave behind, but all museums are also in thrall to The Curator – that authoritative, never present, singular, and abstracted specter who haunts not just collections, but the imagination of the visitors who come to them. Absent Visitors The Oxford Museums are especially visible in the effect they have upon their visitors, which is an effect all museums can have, in theory. This effect is the disturbance of identity which museum visitors undergo, and part of this disturbance of identity comes from the function of absence. In the University Museum, for instance, the experience is, and was always designed to be, scriptoral; the intelligent learner, as Acland wrote, might explore the museum almost at will, in a free and open space (Acland and Ruskin 2010: 19). Similarly, the Pitt Rivers invites the visitor to explore
Absence 115 the museum ‘as they will.’ What does this writerly and scriptoral nature, though, have to do with absence? Because the scriptor exists only for the duration of the writing or reading of the text – or, in this case, only exists for the duration in which the visitor is engineering their own experience – each visitor is haunted by the specters of the visitors that surround them, that they might have been, that they have been in the past, and that they may be in the future (the last two in particular if they are a regular visitor). These absent visitors make the visit which exists a unique and fleeting occurrence; and it is over once the visitor leaves the space. But the visitor’s scriptoral experience is not one, singular monadic moment. Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise highlights the infinitude of moments that a singular period of time can be broken down into; these moments only appear singular to humans because of the way in which our brains process events in continuity: which is itself a construct. In their article ‘The Illusion of Continuity: Active Perception and the Classical Editing System,’ Todd Berliner and Dale J. Cohen use the theory of ‘constructive perception’ (which argues that the human perceptual system constructs models of the environment around it based on the information it derives from its senses) (Berliner and Cohen 2011: 45) to explain the ways in which human brains construct an illusionary continuity in the fragmented images of film, based on certain logical principles (Berliner and Cohen 2011: 46). This illusion of continuity is also present in the experience of the museum space, and it becomes apparent when the visitor is forced – as they are at certain points in some museums – to shift their perspective on their own journey, and to shift their position between subject and object. For instance, this is most apparent in the spaces such as the galleries in the University Museum and the Pitt Rivers, and the Italy Before Rome bridge in the Ashmolean, where the visitor is enabled to look back on their previous experience – now historical, and from which they are now absent. In this process, the visitor ceases to be a singular creature, at one with their previous selves haunting those places they now look down upon. Instead, that past self is a specter, and the visitor may, perhaps, come to see their own identity as something unstable, and always deferred from themselves. In all these specific perspectives, emplacement and position are crucial to the performances of both presence and absence – and it is to positioning, to emplacement, that this chapter shall now turn.
Locating Absences In this section of the chapter, we look to the ‘where’ of absence – from what, at what point, in what borderland, does it emerge? Putting it in semiotic terms, if we accept that the sign, the smallest unit of meaning (or, perhaps, presence) is generated at the intersection of the signifier (form) and signified (concept) then we might argue that absences are generated at the disjunct between these two elements, or at a disruption in expectations about
116 Temporal Atmospheres their relationship. In this case, we might use Derrida’s notion of writing as pharmakon (substituting museums and their objects for writing) to frame this generation of absence in the museum. The central topoi on which we shall focus our attention here are objects and museums themselves. One might also have considered museum texts as such sites – but it is perhaps less redundant to suggest the reader instead considers Derrida’s own extensive writings on the subject of text and language. The pharmakon is presented by Derrida in ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ (Derrida 1981), a discussion focused upon the implications of one of Plato’s lesser understood dialogues, Phaedrus. In the dialogue, the notion of the pharmakon is introduced as an ambiguous creature, for pharmakon can mean both remedy and poison. In the Phaedrus, Socrates discusses writing as such a pharmakon – as much a poison for speech and memory as it is an aide. It is this nature of writing as poison/remedy upon which Derrida primarily focuses. Utilizing the ambiguous nature of the pharmakon – a simulation which does not aid memory but instead builds memorials – that which Derrida described as ‘the movement, the locus and the play: (the production of) difference’ (Derrida 1981: 130) – as a metaphor for the museum and its musealized objects, we can come to understand their inherent position as a space of absences – and, at times, void.3 The objects on display in all the Oxford Museums – and, indeed, all museums – might be understood as pharmakon in the Derridean sense. Their material existence in the present connotes former situations and states of being which only ever had limited temporal extent, and which have been lost in the progression of entropy; this entropy most overtly apparent in the objects which physically evidence its deleterious effects, such as the touchable panel in the Ashmolean’s Conservation galleries which degrades with every visitor’s passing touch. Putatively, these objects, and their entropy, are all evidence of the real, are genuine material from times gone by. And yet, they are not so simple. We shall discuss authenticity and temporality in a later chapter, and in a later section of this chapter, we shall discuss the very specific nature of remediated objects, but before doing so, we shall look at objects more generally. From the perspective of the pharmakon, any object in a museum might be seen as akin to the written word – an attempt to save, and fix memory, whilst at the same time weakening and poisoning it. This is overtly apparent in the presentation of preserved specimens in the University Museum. The presentational form of an object is fundamental to the precise tone and intensity of absence which they indicate. The specimens of the OUMNH which ostensibly display life, also clearly demonstrate its absence in a variety of ways. Some specimens are displayed in static pickling blocks (Figure 5.1), others in mimetic displays of their former environments. The pickling block presents the absence of life through its overt mummification of the specimen, which makes no reference to the previous existence of the creature. The taxidermy birds, however, which are housed on the upper gallery, use a limited form of mimesis to recall their former state;
Figure 5.1 The Pickling Block, Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Copyright, the Author
they are presented in active positions, with nests and partial reconstructions of their natural environments. This intertextual allusion, in which the past existence of the birds is understood as the prior text for their existence in the museum, loosens them from the concrete present but cannot, of course, return them to the past. They can never, therefore, be entirely present in either historic space, and will always remain incomplete. Reliant on writing, true knowledge (reliant on preservation, true life) and memory atrophy – or at least so claims Socrates. The argument presented here is less prosaic – that the object, like the word, is not evidence of its referent, nor indeed the referent itself, but a mimicry of it which presents only its non-presence. We might, at this point, briefly refer to Jean Baudrillard’s conception of the simulacra, in particular his discussion of iconoclasm and iconolatism regarding the value placed upon images – particularly in a religious context as presences of God (Baudrillard 1994: 5). Whilst iconolaters – or iconophiles – venerate images as holy, iconoclasts seek to break them, believing them to be distractions from (simulacra of) the real presence of divinity (Baudrillard 1994: 5). Light is a device regularly used by museums to create a sense of divinity and intensification; it is deployed to
118 Temporal Atmospheres produce those senses of resonance and wonder that Greenblatt discusses (Greenblatt 1991). Though light intensifies an object, giving it an ictic quality, it can also, arguably, absent it from the space by reifying and aestheticizing it. If we were – perhaps echoing modernist movements of the twentieth century – to approach museum objects iconoclastically, we might envision them not as pieces of history – not as a putative holy God – but as memorial simulacra of it, ‘filigree Gods’ which obfuscate, and perhaps destroy, History itself. Perhaps, however, the issue is yet more subtle. In ‘The Precession of Simulacra,’ Baudrillard asks, ‘What becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra?’ His answer is that the simulacra’s effect is that of: … effacing God from the conscience of men, and the destructive, annihilating, truth they allow to appear – that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacra ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum … (Baudrillard 1994: 4). The museum object – alone and without external interpretations placed upon it – implies exactly this. Left untended by those who give them ‘history’ they become fae and obstreperous. Therefore, unknown and anonymous things are jarring in a museum space, because they alert us to the fact that the power of objects is so frequently made dependent upon the image prescribed to them, and then that History – as a proper noun – is itself an image – a ‘filigree God.’ Behind the filigree God is absence – sometimes void, in the case of the unknown object. Time does not move in this space of absence, for, as image only, simulacra undo time. Time does not even exist within the void. If the museum object is a pharmakon, is a simulation, what becomes of the museum itself? The consequences of this are manifold and potentially significant. Remaining with objects at the centre for a moment, museums become in this concept holders of pure image. They become true creatures of modernity; hosts of simulacra, they in turn become pharmakon; memorials, not memory houses; empty – displays of absence. However, they might also be understood as images themselves, and there are a few key examples in the Oxford Museums which throw this into sharp relief. Firstly, one might observe the almost complete interiorization of the Pitt Rivers – almost totally invisible as a building from the outside, for most visitors only the inside is ‘real.’ That gives it a free-floating identity – an absence from the rhythm of everyday time. The imagistic nature of the Pitt Rivers is so complete that it has swallowed itself whole. But there are places which break this apparent monadism, and which consequently present the museum’s performed identity – its image – as nothing more than a façade. These are the liminal spaces in each museum; and the Pitt Rivers and the Ashmolean particularly, contain a manifold of such spaces. There are staircases, transitional corridors, bridges, doors to ‘back of house’ spaces, and
Absence 119 galleries which act as transitional spaces and point to these non-display areas – for example, the Wellby gallery in the Western Art Galleries of the Ashmolean, which is wedged in a corner between two larger rooms, acting as a nominal transition point between them, and contains a door leading to the Print and Drawing Room. These spaces break the museum visitor’s homodiegetic relationship with the space and force them to contemplate its fictive qualities. Museums present themselves as ‘real’ spaces, but they also play heavily into their performative, theatrical qualities, and the identity image they create for themselves. The Ashmolean, for example, plays to a core identity over a long history, but is in fact a site of constant conflict between a variety of identities, which we might term pseudo-Ashmoleans. The Museum performs self-deferral like a Matryoshka doll – constantly shifting and moving its identity inward, and away from the visitor. There is the immediate space of the contemporary Ashmolean – the Mather extension – which shifts suddenly into the subtly different and vastly more traditional space of Western Art. Then there are the concept and function galleries, which detail the museum’s themes and how museums perform their roles; these are housed below the main galleries, in the basement level. Here, too, one finds the displays of the museum’s history. In displaying its own history as object, the whole museum is revealed as a multivalent simulacrum – not unreal, but perhaps not really ‘The Ashmolean’ either. The Ashmolean at present is simply the contemporary sign for a much distanced signified – this ur-Ashmolean, which is always deferred by its contemporary performance. In ‘the centre of the story,’ Lydia Davis writes of a woman who writes a story which exists only in the allusions Davis makes to it in her own text (Davis 2009: 1). The woman’s story is absent from the actual text and exists only because of this paratextual commentary. The ur-Ashmolean – and perhaps other museums like it – exists only because of the commentary placed upon it. Ultimately, though, what does this mean? Several things: and these ‘things’ are not simply abstract. Firstly, if the objects museums hold are pure images, then this has significant consequences for their possession of those objects. If the object is pure symbol, not what it was, but that symbol is important for the group of people from whom it came, then there is no reason for the museum not to repatriate – because in the world of the simulacra, there is no such thing as the authentic, and, therefore, what does it matter if the museum hosts only a replica, if it was only the sign which mattered, not the reality of the signified? One might, conversely, argue that if the museum object is image only, is simulacra, then why should people from an originating context want it back? The answer is that it is context, at least in part, which turns the object into image, and by returning it to its role and context of use, its imagistic qualities are lessened – in returning to the real, it divests itself of the status of simulacra and pharmakon. From this, we might also infer that status as simulacra and/or pharmakon need not be permanent.
120 Temporal Atmospheres Furthermore, if museums themselves are pure image, then we have to understand them not as keepers of truth, but as liars – and perhaps as self-deluded, victims of the ‘psychotic withdrawal’ of which Cameron spoke (Cameron 2004: 64). This is not to devalue them as forms of cultural performance, but it is to acknowledge the fictivity which is inherent to performance, and to comment on the fact that the cultural reality of which they are a part is socially produced and therefore open to change, and that consequentially museums are not – cannot be – as permanent as they like to appear. The pernicious myth of permanence is a long-term ontological problem with which museums will have to contend if they are to truly act as ethical creatures. The fictive, or at least the relative, nature of museums has further socio-political implications. It tells us that there is no such thing as History, but that there is instead a collection of multifaceted, and always inherently biased perspectives upon the past, which are never the truth of that past because they are always products of the present. Information – data – is one thing, but it is not possible to see, let alone communicate data without it being contaminated by the attitudes and language of the culture and time in which it is seen. This has implications, too, for our contemporary Western culture of nostalgia – this dangerous state which harks back to an unreal golden age sometime in the past, which lauds cultural purity and isolationism, and denies contemporary identities in the name of historical standards and traditions. With museums and their cultural contexts seen as mutually fluid things, nostalgia is illuminated as an ultimately pointless concept because it can never be fulfilled, but it is also shown to be a dangerous fantasy because it has profound implications for the real world, and the real individuals which exist within it. All museums thus have absence at their heart, in terms of their own identity, and the identities of the objects that they host. But there are some specific types of museum objects which foreground this absent ache in a very particular way. These are the purest, most overt, and most playful simulacra – replicas – and they demand their own section.
Replicating Absence Re-Mediations Of all the means by which absence may be made present, the act of remediation – that is, the new presentation of an object or idea in a media other than that of its original incarnation – is the most complex and varied in its form and can have significant consequences. The peculiarity of a re-mediation stems from the disjuncture between words and things, a disjoint outlined not just in literature, but in material culture studies. ‘Objects,’ wrote Sue Pearce, ‘like words and bodies, are not “themselves”, but symbols of themselves …’ (Pearce 1997: 10). Literary thought does not merely underlie and illuminate
Absence 121 this disjunction; it can also be used to analyse its structures, functions, and consequences in each specific re-mediation. A collection is already a remediation of sorts, in that it gathers together objects not previously aligned, and turns them into a specific unit – the collection. Below, transtextuality, anachrony, and prosody will be applied to the study of two re-mediation forms – photography and the digital interactive – and then to specific consideration of the Oxford Dodo; an icon produced by a diverse and intricate web of re-mediations. It should be noted that there is a vast array of sources in existence regarding the nature and theory of photography, from the early days of the medium, (Benjamin 1968) through the middle of the twentieth century with Roland Barthes and others (Barthes 2000) and becoming incorporated into the museological discourse by theorists such as Elizabeth Edwards (Edwards 2009). Increasingly, digital media is seeing similar levels of analysis and interpretation – Urry’s Global Complexity is one sociological example (Urry 2003) – and it is also becoming important in museological circles as the subject of Digital Heritage begins to take off (For instance, through texts such as Parry 2007 and Cameron and Kenderdine 2007, and annual conferences such as Museums and the Web). It is not this literature which forms the basis for this analysis, but literary theory, in the hope that this will extend the value of the literary model, but also contribute new concepts and terminology to those existing fields of cultural study. Photographs occupy an ambiguous position between representational form and object in their own right. As Elizabeth Edwards has noted, the former status seems to have been obscured, the materiality and emotive power of the image encouraging its use as a synecdoche for the object it represents (Edwards 2009: 26). However, it is crucial to acknowledge their representational status if their temporal function is to be fully acknowledged. As objects, photographs can only occupy the same temporal status as other, non-representative material artefacts. It is only when they are viewed as representations, as remediations of another thing that, as Lyotard said, photographs ‘make us see tensorial stances’ (Lyotard 1991: 132). The means by which they do this are diverse, and here, literary concepts can be put to good use. Photographs are always temporally transtextual; they always bring a moment, an event, from some other time and place, and resituate it within the sjuzet of the present. In the Pitt Rivers, photographs take on three transtextual roles. All are intertextual, in that they make visible the absence of a previous moment in time – a previous sjuzet – in the current one, in a manner not dissimilar to that of a quote. The intertextual relationship is one way, however; there is no given evidence that the current museum sjuzet is similarly reflected in the quoted world. That world is previous to this, is lost; that loss made present in its fragmentary products, the photographs which can never be more than a symbolic snapshot of what used to be. Photographs may also be used as paratexts, to contextualize an encased museum object within its previous realm of existence and highlight its
122 Temporal Atmospheres nature as simulacra. In the Asia case in the Pitt Rivers’ Great Court, an image of a Tibetan woman shows how an apron displayed nearby would have been worn when in use. Giving this context to the apron prevents it from belonging only to the present, to which the purely material object is bound. Paratexts such as this show the pervasive loss which occurs within entropic time; the continual game of resymbolization which objects and people both play, and which involves the absence of former identities as much as it does the formation of new ones. That apron is no longer a used item of dress, but a symbol for it. The paratextual photograph emphasizes how the musealized object becomes a symbol, an image, and a simulacrum. A photograph can also be hypertextual, for it can unite one museum situation with a previous state of affairs within the same physical site. Photographs which show the Pitt Rivers in previous times, such as those in the ‘Welcome’ case or the ‘New Projects’ cases on the Upper Gallery perform precisely this function, uniting the hypertext of the current museum with the hypotext of its former self upon which it is, as Genette put it, ‘grafted’ (Genette 1997: 5). This relationship presents the temporal extent of the Museum; that it had an existence in the past that has continued in some form into the present. But because the hypertextual link leaps over and elides the intervening period, changes in form and the instability of institutional identity are also more clearly marked. The anachrony of elision allows the hypertextual link to exist – but also questions the precise nature of the relationship between the things that it conjoins. The photograph’s portrayal of absence does not rely purely upon the use to which it is put, but also upon its own intrinsic material qualities. The wear of a photograph, its use of colour and the arrangement of its contents can represent emptiness and loss to varied degrees. All of these qualities, and their various effects, can be analysed by literary means. The Pitt Rivers contains both black and white and colour photographs. Each form has different temporal qualities which affect the perception of both the photograph and the space around and within it. Black and white photographs, such as that of Utse-tah-wha-ti-an-ka in the Pitt Rivers, suggest distance and absence far more so that do colour images for two main reasons. The first reason is that of style; because it is associated with the earliest days of the media, like an archaic word in a text, the monochrome image suggests an origin point in a time now far past. Though this is appropriate in the case of Utse-tah-wha-ti-an-ka, it is not true for all black and white photographs, which are still created today. Their connotations, however, lend them a historic, aged atmosphere, no matter how recently they might have been taken. But connotation alone is not enough to explain the temporal oddities of the monochrome image; nor does it illuminate with enough nuance their ability to evoke absence. There is a more solid and objective way by means of which a black and white image implies loss and distance. The monochrome photograph can represent shape, form, expression and movement,
Absence 123 and even, to some degree, shade and light. But human beings perceive reality in colour; and the image without colour breaks the synecdochic illusion and shows the photograph as the representative symbol it is. They are appealing and theatrical precisely because they indicate their own fictivity, and the visibility of their frame also permits them to become an evocative object in their own right. The colour photograph seems to bring its contents nearer to the present by more closely approximating that perceived reality. The objects within them seem less fictional than their monochrome counterparts, more vibrant and alive, just as a text which mimics real speech. But the colour photograph is deceptive. Less honest about its own mediated nature, it becomes, in Todorov’s words, ‘a mask’ which conceals its own laws, ‘and which we are supposed to take for a relation with reality’ (Culler 1975: 139). It is a form of image which denies the gap between object and representation, a form which, in effect, creates a silent, absent, absence: it is perhaps one of the most powerful simulacra. The vraisemblance of the photograph is also related to its arrangement of objects within it – including in particular its representation of movement. As verbs which connote rapid mobility create a sense of living presence and activity, so too do the Body Painting photographs on display in the Pitt Rivers suggest movement and life. There are colour photographs too which represent the activities occurring within the Pitt Rivers itself; these lend the institution they represent a vitality impossible in its historic, apparently unchanging, displays. In their representation of movement, they tell the viewer that the institution is still a living being. The photograph of Utse-tahwha-ti-an-kah, on the other hand, is static, almost scientific – as if the chief were a specimen. Like verbs suggestive of slowness and stillness, by absenting the motion which is vital to temporal perception, the image connotes an air of turpitude, an absence of vitality, and the absence of the living chief, Utse-tah-wha-ti-an-kah himself. As Walter Benjamin noted in ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ it is the apparent removal of a creative hand which gives the photograph its distinctive character (Benjamin 1968: 213). Media which use their own form as a frame present two absences and distances far more overtly – that of the author, and that of the object concerned. In the Ashmolean, the digital interactives which populated the original redevelopment were indicative of these gaps; their lacunaic act based upon their use of frames. Like the covers of a book, the console of the interactive is a paratextual threshold which distinguishes and distances its contents from the contents of the outside world, despite the fact that those of the former often represent those of the latter. Like the act of musealization itself, the placing of a representative image in an interactive produces a rupture: a break between the object and its sign, and the splitting of a thing’s identity onto two coterminous temporal tracks. In re-mediation, the identity of an object is multiplied in parallel.
124 Temporal Atmospheres The multiple framings which generate this rupture create a Chinese-box narrative structure around the objects. The object, now doubly distanced from its existence before its museum accession, becomes ever more mobile and malleable; placing it into the virtual environment of the interactive means that it can be included in a much wider spectrum of sjuzet form and content. Placing it within the demonstrably theatrical frame of the interactive also means that, in theory at least, the object and its telling become open to speculation and fictionalization. Reflecting the museum’s actions of decontextualization, the interactive becomes a metafictional mirror for the institution. By employing its own acts of absenting and distancing, it foregrounds those of the museum in which it is held. Examining the interactive, then, gives the museum cause for self-reflexivity, to examine and reflect upon their role in the external world, and the consequences of their actions for the objects they hold. The interactive most completely indicates the pharmakotic, image-focused nature of the museum institution. It is, therefore, interesting that many of them have been removed since the first period of research was conducted. A Complex Re-Mediation: The Oxford Dodo Somewhere in the zoological collections of the OUMNH lie the most complete remains of a dodo anywhere in the world; the mummified head and left foot all that is left of the complete dodo originally brought to the British Isles by John Tradescant. These fragments are the only physical remains of this hugely iconic creature, fragments whose presence makes the absence of the missing remains even more acute. The iconic nature of the Oxford Dodo is inseparable from notions of absence and re-mediation. As a species, the dodo is emblematic of extinction – the phrase ‘dead as a dodo’ evidence of its association with mortality, and, thereby, entropic, deleterious time. In living memory, the dodo as a species exists as nothing but a series of symbols and phrases like this, symbols for which there is no longer a direct, material referent. Like the story in ‘The Centre of the Story,’ it exists only by virtue of its paratexts, as real as the Platonic ideal form. Its paratexts are diverse, the form and context of each adding to the paradoxical air of presence and absence which surrounds this strange creature. To understand their function and effects requires nuance; and such is offered by a literary analysis. With the Dodo, any attempt to reproduce or represent its living form involves a certain amount of speculation. The only truly mimetic tellings of the Dodo are the casts of its incomplete remains; that which is no longer present cannot be represented without some degree of imagination. However, as will become clear in Chapter 6, the cast has a complicated relationship with the real. In the case of the Dodo, the fact that it is the casts on display rather than the actual mummified remains and the fact that this is acknowledged in the accompanying text which makes the remains, and the species and specific creature from which they come, ever more absent. The casts of the
Absence 125 Dodo’s remains, in this relationship to the real thing, exhibit what Roland Barthes termed satori: ‘the passage of a void’ (Barthes 2000: 49). Speculative models of a more complete Dodo also play a role in creating its very particular tone of absence. Between them, the Ashmolean and OUMNH hold three three-dimensional models. The two in the OUMNH are visually very different; one a cast of a composite skeleton, the other a model with feathers and flesh. The skeleton draws attention once again to absence by evidencing the death and decay of the living being. The fleshed model, on the other hand, depicts the same lacunae through stasis and encasement; the absence of movement enough to show the unreality of the statue. Because of the scientific milieu in which they are presented, however, both models give the Dodo a distinct former reality – the sense of having once been present akin to that offered by the accurate photograph. The Ashmolean’s model, however, is surrounded by a very different atmosphere. Its label situates it as an aesthetic piece – a sculpture in bronze created by an artist, Nick Bibby. Though the Dodo is recognized as important in the OUMNH, its models remain scientific specimens. Formerly housed in the Ark to Ashmolean gallery with other icons of the Tradescant Collection – itself an iconic and fragmented collective object – and manufactured from a material often used for heroic statues, the Ashmolean’s Dodo sculpture, and by implication the bird itself, however absurd and grotesque its physical body, is elevated to an almost legendary status; thus, the actual, historic creature becomes ever more fictionalized. The two-dimensional representations used in the OUMNH take this even further. The accuracy of painted images of the Dodo is open to question, lending the already visibly mediated artwork an even greater sense of speculation and unreality. The status of the two-dimensional image as a distanced and distancing paratext is enhanced by the absence of its referent which, in turn, is enhanced by the presence of the paratext. The absence of the actual bird and the resultant malleability of its symbols and symbolic paratexts are most visibly evidenced in the act which turned the bird from a museum curiosity into a widely known cultural icon. When Lewis Carroll took the Dodo’s remains from their context of display and transformed them into a physically complete denizen of Wonderland, he created something more than just a fictional character. He created an icon which would come to stand for things far beyond an extinct bird, which would stand for unique museum objects, for the OUMNH, for Oxford, and for the nonsense of Alice which throws into sharp relief the strangeness of reality, and the twisted re-mediation that reality undergoes in a museum.
Eerie Absence There’s a ghost in the machine. A disjunction between our psychological self, and what constitutes our physical form. There’s a dispersal of museal identity in which the museum’s ghost – the ur-Museum – is never quite within reach, even of itself.
126 Temporal Atmospheres In a book published just after his suicide, Mark Fisher wrote of The Weird and The Eerie – and it is the latter with which we are concerned here. The eerie can be discussed under the theme of absence, because it is fundamentally an atmosphere or a state which is characterized by the not-present. In Fisher’s terms, the eerie is constituted in opposition to the weird. Whilst weirdness has to do with ‘the presence of that which does not belong’ (Fisher 2016: 61), the eerie is to do with failure. Either there is a thing where nothing should be, or nothing where something should be (Fisher 2016: 61). But the most fundamental thing about the eerie – and this is where it ties most closely to absence – is that it is to do with the unknown and the unknowable. Whether the failure which constitutes the eerie is one of absence or presence, it is this quality of the unknowable which must remain, for once an explanation is made apparent – made present – the situation becomes mundane (Fisher 2016: 62). There are several features of the eerie which are pertinent to the temporal nature of museums, and their relationship with absence. These are the question of agency; the issue of detachment; the eerie and the self; and the eerie and the thing. These four themes will lead up to a characterization of the museum as a fundamentally eerie space. The eerie is not a concept appearing from nowhere (though it would be appropriate if it did); it is, fundamentally, to do with our previous discussions of reproductions, multimedia, and the nostalgic, and these discussions will also reappear, though this section, as specters – ghosts in the machine. Two central questions of the eerie that Fisher outlines are as follows – is there an agent at work, and, if so, what is its nature (Fisher 2016: 63)? In exploring the museum as temporal and literary, we are confronted with the question of agency; it is one of the key issues surrounding the political and social ontologies of the contemporary museum. The first question, is there an agent at play, has a complex answer in regard to the museum. On the one hand – the pragmatic one – the answer is yes, of course. Authority – agency – for all the museums under consideration here comes, at present, from GLAM – Gardens, Libraries, and Museums, part of the University of Oxford. It is under the management of the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Academic Resources and Information Systems. In the quotidian sense, then, agency and power are clearly defined. However, this answer doesn’t account for the complex power-relations that exist in any given museum, and which exist across the history of these institutions as well as in the present moment. Museums, as we have already highlighted, are palimpsests, and as the Pitt Rivers’ archaic and layered labels show, curatorial power over a space can transcend historical time. I said above that curators always haunt their spaces, and the truth of the matter is that it is rare that the spectre of a staff member can ever be truly, fully exorcized from a place. I say spectre rather than spirit quite deliberately, for whilst spirit implies an ineffable emotional essence, what I am talking about is fundamentally mundane – the trace of the spectre, the patterns of affect
Absence 127 that all who spend enough time in a place leave behind, in objects and displays, and education trails, and texts, and cataloguing systems and policies. The simple answer to ‘is there an agency?’ also ignores the more fleeting and more distanced figures who leave traces in the museum space; the visitor and the object maker/donor, respectively. We can reflect on this using Barthes’ notions of the scriptor (Barthes 1977: 145) – the entity born along within the text and who commands an impact upon it – and ‘writerly literature’ – the kind of literature which empowers the reader to become a scriptor. The deliberately writerly, associative spaces of the Pitt Rivers and the University Museum, which we have already addressed, have an impact on the authority of the visitor in their narrative ordering in the spaces, and, consequently, the messages they receive from their visits. With contemporary research emphasizing the role of the visitor, it would be much too simplistic here to determine the singular agency at play to be some unnameable museum staffer. Similarly with object makers and possessors, in particular when one considers extensive work done with originating communities and increasing calls to decolonize museum spaces – even though they might be less overtly apparent in museum displays on a daily basis. One also has to consider the agency of the material world, the objects, and environments, though we will consider their specific type of eerie at a later point. It behoves us, also, to talk about the role of the focalisor – performed in these museums through grammatical personhood, tense, images, and quotes – and how this allows the museum to change the nature and perception of agency in the space – more accessible, friendlier, distanced in time and thereby given an excuse for/authority over, their behaviour. The focalisor is one of the ways in which museums are able to manipulate their visitors. Whilst the Pitt Rivers does give over permission for its visitors to ‘explore the museum as … [they] like,’ this suggestion of ultimate control that it offers to the visitor is a fiction – the visitor remains, to a degree, in thrall to the design of the museum, the objects it chooses to display (and how it chooses to display them) and the language which it uses to talk about these objects and their people. Tense, in particular, is used in the Pitt Rivers as a tool to manipulate the visitor’s perspective, and sense of the ‘Other’ who is under the microscope, as we noted in reference to the Nuer and Dinka cases. It is worth briefly addressing Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author,’ as it has relevance to the discussion of museal agency. Barthes’ ultimate argument is that the identity of the author – with all their preferences and prejudices – must be removed from the analysis of the text if an unlimited reading is to be achieved (Barthes 1977). In a sense, the museum should at times be analysed under the same conditions – we should no longer, to take the obvious example, limit the Pitt Rivers to its eponymous ‘creator’s’ colonial collection – to do so is to deny it the ability to change and to ascribe its relevance and learning only to a singular and caricatured image of an imperial soldier. Where does that leave this exploration? Answering the second question, as well as the first, and finding exploration undone by ambiguity. The
128 Temporal Atmospheres answer to the question ‘is there an agent’ is no – there are many. The answer to the second question – ‘what is the nature of the agency?’ is as follows; complex, multivalent, and, ultimately therefore, impossible to know completely. And it is, of course, the unknowable that so characterizes the eerie. The unknown can be read as akin to the anthropological Other, but it also throws the fatal limitations and damaging political connotations of the act of Othering into sharp relief. For if the Museum – the authority, the trusted institution, is ultimately more unknowable than the real-life person to whom any of us might speak or whom any of us might engage with, the truth of what it tells us and its historical preservation of cultural difference, can be read as dangerous fictions. The eerie is characterized also by a sense of detachment. The eerie is both Other and alter. Fisher writes of acousmatic sound (sound for which the source cannot be seen) and how its eeriness is constituted in the rupture between the sound and its source (Fisher 2016: 81). Acousmatic sound is a regular phenomenon for humans to experience – the sound of unseen children singing or laughing is an affective and haunting, but common, experience. In the museum, too, acousmatic sound is present. In the Mather extension at the Ashmolean, footsteps and even hushed conversations echo off the Portland stone. Acousmatic sound forces the listener to remove their attention from the method of production, and onto the pure content of the sound itself (Kane 2014: 4). Through this process, the unknown and eerie producers of the echoes are replaced by sound as character. When one moves into the hushed, contemplative, and fabric-filled anechoic spaces of Western Art, the silence becomes more acute. The unknowable presences that the visitor has been alerted to by the acousmatic noise remain – but their knowability is no longer masked by the presence of sound. This is the point in the Ashmolean when it’s other inhabitants, known to exist but now detached from our ideal visitor, become truly eerie. It is detachment – the gap between the self and the not-self, which produces a sense of the eerie. This detachment is obviously a constant in our lives, for we are in constant detachment even from those things and people we know best, and yes, in the Derridean sense, even from the speech we profess and the words we write. But this detachment is so mundane as to be unnoticeable, and it is only when circumstance turns it into a visible barrier or problem that the eerie effect, the production of the unknowable, arises. The production of this eerie effect is the raison d’etre of any museum, and it is this feature, primarily, which has led some to characterize museums as heterotopia, cemeteries, or just plain peculiar; because the truth of the matter, that the museum, the paradigmatic venue for knowledge, is unknowable itself, pushes us into the territory of the existentialist absurd. The concept that these places in which we might seek the meanings of our lives might, in the end, alert us to the fact that they are ultimately meaningless – that we are nothing in chaos – is unacceptable. And yet, to accept the alternative is, one might argue, a form of philosophical, and, indeed, museological, suicide (Camus 2000).
Absence 129 Once the museum is understood to be fundamentally eerie, the nature and identity of the self within it comes also into question. Fisher writes that ‘gaps and inconsistencies are constitutive of what we are’ (Fisher 2016: 72), and those who visit the eerie museum are forced to confront the uncomfortably unknowable qualities of their own nature: to confront the lacunae in memory which demand the production of stories to paper over the gaps; the ‘eerie disjunction’ (Fisher 2016: 112) between our consciousness and the corporeal form from which it arises; the gaps that we do not even know are present that our un/subconscious works hard to cover. Ultimately, the visitor to the eerie museum has to confront the notion that not only is The Museum, as such, unknowable – but that their own identity is too. The visitor enters the eerie museum not by means of the lobby, but by means of realization. Heidegger’s notion of verfallen – the ‘falling prey’ to the world and consequent entanglement in it (Heidegger 2010: 169) – is helpful here. The visitor who visits the museum in a state of ‘falling’ accepts their surroundings as part of a shared communication, and, crucially, they accept that communication as the reality. This visitor might be writerly, to the degree that they control certain individual elements of their museum visit, but they are only so against (to paraphrase Eliot) ‘the background of an artificial limitation’ (Eliot 1965: 187) which they cannot see. But any visitor can come to realize their ‘fallen’ condition, and in so doing may decide to emerge from it, or be shocked out of it. Heidegger suggests that this process is characterized by anxiety (Heidegger 2010: 184) – a phenomenon which I have discussed elsewhere as both fundamental to the nature of museums and necessary for a ‘radical critique’ of them (Walklate 2019: 216). Anxiety, I have noted previously, is also a condition of possibility – as far back as Kierkegaard, it has been understood as ‘“dizziness” in the face of potential’ – and it is intimately connected to wonder and desire (Walklate 2019: 216). How does this process of anxious realization occur within the museum, and what are its consequences? The first key into the eerie museum is to notice the lacunae present in the institution – the ‘gaps and inconsistencies’ which are also a fundamental part of what museums are. These lacunae may be elided, or they may be signified within a particular scale of subtlety. One might create a lengthy list of the lacunaic elements which appear in museums; the transitional space in which no display exists, and which, through this elision, point to the constructed nature of the museum-text; the locked doors which intimate a contemporary but inaccessible space-time on the other side; the highly inter-visible nature of the Ashmolean or Pitt Rivers displays, in which spatial intersections are produced by windows, bridges, and doorways, and which allow the visitor to constantly produce and resolve the gap between distanced vision and close-up experience; the panels and labels that tell of an object’s temporary removal for conservation or exhibition purposes. Which lacunae shifts the visitor’s field of view is not ultimately important; what matters is the realization, on some level, that the museum is unknowable, and the response to that realization. The second,
130 Temporal Atmospheres and more uncomfortable, key to the eerie museum is the realization that the visitor, too, is unknowable and alienated from themselves – the ability to look back on their own recent past a notably physical manifestation of this. Fisher cites the quote which inspired Alan Garner’s novel Red Shift: ‘not really now not any more’ (Fisher 2016: 91). The visitor to the eerie museum loses their sense of the present’s solidity, and the mournful quality of the quote – found graffitied on a wall in a train station – permeates the eerie museum. The eerie museum is porous; its manifold agencies and disparate objects lost in a ‘not really now,’ in a place where the concept of The Now is ‘not any more,’ where the visitor is, at one and the same time, drawn into a site – and a mentality – which is, impossibly, both aeonic and evanescent. Quoting Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, Fisher writes of the ‘inorganic demon’ (Fisher 2016: 82). If we cite Negarestani’s original description of the inorganic demon, we can understand something of the eerie nature of the museum object. Autonomous, sentient and independent of human will, their existence is characterized by their forsaken status, their immemorial slumber and their provocatively exquisite forms […] Inorganic demons are parasitic by nature, the […] generate their effects out of the human host, whether as an individual, an ethnicity, a society, or an entire civilization (Negarestani, in Fisher 2016: 82). Aside from substituting sentience with agency, and noting that many museum objects are, strictly speaking, organic, the above seems to be an accurate summation of the nature of the museum object, and hints at its eerie nature. The idea of the inorganic demon acknowledges both the agency and the alterity of the museum object, and perhaps the museum itself can also be seen as such an inorganic demon. Some of these demon objects are, of course, rather more obviously eerie than others: the unseeing eyes of the preserved corpses and taxidermy animals of the OUMNH provoke onlookers to ask, ‘why is there nothing here when there should be something?’ But then there are, of course, the reconstructions, which we discussed above – something where there should be nothing, which possess the eerie quality of a resurrection: zombie objects. Statues, too, whether originals or casts, are also particularly eerie inorganic demons, special because their resemblance to the human locates them at the head of the uncanny valley. They are always spectral, because they are always only ever signifiers for something – for someone – which is not and cannot be present. The classical cast is doubly spectral, as a signifier for something which was already itself a signifier. And in the OUMNH, we have a particularly striking example of the hauntological nature of the statue. Whilst some of the plinths which surround the Great Court are inhabited with the statues of scientists (some more familiar than others) a number are still empty – left, presumably, for the ghosts of science yet to come.
Absence 131 But we can look at objects in museums more generally, and claim for all of them an eerie quality. When we introduced the concept of the eerie, we noted how it was primarily constituted in failure – a failure of absence or presence – something where there should be nothing, nothing where there should be something. The cases which surround many (though not all) museal objects produce another failure of presence in the inability to physically encounter the object. But every museum object is also constituted in the failure of the past to be past – to remain dormant, in the failure of an understanding of time which demarcates Now from Then. Simply by existing in the spaces that they do, together, museum objects emphasize that temporality is a phenomenon that refuses to be simple, linear, or familiar.
Abyssal Absence In this final section on absence, we move to forms of understanding which are both unfamiliar, and yet extremely proximate to our own experience – fascination and abjection, here as defined by Maurice Blanchot and Julia Kristeva, respectively. Though distinguished in terms of the degree of pleasure or discomfort they produce, both are closely related, conceptually. Both are terrifying; both are abyssal; both disrespect boundaries, in particular that between the I and the They; both have objects which are not truly definable as such; and both are pharmakotic and ambiguous. Abjection can provoke disgust, which can be seen as a form of fascination. Once in the clutches of either of these phenomena, the human is powerless. What, specifically, is fascination? Blanchot defines it as having the following qualities – it is a kind of passion, in particular for the apparent thing (‘the image’); it is solitary – that is, it cuts its subject off from the world; it is interminable; it is blinding. ‘What fascinates us,’ wrote Blanchot: … robs us of our power to give sense. It abandons its “sensory” nature, abandons the world, draws back from the world, and draws us along. It no longer reveals itself to us, and yet it affirms itself in a presence foreign to the temporal present and to presence in space (Blanchot 1982: 32). Its relationship to absence operates along two axes. Firstly, it absents the fascinated from their location in ‘reality,’ and draws them into its unknowable, unlocatable, cognitive abyss. Secondly, it is closely related to the image – to signs and simulacra which were described above, and which present that which they are not, which are a perceivable (or eleatetic) absence. The museum might be described as a fascination machine – as something deliberately designed to provoke a specific kind of attention. Greenblatt’s resonance and wonder (the latter in particular) speak to this (Greenblatt 1991). But it should be clarified that not all fascination can be designed. Blanchot claims that ‘to write is to enter into the affirmation of the solitude
132 Temporal Atmospheres in which fascination threatens’ and if the museum is writerly, and the visitor scriptoral, why, then, the visitor is able to let ‘fascination rule’ their experience (Blanchot 1982: 33). This means that fascination can be individual and emotional, as well as designed. To return to designed fascination, however (because it is the only form which can be objectively4 described), we can see it produced in the museum by means of emphasis; in particular, that generated by lighting and encasement. To understand this, one need to look no further than the Pitt Rivers – this ‘world within’ which uses a multitude of devices to turn both its collection and itself into objects of fascination, and its visitors’ victims of this same phenomena. This book has already spoken of the interiorization of the Pitt Rivers, the abyssal quality which allows it to fall into itself, to put a border between itself and the ‘world without.’ It utilizes a variety of stylistic and prosodic features to produce this sense of fascination, which moves it beyond a writerly space into something stranger and more manipulative. Firstly, there is the lighting. Whilst the Pitt Rivers is not dull, or really ‘dark,’ it is theatrically lit, with spotlights cutting through the dim shadows which shift particularly within the corners and the lower levels of shelving. The Pitt Rivers revels in a sense of chiaroscuro, and its standard lighting system – which already pulls its visitor into a different realm from the everyday (and the University Museum next door), which already threatens to deploy the fascination of the fictive – is still not enough. It regularly runs events such as ‘Late Night, Illuminating Movement,’ which offer the readers agency over their own unique exploration of the underlit, twilight space, by allowing them to explore it with a torch. In provoking curiosity, the museum also looks to provoke fascination. Lighting is not the Pitt Rivers’ only strategy for provoking fascination, however. The act of encasement, which adds the auratic distance so necessary to the production of fascination (Benjamin 1968), which gives to the object the ocularcentric quality of the image, is also a primary mode of the fascination machine. Purely in the act of encasement and consequent reification, which turns the object into museum-image, the Pitt Rivers produces the possibility of fascination which is common to any museum. However, what is uncommon about the Pitt Rivers are its particular stylistic quirks and arrangements of said cases. The cases are old, deliberately retained by the museum to create its unique atmosphere, and they produce a special kind of imagistic, nostalgic fascination – fascination for the past, which is mirrored in Blanchot’s discussion of the fascination of childhood (Blanchot 1982: 32). Prosodically, too, the Pitt Rivers works hard, utilizing both regular and irregular rhythms in its Great Court to lure the visitor further in with a steady repeating pattern of cases, which narrow down until they are broken by the crossways ‘Writing and Communication’ case. The increasingly narrow paths continue to isolate the visitor from the outside world, immersing them in a forest of cases and limiting truly free movement. The visitor to the Great Court is at the mercy of both
Absence 133 museum fatigue (its own kind of abjection, perhaps) but also the threat of fascination. What about abjection? In Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva describes the abject as something which exists in opposition to the self, which is ‘radically excluded’ (Kristeva 1982: 2). The only way in which it is recognizable as a ‘thing,’ she says, is by its very not-I-ness, something which is rejected but cannot be removed from the self (Kristeva 1982: 2). One of Kristeva’s prime examples is the corpse, ‘that most sickening of wastes’ on which death has invaded the site of life (Kristeva 1982: 3). To define its relationship to absence, one might consider its relationship to the eerie – both as a failure of something and in the case of abjection, it is the failure of the I, and specifically the boundary between the I and the radically, unbearably, not-I, as in death, for example. Abjection presents itself in the museum in numerous ways – the most obvious, of course, being the body, and specifically the human body, and even more specifically, the partial or suspect human body, whose particular kind of ambiguous state creates abjection not only through its performance of mortality, but also its very visibly synecdochic quality. Not only is it a body representing a person or a culture (so already it is synecdochic), but it is also only a part of that body. Whilst human remains in museums are as diverse as the cultures which populate the living world, there are some cases in which the abjection of deceased persons can have substantial contemporary consequence. Until recently, ten tsantsa (shrunken heads) originating from the Jivaroan peoples, were on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum in a case entitled ‘Treatment of Dead Enemies’. Collected between 1884 and 1936, they appear to have gone on display only in the 1940s (https://prm.web.ox.ac.uk/shrunkenheads). They have long been an infamous part of the Museum’s displays, both beguiling and horrifying those who visited them. Six of the ten are human, two sloths, and two monkeys. The nature of abjection here lies not in the tsantsa themselves, but in their display to an audience unfamiliar with the culture from which they come, in an institution with a history of ethnographic Othering. In Shuar and Achuar culture, the shrunken heads served as ways of capturing the power inherent in a person’s soul – multiple souls, indeed. Thus, the museum now argues, they are not simply trophies of war. However, the way in which the tsantsas have been displayed (indeed that they have been displayed at all) and to whom, has historically forced them, and by extension the contemporary Jivaroan peoples, into a position of abjection. Whether horrified or beguiled, many visitors have responded to the tsantsa by viewing their originating culture as Other, primitive, and savage. The tsantsa were therefore removed from display, along with many other human remains, in 2020, and the Pitt Rivers is now in discussion with the Shuar and the Achuar, and the Universidad de San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador, about their future.
134 Temporal Atmospheres
Conclusion This chapter set out to explore the relationship between museum temporality and absence, and in so doing to address the ‘fundamentally astray’ nature of museum space. It has highlighted the ways in which absence points to a sense of temporal dislocation and displacement – how curators and collectors are lost in an anterior ‘time of citations,’ how the conceptual, physical, and indeed, temporal displacement of objects is highlighted once one unlocks the eerie qualities of the museum. It has also highlighted that absence and dislocation are part, too, of the visitor’s experience, the dislocation of self which is brought about by being able to look back on one’s own route, the writerly fascination which draws visitors away from the outside world. Understanding the nature of museal absence, particularly in relation to simulacra and pharmakon, has also indicated an ontological problem of truth (which we shall deal with further in the following chapter) in regard not just to the museum, but to history, too. All these realizations have political implications, in relation to who does and who does not have power in museum spaces, who is made abject, and whose perspectives are not simply elided, but made void. From all this, it is possible to see how the museum space is eerie, spectral, fascinated, and, indeed, abject. None of these things are mutually exclusive, and each one of them indicates that any museum is subtler, more complex, and more open to analysis than the flattening and obfuscating designation of them as heterotopia. The idea of the heterotopia permits the museum to engage in that psychotic withdrawal; the analysis here indicates that not only is this act of withdrawal a fundamental part of museum comportment, but that it must be understood and, at times, worked against, if the museum is to become something more open and ethical than it presently is. Acknowledging the museum’s absences is one step on the way to embracing its absurdity; and with it, responsibility, and freedom (Camus 2000: 10).
1. It should also be noted that the China section in the Money Gallery contains only coins dating from before the twentieth century. 2. My personal favourite being the Professor of Experimental Philosophy 3. This is not an unprecedented statement – see Chapter 1’s discussion of museums as cemeteries and museum and memory. 4. As such.
Introduction Museums have a complex and contested relationship with the authentic. There are those like Victoria Newhouse who see the museum as a bastion of truth; a ‘refuge of the real’ in an increasingly mediated world (Newhouse 2006: 270). Historically, too, the level of trust accorded to museum institutions and those who create them has positioned them as purveyors of truth, reliable authorities. However, there are also those who see museums as illusionists, each one displaying a ‘highly artificial assemblage of objects, installations, people and arguments’ impossible elsewhere (Weibel and Latour 2007: 94). In that sense, then, they are fictive and theatrical. Museums have long engaged with other external voices and interpretations, and they are now themselves beginning to revel in the tools of drama and poetics to find and display other facets of their collections (Macleod et al 2012). Museums and the objects within them are abstract and concrete, ‘real and emblematic’ (Heuman Gurian 1991: 181), having, as Morris and others have suggested, a ‘double existence in both the physical and imaginative world’ (Morris 2012: 9). This chapter untangles these complexities, situating them within the overall discourse on temporality, with which the concept of authenticity has a reciprocal relationship. The temporal relationships between things have a significant effect upon the perception of the authenticity of those things, and the perception of authenticity itself has an impact on the way in which an object’s temporality is understood. To investigate how temporal position and identity influences these perceptions requires sensitive tools; literature, again, can provide certain useful devices. The chapter will employ vraisemblance, diegesis, paratexts, and metafiction, to examine how various parts of the museum, from the objects, through their paratexts, to the ambient environment around them, have their authenticity constituted by various factors. Though two of these concepts have already been utilized and thus described at earlier points in the book, vraisemblance and metafiction have yet to be extensively defined. In this chapter, metafiction will arise and be described in its own discrete section. Vraisemblance, however, will be employed throughout the chapter, so it is wise to define it here. DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-12
136 Temporal Atmospheres To give one single definition to vraisemblance is something of a simplification, but at times a necessary one (Culler 1975: 139). Here, vraisemblance shall be defined as the extent to which a text – or a museum or object – integrates with the rules and conventions of other related discourses; that is, how closely they conform to conventionalized ‘reality’ and other socially agreed frames, and how these make each other intelligible and meaningful. There are various forms of vraisemblance, many of which can be gainfully employed in the analysis of museal authenticity. In Structuralist Poetics, Culler defines five (Culler 1975: 139). Firstly, there is the vraisemblance of the real; ‘a discourse,’ Culler writes, ‘which requires no justification because it seems to derive directly from the structure of the world’ (Culler 1975: 139). This first form is often difficult to distinguish from the second – ‘cultural vraisemblance’ – which denotes the correlation of a text with socially agreed notions produced in a specific time or place and which, despite the fact that these are constantly mutable, are so widely naturalized that they are often taken for reality (Culler 1975: 139). Third, there is generic vraisemblance, in which a text corresponds with a set of structures agreed upon as an artificial or literary form or genre (Culler 1975: 139). Fourthly, there is a form of vraisemblance akin to the metafictional, in which a text exposes the falsity of the third kind, sometimes with the intention of affirming its own authority (Culler 1975: 139). Finally, there is a form of vraisemblance specific to individual texts, in which one takes another as its basis and so must ascribe to its laws. This latter Culler termed ‘the complex vraisemblance of specific intertextualities’ (Culler 1975: 140). The museum and its contents can arguably have their levels of authenticity measured against similar divisions; how they and their contents relate to the given ‘real’ world and its knowledge, how each individual institution relates to the museum concept in general and to the specific ‘genre’ in which museums come, how they legitimize themselves by questioning those concepts, and, finally, how they relate to and reference other institutions to which they are directly related. The objects, environments, and conscious beings which constitute each museum should be similarly conceptualized; it is with these constituent parts that this analysis of temporality and authenticity shall begin.
The Things Themselves: The Authentic Object Though the materiality of objects may seem to guarantee their reality, they cannot help but be part of museal theatrics; as Barthes noted in ‘The reality effect,’ even the most seemingly concrete description, detail, or representation of a thing can fall prey to the referential illusion, in which a referencing sign is taken as identical with the thing it references (Barthes 1982: 16). Chapter 5 explored the ways in which objects are absented from themselves by means of simulacra and pharmakon, but here further tools will be used to unpick these issues. There is a question which should always be borne
Authenticity 137 in mind; whether these ambivalences and ambiguities in the experience of things really matter, in the end, whether they are indicative of falsity and should be distrusted or whether they should, in actual fact, be understood as just another of the interpretive and contingent frames which constitute all ‘reality.’ Within the Oxford Museums there are many objects of various physical forms, and each individual object interacts with authenticity in its own way. The orders of vraisemblance outlined by Culler can be usefully applied to describe these various interactions, giving the museum analyst and museum maker a frame for understanding their effects. The first order of vraisemblance, the vraisemblance of the real, might well be applied to the live insects on the Upper Gallery of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) – the bees in the Hope Room, and the cockroaches, beetles, millipedes, and stick insects lined up along one of the Gallery’s corridors. They live, move, decay, and die; thus, they hold within them the basic preconditions for that which is considered ‘reality’; or at least life. Yet, they cannot be considered as purely ‘real’; though living, they have been used as representative signs, their framing within the museum a clear medial break between the insects in the museum and their counterparts in the outside world. The temporal behaviour and entropic movement of these musealized insects may indicate their reality, but their location in the chronotopic, bounded present of the museum separates them from it. The same is true for even the most typical artefact displayed in a museum; they too are seeming fragments of the real, brought into an environment which decontextualizes them, removing them from the first order of vraisemblance and placing them in the fifth, that ‘complex vraisemblance of specific intertextualities’ (Culler 1975: 140), which demands that the object concerned be understood with reference to the meanings and values of its prior existence, the laws of the world outside and its previous time and place of use. What of the objects which explicitly set themselves up as representations – for example, deliberately figurative paintings or other works of art? It is true that such works are material objects with their own physical genuineness, when perceived in the context of the immediate present; but they are far more complex than that. A painting, as Jurij Lotman said, is always ‘the reflection of one reality in another … always a translation’ (Lotman 1977: 210). How, then, do paintings sit within Culler’s structures of the vraisemblable, and what can the examination of them indicate about temporality? Conceptualized purely as matter, manipulated into particular forms and bound within a sealed immediate present, the painting fits comfortably within the first order. To recognize it as something more than an anonymous agglomeration of stuff, to give it the name of painting or art, however, is to position it immediately in the second order – the order of cultural vraisemblance, which recognizes the mutable, human manipulations of nature as having a valuable, meaningful reality. A painting may further be understood as generically vraisemblable: the Dutch Still Lives and pre-Renaissance
138 Temporal Atmospheres paintings both displayed in Western Art, though notable for the artificiality of their representations, all accord to the conventions of their particular modes of expression. Neither is there any reason why a painting should not ascribe to the fourth mode of vraisemblance, reflecting upon its own cultural or generic form and showing its conventionalized nature; the very fact that all paintings are framed is indicative of this. These last three orders of vraisemblance attach the object to a broad span of shared history, as well as to genre and formal schools. Finally, there is that fifth, intertextual level, to which paintings and artworks do, to some extent, conform. It is certainly the case that paintings reflect upon prior texts, that they take other realities as their basis and translate them. But they can never do so precisely, and they can never, being signs, take on the rules of that represented reality. They are temporally distanced from the objects they represent but are nonetheless conduits between these objects and the world of the display. Pearson and Shanks argue that rupture is essential to the ‘authentic imagination’ – that is, it is in the visible changes a site or object has undergone that its reality can be perceived (Pearson and Shankes 2001: 118). If they are correct, then the damaged or visibly repaired artefact must support a higher quality of authenticity than a perfect specimen: can such a statement be evidenced using vraisemblance? As Chapter 2 indicated, linear forms of narrative tend to have a heightened level of authenticity ascribed to them because, on the surface, they appear to mimic the perceived movement of time. It would seem logical, therefore, to suggest that objects such as the broken lekythoi in the Greece gallery or the damaged objects in the Conservation galleries are, like the live insects in the OUMNH, somehow closer to lived reality because they show degradation, evidence of the pervasive loss which is, as Knell wrote, an inevitable product of change: an unavoidable product of temporal movement and indicative of its action (Knell 2007: 21). Perhaps the sense of authenticity which is perceived as arising from any given thing is precisely to do with this sense of movement and life; the Ashmolean’s Conservation galleries entangle the visitor in reality with a touchable interactive, made from silver, limestone, silk, and gesso, to the degradation of which they can actively contribute; the Pitt Rivers’ historical authenticity is, in part, built from the cracks, grazes, and nicks in its display cases and glasses; the age and solidity of the OUMNH compounded by the motes of dust and dirt gathering in the girders holding up the leaf-strewn glass roof. It seems incontrovertible that this sense of progression and decay should be indicative of authenticity, of reality and honesty. Yet authenticity, life, movement, and decay are not synonymous, nor are any one of these a necessary condition for any of the others. When Knell wrote of loss, he did not define the form which that loss would take, nor did he presuppose the sensory or intellectual mode of its perception (Knell 2007: 21). Objects unchanged on their visible surfaces have, through their very musealization, automatically suffered loss and change in their context or biography; it just happens that this damage is invisible. Nor does a lack of visible degradation imply that the object is inauthentic; whilst they do not
Authenticity 139 show the characteristic marks of entropic time, the butterflies which decorate the Insects display case in the Great Court of the OUMNH were once living, breathing real creatures. However, despite this, their lack of movement combined with the perfection of the preservation pointedly emphasizes their present symbolic status; even the most accurate and genuine of objects can, in the correct circumstances, become symbolic. These butterflies present that strange, metafictional level of vraisemblance: that genre-breaking form which points to the falsity of its own medium, for in being so overtly symbolic and decontextualized, they remind the visitor of the curated, decontextualized fictivity of all other parts of the museum. These are qualities to be found in any museum object, for most museum objects occupy a liminal position between various forms of the vraisemblable. There is one class of object, however, in which notions of reality and simulation are particularly intricate and complex. They have appeared before; they are the re-mediations. In the following section, a re-mediation of a particularly convoluted nature will be examined. That re-mediation is the Cast.
The Cast: Translation and Re-Mediation The Ashmolean’s Cast Collection contains some 900 casts of Greek and Roman sculpture both Classical and Hellenic (Ashmolean Museum n.d.a). Though there are casts on display throughout the museum, it is their concentration in a dedicated gallery which renders their peculiarity distinctly apparent. For in the cast, the line between symbol and referent, the concordance of the terms ‘original’ and ‘authentic’ become questionable. Roland Barthes noted in ‘The Reality Effect’ that there is a form of vraisemblance which contaminates and is contaminated by reality (Barthes 1982: 16). As Todorov phrased it, the vraisemblable is ‘the mask which conceals the texts’ own laws, and which we are supposed to take for a relation with reality’ (Culler 1975: 139). The cast is such a mask, and it is a mask with a temporal basis. Never a ‘fake’ in the general sense of the term, the cast is a copy of an object which has itself already been altered through the entropic action of history. Thus, the cast when it is taken is already distanced from its original form and placed as a result at a double level of remove. The cast, thereby, falls victim to the ‘most unfortunate feature of irony’: At the moment when we propose that a text means something other than what it appears to say we introduce, as hermeneutic devices which are supposed to lead us to the truth of the text, models which are based on our expectations about the text and the world (Culler 1975: 157). As soon as the cast is understood as such a model, rather than the actuality of the object it mimics, its initial level of vraisemblance, its’ first-level concordance with reality, is disrupted. Almost immediately, however, this is
140 Temporal Atmospheres replaced by the application of a new set of hermeneutic expectations; that it is a copy, a parody, or a fake, manufactured for educative or other purposes, such as commerce, trade, or status. The particular cultural vraisemblance of the cast is long standing, and thus easily naturalized, allowing them to be situated within the present in which their observation occurs. But as soon as they are understood as vraisemblances, rather than actualities, as objects which pertain to some reality and location in time other than their own, they become far more ontologically and temporally complex. This complexity can be usefully illuminated with the literary concept of intertextuality. Indeed, Culler claimed that this was a process based upon vraisemblance, and it can therefore be used here to add nuance to the discussion of the temporal implications of the vraisemblable cast (Culler 1975: 139). When a cast is first created, it is a denotative object, a simple signification of the statue on which it is based. Once it is moved away from its referent, as such a denotative object its role is intertextual, for acting like a direct quotation it pulls the time and place of its origin through into the moment in which the cast itself is present. Almost immediately, however, the cast ceases to be directly denotative, for in splitting from its referent it develops its own trajectory and biography independent of that original statue, which will itself continue to mutate. Thus, the cast becomes paratextual, as a version of that original object to which it no longer directly correlates, but the former state of which it references. The bizarre relationship of the cast with both temporality and authenticity is made plain in the Augustus of Primo Porto (Figure 6.1). In the Ashmolean, there are two casts of this statue, both on display next to each other in the Cast Gallery. One a typical, white, plaster example referring to the original statue as it was at the time the cast was taken. The other is painted almost garishly, referring to the statue as it is currently thought to have looked in its Classical heyday. This latter, a speculative quotation, pointedly emphasizes the space of discomfort between the original and the re-mediation; the desperate attempt of the latter to come to some authentic depiction whilst remaining aware that, because of temporal and geographic separation, direct correlation can never be. The cast cuts through all forms of vraisemblance, for it is a material reality, a culturally recognized symbol, a genre of object which marks the falsity of its own form, and an intertextual object pulling times and places together.
Meta-fictions There is a form of literature related to the fourth level of vraisemblance, the level that breaks down the vraisemblance of genre. This is metafiction: writing which, as Waugh phrases it, ‘self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as artefact,’ writing which knowingly points to its own artificiality and thereby the artificiality of other, non-metafictional writings that resemble it (Waugh 1984: 2). There are many metafictional objects in the Oxford Museums, and these vary in their forms and the ways in which
Figure 6.1 The Augustus of Primo Porto, the Ashmolean Museum. Copyright, the Author
they are used. Some comment upon the institution in which they are held, some upon the objects, and some upon objects such as landscapes which cannot exist within the museum itself. Each form can be investigated for its unique relationship with temporality, and what that relationship tells us about the temporality of museums and material culture more broadly. In the now defunct Ark to Ashmolean gallery, there was an architectural model showing the recent Rick Mather redevelopment. Whilst the Ashmolean was undergoing this series of renovations, the model was on display in the shop, used to explain to the visitors what was going on and what the future of the institution would be. Now it is part of the Ashmolean’s history. Its temporal position in the museum display has changed, shifting from an object expressing present and future events to an object expressing the occurrences of the recent past. Despite these tensorial shifts, however, it has always acted metafictively. In its first incarnation, it emphasized the creation of the new displays, pointing to the curated and representational nature of the institution. As a display or collections object, it is part of a cohort of things which, in pointing to the changes that the institution has undergone historically and more recently, indicate the museum’s status as a particular moulding of reality, a specific and selective sjuzet. In so doing, the model temporalizes the
142 Temporal Atmospheres institution, forcing the visitor to understand it and the meanings it presents and creates as located and contingent, based upon a past, but situated only in the now, and always expressing uncertainty about the future. Other objects make metafictional comment upon the artefacts which surround them, and whilst being objects themselves also act as interpretive paratexts to the pure objects of display. In a miniature diorama of a Late Neolithic village, the European Prehistory gallery in the Ashmolean seems to be attempting to heighten the contextual realism of the accompanying artefacts, marking them as genuine objects of a historic world by depicting that very environment. Though it is based on archaeological evidence, it foregrounds its own falsity; it is a miniature, the world it depicts encased within a clear Perspex dome. It is not mimetic, but instead acts as a representative echo of a time and community which can never be reclaimed or named, and which because it is based upon limited evidence can only ever be speculative. As such, it is a Platonic ideal, an imagining of that Neolithic world as it should have been, based upon a collage of surviving evidence. By implication, the model emphasizes the symbolic and partial status of the other objects in the gallery, showing how these too can now, as a result of their temporal progression and survival into another historical period, only ever be fragmented, metonymic references to the time and place from which they came. There are objects other than miniatures which seem deliberately designed to emphasize their fictional qualities and those of the environment around them. In the OUMNH, there are a number of displays which use clearly artificial models to depict subjects which, for many people, are deeply unpleasant. On the Upper Gallery, a case entitled ‘Forensic Entomology’ showcases how knowledge of insects and their behaviour can be used in solving murder cases. To illustrate its point, it uses a cartoonish, plastic model of a hand and the imagery of the television series CSI. Utilizing the third and fourth levels of vraisemblance, which fictionalize reality and then point to this fictivity, the case makes safe something which, if related realistically, could be traumatic and terrifying. Vraisemblance of the third and fourth orders allows the museum to position these events as non-specific, fictional occurrences, involving nameless, generic victims with no history and no precise location in time or space; the Platonic ideal of a criminal investigation. In every object, no matter how re-mediated or meta-fictional, there is some quality of authenticity. Depending upon where they are viewed from, each object can be real in its own terms, but also relate to other levels of vraisemblance, disrupting or confirming the genuine status of the things around it. Interpreting objects in terms of vraisemblance, intertextuality, re-mediation, and metafiction shows how authenticity is a social construct, based upon contingent terms and locations of observers in time and space. To further understand those terms, it is necessary to move to the things which surround the contents of the museum; the paratexts and environments within which they are enclosed.
(In)Authentic Frames: Reality and Paratext The perceivable framing of an object or idea immediately wraps it in a mediated removal from reality, thereby according it an automatic symbolic status. But the precise intensity and flavour of that fictivity varies dependent upon the specific nature of the intervening frame. In the case of the museum, that frame may be the display case, a textual re-rendering, a re-mediation such as a photograph, a digital representation or a haptic interactive. This section of the chapter will focus on the paratextual media, of various forms, which surround the objects on display, and explore how they themselves are deemed ‘authentic’ and what implications they have for the authenticity and temporal status of the objects to which they are attached. In the Oxford Museums, the graphical paratexts are hugely varied, and each holds a unique relationship with authenticity. Again, this relationship is both temporally based and temporally indicative; the archaic or contemporary nature of a paratext affecting its perceived temporal proximity to the objects to which it is appended and its and their relationship to the Now in which they are encountered by an observer. The precise medial form of the graphic implies a particular level of correspondence between it and its referent. That correspondence affects the extent to which the graphical paratext is deemed to be valid or accurate. For instance, the direct representation of a photograph accords with the first level of vraisemblance in terms of a visual image, and with the second as the culturally recognized and trusted form of the photograph. Barthes claimed that the photograph was a ‘weightless, transparent envelope,’ an invisible media, and thus that the images within them were less encumbered by the materiality of their presentational form (Barthes 2000: 5). Thus, it might be argued that they are closer to an authentic representation than any other form of media, partly because the temporal and visual difference between the referent and the sign is far less. The photograph is a product of the past perfect; it attests to the fact that ‘the thing has been there’ (Barthes 2000: 76). There is a solidity and certainty as to the happenings of that past time, because the photograph, much more so than any other graphical rendering, ‘carries its referent with itself’ (Barthes 2000: 5). Thus, the photographs of people and events in the Pitt Rivers, particularly those which are coloured and apparently unstaged, enhance the sense of authenticity surrounding the objects to which they refer, and the reality of the distant places of which they tell. But photographs remain limited. They can show only a moment, an arrested, permanent present, and are unable to describe the possible pasts from which the events depicted might have come, or futures to which they might have gone. For Barthes, this made them immediately melancholic, and emotively intense (Barthes 2000: 66). He recognized this when he discussed that the images depicting his mother, however accurately they corresponded to his memory of her, could only show one momentary facet of her being (Barthes 2000: 66). Therefore, by being images which were only
144 Temporal Atmospheres partially true, they were also wholly false. It was in an image of her as he had never known her, as a child, where Barthes claimed to have found the most affecting and most genuine image of his mother (Barthes 2000: 66). As the accuracy of the photograph belies its framed, mediated, momentary nature, so does the fictionalized form of a graphical mediation belie the fact that the representation might be the most accurate possible. Golvin’s panorama of Pompeii, which decorates one wall of the Ashmolean’s Rome gallery, is based upon the best evidence, written and material, available to the artist. Despite being as accurate as it can be, the fact that it is a watercolour painting rather than a more direct image indicates the distance in history between Pompeii and the present; a distance impossible to bridge in the embodied experience of a twenty-first century visitor. Unlike the photograph, however, the watercolour is honest about this distance, because it does not remove or hide its mediatory frame; the paint. The representations of objects in digital interactives are even more complex in their relationship to authenticity than either the object or the physical representation. Made of numerical code filtered through a computer screen, these are virtual images, the only thing physical about them the terminal on which they are displayed. Despite their lack of material actuality, however, they can engage in a reciprocal enhancement of authenticity with the objects with which they are associated. In the Ashmolean’s basement gallery Exploring the Past, the interactive panel displayed an image of Powhatan’s mantle, a famous object from the founding collection now on display in the Ashmolean Story gallery. The physicality and actual presence of the mantle validated the image in the interactive which, in turn, adds to the information the visitor knows about the object and extending how it relates to other elements of life. The interactive image has an intertextual and anachronic role which enhances not only the authenticity of the object to which it refers, but also the authenticity of the visitor’s experience. For in bringing timeframes from various points of the visit into cognitive proximity, it gives their visit protensity, psychological duration stretching into the future and recalling the past. Because the interactive refers to another artefact located somewhere in the past or future of the visit, it more closely aligns that experience with everyday durée, that object becoming indicative of movement and the highly temporal nature of museum experience.
(In)Authentic Environments: Narrative Structures and Chronotopes The vraisemblance of a literary text is dependent, in part, upon its plotted structure. A museum is no different in this regard, and it is therefore necessary to turn to the forms of sjuzet which these institutions utilize. In the Oxford Museums, these forms are varied, and the act of analysing them can reveal much about the attitudes towards time, reality, and control which
Authenticity 145 underlie an institution, and may give a museum maker pause for thought when they are considering how to form new exhibitions and displays. The causal linear form is ‘a simulacrum of the structure and processes of real events’ (White 1984: 3). For Aristotle, the beauty of this form lay in its explanatory and balanced qualities; it is certainly a useful structure to use when a museum needs to tell of events unfolding over a long period of time (Aristotle 1968: 18). This mimesis of historical process seems to lie at the conceptual heart of the History of Life displays in the OUMNH and, to some extent, the Ashmolean’s Crossing Cultures Crossing Time display strategy. To assume that the linear historical plot is entirely mimetic and vraisemblable, however, is problematic. As has been shown above, it is a structure filled with elision and it should be understood to be as open to manipulation as any form of plotted structure. The propter hoc fallacy describes a logical failure in which the order of events encourages a reader to assume the existence and nature of causal linkages between them. Museum narrative structures are equally as able to engender this fallacy, at times with significant representational implications. To see the consequences of causal manipulation and linear direction, it is useful to look at the relationships between the galleries China to AD800, India to AD600, and Rome on the Ancient Worlds floor of the Ashmolean. The visitor may enter the India gallery from either direction, from ‘either the China or Rome gallery. At either entrance, they will find a wall panel describing much of the contents of the gallery. Dependent upon which side they enter from, these wall panels will emphasize either the Chinese or Greco-Roman influences on India, but never both; and whilst the Greco-Roman entrance hosts the officially designated introduction panel to the gallery, the Chinese end retains substantive emphasis. Here, the direction of movement and causal relationships are fundamentally linked, having a considerable impact upon the way in which the ascendant powers of the Ancient World might be perceived. The linear form of plot also involves elision, for it pares down events to a singular and directed sequence. On occasion, this is a necessity and a benefit, for it facilitates the telling of events in a comprehensible fashion. However, it is also important to recognize its limitations, for it is a structure which cannot, by its very nature, include every event within a given period of time. It forces history into a unidirectional movement, a tensed progression which cannot account for the multiplicitous movements and relationships which exist within reality and human consciousness. Yet because it seems to align closely with socially agreed chronological reality, the artifice of the linear plot may too easily be forgotten. Bruner called these elisions and conventions ‘narrative seduction’ and ‘narrative banalization’; it is with these devices that unidirectional, linear structures create their illusions of truth (Bruner 1991: 9). People have learned a lot, he notes, about how to construct and explain the world in a causal way, but ‘we know altogether too little about how we go about constructing and representing the rich and messy domain of human interaction’ (Bruner 1991: 4).
146 Temporal Atmospheres There are plotted structures, however, which, in making their own manipulations of temporal progression obvious, are far more honest about their own contrivance and which as a result come closer, perhaps, to representing that ‘messy’ domain. The picaresque Pitt Rivers, for instance, makes its own artifice plain by presenting the visitor with the fabula (conceived of here in a limited way as the artefacts on display rather than as reality as a whole), and asking them to construct from that their own sjuzet, their own simulacrum of the world. Theatrical and manipulative as the ambiance of the Pitt Rivers is, this structure allows the visitor to become ‘writerly,’ and in presenting a ground more strictly about display than explanation, it permits the creation of a personally meaningful, emotively authentic experience, and as a metafictional reflection on the curatorial display process, throws the manipulative structures of less writerly displays into sharp relief. It occupies that fourth level of vraisemblance; subscribing to some of the conventions of the museum genre, but also undermining any pretence a museum might make towards total authority and comprehensiveness. The Pitt Rivers’ overall picaresque structure, unlike the linear narrative, makes no attempt to constitute a totalizing reality. The authenticity of a museum environment and its contents, however, is not simply dependent upon the plotted structure of events within it. The creation of a vraisemblable chronotope is also heavily dependent upon style. Here, the Pitt Rivers is much more ambiguous in its relationship with truth. It is often perceived as unchanging, as an Ur text of Victorian ethnography museums; its heavy wooden cases and historic labels, like archaic words in a poem or prose work, encouraging the perception of its age. But it is a far more progressive institution than this would suggest, its conventionalized, generic style masking an institution continually reflecting upon itself and undergoing change: one example of this is the Pitt Rivers’ Relational Museum project, which ran between 2002 and 2006, and in which the history of the Museum was explored, uncovered, and questioned (University of Oxford 2015). This practice continues, with projects such as Radical Hope, Critical Change, seeking to change museum practice for the better (https:// prm.web.ox.ac.uk/radical-hope). It is possible to manufacture a museum site with the intention of depicting a chronotopically distinctive environment as accurately as possible. But this depiction, however accurate, is always peculiar in its relationship to the authentic. Take the Ashmolean’s Japanese Tea House, for example. Designed by Komoda Isao, an architect recognized for using traditional Japanese building forms, it was built in Tokyo by the specialist company Amakasu Komuten. That same company dismantled it, brought it to Oxford, and rebuilt it inside gallery number 36, ‘Japan from 1850’ (Ashmolean n.d.b). Its mode of manufacture, then, was about as authentic as it is possible to be, subscribing to all the conventions of the Tea House as a form. Being a completely original construction, it does not mimic another site already in existence in the world, and so cannot be said to be a reconstruction or sign
Authenticity 147 in the simplest sense of the terms. What it represents is not any particular Tea House, but a Platonic ideal. However, its location within the Ashmolean and its role of museum object cannot be ignored. The Japanese Tea House is not a Japanese Tea House in terms of intent, for it was never designed to fulfil the function generally required of the form. It was commissioned by the Ashmolean with the explicit intention of being used as an exemplar; in this sense, then, it is perhaps the most unadulterated, most authentic kind of ‘Museum Object,’ for it has no previous life outside the institution’s aegis. The Japanese Tea House is the one object within the Ashmolean which has been placed into an interpretative context in which it can claim to be purely, and singularly, itself.
Conclusion The multiple identities of things and the many hermeneutic systems in which they are positioned means that no thing, no situation, and no place can be definitively determined as ‘authentic.’ The material existence and qualities of things are the only things which can truly be understood as ‘genuine’; once external abstract notions are appended to it, the object becomes contaminated by their interpretive frame, and it becomes impossible to extract their objective being from perception and meaning making. Vraisemblance, intertextuality, and metafiction are useful literary concepts which permit the museum analyst and maker to examine and describe some of the oddities in the relationship between museums, museum objects, museum structures, and authenticity, and can be used to describe the shift in authenticity which takes place during the sometimes violent act of musealization. They indicate that ‘authenticity’ is not singular, nor constituted in any one thing or attribute, but that it is multiple and relational. They indicate too that the deliberately, visibly inauthentic can be as meaningful, and in some senses, as truthful, as the accurate depiction. As Pearson and Shanks wrote: What is found becomes authentic and valuable because it is set by choice in a new and separate environment with its own order, purpose and its own temporality … (Pearson and Shanks 2001: 115). Museums, easily imagined as purveyors of immutable certainties and glimpses into Platonic truths, are clandestine precisely because their inherent artificiality denies such certainties, and if the viewer looks hard enough, actually points to the only thing that can ever be known; that all human beings can see are interpretations, not absolutes. It is critical to examine the type of vraisemblance claimed by any museum display; those who create a museum space must be aware of the varied ways in which their creations relate to reality and how they propound or undermine perceptions of the authentic. And the understanding of any individual object, or set of
148 Temporal Atmospheres collections, can have a significant impact upon the way in which they are understood as historic, time-based creatures. Time is crucial to the way in which ‘reality’ is perceived; and it is for this reason that strange objects such as the Japanese Tea House – never historical, always museal – have such a unique relationship with both the authentic and the temporal. The way in which museums perform temporally means that they show how reality as perceived by human beings is at one and the same time ‘real and emblematic’ – authentic and symbolic. It is this ability which is partly responsible for the strangeness of museum spaces, which is partly responsible for their peculiar, and heavy, auras.
Introduction Auras are those characteristic feelings, tangible and intangible, which surround and give personality to any given object or site. They are experiential phenomena generated in the intersections between objects, environments, and conscious observers. Both temporally based and temporally consequential, auras arise from the perception of tensorial relationships and are able to create particular chronotopic atmospheres. The aim of this chapter is to explore auras as they manifest within the temporal landscape of the Oxford Museums, to investigate the sites and objects from which they emerge, and explore by what means and to what consequence auras produce temporally affective atmospheres and experiences. Using the language associated with aura, ‘atmosphere’ (Böhme 1993), ‘antaeic magic’ (Ekman 2012: 148), ‘resonance’ and ‘wonder’ (Greenblatt 1991), and literary tools from prosody, narratology, and semantics, the chapter will initially consider the auras arising in relation to particular things. Thereafter, it will examine how those can be enhanced or altered by the surrounding environment, and then tackle three chronotopic forms characterized by particularly recognizable and powerful auras – the sublime, the uncanny, and the weird.
The Auras of Things The ‘museum effect’ is akin to the ‘making strange’ of language that characterizes the literary work (Alpers 1991: 26). By de-contextualizing and thereby defamiliarizing words and things, literature and museums imbue their representative forms of expression with particularly overt auratic qualities or enhance those that are already there. Aura may too easily be dismissed as something indeterminate and intangible, and therefore the museum, which emphasizes both the abstract and concrete qualities of things, is an ideal site in which this dismissal might be countered. We have already quoted Böhme’s paradoxical definition of atmosphere as something between hermeneutic perception and physical presence, indicating the value which is to be found in examining the material ground – the object – which is partly DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-13
150 Temporal Atmospheres responsible for the generation of aura (Böhme 1993). Prosody and semantics are especially useful literary tools for examining this phenomenon. This section of the chapter will examine auratic characteristics as they specifically pertain to objects and temporality, investigating physicality, rarity, and the information, known, expressed, and connotative, which surround material things, and it will do so with a very literary eye. On entering the Ashmolean’s second-floor orientation gallery West Meets East, the visitor is confronted by an object which, because of its sheer size and vivid colour, is intensely ictic. The Coromandel Screen (Figure 7.1) is so dramatic and visually stressed that it almost immediately generates an exulted circle of ‘wonder,’ an auratic bubble which places the object at the centre of attention and blocks out all external interference. Its aura is that of the palpable present, a Now which remains static, but extended in an almost spatial way – the aura as amber around a moment, fossilized and tangible for as long as the gaze continues. The Coromandel Screen is designed to be an object of beauty, so it is less than surprising that its effects should potentially be so intense and temporally affective. However, the ictic generation of aura is not just the preserve of the beautiful. Less aesthetically pleasing objects may also generate powerful auratic environments, often through similar means. The Tyrannosaurus rex displayed in the Great Court of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) also inspires a dramatic aura through its ictic size and
Figure 7.1 The Coromandel Screen, the Ashmolean Museum. Copyright, the Author
Auracity 151 visually striking form. But this aura is not one of an aesthetic, eternal present, but of momentary visceral fear, followed by an awareness of decay and the entropic passage of time. In his discussion of antaeic magic – the provocation of an intense experience through sensory involvement – Mattias Ekman pointed out how auratic sites and objects are often deemed ‘strange,’ ‘unapproachable,’ or ‘alienated,’ suggesting that aura is a product of the rare or the curious (Ekman 2012: 148). Unique things certainly make a statement amongst the quotidian material of the world. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll created new words, such as ‘Jabberwocky’ and ‘brillig,’ moulding peculiar, unknown, but recognizable linguistic forms from existing linguistic structures. In doing so, he made his world strange and his words iconic, thrown into sharp relief against everyday, mundane language. Anonymous objects in particular resonate with this kind of a-chronic auracity. The unknown object has no past or future and is thereby entrenched in the present moment. In the OUMNH, there are unlabelled, unidentified fossils and around them lies a ‘halo of indefiniteness’ (Eco 1989: 9). These are the unknown, pharmakotic, and eerie objects Chapter 5 examined. In The Open Work, Umberto Eco wrote of the blank space – typographical and interpretive, which prevents ‘a single sense from imposing itself at the very outset of the receptive process’ (Eco 1989: 8). The blank space around the unidentified fossil opens them up to almost endless interpretations. These lacunae can be freeing for an object – but they can also be imprisoning. The anonymous fossils remain in the Now, and the unnamed ‘Native of Victoria’ whose image illustrates the ‘Methods of Making Fire’ case in the Pitt Rivers ceases to be a human being, but an ideal form – the living and dying individual he was now a-historicized, forever lost to the anonymity and a-temporality of the archetype. These objects cannot be signs, because they are themselves the only example of what such a sign might signify. Their temporal aura is that of the solitary artefact, removed from typical narrative forms, from broader structures of commerce. These artefacts, as subject to entropic temporality, cannot be placed comfortably into a historicized causal chronology; their auratic moment is that of the stasis of the visual poem. Usually, however, even the most bizarre and unique object has some relationship to the outside world, though those connections might only be based upon the intangible values, meanings, and connotations that are appended to physical forms. These abstract paratexts can significantly alter the auratic qualities of even the least visually ictic item. According to Greenblatt, this precarious and ephemeral quality of material things is a rich source of ‘resonance.’ It can give to even the most mundane object a powerfully melancholic aura; the Japanese aesthetic concept of mono no aware is descriptive of precisely this kind of sadness, the pensive realization of the transience of all things. The touchable interactive in the Ashmolean’s Conservation galleries is a performative ‘wounded artefact,’ on display with the explicit purpose of attesting to a world of
152 Temporal Atmospheres continual change (Greenblatt 1991: 44). These moments of realization can be shocking – they can instil in the viewer ‘satori’ (Barthes 2000: 49). In those moments, the viewer sees what has been as a visible absence; an aura of loss. For Mark Fisher, ‘melancholy’ revolves around the inability to let go of the lost artefact; and thus is responsible for a focus on the past, and inability to mourn, and the loss of a future (Fisher 2014: 21). The melancholic nature of the museum is, therefore, an important question, of both ontology, and ethics.
Making Auras for Things The auratic timbre of a museum arises not just from objects, but also from the built environment around them. Various exhibitionary strategies are used to accord an object a temporal reverberation which enhances or undermines its own inherent auracity. These include the various paratexts appended to an item in the museum space itself, the labels, texts, interpretive environmental features such as lighting, and cases, which make up its physical milieu. The task of this part of the chapter is to examine these paratexts, and their impact upon the timescape of the museum, with the aid of literary notions including diegetic framing, metrics, and plot. As Maurice Blanchot was aware, the aura of a museum object is in part a product of its encasement (Blanchot 1982: 11). By means of the case, the observer is isolated from the object. ‘Isolating an object,’ writes Dean, ‘confers importance to it, heightens drama, and emphasizes it’ (Dean 1994: 61). The aura thus created is the aura as defined by Walter Benjamin, ‘the unique phenomenon of distance’ which appears around a certain kind of object, ‘however close it may be’ (Benjamin 1968: 216). That which is isolated and thus emphasized is drawn out of the visitor’s immediate experience; the visitor positioned heterodiegetically to any sjuzet that object may have to tell. Hence is the visitor to the Pitt Rivers able to look upon the objects in the Recycling case as historicized things, objects distanced in time and place – despite the fact that many of these articles were manufactured only in the last twenty years, from materials and other objects recognizable and familiar to many visitors of today. Encasement can also reduce the aura of an object. The Alfred Jewel, iconic in its own right, is removed from other items in the Ashmolean’s England 400–1600 gallery and given its own position in a tall, narrow glass case. Rather than emphasizing the object, however, the case overwhelms the jewel’s diminutive stature, its height pressing down upon the object with a suffocating and distracting volume of clear air. The case, through its own sheer size and ictic presence dominates the space at the expense of the deeply significant Anglo-Saxon gem. The ability to frame an object is not merely confined to the case – framing objects is also a property of environmental features such as lighting. Spotlighting is particularly affective, for it can give otherwise diminutive
Auracity 153 objects an ictic presence. Greenblatt notes how the boutique style of lighting, which seems to emanate from the object itself, can be used to heighten the wonder, and perhaps a desire to possess, experienced in its presence (Greenblatt 1991: 49). Certainly, in the case of the Felix Gem, spotlighting brings this slight piece of the material world out from its position deep within a dark inset wall case, bringing its image, if not its physical form, into close proximity with the viewer. The spotlight emphasizes the Gem and surrounds it with an aura of exclusivity and uniqueness. Again, this is an aura of distance; however visually proximate the spotlight makes the object, however much it reveals about the Gem’s unique and beautiful properties, it reifies it in the manner of an artwork, coats it in idealized connotations. The spotlight, being theatrical, indicates that the thing it highlights is a representation; something impossible to possess, behind which lies an inaccessible, but still material reality of a more solid and mundane nature. The temporal auracity of an object is also affected by its spatial placement, and the effect may change as the viewer moves through relationships with said object. In literature, metrical placement and the narrative acts of revelation and delay are constituents of this changing association. Put to use in the making and analysis of the museum, they can have significant implications for the auracity of an object and its temporal relationship with its observer. Particular kinds of metrical placement have significant implications for the auratic intensity of an object. Icticity is reliant upon the placement of objects in a visual or conceptual framework. The Star House Pole, the Kayak Salama, and the New Guinean Battle Shields on display in the Pitt Rivers all have their auracity enhanced by their ictic positions in the Museum’s metrical layout, all given the striking distance of the icon. In the case of the kayak, which is hung from the Upper Gallery of the Museum, this distance is broken when the visitor walks to the place from which it is hung, becomes able to look down upon it and read its labels. Named and now tangible, it loses the heterodiegetic distance of the ictic icon, and becomes something material; a denizen of the real, lived, human world. As we saw in Chapter 5, fascination is partly to do with to do with distance in time and space, and the perceived unreality or wonderment this brings. Once something comes close enough to touch, however, that particular form of aura dissipates as the object becomes concrete and solid and historical. Metrical placement can also make the seemingly obscure and uninteresting object significant. Not particularly powerfully designed, nor containing particularly inspiring objects, the OUMNH’s case ‘Ancient Toolmakers’ is nonetheless afforded a certain auratic quality. That it is a somewhat incongruous topic to display in a natural history gallery gives it a disjunctive, and hence affective, aura. This is heightened still further by its odd location. Situated in the interstitial space between the History of Life Galleries and the southern staircase to the Upper Gallery, in a corner where no other cases are displayed, the oddly liminal ‘Ancient Toolmakers’ case is
154 Temporal Atmospheres a discomforting surprise. In poetry, a single line which does not entirely rhyme, either aurally, visually, or conceptually with the rest of a piece of verse can have emphatic power – particularly if it is placed in a typographically demonstrative position. This very thing seems to have occurred, intentionally or otherwise, with the ‘Ancient Toolmakers’, and it is a worthwhile thing to consider for someone seeking to create an instant of profound affect in a museum display. The intensity of an atmosphere generated by an object can also be enhanced by features of the museum’s plotted structure. Aristotle named a number of significant moments in any given literary work. One of these was anagnorisis – recognition, a moment in which something is revealed (Whalley 1997: 26). Though anagnorisis of this kind cannot be assumed to occur for any visitor to the museum on a personal level, similar revelatory occurrences are intentionally engineered within the structure of the museum itself. In the Pitt Rivers, for instance, the Feather Cloak is hidden by curtains, its aura increased by the moment of its uncovering and the build-up preceding it. In Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, Umberto Eco writes how the cathartic value of denouement can be enhanced by increasing the length of ‘trepidation time’ – that is, the time in which the reader knows that they are building to a climax and are aware of the delay (Eco 1994: 62–64). Such trepidation time accompanies those objects, like the Feather Cloak, which are known about, but which have their encounter delayed, the provoked sense of anticipation increasing the dispersed auratic qualities of the object and increasing the expectation of wonder to be experienced at the final revelation. When the curtains are drawn back from the cloak, the visitor may experience awe or perhaps disappointment at its material form – either way, that moment is likely to be emotionally and conceptually intense and cathartic. It is clear that auras arise from many sources within the museum and combined in certain ways these sources can be used to give particular chronotopic qualities to environments. The rest of this chapter will explore three especially iconic and temporally powerful chronotopic auras – the sublime, the uncanny, and the weird.
Three Auratic Chronotopes: The Sublime, the Uncanny, and the Weird The Sublime Lyotard once wrote that the sublime is, perhaps, ‘the only mode of artistic sensibility to characterize the modern’ (Lyotard 1991: 93). It is often conceived of as a highly ecstatic, pleasurable experience; sublime food or fashion is spoken of as a matter of course. It is associated with many symbolic forms and concepts; beauty, the divine, Arcadia, and the fabulous. But it is an ambiguous quality, for it rests upon the experience of both pleasure and pain and is, as a result, strongly linked to the uncanny (Lyotard 1991: 92).
Auracity 155 No matter the precise nature of the feeling, whether positive or negative, the ultimate definition of the sublime experience is one of an intensely marvellous quality, in which the experiencing entity is utterly enchanted, to the point where they are entirely deprived of all their usual presumptions towards the linear, continual progression of time. In a museum, this moment of wonder may be created by various means from the object to the architecture surrounding it. It should always be treated and used with caution, however, for the implications of the sublime may be of great significance. In his paper, ‘Beyond narrative,’ Lee H. Skolnick writes of what at first seems to be a laudable aim. In his 1967 neon wall sign, the artist Bruce Nauman said that ‘the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.’ I want to do that, I want to know how to do that. So I look beyond narrative: beyond the assembling and amalgamating; beyond the bits of information and the ordering of experience. To what? To a synthesis wherein the individual elements are dissolved, where the sequence gives way. Where revelation produces epiphany (Skolnick 2012: 90). He is not the first to have expressed this desire or tried to bring it to fruition. In 1995, Huyssen argued that in the early twentieth century, utopic modernist thought sought to produce such moments of temporal ecstasy through aesthetic experience (Huyssen 1995: 98). For various social and political reasons, museums, too, have, throughout their history, aimed to produce some form of revelatory, transformative experience. They have often done so by manipulating the environment to create evocative spaces. In the Oxford Museums two manifestations of the sublime chronotope emerge: the Cathedral and Arcadia, both of which are associated with ritualized, semi-religious environments. Skolnick claimed to be deeply influenced by the visceral and emotive possibilities offered by churches, whose ‘pure expression of spirituality’ he found meaningful and inspiring (Skolnick 2012: 87). In the case of the OUMNH, though the profane politics of the situation at the time of its building certainly affected the chosen architectural style, the atmosphere of a sublime, spiritual temple clings to the museum’s walls. The carvings and shape of the facade, the ecclesiastical windows, the tall columns, and monastic layout of the ground floor all contribute to the sense of reification and wonder which surrounds the natural specimens; it makes the mundane sublime. The relationship between the environment and the objects is reciprocal, however, and the OUMNH’s contents bring the religious pretentions of the architecture down to earth. In many ways, it seems ironic that objects so clearly products of nature should be housed in an environment of the divine; a reflection, perhaps, of the ambiguous links between faith and science which characterized the period in which the Museum was conceived. The OUMNH was
156 Temporal Atmospheres a radical creation when first built and is still used playfully today (Garnham 2010: 1–2). Thus, it subverts the idealized beauty of ritual with the grotesquery of the Bakhtinian carnival – the divine replaced with the feast of the lived and fleshly (Bakhtin 1984). Sublime experience may also be facilitated by an Arcadian aesthetic and architecture. This chronotope is evidenced throughout the Mather wing of the Ashmolean. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the museums which sprang up across Europe often had an identity as spaces of pure aesthetic, almost spiritual contemplation, removed from the profanity of the lived commercial world (Klonk 2009: 19). Despite its relative newness, the renovated Ashmolean conforms to this mode of gallery using neo-classical style architecture, white paint, Portland Stone, and a diffuse light from above to evoke a Classical temple. There is an a-chronic quality to such spaces; Arcadia, when used by poets, is often a place taken out of historical, entropic time, an idealized place into which death should not come. Within both the Ashmolean and the OUMNH, there lie rooms which seem further yet from lived life, removed as they are from even the rest of the Museum. In The Arabian Nights or The Canterbury Tales, nested narrative structures give the various narrative focalisors license to tell ever more fantastical tales without compromising their authority in the real world. These tales take on the a-temporal qualities of the fable, removed from lived, entropic time; their own, temporal kind of auratic distance. This nested effect is particularly notable and effective in the Ashmolean; within the museum is the segregated wing of Western Art, which deliberately distinguishes itself from the new Mather extension, forcing the visitor to traverse liminal passages such as the lobby staircase, to reach its exclusive, reified space. Even further interiorized in this space are other cloisters, English Delftware, Dutch Still Lives, and the small, chapel-like gallery dedicated to Nineteenth Century Art (including the Pre-Raphaelites). Protected by arches or heavy doors, these rooms are removed further still from the profane world, and in them history, barred from entering, seems to cease. The Uncanny The uncanny chronotope is the skewed reflection of the sublime. As the sublime removes the visitor from lived time, the uncanny moment disturbs their perception of it. As the sublime momentarily unites all awareness and knowledge into a single moment, so the uncanny produces confusion and a loss of singularity and certainty. The uncanny, according to Jentsch, is an experience of disorientation, a not-quite-homeliness and an uncertainty as to the relation between sentient extants and the world into which they fall (Jentsch 1906: 8). In the museum, it is entirely possible for sublime environments and the techniques which produce them to slip over into the uncanny, and, as with the sublime, the production of the uncanny moment may be engineered and analysed through tools both prosodic and narratological.
Auracity 157 One prosodic form shared by the sublime and the uncanny is that of repetition. Poe wrote that the refrain – a repeated line or number of lines in a poem or song – produces pleasure, and it is certainly the case that repeated motifs and lighting schemes, as found in the arcades of the OUMNH, produce a strong sense of stability and identity (Poe n.d.: 10). Repetition can lead to certainty and comfort. It gives a sense of eternality, of permanence. But that kind of comfort can be disingenuous and disconcerting. Something sinister lurks below the most ritualized repetitive spaces. The frequent recurrence of architectural form in the History of Life, and Greek and Roman Sculpture galleries of the OUMNH and Ashmolean, respectively, reinforce the authority of the paradigms each espouse, whether scientific or cultural. As Bal has pointed out, there is an element of imperialism, or at least dogmatism, intentional or otherwise, at the base of this kind of repetition, for in the recurrence of the same what is known is reinforced, and what is new and different hidden or elided (Bal 1996: 204–205). This understanding of uncanny repetition is largely negative; but turning a literary lens upon it, a more nuanced picture can be drawn out that exposes the positive aspects of the uncanny and how deeply affective its results can be. The anaphoric repetition of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ (Ginsberg 2009) is an enforced propelling list which pulls characters and readers out of shared lived time, almost like the tumbling objects of the overcrowded Pitt Rivers. Spaces in which objects and styles are so repetitive as to be almost indistinguishable from each other – the ultimate form of rime riche – are perhaps the most disturbing, because they are suggestive of stasis and of ‘hollowness.’ Aside from recurrence, revision, and commensurate symbolic reference, echoes also reveal emptiness. Since objects always muffle or impede acoustic reflection, only empty places can create echoes of lasting clarity (Danielewski 2001: 46). Identical repetitions can only occur in undifferentiated spaces, spaces which do not change. These are non-living, desolate spaces. But they are rare – and are not to be found in the museums studied here. The true echo speaks of difference as well as identically, for it always returns with ‘a quality not present in the original’ (Danielewski 2001: 42). In physical, lived, human, and writerly space, which is new on each viewing and in which there are extended spaces of place and time, there can be no identical repetition, only echoes. Echoes can also be disordered and irregular. Such a disruption can be seen in the Pitt Rivers, where objects and cases of similar forms occur quite unexpectedly throughout the museum, creating a disordered, almost chaotic rhyme scheme. The cases built by Sage, which are so characteristic of the Pitt Rivers, occur unpredictably throughout it, arising unexpectedly, in various locations and articulations, and with various contents. Thus, the museum, though it might seem to embody a mausoleum-like permanence, cannot help but be transient.
158 Temporal Atmospheres Narratological strategies can also be used to design and analyse uncanny spaces, as the work of Paul Basu and others has shown. In ‘The Labyrinthine Aesthetic in Contemporary Museum Design,’ Basu examines the nature and reasoning of the labyrinth, which he deems significant for the design of museums in the contemporary ‘uncertain and relativistic’ Zeitgeist (Basu 2007: 49). In Leibeskind’s museum designs, he finds precisely this kind of disjuncture and disturbance, for they refuse to accord to the visitor’s expectations of museal certainty and authority. The picaresque structure of the Pitt Rivers Museum, which disrupts socially agreed forms of historical temporality, turns this museum into such an eldritch space; left to move at will in a plethora of unknown things, the visitor may well feel disoriented and uncertain in the dark. They have entered not a divine temple of enlightenment and revelation, but a dark and forbidding house of mystery. The Weird The Weird, like the Eerie, is akin to the unheimlich, but unlike the uncanny, it looks ‘at the inside from the perspective of the outside’ – meaning that all parts are alienated (Fisher 2016: 10). According to Fisher, the weird is characterized as ‘that which does not belong,’ which produces a ‘sense of wrongness,’ and which sometimes portends the ‘presence of the new’ (Fisher 2016: 13). The weird is compelling, and it opens an ‘egress between this world and others’ (Fisher 2016: 19). This borderland state which calls our fundamental perception of the world into question is the final atmospheric, auratic condition that will be explored in this chapter. There are numerous ‘weird’ beings in museums – the places where functionality intrudes on the aesthetic fiction in the form of insect traps and covered fire extinguishers, for instance, is one specific type of weird. But there are types of weird which provoke jouissance, a kind of ecstasy, and it is these types of events which will be the focus here. Because the weird focuses on thresholds, on the upturning of expectations about how the universe works by indicating the new, here the focus will be on non-standard occurrences in museums,1 and specifically the interventions and events which allow the visitor to understand and view the museum and its collections in an entirely new way. One way in which such interventions can occur is through the temporary exhibition – a medium not unfamiliar to the museum. During February 2019, an exhibition of the artist Jeff Koons was hosted in the Ashmolean’s temporary exhibition galleries. It was one of those strange, discomforting moments when a collection speaks to itself through the mouth of an interloper – indeed, this was the very purpose of the show, which was co-curated with Koons. All temporary exhibitions, in a way, speak to Mark Fisher’s concept of the weird, in that they are visibly transient interludes in these venues where a sense of immutability reigns, a new but ephemeral dominance at the edges of the museum. In the case of the Koons exhibition, this was doubly true.
Auracity 159 The objects on display, in particular the Antiquities series and the Gazing Balls, force the visitor to reconsider the presence, privilege, and fundamental nature of the artworks they see in the permanent collection. The Koons objects reimagine classical sculptures and antique paintings, sometimes placing the visitor at the centre of them, (in the case of the Gazing Balls) and sometimes reinterpreting the meaning of the images through the medium of contemporary artistic strategies. It is not that Koons’ works themselves are necessarily doing something new (art has always been reinterpreted) but placed here, in this particular museum, they discomfort expectations just enough to provoke a frission of the weird. The second means by which such a frission can be generated is through unexpected or unusual events, or when the experience of the visitor is modified by other factors. In the case of the Ashmolean, one such event might be its late-night openings, the ‘AfterHours,’ which happen on the last Friday of every month and allow visitors to experience the galleries outside normal operating times. The cafe remains open. A bar is opened in the Atrium. A DJ plays strange trance music surrounded by the tricolour flashing lights of a school disco. Inspired by Koons’ art, children run around with balloon animal hats. Visitors walk around the galleries, made uninhibited by wine, and chatter even in the reverent Western Art galleries. I sit on an observation couch and observe. The author maintains the value of museum bars as research tools. Egresses between worlds in an egress between worlds.
Conclusion The ‘Museum Effect’ is akin to the ‘making strange,’ or estrangement of literature. By understanding this, we open up to the museum sector a new language for describing and nuancing that specific concept and the way it functions in individual cases. The value of terms such as ‘melancholy,’ ‘distance,’ ‘anagnorisis,’ and ‘catharsis’ lies in their capacity to describe not just the mode, but the formation of specific museum experience. But one must utilize the capacity to form such experiences with care. There is a risk that, in seeking to precisely engineer the occurrence of the sublime, uncanny, and weird the exact form of ecstasy produced becomes fetishized. To seek to produce only sublime moments of wonder is disingenuous; the world is not a purely good place, and if a museum is to communicate all aspects of human experience, it should be prepared to display that which is distressing and disturbing – it should be prepared to discomfort the visitor. It is crucial that those attempting to produce such moments, like Skolnick, bear in mind the moral and ethical implications of emotive manipulation. They should remember that epiphanaic experiences, whatever their emotional mode, are not merely imposed from outside, but are generated within the emotive world of the visitor. The museum maker cannot expect to create
160 Temporal Atmospheres specific kinds of epiphany on their terms alone; they depend on too many other factors and, as has been shown in this chapter, complete communication of emotion or experience is impossible. To seek to manufacture intense experiences of wonder or horror is in many ways a praiseworthy aim. To seek to create epiphany, however, is far more questionable. Whilst the creation of wonder, awe, fear, and the like permits the precise reasons and characteristics of those emotions to be manipulated in every visitor’s experience, the word epiphany presupposes that this experience will produce something more than a temporary emotion – permanent change in knowledge or behaviour. Epiphany, historically, refers to the manifestation of God in the world – a divine form of revelation which has long term effects and results in a form of knowledge that assumes the existence of transcendental, eternal truths. This book takes a much more relational approach, however, and argues that even if such absolutes exist, they cannot be perceived within the realm of human experience. Museum makers, in particular those seeking to create auratic environments, must be careful in their choice of words if they do not want to sound, or be, dogmatic or indoctrinal. Aura is not located in one single object or produced by one architectural or intellectual technique. Aura is relational, existing in the intersections between object, environment, and observer. Aura is temporally based, arising from the perceived diegetic, historic, and rhythmic relationships between things and conscious beings. Aura is temporally affective; it produces a sense of location in space and time, a sense of stability or disorientation. Aura comes in recognizable forms, but it is not bound strictly or at all to any of their conventions. Above all, aura is a crucial factor in the relationships built between visitor and museum and, whether intentionally designed or contingently produced, it must not be ignored.
1. Though these kinds of events are becoming more common.
Consequences and Meanings
Introduction What, then, is the nature of museum time? It is certainly not enough, or even particularly correct, to suggest that it is heterotopic. Indeed, this book has, in part, aimed to indicate that the heterotopia is a flawed designation; that museums are not closed sites in which time stacks up. What this conclusion seeks to avoid, however, is a singular, permanent, and measurable definition of museum time. As has been made clear above, the nature of the temporal behaviour of museums is varied, and it changes – has changed – and will change – over time. It would be equally as reductive and blackboxing, then, to describe one overarching form of museum time. Instead, what we shall highlight here are some of the characteristics identified in the examinations of the Oxford Museums, something of the way in which museum time can be said to behave, rather than what it is. What this conclusion will seek to present, then, are the agents of museum time, and the notion of radical museum temporality – and the way in which it allows the museum to slough off some – though not all – of the weight of the past and live in the present as a political agent.
Museum Time: Radical, Complex Temporal Agents Firstly, it is important to state that the way in which temporality behaves in museums is dependent upon many factors: the physical arrangement and design of the spaces; the conceptual design and narrative which lies behind this; the objects and their interpretation; and the visitors themselves. There is no singular factor which determines the nature of museum time, and no singular author who has ultimate authority over it. Nonetheless, there are three main agents – and they do, to a degree, all have agency – in museum time: people, objects, and space. And before we introduce radical time, we must introduce these agents, for they are fundamental in the way in which it is produced. DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-15
164 Consequences and Meanings People What can be said with some degree of certainty is that all museums are ‘writerly’ – that they are dependent upon each individual visitor for their ultimate interpretation. Every visitor, every time they visit, will have a fundamentally different experience which is predicated upon their daily circumstances, and the nature of the other inhabitants of the galleries. The visitor is an active agent in the formation of the museum as a space of time, and different ages and energy levels have a substantive impact upon the living atmospherics of any museum space. Throughout the book, we have characterized the museum visitor as Dasein – that is, as that ‘which we ourselves in each case are and which includes inquiry among the possibilities of its being’ (Heidegger 2010: 6): a being of the possible, always in development. To understand the consequences of this for a fuller understanding of the complex and potentially radical nature of museum time, we need to explore it in more detail. Firstly, it is necessary to understand Dasein as something predicated upon care – that is, it is what it is because it is concerned about its being (Heidegger 2010: 221). Dasein might exist inauthentically: that is, it may be entangled (verfallen, fallen prey to the world) in the everyday world and its public nature – or authentically: that is, where it becomes aware of itself as potential. It is characterized not only by this singular idea of care, but also by its nature as possibility – it does not, according to Heidegger, have potential – it is potential itself. It also has the ability to de-distance, the capacity to make distance disappear and the meaning of something formerly at a distance to appear up close. Authentic Dasein is characterized by anxiety, which individualizes its victims and forces them to encounter the possibility of their temporal end, and curiosity, which is distracted by new possibilities and refuses to remain entangled in the everyday. Thinking about the museum visitor as Dasein, as unique and nonobjective presences of the temporal and the possible, invites a radical rethinking of what they themselves might obtain from an encounter with that form of existence which is museum time. Indeed, each encounter will be different, dependent upon firstly the state of the visitor as entangled or unseated, and secondly how they engage with their own potential for encounter with museum space and time. It will change depending on their willingness to encounter and build meaning with or create meaninglessness in museum objects, and the choices they make about proximity and the de-distancing of meaning. Do those who create museum spaces (themselves also being Dasein) wish to provoke curiosity and anxiety or perpetuate entanglement? The answer to this question is likely to be due to their own choices about their engagement with meaning and their own levels of entanglement in the world. But if we also understand the visitor as both what they already are, and as potential, then those who build museum spaces can think further about designing experiences which both
After-Words 165 fit with the already-being of visitors, and encourage them to become, further, their possibilities. Museum time is complex because it is built up of these radically temporal beings of Dasein and their interactions with each other through the medium of the museum space; but it is also potentially radical, in that in arrangements which provoke self-questioning and curiosity (and yes, even anxiety) it can lead to radical re-evaluations about the place and role of the self in wider public society – what Heidegger calls ‘the they’ (Heidegger 2010: 111). This leads us, once more, into a deeper philosophical question about the roles of museums and the way in which their identities and purposes are discussed and defined. Is it their purpose to maintain and renew identity, or is there a more radical possibility to change the perspective on museum time such that it awakens the curiosity and anxiety which have always been part of its character (Walklate 2019)? Phenomenological approaches to museum time beyond Heidegger’s conceptualization also provide useful concepts for an understanding of museum time as complex and radical. Throughout this book, we have also encountered the complexity of conscious engagement with the world and that which exists within it. At times, we have spoken about this conscious experience in a Bergsonian manner, citing in particular durée – the idea of duration as the being of consciousness. It is clear that the discussion of Bergsonian philosophy has been simplistic and limited (to a degree by necessity) but it is also clear that the complex and interlayered states that have been encountered in this literary exploration might be further developed in a more fully Bergsonian approach, including a deeper exploration of duration, alongside simultaneity, heterogeneity, qualitative multiplicity, and memory. This phenomenological exploration has also determined that abstract and corporeal understandings of experience are both critical for engagement with the temporal museum. Taking a leaf from sensory museology, we have seen that a significant portion of the experience of temporality – shape, presence, absence, and aura – in particular antaeic magic – are determined by sensory encounter. On a more subliminal level, too, the senses are acutely involved in the manifestation of rhythm, designed or otherwise, in a museum space. What are the consequences of this understanding? Firstly, it would seem to call for ongoing philosophical exploration into the exact nature and generation of sensory museum experiences, and broader discussion as to the manifold interpretive roles which all senses might play. This might involve a shift from sensory encounter to a more ontological and epistemological exploration of the senses as they behave in museums. Secondly, the visibility of the senses calls to the lived and experienced, rather than exclusively designed, nature of museum time, and this in turn manifests the third consequence – that differences, whether individual or cultural, must also play a significant role not only in how temporality is interpreted in museums, but how it is perceived in the first place.
166 Consequences and Meanings Objects Though conscious minds are a significant part of the equation which produces museum time, they are not the only part of it. Objects, too, have a substantive role to play. This exploration has identified historicising and ahistorical objects; temporally eccentric objects; objects in pieces; objects in relationships; and objects as images. Objects are active in the production of historicized or ahistorical museum timescapes and are as individuals actively historical or unhinged from chronological time. They may have their histories presented, or they may simply present – adjectivally, in a sense – a visible performance dating them to a particular place and time. They are key in the production of the shape of museal plots, producing structure and direction and speed of movement in their layout and conceptual arrangement. They are also key in the production of chronotopes – and specifically in this instance, historicized ones. In particular, the Mallett Gallery might be cited, as it arranged objects in such a manner that they look like nothing so much as a collection of things in a Regency country house. But certain objects also have the capacity, on individual and chronotopic scales, to distort and upend expected historical structures and produce a kind of achronicity. Anonymous objects force a reconsideration of the fundamental nature and existence of chronological time, for they force a breaking of the fourth wall of this culturally accepted theatrical narrative. ‘Wounded artefacts’ (Greenblatt 1991: 44) – those with visible scars – disabuse us of the myth of permanence which exists in the perception of museums. There are objects, too, which produce resonance and wonder, and are inherently entangled in the production of sublime, uncanny, and eerie chronotopes. The historicity and ahistoricity of objects are not permanent states, but performances generated relationally between objects, their interpretation, their environment, and the conscious minds which perceive them. These temporalized performances generate not only narrative meaning, but also particular affective experiences which might seem comforting – if they confirm a consciousness’ perception of the world – or estranging and frightening – if they do not. There are also objects which do not represent the (a)historical, per se, but are ‘eccentrically’ temporal. For the remediation, such as the photograph, interactive-based object, or cast, this temporal eccentricity is inherent and internal to them. For other objects, especially the dead humans and other formerly living things which populate these museums, this strange eccentricity is at least partly a consequence of their existence in the museum. Abject some of them may be, but it is putting them on display which makes that abjection particularly visible. Objects can also act partially – they can be literal synecdoches, acting as partial representatives of an elsewhere and an elsewhen whole, as they do in the reconstruction, or as evocative reminders of lost times and places. They
After-Words 167 can themselves be ruins, decayed and broken reminders of entropy. They can act transtextually, pulling disparate times and spaces together in a porous temporality. But they also act by uniting – drawing together into the particularly temporal beings of ‘collection and ‘museum,’ they are also partially responsible for the production of the more abstract but no less culturally and conceptually temporal ‘systems of knowing’ of which these entities are so much a part. They also reach across time and location, as gifts from the dead to the living … or is it the other way around? Much of this is not news to the museologically inclined, but reviewing all these elements does point to the complexity of temporal relations which objects possess. But, like the conscious minds which perceive them and put them in museums in the first place, they are not simply complex – they also have the potential to be radical. It is for this reason that the simulaic, pharmakotic nature of objects must be recognized. In comprehending their fictive and manipulable qualities, they can be understood not as givers of truth, but as the presentation of a very sophisticated, sometimes harmless, sometimes harmful, set of not quite truths, or even outright lies. And once this is known, the story the museum tells about permanence and relations and power, and even its fundamental identity, can be reinterpreted and changed. Space Space, too, has a considerable role to play in the construction and performance of museum time. Space and spatial arrangement are fundamental to narrativity and rhythm in the museum space, and to chronotopic design. Space is also fundamental in the production and destruction of distance, and, like its colleagues addressed above, it can also be revolutionary, and rebellious. The role of space in the production of museum narrative is fundamental, for it provides the (nominally) empty space into which the fabula of the museum collection can be deployed. It also places – to differing degrees – restrictions on the kind of sjuzet which can be designed within that. The wide-open spaces of the Great Court at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, for instance, allow for considerably more freedom of movement than do the narrow, directed cloisters and galleries which surround the Court, thus allowing it to perform as a much more malleable narrative device for each visitor. These shapes promote different classes of narrative – the linearity of the History of Life cases, say, as compared to the typographic curiosity and picaresque shape of the Pitt Rivers Great Court – and thus allow distinctly different types of stories to be told. This capacity is not, however, restricted to galleries and nor is it dependent on monadic space for its realization; it is relational. Galleries work together to produce overarching museum narratives, and they are aided in this by the museum furniture – display cases and the like – arrayed within them, as well as ancillary spaces, such as staircases, which surround them. Staircases, bridges, and corridors act as connecting devices, but they also are able to disrupt narrative structure
168 Consequences and Meanings and immersion by breaking the fourth wall – the Benefactor’s Bridge and the Pitt Rivers staircases have been shown to be prime examples of this. Similarly, when small transitional spaces become display spaces, or when differently shaped and narratively balanced rooms are juxtaposed, structures can also be distinctly disrupted. This undermining, as we have seen, can produce a powerful sense of the uncanny in a museum. This leads us to reflect on the way in which museum space impacts upon rhythmic experience and performance. The arrangement of objects – such as the Star House Pole – within these spaces is of course a significant element in the production of rhythm, but so, too, is the architecture itself, particularly apparent in the cases of entrances and exists to museums. Internally, punctuation and lineation are affected by doorways, corridors, corners, and the like, which change the speed, trajectory, or intensity of engagement between visitors and museum time. Mise-en-page arrangements, such as the Pitt Rivers Great Court, also provide intense temporal presences by their heavy and immediate appearances. Lighting, too, has a substantial impact, as very clearly evidenced in the case of the Star House Pole. The rhythmic capacities of museum spaces are manifold and multimodal, and as Bergson noted, such rhythmic capacities are fundamental to the human experience of time in general – this exploration of rhythm in the museum might thus prove important for other spaces regarding design and interpretation. Space is also central to the production of the chronotope. Less fundamental than rhythm, chronotopic design can still be comforting or disruptive to those who encounter it. From the grandiose country house of the Mallett Gallery to the repetitive uncanniness of the Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery, the forms of chronotopic spaces are as varied as the objects they contain, and the individuals that create and experience them. Chronotopes may well vary in style and meaning from culture to culture, but all spaces – shopping malls, temples, and motorway service stations – deploy them, to a degree, and their significance cannot be underestimated. Finally, in this section, it is vital to think about space, time, and distance. Museum space – and thus museum time as experienced through it – can be porous, as it is in the Islamic Middle East Gallery, producing a sense of time which is open, transtextual, and transchronic. But museum time can also be blocked and closed – the Pitt Rivers’ isolation from the outside world, the locked doors leading to research and storage facilities found in all three Oxford institutions, indicative of parallel but inaccessible timescapes which lie beyond them, and thus evocative of the incomplete nature of the space in which any given consciousness finds itself at any given time. So, museum space, clearly, is temporally complex, but does it have revolutionary capacity? Architecture and spaces are frequently used as media of control, and one need only consider the historical connections drawn between the museum, the panopticon, and the prison to see how this might be the case. But our exploration of museum time and how it performs spatially indicates that interpretation and design can be disrupted out of this
After-Words 169 pattern – but also that they can be designed with a radical, and provocative agenda in mind in the first place. The Shape of Time What is there to be said about the shape of museum time? It is complex, and whilst it can indeed be clearly argued that museum ‘narrative structures,’ or sjuzet, are at least in part constructed by the visitor, there are also more general characteristics which exist across museums and across visitors. These more general characteristics are as follows: museum temporality is multipart, and museum temporality is porous. One clear example of the multipart nature of museum time is its characteristic layered quality. Broadly speaking, one might understand museum time in terms of fabula and sjuzet, the storyworld, and the way it is narrativized. In museums, however, this is compounded in complexity, for the location of fabula and sjuzet depend fundamentally on the observers’ position in relation to them – in this hierarchy, layering in the museum is like a Matryoshka doll, with that final interior layer indefinitely deferred. However, layering is not the only construction of museum multiplicity. Different temporalities, existing at different levels of relationship to the outside world and visitor experience can co-exist within singular institutions; a primary example of this being the relationship between the basement Exploring the Past galleries at the Ashmolean, and the rest of its displays. Exploring the Past runs in parallel to the rest of the museum, acting as a paratextual commentary upon it, and it involves the visitor in its space and narrative in a very different way to the rest of the Museum’s more traditional displays. This book has also identified that museum time is porous, in the sense that Walter Benjamin described in the essay ‘Naples,’ and that this is true both internally and externally. Inside each museum different areas – display, storage, education, and function – bleed into each other through space, sound and movement. And they are fundamentally connected to the outside world – even the Pitt Rivers – by various means, through their entranceways and the spaces of commerce which connect them to the specific and political time of capitalism. Museums, then, are manifold, allusive, and, ultimately, transchronic. Museums also contain specific forms of temporal atmospherics, and these complex phenomena move a step beyond Greenblatt’s ‘resonance and wonder’ (Greenblatt 1991). Museums can certainly be sublime, in the romantic sense, arresting experience and halting time; but they can also be uncanny, loosening visitors and objects from their expected historical moment and place. They can be eerie, displaying partial survivals, failures of entropy and death, and they can be weird, behaving in non-standard ways and containing unexpected things, such that the museum becomes not a place of stasis, but a place of movement, displacement, entropy, and the new. Both aeonic and evanescent, museums are pharmakotic, ambiguously related to time; playing with notions of permanence, but fundamentally predicated
170 Consequences and Meanings upon the fact that all things must pass. Museums are filled with evidence of entropy, whether acknowledged or not, and further explorations in museum taphonomy will no doubt uncover more. Museum time is also lacunaic – it is not only that museums loose things that they have had, but they are also forever incomplete, for no matter how holistic the story they seek to tell is, they can only ever tell it through partial, synecdochic survivals; the objects and stories which are left over when the present, itself, is over and done. These entropic, lacunaic spaces are not ‘docile to time’; they are fundamentally hauntological, astray, and out of step with themselves, and filled with specters not only of times past, but times yet to come, up to, including, and after, death. What, ultimately, does this understanding of museum time mean for our understanding of the Museum; and, indeed, for the many possible Museums Yet to Come? To understand something of the putative Museums Yet to Come (of which there are an infinite possible number), it is necessary to understand what implications an understanding of museum temporality – the radically temporal museum – has for our understanding of the museum itself. Radical Museum Time What, then, is meant by ‘radical museum time’? In using the phrase radical time, I intend to present a time which is rethought from the ground up, not as an agent of the status quo, but a political being which is capable of questioning power, authority, and status. Radical museum time, specifically, is radical on two axes: firstly, because it is identified as multiple and disruptive; and secondly, because it is therefore able to question the very status of the museum itself. Radical museum time can engage and deal with the weight of history, the too much memory, the melancholy of the museum: and in doing so, it gives the museum not only a past, but a present and a future. As opposed to the heavy perception of museums as moribund – as cemeteries, murderers, memory stores, history holders, or turgid heterotopias, we have shown the Museum-of-Radical-Time to be, instead, the following: • • • • • • • • • • • •
Writerly, Layered, Diverse, Deferred, Co-extant, Porous, Transchronic, Sublime, Entropic, Pharmakotic, Lacunaic, and Hauntological.
After-Words 171 The museum is a place of radical time because it is a place where time, fundamentally, is out of joint (Derrida 1994: 1).
Radical Time and the Ontology of the Museum Understanding the museum temporally has substantive implications for the ontological and epistemological status of museums more broadly, and it is at this point that the truly radical consequences of museum temporality begin to emerge. In this following section, we will address features and concepts which have an impact upon the identity of museums because of this temporality, before moving on to identify and explore some of the manifold forms which the radically temporal museum might take. This section very deliberately moves beyond the idea of the museum as a heterotopic space, and beyond the concept of narrative space into an understanding which is far more varied, open, and analytically specific. Features of museum time that we have identified here fall roughly (never strictly) into three camps: the political, the atmospheric, and the conceptual. In terms of the first, we can note the museum as storyteller – and, as such, an institution which is and always has been, manipulative and political, which always has – for someone, in some place, and sometime – proved to be an unreliable narrator. The museum shapes narrative and rhythm to tell a particular story – and whether this is deliberate or not, it is always true. Consequently, the notion of museum taphonomy – the study of what has been lost – becomes less surprising, and much more necessary: for it is the beginning of the study of that which museums often deny but cannot avoid – entropy, impermanence. Taphonomy may have many implications if taken further, and whilst here is not the place, there will be manifold opportunities for exploration in the future. What about the second category of features, the atmospheric? This is where we can, once again, begin to push against the heterotopia. We can do that, first of all, with antaeic magic, previously written about by Ekman, and prior to that, Assman and Warburg. Antaeic magic, for these authors, is an intensification of the past such that the experience becomes almost tangible, usually through the senses. For Ekman, this is the power of a gallery, a museum, an object. But, clearly, for the past to be made tangible – for antaeic magic to occur at all – it must be backed up with some sort of knowledge and connection. Without meaning on some level, buildings, art, objects, symbols, become background noise, insensible, and antaeic magic cannot occur. Antaeic magic is affective, located, and heavily reliant upon the embodied experience of the individual. But to some degree, as with any intense experience, it is also to do with estrangement. When the past becomes present – is re-experienced – the present fades and the physical environment in which the body might exist falls away for that which appears cognitively, as in a flashback. When Greenblatt talks of resonance and wonder, he too talks of estrangement – in resonance, we reach out of the immediate environment to previous experience, and in wonder, the immediate experience becomes
172 Consequences and Meanings monadic such that all connections to the outside are lost. So, in that very practical sense, the museum experience is always estranged from something to which it is related. But when we think about estrangement in the manner of Bloch and Shklovsky, we come to a different position. Whilst the practical form of ‘estrangement’ discussed above suggests alienation, from the perspective of verfremdung or ostranenie, the intensity of temporal presentness creates not alienation, but a deeper insight into something, in a Heideggerian act of de-distancing – bringing that which was far, closer to the now. I want, before moving on to the types and shapes of museums which might act as alternates to the heterotopia, to think about the final feature group – the conceptual. Firstly, it is important to recall the Eleatic Principle – that everything that exists makes a causal difference to something, and that, as such, the idea of absence is substantively different to that of utter nonexistence. But, of course, as we have seen, what is perceived in museums and galleries is dependent and relational. What is ‘missing’ for one person – what leaves an eleatetic trace – may not be visible to someone else – be non-existent. The critical issue here is communication, for through communication that which is non-existent for some can be made absent – and that which is absent can be represented, through the further enhancement of presence, or through the overt recognition of a group, a loss. The crucial part, ethically speaking, about recognising objects not simply as their present objecthood, but as ‘traces’ (Derrida 1997) of something other is that the focus shifts from objecthood to tracehood, from the thingness of the thing to what it represents. And in the representative mode, absence can be as articulate as presence. Finally, when talking about ‘concepts,’ we must think briefly of the characteristics of time itself. We have seen in this section that it is political, relational, representative, and articulate – and as all of these things it is fundamentally ‘immanent’ (West-Pavlov 2013) process itself, multiple, unclosed, and always becoming. As such, like Dasein, there is always ‘something still to be settled’ (Heidegger 2010) – always ‘potential.’ This anxious, potential-riddled, and processual temporality is opposed to permanence, to fixed time, to a singular, static, and dusty history, to the heterotopia. This issue of the possible which exists despite the frameworks through which the museum is shaped overtly, which is atopic – ‘mad and unlocalizable’ – so the time of conversation, openness, and institutional self-reflection – is a time of hope and responsibility. It is radical time. Sketches The final part of this section presents three putative ontological forms for the radically temporalized museum. These are the Carnivalesque, the Haunted, and the Existential Museum, and they are not, of course, the only models available – but for our purposes they serve to illustrate some provocative potential strategies which are not only conceptual, but political.
After-Words 173 Sketch #1: The Carnivalesque Museum The Carnivalesque Museum1 inverts standard hierarchies. Embedded within, looking at, but somehow unhinged from the time of the everyday, the Carnivalesque Museum presents the temporality of the festival: a masquerade time in which power relations of the outside world mean nothing, and in which the authoritative identity of the museum is open to question. It is a flexible time of conversation, a time without prejudice or anxiety in which truthful speech, rather than dissembling and closure, are key. The Carnivalesque Museum is also grotesque – and we mean this in the Bakhtinian sense, not exclusively in the sense of ugly or deformed. The Grotesque Museum is embodied, and ideals within it are articulated through corporeal experience, as the political is articulated through the body in grotesque realism. Through the Grotesque Museum, the elite becomes democratic, to be replaced by an emphasis on the body, the physical, the felt. There is abjection here, too: in the Abject Museum, one acknowledges the wounded materiality of buildings and things, their otherness, and through them, the recognition of that which is not-I. The Carnivalesque Museum has radical potential, but the very existence of carnival lies in its oppositional nature. Once Carnival is done, everything reverts to the way it was or, if its revolution succeeds and is maintained, it becomes the establishment it once fought against. Sketch #2: The Haunted Museum The Haunted Museum is Weird – it is filled with things which should not be there, with things out of place and out of time. Unmoored from a Newtonian history, in the Weird Museum people and objects are reflexive and ephemeral, and the museum they create exists for a singular moment alone. The Haunted Museum is Eerie – it is filled with nothing where there should be something. Characterized by absence, the Eerie Museum is missing collectors, creators, owners, originators, and communities – but their visible absence has a distinct power all its own, which speaks of historic violence and betrayal and must, through necessarily painful means, become eleatetic and thus powerful. The Haunted Museum is Pharmakotic – an ambiguous institution always shadowed by its positive and negative aspects – a place of possibility and reliance, a place of futures – and too much of the past. The Haunted Museum is filled with spectres which are not bound to historical time, which are relational, atopic, and irredeemable. These are the ghosts of power, colonialism, violence, theft, money, and abuse, the wounds of which may continue to rear their heads decades or centuries later. The Haunted Museum is descriptive, but it does not speak of responsibility. The spectre is the authority here, and all are bound to it. As a consequence, it permits dissembly and lazy excuses.
174 Consequences and Meanings Sketch #3: The Existentialist Museum The Existentialist Museum is intemperate, and doesn’t like to be strictly defined, but it does retain some identifiable questions at its heart: those of responsibility and freedom. The Existentialist Museum, from the perspective of this book, is yet to be fully explored. For the moment, it is sufficient to say that the hypothesized Existentialist Museum exists reflectively in time, questioning its own nature and that of what it displays. Let us follow Kierkegaard, too, and suggest that the Existentialist Museum is riddled with anxiety (Walklate 2019) – that it feels its own instability and wonders about the nature of its selfhood and the choices it makes, that it engages with that Heideggerian concept of authenticity in order to recognize itself. As it does so, it is forced to recognize the responsibility of all its staff and all its visitors and how each of them, every day, impact upon the way in which the world is experienced by those around them. The Existentialist Museum recognizes its own absurdity, that the human life which it illustrates, that human perception of the world, has no meaning outside of a singular context, and thus that it is absurd. It is temporal, and radically so, because it is both contextual – situated historically – but also so preoccupied with issues that transcend it. This brief sketch of the Existentialist Museum is woefully incomplete – but the uncovering of this form of the museum is a project deserving of a book of its own. Conclusion: The Radically Temporal Museum Following Dinshaw, we can thus suggest that the radically temporal museum – the museum which understands temporality to be at its heart and which seeks to overtly acknowledge rather than obfuscate that fact – has a ‘post-disenchanted temporal perspective’ – that is, it opens up the temporal possibilities of the present, encompasses multiple nows, and refutes the idea of revelation as the end point of time. The radically temporal museum is radical because it doesn’t focus upon the past, or the future, per se, but upon its actions and consequences in the Now, and because it recognizes the multiplicity of the present. The radically temporal museum is manifold, is truthful, expressive, haunted, and anxious – but it is, most of all, situated, consciously, actively, and ethically, in the present. The radically temporal museum is political, and it is the political implications of museum time to which the next section turns.
Museum Time and Museum Politics; or, Why the Radically Temporal Museum Matters In the introduction to this book, I claimed that exploring and understanding museum time was a political and ethical act. Whilst I have gestured towards this claim throughout the text, now is the time to fully make good on it. There are two main statements to make: one, that understanding
After-Words 175 temporal complexity in the museum, as we have sought to do here, forces a decentring of Western and Eurocentric approaches towards history and memory; two, that the museum itself is a filigree god that requires dismantling and reconfiguration. De-centring Firstly, of course, the radically temporal museum, which is porous, multiple, and self-aware – undermines the simplistic notion that time, as so frequently perpetuated in western culture, is linear. It replaces it instead with a time which is experiential and social, which is multiple and varied and in which the consequences of all actions have weight. Radical temporality – as we said previously – is not eschatological and does not demand meaningfulness as its end. In so doing, it takes away fate, and replaces it with responsibility. It avoids the propter hoc fallacy, and encourages the acknowledgement of elision, of gaps. It revels in its incompleteness, and in so doing, allows more voices to join its chorus. It disavows the primacy of ‘cannon’ and in doing so forces museums and heritage institutions promoting particular kinds of nostalgia and the historical existence of highly politicised and manipulative imagined communities (such as the ‘Blitz spirit’), to reconsider their stances. The radically temporal museum, as we have seen, is able to acknowledge other perceptions of time, and within that open up new perspectives on the nature of objects. Whilst the author is a white British woman – with all the social and educational implications of that status – and is thus unable to truly articulate the exact nature of many other perceptions of time (nor should she claim the right to) in presenting the possibility of radical understanding, she does hope to open up the space and time of the museum to these other understandings. Through this, it might be hoped that implicitly imperialist, colonialist, and exclusionary implications which hide in the museum presentation of time might be removed – an obvious example of this might be approaches towards otherness, and in particular the necessary exploration of schizogenic time as it may or may not continue to appear not simply in anthropological museums, but in all collections. Reconfiguring Understanding museum time is also a political act not simply for what the museum does, but what the museum is. I would suggest that the Museum presented as permanent and authoritative is a filigree god, and that by understanding the way it manipulates and is manipulated by time, we can work to remove the dependency on permanence and authority to build instead an institution of openness, polyvocality, and empathy. In removing dependency on permanence, the museum accepts not simply the mortality of its objects, but also itself – recognizes that there may come a time when it is no longer a vital and important institution. The exploration of museum time shows us
176 Consequences and Meanings that there are multiple agents in the production of museums and their meanings, many of which are unknown (and indeed unknowable). Authority in both interpretation and meaning then is not solely the preserve of the institution. The visitor, and their body, also becomes a powerful contributor of meaning. Power is redistributed, and the purposes of the varied elements building the museum as an institution are reconfigured. Rather than survival of the institution, then, focus shifts towards the survival of the purpose – of demonstrating and preserving culture in all its infinite diversity.
Museums and Literature: Further Explorations In the final part of this conclusion, I want to briefly present some possibilities for future fruitful examinations of the relationship between museums and literature. Whilst in this book museum temporality is clearly the primary focus, we have also recovered the capacities of literary language in exploring aspects of museum performance and as a consequence we have revealed a strong comparative relationship between these two expressive media. Broadly speaking, there are two directions any future exploration of this language and relationship might take – the academic and the practical. In terms of academic exploration, there are a variety of different approaches and focuses which might be taken. Future study might examine literary concepts in relation to the museum – and indeed the author is in the process of beginning research into the possibilities of the Bakhtinian carnivalesque for museum practice. Fascination and abjection are two equally interesting possibilities for further conceptual play. Developments might also be made in exploring the relationships between museums and rhetoric explored so far by Weiser. In this way, we might consider the possibilities for a literary exploration of museum atmospheres and authenticity – including vraisemblance, presence, and auracity. Technical devices, such as metrical analysis or Genette’s anachronic framework, might be examined for their value in the conceptual and physical design of museum spaces – and here, too, we might also further the conversations on museums and narrative which have been started, but require more precise technical codification. Chronotopic analysis of museum spaces might also prove valuable in the analysis of museums and their implicit meanings. Finally, the authorship of the museum is well worth exploring in greater detail, as engagement with the theories of authorship – in particular notions of the scriptor, narrator, and focalisor – could have significant implications for the power relationships and identity states which exist for museum staff, visitors, makers, donors, and communities. Developing the relationship between museums and literature also has practical implications. Designers might utilize a variety of elements addressed here, including chronotopes, rhythm, and narratology, to create varied and expressive museum environments. Engagement with communities might be enhanced through explorations of authorship and
After-Words 177 museum-based self-reflection. In particular, it is to be hoped that this book has at least implied, if not overtly stated, the vital ethical and political implications of radical museum time as viewed with a critical literary eye – an eye which allows us to encounter the past as part of the present, which levels encounters with those often perceived as Other, and which, through ontological explorations of its own value, permits the idea of restitution in a much freer, and more generous, fashion.
Endings? There is not an ending here, as such. This book was, if nothing else, an exercise in possibility, and as such it would be antithetical to manufacture a false ending. This is not a document written in stone – it recognizes its own historicity, and that it has as yet unknown implications waiting to emerge. This book is an interpretable artefact, to grow in meaning or fade as needed, and to be, constantly, rescripted with other eyes.
1. You can read more about the Carnivalesque Museum in the following articles – Walklate, J. 2018 ‘Heterotopia or Carnival Site? Rethinking the Ethnographic Museum’ Museum Worlds, 6(1) and Walklate, J. (2022) ‘“...quintessence of dust”: Preliminary sketches on museums and carnival time,’ in Pels, P. and Modest, W., (ed) Museum Temporalities: Time, History and the Future of the Ethnographic Museum, Bloomsbury.
Coda In Extremis
‘In extremis’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘in extreme circumstances’ and in particular, ‘at the point of death.’ One could argue that this coda is the in extremis of this book, but one could also, given the specious nature of the present and the temporal nature of the book, argue that it was in extremis from the moment you opened the cover, or even from the very first moment that I put pen to paper. It has constantly shifted and changed in identity and purpose from the moment it was first conceptualized – and thus each moment, each development, each change, can be said to constitute a death, of sorts, of what came before. The museum, now temporalized, can thus also be said to be, in that sense, in extremis: constantly dying and being born not simply through processes of acquisition and disposal, and the inevitable accrual of dust, but also through continually new engagements with the consciousnesses who haunt its halls. No longer simply murderer or cemetery, the museum as temporal and relational object becomes in itself entangled with the singular inevitability of life – that is, its end. There are many competing definitions of death, and many arguments about its nature: it has spawned what Bradley, Feldman, and Johansson call an ‘intersubdisciplinary’ field in the philosophy of death (Bradley et al 2018: 1). Here is not the place to examine all the commentary on this most central of human subjects, but we must settle on some form of definition before proceeding further. Let it suffice for the moment to follow Heidegger (not by any means the only existentialist to deal with death) and define death as the loss of existence, and we might suggest further that it is the loss of self-hood which is the most crucial part of non-existence for the death of the human – at least, for our purposes. Earlier in the book, I described museums as ‘a buffer against the inevitable end of all things’: that in their accumulations of objects, they allow the traces of human action (and thus traces of consciousness) to persist long after the organism which created them is dust. And if human beings, as well as museums and their collections, are relational entities – created as much by their interactions with other people as their own conscious minds – then we might argue that the traces and impacts of everyone persist beyond their death. The dead whose objects are on display DOI: 10.4324/9781003248446-16
In Extremis 179 in a museum – not just the dead who are on display – are eleatetic, making a causal difference to something. They are not void – they are absent, even if unknown. It seems, then, that the museum’s relation to death is more ambiguous than I initially claimed in calling it a ‘buffer against the inevitable’: the museum also makes death and mortality visible. These deaths are not merely the deaths of distanced people, but of individuals, entire civilizations, and, ultimately, ourselves. Those individual deaths can be said to emerge in two forms – the physical death and the death of the self, or the biological and the existential (Gray 1951: 120) – and this is to say nothing of the social aspects of death, or what can be observed of the death of another. In order to understand them, however, we have to understand that these forms of death are a part of life, not its antithesis (Gray 1951: 118). Here, we shall focus on the existential form of death as our basis; it is not, at this point, physiological demise with which we are concerned. We shall return to the museum momentarily – for now, however, we must explore the existential form of death, and what it means, from the perspective of the individual. In Being and Time, Dasein is characterized as existing in relation to possibility (Heidegger 2010: 227). Always incomplete whilst it exists, Dasein is always facing towards something; its own potential, its own future (Heidegger 2010: 233). As Kierkegaard noted, and as I have written elsewhere in relation to museums, potential is a producer of anxiety (Kierkegaard 2014: 216), and Death, that most extreme form of potential that every living thing shares, is one of the greatest anxiety producers of all. In On Longing, Susan Stewart writes, Our terror of the unmarked grave is a terror of the insignificance of a world without writing. The metaphor of the unmarked grave is one which joins the mute and the ambivalent; without the mark there is no boundary, no point at which to begin the repetition (Stewart 1993: 31). Heidegger writes that from the first moment Dasein is extant, one of its potentials is death (Heidegger 2010: 236) and that, therefore, one of the most fundamental characteristics of Dasein, as a creature constantly becoming, is its flight into the future which inevitably holds its end – this is what Heidegger called the being-toward-death (Heidegger 2010: 239–242). The Museum is an anxious institution, and as a consequence I have, in this book, treated it as though it had a consciousness, a mind, an identity. This is not, of course, a literal truth for the physical museum itself, but it is true that a museum is dependent upon the conscious minds of its staff – and its visitors – for its existence, and that this, along with the collective behaviour of these people, in the case of individual institutions and the field of museum practice as a whole, can often give the impression that museums do, in fact, have minds, of a sort. I do not think, for instance, that
180 Consequences and Meanings anyone who has read this book at least would consider the Pitt Rivers to be anything other than a personality. Understood as such, these temporalized museums – museums which exist always incomplete and always with potential – always already had their demise as inevitable possibility from the moment they were formed. The Museum, too, is a being in extremis – a being-toward-death. Why does this matter? In Being and Time, Heidegger says that there are two approaches one (as Dasein) can take towards death – and thus, ultimately, towards life. One can accept death, as one must, but inauthentically, as something which we have seen happen to others, but which our own experience of is deferred into an unspecified future (Heidegger 2010: 247). Death is anonymized, Heidegger says, when it is understood inauthentically, happening to everyone in general and thus no-one in particular, especially not to the I (Heidegger 2010: 243). But one’s own death, Heidegger writes in the same section, is exclusively one’s own – there is a special ‘mineness’ to death (Heidegger 2010: 231). This does not mean that it is under our control, but that it can only ever happen to us, and the only way that we can experience death is to die; and thus we cannot experience it, as once we die, we no longer exist (Heidegger 2010: 250). Crucially, however, and perhaps uniquely certain amongst those possibilities, it can happen to us at any time (Heidegger 2010: 247). Heidegger suggests that anticipation of death is the only way to authentically come to terms with our state as being-toward-death, and that this anticipatory state is – in a meaning of the term which he suggests is not only emotional but does not further explore – an anxious one (Heidegger 2010: 254–255). But with this state of anxiety, he claims, also comes freedom – a ‘freedom toward death’ which dispels the illusions of societal expectation and desire, and which means that Dasein is thus fully able, in certainty, to be itself (Heidegger 2010: 255). In his reflection on what this means, J. G. Gray suggests that Heidegger’s approach intensifies the present, and our responsibility to it (Gray 1951: 121). I want, in closing out this Coda, and this book, to echo that sentiment. If individuals, and museums, understand their ultimate, and unpredictable, potential, it becomes imperative that they engage with notions of freedom, and responsibility. In the case of the museum, that might mean freedom specifically from the tripartite weight of history, memory, and permanence towards the need for flexibility, mortality, and the needs of the contemporary world.
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Bibliography 189 Schriffin, D., ‘Tense Variation in Narrative’ Language, 57(1), 45–62, 1981 Schubert, O. V., The Contemporary Condition: “100 Years of Now” and the Temporality of Curatorial Research, Aarhus University and ARoS Art Museum: Sternberg Press, 2019 Sermijin, J., Devlieger, P., and Loots, G., ‘The Narrative Construction of the Self – Selfhood as a Rhizomatic Story’ Qualitative Inquiry, 14(4), 632–650, 2008 Shakespeare, W., The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Comprising His Plays and Poems, Middlesex: The Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1958 Sherman, D. J., ‘Quatremère/Benjamin/Marx: Art Museums, Aura, and Commodity Fetishism’ 123–143, in Daniel J. Sherman and Irit Roggoff (eds), Museum Culture: Histories, Discourses, Spectacles, London: Routledge, 1994 Shklovsky, V., ‘Art, as Device’ ’, trans. Alexandra Berlina, Poetics Today, 36(3), 151–174, 2015 Skolnick, L. H., ‘Beyond Narrative: Designing Epiphanies’ 83–94, in Suzanne Macleod, Laura Hourston Hanks and Jonathan Hale (eds), Museum Making: Architecture, Design, Narrative, London: Routledge, 2012 Smiraglia, C., ‘The Gazophylacium: An Argument for European Medieval Religious Sites as the First Museums in the West’ Museum History Journal, 6(2), 237–252, 2013 Smith, D. W., ‘Phenomenology’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Available online: https://plato.stanford.edu/ archives/sum2018/entries/phenomenology/ (accessed 28 June 2019) Stavroulaki, G., and Peponis, J., ‘The Spatial Construction of Seeing at Castelvecchio,’ Proceedings: 4th International Space Syntax Symposium, London, 2003 Stewart, S., On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenier, the Collection, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993 Thomas, D., Under Milk Wood, London: J.M. Dent & Son’s Ltd, 1954 Toon, R., ‘Black Box Science in Black Box Science Centres’ 26–38, in Suzanne MacLeod (ed), Reshaping Museum Space: Architecture, Design, Exhibitions, Abingdon: Routledge, 2005 University of Oxford (2015), ‘The Relational Museum: Project Details’, Available online: https://digital.humanities.ox.ac.uk/project/relational-museum, (accessed February 16 2019) Urry, J., Global Complexity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003 Vallee, M., ‘The Rhythm of Echoes and Echoes of Violence’ Theory, Culture and Society, 34(1), 97–114, 2017 Vernon, H. M., A History of the Oxford Museum, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909 Vico, G., The First New Science, ed Leon Pompa, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002 Vonnegut, K., Slaughterhouse 5, or, The Children’s Crusade, A Duty Dance With Death, London: Vintage, 2003 (1970) Walklate, J., ‘Anxiety’ 215–232, in Simon Knell (ed), The Contemporary Museum: Shaping Museums for the Global Now, London: Routledge, 2019 Walklate, J., ‘Heterotopia or Carnival Site: Rethinking the Ethnographic Museum’ Museum Worlds, 6(1), 32–47, 2018 Waugh, P., Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction, London: Routledge, 1984 Weibel, P., and Latour, B., ‘Experimenting With Representation: Iconoclash and Making Things Public’ 94–108, in Paul Basu and Sharon Macdonald (eds), Exhibition Experiments, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007
190 Bibliography Weiser, E., ‘Who Are We? Museums Telling the nation’s Story’ The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, 2(2), 29–38, 2009 Welsh, I., Trainspotting, London: Vintage, 1993 West-Pavlov, R., Temporalities, Abingdon: Routledge, 2013 Whalley, G., ‘On Translating Aristotle’s Poetics’ 3–32, in John Baxter and Patrick Atherton (eds), Aristotle’s Poetics: Translated and With a Commentary by George Whalley, Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997 White, H., ‘The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory’ History and Theory, 23(1), 1–33, 1984 Wicks, U., ‘The Nature of Picaresque Narrative: A Model Approach’ PMLA, 89(2), 240–249, 1974 Witcomb, A., Reimagining the Museum: Beyond the Mausoleum, London and New York: Routledge, 2003 Woolf, V., To The Lighthouse, London: Penguin Group, 1996 (1927) Wordsworth, W., ‘A Slumber Did My Spirit Steal’ 566, in Paul Keegan (ed), The New Penguin Book of English Verse, London: Penguin Books, 2001 Zola, E., The Drinking Den, London: Penguin Books, 2000, (1876)
Note: Italicized page numbers refer to figures. Page numbers followed by “n” refer to notes. abjection 8, 12, 108, 131, 133, 166, 173, 176 absence 16, 19–20, 29, 92, 107–134, 152, 172, 173; abyssal 131–133; eerie 125–131; locating 115–120; perceiving 108; perspective 109–115; replicating 120–125 absent collectors 110–112 absent curators 112–114 absent makers 109–110 absent visitors 114–115 absolutism 4 abstract nouns 40 absurd, the 125, 128, 134, 174 abyssal absence 131–133 Acland, H. W. 113, 114 acousmatic sound 128 Active Collections 64 adjectives 40–42 Adorno, T. 8, 10 adverbs 40–41 African Restitution Research 24 agency 53, 60, 61, 126–128, 130, 132, 163 ALBs see Arms Length Bodies (ALBs) Alice in Wonderland 25, 73–74 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll) 74, 151 Amakasu Komuten 146 Amis, M.: Time’s Arrow 30 anachrony 29, 33, 69, 70, 75–80, 83, 87, 121, 122, 144, 176 anagnorisis 154, 159 analepsis 33, 78, 79 antaeic magic 11, 13, 149, 151, 165, 171 anxiety 64–65, 67, 129, 164, 165, 173, 174, 179, 180
Apollinaire: ‘Il Pleut’ 82–83 Arabian Nights, The 156 Arcades Project (Benjamin) 27 archaic language 41 architecture 11, 24, 25, 28, 51, 53–56, 66, 70, 91, 93, 96, 102, 155, 156, 168 Architecture in Detail: Oxford Museum (Garnham) 18 architextuality 34, 70 Aristotle 6, 29, 145, 154 Arms Length Bodies (ALBs) 18 Arnold-de-Simine, S.: Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia 15 Aronson, P. 17–18 Arts of the Eighteenth Century 52 Arts of the Renaissance 52 Ashmole, E. 22 Ashmolean: Britain’s First Museum (Brown) 18 Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology 21–25, 63, 110, 114, 115, 125, 128; ‘AfterHours’ 159; Ancient Worlds orientation gallery 76–78, 86; Ark to Ashmolean gallery 141; Asian Crossroads floor 55; Augustus in the Cast Gallery 94; Augustus of Primo Porto 141; authorial presence 96–98; Cast Gallery 94, 140; chronotopic sites 104; Conservation galleries 64, 99–100, 116, 138, 151–152; Coromandel Screen 150, 150; Crossing Cultures Crossing Time 22, 23, 51–53, 145; Cycladic figurines 79; diegesis 82; digital interactives 123; Egyptian Galleries 54;
192 Index England 400–1600 98, 152; European Ceramics gallery 98, 103; European Prehistory gallery 142; Exploring the Past gallery 144, 169; Georgian Dessert Table 103; Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery 157, 168; inter-visible nature of 129; irregular temporalities 86; Japanese Tea House 146–148; Knossos Palace 101, 101–102; Late Neolithic village 142; Mallett Gallery 103, 166, 168; museum taphonomy 64; Precious Cargoes 51; prosodic disruptions 83, 84; Rome gallery 73; shifts in temporal trajectories 84–85; Story gallery 55, 144; sublime 156; Tea House 102; Textiles gallery 56, 64, 86; transtextuality 70–74; visual presence 93; Wellby Gallery to the Print Room 72; Western Art gallery 52, 80, 83–86, 96, 103, 104, 106n1, 109, 110, 119, 128, 138, 156, 159; West Meets East gallery 58, 150 atmosphere: definition of 149–150; presencing 100–105; of sublime 155 auditory presence 95–96 Auerbach, E. 39, 56, 57; Mimesis 53 auracity 20, 91, 149–160, 176; a-chronic 151, 156; a-temporal 156; definition of 152 auras of things 149–152; making 152–154 Authentic Dasein 164 authenticity 15, 20, 74, 91, 116, 135–148, 174, 176; authentic object 136–139; meta-fictions 140–142; re-mediation 139–140; translation 139–140 author 35 authorial presence 96–100 authorship 96–98, 176 Bachelard, G.: Poetics of Space, The 26 Bakhtin, M. M. 104, 156, 176; ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ 34 Bal, M.: ‘Discourse of the Museum, The’ 28; ‘Telling, Showing, Showing off’ 28 Balfour, H. 97 Balfour Research Library 81 Barthes, R. 58, 61, 110, 121, 125, 143–144; ‘Death of the Author, The’ 35, 100, 109, 127; ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative, An’ 35; ‘Reality Effect, The’ 136, 139; S/Z 96
Basu, P. 28; ‘Labyrinthine Aesthetic in Contemporary Museum Design, The’ 158 Baudrillard, J. 117; ‘Precession of Simulacra, The’ 118 Being and Time (Heidegger) 3, 25–26, 179, 180 Benjamin, W. 70, 152; Arcades Project 27; ‘Naples’ 169; ‘Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, The’ 123 Bergson, H. 5, 31, 57, 67, 165, 168 Berliner, T.: ‘Illusion of Continuity: Active Perception and the Classical Editing System, The’ 115 Berry, D. 98, 106n1, 114 ‘Beyond narrative’ (Skolnick) 155 Beyond the Binary 24 Bibby, N. 125 Blackwood, B. 97 Blanchot, M. 9, 131–132, 152; Space of Literature 27 Bloch, E. 71, 172 Boccaccio, G.: Decameron, The 32 Böhme, G. 100, 105, 149 Bradley, B. 178 Brecht, B. 71 Bredekamp, H.: Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine, The 15 Brown, C.: Ashmolean: Britain’s First Museum 18 Browning, R.: ‘How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ 40 Bruner, J. 52, 53, 60, 62, 145; narrative accrual 62; ‘Narrative Construction of Reality, The’ 60–61 Buckland, W. 113 Calvino, I. 36 Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, The (Porter-Abbott) 29 Canterbury Tales (Chaucer) 32, 41, 156 cardinal event 58 Carnivalesque Museum 173 Carroll, L. 25, 41–42, 73, 125; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 74, 151; Through the Looking Glass 151 catharsis 159 cemeteries, museums as 10 Chanson de Roland 38, 39 Chaucer, G.: Canterbury Tales 32, 41, 156 chronotope 33, 34, 93, 103–105, 144–147, 149, 166, 168, 176; auratic 154–159; sublime 102, 154–157, 159, 166, 169;
Index 193 uncanny 28, 86, 130, 154, 156–159, 166, 168, 169; weird 41, 126, 158–159, 169, 173 Clark, G. 27–28 Classen, C. 95; ‘Museum Manners: the Sensory Life of the Early Museum’ 23 clock time 4 cloisters 51, 53, 61 Cockerall, C. R. 22, 110 Cohen, D. J.: ‘Illusion of Continuity: Active Perception and the Classical Editing System, The’ 115 Coleridge, S. T.: Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The 36 Collison, N. 97 concrete nouns 40 ‘constructive perception’ theory 115 Cortezar, J.: Rayulea (aka Hopscotch) 31 Crane, S. A.: Museums and Memory 15 Critical Change 24, 146 Crossing Cultures Crossing Time 22, 23, 51–53, 145 ‘Crystal Teeth and Skeleton Eggs’ (Kirk) 25 CSI 142 Culler, J. 137; Structuralist Poetics 136 cultural relativism 52 cyclical repetition 30–31 Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (Negarestani) 130 Danielewski, M. Z. 95–96 Darwin, C.: Descent of Man, The 63; Origin of Species 24 Dasein 5, 25, 26, 50, 62, 87, 88, 164, 165, 172, 179, 180 Davis, L. 119 Dean, D. 152 death 8–11, 19, 41, 178–180; biological 179; existential 179; physical 179; of the self 179 ‘Death of the Author, The’ (Barthes) 35, 100, 109, 127 Decameron, The (Boccaccio) 32 de-centring 175 DeLanda, M.: Thousand Years of NonLinear History, A 7 Deleuze, G. 7 de Quincy, Q. 8, 10 Derrida, J. 50, 62–63, 112; Of Grammatology 74, 107; hauntology
51; ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ 116; Specters of Marx 69 Descent of Man, The (Darwin) 63 design 51–53 detachment 128 dialogic arrow 60–63 diegesis 70, 80–82, 135 différance 6, 74 digital interactive 121, 123, 144 Dinshaw, C. 65, 67, 174 ‘Discourse of the Museum, The’ (Bal) 28 distance 152, 153, 159 Dodgson, C. 75 Dowden, O. 18 Dream Spaces: Memory and the Museum (Kavanagh) 15 Droma, N. 97 Dudley, S.: ‘What’s in the Drawer? Surprise and Proprioceptivity in the Pitt Rivers Museum’ 24 durée 5, 31, 67, 69, 87, 144, 165 Durkheim, E. 53 Dutch Still Lives 137 echo 82, 83 Eco, U.: Open Work, The 151; Six Walks in the Fictional Woods 154 Edensor, T. 101 Edwards, E. 121 eerie, the 72, 95, 133, 134, 151, 166, 169; absence 125–131 Egyptian Galleries 86 Ekman, M. 11, 151, 171 Eleatic Principle 108, 172 Eliot, T. S. 44, 129; Waste Land, The 102 elitism 11, 14 ellipsis 33, 78 entropic degeneration 64 environments, (in)authentic 144–147 epiphany 159, 160 eschatology 54, 62, 66, 175 estrangement 41, 71, 82, 85, 107, 159, 171, 172 eternal return 30 ethics 3, 152 EuNaMus project 17 Evans, Sir A. 22, 102, 113 Evans, Sir J. 99 Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 63 Existentialist Museum 174 experience 3–8, 13, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25–28, 30–32, 34–41, 44
194 Index Fabian, J.: Time and the Other 13 fabula 31–33, 35, 36, 41, 56, 61, 62, 75–77, 79, 87, 146, 167, 169 fascination 108, 131–134, 153, 176 Feldman, F. 178 First New Science, The (Vico) 30 first-order change 6 Fisher, M. 128, 129, 152, 158; Weird and The Eerie, The 126 focalisor 32, 35, 37–39, 98, 99, 105, 127, 156, 176 focalizing presence 96–100 ‘Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel’ (Bakhtin) 34 Foucault, M. 12; ‘Of Other Places’ 11 fragmented plots 86–87 frame 21–45; case studies 21–25; (in) authentic 143–144; literature 25–44; museums 25–44; phenomenology 25–27; temporality 25–27; time 25–44 Freeman, K.: ‘Iron and Bone’ 25 free verse 86–87 Fukuyama, F. 65 future 6–8, 16, 24, 29, 41, 50–54, 57, 62–67, 69–71, 73, 79, 113, 115, 133, 141–144, 151, 152, 170, 171, 173, 174, 176, 179, 180 Garner, A.: Red Shift 130 Garnham, T. 25, 53–54; Architecture in Detail: Oxford Museum 18 Gazing Balls 159 Geilen, P. 17, 34 Gem, F. 153 Genette, G. 33–34, 72, 77, 78, 122, 176; Narrative Discourse 75–76; Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree 70 Giebelhausen, M. 10 Ginsberg, A.: ‘Howl’ 157 GLAM (Gardens, Libraries, and Museums) 126 Global Complexity (John) 121 global time 17 glocal time 17, 34 Gosden, C.: Knowing Things 23–24 grammar 28, 38 grammatical positioning 36 Grand Narratives 51, 53, 54, 58, 60, 67 Gray, J. G. 180 Greek English Lexicon, The (Liddell) 73 Greenblatt, S. 131, 153, 169, 171 Grotesque Museum 173 Groundhog Day 31 Guattari, F. 7
haikus 43 Halberstam, J. 65 haptic presence 95 Harker, J. 35 Harris, C. 97 Haunted Museum 173 hauntology 51, 62–63, 65, 66, 69, 106, 108, 109, 130, 170 Heidegger, M. 50, 165; Being and Time 3, 25–26, 179, 180; Dasein 5, 25, 26, 50, 62, 87, 88; verfallen 129 Heraclitus 6 heterotopia 3, 11–14, 21, 65, 67, 72, 84, 87, 88, 96, 128, 134, 163, 170, 171, 172 Heumann Gurian, E. 14 history 5, 7, 8, 13, 15–19, 21–25, 27, 29, 34, 50–53, 55–57, 62, 64, 65, 67, 74–77, 86, 87, 93, 94, 97, 99, 104, 105, 108–110, 113, 118–120, 126, 133, 134, 137–139, 141, 142, 144–146, 150, 153, 155, 156, 170, 172, 173, 175, 180 Holderlin, F. 8 Homer 79 homodiegetic positioning 36, 71 ‘Howl’ (Ginsberg) 157 ‘How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ (Browning) 40 Husserl, E. 5 Huyssen, A. 9, 155 Huzhalouski, A. 16 hypertextuality 34, 70, 72, 122 ‘Illusion of Continuity: Active Perception and the Classical Editing System, The’ (Berliner and Cohen) 115 ‘Il Pleut’ (Apollinaire) 82–83 immortality 51, 63–64 immutability 51, 63–64, 97, 147, 158 Imperial War Museum North 29 indirect libre (free indirect speech) 38 in extremis 178–180 ‘Inhuman, The’ (Lyotard) 15–16 in medias res 79–80 In Search of Lost Time (Proust) 31, 78–79, 105, 106 intertextuality 33, 70, 138, 140, 142, 144 ‘Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative, An’ (Barthes) 35 ‘I’ positioning 36 ‘Iron and Bone’ (Freeman) 25 irregular temporalities 86–87 Isao, K. 146 Iser, W. 27 Islamic Middle East Gallery 70–72, 168
Index 195 James, N. 23 Jenness, D. 97 Jenrick, R. 18 Jentsch, E. 156 Johansson, J. 178 jouissance 158 Kant, I. 4 Kavanagh, G.: Dream Spaces: Memory and the Museum 15 Kierkegaard, S. 66, 129, 174, 179 Kirk, E.: ‘Crystal Teeth and Skeleton Eggs’ 25 Knell, S. 17–18, 138 Knowing Things (Gosden) 23–24 Koons, J. 158–159 Kristeva, J. 11, 131; Powers of Horror 133 Kukso, B. 108 Kundera, M.: Unbearable Lightness of Being, The 30 Labelling Matters 24 ‘Labyrinthine Aesthetic in Contemporary Museum Design, The’ (Basu) 158 language 11, 12, 14, 19, 21, 27, 28, 30, 39–42, 44, 45, 50, 57, 60, 69, 92, 104, 107, 109, 112, 116, 120, 127, 149, 151, 159, 176 Lawrence, T. E. 56 Leibeskind 158 Leibniz, G. W. 4 Lennard, J. 42–43, 82, 84 LePoidevin, R. 6 Lessing, G. E. 27, 83 Liddell, H. 74, 75; Greek English Lexicon, The 73 lieux de memoire 15 linearity 7, 30, 31, 50–68, 70, 78, 82, 85, 167; arranging objects in line 58–60, 59; lines of communication 56–57; perpendicular buildings 53–56; storytelling 51–53 linear ordering 51–53 lineation 42, 84–85, 168 lines of communication 56–57 local time 17 Lotman, J. 137 Lubar, S. 63, 65 Lu Guimeng 73 Lure of Antiquity and the Cult of the Machine, The (Bredekamp) 15 Lyotard, J.-F. 54, 67, 102, 121, 154; ‘Inhuman, The’ 15–16
Maasai Living Cultures 24 MacGregor, A. 23 MacLeod, S. 28 Maleuvre, D.: Museum Memories: History, Technology, Art 15 marginalia 85 Marinetti, F. T. 10 Martin, C. B. 108 Mather, R. 22, 52, 84, 86, 95, 98, 110, 128, 141, 156 Matters of Care: Museum Futures in Times of Planetary Precarity 24 Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia (Arnold-de-Simine) 15 melancholy 152, 159, 170 memory 6–8, 15–16, 40, 79, 110–112, 116, 124, 129, 143, 165, 170; atrophy 117; site of 101, 105 Mendilow, A. 29 meta-fictions 140–142 metatextuality 33, 70, 73 metre 43, 44 metrical events 82–84 Mimesis (Auerbach) 53 Modest, W.: Museum Temporalities: Time, History and the Future of the Ethnographic Museum 8 Morris, R. 135 Mozaffari, A. 18 murderers, museums as 8–10 Museum Making: Architectures, Narratives, Exhibitions 28 ‘Museum Manners: the Sensory Life of the Early Museum’ (Classen) 23 Museum Memories: History, Technology, Art (Maleuvre) 15 Museum of the History of Science on Broad Street, Oxford 22, 110 museums: as cemeteries 10; as heterotopia 3, 11–14, 21; as murderers 8–10; politics 174–176; taphonomy 64, 171; and temporality 1, 5–19, 25–28, 35, 92, 101, 163; visitors 60–63; see also in dividual entries Museums, Objects and Collections (Pearce) 63 Museums and Memory (Crane) 15 Museum Temporalities: Time, History and the Future of the Ethnographic Museum (Pels and Modest) 8
196 Index ‘Naples’ (Benjamin) 169 narrative 51–53; accrual 53, 62; banalization 60, 61, 145; seduction 60–61, 145; space 28, 45; structures 144–147 ‘Narrative Construction of Reality, The’ (Bruner) 60–61 Narrative Discourse (Genette) 75–76 narratology 28–34, 51, 53, 149, 156, 158, 176 narrator 35–37 narratorial presence 96–100 Natural History Museum 94 natural science 54, 75 Negarestani, R.: Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials 130 Neues Museum 32 Nietzsche, F. 31; Thus Spake Zarathustra 30; Untimely Meditations 63–64 non-linearity 19, 69–88 nouns: abstract 40; concrete 40 objective reality of time 4–6 objects: ahistoricity of 166; historicity of 166; in line, arranging 58–60, 59; in pieces 166–167; temporally eccentric 166 ‘Objects’ (Pearce) 120 Odyssey 33, 79–80 Of Grammatology (Derrida) 74, 107 ‘Of Other Places’ (Foucault) 11 Old Testament 57 On Longing (Stewart) 74, 112, 179 ontology 3, 4, 6, 9, 19–20, 62, 63, 65, 67, 96, 100, 120, 126, 134, 140, 152, 165, 171–174, 177 Open Work, The (Eco) 151 Origin of Species (Darwin) 24 Orwell, G. 17 ostranenie 71, 172 othering/Othering 128; othering of 11–13; othering within 13–14 OUMNH see Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) Oxford Dodo 121, 124–125 Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) 21–22, 24, 25, 60, 113–115, 124–126, 163; anachronies 79, 80; Ancient Toolmakers 153–154; arranging objects in line 59; auditory presence 95; auracity 149; authenticity 138; authorial presence 97,
100; chronotopic sites 104; cloisters 51, 53, 61; diegesis 82; ‘Forensic Entomology’ 142; graphical paratexts 143; Great Court of 22, 25, 82, 86, 130, 139, 150–151; haptic presence 95; History of Life Galleries 51, 55–57, 145, 153, 157; (in)authentic environments 144–147; irregular temporalities 86, 87; March of the Mammals 51; meta-fictions 140; Musaeum Tradescantianum 74; perpendicular buildings 53–55; Pickling Block 117; ‘Real Alice, The’ 75, 75; sublime 155–156; transtextuality 72, 74; Tyrannosaurus rex 150–151; Upper Gallery 61, 97, 111, 137, 142; visual presence 93 palimpsest 22, 23, 97, 113, 126 Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree (Genette) 70 paratextuality 33, 70, 121–123, 140, 142–144 Paz, O. 106 Pearce, S. 27, 64, 111; Museums, Objects and Collections 63; ‘Objects’ 120 Pearson, M. 9–10, 138, 147 Peers, L. 97 Pels, P.: Museum Temporalities: Time, History and the Future of the Ethnographic Museum 8 people 164–165 Peponis, J.: ‘Spatial Construction of Seeing at Castelvecchio, The’ 38 permanence 40, 41, 63–64, 67, 120, 157, 166, 167, 169, 172, 175, 180 perpendicular buildings 53–56 perspective 7, 27, 28, 35–39, 42, 44, 51, 62, 67, 80, 82, 92, 93, 96–100, 108, 114–116, 120, 127, 134, 158, 165, 172, 174, 175, 179; absenting 109 Petkova-Campbell, G. 17 Phaedrus 116 pharmakon/pharmakotic 116, 118, 119, 124, 134, 167, 169, 173 phenomenological walking 25 phenomenology 4, 5, 8, 19, 21, 23, 25–28, 44, 165 photographs 121–123, 143; colour 123; hypertextual 122; monoch rome 122–123; paratextual 121–122; transtextual 121; vraisemblance of 123 Pink, S. 25
Index 197 Pitt Rivers Museum 14, 18, 21–25, 63, 66, 113–115, 118, 126, 157, 169, 180; auras of things 152; authorial presence 96–99; Combs case 60; diegesis 82; Feather Cloak 154; Great Court of 82, 83, 83, 86, 93, 94, 105, 122, 132, 168; historical authenticity 138; inter-visible nature of 129; irregular temporalities 86, 87; Kayak Salama 153; ‘Labelling Matters’ project 97; ‘Late Night, Illuminating Movement’ 132; Lower Gallery 57; narrative structure of content 61–62; New Guinean Battle Shields 153; photographs 121, 143; picaresque structure 158; Relational Museum project 146; salvage anthropology 63; shifts in temporal trajectories 85; staircase 81, 81; Star House Pole 59, 59, 94, 153, 168; transtextuality 72; Treatment of Dead Enemies 133; Upper Gallery 58, 63, 122, 153; Ur text of Victorian ethnography 146 Plato: Cave 107 ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ (Derrida) 116 Plot, R. 113 plot structure 29, 31, 51 plotted structure 51, 58, 69, 104, 144–146, 154 Poe, E. A. 157 Poetics of Space, The (Bachelard) 26 Porter-Abbott, H. 37, 38; Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, The 29 post-disenchanted temporal perspective 67 potential (unrealized) 65–66 power relations 126 Powers of Horror (Kristeva) 133 ‘Precession of Simulacra, The’ (Baudrillard) 118 Prejudice and Pride 68n5 presence 7, 9, 15, 19, 33, 63, 75, 78, 84, 88, 92–115, 117, 123–126, 128, 131, 144, 149, 152, 153, 158, 159, 164, 165, 168, 172, 176; atmosphere 100–105; auditory 95–96; authorial 96–100; focalizing 96–100; haptic 95; narratorial 96–100; perceiving 93–96; visual 93–94 Priestley, J. 56–57; Chart of Biography 56; New Chart of History, The 56 prolepsis 33, 78, 79 propter hoc fallacy 29, 67, 70, 78, 145, 175
prosody 28, 44, 51, 53, 55, 58, 59, 70, 94, 121, 132, 149, 150, 156, 157; prosodic disruptions 82–84 Proust, M. 71; In Search of Lost Time 31, 78–79, 105, 106 Psarra, S. 28 punctuation 42, 43, 70, 84–85, 168 Queering the Museum 68n5 queer theory 65 radical contemporaneity 14 Radical Hope 24, 146 radical museum time 170–176 radical temporality 3, 175 Randolph Gallery of Greek and Roman Sculpture 55, 86 Randolph Sculpture Gallery 54 Rayulea (aka Hopscotch) (Cortezar) 31 readerly and writerly engagements 60 reality 143–144 reconfiguring 175–176 Red Shift (Garner) 130 Regency Country House 166 Relational Museum Project 23, 24 re-mediation 120–125, 139–140, 142; Oxford Dodo 124–125 Rendall, J.: Site Writing 28 rhyme schemes 82–84 rhythm 27, 39, 42–44, 50, 59, 69, 84, 94, 118, 165, 167, 168, 171, 176 rhythmicity 42–44, 51, 56, 58, 61, 67, 82, 84, 86, 94, 104, 105, 160, 168 Rick Mather Architects 110 Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The (Coleridge) 36 Royle, N. 73, 74 ruin 101–102 Ruskin, J. 113 Sage 157 salvage anthropology 13, 63 satori 125 Saussure, F. de 27 scriptor 35, 80, 100, 110, 113, 115, 127, 176 second-order change 6 self, eerie absence and 128–129 semantics 40, 53, 149, 150 Sermijin, J. 62 Shakespeare, W. 44; Sonnet CXXX 38–39; Tempest, The 41 Shanks, M. 9–10, 138, 147 Sherman, D. J. 10
198 Index Shklovsky, V. 71, 172 signes de renvoi 84, 85 simulacra 117–120, 122, 123, 131, 134, 136, 145 sites of memory 101, 105 sites of rhetoric 101, 105, 106n2 Site Writing (Rendall) 28 Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (Eco) 154 sjuzet 31–33, 54, 57, 61, 75–76, 75–78, 80, 82, 84–87, 94, 96, 99, 100, 104, 105, 121, 124, 141, 144, 146, 152, 167, 169 sketches 172–174 Skolnick, L. H. 155; ‘Beyond narrative’ 155 Slaughterhouse 5 (Vonnegut) 30 ‘Slumber Did my Spirit Steal, A’ (Wordsworth) 41 social evolutionism 78 sovereignty 71, 87 space 167–169 Space of Literature (Blanchot) 27 spatio-temporality 17 Specters of Marx (Derrida) 69 spirit 91, 126 staircases 80–81, 81, 156 Stavroulaki, G.: ‘Spatial Construction of Seeing at Castelvecchio, The’ 38 Stewart, S. 111, 112; On Longing 74, 112, 179 storytelling 51–53 Structuralist Poetics (Culler) 136 sublime 102, 154–157, 159, 166, 169 substantivalism 4 Swann’s Way 38 S/Z (Barthes) 96 teleology 29, 30, 51, 53, 57, 58, 62, 65, 67, 70, 78–80, 87 ‘Telling, Showing, Showing off’ (Bal) 28 Tempest, The (Shakespeare) 41 temporal agents 163–169; objects 166– 167; people 164–165; space 167–169 temporality 4, 31, 37–39, 42, 44, 45, 165; irregular 86–87; museums and 1, 5–19, 25–28, 35, 92, 101, 163; phenomenological approaches to 5, 25–27; production of 35, 39; radical 3, 175; spatio-temporality 17 temporal trajectories, shifts in 84–85 temps 67 tense 14, 36, 38–41, 50, 56, 57, 63, 71, 105, 113, 127; in narratives, disrupting 75–80
Thomas, D.: Under Milk Wood 37 Thousand and One Arabian Nights 32 Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, A (DeLanda) 7 threshold fear 14 Through the Looking Glass (Carroll) 151 Thus Spake Zarathustra (Nietzsche) 30 time 3–23, 26–45, 163–171; clock 4; contours in 49; global 17; glocal 17, 34; local 17; manifest 6–7; in narratives, disrupting 75–80; nature of 4–7; objective reality of 4–6; radical museum 170–176; schizogenic 13, 14, 175; shape of 169–170; trepidation 154 Time and the Other (Fabian) 13 Time’s Arrow (Amis) 30 timescape 24, 25, 39–41 Todorov, T, 139 To the Lighthouse (Woolf) 31, 37–38 Tradescant, J. 22 transience 41, 43, 151 translation 139–140 transtextuality 33, 34, 70–75, 75, 80, 87, 121 trepidation time 154 Twelve Caesars 73, 74 Unbearable Lightness of Being, The (Kundera) 30 uncanny 28, 86, 130, 154, 156–159, 166, 168, 169 Under Milk Wood (Thomas) 37 Untimely Meditations (Nietzsche) 64 Urry, J. 7; Global Complexity 121 verbs 40–42, 57, 123 verfallen 129 verfremdung 71, 172 Vico, G.: First New Science, The 30 Victoria Newhouse 135 visual presence 93–94 Vonnegut, K.: Slaughterhouse 5 30 vraisemblance 123, 135–140, 142–144, 146, 147, 176; complex 136, 137, 140; cultural 136, 137, 140; definition of 136; generic 136–138; of genre 140; intertextual level 138; of the real 136; structures of 137 Waugh, P. 140 weird 41, 126, 158–159, 169, 173 Weiser, E. 27, 106 West-Pavlov, R. 5, 56
Index 199 ‘What’s in the Drawer? Surprise and Proprioceptivity in the Pitt Rivers Museum’ (Dudley) 24 Wilson, T. 98, 114 windows 72 Witcomb, A. 10 Woolf, V.: To the Lighthouse 31, 37–38
Wordsworth, W.: ‘Slumber Did my Spirit Steal, A’ 41 ‘Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, The’ (Benjamin) 123 writerliness 51 writerly visitor, the 70, 105