"... longing, which posits the actuality of the non-existent, takes the form of remembrance." (Adorno 1983: 192).
Time has no role in the erasure of the past; it instead shapes you to better deal with the persistence of memory while its scars remain forever.
With my groundings strongly placed within the framework of anthropology and art, there exists an obvious slant towards material culture when it comes to my academic interests. However, ethnomusicology has always played a large role within my development as a critical thinker. My artistic practice had always incorporated and/or taken flight through the medium of sound and music.
Alan P. Merriam, the author of the "Anthropology of Music", simply states that the study of ethnomusicology can be divided into two aspects: the anthropological and the musicological (Merriam 1964). He believes that the ideal model of study would fuse these two approaches: musicological approaches tend to treat music as an object in and of itself “without reference to the cultural matrix out of which it is produced" (vii), and "to provide a theoretical frameworks for the study of music as human behaviour; and to clarify the kinds of processes which derive from the anthropological, contribute to the musicological, and increase our knowledge of both conceived within the broad rubric of behavioural studies”(viii) Thus, like every branch of anthropology, it would come as no surprise that ethnomusicology adopts “... aspects of the social sciences and aspects of the humanities in such a way that each compliments the other and leads to a fuller understanding of both. Neither should be considered as an end in itself; the two must be joined into a wider understanding” (7).
This hybridised disposition that the discipline adopts, provides much excitement within the study of music and cultures insofar as the ethnographic and theoretical aspects are specific to the ethnomusicologist and his or her processes as artist and researcher. Thus, it will be fascinating to see how I could extrapolate my research by collecting ethnographic data from both oral and visual cultures without any preconceived notions of what such an approach would generate.
"Like a true nature's child / We were born to be wild"
Steppenwolf makes for a ruminative opening to this post. Indeed, nostalgia begs for an idealised utopian dimension that is born out of our wild past. The human mind is shaped to reflect on the past to produce an idealised future. Thus, this 'nostalgic revolution' is not indicative of a romanticised longing for the past at all; it represents a surge towards a future mediated by the past, to arrive to a new renaissance in human development; I believe it might well take place in this lifetime. When that time comes, it will be fascinating to witness and write on the future of nostalgia in days to come.
“And in myself, too, many things have perished which, I imagined, would last for ever, and new structures have arisen, giving birth to new sorrows and new joys which in those days I could not have foreseen, just as now the old are difficult of comprehension.” (Proust 2008: 33)
Perhaps as Proust states in the first volume of À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), one must expect the impending transformation of landscapes to be the double-edged result of progress. The notion of development and its bitter-sweet inevitability has finally trumped my protestations against my limited sensibilities and (maybe) better judgement. How does nostalgia perform within any given socio-cultural context - First, one must understand that nostalgia, along with the past-present-future triad, is interchangeable and fluid as it is contemporaneous. Secondly, the imagery of a 'skyscraper nation', acts as a the infinite denouement to the 'dirtier' days of yore. Such child-like expectations of a place being a constant might have birthed the entire 'nostalgic revolution' that we are currently experiencing. It is, ironically, precisely our naive longings for the past that carried us to this predicament. With the efficiency of technology and the undeniable convenience of the internet; are we, as a collective global entity, merely just narcissists basking in a cesspit of our own complacency?
A short section of an essay written for a university assignment.
Wax is, in its tangibility, is an organic and malleable material that is often utilised for its ability to mimic a physical form. It is also an ideal candidate for representing the metaphorical processes of life. Considering its aptitude for shifting between different states of matter, one can align the malleability of the material to [life] stages such as birth – from acquisition to functionality; metamorphosis – shift in physical and chemical form; disintegration –through its physical temporality; and regeneration – through conservation and transformation. The viscosity of wax is further defined by Didi-Huberman, who defines it as a force of changes and shifts that is “… impervious to contradiction [especially the abstract contradiction between form and formlessness].” (2008: 155).
Through its immutable properties, wax possesses potential for being a consistently “persistent” medium. This particular “persistence” of the material allows for a myriad of possibilities when crafting representational forms. Wax has thus been the ideal material to create a simulacrum of likeness; dating as far back as the middle ages where it was the material of choice to model effigies in the likeness of entire and/or partial aspects of the human body (Belting 1994). The propensity of the material to imitate the human body, along with its allowance for the maker to supplement colour to the figure, enhances the illusion of anthropomorphic likeness; wax then becomes indexical to the physical form of the human body and skin.
Because of the aforementioned properties, wax has been and still continues to be the medium of choice to imitate the human form; it has been employed for scientific, artistic and religious purposes. Ebenstein thus acknowledges that in the context of wax figures, “… the line between religion and science, metaphor and model, church and museum, is delightfully, intriguingly blurry” (Ebenstein 2013: 351).
Through applying Belting and Ebenstein’s argument that wax gives the figure its own agency [by being indexical to “human”-ness], and taking consideration of its “life cycle” and history of being a representation of a [speculatively] once living human model, we can then acknowledge that the model becomes canonised through continuing to exist and thus becomes “immortalised” through the stillness of the wax figure. He is indeed dead, but continues to “exist” through his “eternal” yet temporal effigy.
Hence it is impossible to ignore the passive agency of the wax figures, as I expand upon the possibility of the wax figures holding multiple agencies at the same time to a person, I am arguing for existing social agency with a permanent index [the model] and the museum staff and viewers, as I will further elaborate.
The unpleasant impression is well known that readily arises in many people when they visit collections of wax figures, panopticons and panoramas. In semi-darkness, it is often especially difficult to distinguish a life-size wax or similar figure from a human person. "For many sensitive souls, such a figure has the ability to retain its unpleasantness after the individual has taken a decision as to whether it is animate or not" (Jentsch 1995: 12, quoted in Freud 378).
Because of the potential to mimic the human form, wax in turn possesses particular macabre undertones, which are very much present in the stillness of the wax figure. The wax model removes itself from being an extension of a once living human, existing as an effigy of the now “dead” model. Through this discrepancy between life and death, the “dead” becomes immortalised in the process.
Armstrong argues that the wax represents the living – outside life, as the wax simulacrum transitions from representing life into the “realm of the immortal dead” (Armstrong 2000: 51). As Freud so aptly explains in his quote above, the macabre properties of the wax results from the knowledge of the stillness and likeness of the figure, which is a part of our “living” realm, as its possibility to be animated.
Although anatomical waxes had always played a heuristic role in scientific study since the 18th century, it is not usually made in the likeness of a “living” model (Ebenstein 2013: 346). Wax figures representing a “living” person however, contain a particular passive agency, existing as an extension of, but independent from the human it is modelled after. As mentioned in an earlier section, Kornmeier argues that wax figures possess corporeal presence, which reaffirms Armstrong’s claim of the “immortal dead” (Kornmeier 2008: 67). However “dead” the figure is, its agency to imitate “presence” is what allows these wax figures to be so successful.
We can thus assume that the efficacy of wax figures fall into the category of the Gellian concept of enchantment. Through technical virtuosity in crafting likeness, the sheer artistry of its “becoming” [an object of “corporeal presence”], enchants us, as it becomes an art object, placing us in an asymmetrical relationship with the wax figure (Gell 1992: 173).
According to Gell, we can achieve agency through technical virtuosity, in its capability to enchant the viewer. However, there are multiple “techniques” to approach virtuosity. Stylistic virtuosity, particularly wax’s ability to mimic lifelikeness, is especially relevant in this context. Thus, through the knowledge of social relations between the wax figures with their human “actors”, we can observe how the effects of its agency aids in the context of our proposed inquiry wax figures lie.
The idea of mimesis cannot be separated from art, due to the thriving prevalence of wax as a medium since the Renaissance period. The ability of artists and the value of his or her sculpture, were often measured through how well they were able to manipulate wax to mimic the likeness of the human form. (Woods-Marsden 1996: 343). As Panzanelli mentions, the index that wax carries further emphasises the symbiotic relationship between the model and the wax figure (Panzanelli 2008: 30).
To achieve such technical virtuosity, is to captivate the viewers; this is the purpose of imitating the human form. As Panzanelli continues, “The uncanny presence of the figure [add] to the sense that they [exist] in real time and real space and [create] a mode of spectatorship in which viewers [feel] disconcerted and in doubt as to whether the apparently inanimate effigies were alive.” (31).
“The nostalgic is never a native but a displaced person who mediates between the local and the universal.” (Boym 2002:12)
It is not everyday that one develops such a strong connection with someone they've never met. Her legacy will live on in her incredible scholarship and in bibliographies to come.
1959 - 2015