Sunday, 19 July 2009

"Heritage" is the biggest danger.

A Canadian collector has a a somewhat outspoken opinion of cultural heritage:
The biggest danger right now is the growing concerns over "heritage". This is an anti-intellectual movement, obviously of great use in the promotion of nationalisms. I entertain the hope that it is merely the last dying gasp of an outmoded and elitist xenophobia which fears true globalization. Its association with history is an insidious scam as it only ever attempts to create current myths about the past. Heritage sees no differences in Julius Caesar, King Arthur and Bugs Bunny -- it doesn't matter if one is real, one is legendary and the other is a cartoon character. All that is important is how they can be used to affect minds.
Discuss. No prizes for guessing which nation claims Bugs Bunny as its "national heritage" (it's the one that cannot legimately claim the other two).

The author of this text being based in north America seems to think "globalisation" is a positive phenomenon, I think there are a goodly few over the other side of the Atlantic and Pacific that might not share that view, for whom cultural diversity is as desirable as global cultural homgeneity seems to be for the North Americans. ["What has Canada done for us?" seems here a totally valid question.] The actual material culture of globalism however does not consist of material from the ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean basin, even when they formed the centres of geographically extensive and culturallly relatively homogeneous empires. They are of an entirely different nature, among them are: rifles, barbed wire, telegraph insulators, steam locomotives, blue jeans, McDonalds happy meal toys, airline ephemera, Michael Jackson CDs, manga and so on.

Perhaps the problem here is that there are some new nations (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc) which do not in fact treat the ancient ("native") cultural heritage of their territories as their own but as that of an "other" to which they were opposed at least at the time of the creation of their statehood. This, as Roger Bland noted reviewing Cuno's "Who Owns Antiquity?", is inevitably going to colour the thinking of at least some of their citizens on such matters. I really however do not see the logical basis of the negationism expressed by Hooker, nor why the rest of the world (where perceived links with an ancient landscape are much more alive in the social consciousness) is expected to follow suit.

The collectors of foreign ancient atefacts in the countries divorced from the native ancient culture justify what they are doing by claiming the artefacts of ALL ancient cultures as their "heritage". So physical objects from far-off lands such as dugup coins from ancient Greek city states are the "cultural heritage" of the owner of a hamburger bar in Punxsutawney, whose "constitutional rights" in some mysterious way override any other considerations. The collecting of antiquities from the "Old World" clearly has however as much a political and social context in the New World as anything the no-questions-asked-collecting activists criticise in the "heritage movement" in the source countries. These objects are used to create and reaffirm identities which do not come from a continuity of population of a territory or a region. They are the medium of the transplantation of an identity, the material confirmation of an origo gentis myth and an expression of domination and identity which are necessary for individual groups withing a self-consciously "global" community, seeking some form of little homeland in an imagined past.

In order to provide backup for his views on "heritage" John Hooker announced he's going to write a "review for ACCG soon" of Lowenthal's "The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History", real cutting edge scholarship, it only came out in 1998 - but I guess the problem for the kitchen-table-scholar is that the Google Books version appeared online only recently.

somebody else's "heritage" according to Hooker.

UPDATE 2.12.12
The threatened review never appeared. More empty words from the milieu.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.