Friday, 12 February 2016

Collector's Approach to "Understanding the ancient Celts and their art"

Antiquarian fellow and collector of decontextualised dugups John Hooker takes on the archaeologists. In a series of posts on his "Past Times and Present tensions" blog which began on 18th December 2015 and finished today he promises to help his readers "Understand the ancient Celts and their art". The starting point was a lecture by John Collis on the topic of 'Why is 'Celtic' Art 'Celtic'?' (available on You Tube here). Mr Hooker FSA, of course, unappreciated polymath that he is, with an intellect he apparently assesses as at least the size of a planet, knows much better than the invited lecturer:
As I watched the video the nature of the problem became apparent to me, but it was not anything that was covered in the talk. The talk, itself, was part of the problem and while a number of misunderstandings were corrected, a few were perpetuated. There were a few curious omissions, too. This series will use the video as a point of departure for a broader look at the ancient Celts and their art and each part will have commentary about what Collis says followed by examples of how I select and deal with the related material.
The fact that he is apparently self-taught in most of the areas he claims to use multi-disciplinarly ('pick and mix' some might call what he does) does not bother him, you see:
To do original research, however, it is best to treat what has come before with extreme caution and it works best, by far, if you give it only a cursory examination at best. A more thorough review of the literature should be close to the end of the research
That's probably why the wannabe karaoke historiographer never studied in an academic institution on the Continent.

True to this maxim (and in contrast to his stated aim), he then totally ignores what Collis had said in the lecture. Collis's lecture, befitting the venue, has a focus on the interaction between archaeology and neighbouring disciplines. Hooker does not understand archaeology and holds it in deep disregard, he instead attempts to interpret the visuals of the art he calls "celtic" in terms of the psychology (in which he relies mostly on "looks like" comparisons and a heavy reliance on a mixed bag of written sources of varied dates, functions and origins). Nowhere is the question addressed why that (retrospectively *reconstructed) "psychology" is "celtic psychology" and what such a term would mean (identity is a concept he also dismisses as a tool of "academic power building"). The archaeological method which is a central issue of Collis's talk is totally absent from Hooker's exposition, in which decontextualised archaeological artefacts - many from his own private collection in Canada - are used as illustrations to the text. As a result, the fundamental questions posed by Collis remain unanswered by the methodless, disorganized and derivative divigations of the collector. Neither is it terribly clear what alternative model Hooker is presenting except his own attempts at self-promotion.

The series is well worth a look to get some kind of an insight into why people collect and what they use the objects they own for - as trophies of a past they wish to 'tame' and for their own self-gratification primarily in the area of personal image (and indeed identity) formation.

It is also worth examining from the point of view of the constraints in the perception of the past available when objects are taken through the commercial market from their contexts of deposition and contexts of discovery, when they can only be 'interpreted' through extra-source knowledge - drawn from areas other than archaeological method. But it is precisely the lack of method which endows such free-style narrativisation and show-and-tell with the characteristics of a juvenile make-believe story. Furthermore the pick-and-mix derivation of snippets from other areas to fill out the object-centric picture is a parasitic process, adding nothing substantive to the other disciplines quarried as their source.

One might attempt a generalisation here, open to refutation, in terms of their relationship with and effect on the archaeological record and academic disciplines, portable antiquities collectors are parasites. 

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