segunda-feira, 10 de novembro de 2008

Review of a book of mine, by Luiz Oosterbeek

Jorge, Vítor Oliveira (2006) – Fragmentos, Memórias, Incisões. Novos contributos para pensar a arqueologia como um domínio da cultura [Fragments, Memories, Incisions. New contributions to think archaeology as a domain of culture], Lisboa, Ed. Colibri / Instituto de Estudos de Literatura Tradicional, 273 p. (Paperback)


Vítor Oliveira Jorge is a productive and eclectic author, well known by the European prehistorians, and beyond. It is curious to notice that his books, being printed at an increasing rate in the most recent years (after Liège in IUPPS terms), are not unitarian items, but collections, either of articles or of poems, this other, but always present, dimension of Jorge’s communication. In his own words: “Both poetry and archaeology are two forms of creative action, of poíèsis, in its most global and ancient sense, i.e., of ‘making the world’” (p.19). In fact, Jorge is an author that values the making above the praxis.
This book, including 14 papers (some already previously published in other contexts – an information that is lacking and would help to understand them better), is no exception, and its title stresses the fragmented nature of his way of thinking prehistory, as part of reality, or of culture. A book where, as he likes to point out, raises more questions than the provided answers, looking for the complexity of things.
The choice of publisher is, also, far from innocent: an institute devoted to traditional literature! All he book is pervaded by the notion that the archaeologist produces a text, a discourse; one could read it as rhetoric.
The book has three sections.
The first section, “Fragments”, includes four papers on archaeological topics. Its main concern is on the concept of space in archaeology (dimension that the author clearly values more than time) and its related notions (e.g. territory, landscape, etc.). Specific sites, as the rock art complex of Foz Côa or the Chalcolithic settlements in this region, excavated by the author and his wife Susana Jorge, are pre-texts for discussing this main topic of space, offering what one could call a “spatial reading” of prehistoric contexts. The author proposes an archaeology that pays a greater tribute to anthropology than to earth sciences, with a strong resonance of Collingwood’s approach to history and culture. One could easily read this as a pure post-modern approach, but should not forget that Vítor Jorge was a pioneer in introducing the new archaeology contributions, and that he would refuse labels as such.
The second section, “Memories”, is made of three contributions for a sort of auto-biography, focused in a self assessment of the building of his own way of thinking archaeology and the world. This is an often intimate text, where the author criticises his cultural environment – “In Portugal I feel alone”(p.61) could be a sub-title for this section. It becomes clear that the author is centred in the being of things, rather than on their transformation historical processes. The being, the subjective, the intangible, prevail over the physical “evidence” (a concept that Jorge would certainly put into perspective), proposing an almost platonic approach to the world. This section also assumes a posture in defence of fundamental research against what is currently presented as applied research or as research and (or for) development (another concept that would not win Jorge’s favour). It is also a statement if interests, that one could perceive already in his long past bibliography. In fact, behind the study of Palaeolithic sites in Africa, megaliths or Chalcolithic settlements, Vítor Jorge was always interest in human behaviour, on what is culture as different from nature, on performance and social relations. One reads, also, what I, to the difference of the author, call a too actualist political explanation of epistemological issues (e.g., when the author questions why has the division between arts and sciences been imposed over us – page 65 – one could remember the enormous advance of sciences that resulted from it in modernity, and argue that it was not imposed by someone but emerged as a need to expand University).
The third section is clearly placed in the wider context of culture, and not of archaeology alone. Relativism seems to be its leitmotif, together with the reinforcement of the importance of interdisciplinarity, and transdiciplinarity. Sociology emerges, in this context, as more relevant than history (although when the author opposes the success of sociology in the southern hemisphere to the imperialist and colonial approach in the North, he does not clearly condemn history, as well as he does not value the fact that southern hemisphere academic and political elites that value a post-modern sociology are, ultimately, the “western-type” laic elites alone. The seven papers in this section act, in the end, as both a “confession” on the philosophical assumptions of the author, and an epistemological programme that puts archaeology into perspective, placing it as a mere component of the stage of culture, and hence as a cultural construct.
An English abstract of each of the sections would be, certainly, to the benefit of most colleagues, this being a polemic, but for this reason highly stimulating, major contribution to the epistemology of prehistory and archaeology.

Luiz Oosterbeek
Instituto Politécnico de Tomar, Portugal
(presented at the 2006 Congress of the UISPP, Lisbon, September 2006)

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