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Figure 11: ‘Situlogy is the transformative morphology of the unique’

February 8, 2014
Image (33)

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A page – ultimately, not included – from an early draft of The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory. It registers the structured conjunction of themes encompassing ‘Celtic’ Art, the artistic theories of Asger Jorn, archaeology and James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. The triply-interlaced motif on a bucket escutcheon found on White Horse Hill (Berkshire) parallels this passage in the novel: ‘his threefaced stonehead was found on a whitehorse hill’ (FW 132.12), a manifestation of prudentia, regarding past, present and future simultaneously. [Edit: in one of those serendipitous twists of meaningful coincidence, within half-an-hour of posting this, I find that the BBC – in advance of a documentary – has just started publicising a 4,000-year-old burial ‘of international importance’ on another Whitehorse Hill on Dartmoor (Devon), excavated in 2011. Details here]. The appearance of yin-yang-like motifs incised on an Iron Age bone flake found in a Neolithic tomb invites a playful anachronism that ruptures the linear seriality of archaeological narratives, at the same time as ‘confirming’ Jorn’s avowal of an oriental, anti-classicist principle motivating Viking and Celtic art.

In the elemental contrast of stone and water, embodied in henges, can be found a metaphor for the conflict between monumentality and the rhythm of life that Asger Jorn found in the dualism of the Apollonian aristocratic and the Dionysian folk-culture (Birtwistle 1986:33), brought into play in the article ‘Yang-Yin’, published almost concurrently with ‘Apollo or Dionysos’ in 1947, in which he opposes the ‘Chinese philosophy’ of Tao to all that is classically European (ibid.). Known as ‘the Watercourse Way’ (Watts 1975), Jorn gave Tao a universal significance:

Tao is not a Chinese ideology. It is only the name and the particular expression which is Chinese. Tao is to be found, and has existed, in all natural cultures in the history of mankind throughout the world from the dawn of time. It antedates present-day reality and in the future it will be … a concrete social and personal reality, a real way of life not only for China but for the whole world

( in Birtwistle 1986:36).

In Tao, Jorn found a ‘dialectical-materialist principle of life’ (‘Yang-Yin’, 1947, in Birtwistle, 1986:36), a ‘natural dialectic’ which could be thrown against the socially-constructed dualisms of European Culture, given form in the ‘monumentalness’ (FW 543.7-8) of HCE and of hierarchical authority in the Wake, embodied in the Wellington Monument, and continually eroded by the babbling flow of ALP’s ‘riverrun’:

Nothing in the world is weaker than water,
But it has no better in overcoming the hard.

(Lao-Tzu, Tao te Ching: 78, cited in Watts 1975:47).

As in the theory of the dérive, the ‘poetic value of passivity’ (Debord 1958, in Knabb 1981:50) of letting go, allows us to drift in the Wake of ‘his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey’ (FW 242.22-26), the ‘reine of the shee’ (FW 68.21) who ensures ‘What regnans raised the rains have levelled’ (FW 56.36-57.1):

If hot Hammurabi, or cowld Clesiastes, could espy her pranklings, they’d burst bounds agin, and renounce their ruings, and denounce their doings, for river and iver, and a night. Amin!

(FW 139.25-28).

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Extract from The World’s End: Rock Images, Altered Realities and the Limits of Social Theory (2004) Simon Crook

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