The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction

DAVID WENGROW
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhpbb
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    The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction
    Book Description:

    It has often been claimed that "monsters"--supernatural creatures with bodies composed from multiple species--play a significant part in the thought and imagery of all people from all times.The Origins of Monstersadvances an alternative view. Composite figurations are intriguingly rare and isolated in the art of the prehistoric era. Instead it was with the rise of cities, elites, and cosmopolitan trade networks that "monsters" became widespread features of visual production in the ancient world. Showing how these fantastic images originated and how they were transmitted, David Wengrow identifies patterns in the records of human image-making and embarks on a search for connections between mind and culture.

    Wengrow asks: Can cognitive science explain the potency of such images? Does evolutionary psychology hold a key to understanding the transmission of symbols? How is our making and perception of images influenced by institutions and technologies? Wengrow considers the work of art in the first age of mechanical reproduction, which he locates in the Middle East, where urban life began. Comparing the development and spread of fantastic imagery across a range of prehistoric and ancient societies, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and China, he explores how the visual imagination has been shaped by a complex mixture of historical and universal factors.

    Examining the reasons behind the dissemination of monstrous imagery in ancient states and empires,The Origins of Monsterssheds light on the relationship between culture and cognition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4886-7
    Subjects: Archaeology, Art & Art History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    David Wengrow
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-7)

    The first age of mechanical reproduction belongs to Mesopotamia, and to the remarkable efflorescence of urban life that took place there some six thousand years ago. Its impact on visual culture, and on the history of design, has gone largely unnoticed. Walter Benjamin’s famous (1936) essay onThe Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproductionlooked no further back than the cast bronzes, terracottas, and coins of the ancient Greeks.¹ And when Henri Frankfort’s compendious study ofCylinder Sealsappeared three years later, it was as aDocumentary Essay on the Art and Religion of the Ancient Near...

  6. 1 IMAGE AND ECONOMY IN THE ANCIENT WORLD: THE BRONZE AGE OF MIKHAIL ROSTOVTZEFF
    (pp. 8-18)

    Mikhail Ivanovich Rostovtzeff (1870–1952) is remembered most often today for his seminal studies of Greco-Roman antiquity, and for his controversial—some might say untenable—view that the true architects of classical civilization were not those tied to the land, whether as peasant laborers or feudal aristocracy, but rather the middling professional classes of merchants, industrialists, and bankers whose social aspirations were most closely in tune with the civic values of an expanding urban society.¹ In reviewing Rostovtzeff’s monumental work on the social and economic history of the Roman Empire, Glenn Bowersock notes that “he presupposed a capitalist society which...

  7. 2 MATERIALS FOR AN EPIDEMIOLOGY OF CULTURE
    (pp. 19-32)

    Rostovtzeff’s exploratory mapping of composite figures contains the seeds of a more focused study on the relationship between cognition and cultural transmission. After a century of archaeological and art historical research, the map, of course, will need to be heavily redrawn. To attempt this on a comprehensive scale would today require a volume, or perhaps a number of volumes, many times larger than this one. So I will focus, in the chapters that follow, on establishing where the main contours of the distribution lie: its zones of greatest and least intensity, how they shift around, and what other phenomena their...

  8. 3 THE HIDDEN SHAMAN: FICTIVE ANATOMY IN PALEOLITHIC AND NEOLITHIC ART
    (pp. 33-49)

    It has been suggested on more than one occasion that “imaginary animals, ‘monsters’, and composite figures are found throughout the Upper Paleolithic art tradition” that flourished among hunter-gatherers of the last Ice Age, between around 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.¹ That tradition, or better complex of traditions, is most richly documented across a broad swath of southern Europe, on what were then the fringes of a vast steppe bordering the zone of maximum glaciation. Notable concentrations of Paleolithic imagery have been discovered in the French Périgord, in Cantabrian Spain, in the Swabian Jura, and on the Russian Plain. To the...

  9. 4 URBAN CREATIONS: THE CULTURAL ECOLOGY OF COMPOSITE ANIMALS
    (pp. 50-73)

    In chapter 1, I retraced Mikhail Rostovtzeff’s search for the origins of “animal style” art in the ancient Old World. There he drew attention to the distinctive pattern-forming behavior of composite figures in the visual record. Despite appearing to be acts of free association, imaginary beings of this type turn out to share formal characteristics that recur frequently and consistently between societies. In the course of the Bronze and Iron Ages, they achieved impressive distributions that extend widely across cultural and political boundaries: a case of cultural resilience against apparently surprising odds (see the following, and chapters 5 and 6)....

  10. 5 COUNTERINTUITIVE IMAGES AND THE MECHANICAL ARTS
    (pp. 74-87)

    Imagine that the composite figures I have been describing were not just images of fictitious animals, but actual sentient beings. Their adaptive strategies and evolution could now be described in some detail. We would observe how they have subsisted within a wide range of environments, and that their origins probably extend back as far as our own. But for much of their early prehistory, the relationship of these creatures to humans was largely one of avoidance. They remained generally very rare and special kinds of animals, only occasionally seen, even by those few people who became experts in their patterns...

  11. 6 MODES OF IMAGE TRANSFER: TRANSFORMATIVE, INTEGRATIVE, PROTECTIVE
    (pp. 88-107)

    The distribution of composite figures in the visual record raises a number of intriguing problems for the study of cultural transmission, for which only partial and unsatisfactory solutions have so far been offered. Their impressive transmission across cultural boundaries, to be analyzed further in this chapter, is consistent with the expectations of an “epidemiological” approach to the spread of culture, which would accord them a special kind of cognitive catchiness. But that approach, in its current form, offers no way of explaining why such images become stable and widespread only with the onset of urban life and state formation, beginning...

  12. CONCLUSION PERSISTENT, BUT NOT PRIMORDIAL: EMERGENT PROPERTIES OF COGNITION
    (pp. 108-112)

    No study of composite figures is complete without some consideration of the influential essay published in 1942 by Rudolph Wittkower.¹ “Marvels of the East: A Study in the History of Monsters” documented the transmission of a particular style of ethnographic description (and depiction) from its earliest known sources in hand-copied manuscripts of the fourth century BC to the age of the printing press. The monsters in question fall mostly under my definition of “composites.” They are thought to have entered Greek literature as borrowings from Sanskrit fables, carried by ambassadors to the courts of Persia and India.² In the bestiaries...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 113-132)
  14. REFERENCES
    (pp. 133-160)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 161-162)