Gradhiva n°6

Gradhiva n°6 : Voir et reconnaître, l'objet du malentendu

Gradhiva n°6


Coordinated and presented by Jean-Pierre Goulard

Laurent Barry, The man of quality

If the thinking of the biological racism –from Gustav Klemm to Joseph Arthur de Gobineau– only appears in the 19th century, it is because, according to the accounts offered by the historians of living sciences, the idea of the individual as part of an identity and a specifically biological heritage had just been formed.

Before this, the Nature is silent. At least, it only reproduces tirelessly to the identical, through individual destinies that never influence themselves on a heritage of which they are only receivers, never the authors, and even less the judges.

However, as our contemporary exegetes suppose, if the biological heredity concept only appears late in terms of scientific expressions, it does not mean that the thought of the somatic inscription is totally absent from the thought of the Ancients. If it does not necessarily fall within a perfectly constructed scholarly view, one does however clearly perceive its echoes in other types of literary productions of the period.

The author invites us then to a rereading of some of these texts that present a genetics before the genetics, a pre-scientific thought of a heredity that does not distinguish yet, in the human legacy, between the respective parts of the inborn and the acquired, of the nature or the culture.

Béatrice Fraenkel, The invention of prehistoric rock art. History of a visual experience

In 1906, Felix Regnault announced to the Anthropological Society in Paris the discovery of human handprints in the Gargas cave (High Pyrenees). As a regular digger of this site that he had walked up and down for the last thirty years, he had not “seen” the handprints. The article retraces the multi-form genesis of a scientific look that moves from the ground to the inner walls, that comes close to the surfaces, that scrutinizes them in order to identify the figures and the signs, and ends up by making a reading out of it. The survey shows how Regnault’s discovery depends on an erudite story associating an initial discovery that of Altamira, refused and censured by the contemporary scientific authorities, to ulterior experiences seen as revelations and allowing an entire community to “discover” numerous sites, some of which, already noticed by the diggers, had been overlooked.

Jean-Pierre Goulard, The savage in general

An engraving from the beginning of the 19th century suggested by two naturalists, Spix and Martius, gained attention very quickly. It was retaken, often reworked, in the years that followed its publication. The analysis points first of all at the combination of the elements that served for its composition. By drawing a parallel between the several operational modes of borrowings that followed up, the author searches thereafter to show how much this image could correspond to the perception of the savage, until becoming emblematic, something that at the same time assured its duration. Indeed, it fits with the will of the époque of knowing and seeing, to classify the elements of the nature in which this savage has its place, as the fauna and the flora.

Dimitri Karadimas, Yurupari, the figures of the devil. The misunderstandings of the different points of view

Yurupari is one of the emblematic figures of the indigenous societies of the North-West Amazonia. Materialised by flutes during the masculine initiation rituals, the character they are supposed to incarnate remains partly enigmatic. The prohibitions to which the women and the non-initiated are submitted, the ritual, the myth... the whole forms a “complex”, that adjoins the sacred.

At first associated to the “Satan” or the “Devil” by the missionaries who, in the 19th century, attempted to eradicate its presence and its ritual, this complex has for long been the subject, in the literature associated to this cultural region, of abundant debates in which it appeared in terms of a protean construction close to monotheism.

The article intends to review briefly the different elements composing this complex in order to highlight them from the analysis of the mythic enunciations and the iconographies of a number of masks associated to the ethology of the entities they incarnate.

The proposition of analysis will be based on the hypothesis that the iconography of the figure of the devil conveyed by the missionaries would have been recognised as “Yurupari” by the Indians; the recognition would thus have been due to the Indians and not to the missionaries. The reflection will bear on these crossed points of view of the given to see, and on the prohibitions to show and see; in brief the status of the “iconographic point of view” will be examined.

Sandra Revolon, Sacred curios. About the changing status of objects in a Melanesian society (Aorigi, East Solomon Islands)

In Aorigi, to the east of the Solomon Islands, as elsewhere, wooden sculptures take their meaning according to the context in which they interfere. But this meaning is not definite; on the contrary, it fluctuates with the categories attached to these objects, passing from profane to sacred and, at the same time, from the sphere of the alienability to that of the inalienability. This conceptual mobility has been the cause of the changes in the ways the Owa successively looked at the “bowls of men” which, primarily created to the exclusive attention of the Occidentals of the 19th century, became afterwards apuna ritual objects, reserved to the initiated in their relationships with the ancestors of the assassinated defuncts.

Gaëlle Beaujean-Baltzer, From the trophy to the artwork : the journey of five artefacts from the Kingdom of Abomey

Between 1893 and 1895, French officers gave part of the war booties taken at Dahomey, twenty seven objects exactly, to the ethnographic museum of Trocadéro. This article seeks to retrace the “biography” of five of these trophies. Information about these objects were brief, incomplete and/or incorrect. The exposition of these pieces of large size, unusual in the language of world sculptures, encouraged the researchers to make further investigations. The use and the journey of these objects were thus revealed along the way of more than a century, representing a genuine challenge to the memory of the pieces, the artists, the religious practices and the regalia at Abomey. The public diffusion of the objects, notably by the photography, contributed to their worldwide reputation, inciting the Beninian government to order copies for the Abomey museum. Finally, since 2000, in Paris, some of these artefacts are recognized as universal masterpieces and others as remedies against the historical amnesia, transforming shyly but yet openly the museum into a site of memory of the colonial history.


Vincent Debaene, The “Ethiopian chronicles” by Marcel Griaule. The ethnology, the literature and the document in 1934

Published in 1934, Marcel Griaule’s Les Flambeurs d’hommes [Burners of Men] recounts the first “Griaule mission,” undertaken in 1928 in the Godjam region of Ethiopia. Although forgotten today, the book was initially published to considerable success. Indeed, it deserves a critical reappraisal based on several features which make it completely unique and without any equivalent in ethnographic literature of the 20th century, foremost among them Griaule’s use of the third person when speaking about himself. To be properly understood, this curious text needs to be situated in the epistemological context of French ethnology of the interwar period. Indeed, Les Flambeurs d’hommes sheds light on the contradictions of the anthropological discipline of that era. In particular, it demonstrates ethnology’s ambivalent relationship to literature, as literature is held to be, on the one hand, that which must be discarded on behalf of the objectivity of the document, and, on the other hand, a technique much desired for its alleged ability to convey and restore the “moral atmosphere” of society.

Marie-France Fauvet-Berthelot, Leonardo López Luján et Susana Guimarães, Six characters in search of objects. History of the archeological collection of the Real Expedición Anticuaria in New Spain

To become more familiar with its colonized territory in Latin America, Spain organized scientific expeditions such as the Real Expedición Anticuaria, which was in charge of making inventories, to describe and draw the pre-Columbian monuments and sculptures of the New Spain between 1805 and 1809. The “Latour Allard” collection acquired by France in 1849, which today is part of the collection of the musée du quai Branly, was gained during this scientific mission.

Thanks to archives conserved in Mexico, France and in the United States, and also to drawings of the scientific expedition, it has been possible to retrace the odyssey of this collection containing 182 archaeological objects, which on its arrival to France in 1825, provoked commentaries from both independent Mexican authorities and French schooled milieus.