Æsthetica : anthropology and aesthetics

The Æsthetica Collection

An editorial and scientific partnership between Rue d’Ulm publishers (École normale supérieure publications) and the Research and Education Department of the musée du quai Branly on a series devoted to the anthropology of the aesthetic.


This collection has two objectives: to contribute to the rewriting of the history and anthropology of the aesthetic phenomenon and to contribute to contemporary thought on past and present arts from the West and elsewhere. Inaugurated in 2003 under the direction of Danièle Cohn, the collection is being developed through a partnership between rue d’Ulm publishers and the musée du quai Branly. Owing to a development towards anthropology, the direction team has tripled: Danièle Cohn and Lucie Marignac (Director of Rue d’Ulm publishing) have been joined by Carlo Severi and Anne-Christine Taylor (Director of the Museum’s Research and Education Department). The work of Carlo Severi: "Le Principe de la chimère. Une anthropologie de la mémoire" (The principle of illusion. An anthropology of memory) is the first to be proposed within the framework of this collaboration.


The collection provides an opportunity to (re) read various artists’ written work, critical, philosophical and historical texts and texts on art anthropology. These have either been forgotten or were hitherto never translated and yet, in many cases, they have proven to be pivotal. It also publishes original essays questioning both Western and non-Western iconographic traditions, the theories they have provoked and contemporary artistic practices. Aiming to restore aesthetics to its original dimension, the collection endeavours to present and analyse the diversity of the sensitive theoretical propositions developed by the visual arts, music, theatre and ritual performance.



The principle of illusion. An anthropology of memory

Carlo SEVERI "Le Principe de la chimère. Une anthropologie de la mémoire"

(The principle of illusion. An anthropology of memory)


Whether based on adornment, body painting, masks or pictograms: it seems that people ‘without writing’ have memories that are labile, unstructured and bound to fail. The ‘mnemonic aids’ that historians specialised in the history of writing discuss in relation to these traditions are regularly described as aborted attempts to reproduce the external form of an object, or simply as a graphic means to express elementary concepts.

This book presents us with the results of a vast anthropological investigation led in Indian America and Oceania. It analyses a number of these visual devices, whilst addressing the contexts of ritual enunciation that they imply. It also demonstrates a completely different hypothesis: the fact that an illusionary channel of representation exists where non-western mnemonic arts are invented. There is nothing imitative about these ‘mnemonic aids’ whose form captivates the eye and invites you to decipher them. They are a visual testimony of a series of mental processes condensed in images that are simultaneously efficient, intense and fragmentary. A new field of research is opening owing to the study of these iconographic and oral traditions and it concerns both the history of arts and social sciences in equal measures: an anthropology of memory.


The author

Anthropologist, Carlo Severi is the Academic Director at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences) and the Director of Research at CNRS (the (French) National Centre for Scientific Research). A member of the laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale du Collège de France (Laboratory of Social Anthropology of the Collège de France) since 1985, he is currently an associate of the Department of Research and Education of the musée du quai Branly. His major works include: "La memoria rituale" (La Nuova Italia, 1993 ; trad. esp. Abya Yala Ediciones, 1996) and "Naven ou le donner à voir" (with M. Houseman, CNRS Éditions-Éditions de la MSH, 1994; éd. angl. Brill, 1998). In 2003, he edited the special edition of the journal "L’Homme" devoted to image and anthropology.


November 2007

Format : 19 x 20 – Price : 34 €

Number of pages : 372

ISBN : 978-2-7288-0393-4 – ISSN 1761-2160

Diffusion - distribution : Les Belles Lettres