Queer Theory of Ancient Gods


Very timely with the discovery of the Kaga foil-figure model, my buddy Ing-Marie Back Danielsson has published her PhD thesis in archaeology, Masking Moments. The transitions of bodies and beings in Late Iron Age Scandinavia (available on-line). There's a picture of a foil-figure or other late-1st Millennium human representation on almost every page. The viva is on Thursday Friday 20 April in Stockholm, and the opponent none other than that enfant terrible of the British Neolithic, Julian Thomas. Reading his fine 1991 book Rethinking the Neolithic, I remember wondering if there is anything in the archaeological record of Neolithic Britain that is not the product of ostentatious rituals.

I haven't read Ing-Marie's hefty book yet, but to give you some idea of what it's like, here's the first paragraph of the viva abstract:

"This thesis explores bodily representations in Late Iron Age Scandinavia (400-1050 AD). Non-human bodies, such as gold foil figures, and human bodies are analysed. The work starts with an examination and deconstruction of the sex/gender categories to the effect that they are considered to be of minor value for the purposes of the thesis. Three analytical concepts - masks, miniature, and metaphor - are deployed in order to interpret how and why the chosen bodies worked within their prehistoric contexts."

And the keyword list:

Masking practices, masks, transitions, Iron Age, Scandinavia, kuml, body, metaphorical thinking, miniaturization, queer theory, feminism, sex, gender, personhood, rune stones, gold foil figures, oral literacy, food preparation, burials

And three random sentences from the text:

"What needs to be considered is the agency of the objects, and how they as bodies were part of making the world and other worlds intelligible, negotiable and communicative."

"I argue that the bodily sensations presented on the foils could either be part of commemorative practices (as in buildings with oral performances requiring audiences/co-performers) or more secluded events (as within possible healing and initiation rituals)."

"When the gold foil figures are seen in the light of these arguments and the previous arguments concerning miniaturization, gold's metaphorical connections, and gold's ontophany it becomes clear that gold foil figures must be understood as extremely forceful agents."

Hmmm. I suddenly realise that the main reason that Ing-Marie is always so charming to me is probably to pre-emptively defuse my testosterone-driven, anti-postmodernist berserker rage. She's a smart woman.

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Got something you can't explain? Put it down to ritual!