Biweekly Colloquium:"Of Fragments and Narratives: The Body of the Buddha and a Transcultural Framed Art History"

Nov 20, 2023 from 04:15 PM to 05:45 PM

Olshausenstraße 40, R. 13

Monica Juneja - Karl Jaspers Centre Heidelberg

"Of Fragments and Narratives: The Body of the Buddha and a Transcultural Framed Art History"

This talk takes as its starting point a statement of the doyen of European Classical Studies, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, relating to how disciplines such as art history – which Winckelmann calls a study of objects rather than artists – and archaeology use fragments to create narratives about a distant past. An archaeologically inflected art history, according to him, feels impelled to "draw inferences" from "tiny details" and thereby to resort to a "process of reparation through fantasy". He further adds that while art historians inevitably take recourse to textual material from the ancient past to fill the gaps created by fragmentary remains, these accounts offer only rare "moments of insight". According to Jaś Elsner, the quandary described by the founding father of European art history appears to be globally applicable and therefore demands rigorous scholarship to eschew the risks of "imaginations going wild". My talk introduces a paradigm of transculturation that informs my art historical investigation, seeking to bring the measure of methodological rigor advocated by Elsner. Located against the background of controversial discussions among archaeologists and art historians going back to colonial times as well as to younger nationally oriented art histories, I propose a transculturally framed study of the artistic Gestalt of the body of the Buddha that is premised on a dynamic and connected understanding of culture. Transculturation, I argue, shows the way beyond both Eurocentrism and methodological nationalism, looks at areas and regions as joined by shared historical processes and advocates a careful combination of textual, visual, and material sources to create a plausible art historical narrative.

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