Deep History in an Age of Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Deep History in an Age of Revolution and Counter-Revolution

26-27 March 2019

University of Chicago Center in Paris, 6 rue Thomas Mann, 75013 Paris

Tuesday, 26 March


9h45-10h introduction

10h-11h15 Maria Stavrinaki, “The Political Uses of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic in the Interwar Years”

11h15-12h30 Tom Holert, “Marxist Prehistories: Raphael, Childe, Lévi-Strauss”


14h-15h15 Susanne Leeb, "Africa” and the politics of time in the 1920/30s

15h15-16h30 Davide Stimilli, “The Manic Portrait: August Sander, Leo Frobenius, and the Face of Time”

16h30-17h break

17h-18h15 Jennifer Wild, “Skin Deep, or History in the Image”

Wednesday, 27 March


10h-11h15 Elena Vogman, “Nikolai Marr and the Archeology of Time”

11h15-12h30 Antonio Somaini, “Cinema's Prehistory? Deep time, ‘petroglyphic drawings’ and ‘handprints in caves’ in Eisenstein's project for a ‘general history of cinema’


14h-15h15 Christina Kiaer, “Primal Scenes of Socialist Realism”

15h15-16h30 Robert Bird, “The Soviet Matriarchate”


Robert Bird: The Soviet Matriarchate

In 1906 the young Joseph Stalin penned an ambitious essay “Anarchism or Socialism?” in which he adapted Johan Jakob Bachofen’s notion of the matriarchate as a distinct stage in early human society. In 1938 the older Stalin recalled this notion when toasting three woman aviators who had just been rescued after their airplane “The Motherland” made an emergency landing in a remote swamp in the Russian Far East. I trace the notion of the matriarchate from early Russian modernism through three films by Dziga Vertov and Elizaveta Svilova—Three Songs about Lenin(1934), Lullaby(1937) and The Three Heroines (1938)—the last of which chronicles the flight of “The Motherland.” I ask how deeply Vertov and Svilova’s matriarchal project was rooted in Russian appropriations of antiquity and in the history of feminism (Marxist or otherwise), and how this archaism and feminism help to transform Soviet cinema in the 1930s.

Tom Holert: Marxist Prehistories: Raphael, Childe, Lévi-Strauss

The 1930s and 1940s were interesting and troubling times for prehistoric and archeological studies. Against the fascist quest for mythic origins and supremacist genealogies, the notion of a historical-materialist engagement with the deep time of human history was mobilized, based on a set of rather heterogeneous assumptions that may be in need to be scrutinized. The talk will depart from writings of German-Jewish Marxist art historian and epistemologist Max Raphael on prehistoric art that were to a large extent produced in poverty-stricken exilic years in New York. In this period prior to his death in 1952, Raphael penned, among other texts, Prehistoric Cave Paintings(1945) and Prehistoric Pottery and Civilization in Egypt(1947) which appeared as monographs in the prestigious Bollingen Series (translated into English by Norbert Guterman, the longstanding friend and collaborator of Henri Lefebvre). The talk aims to put Raphael’s project in the perspective of his earlier writings on art history, art appreciation and philosophy, as well as in relation to the works of V. Gordon Childe and to those of the young Claude Lévi-Strauss, two proponents sharing with Raphael a certain Marxist leaning towards prehistory and ethnology.  

Christina Kiaer: Primal Scenes of Socialist Realism

In 1937, Aleksandr Deineka painted the large-scale canvas At the Women’s Meetingon commission for the major “Industry of Socialism” exhibition to mark the 20thanniversary of the Russian Revolution. Although Deineka produced the painting in response to a title decreed by the “thematic plan” of the exhibition, and represented a determinedly contemporary scene of female achievers gathered together in the identifiable ceremonial space of the Columned Hall in the center of Moscow, he called on multiple layers of history—of art, the subject, and the nation—to make his case for what the modern painting of revolution should look like at the moment of Stalin’s Terror. Extending back to a source illustration from his own oeuvre 11 years before, made during an earlier, avant-garde inflected moment of Soviet art, through Piero della Francesca and all the way back to the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Deineka’s image also invokes the Freudian primal scene and the fear of the father, conjuring a lyrical aesthetic that is both firmly within the Socialist Realist canon and, at the same time, represents the contradictory experience and disavowal of revolutionary terror. 

Susanne Leeb: "Africa” and the politics of time in the 1920/30s

"Deep history" with regard to the African context was a common place in the late 1920s. and 1930s. This lecture will focus on different uses of deep time in cultural critique of the 1920s which all draw on a certain image of Africa. It will compare concepts of time and history in Wilhelm Hausenstein, Leo Frobenius, Carl Einstein, Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire and Claude McKay. By comparing these different understandings of time by referring to especially precolonial "Africa" as either the "youth" of mankind or as a mythical past, the lecture will show to what extend similar notions of time lead to very different politics of time. Since cultural critique in the 1920s and 1930s is deeply embedded in different concepts of history the lecture will show, if and which politics of time open towards a possible future.

Antonio Somaini: Cinema's Prehistory? Deep time, "petroglyphic drawings" and "handprints in caves" in Eisenstein's project for a "general history of cinema"

"Petroglyphic drawings" and "handprints in caves" play an important role in Sergei Eisenstein's Notes for a General History of Cinema, a vast, multi-volume project he worked on during the last two years of his life, between 1946 and 1948. The aim of this "general history" was to locate cinema within the deep time of a series of psychological "urges" and artistic "expressive means" that connected cinema to "early" representational practices such as prehistoric cave drawings, Egyptian embalming techniques, and Roman death masks. Eisenstein's "general history" (an anthropologically grounded "media archaeology" avant la lettre) and its approach to cave drawings and handprints will be compared with other attempts to find in paleolithic caves a sort of "prehistory of cinema". 

Maria Stavrinaki: The Political Uses of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic in the Interwar Years

The opacity of prehistory didn’t prevent its political uses, but on the contrary encouraged them. Artists, philosophers and prehistorians attributed to the mute forms of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic different political functions, inextricably linked to the needs of the present. If the animal figures drawn on the walls of the caves have been interpreted as the « matrix » of an utilitarian and materialist art, compatible with Marxism, the neolithic megaliths have carried the tension of a narrative of art all at once rooted in the soil and revolutionary. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the modern historicity of prehistory was being written as the various faces of political crisis and of conflictual technology. Revolution and counter-revolution, universalism and racialism troubled the frontiers between history and prehistory, defining a certain historical conception which is still our own. 

Davide Stimilli: The Manic Portrait: August Sander, Leo Frobenius, and the Face of Time

Ezra Pound lamented once that the American public had resolved the alternative “Freud vs. Frobenius” in favor of the former. Pound took Leo Frobenius as the representative of a (manic) anthropological discourse, rooted in the triumphant colonialism of the age, as opposed to the (depressive) psychoanalytic diagnosis of the discontents of civilization. By the time it was recorded, as he was interned in a mental institution following his collaboration with Italian Fascism, Pound’s statement itself had become an ironic commentary on his own personal and political failure and the failure of that brand of anthropology and colonial project. In my presentation, I consider August Sander’s photographic portrait of German society, Face of Time (Antlitz der Zeit, 1929), as an implicit rebuke of Frobenius’s anthropological stance and his apotheosis of “the head as fate” (Frobenius’s shorthand for his brand of physiognomical interpretation, Der Kopf als Schicksal, 1924), and as a seminal monument for our self(ie)-obsessed “manic age.”

Elena Vogman; Nikolai Marr and the Archeology of Time

The Soviet archaeologist, paleontologist of language, and inventor of the theory of “linear” or “gestural speech,” Nikolai Marr, seems to be almost forgotten today. Yet Marr’s work on the margins of the disciplines, his incessant invention of new fields of knowledge, and his “archeological” vision of history is comparable to such authors as Aby Warburg or Carl Einstein. In contrast to these authors, though, Marr practiced archaeology, which led him to some crucial discoveries in the Caucasus and a vast speculative theory of culture evolving by strata and conditioned by historical and economic relations. For this impact of labor on the development of culture, Marr’s ‘paleontology of language’ emphasized the role of the image and gesture as genuine components of language and thought. (Marr’s Marxist disposition did not prevent him from publishing the first Russian translation of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s Méntalité Primitive, accompanied by a special foreword by the author). My talk aims at exploring a number of photographic documents from Marr’s archaeological expeditions to the Caucasus which are preserved at the Institute of Material Culture in Saint Petersburg, which Marr co-founded right after the revolution. Referring to these – as yet unpublished – materials, I would like to explore the impact that archeological practice and paleontology had on Marr’s linguistic theory, “Japhetology,” with particular regard for its implied temporality. It was this model of time that transformed Marr’s theory of language into a critical instrument aimed, on the one hand, against the racist linguistic theories of his time and, on the other, the dominant Indo-European linguistics based on the arbitrariness of the sign.    

Jennifer Wild: Skin Deep, or History in the Image

This talk returns to the familiar image of Pere Jules’ (Michel Simon) tattooed body in Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934), redirecting our understanding of it as multi-faceted repository for a long history of the French Empire and some of its most violent yet muted episodes associated with colonialization. While the image of this body, with its indelible marks, symbols, signs, and images of other bodies, positively functions as an anthropological network of visual and cultural relations proper to the tattoo and an imagined history of the character, it is also the center of Vigo’s political aesthetics of the film image. The power of this aesthetics, this talk suggests, lays not only in how the image functions as a social strata or field, what is proper to Vigo’s “social cinema.” It is also found, in this case, in the image’s capable manner of harboring the deep history of unrecognized state violence and the historical time of its subjects’ resistance and survival.