Sunday, May 15, 2016

Archaeological Imagination and the imagined present: Reality and its Juxtapositions

This post is about the imagined nature of our present time. It is in support to the contention of archaeologists in the cultivation of imagination. It is important to note, at the beginning, that archaeology is considered itself as a discipline of imagination (Thomas 1996). To extend this argument I suggest that archaeology is about imagination not because of the paucity of material remains to 'reconstruct' our past, but more so because we live in imagined world and each and every moment of our life are imagined moments.
Before going into the abstraction of the imagined nature of our everyday living, I wish to present two cases of the jumbled up space in Haldia - my work place to show in what ways reality is misleading and reality is imagined.

CASE I: Haldia Govt College and the beer bottles nearby.

Haldia Govt College used to have a huge tract of land. I have gathered the information that the college had about 50 acres of land which was never fortified. Even today when college administration can identify about 25 acres of land it does not have any boundary wall. In 2009 after the famous Nandigram incident several families have started to take refuge nearby. Most of them were political refugees from Nandigram. Initially they set up shanties - make shift arrangements which eventually is converted to semi permanent structure. Now they have successfully brought electricity, installed hand-pump for water. One of the major occupation of these people is to bring and resell scrap materials which ranges from factory waste, smashed car scraps from highway accidents to beer bottles. Since there are two bars nearby, the most conspicuous material is beer bottles. There are thousands of beer bottles, hundreds of whisky, vodka bottles and many more country liquor bottles being stocked every week.
The beer bottles nearby the college building - juxtaposed space

Possible archaeological inferences: 

Its less than a hundred meters away from the college building. Therefore, in a site formation process the material remains that archaeologists might have is the college building. That means a building with blackboards, laboratory equipment and then thousands of beer bottles. What would they infer?
1. Bottles were most important aspect of education in 2016
2. Students were encouraged to drink because drinking has direct linkage to concentration that early men believed.
3. The educational institution had a wine manufacturing unit too.
4. Teachers and students used to drink together and drinking was an integral part of that civilisation.

CASE II: the removal of Lenin's statue

While there are several industries in Haldia, it nevertheless also had many strong labour movements under the leadership of CITU. The erstwhile Member of Parliament Mr. Laxman Seth provided leadership to install several association offices in Haldia. One of such office is  a two story building near railway track close to Bandar (meaning port) railway station. The most conspicuous emblem is a lively statue of V. Lenin.
The Lenin Statue which is now removed

Now, since there  is a political change in the state, the two story buildng known as Shramik Bhaban (building for labours) lies there, which is now a home to some of the still faithful followers of CITU. The building is slowly decaying without maintenance. The Lenin statue has been removed from the place.

Possible Archaeological inferences:

The material remains of the past symbolising left labour movement is decaying, perhaps being destroyed purposefully. With such removal of the statue if Lenin, now, the history only survives in the oral narratives. The more the time passes by, there is lesser chance to the history to survive with material remains. This is typical of power shift and an indifferent attitude towards history that makes even the present imagined.

The Imagined Present

While as  discipline with scientific hangover rooted from positivist philosophical tradition archaeologists were once hopeful about the possibility for a 'reconstruction' to a certain degree of accuracy. It has increasingly recognised the impossibility for a 'reconstruction.' It is impossible to reconstruct because of several practical reasons. First, there is paucity of material remains to reconstruct, second, even the written records may be misleading (written with a voice, voice of the powerful people), third, and more importantly there is juxtaposition of time and space (as we can see even in present time, the Haldia case matters, right?). 

While archaeologists and to a certain degree social scientists have accepted the fact that there is no single reality, and with the age of postmodernism we are increasingly stepping towards the multiplicity of reality. However, postmodern philosophy and postsructuralism talks much about the perspectives (an emphasis on how we see, rather than what we see, as we find in Woods, 2011, p. 7). 

However, what these juxtaposed realities suggests is that it is perhaps the time to rethink the present as well. Are we not living in a present which is filled with so many juxtaposed, jumbled up and hodgepodge, extremely heterogeneous realities and power play that whatever we think about time, and more importantly how we take note of it, how we fix it in our everydayness is also imagined?

We restore our faith in the material entities of our time. But can we really believe that the material reality is also constant and not a changing one? Or can we rest our assumption that there is any unchanging  narrative of the present? If we secure foundation of meaning and live comfortably in our narratives of the meaning, are we not living in an imagined reality?


  1. Yes, indeed. Present is imagined. Write a paper on it kaledo...

    1. There are so many already written.

  2. Nice perspective

  3. If it continues like this. One-day we will have no present no past and no future. Archaeology will die too...

    1. If the contention is true then there was never been a present or future. Archaeology will expand its scope and will not die.

  4. Archaeologists have not abandoned the project of so called reconstruction. Do you suggest they should abandone it completely? Will that lead to anywhere?

    1. Frankly i do not know if they should abandone it completely. Buy i do know that the very nature of reality is misleading. So, there goes our last hope for 're construction'

  5. I really liked the argument