Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Anahita-L Moderator Shuts Down Gimbutas Discussion

The moderator of Anahita-L , a mailing list dedicated to discussing "women and gender in the Ancient Mediterrean world" today shut down (or should I say shut up?) a discussion of the work of the late archeologist Marija Gimbutas, research about the ancient city of Catal Huyuk (in what is now Turkey), and related scholarship about religion and other aspects of culture and women's roles in the ancient Mediterrean world.

The lively but non-flaming thread took place over the last several days in a group used to more soporific discussions. A day or two preceding the discussion shutdown/up, one of the list members asked snarkily (message 1268)
if the list had become a New Age discussion list. (For people who don't know the difference between Goddess scholarship and New Age thought, please see "The Goddess vs. the New Age..." by Jacqui Woodward-Smith in the first issue of Goddess-Pages).

In the next post, the moderator responded with the list description:
ANAHITA-L is a scholarly list for the discussion of women and gender in the ancient Mediterranean world. Discussion topics include: women's work, legal status, social roles -- both public and private, intellectual life, religious activities, and men's views on women. The discussions should be based upon historical, archaeological, linguistic, literary and other evidence from the ancient world and the various interpretations of this evidence. There are many interpretations of the source material and we encourage a variety of approaches, including controversial authors such as Stone and Gimbutas. These latter authors may be discussed critically but they are not to be taken as the 'final word' on any topic. Some familiarity with original source material is expected.
But he ended this post ended ominously, writing:"we're watching..."

Four days later, at a point at which it seemed that through admirable persistence, several Goddess scholars seemed to be making some headway with factual evidence, the moderator ended the discussion with a post (1288)
saying, in part:
It has become apparent that the discussion is no longer about women in the ancient world but rather is about bashing 'academe' (for reasons which seem more 'personal' than 'academic') and not really discussing anything....
As such, and keeping in mind that this is an ACADEMIC list, the current discussion of any approaches which are based on overuse of the suffix -archy shall be considered
closed....Any complaints may be sent directly to me...but I seriously doubt I'll attempt to respond.
Since (at least at this writing) the list posts are publicly available
, you can read them and decide for yourself whether they are about "bashing academe" or whether this "reason" is an excuse for shutting up a discussion of a subject (and even use of certain words!) uncomfortable for some group members.

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At Tuesday, March 04, 2008 6:02:00 PM, Anonymous Max Dashu said...

This shutdown happened just as those of us who were challenging the unilateral repudiations of Gimbutas as "disproven" were making headway. That was put a stop to, by fiat.

The cracks about New Age and outer space theories show how far we have to go. The New Age slur is extremely popular as a way to shut down debate and automatically rule non-doctrinal viewpoints out of bounds. Plenty of women are intimidated by it. That it is inaccurate does not count.

I am appending my last post, which was not responded to, addressing the claim that "the evidence" was all on the side of those who reject any possibility of the neolithic civilizations being mother-right cultures, or to put it another way, showing signs of being other than patriarchal and dominance-based.

Max Dashu

This post on Anahita-L is dated Saturday, March 1:

(Elizabeth Sikie wrote)
"But according to the discussion on these listserves, there is an argument that there is no dominant paradigm that any "sane" defense of evidence can't stand up to."

This is what i find lacking as well. I see it constantly claimed that the ideas of Gimbutas have been "disproven" but have yet to see citation of any substantive discussion, only differences of interpretation, preferred terminology and analysis. Most of what i see written is ridicule. I would really like to see details, something much more compelling than statements that ungendered figurines were probably male and therefore the female preponderance is off the table for consideration. That is really weak, especially if you look on an international scale where the female figurines overwhelmingly outnumber the males.

It seems clear by now, as per David Anthony and others, that the "horsemen" idea is outdated, what with the new datings from Dereivka, the consensus that horses were probably not ridden in the 5th mbce. Well and good. That is substance. I want more like that. If someone has proven Gimbutas to be wrong about the Corded Ware culture, that is entirely possible, but i want to see why and how.

Hodder claims the CH excavation results go against G's theories, even as he announces an egalitarian society has been found. She preceded him in saying that these were egalitarian societies, but he claims that she "forcefully argued for an early phase of matriarchal society" revering a "mother goddess." [Hodder 2004:78] He characterizes G. as saying "matriarchy" when she deliberately chose not to use this word to avoid people assuming she was talking about a gender-dominance system. I find all this tiresome, along with the assumption that to question the misrepresentation and derision of Gimbutas means you must be some kind of groupie. I don't always agree with her (and it shouldn't be necessary to say that) but i think she has been unfairly treated.

_Of course_ detailed and patient in-depth studies are of great value. The whole struggle has been over interpretation. I've read most of the sources you cited, Caroline, but i don't see compelling arguments against the sacral character of the "female figurines" in them, or anything seriously addressing the real possibility of mother-right culture in these really ancient contexts of the neolithic.

The irony is that at that Gender and Archaeology conference Tringham depicted her Balkan neolithic "Burnt House Horizon" as a culture totally organized around a patriarchal family head, to the extent that (she theorized) when he died, the family burned the house down around him. Absolutely no evidence was offered for this patrilineal/local scenario. Tringham admitted that this was her imagination, a storytelling (that anachronistically envisioned something very like a Serbian peasant household of the 18th century). That's her privilege, as unlikely as it seems to me, but why the double standard about evidence?

This is very far from being able to "argue their case with evidence to back it up, making explicit the ways they came to their conclusions." I don't see that this is applied in an even-handed way. It is apparently OK if Jacques Cauvin says goddess, or Mehmet Özdogan, but not M. Gimbutas. Why?

Hodder argues that the many female images found at Catal Hoyuk have no social significance, but places great emphasis on the social implications of the phallic male animals at Göbelik Tepe, and on what he sees as a theme of "male prowess" at CH (which includes assuming that bear figures must have been gendered male). Again, not all interpretations are greeted with the same alacrity.

But Hodder seems to think that ancient neolithic villagers were all postmodernists, resolutely refusing to assign any meaning to their symbolism. In a 2007 interview by Joan Marler, he says "I guess the thing that worries me about the idea of visual metaphor is that it implies that there is some answer to the metaphor, that it is a metaphor of something. [Isn't that what metaphor means?]... I think that there's an ambiguity that is the most interesting thing--not that they're meant to mean anything very specific." That would set them apart from any comparable society we know of today; in indigenous cultures the sacral pervades daily life, and symbols carry story and meaning and ritual valence. I think it likely that those ancient villages were more like that than most pomo/postruc theorists would like to concede.

"As for Eller. At that conference, I was truly expecting a critique from her that I could get my mind around academically...a dialogue if you
will, but instead she presented an editorial. Again, no one even questioned her."

Actually, i stood up and challenged her for caricaturing a group of scholars based on their (perceived) religious affiliation in a way that would never be accepted if it was done to other scholars for being Jewish or Christian or any other religion, as if that rendered their ideas suspect. I said that it was unfortunate that she had chosen ridicule instead of reasoned debate, stooped to the easy mockery of "New Age" without engaging serious scholarship, and played up the stigma attached to the notion of egalitarian culture. (Now Hodder is saying "egalitarian" like it is big news.) I emphasized that as scholars what we needed to do was look at the broader picture, get beyond Gimbutas or anti-Gimbutas, and recognize that "female figurines" are a (and often the) central cultural icon of the neolithic, whether they are found at Valdivia or El Kadada or Tlatilco, Halaf or Mehrgarh or the Fremont culture in Utah, and that these patterns need to be studied, not dismissed as irrelevant out of hand.

Max Dashu

At Monday, March 08, 2010 11:44:00 PM, Blogger Dr. Peter Nebergall said...

What bothers me in this discussion is not the content, or even that some of the suppositions may not be supported by the evidence. It is that too many have bought the monotheist paradigm, and forgotten that the Ancients were polytheists to the core. Yes, there was goddess worship, but must it be THE goddess? only one? Female aspects are as different as male; I have always been uncomfortable with "goddess theorists" who sound like Puritan evangelists. The veracity of matriarchal theories will be proved or disproved in the ground, not by arcane political arguments, or appeals to a misplaced PC.


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.