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Art as Kinship: Signs of Life in the Eastern Woodlands

  • John L. Creese (a1)


Can archaeology make sense of art ‘after interpretation’? Post-human scholarship suggests that conventional approaches to art, guided by Cartesian ontology, fail to account for the deeper kinship between things and thoughts. But the growing disillusionment with representation leaves art and the semiotic questions it raises in limbo. Can we recover an adequate social theory of art, semiosis and the subject in a post-humanist world? I submit that we can by building on Eduardo Kohn's thesis that life beyond the human is constitutively semiotic. Art, as a semiotic involution of life's animating processes, is form-taking and form-replicating activity. This form-taking is open-ended and prospective, continuously reaching beyond itself to refigure specific cases as general kinds. This occasions a process of emergence through which novel ‘reals’—including societies and selves—are produced. Extending Sahlins’ definition of kinship to include human/non-human relations, I argue that seventeenth-century Iroquoian art was about kinning—the making of relatives—and its power to form and reform relations of all sorts was central to its success.


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Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
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