Chris Knight

Posted by C. in ,

The theory of the anthropologist Chris Knight (1991a) on the origins of culture provides a fascinating approach to the logic governing the symbolic structure of fairytales. Knight's model was inspired by developed in opposition to Lévi-Strauss's conceptual framework. Knight follows Lévi-Strauss in distinguishing between the 'syntax' of a myth or fairytale and its symbolism or 'meaning'. Whereas meanings are variable, at the syntactical level all myths echo an ancient rhythm which is time-resistant and identical the world over. Like Lévi-Strauss, Knight traces this invariant dimension of mythology back to a starting-poin in the paleilithic era - ultimately to the postulated origin of human symbolic culture as such. He draws on primatological and anthropological data to deduce the original nature of the human cultural system, and, in contrast to Lévi-Strauss, arrives at the conclusion that cultura was in essence created by women. Knoght argues that collective female 'strike action' was central to the establishment of menstrual taboos, ritual action and the human symbolic domains as such.

In proto-human societies, females, being relatively immobilized by their chid-nurturing activities, in order to have access to hunted meat, needed to ensure that males both periodically hunted and brought their catch back to a home base. By synchronizing their menstrual bleeding with the dark phase of the moon, they invented an artificial, symbolic construction that equated the moon's darkness with a period of sexual negativity (aimed at driving men away to hunt), and the moon's fullness with a period of heterosexual relations and feasting (after the meat had been brought back and cooked). During the dark phase of the lunar month women were sexually tabooed to men by reason of their bleeding, in exactly the same way that game animals were alimentarily tabooed to their male hunters by reason of their 'raw' and bloody state. With the advent of the light phase of the lunar month, when women, hunters and game animals had been purified from their polluting contact with blood rituals of washing and cooking, 'normal' social relationships could be resumed.

This model drastically challenges the conventional assumption that the 'nuclear family' was central to the social life of original human society. It posits, instead, the dynamic configuration of two radically different 'worlds', alterning in lunar sequence. One 'world', ruled by the dark moon, was a domain of the blood kinship ties, in which women were perceived as magic, hostile to 'husbands', sexually unavailable, 'invisible' and 'dead'. This was a phase of estrangement between the sexes, leading to the hunting of game animals. The successful outcome of that hunting led to a switch, a movement into another 'world', ruled by the full moon. This second domain was a domain of exogamous bonds, of feasting and fire, which, as the meat from the hunt was consumed, and the fullness of the moon itself diminished, would dissolve in turn back to the opposite phase agsain. The binary oppositions which, for Lévi-Strauss, are mental imprints with no relation to an outside reality, now become the outcome of a socio-economic reality that shaped counsciousness and culture and pervades all forms of symbolic thought. [...]

CARDIGOS, Isabel, In and out of enchantment: Blood symbolism and gender in Portuguese fairytales, Helsinquia, Academia Scientarum Fennica, 1996, pp. 38, 39.

This entry was posted on terça-feira, 16 de fevereiro de 2010 at terça-feira, fevereiro 16, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

0 comentários

Enviar um comentário