The Visual and the National: the Making of the Transylvanian Ethnographic Museum (1902)
Szabó Levente
 

Sándor was mixing the idea of primitiveness (that has been lost due to both "civilizing" and "regressive" factors and) to be regained with a kind of primitiveness that is ethnically otherand that should be eraded: according to him "our" primitiveness should be regained and used (because otherwise it is completely lost), but "their" primitiveness should be civilized by our state, because otherwise it is quite dangerous. Primitiveness and civilization are not in opposition in this case, but working according to double standards, though the two sides of the standards are not straightforward and according to the rationale of the former texts: civilization is blameworthy and unacceptable when it is destroying the primitive elements of our national culture, but it can be widely greeted and adopted in case we are applying it and when we are defining its constituents and functions. Tourism and ethnography having the task of regaining primitiveness (or at least what has been left by time and civilization) at the same time appear in the role of civilizing forces, transmitting the logic of the state as imagined by the "civilizers."

Actually the strongest turn I am sensing in the fin-de-siecle reinterpretation of ethnography - and that can be perceived through a novel meaning of primitivenessin this context - is linked to the place planned for the ethnographic commodities in the revival of national economy. The fact that "primitive" folk culture came to be viewed as the main element in reviving national economy (through industrial-sized handicraftsmanship) and thus also the engine behind the possibility of an organic rebirth and modernization of the emptied / destroyed character of the nation, actually reconfigured the whole narrative about the relationship between the primitive and the modern:

"We know quite well that the tourists enthralled and refreshed by the beauties of nature are highly responsive to the primitive, but original folk objects, the so-called souvenirs. [?] Let us naturalize this foreign habit used extensively by others: let us offer the maidenly primitive objects of our handicraft industry to the tourists. [?] If there is anyone among you that was ever in Stockholm s/he should know that the Swedes are mastering this really well: we should follow them and we?ll make our economy grow. "

Gyula Merza even imagined a special sort of ethnographic movement in order to transform the simple ethnographic object into marketable commodity, nay to make the folk sensitive to this difference and lead them to produce this new type of commodity - of course, with the noble aim to transform the local, the regional and the national economy into a prosperous one:

"Our noble ladies who are always willing to sacrifice themselves for a noble cause could start a movement to immortalize the national costumes of Transylvania both in artistic-coloured photos and in professional ethnographic comments.  Such fancy-goods type of books would be comprehensive lexicons of our national clothing and would greatly support the defense of the original dresses of our folk. [?] We should provoke the self-esteem of the folk and orientate its attention to those peculiarities that can arise the interest of the foreigners or the tourists. [For instance,] [the] organization of a Transylvanian competition of folk costumes could really focus the attention of the foreigners to our land."

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