Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Dean's Lecture

Figuring Relations: an anthropological approach

  • Professor Philippe Descola (Collège de France)
Thursday 20 September 2018
Dean's Lectures
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden


On the occasion of this Dean’s Lecture, together we salute Corinne Hofman for her years as Dean and Vice-Dean at our Faculty.

17:00 hours | Welcome with drinks and snacks

17:30 hours | Speech Dean Jan Kolen

17:40 hours | Speech Chair L.A.S. Terra Joris Geboers

17:50 hours | Speech Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker

18:00 hours | Introduction Professor Philippe Descola by Professor Stéphen Rostain

18:10 hours | Dean's Lecture by Professor Philippe Descola

19:15 hours | Festive drinks and appetizers

Introduction by Professor Stéphen Rostain (National French Centre for Scientific Research, Paris)

On June 28th, a pre-Columbian archeological site of the Amazon was declared for the first time World Heritage of Humanity. Chiribiquete is a vast complex of highlands emerging from the rainforest in Colombia, housing several walls covered with thousands of painted motifs, which can go back to 18,000 years. This exceptional event allows us to return to the origins of art in the Amazon and the first images represented by humans in the largest tropical forest on the globe.

Dean's Lecture by Professor Philippe Descola

Iconic depiction can be used, among other things, to trigger and organise memory, to convey information and to express emotions. Beyond these universal functions, however, it also has the power of rendering present and active in images specific sets of ontological properties, i.e. culturally contrasted systems of qualities ascribed to things in the world.

If reduced to their basic structural properties as products of different inferential processes, ontologies are quite limited in number: they can be predicated on the continuity of interiorities and the discontinuity of physicalities (animism), on the discontinuity of interiority and the continuity of physicalities (naturalism), on the continuity of interiorities and physicalities (totemism) or on their discontinuity (analogism).

These modes of identification find their expression in the making of images in that they qualify and make visible the type of entities that are perceptually salient in a given ontological context, the nature of their agency, the relations that these entities entertain and the properties which they convey.

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