Site genesis

The genesis of the Leskernick web site, and its part in the larger multi-media project, lay, for me at least, in an appreciation of the Internet's inherent capacity to address the post-structuralist critique of discourse, the critique associated in archaeology since the 1980s with, for example, Ian Hodder (1986; 1992), Michael Shanks and Chris Tilley (1987; 1992). The following illustrative excerpt from the post-processual canon is taken from Tilley's chapter in Hodder's The Meaning of Things:

'...the primary event in archaeology is the event of excavation or writing, not the event of the past. Consequently, the archaeologist is not so much reading the signs of the past as writing these signs into the present: constructing discourses which should be both meaningful to the present and playing an active role in shaping the present's future. Here an irony crops up. Archaeologists write, but many do not feel they should be writing! At best such textual production may be regarded as a transparent resource, a mere medium for expression. However, writing always transforms. The process of writing the past in the present needs to become part of that which is to be understood in archaeology. The ultimate aim of much contemporary archaeological discourse is to put an end to writing, to get the story right. Empiricism inexorably encourages such a futile goal. To the contrary, there will be no correct stories of the past that are not themselves a product of the politics of truth. There can only be better or worse re-presentations of history: his [sic] story.
What is important is the development of a truly self-reflexive archaeological discourse, aware of itself as discourse and systematically refusing the usual imperative of producing yet another methodology for grasping the past's meaning. Archaeological discourses are, by and large, framed in specific institutional settings and transmitted and disseminated through definite forms of media in which archaeological knowledge is located. Such discourses have their bases in forms of pedagogy imposing 'a will to truth'. As yet there is no true alternative discourse in archaeology. A crucial act in creating one will be the disruption of the discursive authority of the texts we have to hand at present. This will involve an awareness of the politics of discourse and the power structures in which it is embedded. This requires consideration of what kind of past we want in the present and why we produce the past in one manner rather than another'(Tilley 1989b: 192).

Post-processual archaeology reminded us that the meaning and significance of the past was a construction of the present, that archaeologists were actively engaged in the production of knowledge and not merely ciphers of objective, if obscure, facts. Attention was thus drawn to the context of this creative act, its politics, its contingencies, the personal and institutional environment of its archaeologist-author. These were the inescapable circumstances of the production of any text and it was foolish to cling to the idea that they could be overcome in the 'scientific' method. Rather, what was needed was a more honest and self-scrutinising approach to the 'writing' of archaeology: one that could be open to alternative and competing narratives (and that understood them as such), that drew attention to the linguistic technologies which produce textual authority, and that shifted the onus from 'writerly' intentions to 'readerly' interpretations.

Even before the mass appeal of the Internet, and with the seminal texts of Barthes (1975, 1979, 1986, 1993) and Derrida (1976a, 1976b, 1977, 1979) still fresh, literary critics were enthusing about the revolution that the electronic text was about to augur: decentred, polyvocal, non-linear and reflexive, turning 'readers' into 'writers' for each would have to navigate their own course through a maze of possibilities. Despite the 'technological utopianism' of such claims, and the failure of the Internet to revolutionise the way in which the majority of texts are produced and consumed, the potential remains (see Snyder 1996 for an overview). Indeed it could be argued that there is a revolution afoot; a quiet one perhaps, but one more than capable of disrupting the 'discursive authority' of the accepted canon.


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Last updated: Wed Nov 17 1999