A Tour of Babel: Frazer and Theories of Language
Wittgenstein compared the interest in ancient rites and customs largely fostered by The Golden Bough to the Victorian passion for building follies and ruins1 — the frisson of the archaic, glimpsed in the broken fragments of ancient texts. The Golden Bough has the substance of a Victorian dream. Its materials are, perforce, incomplete, since the project never will nor can be finished. Its narratives are violent, often sexy, given the sealing grace of the prehistoric distance of the uncivilised. The text’s fragments of ethnography of contemporary “primitives” (for there are no “social wholes” in The Golden Bough) renders all its subjects beyond the scope of history, and by discarding history promulgates the Victorian desire for the liberating agency of timelessness. The Golden Bough is that “Other” of the Victorian imagination as it struggles to free itself from too much history by reconstructing its remote past in speculative reformulations of human evolution. Its secret agenda is to make better versions of historical narratives; this is evident in its insistence upon the undifferentiated nature of its cultural materials, almost as if what is known of the past is irrelevant to the text’s procedures. Its landscape is an exotic medley of human cultural traces, follies and ruins.
KeywordsJohn Benjamin Structural Linguistic Grammatical Gender Symbolical Sign Historical Phase
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