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Primitivism

Primitivism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Definitions of the term primitivism have varied historically in their intellectual usage and inflection across the disciplines. In its broadest sense, primitivism is an interest in or study of societies and cultures that have an ostensibly less developed notion of technological, intellectual, or social progress. Primitive societies defined thus are those that have not progressed to a state of technological advancement and are therefore perceived as antecedent to the industrialized economies of the West. While more recent definitions of primitivism in literature, visual arts, and anthropology have emphasized the temporal relationship between primitive societies and modernity, discourses on otherness are discernible in the Platos Republic and in Homers description of the Cyclops in The Odyssey.

As an intellectual practice or school of thought, primitivism can be broken down into two main strands of inquiryfirstly, that of the empirical study of primitive societies. This approach typified nineteenth-century anthropology, in which empirical study was carried out to chronologically ascribe customs and social structures of primitive societies in an evolutionary relationship to Western notions of modernity. Secondly, there is the study of cultural primitivism, which can be traced to Enlightenment philosophical interests in the ideas of nature versus reason seen most notably in Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1749) [Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts ] and his idea of the noble savage in Discours sur lorigine et les fondements de linégalité parmi les hommes (1755) and later in Denis Diderots Supplément au voyage au voyage de Bougainville (1772). In French literature, René Chateaubriands two novellas, Atala, ou les amours des deux sauvages dans le désert (1801) and Réné (1802) continued to explore this post-Enlightenment fascination with non-European cultures.

In the visual arts, earlier aesthetic explorations of the primitive in the work of artists Emil Nolde (18671956) and Paul Gauguin (18481903) in the nineteenth century began to develop in conjunction with new directions in the social sciences in the early twentieth century. In Europe this development was seen most clearly in the break from the disinterested intellectual focus of Victorian anthropology into the newer paradigms of cultural relativism of ethnology and ethnography that had been emerging since Franz Boas wrote The Mind of Primitive Man in 1911 (1983) in which he set out a new model of cultural relativism for the anthropological study of non-Western societies. This approach was taken up and developed by later cultural anthropology in Bronislaw Malinowskis Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922) and The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929).

The formation in 1926 of the Institut dEthnologie in Paris by ethnologist Marcel Mauss (18721950), philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (18571939), and ethnologist Paul Rivet (18761958) heralded a new era of ethnographic enquiry into the concept of the primitive in the social sciences. Large-scale interdisciplinary ethnographic projects such as the Mission Dakar Djibouti 19311933 brought together writers, artists, sociologists, and anthropologists to work on new conceptualizations of cultural primitivism. In Europe this development of the term primitivism was simultaneous with the emergence of the modernist movement in art and literature and a new aesthetic engagement with a notion of the primitive that found diverse expressions in painting, as in Pablo Picassos Les Demoiselles dAvignon (1907), inspired by his contact with African and Oceanic art in the Musée du Trocadéro. This was also found in the modernist avant-garde performances in the dadaist Cabaret Voltaire and in poetry in Blaise Cendrarss Prose of the TransSiberian (1913) and Guillaume Apollinaires Zone (1913).

This renewed literary interest in primitivism was in part motivated by several texts that explored psychology, society, and religion from new intellectual and cultural perspectives: Sir James George Frazers The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, first published in 1890 (1990), the work of Sigmund Freud in Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics (2000 [1913]) and later in Civilization and Its Discontents (2005 [1930]). All in some way influenced some of the major works of European literary modernism such as Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness (1899), Thomas Manns Death in Venice (1912), and D. H. Lawrences The Plumed Serpent (1926).

Frazers study of the primitive roots of religion was the first of its kind to examine religious practices and rituals from a cultural rather than a theological perspective, and this marked a twentieth-century movement away from simple evolutionary binary divisions between notions of primitive and civilized forms of religious practices to more culturally relativist approaches influenced by the theories of Karl Marx (18181883), Émile Durkheim (18581917), and Max Weber (18641920).

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Boas, Franz; Cultural Relativism; Culture; Ethnology and Folklore; Malinowski, Bronislaw; Religion

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boas, Franz. 1983. The Mind of Primitive Man. Westport, CT: Greenwood. (Orig. pub. 1911.)

Chateaubriand, René. 1905. Atala, ou les amours des deux sauvages dans le desert. Boston: D. C. Heath. (Orig. pub. 1801.)

Chateaubriand, René 1970. Réné. Geneva: Droz. (Orig. pub. 1802.)

Clifford, James T. 1988. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Press.

De Montaigne, Michel. 1979. Des Cannibales. Essais, ed. J. C. Chapman and Frederic Mouret. New York: Atlene.

Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Objects. New York: Columbia University Press.

Frazer, James George. 1990. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martins. (Orig. pub. 1890.)

Freud, Sigmund. 2000. Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics. Amherst, NY: Prometheus. (Orig. pub. 1913.)

Freud, Sigmund. 2005. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton. (Orig. pub. 1930.)

Goldwater, Robert. 1986. Primitivism in Modern Art. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Guillaume, Apollinaire. 1972. Zone. Dublin: Dolmen. (Orig. pub. 1913.)

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: G. Routledge.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia: An Ethnographic Account of Courtship, Marriage and Family Life among the Natives of the Trobriand Islands, British New Guinea. London: G. Routledge.

Mauss, Marcel. 1990. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London: Routledge.

Price, Sally. 2001. Primitive Art in Civilized Places. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1935. Discours sur les sciences et les arts. Paris: E. Flammarrion. (Orig. pub. 1749.)

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1954. Discours sur lorigine et les fondements de linégalité parmi les hommes. Paris: Ed. sociales. (Orig. pub. 1755.)

Rubin, William, ed. 1984. Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1987. Victorian Anthropology. New York: Free Press.

Taussig, Michael. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. London: Routledge.

Thomas, Nicholas. 1994. Colonialisms Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Torgovnick, Marianna. 1990. Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Carole Sweeney

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"Primitivism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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primitivism

primitivism, in art, the style of works of self-trained artists who develop their talents in a fanciful and fresh manner, as in the paintings of Henri Rousseau and Grandma Moses. The term primitive has also been used to describe the style of early American naive painters such as Edward Hicks and has been applied to the art of the various Italian and Netherlandish schools produced prior to c.1450. More recently the term has included modern artists who research the past as well as cultures foreign to their own, such as Robert Smithson and Joseph Beuys.

See W. Rubin, ed., Primitivism in 20th-Century Art (1988).

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"primitivism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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primitivism

primitivism Russian form of expressionism. It developed between c.1905 and c.1920, and was influenced by Russian folk art, fauvism, and cubism. It was characterized by simplified forms and powerful colour, used principally to depict scenes from working-class life. Malevich worked in the style early in his career; other exponents were Larionov and Gontcharova.

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primitivism

prim·i·tiv·ism / ˈprimətivˌizəm/ • n. 1. a belief in the value of what is simple and unsophisticated, expressed as a philosophy of life or through art or literature. 2. unsophisticated behavior that is unaffected by objective reasoning. DERIVATIVES: prim·i·tiv·ist n. & adj.

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"primitivism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"primitivism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/primitivism