Search - List of Books by Alfred Gell
Alfred (Antony Francis) Gell
Total Books: 13
(June 12, 1945-January 28, 1997) was a British social anthropologist whose most influential work concerned art, language, symbolism and ritual. He was trained by Edmund Leach (MPhil, Cambridge University) and Raymond Firth (PhD, London School of Economics) and did his fieldwork in Melanesia and tribal India. Gell taught at the London School of Economics, among other places. He died of cancer at the age of 51. In his 1998 book Art and Agency
, Gell formulated an influential theory of art based on abductive reasoning.
Alfred Gell in his influential book Art and Agency defined abduction, (after Eco) as “a case of synthetic inference 'where we find some very curious circumstances, which would be explained by the supposition that it was a case of some general rule, and thereupon adopt that supposition”. Gell criticizes existing 'anthropological' studies of art, for being too preoccupied with aesthetic value and not preoccupied enough with the central anthropological concern of uncovering 'social relationships' specifically the social contexts in which artworks are produced, circulated, and received. Abduction is used as the basis of one gets from art to agency in the sense of a theory of how works of art can inspire a sensus communis, or the commonly-held views that a characteristic of a given society because they are shared by everyone in that society. The question Gell asks in the book is, ‘how does initially to ‘speak’ to people?’ He answers by saying that “No reasonable person could suppose that art-like relations between people and things do not involve at least some form of semiosis.” However, he rejects any intimation that semiosis can be thought of as a language because then he would have to admit to some pre-established existence of the sensus communis that he wants to claim only emerges afterward out of art. Abduction is the answer to this conundrum because the tentative nature of the abduction concept (Pierce likened it to guessing) means that not only can it operate outside of any pre-existing framework, but moreover, it can actually intimate the existence of a framework. As Gell reasons in his analysis, the physical existence of the artwork prompts the viewer to perform an abduction that imbues the artwork with intentionality. A statue of a goddess, for example, in some senses actually becomes the goddess in the mind of the beholder; and represents not only the form of the deity but also her intentions (which are adduced from the feeling of her very presence). Therefore through abduction, Gell claims that art can have the kind of agency that plants the seeds that grow into cultural myths. The power of agency is the power to motivate actions and inspire ultimately the shared understanding that characterizes any given society.==Selected bibliography of works by Alfred Gell==
- 1975 Metamorphosis of the Cassowaries: Umeda Society, Language and Ritual. London: Athlone.
- 1992a Under the Sign of the Cassowary. In Shooting the Sun: Ritual and Meaning in the West Sepik. B. Juillerat, ed. pp. 125—143. Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian Institution Press.
- 1992b The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology. In Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics. J. Coote and A. Shelton, eds. pp. 40—66. Oxford: Clarendon.
- 1992c The Anthropology of Time: Cultural Constructions of Temporal Maps and Images. Oxford: Berg.
- 1993 Wrapping in Images: Tattooing in Polynesia. Oxford: Clarendon.
- 1995 The Language of the Forest: Landscape and Phonological Iconism in Umeda. In The Anthropology of Landscape: Perspectives on Place and Space. E. Hirsch and M. O'Hanlon, eds. pp. 232—254. Oxford: Clarendon.
- 1996 Vogel's Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps. Journal of Material Culture 1:15-38.
- 1998 Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon.
- 1999 The Art of Anthropology: Essays and Diagrams. London: Athlone.