In this this essay, I will argue argue for the analytic usefulness of the idea of atavism, unpacking its connotations, considering some historical usage and testing it with a famous silent film, the quasi quasi-ethnographic Nanook of the North (1922). This classic, made by Robert Flaherty, will serve to illustrate the "dangerousness"of atavism - a quality I take to be positive- as an instance of Flaherty's prescience, rather than the naivete with which he is usually saddled. In addition to its descriptive fertility, atavism is a concept with hermeneutic potential, particularly when thinking about literary/linguistic notions of the "unwritten". This is because the concept has a recursive historical dimension built into it, like a a rear-view mirror (from the Latin at, "beyond", with avus, "grandfather", to mean a resemblance or reversion to remotely ancestral characteristics). One factor encouraging my pursuit of this concept is the growing awareness in film studies, and media criticism, generally, that contemporary image regimes seem to to be "circling back" to premodern forms of organisation and circulation.
|Title of host publication||The Silent Word: The Role of the Unwritten in the Production of Meaning|
|Editors||Robert J.C. Young, Ban Kah Choon, Robbie B. H. Goh|
|Place of Publication||Singapore|
|Publisher||Singapore University Press|
|Number of pages||18|
|Publication status||Published - 1998|