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Claus Sterneck / Claus in Iceland
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Wolfgang Sterneck
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Jeff Wall:


The figura of the storyteller is an archaism, a social type which has lost its function as a result of the technological transformations of literacy. It has been relegated to the margins of modernity, and survives there as a relic of the imagination, a nostalgic archetype, an anthropological specimen, apparently dead. However, as Walter Benjamin has shown, such ruined figures embody essential elements of historical memory, the memory of values excluded by capitalist progress and seemingly forgotten by everyone. This memory recovers its potential in moments of crisis. The crisis is the present. This recovery parallels the process in which marginalized and oppressed groups reappropriate and re-learn their own history. This process is in fill swing and its impact is transforming standard criteria of literacy, creating openings for a newer concept of modernist culture, one not so unilaterally futuristic as the one still reigning in Europe and North America.

The Native peoples of Canada are a typical case of the dispossession. The traditions of oral history and mutual aid survive with them, although in weakened forms. So the image of the storyteller can express their historical crisis. The focus of Native education is on the rediscovery of cultural identity, which implies a reconstruction of history, and so possibly a reinvention of archaic figures like the storyteller. That could maybe provide a new figura within modernism, one among many, I hope, which would emblematize peace, knowledge, frankness, sympathy, high spirits, fearlessness, acumen, dialogue, cunning, economy, passion.


- Thanks to Jeff Wall for permission to use the photograph and the text for non-commercial projects of KomistA. (1987). -

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