Amazonian Iconographies: Images as sounds and ritual action
The anthropology of the Amazon offers today an ideal field for the analysis of the relationships between the visual and the acoustic. In the last twenty years the question of the relationship between iconographies, narrative structures, ritual chants, and, in general, the pragmatics of the transmission of knowledge has been intensely and productively debated. A group of researchers (let us quote here Guss (1986, 1989); Gow (1988, 1999), Vidal, Pessis, and Guidon (2000), Barcelos Neto (2002, 2013), Fausto (2011a, 2011b), Langdon (2013) among many others) have shown that a complementary relation exists in Amazonian iconographic practices, between myths, ritual chants, and the drawings, picture-writings, or body-decorations related to them. As a consequence, iconographies are no longer seen as redundant decorations. They are understood as “variations” of the same “conceptual imagination” that generates mythical narrations (Severi and Fausto 2014). In short, synesthesia is everywhere in the Amazon. Not only do complex verbal compositions, like shamanistic chants, always presuppose the experience of vision, but “what can be seen as an image” can always be perceived, by another subject and from another perspective (Viveiros de Castro 2004), as a sequence of sounds. This is why, as Barcelos Neto has recently shown, the image of a mythical anaconda can be interpreted simultaneously as a sequence of graphic themes and as a sequence of chants (Barcelos Neto 2013: 183). How can we understand this situation of constant “synesthetic fusion” where “what is seen” can be constantly translated into “what is heard,” and vice versa? What happens when the same concept (often expressed by a proper noun) is “translated” from verbal expressions to images and from images to sounds? Until now, I have only laid some provisional ground for this kind of analysis (Severi 2014). In this lecture, I would like to extend this first, provisional sketch of analysis to the ensemble of the Amazon.