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Agency Marked, Agency Ascribed: The Affective Object In Ancient Mesopotamia

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Chapter Summary

Ancient Mesopotamia offers a useful test case for Alfred Gell's ascription of agency to works one call &t;art&t;: that is, that artworks may be considered the equivalent of persons, capable of acting on and for their social universes, both psychologically and physically. The agentive role is grammatically marked in early Sumerian, particularly of the third millennium B.C., and can be implied in later Sumerian along with the Semitic dialects of Akkadian, for which relevant texts are preserved from the third millennium to the end of the first millennium. In Mesopotamia, the principal sensory organ addressed in the enlivening process is related to speech, while in Hindu and Buddhist practice it is related to vision. In the end, it is this art historian's view that what one cannot do is simply take the unmodified &t;agency&t; of the artwork as given.

Keywords: agentive role; ancient Mesopotamia; Buddhist practice; early Sumerian



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