HKUK03638U Art History: Anthropology of Image (IX): PROFANATIONS

Volume 2018/2019

The course takes as a point of departure and inspiration Agamben’s book, Profanations (2005) in order to open up an inquiry into what might be called “acts of profanation” in the visual, acoustic and sensorial fields. In focus will be the transgressing acts (ritual or secular) engaging pathos and affect, serendipitous language and derisive laughter to convey blasphemy, as well as various techniques and technologies of body in movement, facial expressions and unorthodox means in the production of sound (castrati) to break down the normative in culture.


In asking ourselves what does it mean to profane, we shall endeavor to examine what Agamben has to say on this matter: “To profane does not simply mean to abolish or cancel separations (i.e. between sacred and profane), but to learn to make new uses of them” (Profanazioni, 100). For Agamben, profanation is best understood in relation to another term, consecration, which reveals a new interesting dimension of the term profanation, unlocking for us a possibility for further exploration of the phenomenon in arts. Says Agamben: “If consecration was the term that denoted the leaving of the sphere of human law, profanation signified returning something to the free usage of mankind” (Profanazioni, 83). To profane was thus to return the things that had become subject to a state of exception—things that had been consecrated— to their original context. As Agamben put it: “The creation of a new use is only possible through disactivating an old use, rendering it inoperative [inoperoso]” (Profanazioni, 99). This new use of the term becomes “a pure means [un mezzo puro]”—that is to say, “a means without end [un mezzo senza fine]” (Profanazioni, 99). It opens up for us the possibility to exploring a whole range of phenomena of play and reversal, of parodic transgression manifested in various cultural expressions, where the goal of profanation is to repeal the ungrounded legislation, and find new uses for structures deprived of their divisive force.


The course defines itself as an interdisciplinary course, inviting students from all disciplines of IKK, and is organized around themes with great potential to reveal profanation in a broad cultural manner: profanation (of image/text/score) or the profane; consecration and contamination (stained images); ritual as play and theories of reversal (parody and carnival); blasphemy: art that offends; destruction and creative iconoclasm; the aestheticization of the voice: from eunuch to castrati (Farinelli); the museification of the world; capitalism as a religion.


The course grounds itself within the anthropology of image, but other theories of image, of politics and psychoanalysis will be also considered. 

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 80
  • Guidance
  • 1
  • Lectures
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 283
  • Total
  • 420
Type of assessment