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Our discussion last week drifted from ideas of ideology to problems of display. The article by Terry Eagleton was particularly interesting and humorous in its treatment of the literature surrounding the concept of ideology. I think to some extent his argument although long and comprehensive was usefully summarized in the beginning of his article when he talked about ideology legitimating power (Eagleton 1991, 5). In that paragraph he then goes on to mention a few other defining terms:
"A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought... and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself" (Eagleton 1991, 5-6)
I found this early summary of the methodology of ideology quite useful. It doesn't reflect the full tear-down and inspection of the minutia of ideology found later in the article but it's a helpful guide when discussing ideology in the Ancient Near East. We can see evidence of all the various forms in the Neo-Assyrian royal political message. Promoting is probably the first to come to mind, the annals and art does little to hide the fact that it's promoting the king. Naturalizing and universalizing has a historical element in establishing the everlasting length of reign and concreteness of the idea of kingship being handed down from the gods. Denigrating, excluding, and obscuring are all found in various forms in the characterization of non-Assyrians as confused or barbarians. This summary does not run up against the problem of false consciousness which he criticizes later the chapter.
During the discussion I also became interested in the idea of crowd dynamics within the throne rooms. We always put so much emphasis on the interpretation of the reliefs and the concept of reception, i.e. what did they mean, who were they directed at, and how were they read. I think an interesting initial question is who could actually see the relief in its entirety. In Mehmet-Ali Ataç's book The Mythology of Kingship in Neo-Assyrian Art (Ataç 2010) the reliefs are presented in two ways. The first is the most traditional, laid out in a large spread, see pages 118-119 for a good example, essentially unwrapping the entire room and placing it on the page. This is not the reality of viewing these reliefs, although it is useful for study. In reality, given an empty room(!), one would have to turn both the head and body to view the reliefs, approaching and moving to see details or focus on panels. The other way Ataç displays reliefs in his book is in individual photos, sometimes of a whole panel but often just of a detail or an arm or torso. This I think reflects the reality of visibility.
The palace was a busy place with advisors, scribes, attendants, soldiers, royal family members, foreign dignitaries, and other palace officials and visitors milling about. If we use a rough figure of 10 square feet per person (10 sq ft. represents a crowd where members are arms length from each, see Kiger) then assuming a blank room with no furniture only 484 people could fit in the throne room of the Northwest palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud (that's assuming that the king as well is one of the crowd only arms length from each other and not seated in a throne in clear space). That number is not out of possibility for large events and would present quite some difficulty in viewing reliefs nearby and make viewing reliefs across the room nearly impossible and preclude any sort of ease at understanding the total narrative.