Reflecting upon Reflection: The impossible powers of the castle.
Photograph and initial commentary by Carol Dougherty.
In conversation, recently, with a friend, Carol Dougherty, who has considerable archaeological interest and experience of investigating Medieval England, I mentioned to her that I was working with a group in Hathersage, who are concerned to explore and to create art, ideas and philosophy around the twin themes of water and reflection. It was with great excitement, then, that I received Carol’s photograph a couple of days later, because in reflecting upon this ‘photographic sketch’ it gifts us with a platform that begins to open space for some of our creative endeavours.
In thinking about reflection I couldn't help return to the mountains!
Back to Carol. She felt the image presented ‘more than just a pleasant reflection…. it shouts wealth, prestige, power, intimidation, cruelty’. Perhaps, also, her message carries with it an invitation, a possible challenge, for art-philosophy and other languages, to open space for possible new understandings of such powers. At the very least Carol’s photographic sketch invites further consideration of how we may wish to use it in creating an installation, a work of art, some aligned philosophy and so on.
One could, of course, in playing with this image of the castle, simply record in some way the fact of such power. But, this form of art, surely, is ever in danger simply and largely unconsciously, of constituting a repetition and reiteration of such power.
Clearly and fortunately, in England we are not currently living in a repressive state. But, the everyday news bulletins certainly give weight to the suggestion that there are numerous powers at work in society. Powers which manifestly have a direct bearing upon the quality of peoples’ lives. Powers blocking meaningful progress with numerous issues concerned with the addressing global warming. Powers creating racist polarisations and divisions in our societies. Powers gifting too many men with a manifestly unhealthy and unwarranted capacity for sexism and misogyny. Powers of technology sweeping us all into an engineered future, a sublimely powerful global Disneyland that’s been identified as ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, evermore disconnected from our intimate relationship with the earth…
In his article for the Observer [11 September, 2016] Tim Adams sought to address the issue of what he called ‘Power to… the art of protest’. His article opened with the assertion ‘the role of the artist is unambiguous: to assert the individual imagination, the singular power that all dictatorships fear’. While our discussions in Hathersage about the creation of some art have centred upon opening space for the individual imagination, and currently we are not concerned about dictatorships, it seems that there is considerable scope for opening space for peoples’ imagination through our art, writing, philosophy and so on – imagination coming from the suspension of belief in a current reality and the capacity to explore, examine and to play with other possibilities.
In that spirit let’s return to another working ‘photographic sketch’ of a castle.
Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Scotland.
In a similar way to Carol’s earlier observation, in An Archaeological History of Britain, Jonathan Eaton would appear to be in no doubt that ‘castles express the power, authority and influence of their occupants’. And he adds, ‘this can be communicated through their size, design and location’.
Indeed, the reflection in Carol’s photographic sketch, namely the castle and its reflection in the motte, would appear to suggest a doubling of the great powers at work here. Indeed, many forms of power would appear to possess this same characteristic – the capacity to invest the body of human beings when confronted with such imagery, with a sense of the inexorable, a feeling such powers symbolised by the castle, would appear to remain inescapable; curiously ineluctable.
Of course, in our contemporary world we have found so many ways of variously positioning and separating ourselves historically from the violence, torture, and warfare associated with the castle.
But, the symbolism and the many allegories of power ingrained in the castle walls remain. As Jonathan Eaton observes, victory following the Norman Conquest in 1066 was ‘assured and consolidated in large part by the custom of building castles’.
In reflecting upon the featured castle; its sublime powers, symbolism, as a place of intimidation and violence, it is so easy to pass over the very event of the everyday practice of reflection.
Reflection by Anthony Marshall
Let us move away from Newton’s functional and simplistic metaphor, and in moving forward in time to the 21st century with quantum electrodynamics it becomes obvious how, when viewed from light quanta, that the very event involves a movement from the impossible and incalculable particle/waves of light into something possible: manifest light reflected in the motte and light, too, reflected from the photographic sketch. Indeed, from this QED perspective the impossible lies at the very heart of any understanding of reflection.
In taking seriously this idea of the impossible at the very heart of everything we encounter in our practices, it’s not difficult to appreciate that the identity, castle, can only be understood more fully by uncovering its etymology and its connections with other languages etc. For example, in etymological terms, castle takes us into the Latin castellum, a diminutive of castrum, fort. The very identity castle as a building only makes sense in the differences it manifests in comparison with other forms of architecture. Indeed, as we continue this line of thinking the identity, castle, remains ever incomplete. This is the case for all identities. Each identity is caught up in the play of differences.
This is where the power of the castle resides – in the impossible. In this way art, philosophy, anthropology, archaeology and so on, variously open space for us understanding more about the play of the impossible.
What are your reflections on Hathersage? We'd love to hear more..
 Jonathan Eaton  An Archaeological History of Britain: Continuity and Change from Pre-history to the Present, Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Archaeology