Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Dr. Joe Essid
The issues surrounding cultural objects and their ownership have risen to greater prominence in the recent past. Consider the Elgin Marbles, to take a well-known and hotly debated example. They were taken from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire, and as soon as Greece gained its independence, it demanded their return. Even this relatively simple case raises questions about cultural objects and ownership. To whom do cultural objects belong? Why? What effect do the changing circumstances brought about by the passage of time have on ownership? And the Elgin Marbles are only one case among many. Not only that, even a cursory examination of literature or film that deals with cultural objects reveals more questions, some of them even more basic, some of them far more complex.
I believe it is appropriate to examine such questions through literature and film. Often, it is through such forms – whether they represent “high” art or “low” or “pop” art – that a culture thinks about questions like those that surround cultural objects and ownership. They are usually far more accessible to the average person than the sort of philosophical tracts that also commonly examine such questions, so more people can participate in the discussion they generate around cultural objects. The same might be true of art, but art is more constrained in the sheer volume of information it can convey than literature or film – in effect, a painting can convey the same amount of information as a single frame of a film. Therefore, its ability to examine such complex issues is more limited. Of course, philosophy and art, and other forms as well, also have an important place in this discussion. However, I feel that literature and film are a good place to begin. In choosing the works that I examine in this paper, I endeavored to include a variety of perspectives. The works include both high art and low, both fiction and nonfiction, and they represent diverse nationalities and cultures. All of them, however, are preoccupied with cultural objects and their ownership in some fashion. The varying directions from which they approach the issue allow a definition of the basic concepts involved in the ownership of cultural objects. What are the ways in which cultural objects can be owned? How does ownership work? What can ownership accomplish? All of the works I have selected deal with these questions, though each, of course, also has its own individual focuses. Taken together, however, they outline a picture of ownership that suggests a new relationship between cultural objects, society, and the real.
Salloum, Anne Marie, "The ownership of cultural objects : means, mechanics and masteries" (2008). Honors Theses. 636.