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Analogism: an ontology visualized

Descola’s ontology illustrated

Analogism can be seen as a hermeneutic dream of completeness and totalization which proceeds from a dissatisfaction: admitting that all the components of the world are separated by tiny discontinuities, it entertains the hope of weaving these weakly differentiated elements in a canvas of affinities and attractions which has all the appearances of continuity.1

The hydra is a classic—and Classical—representation of analogism.

Hercules slaying the Hydra in a 3rd century mosaic from Roman Hispania.

Also representative of analogism is the Great Chain of Being or scala naturae, with humanity as center or apex.

Astrology is based on an understanding of the universe in which humanity is at the center of the whole and is influenced by the movements of the encircling parts.

The ascent of man.

The ascent of man.

With analogism, monarchs often serve to unify the natural order.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s c. 1590 portrait unites the disparate elements of the world in the form of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II.

Analogism, and the frequently seen accompanying feature of divination, is common in West Africa. The video below is from a day trip I took to see the Sacred Fish of Dafra outside of Bobo-dioulasso, Burkina Faso.


1. Philippe Descola, “Modes of being and forms of predication.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4, no. 1 (June 23, 2014): 272. doi:10.14318/hau4.1.012.



1 Comment

  1. […] Matthew Timothy Bradley – Descola’s Ontology Illustrated – (The Human Family) […]


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