The 'Kultursturz' at the Bronze Age - Iron Age Boundary

Abstract of talk by Irving Wolfe

University of Montréal, Department d'études anglaises, CP 6128, Montréal, Canada
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

One focus of the 2nd SIS Cambridge conference is the Bronze Age - Iron Age interface, which will be looked at from many different scientific perspectives. They will attempt to establish between them that a significant cluster of natural cataclysms provoked by non-terrestrial influences occurred ~600 - 500 BC and altered the physical world. These events are therefore called axial because they caused the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age. I think the period may also be called "axial" because it seems to me to have led to a virtually universal cultural revolution in all dimensions of human existence. In my paper, therefore, I will present evidence for what I call a 'Kultursturz' or cultural crisis in which a large number of cultural elements underwent quick and sharp change within the same short period of time. These include the appearance of secular as opposed to strictly religious art, a host of new religions of a new type, new philosophies of a new type, writing, dynastic upheavals, the quick upsurge and removal of several tyrannical regimes, urbanism, new patterns of consciousness, behaviour and dreaming, new types of social organisation, vast pan-Greek ritualistic athletic games, the institution of democracy and the use of money. All of these elements are totally different in spirit from those of the previous (Bronze Age) cultures. If all of these cultural revolutions can be correlated chronologically among themselves and to scientific evidence for similar upheavals well documented in the geological, archaeological and climatological records, (which is the whole point of the conference), then we have before us the outline of a global natural event which not only ended one historical era, but led to the distinctive cultural characteristics of our modern age. After all, we are the children of this period of upheaval.


IRVING WOLFE is professor agrégé, Département d'études anglaises, at the University of Montreal. (M.A. in English from McGill University, Canada; PhD in Drama from Bristol University, England; Speciality Shakespeare). In addition to his literary research, he has presented several dozen papers on catastrophism at conferences in England, Canada and the U.S., and has published papers in this field in several British and American journals. Has also contributed chapters on catastrophism to a number of anthologies. He is currently completing a book on Hitler and catastrophic terror and has prepared a screenplay for Hollywood of a mass shooting by Nazi soldiers. Professor Wolfe is concerned with the long-lasting effects of unconscious catastrophic memory on later collective human behaviour, and his work has therefore focused on such topics as catastrophism and creative art; catastrophism and religion; catastrophism and cosmologies; catastrophism and political extremism; catastrophism and epistemology; catastrophism and soap opera; catastrophism and Shakespeare; catastrophism and scientific repression; catastrophism and sport, and catastrophism and popular culture.