“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, September 28, 2006

paleolithic dreams

Often, to take our mind off unpaid bills and the unhallowed gov’mint, we will sit in a coffee shop – or in Whole Foods – and take out our little book and draw. We don’t draw chairs, or food, or coffee cups – we draw people. LI loves drawing people. Always has. Now, lately we’ve been reading a beautiful book about cave art for an upcoming review for the Austin Statesman. Reading it, we were struck like by 100 000 volts that during the Upper Paleolithic – that wonderful time when there were, max, 150 000 people in Europe, and life was good for around twenty thousand years - the cave artists generally didn’t draw or paint or engrave people. There were your stray vulvas, the masked bird man, many hand prints, but generally – no people. Instead, there were mammoths. There were lions. There were rhinos and horses. Oddly, much fewer reindeer, even though reindeer meat was the spam of the Paleolithic – it was always poached reindeer for breakfast, fricasseed reindeer for lunch, and reindeer pudding for dinner. We are often told how to evolution stories about this or that human habit, but in reality, the way those how to stories are formed is that evo psychologists extrapolate back from ‘primitive people’ of today to those wandering around 200,000 years ago. However, this habit is in serious disconnect from archeologists, who have long held that ethnography of people today, in no matter what state of society they live in, is essentially unhelpful when trying to reconstruct the way the inhabits of the Eurasia 30,000 years ago lived. It is impossible not to imagine back using our PBS/National Geographic images, but what tribe do we know of that doesn’t draw people? Deleuze and Guattari talk of the special faciality of the West – this seems right, on all accounts – but to show so little interest in people when one has mastered perspective, and the expressive character of animals? That seems quite significant. But of what? Well, this is where speculation is dumb, but irresistible. The cave art of 30,000 years ago, perhaps – just perhaps – precedes the period when humans assumed they were superior. In fact, the assumption at that time was that they weren’t. The assumption was that mammoths were in every way superior creatures – or, to erase the whole superior/inferior notion, the assumptions in the paintings flowed from a life in which humans were as much prey as predator. The dreams we have of this percolate through hundreds of generations back, so it seems entirely dim. Of course, humans as prey is our favorite story, but now the story features our favorite predator, who is still human – hence, the infinite crime shows. We can of course think of grizzlies or sharks or whatever preying on humans. But what we can’t think is that this is just the way it is. That thought makes us think, wow, this is to live in misery. We seem unable to fully immerse ourselves into that form of life as a norm. We can only indirectly, vaguely wave at that notion. To find human beings relatively uninteresting compared to horses is funny – which is why Swift was able to use that shtick. But it wouldn’t even have been controversial in 17,000 b.c. The movies we make trying to touch this – say Alien – always, ultimately, focus the camera on the humans. What would Aliens be like if the same story were told, except the humans were incidentally – took up ten minutes of film time – the rest being the things the Alien monster did. Although, admittedly, Alien didn't have the hair and muscles and eyes the Paleolithics loved. They didn't paint fish, though they ate em. But the human figure was mostly boring. I mean, one at least figures that there will be considerable smut, but no. Mostly, cave art is chaste. Dick, pussy, fucking -- ho hum, seems to have been the word. But bison -- why, the world can't get enough bison. And so for almost twenty thousand years, the cave painters, generation after generation, gave the people what they wanted - more bison. Nietzsche hints that the story of civilization is the story of humans becoming interesting. Ah, the Paleolithic dream did come to N., didn’t it?

15 comments:

T. V. said...

Great post, Roger.

I don't know shit about art, but back when I used to know something about literature I did some research in London for part of a summer and I got very acquainted with the British Museum--not in a tourist's afternoon but by touring it slowly over many days. Going through the exhibits chronologically, what you describe is far and away the most striking thing. I loved the "primitive" art from the cave drawings and creature-sculptures up through the gigantic Persian statues of indefinite animal things with, sort of, the King's bigeyed face slapped onto the head. Not having any art-history vocab I reached for Deleuze and Guattari exactly as you did just now: animal-becomings! Then you got to the Greeks and the supposed perfection of artistic method. It was horrible. Yes, it was perfect, like the sterile ambience of a cruise ship, and yes--suddenly nothing, nothing but human figures, posing jocks and debutantes, Vogue. It was like being in the middle of the making the coolest clay repto-gazelle ever, bright green, with six spider eyes and antennae, and you're coating the whole thing in papier-mache for texture after which you plan to start on these great oversized wings, really vascular but gossamer thin, that's going to be tricky, and then your Mom takes it all away and replaces it with a "slick" photo album full of "professional" but overexposed shots of your sister smug in her most expensive bathing suit and your hated brother working out with weights on the lawn, and it's clear you're obliged to appreciate it. There was one frieze with a couple of Centaurs. They were so fake I wanted to weep! And even then the attitude toward them was patronzing and contemputous.

Something Lawrence said, maybe about E. M. Forester. I paraphrase badly: "He's all right, but in the end it's just people, people, people."

new york pervert said...

'Then you got to the Greeks and the supposed perfection of artistic method. It was horrible. Yes, it was perfect, like the sterile ambience of a cruise ship, and yes--suddenly nothing, nothing but human figures, posing jocks and debutantes, Vogue.'

It wasn't 'nothing' and it wasn't horrible. It just wasn't yours.

'It was like being in the middle of the making the coolest clay repto-gazelle ever, bright green, with six spider eyes and antennae, and you're coating the whole thing in papier-mache for texture after which you plan to start on these great oversized wings, really vascular but gossamer thin, that's going to be tricky, and then your Mom takes it all away and replaces it with a "slick" photo album full of "professional" but overexposed shots of your sister smug in her most expensive bathing suit and your hated brother working out with weights on the lawn, and it's clear you're obliged to appreciate it.'

But of course it doesn't work the other way around, or there couldn't be such unbalanced resentment.

'There was one frieze with a couple of Centaurs. They were so fake I wanted to weep! And even then the attitude toward them was patronzing and contemputous.'

I have never read anything so ridiculous in my life. No wonder you find comfort in 'thanksralphing.' Accusing those who haven't the same tastes and predilections as you as being selfish (and probably Fascist), you betray your own.

Amerigo Sciurofascista said...

You're much too irascible, Mr. NYP, and that makes me weep. Thanksralphing is a time of joy, soon to be upon us. Even I, the brother on the lawn with the weights (it's a long story), can be forgiven on that day.

Anonymous said...

Mr Pervert!

That assessment was not only more frivolous and lighthearted that you are, it was more frivolous and lighthearted than I am. Or vice versa. J. Alva is right: you will be hectored into joining us for thanksralphing, and I myself will make you some moussaka in apology.

T.V.

ahfukit said...

I can recall seeing unaccomplished thieves and druggists skulking up to doors in our neighborhood and they're all doing the thing -- casting their eyes about sidelong like the guys with the long sideburns in Mark Trail. They may as well wear a sign on their back: "Arrest Me!"

Then it occurred to me that they so down down deep felt themselves as prey. Visceral meals on wheels. That they couldn't help it.

What a laugh.

Then there's Jerzy Kosinski in I can't remember which presenting the accomplished murderer: murder is easy; conscience - and perhaps shedding our primordial memory - is hard.

Let us prey.

Amie said...

yes, great post, LI.
say, have you read Bataille's Lascaux ou la naissance de l'art. well worth a read. as are his texts on prehistoric art that have been collected and translated in english in a book called Cradle of Humanity.
your post also has me thinking of Francis Bacon, in particular, his painting of a flayed and quartered ox. it's on display at the museum of modern art (!) in nyc. hmmm, maybe i'll trot up there....

roger said...

Amie, when I saw the Barnes collection oh these many years ago in Fort Worth, I was knocked out by the Soutines. I felt like, wow, here was a man who could feel the hand of god in his very innards, sorting out the cuts. It was spooky.

Yet one of the things my book -- which is, by the way, the Cave Painters by Gregory Curtis, coming out this month! - taught me is that you can't get strange enough to understand these paintings. After all, butchery is, for us, for thousands of years, connected to herding. But there is no herding then. Knocking out herding knocks out half of what we think we know about 'primitive' cultures. To think of human beings without domesticated beasts - well, we don't know them. And yet we do. They are the cousins on the far far bank.

Anyway, lately I lay down and try to put my mind into a Paleolithic state, so I can dream of huge herds and few people. But my dreams just don't want to go that far back. I guess I'm overdrawn on Jung's unconscious racial memory bank. As in every other bank, actually. Well, damn!

Amie said...

LI, a Soutine painting never fails to stop me dead in my tracks.
i think you're right that one can't get strange enough to even attempt to grasp the cave paintings, and this strange beast called man - what is it that the latecomer wag Sophocles said about 'there is nothing stranger than man'...
ah, how to dream - or imagine - paleolithic man, before the herders, before hoplites and cowboys?
i wish i could lay me down and imagine it but i can't, even though much of what seemed entirely unimaginable is now not only 'real', it is law - viz, your above post on torture. perhaps Beckett said it best: 'imagination dead imagine.'

new york pervert said...

In a sense, I appreciate the jovial response, but I don't know how you could expect me to interpret what you said any other way. You have some sort of linguistic thing that is so insular that one is supposed to figure out what things are supposed to be taken seriously and what things not. In this case, if the person is not cooperative, even if unknowingly, he can be ridiculed.

Once on your blog, someone took me to task for saying something about not seeing the appeal of Julia Roberts. While it's not very sensitive to step on other people's 'fantods' (and I didn't care for it either when I still was capable of fanhood), there was no reason to accuse me of misogyny and using 'the passive voice', as if there was something inherently wrong with that. I wouldn't respond to this because it was an absurd accusation and I was even told that I was 'stepping on someone that I didn't even know' and some other unadulterated faggy nonsense about trying to be on the same level as a celebrity (interesting, since I certainly do know how to do that not particularly distinguished thing.) However, it's also true that I didn't know Ms. Roberts was Green Party Human Resources until one week after, so therefore will be trying to finesse these warped holiday things you've invented.

Anyway, who have I stepped on, Arpege Chabert? When possible, I have done so and quite well. In the dishonesty of her idleness, she deserves all I can take the time for, since none of it is done without fashion in mind.

No need to answer, I don't mind too much nor care too much either (don't take that offensively, I just don't know how to take online things seriously unless they immediately point to some offline advantage-hence my greater interest in Thanksgiving, where real turkeys exist.

new york pervert said...

Okay, I ought not to keep up such a harsh tone, so I'll admit I'd like to hear J. Alva play the banjo and eat TV's moussaka. I like all sorts of paleolithic stuff, and drew a duck in Staten Island a few years ago, because it had such an amazing beak. I showed it to an 85-year-old virgin, who burst out laughing because she thought it looked like a cock. And me! of all people! hadn't noticed...

Well, I will just have to study y'all's language harder. I think it's difficult to know what to make of it, and I don't know what ahfukit was talking about. How do you function in the world with that much deterritorialization? I'm sure you will say you don't function, but somehow you must if y'all are always talking about Swarthmore.

Okay, I shouldn't have said that about online things if I'm going to be here sometimes--apologies for that part, but I don't like it when people start pretending it's the same with screens as with bodies, because it's not, and also for being a nervous wreck, which I am. I think Roger usually succeeds in not doing too much of this.

roger said...

Mr. NYP, I try not to write in such a way that the average person coming to this site would pretty easily figure out what I was saying. Well, on most posts. I've taken a few words from my commentors -- from you I've taken the verb to Steppenwolf, actually, and I can't resist mr. Scruggs Spermophilusphobia.

I think that there is some link between blogging and grafitti, in that respect. The irresistable urge to tag things, to make up codes.

On the other hand, thanksgiving is thanksgiving for Limited Inc. Ralph is one of those R first names -- like my own name, Roger -- that give me a slightly unpleasant feeling. When I was a kid, my old man owned an ice factory, at which I worked diligently, filling bags of ice. And Dad would hire kids from my high school. Anyway, there was one kid, Ralph, who was just terrible. I still remember the way he'd waste 15 pounds of ice trying to fill a 10 pound bag. That meant five pounds of ice melting on the floor. I know, this is silly, but our reactions to first names have odd histories, don't they? Anyway, I associate Ralph with that poor soakin' boy, who never figured out how to bag cleanly, and earned my unmitigated contempt for it.

I was very territorial about the ice machines, you could say.

T. V. said...

Mr. Pervert:

We don't function.

How did you know I was going to say that?

new york pervert said...

Well, I think it's because I am using the Beginner's Primer on y'all's language. Now, you had babies, including just the other day, which is a kind of functioning even if all Swarthmore does is teach courses in Park Pollution for Ruling Class Fraternities and Soroties. I don't know if the following will help, because I don't know how close by is Dickinson to Swarthmore, but I bet Dickinson is looked down on by Swarthmore...

http://cfserv.dickinson.edu/news/nrshow.cfm?695

Other said...

I haven't been to the BM. He has:

"So yesterday I went to the Greek rooms in the British Museum for the first time in years. This 18th century work of delibidinisation occasionally produces some interesting juxtapositions, especially with respect to the gallery housing the 'Elgin Marbles' filched from the Parthenon. Ignore the tedious frieze and go straight up to the fragments of the pediments and the metopes. Francis Bacon used to come here obsessively, and you can see why. The chaotic state of the sculptures- headless, dismembered, ragged, the marble covered with rot that evokes veined flesh- works against their recuperation, instead they feel horribly alive. There's something shocking about the huge gaps and scars, the way the face of a centaur, contorted into a snarl, will be obliterated on one side where the stone has broken. Likewise, the rooms nearby with their collections of Hellenistic tat reveal the birth of kitsch (contra-Greenbergites who would posit it as a 20th century invention): endless figurines, household gods and tokens of the semi-deified imperialist and proto-matinee idol smoulderer, Alexander the Great- and especially when you can still see traces of the paint, the very crassest of pinks and blues."
http://nastybrutalistandshort.blogspot.com/2006/10/trouble-with-classicists.html

new york pervert said...

Cheap internet secrecy and bullshit constitute proof. No need to bother with Plutarch or Aristotle. Aristotle taught Alexander, which means that Aristotle was inta shit, honey. That he is rumoured to have plotted to kill Alexander does not get him off the hook; anybody sensible knows he's no Ralph Nader. Hilarious about the 'imperialist' Alexander. How awful! The Nicomachean Ethics were really just soooo kitschy, the spittin' image of Paris Hilton's pussy. The whole point for most leftist Americans is to drum up a whole lotta self-hatred and Stop Worrying and Love the Osama Rectum. That's where they find their most amiable and pleasing hours of Crawlspace.