Monday, June 23, 2008

Right Now and Prehistory

Right now, I am sitting in the airport waiting for the departure of a flight (not the one I booked initially).

One of the things I did today, during my long stay here (in addition to paying for a wireless internet connection), was read a piece in the New Yorker on cave paintings from the Old Stone Age. Some 30,000 years ago, the first artists etched or painted on the walls of caves in southern France and northern Spain. This art has “endured four times as long as recorded history,” but the author of the article adds:

As at many sites, the scratches made by a standing bear have been overlaid with a palimpsest of signs or drawings, and one has to wonder if cave art didn’t begin with a recognition that bear claws were an expressive tool for engraving a record—poignant and indelible—of a stressed creature’s passage through the dark.

Many scholars believe this art is, in some way, religious; some think it represents an attempt to connect with the spiritual world. (“Homo sapiens is Homo spiritualis,” one scholar observes.) Some scholars believe the caves may have functioned as a kind of sanctuary. In such underground places, the art seems to say “We’re sanctifying a finite space in an infinite universe” and “time loses its contours.”

The author concludes that these places seem to direct one toward protology and eschatology:

Whatever the art means, you understand … that its vessel is both a womb and a sepulcher.

Link to “Letter from France: First Impressions” (abstract):

Post scriptum: I am on my way here.

Update: Nothing like cave art here: