One thing I found surprising to hear was that the panel of palm prints was apparently the work of one painter and not more. I guess I was thinking that it would turn out to be a panel of “the Spirit’s” temporally separated modes, i.e. that each painter across the generations had added his print to the rest as a stone to a freestanding wall in the land of the Yalu. But it didn’t turn out to be the case. Still, the fact opens new avenues of inquiry. Imagine being one of the painters who came to the cave 5,000 years after the one who had made this panel and started the series. Would you wonder who this forebear was? Would you reverently build him up in your mind until he loomed fearsomely over you like a god to whom you owed your very existence? Would you strive with all your intellectual powers to explain the meaning of the intention expressed in/by the panel? All of these temptations would very likely obstruct your brush from being set into action.
There is a scene in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian where the scalphunters are bivouacked in some Anasazi ruins. Commenting on these, the judge says that the ruins “stand in judgment on the latter races.” Long reduced to hushed rumors, to existing in no other mode than the historical and speculative, the old ones haunt the present and judge it as a “lower order” than their own. They make the present seem a manifestation of decline, that something invaluable has been foreclosed with their passing. Our desire to know what this foreclosed thing is prompts our imaginations to start running wild. And so the forebear soon becomes a superman and the superman a god. Then we bow down and worship the frozen idol, proclaim the wretchedness and decadence of our lower order and reconcile ourselves to our impotence to do anything about it. We become as petrified as the ruins themselves.