Cave: 10

So, to repeat, at the center of Herzog’s documentary lies the question of the relation between the present and the past.  On the walls of Chauvet’s cave are paintings that may mark the birth of the modern human soul.  Or they may mark a soul that has long since died off, an early soul (if not the first) in a series of souls generated by Homo Sapiens out of the various geological, geographical, historical and political contexts to which it has been subject these last forty thousand years.

Herzog seems to want to believe the former, that the paintings force us to conclude that we have not learned anything genuinely new since paleolithic times, that we have not become substantially or essentially different.  If we have lost something, some way of living together that allowed for a culture to endure essentially unchanged for twenty thousand years, then one would think that way should still be recuperable, since the soul is still the same.  It would just be a matter of a good old-fashioned Platonic anamnesis and we could have the forgotten dreams come back to us.  Is there a Socratic midwife in the house?

Still, as the postscript attests, the latter possibility still haunts him.  The mutant albino croc, c’est moi peut être.  Mon semblable, mon frère.  Because Herzog deems the possibility as a loss, his flirtation with it exudes a palpable melancholy.  Is there a way to think this possibility that resists the blandishments of acedia?  At the same time, there is the danger that in running with this possibility one’s historical consciousness shrivels away to nothing.  “What? There’s paintings discovered that are thirty thousand years old?  Who the fuck cares?  Let’s watch Jersey Shore.  I wanna know who Snookie’s gonna smush next.”  Breaking with the past, with the question of our origins, remote and proximate, we only go gentle and liquidated into the cow-blackening night of postindustrial late capitalistic spectacular control society.  I think Herzog fears that the acceptance of our difference with the Paleolithacans will make us lose all interest in them, and that this loss of interest will cause a domino effect that will end with a shrinkage of temporal bandwidth that can only register a past of no more than one news cycle ago.  It’s a reasonable fear.  But accepting the substantial difference of our soul does not necessitate the loss of historical consciousness at all.  The difference need not be inert.  In fact, it can be, and indeed is, entirely relational…


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