For Nietzsche, the will to power is a form-giving force. Its essential function is to make things out of other things. Expressed outwardly, the will to power gives form to the physical environment: hence originarily or primitively, it is political and architectural. It is only when the will to power is expressed inwardly (and it is only expressed “inwardly” when its outward expression is impeded) that arts other than the statesmanly and architectural arise. Nevertheless, it can be argued, from a Nietzschean perspective, that all of the derivative arts remain architectural and political at their core.
Most historians of art take it for granted that art originally had a cultic or theological-political purpose. (One thinks of Walter Benjamin and his argument in “The Work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility.”) Certainly all historians and archaeologists agree that the cave paintings served some kind of preestablished religious or metaphysical purpose: perhaps magical, to ensure success in hunting, or perhaps instructional, to transmit knowledge of the essence of things.* Cormac McCarthy would say that the religious or metaphysical nature of the paintings of course bespeaks a preestablished culture. We could also say, in light of the previous rambles, that the paintings bespeak an a priori transcendental structure or form of sensibility.
I had suggested before, following Žižek, that subjectivity’s transcendental structure delimits the possibilities of empirical acts. But that’s just one side of the structure’s twofold dialectic: not only does it delimit the kinds of activities imaginable and therefore undertakable by the subject. It also allows the mind to infer possible interventions that have never yet occurred. Every a priori form of sensibility is both conservative and revolutionary.
It might be tempting to view the positive side as denoting the activity of the subject and the negative side as denoting the subject’s passivity. But perhaps, in a certain way at least, the negative is as active as the positive. I am thinking of Deleuze and Guattari’s idea in A Thousand Plateaus of the way in which “primitive” cultures “warded off” the State, or the formation of a State. A smaller culture remained as such by dint of “anticipating” the State as an evil coming from the future.
Perhaps the Paleolithic form of sensibility had something similar going on. Perhaps it allowed the Cro-Magnon mind to infer within the empirical situation both the possibility of its own transformation and the manner in which it could resist that transformation. There has to be some reason why the culture lasted as long as it did. On the other hand, maybe it was just that the empirical situation rendered any such transformation impossible. That is, the ice-age environmental conditions kept the possibilities extremely limited. The will to power could work outwardly only minimally, and thus, hey presto, came the painting and music as the protracted revenge against the predatorial agents of its confinement to the realm of necessity.
*Amir Aczel, for example, has argued against the shamanistic hypothesis (the animals depicted weren’t part of the Cro-Magnon diet) and, following Leroi-Gourhan’s structuralist analysis, argued for the metaphysical hypothesis (as all the animals depicted are coded as male or female, the paintings represent the Cro-Magnon’s dualistic conception of reality).