Cave: 12

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).


4 responses to “Cave: 12

  • STAGG candy

    Hi sorry to be so late to respond to these amazing thoughts about this Cave movie. I have a few thoughts off the top of y head from your writing. I guess I’ll jump in randomly because I can’t write about each post….although I took notes ha ha. Um, I see the paintings, their style, their execution and technical competency as evidence of how the artists minds are like our minds.

    I believe that we can’t know about things in the way that our ego identifies knowledge. Our brain and mind…and ego believes that it can comprehend and label knowledge and put it into a package. But knowledge doesn’t work on just the level that the ego can comprehend. It functions in a way that the ego is not able to comprehend actually. Our knowledge comes from watching nature. But the ego believes that knowledge is based in the brain, in teaching, education, science…that the very existence of knowledge is because of how humans think. Knowledge exists before humans.

    If there is a difference between the people who made those cave paintings and us it is that they knew exactly where knowledge came from. And we don’t. they knew they had to look at animals and the world and nature and the sky to “read”. To get knowledge. Because humans don’t know anything…but nature, animals, rocks, the world knows everything and how to exist. Humans might be the only thing that doesn’t know how to exist. We have to “read” (or watch or study and copy other animals)

    I liked your post about the fascinating accounts of misunderstanding. I too have some things I love because they are how we have misunderstood things. One, is the Beatles. They saw Buddy holly and the Crickets on tv…but didn’t know they had recorded their music on several tracks. they thought they were playing live…so they thought if buddy holly can make such a full sound so can we! I also love Panofsky’s essay on “Et in Arcadia ego”. And Norman O. Brown’s essay on mistaking Egyptian texts in “Hermes”.

    I think the idea that our ego has an expectation on knowledge and how it is found, attained, studied is tied to you thoughts on the polemics of one tablernacle must erase another tabernacle. This is a way of thinking since farming. it is unique to agricultural economies. The way we get food affects the way we think. And THAt is why we have this idea we have forgotten something. Or why we can’t understand the cave paintings. in fact, we can understand them. When we realize their minds are like ours! We have forgotten something, we forgot we are the same minds as thousands of years ago. And in our forgetting we look for knowledge with a confused perspective on where we find knowledge.

    I believe you totally hit it when you said each horse is allhorses. And each painter is allpainters.

    And for what its worth…here is my review pale pale compared to your intense thoughtful reviews…but here it is:

    and if you haven’t seen this…here:

    much love
    Candy xxxxooooo

  • jauntown

    Thanks for the long reply, Candy. I love the story about the Beatles and Buddy Holly. It just shows to go that there’s nothing wrong about misunderstanding, so long as the misunderstanding is productive! I haven’t read either the Panofsky or the Brown pieces, but they sound good. Brown is always a good read.

    I like the idea that humans might be the only beings that don’t know how to exist. It reminds me of the end of The Road: where the narrator talks about “all things being older than man,” or something like that. We were the last to arrive at the party and we’ll be the last to find out what everyone else already knows!

  • STAGG candy

    Yeah right! I like that image we’re the last ones to the party and so we’re missing a beat…

  • mikedelic

    this one is groovy it is striking chords. just browsing through all the posts.

    the timing on you telling me about this stuff is perfect. i’m really working on an argument against zizek and the whole freud-lacan-zizek tradition.

    i really like some of the sentences and ideas though. really stimulating. i am going to take a bath and read and then maybe try and write more of an in depth response. i might crash though i need some rest.

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