Evolution in Context: "Deep Time," Archaeology and the Post-Romantic Paradigm

by André Spears
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Evolution in Context: "Deep Time," Archaeology and the Post-Romantic Paradigm
Author:
André Spears
Year: 
1996
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Comparative Literature
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48
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4
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343
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358
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English
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Evolution in Context: "Deep Time,9 7 Archaeology and the Post-Roman tic Paradigm

JACQUES BOUCHER DE CREVECOEUR DE PERTHES is a name as foreign to discussions of literature or literary his- tory as it is common to textbooks on archaeology. Boucher de Perthes, a customs official and part-time archaeologist,' is histori- cally credited with the archaeological establishment of human an- tiquity. In 1859,as the direct result of his findings, a scientific con- sensus was reached, according to which the existence of human beings on earth acquired a vastly expanded historical dimension that challenged the scientific assumptions then in place. With the radical collapse of the previous authoritative date (circa 4000 B.C.E.) for the origin of humanity's appearance on earth, human history suddenly expanded from a time frame of some six thou- sand years to one that extended hundreds of thousands and per- haps millions of years into the past (as far back as the fossil evi- dence would allow). The scientific establishment of the prehis- toric time span of humanity's life on earth (or as I will call it, the emergence of "deep time") marks a historical juncture whose cru- cial impact on intellectuai life in the later nineteenth century is generally unexamined. Perhaps the best explanation for Boucher de Perthes's relative obscurity is that his thesis regarding the vast age of the human race lies embedded in and occulted by the evolutionary theory proposed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Speczes, a book that also appeared, by coincidence, in 1839.Although The Origin of Species omits explicit reference to the origin of humans (a topic later

Boucher de Perthes also wrote plays, novels, poetry, political satires, travel- ogues, feminist tracts, and pamphlets on free trade.

taken up in the 1871 The Descent of Man), the idea of deep human antiquity is inextricable from Darwin's argument. In The Origin of Species, however, a new time frame for both human and natural history serves as the necessary premise for evolutionary theory's larger and more controversial claims regarding the mutability of species over time, and the natural selection and accumulation of random mutations in the struggle for existence. Moreover, Darwin wrote in a prose style that made his work accessible to the general educated public of its day; it was an instant best seller.' In other ~lords, by challenging Natural Theology's governing belief in the fixity of God's creation, Darwin's argument concerning humanity's place in the order of nature diverted public attention away from the no less crucial issue of humanity's place in the order of time.

On the basis of his excavations in the Somme valley, Boucher de Perthes advanced his thesis regarding humanity's deep antiq- uity-"Dieu est kternel, mais l'homme est bien vieuxX-in his 1847

Antiquitks celtiques et nntkdiluviennes. 1Mkmoire sur l'industrie primitive et les arts a leur 07-igine.Vhe complex series of events whereby, in 1859, a panel of distinguished and influential British scientists came to corroborate and to accept the truth of "deep time" is care- fully chronicled in Donald K. Grayson's valuable study, The Estab- lishment of Hunznn Antiquitj (1983). As Grayson observes, and as is perhaps not immediately obvious today, "before about 1859 most Western natural historians and philosophers were as certain that the advent of the human species was a fairly modern event as they are now quite certain that it is a fairly ancient one" (2).

Grayson notes by way of introduction (3-9) that the concept of a deep human antiquity is itself ancient and has long been the sub- ject of debate. The oldest argument in support of human antiquity took as its premise the magnitude of human knowledge, as in Ecclesiastes 1:lO: "Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look, this is ne~~'?"

The reply, "No, it has already existed, long before our time," stemmed from the belief that all major inventions and discoveries were already made, and pointed to a time frame in which humanity had been in existence for a vast period of time, perhaps even eternally. Plato provided the seed of this argument in the Timaeus (its later use reappeared in such writers as Diderot and Voltaire). However, this same argument, based on an analysis of the magnitude of human knowledge, was also used to support

One thousand two-hundred fifty copies of T~P were printed,

OrigCn of S~PCZPS

which sold out on the first day. A second edition was rushed out and appeared in January 1860. A total of six editions appeared in Darwin's lifetime. See "Editor's

Introduction" (Darwin, Origin 34).

'The second and third volumes of Celtic and A'ntediluvian A'ntiquities appeared in 1857 and 1864, respectively. The quotation, "God is eternal, but mankind is very old," is the concluding line of the second volume.

the opposite contention, uiz. that significant inventions and dis- coveries were still being made and were therefore indicative of the recency of humanity on earth."istorically, both positions were often taken to combat Aristotelian eternalism. Early arguments in favor of human recency are found in Lucretius's De Rerurn ~Vatura, Macrobius's Commentary on ScipioS Dream, and Saint Augustine's

The City of God. The point is, however, that as long as a set of dated time markers from the past was unavailable, the results provided by all of these approaches remained equivocal.

Grayson summarizes the sequence of events leading to the es- tablishment of human antiquity as follows:

In retrospect, the establishment of human antiquity can be visualized in terms of a series of discrete steps, each of which made the discovery of truly ancient human beings more likely. Stone tools became widely recognized as such during the early 1700s. At about the same time, the order of deposition of strata began to be used to extract sequences of events in earth history, opening the door to placing hu- man remains in that sequence. In the early 1800s, it became widely recognized that the fossil content of strata could be used to link those strata together across wide expanses of earth. When it became recognized as well that the superficial strata of western Europe and many other regions of the earth contained the re- mains of extinct animals, including such creatures as the wooly mammoth and ~vooly rhinoceros, and that the remains of these animals were often associated with a set of distinctive gravels and clays, geological markers became available for assessing the antiquity of people on earth. Fifty years later, stone tools were found tightly associated with those time markers, and general agreement was reached that people were, in fact, ancient on earth. (8)

Before considering some of the effects of "deep time" on contem- porary literature, a few comments seem in order regarding this slow and intricate change in temporal perspective, particularly in regard to the difficulties attending to the agreement reached "fifty years later."

The near-indistinguishability in our own time between Darwin's theory of evolution and the emergence of "deep time" reflects the historical force with which "deep time" destroyed the Biblical link between an allegorical earth history and a genealogical Adamic history, as these are presented in the Book of Genesis. Yet, clearly the distinction between Biblical allegory and a Biblical record of genealogy set the stage for the collapse of prevailing assumptions regarding human recency, in that it brought into question the re- lation between the presumed recency of humanity's remains and the profound age of the geological deposits and paleontological context in which they surfaced.

Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, estimates lo- cating the date of Creation at the onset of the fourth millenium

Assertions of human recency or human antiquity based on assessments of the quantity of knowledge were similar, and complemented by, the same assertions made on the basis of human physical or linguistic diversity. See Grayson, Chapter 7, 139-67.

B.C.E. gained common acceptance and authoritative status on the basis of a tallying of Biblical genealogie~.~

In other words, the pas- sage of time was measured by the number of generations de- scended from Adam. By derivation, the literal reading of the word day, in the first verses of Genesis, became the means by which the origin and date of Creation could be deduced backwards from the time span of Adamic history. For example, Luther took 4000

B.C.E. as the date of Creation; yet there was support for other dates of Creation such as 4032, 3949 and 3946 B.C.E., based on varying combinations of the genealogical tallies with other histori- cal documents and different astronomical calculations. The as- tronomer Icepler declared that he had found an error of four years in the Biblical chronology, and it was the acceptance of this that produced the date 4004 B.C.E. in the margin of the Authorized Version of the Bible published in 1611. Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) held the opinion that "from the evening ushering in the first day of the world, to that midnight which began that first day of the Christian era, there were 4003 years, seventy days, and six temporarie howers" (Daniel 34). Similarly, Dr. John L.ightfoot, Master of St. Catherine's College and Vice-Chancellor of the Uni- versity of Cambridge, wrote in 1642 that "Man was created by the Tnnity about the third houre of the day, or nine of the clocke in the morning on 23 October 4004 B.C." (Daniel 34).

The eventual decoupling of an allegorical/genealogical Biblical chronology in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, un- der the auspices of the French Enlightenment and the work of the natural historian Georges Buffon in particular, made possible the discovery of human antiquity as the necessary corollary to the earth's own long history.~omanticism, in this sense, oversaw a historical period in which the earth was recognized to be ancient, but humanity not yet so; and Nietzsche's "death of God," in a lit- eral sense, became the radical discrediting of the Bible as a scien- tific standard of reference in the matter of human history and natural history alike.

The Biblical account of Noah's Flood made the discovery of "deep time" complex. That account became the site of a scientific struggle to reconcile the empirical evidence with Biblical author- ity-the same struggle that evolution theory faced in more dra-

"Attempts to translate Biblical chronology into a hard absolute chronology date back to the early C:hurch fathers. Jerome's additions to the chronology of Eusebius provide the basic time scale from which the concept of a universe six thousand years old was later derived (Daniel 34).

Vt twas primarily Buffon's 36-volume Histoil-e ATatu?-~lle (1749-1789) that laid down the unqo7-naitarianidea of an ancient earth, an earth that was once a molten, incandescent globe, and that continues to change and pass through a series of epochs, in conformity with certain fixed, quasi-Newtonian principles (Grayson 2741).

matic terms. In Georges Cuvier's Recherches sur les ossernents fossiles cx'e quadrupbdes (1812), the demonstration concerning the extinc- tion of numerous large quadrupeds (e.g. mastodon, wooly rhinoc- eros, giant sloth),: as well as Cuvier's association of the most re- cent of these extinctions with the gravel deposits later identified as di~uviurnby MTilliam Buckland in Reliquiae Diluvianae (1823), pro- vided the first widespread time markers by which human antiquity could be judged (Grayson 59-69). However, as long as neither hu- man bones nor stone tools were found within or beneath the diluvium together with evidence of an extinct species, or, more signicantly, as long as such discoveries remained limited to the misleading geological conditions found in caves (crucially not the case for Boucher de Perthes's archaeological finds) it continued to be possible to read the separate presence of (ancient) extinct animals, on one hand, and (recent) human remains, on the other, with consistent reference to a geological catastrophe of global pro- portions, a universal Deluge that wiped out the extinct species while serving as historical background to post-diluvian humanity. According to this catastrophist and generally accepted scenario, the remains of ante-diluvian peoples, i.e. the humanity that God destroyed through the Flood, existed in central or southern Asia, the theorized cradle of the human race: as suggested by Scripture, the human race was recent in the West and archaic in the Orient.8 Not until the idea of the universal Flood as a cause for the deposits of diluvium was abandoned-following the realization that diluvian deposits of different regions were not of the same age, and that diluvium of a given area had been deposited at different times-did explicit concern with Biblical chronology recede into the far background.' VideRimbaud: "Aussit6t que 1'idi.e du Di.luge se fut rassise.. ."I0

The emergence of "deep time," in its relation to contemporary literature, suggests Walter Benjamin's well-known image of the "angel of history" in Thesis IX of "Theses on the Philosophy of History" (Benjamin 25'7-58). Caught in the storm of "deep time," the contemporary writer is like the angel, who is caught by the

:Cuvier was also the first to discover the remains of a dinosaur, which he found in an outlying region of Paris.

"he intimate connection between colonialist expansion and the advancement of archaeology is suggested by the building of the Suez Canal. Con~pleted in 1859, the Suez Canal, while serving commercial and military interests, also significantly furthered the science of stratigraphic analysis essential to archaeology. Indeed, the rise of archaeology as a whole remains closely associated with the mining ven- tures of the Industrial Revolution (Grayson 18-2.5).

In addition, one might note that 1859 was also the year when petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania (Olson, Ishmael 18).

See Louis Agassiz's Etud~ssur IPS glaciers (1840)

"This is the opening line in Rimbaud's Illuminations (pub. 1886)

wings in the storm called "progressm-a storm blowing out of Heaven-and who is being pulled backwards into the future: the writer bears witness to the mounting pile of humanity's remains, and is faced with the jinxed, but sacred, task of tending to their worth. And the. techni by which the writer achieves this elusive goal is a form of archaeological or "archaeologistic" (A. Kuspit) writing that rediscovers archaic modes of perception.

In his essay "The Symbol of the Archaic,"" Guy Davenport con- siders the interrelation of literature, on one hand, and what might be described as the joint disciplines of historic and prehistoric ar- chaeology, on the other (Daniel 13).Davenport conceives of the archaic as a great "invention" or "discovery" in our time: "As the first European renaissance looked back to Hellenistic Rome for a range of models and symbols, the twentieth century has looked back to a deeper past in which it has imagined it sees the very be- ginnings of civilization" (Davenport 21). Davenport refers to Heraclitus, for example, in whose work science and poetry stay fused, as "a genius loci everywhere, in Hopkins, Spengler, Pound, William Carlos Williams, Eliot, Olson, Gertrude Stein" (21). Simi- larly, Pound's first Canto translates the most archaic part of the Odyssey, itself a record of the Descent into the Underworld trace- able to the Gilgamesh epic; and like Pound's Cantos, or Kazantzakis's The Odyssey: A iWodern Sequel, Joyce's "long chord" in Ulysses, in which the epic equation of the modern and the archaic resounds, evokes the most ancient pages of Western literature (Davenport 22-23). The return to the archaic can also be noted in such writers as C.P. Cavafy, Hermann Broch, D.H. Lawrence, H.D., Robert Graves, Antonin Artaud, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Mar- guerite Yourcenar, Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, and others-writers for whom the archaic serves both to resuscitate lit- erary genres and to inspire new ones.

Davenport observes that "the heart of the modern taste for the archaic is precisely the opposite of the Romantic feeling for ruins" (22). He draws a broad distinction between the generally negative value that Romantic sensibility assigns to the archaic, and the posi- tivevalue that the archaic acquires in the post-romantic age.

As a reaction to an Enlightenment discourse on origins, Roman- tic writing used ruin and fragmentation as a means of pointing to a greater truth beyond the vicissitudes of history-the truth of the "imagination," which it valued over and above the "reason" of a preceding age. That Enlightenment spirit was exemplified, for in- stance, in the work ofJoachim Winckelmann, the so-called "father

" This essay is reprinted in Davenport's Geogral~hyof the Imag'natio'n. In addi- tion to writers and poets, Davenport's argument includes references to Picasso, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Brancusi, Czorbusier, Buckminster Fuller, and other artists and designers. "The Symbol of the Archaic" is inspired in large part by the work of Charles Olson, to whom Davenport devotes another essay in the same collection.

of archaeology," whose History of Ancient Art (1763-1768) appeared at a time when the European collection and classification of artifacts from the Ancient MTorld were on the rise. In contrast to Enlightenment reflection on the distant past, the Romantic sense of awe and wonder attendant on the perception of ruins (an effect similar to the experience of the sublime) underscored the power of the imagination to grasp the organic wholeness uniting Nature and human consciousness. For the Romantic writer, the archaic functioned as an image for historical obsolescence in the face of Nature's regenerative power.

In such works as Thomas Love Peacock's "Palmyra," John Will- iam Burgon's "Petra" (winner of the 1845 Newdigate Prize), Volney's Les Ruines, Shelley's "Ozymandias" ("Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! "), the diverse spectacle of the distant past inspired a deep awe and a Romantic melancholy that posited a new vocabulary of images for poetry, and that brought into per- spective a certain arch-limit before which the spirit of scientific inquiry and rationalist argument were found wanting. Despite its new view of the archaic, however, the Romantic response to the Enlightenment discourse on origins continued to function as an appropriation and extension of that same "enlightened," progres- sivist discourse. For both Wordsworth and Blake, as a case in point, the neolithic monuments of England (viz. Stonehenge) belonged to a savage world that practiced human sacrifice-a world far re- moved from the one that their writings envisioned and worked to achieve.12

By contrast, in a post-romantic moment subsequent to the emer- gence of "deep time"-and especially in the modern and post- modern wakes of the First and Second World Wars-the archaic acquired positive value as a source of inspiration and energy. After the cataclysm of world war, society looked for its lost vitality in the distant past. As a widespread response to the ruin of Romantic as- pirations, the twentieth century's "renaissance of the archaic" re- discovered and deployed "critical tools for analyzing reality such as the ancient cultures kept bright and sharp" (Davenport 20). An archaic sense of the world became the mirror-image of a possible fulfillment on the horizon of future history, a fulfillment with its roots in civilization's deepest strata. For an industrial or post-in- dustrial society aware that it had abandoned the energies, certain- ties, and values first expressed by humanity as poetry and design,

l2 See Blake, Jerusalena; also, M'ords~vorth, "Salisbury Plain," and The Prelude (1805), Book XI1 (line 331 and ff.).

In his essay "Olson," Davenport notes that the first mention in English poetry of Cro-Magnon polychrome painting appears in a sonnet by Words~vorth from 1846, in ~vhich the poet objects to the proliferation of illustrations in Victorian maga- zines, and criticizes the regression to the crudity of communication by pictures (cf. Davenport 84).

the archaic represented a spring-like moment of birth into cul- ture, manifesting itself throughout all cultures.

The radical collapse of Biblical time frames served as historical context for the "strange fact," as Davenport puts it, "that what has been most modern in our time was what was most archaic" (28). With a greatly expanded notion of historical time, cultures and civilizations once deemed remote acquired a contemporary aura by virtue of their relative proximity to the present, within the larger vista of human prehistory. Moreover, Darwin's radical vision of nature, in which divine harmony and fixity were replaced by randomness, struggle, and change, had worked to destabilize Nature as a basis on which to model the organization of society.

Both before and after the emergence of "deep time," the ar- chaeological record supplied mounting, often spectacular evi- dence of archaic societal models from which contemporary writers could draw: a panoramic view-as in the Bible or Homer-of older forms of social organization. Reinforcing a trend that began with the 1709 excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum,'~he growing success and popularity of archaeology throughout the Ro- mantic era can be traced to milestones such as the discovery of the Rosetta Stone (found in 1'799, deciphered in 1822), the excava- tion of the Biblical sites of Babylon, Nineveh, and Nimrud, the de- cipherment of cuneiform, the discovery of Etruscan tombs, and the discovery of ancient civilizations in Central America. Similarly, in the last decades of the nineteenth century and in the first of the twentieth, the emergence of "deep time" served as background to the discovery of Cro-Magnon painting (including the art of Altamira in 1879), and to Schliemann's excavations of Troy and Mycenae, as well as to the discovery of the previously unknown Sumerian, Minoan, and Cycladic civilizations. The year of Ulysses and The Waste Land-1922-was the year of the richest archaeo- logical find ever: the tomb of Tutankhamon. After the Second World War, archaeologists found the Dead Sea Scrolls, and deci- phered Linear B; in 1959, carbon-14 dating established that the megalithic monuments of Britain and Malta were older than the pyramids of Egypt and the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. In 19'72, the discovery of "Lucy" identified the genus homo as 2,500,000 years old.

Stephen Daedalus's statement, "History ... is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,"14 could serve as a sort of motto for

'Vn fact, the history of archaeology can be traced back to Nebuchadnezzar and Nabodinus (the last king of Babylon)-both of whom dug and restored Ur in the seventh century B.C.E. The term archaeology (Gk, archaiologza, "discourse about ancient things") was introduced into Tt7estern scl~olarsl~ip

in the seventeeth cen- tury by Jacques Spon (1647-85), ;i German doctor in L.yons who travelled widely in the ancient world (Daniel 13-14).

I' This quote appears in the "Nestor" section of Crljsses (Joyce, C'lysses28)

those writers who assigned strategic value to the archaic. The return to the archaic represented a common effort to restore a living notion of the sacred, while functioning also as a political metaphor for the openness of the future. It served to help writers oppose a form of society where technology and the institution of Science, and the hegemonic discourse that the so-called human sciences were taking over from the physical sciences, stood ac- countable for the shambles of history, particularly in the twentieth century. By defining the archaic in counter-hegemonic terms that opposed the forces of positivism and scientism, these writers addressed what they saw as a discursive threat to the genuine "progress" of human society.

The return to the archaic in literature advanced the vision of a coherent society that would cease to produce the type of large-scale systematic contradictions of which world war seemed the expression. Invariably, the envisioned coherence was to be achieved through an improved understanding of, and conformity with, human nature. For certain twentieth century writers, the very question of what it meant to be human called for a new account of Genesis, in which homo safiiens would come to life. Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939), and Bataille's Lascaux, or. tlze Birtlz of Ar.t (1955) offer three salient and contrasting visions of a constitutive moment in human evolution. Each speaks for the Angel of History.

In Ciuilization and Its Discontents, Freud introduces a footnote immediately before his review and discussion of Totem and Taboo (1913), an earlier work in which he described the passage of a "primal horde" ("Urhorde") into the communal life of a totemic culture formed by bands of brothers who have killed and con- sumed their all-powerful father ("Urvater").'"The footnote retroactively offers an evolutionary context for Totem and Taboo, and considers the passage of lzomo sapiens's "ape-like" ancestors from a species of quadruped to the higher species of upright biped: "The fateful process of civilization would thus have set in with man's adoption of an erect posture." This primal moment in evolution is fateful, for Freud, because it serves as the scene of an "organic repression" by which the memory of an earlier stage of development, where sexual urge was based on the sense of smell, is relegated to oblivion. According to this scenario, primal man, learning to raise himself up, is no longer attracted to the smell of the female's genitals, but rather finds his sexual urge obeying a

'j

The footnote in Ciz~ilization and Its Discontents appears at the beginning of Section IV (Freud, Civilization 46-47). The ritual murder of the Father in Totem and Taboo appears in Section V of the chapter "The Return of Totemism in Child- hood" (Freud, Totem 140-46).

visual stimulus."jThe smell of the menstruating female is cause and content for repression. However-like "the gods of a super- seded period of civilization," who "turn into demonsn-repression and taboo, at the threshold of civilization, are not without their price. Man's genitals, which were previously concealed, become visible and in need of protection. They are the object of shame. From the moment that he adopts an "erect posture" ("raises him- self from the ground") man is not happy either with what he was or what he is:

From that point the chain of events would have proceeded through the devalua- tion of olfactory stimuli and the isolation of the menstrual period to the time when ~isual stimuli were paramount and the genitals became visible, and thence to the continuity of sexual excitation, the founding of the fanlily and so to the threshold of human ci~ilization. (46-47)

Therefore, as Freud explains in Ciuilization and Its Discontents,

mankind founds civilization on the basis of work and its collective

organization."

Where Freud is concerned with humanity's place in nature, Joyce, in Finnegans Wake and Ulysses, focuses on humanity's place in textuality, and on the imbrication of the text within the text-

The Odysse~l in Ulysses, Vico's Scienza Nuova in I'inneguns Wake. Joyce's two masterworks seize on two founding moments in the ar- chaeology of Western civilization: a Graeco-Roman Classical mo- ment in history, and a global Paleolithic moment in prehistory. For Joyce, the return to Greece (and Rome) in Ulysses leads back to a universal source of authority in Vico's primal scene of the Thunder, a scene that Joyce rewrites at the beginning of Ennegnns Wake: "the fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbron

ntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnska~i~ntoohoohoorden-

enthurnuk!)... retaled."lR The Big Bang of the first thunderclap, according to Vico, caused the "first founders of gentile humanity" to raise their eyes and become aware of the sky: "They pictured the

'I' The constitutive importance in the history of civilization that Freud attributes
to the "organic repression" of the human sense of smell is broached as early as
1909 in the penultimate paragraph of "Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Seuro-
sis," aka. "The Rat Man" (Freud, Notes 247-48).

':It should be noted that Freud, in this footnote, does not consider that the type of biological change attending to the evolutionary passage from quadruped to bi- ped, or from the estrous cycle of primates to the menstrual cycle of hurnans, might intervene in the structure or chemistry of the proto-hun~an/human brain, "Or- ganic repression" describes a physiological change whose scientific observation assigns the value of a constant to an episten~ological construct-or way of know- ing-that humans would share with their "ape-like" forbears. In this respect, Freud's primal scene remains prior to anatomy, biology, or chemistry.

Interestingly, in light of the Thunder in Finnegans Wake-prior to the identi- fication of stone tools as such (in the early 1700s)-these stone objects, which were posited to ha~e grown in the ground or fallen, mcteor-like, from the sky, were often referred to as ceiaunia, "thunderstones," an expression from the Greek kerauncis ("thunderbolt") and the Latin ceraunius ("pertaining to thunder") (Grayson 5).

sky to themselves as a great animated body, which in that aspect they called Jove, the first god of the greater gentes, who meant to tell them something by the hiss of his bolts and the clap of his thunder" (Vico 117) .I9

Joyce at once begins in rzco7-so,or Thunder as unfinishable chaos, from which corso, or Thunder as the voice of Jove, emerges, calling upon humanity to "wake again." Thus, the primal scene is always al- ready an act of interpretation-prima1 man's interpretation of thun- der, Vico's interpretation of history, Joyce's interpretation of Vico. Recycling Vico's fourfold scheme, according to which history moves from corso to 1-ico7-soand back-from an Age of Gods to an Age of Hero-Poets, to an Age of Man whose destiny is original Chaos- Joyce construes the primal scene in the Scienza Nuoua as the absence of primal scene for which Vico's text and his own substitute in turn.'O In the first paragraph of Finnegans Wake, the prelude to the sound of the Thunder is a primal scene forever in recession: "Sir Tristram . . . had passencore rearrived from North Armorica . . . nor had topsawyer's rocks . . . exaggerated themselse . . . nor avoice from afire bellowed mishe mishe . . . not yet, though venisoon after. . . not yet, though all's fair in vanessy . . . The fall (. ..) .. . retaled." The text is the product of glyphs, the trace of a trace of a trace. The authority of the speaking subject breaks down, points to a semiotic process that tends to go haywire because it is infinite. As recycled by Joyce's text, Vico's cyclic vision of history is no less a history of language, an anarchic master narrative that ends in the same archaeological ground where it begins."

Bataille's "primal scene," as set forth in Lascaux, or The Birth of Art, has elements in common with both Freud and Joyce." In

'"ee paragraphs 374-81, especially 377. In this opening section of Book I1 ("Poetic Wisdom"), Vico outlines his own Biblical chronology concerning the Thunder as follows: "As we have postulated, this occurred a hundred years after the flood in Mesopotamia and two hundred years after it throughout the rest of the world."

'O I am indebted to Professor Pellegrino d'Xcierno of Hofstra University for his comments on Finnegans IVake's opening scene of the Thunder and its relation to Vico's work.

"TWO recent works on Finnegans IVuke highlight the resonance of "deep time" in Joyce's text. John Bishop, in~roycei Book ofthe Dark (1986)-while arguing that Finnegans Wake is most literally about the "e~ening world" of the night and of sleep (in the same way that L'lysses is about the day, the reconstruction of diurnal life)-points to the text's profound affinity with TheE~lptianBook ofthe Dead (see Chapter Four, esp. 86-91). Similarly, Jacques Derrida in "Deux mots pour Joyce" (1985) sees Joyce's reprise of Vico's primal scene as referring to the Biblical name of G0d-YH1$~H-the god of fire who declares war on humankind, in what is si- multaneously an act of love. The speaking subject is di~ided from the onset, by the god in the house that Babel builds and whose dispensation to humankind is: I

command you and forbid you to translate me.

"Bataille's observations seem all the more timely in light of the recent discovery of the Chauvet cave near Vallon-Pont-d'Xrc, one of the major archaeological finds of this century.

Bataille's account of Genesis, "Lascaux Man" creates the world of art out of nothing, and becomes the divine or miraculous being of distinctly human proportions, who, like God in the Bible, creates order out of primal chaos: "'Lascaux Man' created-created out of notlzzng-this world of art in which communication between indi- vidual minds begins" (11; OC9: 12).23

For Bataille, the "miracle" that is the birth of art at Lascaux marks the distinction between Neanderthal man and lzomo sapzens

(i.e. between lzomo sapi~ns neanderthalenszs and lzomo sapipns sapz- pns). It is a distinction, first drawn by Johan Huizinga, that involves the primordial passage from homo fab~v ("man who works") to lzomo ludens ("man who plays"): "'Homo ludens' ... is not exclusively appli- cable to the man whose works gave human truth the virtue and brilliancy of art; the term befits all of mankind" (35; OC9: 39) .''

What preceded Lascaux, for Bataille, was a work-mentality-the world of homofaber-capable of assuring the ambush and slaughter of large, powerful animals. The making of tools for hunting big game conditioned the human thought processes that developed language and brought nascent humanity to the threshold of art (Bataille 28; OC 9: 30). In the Aurignacian "figures" and "magic- makings" ("ofidvatzons magigues") of Lascaux, humanity reinscribed the world of work within an animal kingdom whose arch-context was nature as Creation:

These magic-makings, these figures (probably made capriciously, not at the sole behest of dire necessity), correspond very poorly to our usual idea of means-of implements, tools. These figures expressed the moment during which man ac- knowledged the higher yalue of the snnctlty belonging to the animal-which perhaps he sought to befriend, thereby dissimulating the naked desire for food that impelled him. That hypocrisy has its deeper meaning: it was the recognition of a soyereign value. This behavior's ambiguity conveys an ilnportant feeling: man considered himself incapable of attaining the end he aimed at unless he first con- trived to rise to a level of parity with it. I-Ie had at least to feign equality with a poxver which surpassed him, which calculated nothing, never toiled, was always at play, and whose animality was not distinct. (127-128; OC9: 78)

Lascaux's animal paintings are evidence, for Bataille, of a differ- ent being, who has seen the light of a higher truth and remains forever irreducible to the profane time of necessity, work, and logic.

The darkness and winter of lzomofaber's world set the stage for homo ludens's enactment, in the artwork, of a sacred transgression of religious taboos-a festive transgression that, for Bataille, is inti-

29 Page references are to Lnscnux, or The Birth ofArt, in the series "The Great Centuries of Painting," published by Skira; this text, like its French equivalent, is amply illustrated with color photographs. In addition, page references are also given for the French text as it appears in George Bataille, Oeuvres Complites, 9.

2' AS Bataille notes, the term homo lttdens is taken from Johan I-Iuizinga's Homo Ludens: A Stttdj of the Play-Element in Culture (translated from the Dutch into French in 19511, which is listed in the bibliography to Lnscattx.

mately linked to ecstatic sensibility, and that gives birth to human nature:

We may propose as fairly certain that, in the strongest sense, transgression only begins to exist when art itself becomes manifest, and that the birth of art fairly closely coincided, in the Reindeer Age, with the tun~ultuous outbreak of play and festi~alannounced by these care-painting figures. (38;OC9: 40)

Bataille argues that for honl,o faber both sexual activity and death have the value of something entirely other ("ce qui soudain s'annonce tout autrs" [OC9: 351).The tool-based work that founds the society of honl,o faber thus institutes vital prohibitions that as- sure the society's integrity, by sheltering it from the disturbances repeatedly provoked by death and sexuality. In this haunted world beholden to "sad necessity," art acquires the sacred value of a transgressive act. The painting of animals, combined with the sys- tematic occlusion or encryptation of human figures, represents a vital connection, made by homo ludens, between the otherness of the animal and the otherness of the forbidden realm to which ta- boos bar access. As a result, the violence of the hunt, setting hu- mans against dangerous animals, is replayed in the transgressive violence of a sacred moment in which the art of homo ludens tem- porarily overcomes homo faber's subjection to prohibitions and to the fear and awe that they inspire. In relation to homo faber, whose presence the animal paintings efface, the depicted animals ac- quire the suprahuman aura imparted to them through association with the otherworldliness safeguarded by taboos; and it is with this suprahuman aura, or power, that homo ludens in turn id en ti fie^.^"

For Bataille, the art of Lascaux fulfills the same social function as sacrifice, in whose moment of paroxysm the sacredness of a richer, more profound order of being finds expression: "A work of art, a sacrifice contain something of an irrepressible festive exu- berance that overflows the world of work, and clash with, if not the letter, the spirit of the prohibitions indispensable to safeguarding this world" (39; OC 9: 42). When Bataille describes the large gath- erings in the blain Hall of Lascaux, with as many as a hundred people or more, it is to confirm the sense of exuberance and festiv- ity that underlies art's playful transgression of the same prohibi- tions that it sanctifies. Moreover, although this is not specifically discussed by Bataille, the art of Lascaux would also highlight homo ludens's use of fire for purposes of illumination to paint, or view paintings-a non-utilitarian use of fire.

For Bataille, as for Freud, the prehistoric passage from animal to human is marked by primal violence. Prohibition and taboo potentialize transgression. Yet, the violence and transgression in Bataille remain linked to what might be described as a glyphic or

'"For further commentary on Bataille's Lascaux, sce Steven Ungar; also, Maurice Rlanchot, "Naissance de l'art" (9-20).

Joycean economy of excess that overrides the reductive authority of a constitutive equation between transgressive violence and col- lective murder. Bataille's case for the birth of humanity and art at Lascaux stages an inaugural moment that preserves the mystery of origin, while highlighting the symbolic function (inherent to art) that lends authority to human order.'%aughter has a constitutive role in this scheme:

Human laughter began somewhere. Perhaps not with Neanderthal Man; but Lascaux Man laughed, of that we may be sure. And we forget what a relief, what an unburdening new-born laughter must have been: it requires all of knowledge's weighty seriousness to make us forget it. (25; OC9: 26)

Where Joyce points to howlo Ludens and to the birth of human laughter in the spectacle of a thunder clap from which homofaber recoils, Freud brings lzomo faber to light as the murderous back- ground against which lzomo Ludens struggles-while Bataille, in a sense, keeps both in play, presenting homo safiiens as the being whose sapience is born as much from laughter as from totemic bloodshed.

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