A Mirror, Wrapped in a Space, Inside a Cave
Back beyond the horizon of myth, some 30 or 40 thousand years ago, our first parents tunneled to the center of the earth, to the womb of nature, and left their pneumagraphs. These were not just men, but artists, or maybe you can pull this off (and remember, you first have to invent paint and brushes, and don't forget to bring a flashlight):
The first thing one wants to say is: how is it possible that artistic standards have so deteriorated since then?
For Chesterton, these efforts show "the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit that does not avoid but attempts difficult things.... In this and twenty other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure."
Or in other words, the paintings reveal the uniquely human combination of objectivity and disinterest on the one hand, and aesthetic delight on the other.
Now, objectivity is transcendence; it stands outside and above, "uncontaminated" by the passions. Conversely, the delight of aesthetic pleasure is obviously subjective; it is not only embodied, but impossible to know in the absence of a body. But this is what man IS: to paraphrase Schuon, he is intellect, sentiment, and will; and he is these things because there is truth, love, and freedom. Intellect is conformed to truth, sentiment to beauty, and will to virtue.
The paintings are of course beautiful, but they also (obviously) reveal a break in nature from necessity to freedom: only an idiot would suggest that these paintings reveal no more freedom than do the spider's web or beaver's dam. There is nothing superfluous in those instinctive constructions, whereas the cave paintings are joyously useless. And when I say "useless," I mean that in the best possible sense. Even if they had some "utilitarian" purpose, they are far more accomplished than they needed to be in order to serve that purpose.
So, I suppose what we want to know is, 1) how did man transcend nature and exit the physical cosmos?, and 2) how did he seemingly enter it more deeply and become so passionately involved in it? As I mentioned a few posts back, it is as if all other vertebrates are on a two-dimensional line (we could say that invertebrates are one-dimensional points). But humans exist in a three- (or four-, really, including time) dimensional space that extends both up and down, forward and back. Perhaps you may have gnosissed how incredibly "roomy" it is in here. How is this so? What is going on in here?
If you have been to college -- or worse, graduate school -- these questions do not come up, because they have long ago been barricaded by the Conspiracy -- the Conspiracy to Steal Your Slack. And Slack is nothing if it is not this expansive and ever expanding soulspace "inside" our heads. I put that in scare quotes, because it is literally the case that our heads are in this space, as per yesterday's post. Although body and soul go together, the body is in the soul, not vice versa (which would be impossible); in other words, form transcends substance.
Long story short -- or maybe 100,000 years is actually a very short span of time relative to a 14 billion year-old cosmos. It would represent what... math is hard... you figure it out. The point is, when speaking of matters that are sui generis, who knows what constitutes a long time? It is not as if we have anything else to compare it to. No doubt for God it is a blink of the eye. You might ask: why did he wait so long to incarnate? To which I might respond: why did the Big Bang wait so long to bang?
So, the two people who first discovered the cave paintings "dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But [they] would dig a good deal deeper before [they] found a place were a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man" (ibid.). This sounds frivolous, and yet, it entails a deep truth: everyone who hasn't been to graduate school appreciates the infinite gap between animals and man, and will not waste his life trying to prove the gap isn't real, or that reindeers can draw more than sleighs, or that spider webs really are works of art.
Yes but: those latter can be quite beautiful, can't they? Now, what is that all about? I'm kind of partial to this one -- in a completely disinterested way, of course:
What we want to know is, why was there so much damn beauty in the cosmos, with no one there to appreciate it? Why is the world beautiful at all? Why does this category even exist?
The reason is that the world is created. Man, being in the image of the Creator, is the co-creator. Creation and freedom go together like intellect and truth. Man is free. Free to do what? Free to create. Create what? Beauty.
Or maybe you have a better idea of what to do with yours. Certainly that is true of the left, for whom artistic creativity is subordinated to an ideology that denies both freedom and beauty -- and therefore man.
The existence of primitive art also speaks to absoluteness, for knowledge of perfection is knowledge of the Absolute. Again, no animal endeavors to improve itself or its behaviors. But the human effort to do so is only possible in light of a transcendent standard. Which is in turn why no great work of art can surpass another -- each has reached the threshold of the absolute, and therefore done its job. What's better, the Pieta or the Divine Comedy?
This would explain why in the cave paintings we see no evidence of "development or degree. Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo sapiens draw it well" (ibid.). Rather, as soon as art commences, it is attuned to transcendent perfection. This is indeed what makes it art and not just postmodern scribbling.
So, "we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature. In other words, every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone" (ibid.).
Man's ultimate origin is not only beyond the horizon of myth, but beyond the horizon of science, since it is not only at a right angle to science, but reveals the very space in which science takes place.
"This creature was truly different from all other creatures; because he was a creator as well as a creature.... somehow or other a new thing had appeared in the cavernous night of nature, a mind that is like a mirror.... as in the furniture of a room a table may be round like a mirror or a cupboard may be larger than a mirror. But the mirror is the only thing that can contain them all. Man is the microcosm; man is the measure of all things; man is in the image of God" (Chesterton).