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Whither Paleolithic Art: Reconsiderations and Re-castings of Traditional Research - Essay Example

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The illimitable interpretations available to us in the analysis of any visual phenomena, especially those phenomena mediated by artistic endeavors, coupled with the swell of centuries that wash us on distant shores from our primordial cousins, places special difficulties in the analysis of Paleolithic art…
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Whither Paleolithic Art: Reconsiderations and Re-castings of Traditional Research
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Whither Paleolithic Art: Reconsiderations and Re-castings of Traditional Research

Not only are we faced with trying to transcend our own cultural screens; but also, to what degree our cognitive capacities and development have outpaced those of our ancestors, if at all, is an unknown. Attempts at reigning in the meanings and messages of the signs that are placed on caves in Lascaux or the Venus figurines are rife with tendentious pitfalls, which might turn ostensible rigorous scholarship into little more than plausible fiction. The deployment of psychoanalytical and neurophysiological models of understanding in conjunction with the rise of alterity discourse in academic has questioned long held presuppositions and created new lines of inquiry beyond the traditional categories of analysis. Specifically these suppositions include the regnant status of religion and/or magic in the creation and perception of the art, and the presumption that women were merely passive participants in the production of artwork as traditional scholarship as traditional scholarship presumed Paleolithic aesthetics revolved around the hunter-fertility axis within those cultures. Other suppositions that have been challenged include the notion that what is referred to as "behaviorally modernity" only exists within the anatomical identity of homo sapiens, this is in part based on radiocarbon dating techniques though advancements in this process might shed new light on this issue. This paper will briefly review a segment of the literature that engages some of these methodologies and their respective findings and through this review suggest that an abandonment of ethnological analogies to modern hunter-gatherer cultures be undertaken coupled with an integrationist approach regarding the usage of other methodologies and an increasing awareness of missing perspectives.
E.B. Tylor's assessment of the dominant role of magic and animism in primal culture has dominated interpretations of the art from prehistoric man (Leroi-Gourhan and Michelson 5). Though some hesitation has always remained as regards attaching specific signifiers to the signs on the walls of caves; the standard bearers of academia have always asserted that they were expressions of a deeply animistic and exceptionally "enchanted world-perspective."1 Leroi-Gourhan and Michelson suggest that it is impossible to reconstruct the crucial elements of prehistoric thinking in such a way as to decipher the messages of these drawings and figurines. Tylor believed that primitive man had all the cognitive tools at his disposal as modern man despite the primal stage of social evolutionary development. However, there is little to suggest that it would be possible to transpose our thought processes and bring them to bear on the remains of Paleolithic art that we have before us, "understanding the thought of even living Australian primitives involves great effort on our part. How much greater, then, are the risks involved in the reconstruction of the beliefs of men who lived thousands of years before the appearance of writing" (Leroi-Gourhan and Michelson 5).
As such, there are a number of other obstacles that impede in the extraction of "the Paleolithic message." One of the more pressing is what first level syntactic hermeneutical strategy is to be employed in order to parse a message from a series of cave drawings, as an example. There are three possible strategies: 1)mythographically, as a figures centered around a singular figure or sign, 2)pictographically, as a as an articulated chronological line of images, or 3)or hieroglyphically, where the images themselves represent linguistic units (Leroi-Gourhan and Michelson 10). According to Leroi-Gourhan and ... Read More
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