The Madness of White Bear — Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (pt. 3)
The various tricks artists and scientists through history have discovered for seemingly halting the motion of things—what Renaissance alchemists called “fixing the volatile”—and then reanimating the fixed under their own power have always seemed godlike; and the aspiration to exercise this power has always seemed arrogant or even blasphemous to some. We can only speculate, but it is worth asking whether some of White Bear’s kin (see previous post on Werner Herzog’s film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams) were not so supportive of his work.
Consider: The walls of Chauvet Cave are not layered with imagery and symbols in the manner of a modern urban canvas such as a freeway underpass. Graffiti is as old as civilization, but in Chauvet Cave there is none of that exuberant transformation of blank surface into picture. There were only a small handful of artists who left their images in the cave over the many, many millennia that humans could have visited and used it, and only some sections of wall have images. This must make us wonder how important or central figurative pictures actually were to the culture of these people.
The answer could be that the inclination and the genius to create images may have been relatively rare, the product of a very unusual sort of person who may have been regarded with as much distrust or suspicion as admiration by his (or her) fellows. Art, even religious art, always has its detractors.
I am purely speculating, but could these Paleolithic melancholics, these cave Michelangelos living under the sign of Saturn, have represented a departure from the philosophy of the dark that governed the prevailing shamanic culture? Could White Bear and his fellow artists, scattered in time, have essentially misused the cave as a canvas for their madness, blasphemously bringing light into what was supposed to remain in perpetual night?