Tuesday, May 19, 2009

cave art in the Dordogne

In May Beth and I spent 4 days in the Dordogne region of France, going into caves to look at the art on the walls of the caves. We went to Lascaux 2, a replica, as the original cave is now closed to the public.(for more on the tragic current conditions in the Lascaux cave, and to see a gallery of art from the cave, go to www.savelascaux.org) We went into the Font de Gaume, Combarelles, Pech Merle and Grotte de Cougnac caves, the Cap Blanc cliff shelter, and to the Le Thot animal park, where they have living descendants of the animals painted on the cave walls.Seeing the Przewalski horses, and the Tarpans (although "polluted by domestication") was like seeing the horses come down off the cave walls.

We saw polychrome paintings, engraving, sculpture, wonderful animals, handprints, bear scratches, and some pretty amazing caves.There are a lot of critters with antlers - I feel that I am in the sacred halls of early European Caribouddhism.
(My basic text before coming to the caves was Juniper Fuse - Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, by Clayton Eshleman. Eshleman has been coming to the caves since the early 1970s, publishing a number of books of poems based on his experiences with the caves, and this book combines cave information, poetry and scholarship, along with photos and illustrations from the caves. Another book I would recommend, as another point of view, is Georges Bataille's The Cradle of Humanity - Prehistoric Art and Culture - with essays and talks on the caves and their art.)

After the caves, we took a train from Sarlat to Paris, and in Paris saw an incredible show of the work of William Blake, which resonated strongly with the images and feelings left in us from the caves.

The First Gallery:

"The eye exists in its savage state." Andre Breton

cool afternoon in
black manganese hands
in the rock more
hands in the rock

cro magnon wireless
this dark
I want to tell you
what I saw

"so many souls circulate here"

The Hyena's den
"in the midst of the animal remains were the teeth
and a fragment of gnawed humerus belonging
to a Neanderthal."

"the statue communicated with them
in a secret language."

William Blake
"How do you know but ev'ry bird
that cuts the airy way
is an immense world of delight,
clos'd by your senses five."

William Blake
"Imagination is eternity."

" What is the material world,
and is it dead?"

I left this morning,
covered in weeds and ashes
and the strong words of a friend,
"We'll never see each other,
in this life, again"


Matthew Elliot Boucher said...

Gary, it sounds like you and Beth had a wonderful trip--I'm glad for you! I wasn't aware that the original Lascaux caves were closed to the public.

Do you have the book by Eshleman in the store? I'd like to take a look at it. --Matt

Joan said...

Hi Gary and Beth,

I thought I was perfectly content in the mountains, but your photos reminded me that there is still one place I'd like to travel, the Dordogne. If only it wasn't so relatively complicated to get there. Perhaps I'll have to be content with the caves of my mind, or perhaps I, too will fall into a hole and discover unknown riches right here.

Thanks for you blog. See you at the conference.



denis said...

the photos are most assuredly spiffy, as is the poem-- you've found your bliss-- denis

massimo said...

Hi Gary adn Beth
I have read recently Shaman by Graham Hancock: it is very interesting what he write about the shamanic origins of cave art and the use of psychoactive plants...
hugs, see you soon or later
massimo de feo

Gary Lawless said...

for visuals from the font du gaume cave, go to:

Joan said...

Have you read/seen the book The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie, a zoologist at the University of Alaska? His thesis is that the art was made as a teaching device,rather than as part of shamanistic ritual. and that the lesser drawings were the equivalent of our grafitti or those just learning to draw. It's a wonderfully substantiated work based on his knowledge of hunting as well as of the period. Well worth reading.

Poetgirl said...

I want mine and my husband's ashes mixed together. What a stunning, perfect metaphor for a life lived as one. Thanks for this.