Kultur, Zoologi og metafysisk spekulasjon

The things that treat us badly

In Arkeologi, Filosofi, Vitenskap on juni 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm

The past is not here.

This is no more the outcry of an outraged man than a thesis spun over from the fabric of archaeology and long mulled over. Not only have I studied the art of digging up the past and writing it down for years, I have felt a sharp regret in never having been able to live side by side with – to dwell with – the material heritage that surrounds us. Looking at an exhibition and finding it fake, even modern, is far from a rare experience. Away from the one who watches, the monuments feel a little less fake. That «the past is not here» is not an arrogant idea. It is the truth that slapped me across the face some years ago when I encountered a large Iron Age burial mound at an archaeological excavation. It was the truth, not by way of an image, but as the ontological truth. As when the theologians say that God is in everything, in this specific phenomenological sense, the truth is in its own respect everywhere. It is as such according to Being. This was my very first excavation and so it can hardly count as an encounter, more of a joyous meeting.The remains of a house more that a thousand years old had already been uncovered by mechanical and human forces over the course of four intensive weeks in the dead warm sun. Naturally I was nervous, but there was a kind of pleasure (joie) in that fear, even though I was trembling. I had found it, what I was looking for. The past had never been nearer. «This is a postholde», my colleague said. The phrase and the sight of the structure had a stinging effect. In one swoop the illusion was gone; if it had been slightly and slowly broken during my years of reading it had now been completely vanished. The posthole was not, again in the direct ontological respect, part of anything cultural or human in any sense. A whole team of archaeologists had teamed up to find the basic material for the creation of a cultural history, and it was all nature … and nothing. As if we did not exist, no response. No connexion, as Hume would have said. I was looking at dirt. Such was my definitive experience with the prehistoric world.

As someone before me has so firmly formulated it: an encounter of the zero type. We do not share past space. Archaeology passes its time by molding nature into culture. Humanity passes its time by watching this cultural history. We have invented all kinds of devices expressively for the purpose. We never grow tired of it. No doubt it represents for us a perfect world. Something strange, unreachable, different from our own, from our uncertain screwed up chaotic mess of a world. All of which makes the (pre-)historic world look that much better. Sometimes it seems so foreign that we stand before its perfection and we are stupified and mute stricken, and despite our sincere wishes, we wonder whether we could ever be like it, ever become so marvelous a society.

Away from the one who watches, the monuments feel a little less fake.  As with the animal kingdom, where everybody seems to know perfectly well what to do and how to do it. A world without problems and without questions. But I am not an animal.

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