Saturday, February 18, 2012

"What constitutes humanness?"

I really enjoy finding interrelatedness in the subjects I've studied. I've especially loved the few film classes I've taken. Some non-art classes are a bit forgettable, but others- like my classes with religious studies professor Vincent Coppola- prove to be enriching and unforgettable. He integrates his passion for film in our class, so he arranges for us to go to open screenings at the CSUN theater. Tonight we saw Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.



What I should establish first is that the earliest art we've found and recorded is so much a representation of the phenomenon that is our species. What set us apart from the neanderthals also living at the time (and all other animals, for that matter) was our imaginative capabilities; our desire to transcend beyond the natural world. We have an entirely unique consciousness; one that explores, that questions. We are aware of our own mortality. And part of the awe of seeing this evidence of human life from 30-40 thousand years ago is seeing the beginnings of our unique consciousness.
When a creature in the rough and ugly seas of nature and evolution does something unrelated to the mechanics of survival; when a creature, struck by the loss of another, buries the body neatly with items of value; makes a flute out of bone and performs music, draws animals in the depths of caves, holds rituals and carries on traditions-- this is human. And it's amazing that human nature over thousands of years has not changed. While still carrying with us raw evolutionary energies- the will to to dominate and survive- we also have the higher consciousness, the part that has allows us to think and act outside of raw nature. Conflict exists inherently between these two; the will to power and the will to love, and the decisions we make in between define morality; spirituality.
What I've taken from this especially is the sort of sacredness of creation, of higher thinking and expression. We can say that ancient man wondered at the natural world and life, exemplified by the realistic renderings of animals in the caves, or the fascination with reproduction seen with votive figures (as merely two examples). In our pedestrian society today in America, are we losing wonder? Are we losing an appeal to higher thought? When everything becomes utilitarian, when places become impersonal- [one of my biggest peeves being charaterless architecture, like grocery stores built as giant hollow boxes with glaring florescent lights inside, surrounded by deserts of asphalt].. When art programs in public schools are cut completely, when the government funds war efforts instead of space exploration programs.. When growth and power become a priority, the opportunities for finding greater meaning diminishes. The greater meaning we inherently strive for, that's part of the human experience. The same part of us, amazingly, frozen on the walls of glimmering ancient caves in France...

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