Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The Archaeology of Rock Art and Western Philosophy

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

The Archaeology of Rock Art and Western Philosophy

Article excerpt


The article aims to excavate some layers of Western philosophy in order to see how far Western thinkers can illuminate aspects of prehistoric rock art. It will focus on David Lewis-Williams's neuropsychological and shamanistic theory of San and prehistoric rock art, attempting to supplement his emphasis on states of consciousness with a focus on volition. The article thereby aims to theorise, in metaphysical terms, what the shamans may have been attempting to do in their trance dances and rock art. Just as Lewis-Williams argues that the traditional archaeological focus on intellect, instrumental rationality and alert consciousness cannot do full justice to an understanding of important aspects of prehistoric human culture and behaviour, particularly their art, so this article purposes to show the importance of volition in this respect. Implicit in this article, therefore, is a critique of the rationalism of the mainstream Western philosophical tradition. The excavation will thus begin with a consideration of the Platonic bedrock of Western philosophy emphasising Plato's archaic spiritualism--before moving on to Nietzsche's recent followers, and then to a consideration of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. It will be argued that these two philosophers of the will can helpfully illuminate certain aspects of shamanistic trance dances and rock art.


Die artikel poog om sekere lae van Westerse filosofie op te diep om te sien in hoeverre Westerse denkers lig kan werp op aspekte van prehistoriese rotskuns. Die artikel fokus op David Lewis-Williams se neuropsigologiese en sjamanistiese teorie van San- en prehistoriese rotskuns in 'n poging om sy beklemtoning van bewussynstate met 'n fokus op wil te supplementeer. Die artikel poog daarby om in metafisiese terme te teoretiseer wat sjamane moontlik ten doel gehad het met huile transdanse en rotskuns. Op dieselfde wyse wat Lewis-Williams argumenteer dat die tradisionele argeologiese fokus op intellek, instrumentale rasionaliteit en waaksame bewussyn nie ten voile reg laat geskied aan die verstaan van belangrike aspekte van prehistoriese menslike kultuur, gedrag en veral kuns nie, so beoog hierdie artikel om op die belangrikheid van wil in die opsig te wys. Daarom word daar implisiet in hierdie artikel kritiek gelewer op die rasionalisme van die hoofstroom Westerse filosofiese tradisie. Die opgrawing sal begin met 'n beskouing van die Platoniese kern van Westerse filosofie--met nadruk op Plato se argaiese spiritualisme--voordat aanbeweeg word na Nietzsche se resente navolgers en vervolgens na 'n beskouing van Nietzsche en Schopenhauer. Daar sal aangevoer word dat hierdie twee filosowe van die wil op 'n hulpvaardige wyse lig kan werp op sekere aspekte van sjamanistiese transdanse en rotskuns.


This article will excavate some layers of Western philosophy to engage with David Lewis-Williams's neuropsychological approach to understanding some aspects of some prehistoric rock art, (2) focusing on the San, an aboriginal hunter-gatherer people indigenous to southern Africa. In particular, the article aims to see how far Schopenhauer and Nietzsche's philosophies of the will and of art can help to explain, in metaphysical terms, what the shamans might have been attempting to do when entering trance states, and could help to provide a more philosophical understanding of what the spirit world could be. Lewis-Williams argues (2002: 112, 121) that the traditional rationalistic approach to understanding prehistoric humans is unnecessarily limited by its focus on the technological and problem-solving activities of early humans, that is, its study is limited to the intellect and the alert section of the spectrum of consciousness. He argues (pp. 121-125) that, in order to get a more complete picture of prehistoric humans, researchers have to take into account the less rational, more emotive, even autistic aspects of the spectrum of consciousness, and that prehistoric rock art cannot be fully understood without this focus. …

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