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In Praise of Shadows
Tuesday 22 November 2022

In the decorated caves of Europe, researchers have observed that the Palaeolithic cave art was designated certain locations within the cave. For all of the art, a spiritual dialogue was being carried out, sometimes for the group, sometimes for the individual. The large painted panels of Lascaux, for example, were thought to be designed for the gathering of a large number of people. But in the European caves there are also many examples where the art was made in unimaginably inaccessible nooks and crannies. This was the dark space for the individual, where the flickering torch gave way to the silent shadows.

In Praise of Shadows caves Europe Palaeolithic art Lascaux Homo Sapiens Rediscovered Paul Pettitt Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
Palaeolithic cave art of Europe, where some of the art was made in unimaginably inaccessible nooks and crannies of the cave.

In the new publication 'Homo Sapiens Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution Rewriting our Origins' by Paul Pettitt, one of the questions the author asks is why our ancestors were drawn into these dark and dangerous spaces. Caves, he argues, make us hypersensitive to the shadows and shapes; this is where our artistic sensibilities are triggered.

Which brings me to another publication I have just re-read; Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's book 'In Praise of Shadows' written in 1933. Here's an extract:

In Praise of Shadows caves Europe Palaeolithic art Lascaux Homo Sapiens Rediscovered Paul Pettitt Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
'Homo Sapiens Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution Rewriting our Origins' by Paul Pettitt. 'In Praise of Shadows' by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.

'A Japanese room might be likened to an inkwash painting, the paper-paneled shoji being the expanse where the ink is thinnest, and the alcove where it is darkest. Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light......When we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind....though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.'

Whatever your thoughts are about this artistic speculation and literary juxtaposition, both books are highly recommended.

Click here to read the review of 'Homo Sapiens Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution Rewriting our Origins' by Paul Pettitt

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