Discoursifying the past frequently means a selection of facts and events disposed along a synchronic axis. As the subject is an age that history, from its writing place, categorised as pre-historical (i.e., before writing), we must escape that kind of appropriation. And because the subject is what history decided that was already art, we should try a multi-linear approach, sensing rock art as it happened, before and beyond an event.
In this thoroughly mediatised contemporary world there is a widespread tendency to reduce events to their paradoxically most immediate and mediated version. Immediate because it can be appropriated at the instant in his visible the most exposed. Mediated because it may be translated into information and capable of circulating quickly between people and groups eager to ‘tell what happened’ and at the same time eager to integrate, to be part of the chain of facts. ‘I was there. I saw it’, ‘I know exactly what happened’ – the truth of facts is within reach of words and gestures, in such a way that sometimes it seems there are more news than events…
‘Noteworthy events’, or scoops (as the discovery of the Foz Côa engravings), lead us to the spectacular: they scandalise, excite, cause epidermic reactions - their frame is easy to reproduce, easy to ‘tell’. In the faits divers of usual social situations, in the less demanding langue de bois, in the most easily digestible fast word of the moment. Everyday events, political events, artistic events: journalists spare serious analysis in the name of the readiness of the news, politicians are diluted into facts that depoliticise politics, art manifestations get muddled in categories which desingularise them. And so, in this formatted scenario, we live in a mirror of surfaces where we slide to watch the world and watch ourselves watching the world.
Discourses on the past and the ways of making history through past stories sometimes invest on this kind of appropriation and translation of facts. The ‘communication’ ideal frequently becomes the redeeming alibi – yet from a poor idea of communication. Everything seems to be communicable, anything can be said: there is nothing that can not be communicated or said. ‘Intention processes’ are attributed, ‘petitions of principle’ are made, causes and effects are linked – and, in this attempt to ‘communicate’ through time, one forgets temporality, its effects on the way we understand events, and the role of memory in interpretation, selection and construction. Discoursifying events and specifically discoursifying the historical past introduces identitarian factors within the heterogeneous, under a major reason which tends to categorise events and universalise readings. This suspicion on some ways of making history is, despite the differences, similar to the suspicion on media discourse: they overlook that which would be singular in any case, in any ‘event’, in order to capture that which is most predictable and repeatable.
The underlying communication concept is, as it was said before, poor, as it reduces inevitable difficulties. Quite the opposite: we communicate because there are differences, alterities, tensions between different realities and interlocutors. Communicability feeds on this tensional, differentiating character, not on deleting differences or on a priori consensus ideal. Communicational reason can only be supported in relation phenomena, and any relation can only survive among terms that confront each other, tell each other apart, move closer and grow distant.
We should therefore ask how we should reflect as we look into human prehistoric experience from an archaeological viewpoint yet operating within contemporary concepts from philosophy and language sciences. We watch ourselves watching a world through the signic traces left by the Paleolithic men, inscribed on rocks by a riverbank, resisting within time and space. We talk about art, rock art, and we speculate about the way people lived then, how they related to natural phenomena, the way they perceived things, signified, imagined, predicted, dreamed: they went through survival tasks (they hunted and collected), they were organised according to small groups, defined hierarchies, moved, used materials, made utensils, symbolised, made inscriptions, marked stones, animated the world by projecting themselves in every element… yet each of these activities, through that primary projection phenomenon, functioned syncretically with all the others: there would be surprises, fears and pleasures, but there might not be isolated facts – maybe everybody took part in everything as a whole.
If this intuition is right there would be no place for ‘events’ or ‘facts’. One would not be able to ask ‘what happened?’. No one would ask ‘what’s that?’ either. Widespread syncretism and animism would not allow to break the undifferentiated circle between all things – the thought that might spell ‘and’ or declare ‘it is’ would still be absent; ‘relations’ would not be drawn, and the ‘being’ of things would be left undefined. Circularity would have to be broken: it would take waiting for more methodical, systematic, ways of thinking to break it.
Meanwhile, long before philosophy came in
the west as a real way to wisdom, the human spirit peopled the world with myths, beliefs and rituals. The discursive dimension and the pragmatic dimension, saying and doing, the symbolic and the material bound man and the world precariously and made life into an increasingly more complex reality. This discursive dimension of myths, still very marked by animism and syncretism, operated through narratives of events, real and/or imaginary episodes, apparently looking for ‘what is’ in what happened, but aiming to reinstall a cyclical order which was permanently under threat, through a magical thought that might ensure that same reposition as well as its continuity…
The dominating path of Western philosophy was the opposite: it searched in Ideas, in the Being, a transcendental, essential and universal relation with phenomena, with the sensitive, protecting them and itself from heterogeneity and change.
Against this dominating theory, Gilles Deleuze (with Félix Guattari), in line with the old stoical philosophy, attributed the status of concept to the ‘event’, leading it away from the essence, from the thing itself or the being in general, but also from sensitive things. The ‘event’ is neither accident nor fact; it is neither the present nor any modification of the state of things. It belongs to the order of the virtual real as it does not exist outside its effectuations, yet it does not become exhausted in any of them either. It is not ‘what happens’; it is neither the beginning nor the end of any excess or alteration. It is something that is prolonged in the width of a ‘dead time’, paradoxically a ‘near past’ and an ‘imminent future’, but never ‘lived time’. The stoical theory of event distinguishes ‘bodies’ and ‘mixing of bodies’ (as object of physics) from ‘incorporeal transformations’ (as object of metaphysics). Bodies are subjected to physical accidents as to their depth and the metabolism of the creations and destructions that affect them, that affect other bodies and that affect the Whole. Incorporeal events involve those bodies at a superficial level, imposing verbs in the infinitive (to draw, to colour...) to them, verbs that define attributes of the states of things and are expressed by means of statements, ‘slogans’, mots d’ordres (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980). Words that have come a long way, from the outside, and have no “I”, in a permanent state of reported speech, in a future movement with no beginning nor end and which, although incorporeal and imperceptible, change everything, re-territorialise everything, after they have de-territorialised everything.
The real event – which is different from the physical accident (which issues from a cause-effect relation) – is applied to bodies or things, but as language. When said in performative verbal enunciations it remains outdated and oblivious to any kind of representation and to any mediatic reality. Its inherent temporality is pure flux, pure future ungraspable in formulas or identitarian and majoritarian categories. The real history is made by those who oppose to history, who oppose to the accurate system for recording events, who set a diagonal line free through multilinear agencing. The example may be from music as well as painting, literature or philosophy: Pierre Boulez showed how, always differently, a great musician invents a kind of diagonal across harmony and melody, inventing a new technique and a new creation, with no beginning or memory. Pure future (see Deleuze and Guattari, 1980).
Pure future means it was born within history, but it is not history: it is geographical rather than historical. That is why events should not be historicised; it is history that should be ‘eventualised’. Events in their future are creative as to historical experimentation conditions, because happening – the future – is a trans-historical concept. His effectiveness upon the states of things is captured by history; yet, as it has no beginning and no end, it escapes it (see Deleuze and Guattari, 1991). It is an-historical, but not eternal.
Seen from history, what shall we say about pre-history? Writing separates both ages. Yet writing is paradoxically a normativity factor of events and of the singularity of happening. What then to say of paleolithic inscriptions, events from our happening, this writing before there was writing? …
Deleuze, Gilles and Guatari, Félix, Logique du sens. Paris: Ed. Minuit, 1969.
Deleuze, Gilles and Guatari, Félix, Mille Plateaux. Paris: Ed. Minuit, 1980;
Deleuze, Gilles and Guatari, Félix, Qu'est-ce que la Philosophie. Paris: Ed. Minuit, 1991.