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67 11 The Voices of Things We find ourselves summoned forth by the earth, the light, water, and fire; we find ourselves directed by the things about us. Animism and fetishism designate two different ways we have understood these experiences . Animism—from animus (wind, spirit, voice)—recognizes a spirit in material things. This spirit is separate from them. The Book of Genesis opens with the Spirit speaking in the void and ordering the waters above and the waters below, seas and dry land, flying and swimming, creeping and crawling things. Yahweh speaks to Moses from the burning bush. In Greece the oracle speaks in the vapors rising from the cleft rock at Delphi. Since the spirit, or spirits, can speak in things anywhere, animism sees our whole environment, living and nonliving, to be a realm of meaning. The form given to the voice can convey information about things near and far. A voice can also address, call upon, and order us. Our linguistics recognizes the vocative and imperative force of speech acts; our grammar and rhetoric classify their forms and uses. But our sciences, even our psychology, do not account for the fact that a voice uttered at a distance can penetrate to the core of our identity and appeal to us and put demands on us. A child may be ordered by the voice of a parent when he or she is no longer there; an adult may hear that voice when the parent is no longer alive, may hear too the parents of that parent. Indeed, is there any society where the voices of ancestors are utterly silenced ? Animism recognizes that voices addressing us and ordering us may be the voices of other species, and voices of the absent and the dead. They can be heard in things. Fetishism recognizes a silent voice of material things themselves.1 Things lure us, provoke us, direct us, charm or hex us. The voice that is heard is only in this singular material thing, which we come upon by chance. Fetishism recognizes a realm of good and bad luck. We find ourselves in a partly or largely manmade environment whose structures, tasks, and paths were planned, and we design our actions and follow maps and signs. Yet even there, we encounter nourishing , energizing, and enchanting things and sinister and baleful things by chance. Strokes of good or bad luck, they lead us into byways and freeways from which we may not return to our planned objectives. We plan 68 V I O L E N C E A N D S P L E N D O R our day, program our ambitions, diagram our life, but, looking back, we may recognize that the essential turns our life took were determined by chance encounters—a captivating teacher, an opportunity that opened and that brought us to a work we love, someone met by chance who became our lover and life partner, a debilitating accident, a disease. That we were born with our sound or sickly body, with our particular sensibility , that we were born at all were strokes of luck. Images of the Fetishist World In the cave paintings of Chauvet, dated 32,000 b.c.e., Cosquer, 27,000 b.c.e., Altamira, 18,500 b.c.e., and Lascaux, 15,000 b.c.e., the art has already reached mastery in the expressive use of the supporting rock, the shadings of pigments, the composition of forms, the use of split perspective to put the figures in movement. Pablo Picasso, in viewing these techniques at Lascaux, said, “We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years.” Aurochs, bison, tigers, antelope, horses are portrayed in movement and depicted with astonishing anatomical skill. Yet typically there are no images of humans. In Lascaux there is a stick figure of a man with the head of a bird. In Chauvet there are none; in Cosquer there is one stick figure of a dead man. Humans did leave the mark of their hands. In these caves and caves in Patagonia, in the Sahara and the Kalahari, in Indonesia, and in Australia , peoples with no cultural links covered rock walls with stencils of their hands, made by holding their hands to the cave wall and blowing dry or liquid pigment across them. Handprints made by simply dipping one’s hand in colored clay and pressing it against the cave wall are rare. Archaeologists are baffled both by the universality of the hand silhouettes found in caves...


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