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  • From the Editor: Iconographies
  • Laurent Dubreuil

The current anthropological discourse about the emergence of the “human”—or would it be better to say the scientific image that we now have of Homo sapiens?—is tied to a “symbolic revolution.” Tens of millennia ago, so the story goes, primates who were already anatomically identical to “us”—and able to master fire and make tools—began doing new things. The earliest trace we have of their new behaviors is in the geometrical and evidently meaningful arrangements of their living quarters. Tiny objects have been found that were not only produced by prehistoric men for practical purposes but also adorned, decorated with colors and shapes. These vestigial artifacts are scarce, and their interpretation is difficult. The extraordinarily sophisticated pictures on the walls of a few caves on every continent form the most spectacular manifestation of early Homo symbolicus that has been preserved (and discovered) to date.

By contemplating incisions on the rock, drawn or carved contours of animals and beasts, series of dots or triangles, or “positive” and “negative” human hands, we suddenly see the pictured inscription of a similar other. The legends that were probably associated with at least some scenes are largely lost to us. There remains today the possibility of some shared signification, through the interruption of referential sense, if there were any—as well as the convincing hypothesis that such elaborate art could only arise among organisms that had first developed fluent and complex speech. To put it differently, the oldest “unequivocal” signs of verbal language among humans are the semantically open images that were written on the walls of those caves. Thus, anthropogenesis is iconographic at its core.

The articles in this collection explore aspects of this continually repeatable event, i.e., the emergence of the human animal through the self-presentation of its otherness, by means of written pictures. Two main questions arise. One concerns both animals and gods, or the limits of the representable, via the human extrema. See in particular the articles by Antoine Traisnel, Nauman Naqvi, and Michael Bennett. Another thread—apparent in the essays by Giorgio Agamben and David Fieni—reflects on the interplay of language and image, through the nomad dissemination of words on new walls and the pictured provocation of silence deriving from the inner limits of the sayable. The art in this issue does not serve to illustrate the words we publish. It is rather the other way around: textual contributions are a counterpoint to the epiphany of the visual. The supplemental images on the front and back cover, taken from Adrien Bugari’s series entitled Cristal, interpret the structures and shapes of minerals through the endless and rhythmic re-inscription of lines, making another covert reference to the iconographic rocks of “our” prehistory. [End Page 3]

Laurent Dubreuil