Most of the time that I think of the words "hand," "sun," or "mercy" I think of Aten, with his hands reaching down from the heavens to the people, including kings, like Akhnaten. To understand such symbols on ancient walls, however, as Hegel pointed out, requires more than just the historical context, but thoughtful meditation. Gadamer writes that we must consider both aesthetics as well as historical consciousness, that we open our senses to our own contemporary life to gain insights into the past. Perhaps a moment with the birds or the animals will do - they appear in so many different ways in ancient art.
We know that the hippopotamus was considered a particularly dangerous animal by the ancient Egyptians (a terrible force for little fishing boats) and it is surmised that it was considered to be a force to be controlled - not only in this life, but in the rivers leading to the afterlife, as well. We may not have to worry about hippopotami what with shipping vessels that outscale the human frame, but we no longer have symbols that may look like animals but point to the perils to be conciliated.
Earlier today, I rifled through old photographs, searching for photos I took of the rock art at the Petroglyph National Monument. I remember standing there and thinking, this makes so much sense, staircases, crosses, spirals - how else does one represent the motions or categories of life. But that was back when I used to assume I could understand anything; now, there is plenty I'd rather not understand at all, rather like what Herzog observed of bears: some things teach us nothing of the world but only about themselves, and their place in the world. Rather like art that takes for its subject the contemporary: there is no guarantee it has the potential to point beyond itself.
But I like to think that bears, if not all human behaviour, does have symbolic potential. In fact, there's a theory that there was once a hunter's taboo on using such animal's names: for whatever reason, it seems some aspects of life are best not addressed head on.
To look through the layers of photographs of oneself from before, one cannot help but wonder whether this creates a new category of the virtual self and virtual thought - labelled as understanding, but rather, nothing more than figments, no longer tangible. Still, one can't but marvel at all the stages one has gone through: up and down the stairs, round and round, plus, minus, there are times perhaps we look nothing like ourselves or who we may later strive to be.
There is shedding in the natural world, and a leaving behind.
What if man could become retrograde, that if there is such a thing as evolution, there is also mental and physical degeneration: the tower falls, the mind is scattered - perhaps across the world, and man is left not even with language but the vaguest primordial intuition to put the pieces back together again.
Like the church Rodin built from nothing more than two hands molded after two people's. I carried that idea with me for years - and think that Gadamer did, too, because he saw the sacred in so many places. He saw it in the symbol that presents the presence of what it represents, thus treated with reverence - as with the flag, for example. Or the holiness of a representation.
I think that to stand before rock art, there is symbolic, even metaphysical, presence, which may be helped by the fact that to see it, one must be standing at the spot, standing among the rocks in their original and natural context. To draw on nature, it seems like a revolutionary idea. We draw over it.
But I could not find my photos of that place, far more varied than the ones one may find on the internet. I remember standing there, and wondering if I would encounter a rattle snake. I was all on my own - I had reached the park by taking the public bus and then walking a way's. All of these factors contributed to the immediacy of my looking. I think this is why people like wildlife safaris: there are no iron bars between the beasts and the jeep, the element of danger is present - but the presence of the animals is also that much closer.
There is no place for presence if interaction shifts to be commanded by buttons. If we are to thoughtfully meditate on life to access the aesthetics, surely we might deepen our inspiration through contact with the animals and plants in the earliest aesthetics. If that is not possible, we may resort to reverence: to behold, become aware of - which, if we follow Hegel's suggestion that we are to interiorise our recollection of an externalised spirit, may be reached less through logic than through the senses of noein.
To see mazes and spirals - is this not to be the amateur mathematician, architect? There is form, measure in this life, translated once into shape, again into language. We feel our way out of this mess.
I could not find the pictures of the past that I was looking for but I found a circular accordion montage of photos from my NM travels, interspersed with renditions of words and images from the petit prince, whose dissatisfaction over drawings of the sheep he requested ended with him being given a drawing of a box. The sheep is inside it, he is told, and he is overjoyed. That was just the sheep he was looking for.
In the box that is our lives - try as we might to break beyond the confines in our audacity to disrespect freedom, for true freedom has no need for greed - in that box, filled with whatever travels, whatever images of past selves and whatever other images that stick to us as if we were a colonne Morris, absorbing instead of reflectively meditating, for that, too, can happen at certain phases of growth, hopefully we see inside ourselves the sheep that we are looking for.