Magic of Images

The hand is the great symbol of man the tool-maker as well as man the writer. But in our super-mechanized era, many young people have lost a sense of the tangible and of the power of the hand. A flick of the finger changes TV channels, surfs the web, or alters and deletes text files. Middle-class students raised in a high-tech, service-sector economy are several generations removed from the manual labor of factories or farms.

The saga of the discovery of the cave paintings can also show students how history is written and revised. The first cave found, at Altamira in northern Spain, was stumbled on by a hunter and his dog in 1868. The aristocratic estate owner, an amateur archaeologist, surveyed the cave but did not see the animals painted on the ceiling until, on a visit in 1879, his five-year-old daughter looked up and exclaimed at them. Controversy over dating of the paintings was prolonged: critics furiously rejected the hypothesis of their prehistoric origin and attributed them to forgers or Roman-era Celts. The discoveries of other cave paintings in Spain and the Dordogne from the 1890s on were also met with skepticism by the academic establishment. Funding for the early expeditions had to come from Prince Albert of Monaco. The most famous cave of them all, Lascaux, was found in 1940 by four adventurous schoolboys who tipped off their schoolmaster. Thus children, with their curiosity and freedom from preconception, have been instrumental in the revelation of man’s primeval past. —Camille PagliaMagic of Images (Arion)

When Paglia writes and talks, she jumps from one thought to another, sometimes making tiny hops, often making grand and heroic leaps. If she were in my freshman composition class, I’d tell her to drop some of her supporting points in order to explore the others in more depth; I’m not trained in the visual image, so I’d appreciate a little more explication.

This particular text, with the words separated spatially from images they describe, disturbs me — I have to scroll back and forth between the words and the images. What kind of a web desiner would separate the images and lump together at the end? I’m sure they weren’t separated during the original talk that this printed document was based on. A baffling design choice.

Anyway, this is more than the usual “what’s the matter with kids today” article that older academics can’t resist writing from time to time.