First book of the year – well, first book started and finished this year. I’ve got a novel going, too, but it’ll be a few more days at the rate I’m reading in bed.
I picked this up at big discount at McKay’s Books, which reminds me a little bit of Oxford Books of old in Atlanta where I was shopping for my nephew’s Christmas presents. In the Land of Temple Caves was filed in aesthetics or some such – and it is indeed in part a meditation on art.
Turner was hit hard by the evil destructiveness of 9/11. One thing and another made him think of the Paleolithic cave paintings, and this book is a memoir of exploring some of the great caves of France. The book ends with a weird episode in Paris. The whole is a mediation on the Vital Spirit and its endless opposition to the Destructive Impulse. It’s been too long since I’ve read Bergson to remember is this is just straight Elan vitalism, but it certainly seems so.
All in all the Paris part is too indulgent (why on earth did his publisher waste a page on a useless map of the neighborhood around St. Sulpice — and THAT map — instead of getting a decent map of SW France?), but his cave-talk is pretty good, whether he’s scrambling around bluff faces looking for flint cores or riding a little railroad into the heart of a hillside to see the paintings at Rouffignac. He reports a lot of the recent theorizing well and remains admirably unpersuaded by them.
I’m unpersuaded by his theorizing about art, but I agree that art does matter. It’s not an antidote to barbarism or something that makes us proof against evil, but art is a good. Getting from there to “what is good art?” is another problem entirely.