Familiar Queries: The Origin of the Order

A member of the IFRAO (International Federation of Rock Art Organizations) and associate of the Order from Lublin, Indiana who would like to remain anonymous has sent to Communiqués a comment on an item among the “familiar queries” regarding the Order with which many of our readers will be familiar.

The original item reads as follows:

What is the origin of the Order?

In the broadest sense, the Order has always been. Where there are persons, where there are objects, there exists, in potential, a relation between them. The science of that relation is the Order, under whatever name or configuration. In a narrower sense, there is a positive history of the Order as a formal community of avowing practitioners, but much of this history remains contested and obscure.”

Our correspondent’s message concerns an ancient object which our readers will recognize from their college art historical surveys. We reproduce the message here in full and without commentary, agreement, or disagreement.

                  3 million years ago, the earth had just entered the Placenzian Age of the Pliocene, and Australopithecus africanus walked the earth. It was the age of the giant Arctic camel, and of the largest ever flying bird: Argentavis magnificens. In a cave in the present-day Makapan Valley in South Africa, an A. africanus community left a small lump of reddish-brown jasperite, later retrieved by 20th-century archaeologists.
                 This bit of stone has two deep, close-set eyes under a flat brow, broad cheekbones that sweep up to a round microcephalic skull with a ridge marking a hairline. Below a nose-like indentation, there is an open, meditative mouth with gently curved lips.
                Did A. africanus somehow work this stone to make a crude face, so so long ago? Hardly, we are told. They could not have made tools capable of it. Microsopic examinations indicate that natural, nonhuman (or non-humanoid) processes were responsible for the stone’s appearance.
               What apparently happened was that, struck by the resemblance of this stone to himself – or rather, to those like himself – some Australopithecus picked it up from a stream bed and carried it back to the home cave, over tens of miles. What did he and his cavemates do with it when it arrived? Whatever they did, would it have met the definitional requirements of a “formal community,” however isolated in space and time from other such communities?
               The utter mystery of what a manlike animal and a manlike object would have had to communicate to each other partakes of the darkness of the Order’s origin. It becomes clear to me that a Birdlike relation to an object – before such a category as the made artwork existed – would have encompassed and enfolded all our ulterior categories, like making and finding, like encountering and inventing, like art and non-art, like things made to be looked at, and things that, being looked at, are made.
               It is not that this encounter with nature awoke a slumbering sense of “aesthetic appreciation” in this apelike man. It is not that the category of aesthesis was discovered in this moment. It is that aesthesis was already in the world, ape and stone being of course part of this world.