Knowledge and Art

Strange, he thought. He had recreated the COVID-19 threat as a kind of game in stripped-down form. This occupation had distracted his thoughts from the actual threat. But the results were not encouraging. To make things better, he was able to show how tinkering with algorithm 0 would improve the results. But it had to be done such that the game with players, board and rules and all could be translated into credible combinations of science (the game) and behavior (art). That concern is scientific, he thought. And for the moment he was tired of science.

He preferred to foocus on his acquaintance with Zbigniew Herbert, who had an essay called The Barbarian in the Garden (translated in English) about his visit to the Lascaux caves. In 1959. The essayist departs from Montignac after breakfast: an omelet with truffle. Maybe Herbert had that breakfast at the same hotel-restaurant where he and his wife involuntarily ended up on their honeymoon in 1970. On the way to their destination in the Dordogne they were hit by dense fog. So dense that they couldn’t do better than follow someone else’s taillights until they got to a town that had a hotel. At first the boss was reluctant to provide another meal, it was now 10 o’clock in the evening, but on second thoughts agreed to provide dinner and a place to sleep. They thought the mistress of the house sympathized. A beautiful mahogany bed with heavenly pretensions. The next morning the town turned out to be called Montignac and everyone was surprised that they were not looking for Lascaux. But Zbigniew did and wrote a beautiful treatise about it. It culminated in an epiphany: that the art of the caves connected him, through the chain of generations, with whom had made it, around 30,000 years earlier. I think that art from 30,000 years ago is, just like now, a result of the need to tell stories that mimic what is going on in the reality of the artist’s mind. Art and science are intimately connected.

Zbigniew can write. He is an artist. Yet Georges Bataille also deserves mentioning. In 1955 he published a thoughtful book on Lascaux art. It appears that Herbert made extensive use of it in 1959.