cover image The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture

The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture

Georges Bataille. Zone Books (NY), $32.95 (210pp) ISBN 978-1-890951-55-9

Fans of the filthy modernist masterpiece The Story of The Eye may be surprised when they encounter Bataille (1897-1962) in an almost academic mode-but, if so, they are forgetting that Bataille was the founder of the journal Critique, that he was a librarian specializing in Medievalism at Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale and that all that transformed primitivism had to come from somewhere. This book may not have much value as archeology or even as criticism, but it's terrific as a kind of poetics of prehistory. On animals: ""we get along with one another in order to eliminate death, to rid it from our horizon, to create an end in the world in which it would be as if the animal's agony and death were nonexistent."" Drawing on the cave paintings of Lascaux, the Lespugue Venus and many other works, Bataille articulates a world that is simultaneously ours and unrecoverable, where those who kill their prey ask it ""to forgive them for killing it, and sometimes they cry for it, in a touching mixture of distracted sincerity and simple playacting.""