The Ghost of Human Past: An Origin Story

“The purpose of man’s speech was an address to the unknowable….  [His] hand traced the stick through the mud to make a line before he learned how to throw the stick as a javelin.”
-Barnett Newman

In the woods.  Walking.  A wide, open path.  Autumn.  Time unknown.  Origin story.

His movement was ceaseless, frenzied; its purpose in the scattered leaves.  Unfurled at that very ground was the instrument of his breaking through, a master-skein, continuously unraveling.  The sudden, frantic energy of a collector was taking hold of him.  It put aside his hunger.  To follow this trail, niagara! of leaves, to follow it as he would hunting food.

Such paradox: art of awareness in no awareness.  Here in not here.  Such was God that God was before we were aware of that Presence.  A change was happening in our ancestor, and it grabbed his arm with the demand of a scolding, to pull him along.

It perhaps began when he lifted a leaf close to his face.  A berry, which was resting on it, fell away.  He looked closer at the leaf.  Or it began here: when he looked back down, when he saw them—the leaves there together as a gestalt.

See how the problem rises in difficulty.  How does one measure beginning, or true cause?  It is not singular.  How unfeasible to give an account of origin to recount later in a meeting with friends!  Because I think I’ve seen so many beginnings, I wonder anew at them: How does the wind blow?  How am I getting on?  With beginnings?  With ends?  Am I, with you now, in a constant state of beginningless beginning?  What can we with confidence say is meant by this confounded word?  I hope it doesn’t seem gloomy, for all its impossible challenges, to try to locate the moment the artist was born.  And was it the Other that became Artist, first, or was it our ancestor who was the first?      

As he followed the trail of leaves on the ground, which seemed put there by someone on purpose, his vision was dramatically changed.  He picked up a second leaf to his face and sensed a great force.  He put it in his hide pouch, not really understanding why, and rushed on.  What he saw were ever-blooming lines of them, which formed a distinct trail that seemed to grow out of itself (almost as though it was alive).  Every step invigorated him, and slowly his Eyes felt like they were awaking from sleep.  It gave him a feeling of having somewhere to go, somewhere he almost needed to be.  But not like needing to find shelter during a storm.  A new movement which he must follow, swift-paced; a stretching to get hold of something he could not see.  Everything now seemed charged with the energy of speed and purpose.  What posture the world had!  It was as though his eyes had become hungry.  He did not question his feeling that it was necessary to follow the trail.  The fact fit perfectly around him; he was somehow native to it—the pattern and the intensity with which he followed it—and thereby simply fell into its sway, uninterrupted.  We do not question them, these native facts, why they are around us, for we are of their world.  We do not quite know that with that fall we are in a state of grace.    

It reminded him of the river; and this point I propose might also be the crux of the story; the closest we may get to a moment we were born.

His attention did not break the line.  It felt embalming, yet it was consuming; it was assuaging, yet felt gruesome.  By and by, the path seemed so elegant; as pretty, suddenly, as the running river to look at.  It must have been a strange realization for our first human—seeing the river while he was looking at those leaves and feeling captivation for the irretrievable mystery therein.  It was implausible, its being, but now he intuited in himself an impression of the river. He took another leaf to his pouch and pursued into a state of agnosia.  The unthinking flow of the river was his mounting vivacity.  His feet hastened over the moving trail.  To where was it leading?  How could a trail such as it be?  Hundreds of feet long.  And at that moment he looked up at the trees and realized that all the leaves on the ground were not pointing him anywhere.  The trees were the leaf-bearers; there was no foreseeable endpoint.  Only pattern.

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