Date published: Mladina, April 1997
From: Rastko Mocnik

The Neanderthal’s Whistle

Rastko Mocnik

While Ideologues preach once again that History is over, looking at its beginnings might prove useful.

The whistle that was found at the prehistoric (excavation) site near Idrija doesn’t attract the attention it truly deserves. If it really is a whistle and if it really belonged to a Neanderthal, this finding has metaphysical dimensions. Depending of course on the Metaphysics one chooses to use. After Durkheim it has become well known that through totemisms, religions and metaphysics we really seek to regulate our social functions, so no one should look for truth and falsehood in metaphysical debates. Our attention should be focused on its practical effects instead. If we won’t produce any, others will test them on us.

Fukuyama’s End of History lays heavily on the public spirit in its present state of neo-liberal occupation. Derrida has demasked him as a late disciple of Alexander Kojev, which certainly has its consequences considering Kojev served in some highly placed offices in European Integrations in his old age, while in his youth he declared himself a conservative/right-wing marxist. In those times he also believed that Hegel should only be corrected on a single point: Hegel thought he had seen the spirit of the world (world spirit) riding on horseback in the image of Napoleon, while Kojev insisted that it was actually Josif Stalin. Later Fukuyama was convinced that the End of the World had actually happened in Japan. These actually fit together pretty well: stalinism in its present state can be observed on CNN every day, while japanisation has revealed itself to be a progressive phase in the development of capitalism - with the remark, of course, that racial differences still successfully mask the maneuvers of class struggle. While Ideologues preach once again that History is over, looking at its beginnings might prove useful.

We could take the metaphysical basis from Geogre Bataille, Kojev’s colleague and negative Hegelian. He was also attracted to the Neanderthal - he wanted to find out why the Cromagnon had driven him out. So, in a darwinistic way, he asked himself what advantages Cromagnons must have had. The Neanderthal knew about fire and was a "tool-making animal" like Men. Neanderthals buried their dead and were familiar with the symbolic register - again no advantage for Men. For Bataille, one goes along with the other: whoever works gets in contact with death, for death abruptly terminates the hardships of labor. And not only for individuals of both sexes - even moreso for their communities: the society which lives on work must make sure nothing interrupts its reproduction, even if individuals of boths sexes die like flies in the process. Society is then forced to invent tradition, education - the entire symbolic register, seasoned with a death cult. Social reproduction through work, along with the reproduction of the human race through sex, pushes the worker, the reproducer, to face the question of death. Bataille makes this point: this confrontation is entirely negative on the part of labour. He who only works cannot go beyond the mere fact of death. The Cromagnons were not only a workers, they were not just burying their dead, Cromagnons also painted the inner walls of their caves. Their evolutionary advantage over Neandrethals was that they were artists: they could conquer death because they knew how to imagine it and represent it.

And now with this discovery in Idria the Neanderthal is supposed to be a musician. He suppsoedly practised the most subtle art of them all - the one that is not mimetic, the one that, according to Levi-Stauss, is the monopoly of Man. Not anymore since Divje Babe. Bataille’s myth must be revised. In this way, perhaps: the Neanderthal was really a gentle and sensitive being who spent his short life arduously toiling away, reverently worshipping his Ancestors, respecting Nature, and loving his Neighbour. And when life was too much, he took his whistle, and across the hills over the Idrijca river echoed its melancholy tune. Then, according to Bataille, down at the bottom of the valley, appeared a new horde: aggressive, self-centered, arrogant - people had come.

How things went after this we can only guess. We know how it all ended, though: a few petrified bones and a whistle is all that remains of the Neanderthal. Humanity took over the planet and is rushing it towards its destruction. One can easily imagine a Neanderthal looking at his people amazed, drawing the obvious conclusions, and saying: "I’m out of here!" He takes his whistle and is swept into darkness forever - along with his tune.

Neanderthal melodies will never be heard again, but his whistle speaks clearly. Over the backfire of public vulgarity its music can hardly be heard. It is still exactly as it was that evening in the valley of river Idrijca, only the horde is much more numerous, and stronger. The horde now has new shamans - we now have arch-bishops; it has new warriors - Deputy Presidents of the Republic; new technologies - there are plans for new prisons instead of old-fashioned torturing poles, exploitation is not enforced with a stone in the fist anymore - electronics now cripple the mind and body, weapons are now Nato’s guns not a bat and a stone axe anymore. The horde is new, wild and more successful. The whistle remains the same: silent and powerless. Facing extinction - just like 400 centuries ago.

translated by Mitja Doma