As I turned to the windowless auditorium, social dynamics slowly approached. Finally, one of the men, sitting alone beside the audience, emerged as important. When he started talking, I recognized the suspense of the room on my own postgraduate tour; he was handsome, oracular, the one whose opinion matters. He would like it The dawn of everything? Sweetly, Wengrow himself seemed deferential. The suspense broke when the man — I later learned it was Daniel Bradley, a geneticist at Trinity College Dublin — offered a technical remark about the book, and then shook his head in pure surprise at the achievement.
Wengrow was happy. But he was no less delighted when a baby-faced lecturer, Neil Carlin, proposed in a deceptively kind scam that Wengrow had been wrong in his Stonehenge analysis. He didn’t L’Alba, asked Carlin, simply repeating the main story of the construction of Stonehenge? Carlin’s cock was exciting, but my ears lifted for another reason. Finally. An archeological site he had heard of.
“There’s a very big presence on my shoulder as I talk about this,” Wengrow said. That would be, I deduced, Michael Parker Pearson, one of Wengrow’s colleagues at UCL, Stonehenge’s classification expert, and an archaeologist that some consider Anglo-centric. Had Wengrow crossed the thesis of his book without questioning orthodoxy, especially those which attribute to the imperial powers like England all great human successes? Beginner Carlin was uncomfortable about accusing Wengrow of sympathy or even career.
Wengrow was not released. He is indifferent to wolf pack dynamics everywhere, especially in academic settings. A concern of L’Alba, after all, is the contingency of hierarchies. They come and go, sometimes literally over time; any system of antiquity and drag is a joke; we are configured neither to govern nor to be governed. In particular, Wengrow’s new status as archbishop of archeology, Mr. $ 25Ka-member, he found it laughable. As Jacques Lacan wrote: “If a man who thinks himself a king is mad, a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.”
While Wengrow had received elegant applause in Vancouver and shouts of support at Wynn’s, he seemed to find the full contact dialogue with UCD archaeologists most rewarding. And stimulating. Open-ended questions, ego testing, deviations inside and outside agree. Reflecting on his collaboration with Graeber, Wengrow ventured that university management has made the academy so sterile that making friends with it has become a radical act. “That way, too,” Wengrow said, “our relationship was going against the flow.”
True to form, Wengrow took Carlin’s questions seriously at Stonehenge and even took notes. He later gave me a full audience for the critique in an email. As with the hot dogs gone, Wengrow didn’t bother.
Like death of Wengrow’s intellectual soul mate, L’Alba it opens many, many more questions than it closes. The various critics of the book seem to reject his ambition more than his research. Some say his idea of the dawn of it all, which began about 30,000 years ago, is more like his tea time. Others say Wengrow and Graeber are so eager to find anarchism and feminism in the early civilizations that overshadow the data.