As I got to grips with the windowless auditorium, the social dynamics slowly came into focus. Eventually, one of the men sitting alone on the edge of the audience appeared important. As he began to speak, I recognized the tension of the room from my own tour of the graduate school; he was donnish, oracular, the one whose meaning matters. Would he like to Everything Dawn? Sweet, Wengrow himself seemed reverent. Tension broke when the man – I later found out he was Daniel Bradley, a geneticist at Trinity College Dublin – offered a technical observation about the book and then shook his head in pure astonishment at the performance.
Wengrow was pleased. But he was no less delighted when a baby-faced speaker, Neil Carlin, suggested in a misleadingly gentle brogue that Wengrow had erred in his analysis of Stonehenge. Did not do it Dawn, Carlin asked, simply refreshing the general account of Stonehenge’s construction? Carlin’s bile was exciting, but my ears pricked up for another reason. Finally. An archeological site I had heard of.
“There’s a very large presence on my shoulder when I talk about this,” Wengrow said. That would be, I gathered, Michael Parker Pearson, one of Wengrow’s colleagues at UCL, the ranking expert on Stonehenge and an archaeologist whom some consider Anglocentric. Had Wengrow crossed his book’s own thesis by failing to question orthodoxy, especially those who attribute to imperial powers like England all great human achievements? Upstart Carlin was uncomfortably close to accusing Wengrow of sycophancy or even career.
Wengrow was not thrown. He does not care about dynamics in wolf packs everywhere, most of all in academic surroundings. A preoccupation with Dawn, after all, is the contingent of hierarchies. They come and go, sometimes literally with the weather; any system of seniority and grossness is a joke; we are not wired to rule or to be ruled over. In particular, Wengrow’s own newfound status as archbishop of archeology, Mr. $ 25Ka membership, made him laugh. As Jacques Lacan wrote: “If a man who thinks he is a king is mad, a king who thinks he is a king is no less.”
While Wengrow had received distinguished praise in Vancouver, and support from Wynn’s, he seemed to find full contact with the UCD archaeologists most gratifying. And stimulating. The eye-opening questions, the test of the ego, the swings in and out of conformity. After reflecting on his collaboration with Graeber, Wengrow dared that the university management has made the academic world so sterile that it has become a radical act to make friends within it. “That way, too,” Wengrow said, “our relationship was at odds.”
True to form, Wengrow seriously considered Carlin’s Stonehenge question and even made notes. He later gave the critique a complete hearing in an email to me. As with the missing hot dogs, Wengrow was undisturbed.
Like death by Wengrow’s intellectual soulmate, Dawn opens far, far more questions than it closes. The book is several critics seems to shy away from its ambitions more than its research. Some say that its idea of the beginning of everything, which began 30,000 years ago, is more like its heyday. Others Wengrow and Graeber are so eager to find anarchism and feminism in early civilizations that they overshadow the data.