Camelot Came A Lot!
The saddest of all ironies is that we can teach a 12th century primitive to pilot a Boeing 787, but not for him not to execute his sister after she walks home alone.
Does it not occur to those Taliban who ordered the assassination of a 14 year old girl for having insulted Islam, that the greatest insult to Islam… is them!?
If the Priory is where the Prior resides, is the Theory where God resides?
Don’t disturb! Philosopher at work!
Fairy Tales: A Narrow Escape!***
(Subtitled: A Dereliction of Reason)
“Modern art is what you can get away with,” Andy Warhol told us, suggesting ‘artistic’ works get approved not just by the few acting out of sometimes perplexing conviction, but by all those who mindlessly tag along. And in this way the limit of the credible often reaches a breaking point, as if the word ‘travesty’ had become obsolete.
The same may be said of conventional philosophy and religion, man’s most venerated cerebral and spiritual enterprises. Unchallenged by multitudes thirsting for reverent fantasy and reassurance by way of meticulous analysis and explanation, their proponents taking themselves as seriously as contemporary art’s high priests do.
But does something represent a truth, merely because people no longer question it?
Antonin Artaud said it all when he wrote Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu, asking us to stop this nonsense with our imaginary friend and the representatives of manicured dreams. For if man needed to create myths or fairy tales to deal with his own mind and to step out beyond himself so he could look down upon himself and heal himself or give himself that extra bit of courage and strength in the face of mostly cruel and often endless setbacks, then for a time and despite almost immediate, built-in, mostly silly taboos, this was fine. But by beginning to believe his own embroidered fantasies, imposing them as if they were the truth, protecting them as precious property, he created the beginning of his own degradation. Because fable or myth is a series of pretty fibs and an elaborate lie however well meant, however well told, represents the seed of destruction that every grand falsehood carries within itself.
Similarly, what’s found at the opposite end of the scale is immoderate pride and satisfaction, as for its part formal western thought is built on the contention, its point-de-départ, that if we’re not there, well, then nothing’s there. That our collective death would be the death of all meaningful life, in the same way that the human ‘forever’ arbitrarily starts at birth, fast forward from a fixed point on and so a ‘start’ apparently managed by us, when in fact beginning and end with or without us are fused, already and always ‘there’, everything not only cyclical but circular. (As Mark Twain astutely pointed out, he was dead for millions of years before he was born, and it didn’t bother him one bit…) A thinking again wholly directed by the fact that even if immediate life ends, destiny goes on and is ours alone. Plus, that while it ought to be philosophy’s only function to remove all nonsense from the world, we never ceased creating it: all that sweet bunk, those exquisite, near lyrical fictions and learned conjectures of ours. I know, no Sein no Zen, but notions like Heidegger’s Sein or Descartes’ Je pense, donc je suis, I think therefore I am, both essentially flawed as deprived of our consciousness, our Sein, we don’t necessarily or immediately cease to ‘Be’. In Descartes’ case the most that we could let him get away with: I think, therefore I am what or who I am (i.e. as opposed to others or animals; better still what André Breton exhorted: I think, therefore I disturb!).
When re-reading so many hallowed texts then, consider the self-indulgent hokum often meriting some sort of stage direction saying: STOP! Here Mind Disappears Up Rectum! Because, one more time, after close scrutiny nearly all established conventions ultimately point in one single direction—they confirm our pre-eminence and successful continuity in the universe with a mind set far more interested in bunker consolidation and preservation than in keeping structures open to new thought. Man still secretly convinced he’s the measure of all that matters, that there’s some sort of finality to the scheme of things and this finality is him, when most likely there’s not even a scheme and the earth not the center of anything, merely the third and most beautiful be it somewhat obese bauble from the sun. For so called nothingness and the absence of human existence or awareness are not synonymous. Eons simply episodes in which nothingness arising from emptiness is not only a non sequitur but a non plus, though the answer to the question ‘What is is??’ admittedly remaining a tempting and elusive one. Or those ultimate ones of course ‘Where does the Universe itself come from? How is it there’s anything, Mr Higgs?’. Meantime the body of western thought mainly having to do with the mechanics of thinking and formation of action in thought, called will. Including indexation and the supplying of comfort through carefully constructed metaphysical truths no more real than large collections of inane wax figures in a morbid museum staring us in the face. Or something like Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, a portrait equally grotesque and self-absorbed. And yet with ultimate intellectual perversion, some brazenly suggesting that we’re not here at all, that everything is an illusion. Even though, and after the onion soup, a bathroom door regrettably left ajar pretty well kills off this notion. For no doubt this time, the mind stays undernourished and utterly useless without the senses, except to control our muscles, enabling us to move. Goodbye cognition without sensual perception, but, except in Plato’s Cave and in the form of allegory, where are the dissertations that include references to our ears and our eyes? Or in subsequent philosophy and academically speaking is the nose not glamerous enough? Yes, where are Kant’s nose or Hegel’s eyes and ears?
At any rate, it did and does always come down to the same and unfortunately remains the canard: I know, who else’s, but our take on the world and beyond rules all because no tangible ‘outside’ condition exists showing us the contrary or tells us to buzz off.
My point then, with ultimate wisdom, can’t we shrugg it off, does there absolutely have to be a ‘take’? For has the foul, this sudden other whiff of reckless certainty and learned self-importance not become quite unbearable by now? Even dangerous in places? Doctors of Divinity and Philosophy at one point having to be dragged out of their own mind and returned to earth, in order that someone like their proctologist may get them over themselves? Or get shocked into reality like I was by a quick but sobering look at my own skeleton, through a most revealing X-Ray. Reminding me of our total nakedness and all of us too often forgetting that most of our convictions are linked to moments of self-assurance, timeless only in our head! Yes, why not send the tenured and the ordained naked and alone into the Kalahari. While there, re-igniting their curiosity, noticing an animal’s hide or plumage perfectly assimilating the colours of surroundings by optical, mimetic, non-tactile transfer. And I’m not talking about the mechanics of it all, other than to say this is not osmosis, that somewhere along the line a different, invisible perception/awareness between the animate and the inert including a primal recognition factor must have occurred. Colours and fake shadows turning into stunning camouflages enough to forget old parchments and dead idioms for a while. In general, seeing how in this light our sublime theories and notions continue to hold, for are they, nay, most of us, not all too soon very comfortable, self-immersed armchair champions, mired deeply in our own abstractions instead of realising that our only real possession may be… passionate individual joy!
Ah, yes, I can see it now! Those purple socks in burning sand but some passing elephant shouting ‘Man, how can he breathe through that ridiculous little thing?!’ Or if he were an uncovered she, some roaming camel roaring ‘Hey Joe, check out those puny humps!’. Though before you know it, and after having cleansed him or herself of all jaded assumption, our near nude and two-legged walker starting all over again. Amid apparent desolation likely finding a tall monolith, sitting down on it and coming up with brand new dreams or extravagant explanations, the way, ostensibly, old Simon of the Desert did. But why? For the salient question is not how or why life, but why the question? With everyone always asking what is the purpose of man, but unless you’re someone like Kafka, nobody asking what is the purpose of elephants. Still unable as most are, to accept that, yes, we’re small elephants with perhaps the only sad real difference between us that we question, and they can’t. Yet when standing before a masterpiece, do we ask Why? For is the beauty or ingenuity of it not the message, evident? Secret and answer, not intertwined? So then when it comes to life, Why the Why?!. And those obsessed with the question, are they in a certain way not already dead…?!
It’s a fact, there has been only one animal ever to tame itself, getting uncaged and caging knowledge instead. But this animal, becoming known as man, dumb jumper become ringmaster, spoiled it all by trying to place the entire universe on his minuscule shoulders, unable to accept that in the end awareness changes very little! In the process accumulating and piling up real but also false wisdom to towering heights while learning to preserve it and permanently pass it on. For contrary to frivolous lore it’s not prostitution, but philosophy that’s our oldest profession, though certainly not as well paid. And significant the day he discovered he could even invent ‘knowledge’, and nothing would strike him down. I’m speaking here not of original sin, but of the original lie. Yes, in classical Greek the word philosophy meaning “love of knowledge”, but isn’t it a fact we loved it so much that we started manufacturing it? Simultaneously mystifying and sanctifying it as time went by? Received wisdom beefed up more than anything to cater to something deep inside our human psyche, namely our extraordinary vanity, our unquenchable thirst for survival, our need for order, but mostly our dual addiction to certainty and the still deeper emotional need to feel wanted? Knowledge manipulated the way a child closes its eyes pretending it’s no longer there, or makes believe it lives in a world with which it feels more comfortable? The formal study of which the pious investigation of old innuendo, half truth and fantastic conjecture, with all recent doubt quashed practically before these studies are undertaken in places where anything new, gets barred? In other words an excellent variation on the theme No Sex Please, We’re British: Nothing Inconclusive Please, We’re Humans! A set of circumstances and states of mind leading directly to official fantasy, dogma, and the sometimes terrible powers of suggestion.
What mastery! What control! King of the hill, top of the heap, are we? Yes Sir! But perhaps more like a fantasizing ostrich sticking its head and neck deep into the sand proclaiming it’s Sovereign of the savannah, forgetting its feathered arse sticks out and subject to laughter or savage attack. Plus speaking of darkness, unlike the momentary closed eyes of that child, a child eventually snapping out of it, what if we had all been born moles, subterranians, eyeless, yet with the same ingenuity? How would ‘knowledge’ have evolved? For there is no molecular reason there cannot be intelligent life without the same, old exterior reference points. And would we then have ‘imagined’ light, days, mountains, oceans, still have invented our gods, our Virgins, God, heaven, the heavens, never even having seen daybreak, seen a bloody thing but darkness? Or no eyes, no skies, and so no pies….? At any rate, for those deriding this playful notion, perhaps they should be more generous. It’s doing what they’ve been doing for centuries, and that is… labouring under assumptions a lot. With the huge difference that they always first accepted the prevailing Status Quo as definite and immutable, the kind of mental immobility that has made man become earth’s mostly disastrous tenant, eyes always firmly fixed on most convenient appearances, brains when possible suspended as opposed to the child’s mind meandering in a small, dreamy playroom, hiding sweet, new worlds. (Don’t touch that sky, Grrrrr!, Don’t touch that theory, it’s sacred, IT’S OURS..!!)
Let’s face it, to a blind man all the world goes naked. Affirming that human perception and intelligence are pretty circumstantial and by definition conditional. And what about wisdom, knowledge’s incidental step-child, isn’t it also bewilderingly relative, particularly in the additional light of everything written in and around us having been so blatantly self-rigged? Oh dear, does this a sinner make, the refusal to be that submissive, ever following, ignorant Agnus Dei? (Thou shalt not eat from the tree of knowledge: Genesis, to which it’s proper to respond Sapere Aude: Dare to Think.) Or a positivist and an irascible polemicist? A reductionist? An objectivist? A well-meaning, doubting relativist then? Well, no, no, no, no and no again because laborers in the sagacity, veneration or dignity trade measure learned nonsense against learned nonsense, and what is being attempted here is to remove beautiful irrelevance gently in its entirety from its august but withering plinth, placing it in the playroom, away from our addiction to predictable subjective, absolutist, deterministic thinking— the battle between reason and desire, between fact and fancy having been uneven far too long.
For hasn’t the time come to cease inventing certainties covering that arse? Because one time I saw an exhibition of aquarelles produced by Down Syndrome children. They were the most unusual and unimaginably beautiful works of art that I have ever seen. Pointing towards a beguiling world all their own, not one beneath us, but one rivalling ours. And by saying the body perishes and cleverly suggesting the spirit is immortal, where is this hidden world these children occupy to be found in religion and for that matter in philosophy? What happens when our chemicals suddenly settle into a different mixture, altering gods, playing fields? Do established disciplines really have any idea what such a person sees and feels, presumably no less real to him or her? And will their ‘soul’ forever carry on this way? One that wouldn’t die? ‘Truth’ and ‘relevance’ only to be found in quantity, in volume, because fewer of these people at stake? Yes, what and where is more real, decided upon by whom, especially when the choice is not between onion soup reality or illusion, but between reality that for one reason or another… is multiple? Like with sophistry and its many respectable guises, by implication presenting mostly soothing definitions, yet mostly suitable nonsense and not much more. Or mysticism, escapism of the highest order, though happilly mystics not murdering much. Alchemy and black magic then, treated with contempt these days, but not the rest of the hocus-pocus— collective rationality somehow stopping half way down-road, turning itself inside out, rolling itself into a ball before getting kicked anywhere it wishes to go. Reason turning surreal, or at least slipping into the skin of completely irrational notions with few noticing or volunteering to admit what’s going on.
Most of this evolving in the epoch between Euclid and Copernicus, when we were visited upon by a thousand years of darkness, a time of reason lost, when most of the damage was sustained, the birth of insidious intellectual perversion. And the reason Greek and Roman thinkers such astute theorists mainly because they were free-thinkers, unburdened by intellectual straight-jackets, checks and other dogmatic smoked mirrors, double curtains and traps or having to worry about Christmas coming up. No geniuses these chaps, just healthy, free and well-adjusted debaters when after a millennium or more of monotheism all we have to show for are murder, deceit, oppression and threats in massive attempts to corner fluid thought, coming up with proof upon proof that a matter is truth, when there’s no proof the proof is proof. (Bring on the pagan pantheists?) And even now this persisting twilight, these lingering fogs in so many quarters on this planet plus recent, truistical so called Intelligent Design nothing more than yet another determinant ‘truth’ job by people making sure nothing interferes with their delusions. The elimination of which to them akin to some sort of dismemberment, when strictly speaking we can’t ‘know’ anything. A gnosis never to be ours for the simple reason that truth is enormous and elusive, can’t be copied, caught, bought or contained. Can’t be domesticated or tamed. Savage. Beautiful. Not for private use, not for anything. Delusion making religion so addictive, even to a paleontologist and scientist like Teilhard de Chardin who despite millions of years of overwhelming natural evidence to the contrary managed to remain a Jesuit priest and thus a creationist, for some apparently a way to legitimize themselves. Manifesting underpinnings of a near sexual instinct, sex so much more than physical, orgasmic, the blind drive of multiplication, at a deeper level confirming, making man feeling not just accepted, but wanted, needed. With religion, while itself not in need of man, falsely I feel, seen to protect and thereby confirm and so, identically to sex, making people feel so very wanted. And then whoever is wanted: must be SAFE? Right? Sex and religion, both of them strong and completely irrational sentiments, sharing an irrepressible desire for belonging, a lair for which many will kill if threatened by eviction. Or from where to prudishly divert eyes from what’s really going on.
So that it is just as derisory for some to claim all is well, we’re needed and looked after on the basis of fairy tales, as it is a form of arrogance to shut the doors of all mystery because it would pre-assume that we now know everything there is to know. And none of which goes to say that centuries of mainly self-stroking musings have been a complete waste, far from it. They were extremely useful in making ethics systemic and having us understand the structures and mechanics of language and thought, never mind the hundreds of immature conclusions that were arrived at: it was all part of our moral teething, of our growing up. Works, even though radiant considering the primitive times in which they were conceived, never to be taken as an end onto themselves. As is the case with Spinoza’s dozen or so formulae first ‘proving’ there is a single creator and telling us God is everything, then concluding that on the contrary, everything is God, but basically only turning his back on constructed religion. Or Kant’s three pure “irrefutable” proofs of God’s existence now, bar the obstinate believer, mainly making many shoulders getting shrugged. I mean, how can one come up with this and still be called one of our first ‘modern’ rationalists. (Or as his old friend Johann B. growing up across the street in Königsberg already fondly told him: ‘Immanuel, you’re a real Kant!’). Just like Sartre defining freedom for us while being an unapologetic Stalinist, a more recent example of not only spurious but even corrupt reasoning. As with de Beauvoir, in 1939 proclaiming that all fear of Hitler was grossly exaggerated, on top of this duplicating her stunning moral and political assessment when it came to Mao twenty years later. Let’s just call a spade a spade and brand some of it pathetic practical intellectual posturing. So with modern language-based deconstruction theories which, pursued to their extreme, lead to a nasty case of… decomposition: intellectual figure skating all of it, with circles beautifully drawn, exquisite axles and soaring tripple toe loops, just about choking the bishop in mid-air and much coveted medals in the end, searching, searching maybe, but with absolutely no place to go. Beckett stumbling upon it, in Godot, Lucky’s soliloquy to be precise, suggesting that massive words don’t constitute more life, deliver more meaning, deliver anything. On another level also this simple analogy to ponder: recently Swiss aero-dynamic engineers ‘proved’ (that word again) that it’s quite impossible for our dear old bumble-bee… to fly! And what about all those notions of time? Besides the filling in of distance, isn’t time mostly the mental space in which we move? Isn’t our ontological ‘zeit’ immaterial in terms of the universe, given that in all our thinking the fatal inhibitor is our own ephemeral fire-fly status, that old three score and ten business, disqualifying us from dealing with issues of enormity, making much vaunted relativity theories so relative that strictly speaking they become null and void? Lost in the endless waters of space and motion, at least as far as physical man is concerned? And if you don’t agree, Prof Dr Heinz Zweidrei-Klean and Herr Dr Schneeweiss of the Max Planck Institute of Extra-terrestrial Physics have accepted to investigate my point, but indicate they’ll need 1.3 million ‘years’ to prove or disprove it. Yes, I jest, or do they? Because in biological terms aren’t we mere temporary syntheses? In cosmic terms somewhat ingenious, electro-chemical flames? Yes, man the flame, extension of a larger fire until he or it or both burn out? Oh, certainly life repeats itself, but never by leaving things exactly the way they were.
Meaning that in the same way that we must deal with inherited credo much more knowingly, we must equally accept that there are limits to our importance and perception. That images of groups of galaxies thrust together into clusters detected through light so far and slow in reaching us, probably happening 13 billion years ago, thus no longer around in quite the same state, is in our terms a bit of an impractical, nay, futile show at which point best to sit down, have a cold beer, relax and pretend that what we saw was a squirt of mayonnaise on Hubble’s mirror telescope. That astonished as we are to find an atom is in fact another pint-sized universe, or at least a solar system with whirling bodies of its own, and earth, for all we know, a proton in an atom in a molecule of some giant leg of lamb, forcing us to stand back and reflect at levels we never contemplated before. That the cosmos as a womb or a universe inside a universe inside a universe and so on are all distinct possibilities and our ‘playing with and inside this space’, though all too human, not uninteresting and representative of our remarkable intellect, but Big Bang or Unified String theories not having to become obsessions in that there could be many space bangs and ripples, folds and strands beyond our mental range, imagination or sight, the unknowable dimensions. And that while not having to give up all exploration which is in our blood, man has to remain much, much more philosophical in the truest, purest sense of the word: above all no dogma or theory, por favor! For a single universe or megaverse of multiverses shrinking, twisting or expanding with black holes as mere maelstroms in huge rivers and oceans of gravity or the detection of the tides of space in general and figuring out what gravity really is, making all those stars and planets spin and spin (should this stop, would they cease to be round and float away?): it’s all very well and entertaining, but what does it really matter when there’s every possibility the human species itself will have disappeared or been eclipsed in say 20.000, 30.000 years in the way that strains of insects were found frozen in time and inside droplets of primordial amber? Man the new fossil, our collective umbilical cord already stretched to roughly 200.000 years, isn’t it going to snap at one point? There being only so much genetic mileage to be extracted from the overly complex human mammal, plus given that as organised societies we’ve been around a scant 8000 ‘years’ (with our very limited perspective naively calling the first of these ‘ancient’, though happily one historian, when asked what influence the Roman Empire had exercised on modern western society, retorting that it was much too recent a situation for him to comment on!), yet not organised enough to suspend depletion of our planet when looking at its diseased oceans and forests, its festering coastlines?
(Image provided by the magnificent young sculptor and sub aqua artist Jason de Caires Taylor, see Jason Taylor )
Of course it can be argued that nothing disappears in thin air, the earth forever feeding on itself in the way that forests live on their own fallen leaves, branches and trunks, over the ages creating our atmosphere and a topsoil that covers otherwise inhospitable rock. Still, it seems we may be way too clever to survive, not a forest humanity, only one among those many branches, one becoming much too heavy for its own good, and ready to break perhaps. Or put differently: humanity one day found hanging from its own family tree, done in by natural factors that include… itself: Omphalos lost.
And even miraculously starting another cycle on another planet blessed with vegetation probably representing only a stay of execution, seeing how we constantly foul our nest, some day bequeathing eerie, ghostly piles of vine-covered rubble formerly known as New York, Cairo, Shanghai: Angkor Wat on the Hudson, on the Nile, on the Yangtze. So that you can forget about walking your dog along the Milky Way or open a bar on Mars (Ah, yes, those Mars bars…), today everyone fighting over how it all began, biological evolution or creation, but no one asking how it’ll all end. Not apocalyptic claptrap this, only that at one point there’ll follow an organic scaling down, a drastic planetary housekeeping of Permian or Cretaceous proportion, and not because anyone says so but because of the way things work, the chemical seasons of all living matter, everything chemical, the majestic but unequivocal seasons of being. That, mutatis mutandis, constant molecular processing and being processed are the only way there can be delicious life and why even our dear Queen defecates or the living human mouth at any given time contains more active bacteria than Mexico City has inhabitants. With this I mean let’s move away from sophisticated sentimentalism, injecting some pragmatism and realism. For when two of among millions of galaxies collide, events taking tens of millions of ‘our’ years to culminate, how can Jesuits, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and so many other gentlemen for instance, really, really believe this is all with them in mind? Deny that their extra-existential reveries and aspirations, their pursuit of certain dis-realities and dis-identities not mere, contrived survival tools, often awakening a taste for domination? Or is it all fear of ‘boire la mer’, man so overwhelmed by infinity and space that he must set boundaries, shores, respite, by way of made-up answers as buoys… thinking he’s drowning before he fully tastes existence? Believing, swimming in other words. Much like an airplane pilot connives an artificial horizon… so he won’t crash.
Either way, beliefs, customs, traditions and institutions, the eminent Dr Lévi-Strauss tells us, a by-product of a world that started without us and one day will end without us. So that for now let’s at least accept that tectonic plates move and are still capable of making mountains come and go. That a small planetary wobble can make all mammals extinct including man, that volcanic ashes induced ice ages covering continents with hundreds of meters of unliveable deep frost are not a thing of the past, in short that life and terrain have not stopped evolving now that we’re here. That whale skulls and enormous jawbones have been found high, high up in the Peruvian desert and that lush northern Africa turned into the burning Sahara as recently as 15000 years ago and that none of this had anything to do with human behaviour, activity, punishment or salvation. And so that while it behoves us to clean up our act, greenhouse periods also form part of cosmic seasons and any other scenario’s a fairy tale because we’re only that flame in the pan, that off-spring of light, that spark in boots, in trousers and skirts, that short wild dance in the universe, together with our bosom friends the plants, insects and those sometimes bizarre looking striped, spotted, hoofed, pawed, clawed, scaled, horned, finned or feathered cousins of ours. A ball too crazy, too magnificent to end until the fires die, only to spring up elsewhere in that long, long night… probably with entirely new creatures in attendance. We, that third force between volcanic and solar action only until these very fires through core exhaustion and solidification or else some sort of collision decide to alter everything, and we’re asked to quietly dematerialize. Adaptation by disappearance, as it’s called. And NONE of this adequately reflected in contemporary philosophical treatises and dissertations, still carefully looking the other way, still carefully building outmoded thought on outmoded thought only for academic purposes, meaning completely adrift from reality, devoid of common sense just like religious contemplation and manufacture anywhere and, at the same time, everywhere. As if the word ‘new’ itself anathema. Good grief, do some hang on to that Messiah and Moses lore, but what about the very Mount disappearing? Wouldn’t that change the story somewhat? And as for the rest of our thinkers, this has nothing to do with the quality of their reasoning, but, over the centuries and even now, where out of some sort of obedience they arbitrarily applied what is called premature closure, likened by me to serious intellectual coitus interruptus! Held back by limits set up by themselves, not going the distance, drawing lines in the sand where none can be drawn, carefully constructing sometimes admirable but nevertheless incomplete thought, dismissing that what is ultimately required is not more thought… but more courage, a minimal degree of defiance. Some not even aware they’re wrapped in intricately spun linguistic cocoons. Innately afraid. Of the potential beauty of limitlessness.
Because slow, essential change like this making all things tick, is assuming that somehow we’re above it all, not part and parcel of it, not a little silly or worse: the height of egregious ignorance? For what are those 20.000 or 30.000 man years anyway but a quick drop in the ocean of cosmic ‘matter/time/space’, organic or not, in a place where in human terms when all is said and done and except for brief but enormous and violent outbursts, nothing much takes place? Not inherently of course, but because of our abysmally limited perspective, that severely curtailed and therefore insignificant presence. We, sadly, the universe’s ephemeral and totally immaterial witnesses? Making that even should we be the universe’s prize biological trophy, by implication also representing its failure, unable as it is to sustain us beyond the fleeting and the contingent or for that matter prevent our very self-destruction? Human minds then, capable of spanning the ages but in an immediate, searing physical sense remaining brutally perishable; brilliant bubbles below hair and a hat, electro-chemically animated yet built to burst. Puff! Puff! Pity! Next! Suivant!
No, with all due respect, what we as fire-flies ought to do perhaps is turn A Brief History of Time into A Timely History of Briefs and String Theory into as many as Bach’s Air on a G-String melodies as possible: precisely the down to earth joy that’s missing from most ‘traditional’ thought, except perhaps for Socrates suggesting that a personal life in itself left unexamined to the fullest is not worth living: examined he said, not manufactured, not crafted, not fabricated, not devised, in complete denial of the natural world! Because putting it like Duke Ellington, And a One, and a Two and a One more Time, besides the real but perhaps impractical, however elegantly dreaming up the rest, is not the same. In fact it can be damned dishonest and either way, no longer acceptable. Like making up the news.
The significance then of most pioneering philosophers, those early Greeks, then Hume, Hegel, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein et al, remaining mostly a historical one and after a close reading their thoughts to be affectionately put aside. Especially Wittgenstein’s maintaining that the answer lies in language, like getting obsessed with the arrow, but not with its destination or path. Or that there cannot be absolute truth as mathematics are unable to prove this. But it dawning on many that mathematics are imperfect and finite in their capacity to embrace all of reality for the simple reason that not all reality is logical, but random and fluid at best, a cameleon nearly impossible to define or trap. The Stoics coming closest to understanding what life here really has to offer, but far too self-centred for a world by definition needing to be shared, even though they could once in a while look over their shoulder and conclude that only a good man can be wise. Or Erasmus of Rotterdam, showing us how difficult it is to become and remain a humanist, while exposing many of man’s ugly faces in In Praise of Folly. A work so earnest it must have been close to heresy in its day, a hay-day of artificial truths. He an anti-philosopher really, who to his credit rejected silly, arid, punctilious rationale in favour of passion—a measured dose of sweet madness. Not bad for a fifteenth century chap, traveling on a mule, who didn’t take himself all that seriously but had trouble separating himself from the Church. Then again who hadn’t during the times Rome had a suffocating, totalitarian hold over every aspect of society? And then there was Nietzsche the nonconformist, first to totally break the mould, that hold of a priori divine presence over nearly all traditional western thinking, in the end spoiling things with incoherent, syphilitic twaddle, already losing the plot before getting hit by that horse in Turin. A philosopher who only wanted man to be strong, independent and free at the expense of no one; a desire that I rather share. But somewhat of a pessimistic, self-contradictory chap and as such an aphorist for all takers, capable of fighting good and evil simultaneously. One tragically turning into Stuporman with no consistent line of thought, not quite saying that profound, temporal joy unlike shallow hedonistic stuff is our only meaning, perhaps because in his humourless personal life he hadn’t run into much. A man detesting all religions for being utopian and playing up to our weakest instincts, yet not blushing to reinvent an ancient prophet for his postulations with the ridiculous, gospel structured Thus Spake Zarathustra, and well on his way to be his own God. An extremely lucid but hit-and-miss cannon then, with highly interesting yet disconcertingly dispersed shots, in the end suggesting we not only learn to face the truth, but love it. As if we really, really had a choice. For besides mostly abusive and abused fantasy, would the only remaining alternative not be mass suicide?
So that yes, these men and so many others having made an indisputable but transitory contribution to our development as speaking, feeling and reasoning beings, if anything by showing us how no longer to proceed. We, the blessed, through enlightened, break-through scientific investigation (from Galileo and da Vinci through Newton, from Darwin through Planck, particle physics, paleo-anthropology, the double helix and modern evolutionary molecular/cellular biology at its deepest level, neutrino technology, the origin world of isotopes, bosons, fermions and so on) able to assess by new means. Suddenly set free of cumbersome, preset pieties and begging to differ by placing mind over myth and matter over mind even when this means cutting our own species down to size. Regaining that natural sense of awe and joy we nearly lost through all that artificiality, all that learnedness, all those utterly contrived formulae and ‘revelations’. As for morals, it is clear by now that tolerance is entirely linked to developed intelligence, the lack of it, coarse stupidity, producing inequity and unspeakable social cruelty. That religion is derived from morality, and not the other way round and the saddest irony of all, the spectacle of arrested thought having man turn himself back into an animal. That nature as such is unforgiving and amoral, only man potentially considerate for the simple reason that while it takes two to be decent, in the long run compassion making such eminent personal sense. In addition, that the purest and noblest among us are precisely those whose generosity comes without held out reward or some ‘divine’ trade-off. The real saints, secular souls, unheralded, unpaid, remaining completely anonymous while others appropriate religion and go to Calcutta to elevate themselves as if there can be no goodness without the circus of incense.
Realistic, total re-self-assessment thus becoming a distinct possibility as we no longer need to be governed by primitive impulses like the physical one-upmanship, territorialism, or awkward philosophical theory and religious doctrine that marked us for a millennium or more. In other words: in an immediate sense we’re free, free at last, but only if we want to be. No more beautiful bullshit that once saw us through, but also kept us down. No more dress-up, child-like exalted fantasy, no more deliberate mystery and obscuration. No more subjecting, horoscopic, all-fitting texts. For only this last century or so, while in possession of the hard, straightforward facts, the simple truth and a sense of proportion can we ordinary citizens stand back in large numbers and truly contemplate our common, limited yet quite fascinating destiny with unfettered appreciation.
Q: Excuse me, could you tell me which one is the Christian heaven?
A: Ah, yes! Down there! Third one on the left!
We’ve been to space and found neither heaven nor hell. Even looking back at Earth seeing absolutely nothing, not even ourselves toasting on the beach—only a blessed, precious, blue heavenly body circling an amazing mass of light and warmth when seen from nearby, yet only a humiliatingly ridiculous dot when spotted from as little as 10 million miles away! So is this not the moment to accept the magnificence of life on its own unique terms for perhaps only the second time; first then, so innocently, in the very, very beginning, and again only of late? Without the intervening interference of sanctimony, of artificial despair, silly threats of damnation, the torments of a sulfurous hell, the fire, the brimstone of it, the deliberate perdition of it, places where even seraphs fear to tread? Without the feeble crutch of tailor-made eternity or sainthood and all its supporting ritual and dogma, without feeling that for us, here, there’s no grand role left to play, that we have lost our ‘other’ purpose, as if we ever really had one or for that matter….really need one!? Not as übermensch, superman, but simply as man. Man whose only greatness lies in his capacity to face and manage, if not completely influence, his own destiny. For haven’t we put far too much capital in the search of ‘meaning’ and even if there is some other, higher purpose at work, do we think it will reveal itself by our grovelling, by our writing sainted comic-strips, by our preemptive sucking up, our singing those bloody, awful songs of praise that if I were God, would not only bore me to death but really piss me off? You see, for now we are our own meaning, isn’t that obvious? Besides, what happened to dignity? Do we know? Shouldn’t we?
Consider if you will one Spanish thinker whose name escapes me, reasoning that as they haven’t contacted us by itself represents sufficient proof that there’s intelligent life up there. Or another Spaniard, the mathematician Sampedro, postulating that a powerful metaphor is so much more useful than any mathematical equation, as such this wise thing to say… Whereby dog-fighting or arguing over these specific notions or not, true discovery rather than incessant inference or mere glib phrase-making needing to be the game. Remaining practical at all times instead of incongruously turning philosophy or modern science into some religion, yet again. New, holy hierarchies accommodating classical power-seekers aided by the ususal suspects, their paladins, their acolytes, but also their zero worshippers and sycophants, while bearing in mind that scientifically speaking man still is unable to concoct a tiny capsule, from which, under a hot lamp and pouring some water over it, a beautiful rose or strawberry will grow.
It’s amazing to note that the crowds knowing so much about philosophy and theology, know so little about being philosophical. That only earnest enquiry and the inevitable victory of real knowledge over subjective pontification can lead us to victory over our lingering cowardice, testify in favour of our ultimate maturity, our final peace. And just as it is foolish to cut down forward-going reasoning, the same applies to those only daring to dream in name. For friends, dreamers, believers, why not entertain the notion that He struggles to keep it all together. That like most of us and with the best of intentions, He miserably fails sometimes, with so few giving Him a helping hand. That when all is said and done, He’s so Human... Rather than that perfect but Inhuman God waiting to get us, a bit of a sadist to boot. I mean once you believe, can’t you believe anything you want, owners of glorious devotion? Why then shackle yourselves, and when dreaming not dream all the way… to guiltfree here-here-land? Or is this too rational? And if you won’t be rational, will you at least be reasonable? Not practical, like that American I read about, a matter-of-fact believer, praying year after year for the Lord to give him a new bike and never receiving one, concluding that stealing one and asking for forgiveness worked far, far better. Signifying that bespoke dreaming is what we get, reveries on demand. And the philosophical and religious lead-up to it only exposing comforting pettiness, a tragic lack of humour and all too often the deep absence of true understanding limited by what was decided upon by long dead, equally restricted minds, today only creating jealously sought-after, fine-frozen academic jobs. All of this perpetuating the formation of idealogues and calculating fantasists, looking for that bike, not giving, only taking, from beneath pharasaic toga and robe. No not a real bike of course, and one won’t see them on the Tube, owning next to nothing, going no place in particular, mainly because… they’re riding us!
In this light all guiding philosophy, like all guiding religion, sooner than later and slowly but gently, to be put out to pasture, or even better into the realm of children’s morality fables where surely they belonged all along. Leaving us with only one broad formal philosophical and theological discipline, termed perhaps (Studies of) The History of Unfinished Human Thought. Or is it The Redundant Plea Contained In All Past Human Rumination And Reflection?! In his Library of Babel the opposite of what Borges calls a detailed history of the future. Because we should study, precisely so we don’t repeat… Something the comfortable clerks of philosophy and creed, adorers of the established, have been totally removed from. And what a terrible state of affairs, those in charge of stimulating intellect, killing it. Going not only and exclusively deeper, but in solipsistic extremes getting ever denser, darker. Yes, INWARD! Always IN! Never OUT! Towards splendid new light! And even if, as the saying goes, curiosity kills the cat, the rankling question Who killed any measure of curiosity itself? …. but them?!
Giambattista Vico, a XVIIth century Italian philosopher coming close to freeing himself, attacking the Church and also the reigning brain of his day, Descartes, who pretended to be a supreme anthropocentric rationalist while thriving on ‘methodical doubt’, but somehow managed to remain a devout Catholic all his life (as Pascal already said of him: talk about triple contradictions, talk about confusion…), the Italian saying man had successfully faced three ages: the Age of Gods, the Age of Heroes and was now embarking on the Age of Man, with no further need for morale boosters. But Vico also talking himself out of a comfortable job by refusing to sit on a Faculty in ultimate denial of its members’… faculties, at the University of Naples in 1699, selling all his worldly belongings to prove his point and going on to starve to death for lack of income. But this now no longer needing to happen to men of utter intellectual integrity, and if some do feel trapped, why magnificently insist on working only on the intricacies… of the trap? In order to show off, merely exhibiting corrupt, perverse cleverness? Like a lawyer not for a moment believing in a murderer’s innocence, pleading it only… so he can prove that he’s smarter than all others, smarter even than the truth and purely a matter of ambition!?
In addition, here, now, today, and in conclusion there are a handful of myths and faerie or fairy tales from which we needn’t escape, from which we needn’t be set free. We don’t have to deprive ourselves altogether of our fantasies. We only need to carefully remember how perverted political and religious romanticism have accounted for much abject cruelty and suffering, ignominiously producing millions of dead; belief systems and doctrines still thriving in too many places out there. These other fables then the happy exception: bereft of the inherent dishonesty of all the rest. Differing from your run-of-the-mill, multi-striped scribbling and scripture in that they attempt to unmask ostensibly benign falsehoods, near hypnotic to so many, while neither creating nor perpetuating them. Alice in Wonderland’s adventures from the other side of the mirror in Through the Looking-Glass coming to mind (contrariwise, continued Tweedleedee, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s the logic.) or else The Emperor’s New Clothes, without forgetting Orwell’s farm of course. And what about toothless Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh, isn’t he absitively, posolutely honester than most of us will ever be? With one superb quote remaining to end this brief exposé and somewhat personal tour d’horizon, not intended to offend but to set free the slaves, even though in their bewilderment and as a primitive response these’ll often attack anyone attempting to liberate them. How bizarre, slaves rising up wishing to remain slaves, but it happens moreoften than not.
This quote then from another one of these rare works, The Wizard of Oz, the old fool caught in the act of deception. Dorothy’s exclamation to be precise, on another farm, at the end of the tempest, after she awakes:
“Auntie Em, Auntie Em!
There’s no place like home!…
There’s no place like home!”
That’s right, there is absolutely nothing wrong with home: our here and our now. Human existence not needing to be fraught with feelings of fear or a colossal sense of futility once official fairy tales have been exposed for what they are. Simply put, we must cut out the crap for even if we’re not particularly significant, we’re NOT worthless. And at the risk of sounding like Peter Sellers as Chauncey the dim-witted gardener in Being There, I truly think it’s what Voltaire meant a couple or more centuries ago when he closed Candide with the open-ended Il faut cultiver notre jardin, urging us to value our delicious earthly garden, retrieve lost dignity and move on to living authentically. Never missing a beat, a notion to which before him Epicurus and Montaigne certainly were no strangers, both moralists of the first order to whom pleasure remained essential. Lusty moralists they, not moralist sybarites and already aware that we often observe and think from within a too self-assured, partially constructed, partially delivered comfort zone, with few guessing what can happen to our house-of-cards moral balancing act, capable of the overnight crashing into arbitrary ugliness. And that what we like to think of as free will, is in fact the response to so much by itself precarious feedback. So that overseeing this with much humility is the only key to successful continuation. Not the fanciful attempt at spiritual emigration, to some place nowhere to be found.
Put differently again, all this representing the last and hopefully longest lasting phase of all. The First, at the dawn of ‘our’ days, one of light and innocence, the Second, one of fear and survival, the Third, one of fear and sustenance, the Fourth, one of fear, fantasy and order. The Fifth, one of power, fear, fantasy and enslavement, followed by the Sixth, one of self-induced darkness and the beginning of the struggle to free ourselves, then more recently the Seventh, one of drift into despair and a sense of the absurd as reflected in bleak XXth Century theatre and literature, but now, possibly, the time ripe to do away with all that fear, irrational fear, and more of it: there’s nothing to be afraid of, nothingness as such does not exist, therefore nothing is ‘absurd’ except perhaps wasting our stay on this heavenly body. And what’s nothing to some is every bit as magnificent as the small piece of art that man himself represents, except that this piece of art has attitude, cannot abide its own ultimate insignificance and seemingly mere decorative status, often remaining incapable of submission to the whole and as such nature’s only sad rebellion. Yes, sadness is man, rebellian is man, for despite that fleeting magnificence still perhaps the cosmos’ sole failure. Unless we cease to make it so; majestic, heroic after all!
Now if only all would listen and stop defending their faith with distorted reasoning, as if a rational approach to the completely irrational suddenly establishes… fact. Instead of throwing those archaic bombs in the name of indefensible nursery stuff, becoming a friend of hours. Because really, from any perspective, besides untimely death, man’s only persistent enemy is widespread incomprehension. And he doesn’t improve matters by not ‘farming’ himself more responsibly, by the fear induced abrogation of a good slice of his intellect and the delegation of his judgment, or, worse, his conscience. By denying himself a real joie de vivre in the face of the miracle of this life, by thinking that dignity’s putting on a uniform or a robe, by favouring myopic arrogance over suitable humility and huge, elaborate lies over simple courageous truth: man the abdicator, the conformist, the derelict, the great pretender with a frightening capacity to inflict pain and block out genuine thought. Don’t let him search for perverse solace, machinate purpose, invent an existential alibi: living as such is never a crime and something which cannot easily be explained, not necessarily empty, or, again, absurd. And while Signore Vico called it the Third Age, why don’t we just call all of this Phase Eight, and see what happens?! If lived equitably it will cause fewer societal convulsions and even fight heartburn.
Unedited April, 2011 draft
Originated some time during 2002
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***Fairy Tales (Merriam-Webster Dictionary): A story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending. Hence the suggestion of achieving a narrow escape from ‘improbable events’ or for that matter apocryphal endings, by inching back to something closer to probability but still rather good. Like saving the life of a girl trapped in some unreal comedy. Snow White, stepping into our living room, wiping her brow, exclaiming, phew, finally got out of this goddamn fairy tale, may I come in?
Everything you’ve read here has been said or written before by people as far back as Democritus, Lucretius, Heraclitus, Diderot and Holbach, I later found out. This a summing up by an ordinary XXI Century citizen, arriving at his own perspective without ‘formal’ indoctrination, pre-conconceived notions or pre-acquired certainties. Just common sense, absolutely no despair and a good pinch of ontological courage, although I have bad days too. Yes, cognition commotes, it is not for the fainthearted, but priceless if one has balls. The trick is not to waste time on self-stroking Revelation, or on being an arrogant atheist, but insist on becoming a compassionate… Be-ist. Be-ists not Beasts, the taming of ourselves our only victory, our sole and distant glance at purely symbolic eternity! Become men modern, as Dylan Thomas put it, who do not go gentle into that good night! But rage, rage against the dying of the light….
Accompanying seminal prose poem
A FUNERAL FOR IMMORTALITY
(Subtitle: The Lodes of Time)
There is no sweeter contingency
Yet consider the promise of endlessness and finding all things good, become all hell
So that the possibility of immortality’s own death sneaking up, to this deception we should not over-react,
when still in need of
Indeed, if immortality were a woman who had a certain way with us, holding herself out, making us go and go on, when otherwise and long ago we would have given up: yes, such is the power of suggestion and the degree to which our fears and at once the self-preservation behind our beliefs, do stimulate
The terrible power of fantasy, as it is called
For as it turns out her generosity always exactly mirrors our generosity towards ourselves
Now one day such a lady surely deserves a warm-hearted elegy, seeing how before our very eyes she suddenly grew so very old, and cold. Or was it slowly, but nobody paid attention? The cause of death, since you ask, usually ignored in as formal an outpouring as an obituary, and futile bringing the matter up except perhaps for those themselves blindly moribund. And having loads of time coming up with a suitable epitaph, there rarely existing need for impatience or thrusts of other sorts
For it is nearly impossible to write a well-reasoned prose poem on something that isn’t quite real, something like a real enough obituary or elegy for immortality and the reason lady-embodiment serves us well. For in defence of things it must be given a try as life only valued as a constant ‘raging against the dying of the light’ so often leads to the de facto denial of one. Like the stating, as so many do, that wisdom is ‘accepting life’s limitations’ and from there swiftly going on to suggest how terrific and infinite and un-’limitated’ the next one is. Commencing the search for the holy grail of this immortality, even when there is not the faintest hope of finding it, the real, organic universe unable to function in this fashion. Or, as a friend of mine expresses it, immortality having no future at all
And which I only now begin to understand
But let us return to the task of burying a lady: it is not easy celebrating someone who never was and could not be, someone comforting and fanciful, alive superbly in our desires, one we only recently and to our great shock learned no longer lives among us. Gone, defunct, dead and needing to be buried with great pomp, out of respect for what we perceived were her extraordinary accomplishments: dishing out limitless, beguiling reward as recompense for our own perceived victories and qualities. A spell-binding, an overly generous lady, deserving an elaborate grave, a solid grave, for she was uncommonly elusive and thought to be extremely tall, with all of us knowing her but none of us ever really seeing her, even though, incredibly, we would kill for her if we had to, chips down and seemingly in the service of some deep need
With an elegy or obituary that could say a lot or not so much, because she meant a lot or not so much, depending on to whom one spoke. In fact there could be more than one of each, the irony that she knew so many and survived such a long, long time in the minds of most. Longer, and get this, than all her admirers, adherents and good friends put together. The Daily Telegraph probably celebrating her service to King and Country. The Times her estates. The Guardian her fellow man and Radio Four her forceful voice. And that is because we are all so very much inspired by anything or anyone confirming what we already stand for, making every attestation like it rich, because… in fact… our own
Though strangely, dead or simply disappeared, she keeps on popping up, sighted by those who can’t give up, wanting to have a fresh go at her. When the only thing the poor dear wanted was to be remembered, not be seduced again or in the other extreme driven to exhaustion. Or ridiculed by some, because that’s the way we are: sometimes good, sometimes nasty, just don’t push and as long as either way we bag redemption. But seriously and swiftly removing tongue from cheek, is it not the premise of promise of such another life, the one after the one we know to be so short, precarious and cruel, the sole element of change that possibly makes sense? For what is the point of extending life, with one just as fraught with uncertainty? And therefore making the dreaming up of one that is neither, such a perfectly natural endeavour? Putting to good use the one faculty which makes us differ from all other living creatures: Need something you cannot have, thus badly want? Why, invent it!
Then buy it! And need itself then, so very facultative. And artificiality on the surface so very beneficiary. For it certainly seems to work in other parts of our existence, like matters economic: half the world living decently by the fabrication of products that are useless or invisible. Goods and services based on fear and contingency. On mere impression and suggestion, with them crazy or smart enough to provide the stuff and us daft enough to buy it. Yes, along broad lines it works, just like the Cold War. The economic catalyst without which we would all have been eating dirt and for decades fostering industry upon industry keeping us directly or indirectly in a job. Though nothing ever happened, no shots fired, only those empty, angry menaces and threats. And what did Yves Saint Laurent ever do for Joe Pizza? Sodomy and velvet hats? Just what everyman was pining for? Of course not, but let the poor designer be, you do get the point: he successfully employed thousands of us in hundreds of stores in a dozen countries, or more. But in the end, both Yves and the Cold War tired and went. Yet fatuous immortality, despite all funerals, ever so kept her allures
For on a further level it seems self-evident that there can be no life without death. So why then eliminate death? It is like trying to steal the horizon: it cannot be done and to begin with does not make sense. But by insisting on doing so, by trampling on others in the act, by being blind to every breath-taking landscape on our way, what are we achieving, anyway? To a growing number of us the secret lying in staying away from this sort of thing, by overcoming existential fears and silly ambition. Not craving immortality and reward the answer, ignoring that innate vulnerability to incentives of the kind. For it may be that in this ignoring and the human dignity it engenders lie the only timelessness that matters. Additionally and as a by-product, a delightful element of discovery left to our children, a stretch of road truly their own, nothing handed down or for much longer. The case before. Yes, not having their existence cut and dried after the ignoring… no longer ignored
Is this not the very least that we can do, bequeathing them life’s magnificent sense of adventure, the one that we are busy claiming on the late side? Therefore, besides her obituary, the funeral for immortality, our lovely but somewhat sly and once ancient lady, should be an extremely joyous and even repetitive one. Itself an unending New Orleans jazz funeral with laughter and dance flowing through the streets of five continents. Listen! Listen to the sway of that music, slow drums rolling, brash brass and soft reeds blowing, all feet moving, all man’s skins aglow
What a way to live
as live we must,
lodes of time
far from over
(Conceived just prior to Fairy Tales, the Essay)
Man should neither live
like mole afraid
nor as someone’s slave
‘ been given
Only taming himself
by feeding not stealing his other,
raging at injustice
and at day’s end,
any held out
P.S: Unless man learns how to alter orbits and spheres, he’ll essentially remain meaningless, except to himself. So I’d be impressed meeting someone who’s not a slow-burning chemical reaction, a walking bio-factory, and still says hello… Someone not taking in 3 times a day, excreting no waste, not having to breathe for a life. Someone equal to the Universe, not a slave to it, not a bubble. Without a penis as link, become a small roving planet. Yes, man the Planet, Planet Man, not even a Nietzschean Man God, a true phenomenon, not insignificant, not even Promethean, so much more than small Emperors and little Popes…
Don’t get me wrong, A Streetcar Named Desire’s a great rhythmic title and what Tennessee Williams was truly terrific at: serving up seductive labels that stir our imagination well before we take in his plays. Titles the way a second-hand car dealer deploys banners and flags, or someone like Eugene O’Neill strings out Moon for the Misbegotten or Long Day’s Journey into Night, making one wonder if a playwright hits upon a grand tag first, only then writing a play around it, bait before the catch. Until he gets stuck, struck by the great American disease of self-parody of the sort that so pathetically afflicted musical talents like Liberace and Elvis. But what the hell, the marquee’s everything, isn’t it? And all the contrived applause leading to artistic death, small doses at the time, authors as salesmen, sometimes putting on offer very little else. Still, rewarded with lauding by the hour, flattery by the line, and also doing Mr. Williams in, which is a shame. Yes, all of it starting with titles just being titles, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has nothing to with cats on tin roofs, and as far as I know Night of the Iguana never sported a lizard on stage. As for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More, well, all right, perhaps a half symbolism there, but you do get my point.
Thus with A Streetcar Named Desire, in fact having little or nothing to do with streetcars. A work containing no more panting or slow-burning desire and emotionally crippled characters unable to unconditionally acknowledge and accept one another and what this leads to, than stage creations by other dramatists, tall and short. Of course everything can be made to fit, including the Elysian Field neighborhood of New Orleans, suddenly a Purgatory rather than the vaunted mythical Valhalla full of frolicking heroes, but convenient poetic license aside, shouldn’t metaphors apart from being beautiful, make some unexpected sense?
Unless, of course… they’re nothing of the kind.
Beside the ‘Tennessee’ business, the slickness of the State nick-name (Imagine Sir Normandy Halliday?), plus Mr Williams’ imaginative, baroque southern language and much name-dallying rather than tight, contemporary plots, and speaking a handful of languages myself, it always amazed me how European theatre folks took his titles so literally and his work in such vapid awe. For on another level, would anybody in his right mind ever announce Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as Below Lactic Forest? Yet that sort of mechanical stuff gets paraded around by civil-servant run, state funded continental European theatre. I mean, a look at the Welsh map quickly reveals there in fact exists the remnant of a forest quaintly called Milk Wood. And certainly, it’s rather difficult figuring out what milk and woods have in common, but that’s the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the one part Mr. Thomas didn’t make up. So once there existed a milky white forest, one more commonly associated with Siberia than with Wales. So what! Perhaps already then an obscure metaphor, though certainly not one now. Either way Milk Wood, being a ‘nom propre‘, to be left alone in the way that Montenegro never gets translated as Blackmountain or Carlsberg and Monte Carlo as Charlie’s Mountain. What gets translated is the ‘Under’ part, the preposition, leading to something like
En dessous Milk Wood
Sotto Milk Wood
Onder Milk Wood
Unter Milk Wood
Debajo Milk Wood
or whatever, in a given idiom. But what at this particular time provokes my brief outburst is the ridiculous translation of A Streetcar Named Desire by those same state perpetrators. For ‘Desire’ shouldn’t be translated into something that despite Tennessee Williams’ naughty insistence never was. A Streetcar Named Desire’s a clever take all right, it has the makings of such a magnificent metaphor, except that this streetcar rides for real, in New Orleans, and an old rickety affair it is. With as end of the line the Desire neighborhood where Desire Street and Desire Parkway reign. In fact End Line Desire or A Streetcar To Oblivion would have been a far more apt title for the play, given its dramatic surge. Still, it does ring so much better than, say, A Subway Direction Idlewild Airport, if, all the way back, in the late forties, the plot had been set in Queens, N.Y.
The problem then with the Europeans is never taking the trouble to travel to New Orleans, and in translation augmenting William’s little title fraud to a degree bordering lunacy. Coming up, and translating it all straight back for you, with titles like Trolley Car Line Greed, producing an image of someone compulsively absconding with public transport units. (Damn, there comes another one. I’m getting mighty tired of this! Do I get anything else done today?)
So that what this is all about is not so much Mr. Williams but the dutiful, industrial productions of his work in Amsterdam, Prague, Antwerp and like cities: all that lazy European hero-worship. Or better still, the living off international name-tags, the going along blindly of it, the lacking of all pride of it, the sad absence of critical judgment of it, the seeking to be looked up to as an important cog in the theatre trade without having a grain of creative judgment or ability oneself. Serving up and getting away with risk-free, pre-approved works: the frequency with which these and other ‘known’ plays are repeated, staggering. This no longer about stage art, but about attempting to obtain stature by association. This about robbing great talent, playwrights nearer by, of oxygen and opportunity. Those who wait and wait and who are often shut out until they die, as production budgets, inevitably limited, get squandered on ‘recognition’ pieces, produced like cultural pabulum, bad translations mostly adding insult to injury.
- Did you like it?
- Oh, darling, It gave me the shivers. It was so dutiful…
- Pardon me?
Anyway, when traveling around Europe, should you notice the staging of yet another Tennessee Williams play, advertised for the 100th time in Zurich, Zagreb or Modena, try not to be impressed. And if you haven’t got a clue which particular play’s up except for the author’s name below it simply because you don’t understand the local language, don’t worry. Neither likely do the comfortable, don’t-rock-the boat, hip-on-the-surface-but-tragically-conventional chaps behind such stage fluff. All of it art by committee, with predictable results.
Shocks, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think these ego-tripping, falsely anointed fonctionnaires should ever mount another Trolley Car Line Greed. Anymore than they would A Highway Job Called Robbery, by the superb Oxfordshire Smith.
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Rococo was Baroque’s Dadaism, Postmodernism nothing but Neo-Retro, then again everything’s Neo-Retro!
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Look at the lion and his magnificent manes, his wives plain Janes and nothing to lose sleep over. Look at the male peacock and his fantastic crop, plumes and dancing feet, his lovers ugly as sin. Look at the buck and his enormous antlers, his amours only differentiated by the variety of white targets painted around their ass.
Now look at humans and a different scenario. She doing all the action, forever dolled up, painted, rinsed, pedicured, manicured or worse. Seducing, wiggling, smiling, out to conquer mainly ugly ‘hims’ endowed with attitude and cash.
And then there’s me, no plumes, no manes, no antlers, no moolah.
Who am I going to get except if I’m lucky, a blind nymphomaniac who hopefully owns a liquor store?
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Kafka’s is the art of comic exasperation deploying absurd even paranoid pseudo logic, labyrinthine insurance company and regulatory double-thought and dead-end speak, at one point probably convincing Derrida and the rest of deconstructionists, to become plumbers.
Of course, calling officials, their projects and indirectly the Government itself the Arrangement, says a lot about Kafka’s own state of mind. (Personally, I think the Deranged is more like it!), but he still created world literature out of the texts that as an insurance lawyer and later a Workman’s Compensation Board verifier, engulfed him. He imitated the structures of treacherously simplistic but circular language so prevalent in his daily work. Additionally, the endless incompetence and deliberate deception on the part of both the authorities and the public constantly placed him smack in the middle of one contention or another. This triggered his Walter Mitty-like imagination out of self-defence, his day-dreaming both escape and a distancing from recurrent nightmares, off-setting them and other health problems while preserving his sanity.
‘The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy heaven. This is beyond a doubt, but doesn’t prove anything against heaven, since heaven means, precisely, the impossibility of crows!’ is a famous example of a statement of breath-taking incongruity. It only makes one laugh, and even saying the absence of crows wouldn’t make it much clearer, only a dyslexic atheist perhaps debating the impossibility… of dogs instead of gods, but in the case at hand there could merely be a problem of translation. Anyway, the whole thing a bit like saying a statement by a person doesn’t make sense, because the man is mute. Also a non sequitur, what?
Yes, Kafka was a great tragicomic figure, one for whom in the end even a fire hydrant represented some sort of totalitarian threat. His humour all part of that self-defence, as was exaggeration. For I visited the castle in Prague; it’s an innocent enough structure, housing contemporary government offices, but as it’s located on a hill overlooking the Moldau, in his dreamy eyes exercising an authority far beyond its real scope. Yes, the Prague Castle is as innocent as one on a medieval Spanish hill top, in particular those high coastal fortifications and watch towers in Andalusia, constructed to keep exactly who (?) out, as the invaders were and had been… the Moors themselves!? Part of a paranoiac ‘arrangement’, in other words, the Moors ultimately getting defeated in the interior of the Iberian peninsula, as was to be expected, and by the Christian Kings, not by wily Barbary Coast pirates or some other imaginary naval force. So that these castles were not what they were cracked up to be, more part of someone’s fantasy, as in the case of Kafka.
Shades of combatting windmills then, and Don Quijote. Taken in mostly by the symbolism of the Prague Castle, Kafka did set out to unmask that menacing old fool behind the curtain, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at the end of the day both lodging victory. For Kafka is not only Don Quijote, Kafka is Dorothy, but a much better writer than she!
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I live below a cubistic looking mountain, about the size of Mont Sainte-Victoire, Cézanne’s redoubt.
It wasn’t painted by Braque or Picasso, but in the ever changing light of day appears that way, delineated against the endless sky, an anchor, seemingly altering its appearance every hour, its sharp yet subtle angles stacked upon each other, reaching up towards its own Matterhorn-shaped top.
Flat planets are dead planets. There would be no life on earth without constant volcanic action added to solar heat: humanity following flora and fauna in their footsteps, the last one to join the biological fray, and why I cannot live without my mountain, my life, itself child of tectonic might, tenderly watching over me.
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It was always a mystery to me where Hitler got all the money to arm himself to the teeth. At this point he hadn’t invaded anybody, or got cheap slave labour from the countries that he would later attack. The Weimar Republic was on its arse, inflation running at 100 000%, the entire outside world sunk into a deep depression, and the reason our boy got elected to Reich’s Chancellor in the first place: yes he was democratically elected by a desperate and defeated people.
Germany doesn’t have much in the way of natural resources, so where did he get the inital materials and loot to pull Germany out of its rut with public works and feverish arms production? How did he pay? Who gave him credit? You tell me!
But then I read this, as a follow up, written by P.G.Wodehouse, while in Berlin, where he had been kept in detention:
The situation in Germany had come up for discussion, and it was generally agreed that Hitler was standing at the crossroads and would soon be compelled to do something definite. His present policy, said a Whisky and Splash, was mere shilly-shallying. “He’ll have to let it grow or shave it off. He can’t go on sitting on the fence like this. Either a man has a moustache, or he has not. There can be no middle course.”
And then it hit me. I had stumbled upon a magnificent metaphor for his later foreign policy, somehow beefing up his armed forces with absolutely nothing for them do or to look forward to, plus sporting a horrendous debt: He had to do something or the whole damn thing would have collapsed like a Ponzi scheme. Refusing to ‘Shave them off’, he chose to attack. And attack. And attack.
And the rest is bloody history!