Anonymous, and His International Fame
B. George, Figure with bow, lightning arrow, and big feet, 2004
Genetic engineering of the planetary rulers has projected each subject's character as his/her fate. We are not natural. If we were to add up all of the experiences that define us, we would note, upon closer scrutiny, that it is always the key element that is missing. An archaic wound pursues us like the voice of superconsciousness.
From the end of the last ice age, when what were first small streams broke through the dams of the Himalayas, when whales were stranded on the Andes, when ships crashed on the sky, Earth's rulers have agreed to play the role of our absent and yet somehow abusive guides, and to model, in the mists of our imaginations, those behaviors that we would do well to avoid. If they have set up signs, and left us rules for their interpretation, we might, in the end, perceive such help to be a threat. If, however, the self exists in a multitude of locations, then what haunts us may be the lesson that we have not bothered to learn.
For what harms can heal. What does not kill us can potentially make us stronger. True harmony is disjunctive.
I have taken what I need. No force is innately good or bad. If it is, then we are in no position to judge, nor can we read more than a small part of the Ur-Text. I fear no unseen hand, and I do not need to be liberated. Able finally to act as a good parent to the child that I was, and am, the years now rearrange themselves, permitting me to wander through each period of my development. Time turns into horizontal space, as though the future and the past were no more than the handicapped accessible rooms of a museum.
From 1968 to 1970 I attended St. Peter's Parochial High School, where I was subjected to two years of military drills in Latin, a subject that would interest me now but that held not a bit of interest for me then, when my goal was to provoke a revolution. "Why do I need to learn this?" I would ask. The answer was the one preformatted by the Roman Empire: "The mind is a muscle. Exposure to the classics will teach you how to think." Reason had constructed a converging web of roads. As all roads led to Rome, so too, all exploration was designed to lead to one end, and only gave the impression that the intellect had been exercised.
When I did attempt to think for myself, at first in small and then in bigger ways, I very quickly got myself into trouble. No questioning of the shadow of Saturn was allowed. The new Philosopher's Stone should not be made out of radioactive gold, and should not call the law of gravity into doubt. All students were barred from contact with the transuranic elements. Lead was the goal of the Magnum Opus of their collective reverse engineering of the Psyche.
At last, on the day of a country-wide protest against Nixon's covert bombing of Cambodia, I decided to put my body where my mouth was, and to act on my beliefs; in practice, this was not as simple as it seemed. Perhaps, albeit unconsciously, I had decided to embody the Taoist ideal of "acting without acting." About 60 of us were milling around at the edges of the schoolyard. The bell rang, and we didn't move. The headmaster, Father Gonnier, then paced across the basketball court, where -- quite cryptically -- he announced, "You are causing a disturbance. Please leave the property. All absences will be treated as such." It seemed as though we had each heard something different. About 50 or so of the rebels went immediately inside. The rest of us took this to mean that we were free to attend a protest march, with no consequences beyond being marked absent for the day. "Thanks, Father G!" I said.
It can be difficult to tell the big things from the small. This almost accidental choice changed the whole course of my life.
Waving, students leaned out of the windows, shouting taunts at or encouragement to the few rebels that were left. Several of my comrades went downtown to shoot pool. Another expressed an interest in browsing through the magazines at "Red Square," a combination communist propaganda outlet and pornographic bookstore. One James Dean-style drag racer went home to work on his car. Chanting slogans, the rest of us marched off toward Holy Cross College, where an all-day "teach in" was scheduled to be held. Its row of Gothic pillboxes was just visible in the distance, about five miles off, at the top of one of the seven major hills.
This was Worcester, 1970. It was not, as it turned out, a flash-point for the coming revolution.
In tight jeans and white t-shirts, hoods with existential hearts were the devotees of a car cult that was launched in the 1950s. Already, there were several thousand martyrs. Railroad bridges served as playground equipment, as well as initiatory tests: We would hang from one hand as a train went roaring by. Neighborhoods were mapped out according to the country of a family's origin. There had once been a gang war between Swedes and Latvians on the picturesque green of the Worcester Common. In one uncoordinated exchange of taunts, a French Canadian from two streets over had once yelled, "Hey, Lucky Charms, freckles are stupid!" Caught unprepared for battle, I came back with, "Yeah, well...French's Mustard!"
In the winter, we rode our sleds head-first down the hills of tree-filled parks. For whatever reason, we were more concerned about our "Flexible Flyers" than our skulls. Baseball was played in weedy lots, and football without pads or helmets. At the Boy's Club, there was still a compulsory "No Bathing Suits Allowed" policy in effect at the pool -- left over from some health craze in the 1890s, when the New Age really began. There were pedestal shrines to fallen servicemen -- just Average Joes, not "heroes" -- that had been set up in small neighborhood squares. About once a month, the city would put fresh wreaths on them. Many businesses had large clocks on their towers, and there were ornamental bronze ones as well, with Roman numerals, set on 12-foot posts along Main Street.
Things would soon change, but many mothers had not yet joined the corporate workforce. Hands parted curtains, from behind which eyes would look. Boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the Saint Peter's High cafeteria. The law banning married female teachers from the classroom had only just recently been overturned. As to the "Red Square Bookstore": the idea that sex would somehow lead to liberation, to be found, for example, in D.H. Lawrence, was still something that could be believed. This was before what Marcuse called "repressive desublimation" -- the incorporation of sex by the advertising industry -- had gone viral, and had tainted every aspect of American life.
Quite a few men walked to the factories where they worked, which were located, typically, no more than a mile off. An archaic custom, even then. Perhaps this way of doing things developed during the years of the Second World War, when Worcester, the industrial heart of New England, was thought to be a prime target for German bombs. City-wide blackout drills were conducted until 1945. In any case, this localized order coexisted with the car culture.
When I was younger -- until, perhaps, sixth grade -- my grandfather, a shop steward at Crompton and Knowles, would walk home to eat lunch with me. This was usually two sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, which my grandmother would leave out on plates. On a special occasion -- such as an A plus on a test, or a fight with a large bully that I won -- my grandfather would cut a donut in half and then toast it in the oven, until crunchy. He would then ostentatiously serve each half with a slice of American cheese. Such rituals were common. They did not seem quaint -- not yet, or at least not to us -- and had nothing to do with what we could or could not afford. If other people lived in other ways: so be it -- the world was a big place.
There are key memories that are still as vivid as they were. For example: in the morning, I would look out of my window; there, I would see a one-inch figure climbing up a smokestack. I have mentioned this many times, perhaps, in a number of slight variations. And, by the way, have I mentioned this before? Although we knew about pollution, to some extent, the smoke puffing out of giant smokestacks was somehow reassuring, and meant that productive work was being done. The top one percent had not yet won the class war. Even working class guys read books, and the world had not yet departed from its orbit.
And so, let us cut back to the action: The bell had rung, and all but a few rebels had obeyed the headmaster's order. Perhaps two dozen students stuck their heads out of the windows, waving, and we left, to change the world.
The world, of course, did change, as did we, but in ways that the most intelligent could never have predicted. It would even be said that Self and World each participated in the other's change, but it was always far from clear that the link between them was a causal one.
A bit later, I discovered that English could be as incomprehensible as any foreign language. The Delphic pronouncement of "Absence will be treated as such" was, in fact, wide open to interpretation. What it actually meant was the following: that we should write a letter of abject apology, to be posted on the wall by the main office, as well as sign off on a list of punitive new rules. Then, and only then, would the school consider the possibility of revoking our expulsion. Quite oddly, they did not bother to inform my family of this ultimatum -- so anxious were they to escort me on my way! Again, with no second thoughts, I left. "Mom," I said, "I am fed up with the nuns, and there are courses that I'd like to take at Doherty." Even then, I was used to keeping secrets. I was -- and still am -- good at it. My family never did find out.
The outer darkness was beginning to look very good indeed.
As it turned out, my expulsion was a blessing in disguise, a gift of almost unimaginable value. It is as though I had awakened beneath the mosquito netting of a hotel bed in Guatemala-like my uncle Ed-to see first a broken window, and then the bullet hole left sometime during the night about a foot above my head.
The mind may be a muscle, but it is not a muscle that can be exercised by fiat. Discipline does not make it automatically stronger, and it can be difficult to tell, at the time, what benefits and what harms it. Mistakes are of greater value than accomplishments. We must carry our stupidity on our own backs as we grow.
In 1888, in "Ecce Homo," Nietzsche wrote, "What does not kill me makes me stronger." I have always been amazed that this is his most often quoted statement, since, in 1889, he went insane. The details of the breakdown are quite fascinating, if obscure.
On January 3rd, 1889, two policemen approached Nietzsche on a street in Turin, where he lay, sobbing uncontrollably, in a heap, after having caused a disturbance. According to one version of the story, he had seen a cabman whipping his horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberti. He ran to the horse, threw his arms up over its neck to protect it, and then collapsed. It is said that, as he put his head against the horse's neck, unmoving, he was able to hear the beating of its heart, and that this is what had caused him to start sobbing. He felt pity, perhaps, which might have struck him as a breach of his superhuman code, or perhaps the sobs were due to some memory of his father, Carl Ludwig, i.e., of his "spare the rod, spoil the child" approach to education.
Over the next few days, he wrote a series of short, and highly bizarre, letters to his friends. To Jacob Burckhardt, his former colleague at the University of Basel, he wrote, "I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites are abolished." And later, on a more practical note, he commanded that Kaiser Wilhelm should go to Rome to be shot, and called on the European powers to declare a preemptive war against Germany.
After issuing these instructions, he would spend the next 11 years in a state of near absolute silence, perhaps philosophical, "only broken on occasion by a long and unpunctuated scream."
In 1890, he was committed to the Basel Psychiatric Clinic, and then transferred to the clinic at Jena University. In the same year, his mother, Franziska, took him to her home in Naumburg, where she cared for him until her death in 1897. At that point, his sister, Elizabeth, took over. She took him to Weimar, where, although totally uncommunicative, he was allowed to meet with a number of famous visitors, such as Rudolph Steiner. In 1898, he suffered a series of strokes, which left him partially paralyzed. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August of 1900, he suffered yet another stroke on the night of August 24th, and then died the next day at noon.
It is certainly coincidental that Nietzsche died at noon, when this hour has such pregnant significance in his work. For example, in "Thus Spake Zarathustra," he wrote, "The sun of knowledge stands once more at noon, and the serpent of eternity lies coiled in its light: It is your time, you children of the noon..." And this is from "Twilight of the Idols," "The true world-we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we also have abolished the apparent one. Noon: moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA."
Unable to speak, or, towards the end, to dress or wash or feed himself, he then left at an apex, at the moment when the shadows were the shortest.
"What does not kill me makes me stronger," as he said. In the face of such convoluted irony, I, too, am left almost powerless to speak. But what should we make of this often quoted statement, and do later developments invalidate its truth? I would answer: if a life coheres, it does so in and of itself, and it not up to us to figure out just how, or at what point in the future we might grasp it as a whole. I would argue, too, that the sun at noon is not actually very bright, nor is it the original sun. In fact, we are haunted by the sun of the nonexistent, and it is that sun that tortures us. Such events as these are the cusp of an almost unimaginable sphere, which, without dark eyeglasses, there is no way we can see.
In the sixth "Nemean Ode," Pindar wrote, "There is one race of men, one race of gods; both have breath of life from a single mother. But sundered power holds us divided, so that the one is nothing, while for the other the brazen sky is established their sure citadel forever.
"Yet we have some likeness in great intelligence, or strength, to the immortals, though we know not what the day will bring, what course after nightfall destiny has written that we must run to the end. "
We do not know if a thing will transform or destroy us until long after the experience is over. We do not know how the story will play out -- or at least not after we are born, or before we die. Even then, it is possible that the outcome is ambiguous. Necessity, the stern mistress, for reasons as metaphysical as they are opaque, chooses to veto every object of which we dream. Due to blindness, we must learn to navigate by scent.
In my case, the expulsion from Saint Peters led to two years of a great educational experience at Doherty. It was there that I met my first real teachers, of whom Nietzsche was one. His revolutionary vision leapt across the century, and, indifferent to the laws of physics, acted at a distance. At the end of the two years, however, I was left all too painfully aware of the limits of my knowledge, as well as of the somewhat provincial nature of my background. This revelation led to two years of enforced -- if meditative -- near solitude, before I left, in the fall of 1974, to attend the Art Institute of Boston.
My psyche was jagged; no living teacher could identify the shards, let alone begin to reassemble them. The black current of my estrangement was as wide as it was deep. My body was a fortress left by an antediluvian Reich, on whose battlements, once, a choir of recombinant bird-men sang.
27 years after graduating from the Art Institute of Boston, at a higher turn of the spiral, I at last received my state certification to work as a high school art teacher. Unfortunately, this was just at the moment when the state had gutted the majority of high school art programs. Once again, it was time to hurry up and wait, as what was right in front of me slipped like a hologram through my fingers. Attempting to make do, I taught junior high for several years, but then decided that I would prefer to cut my wrists. Figuratively speaking, of course. I loved teaching art, and was skilled at cultivating a state of "creative disorientation" in my students, beyond which breakthroughs could occur, but I was no one's idea of a natural disciplinarian.
I have often wondered: why did this process take so long to play out? Why, upon graduation, as an adult among other like-minded adults, was I not prepared to assume my rightful place in the world? Yes, it was possible that the world had need of me, and of the hieroglyphs that I was struggling to project into existence, but no one had bothered to inform the world of this fact. On the simplest level, you could say that I was reluctant to grow up, yet it was equally true that there was no world that was waiting to receive me. Perhaps the world had actually ended on July 16th, 1945, after all, as many scientists had feared that it might, when the first atomic bomb, called "The Gadget," was detonated over the Jornada del Muerto Desert. Since then, we had measured out with calipers our lengthening shadows on the sand. In fear, we had turned our backs on this surrogate for the Bindu, with its 20 kiloton yield.
No, this description is not accurate, not quite, but this does not mean that our stage-set should be taken at face value, or that the Powers That Be should be taken at their word.
However one chose to interpret the disjunction: I was in the world, but not of it.
In this I was not alone. Of the several hundred enthusiastic art students in the class of '77, I doubt that more than two dozen have continued, successfully, to pursue a career in art. It is hard for me to remember exactly what I had planned to do after graduation. It was not that I did not have goals; I did, but they were convoluted, intuitive, and arrogantly esoteric. They did not have a fixed form, and thus I was under no obligation to justify my progress to anyone, or to measure my amorphous intentions against fact.
In search of liminal extremes, my path led out beyond the exit of the labyrinth, and then back, by means of a wormhole, to the center. What feedback as to goals did I need from the Art Institute? Learning to go step by step from the first stage toward the completion of a project was important to me, certainly, and for this I will always be grateful. Problems -- or my awareness of problems -- arose only later, and had nothing to do with the philosophies of the individual teachers, who were often good enough. The problems had rather to do with wholesale errors of omission. Students were not asked or expected to come to terms with the larger context of their work -- whether social, political, economic, historical, spiritual, or mythological -- in any way that might lead to an upheaval in the present. We had shrunk the cosmos. We had set up and then focused upon objects in the foreground, in order to blot out the forces that oppressed us.
We were the ghosts of a High Modernism that could never be fulfilled. We were dead men walking, the afterbirth of Ground Zero, the species that a context-upending flash had deconstructed. But, curiously, the world continued to look more or less like it did. Our DNA had mutated, but Earth's Rulers had stamped an earlier version on our minds. No shock was capable of illuminating the true strangeness of the object.
We were the cattle of the revolving Disco sun, whose necks had not yet felt a knife. Death came to others, only -- to Mayan villagers in the highlands of Guatemala, for example, where the CIA, under the guise of foreign aid, was just starting to set up its cocaine supply networks. The real sun hated us. We stupidly kept our hearts on the insides of our bodies. For this reason, we were barred from travelling on a standing wave to the land of the Hyperboreans. We could not see, without instruments, through the fog, or hear the bird-men calling from the shore of the nonexistent, where they hung, upside down, on their trees of recombinant lightning. The only good idea was a mummified idea. We were the shadows that a race of omnipotent actors had projected, the stage-props that they could not be bothered to take with them.
In a manner that resembled, but was opposed to, my own metaphysical method, knowledge of all large-scale issues was retroactive. Each thing had happened, in an almost perfect form, in such a way that it could be imitated but not equaled. Revolutionary concepts could best be found in the movements of the first half of the 20th century. Now, epochal breakthroughs were no different than clichés.
Picasso invented Cubism, for example, in which objects were presented from a multitude of angles. Kandinsky assigned a spiritual value to each color. Malevich knelt before the icon of the square -- its absoluteness, its silence, and its brutal pragmatism. Futurism was the embodiment of speed -- an ever accelerating Model T. Speed kills, however, and the movement did not last long. Dada harvested the nihilism of the First World War, and, with the help of the 9 ½ million gassed, machine gunned, and shelled, managed to invent a new type of black humor. Matisse was once regarded as a Fauve -- a wild beast -- although he later said that a painting should be as comfortable as a good armchair. Expressionists were the most heroic advocates for emotion, as translated into primal brushwork. Surrealism had appropriated Freud; it had removed the skin from civilization, and had given us permission to have dreams about sex.
In my study of such sign posts of the common wisdom, I felt that I was being pointed towards a far more complex reality, for which the signs, at some point, had instead become the substitutes.
It would seem that all of the most important breakthroughs already taken place, and that there was, perhaps, nothing of substance left to do. To read the future was to accurately read the entrails of the past, now embalmed, which served as a kind of Rorschach blot, and could be, almost indefinitely, rearranged. This freed one from the messiness of having to come to terms with the living. They were naughty, like children, and prone to indeterminate movements. It was an act of faith that death was the precondition of genius. Against this, I proposed: that our definition of "life" was that of the Ancient's "death," and that the genius was the one who had hermetically sealed his leaks. Conversely, this allowed his energies to well up and overflow, by which means he would be able to enact a reversal of this reversal.
Already, I had begun to sense that the movement of Time was inherently problematic. It did move, yes, but in more than one direction.
For the Ancients, the ontological point of convergence was projected backwards into the past -- onto a period of higher civilization, now present as an echo within stories, onto the age of the gods, in which the three worlds were in greater communication, onto a time when the sky was just a few feet over the earth, onto a time when the human body was made up of eight limbs, and could move, by the power of thought, from one place to another, onto a time when the largest cities, with their millions of inhabitants, could be fit inside of an atom, or onto some plane of existence now entirely lost to view. We Moderns, on the other hand, project this point into the future. We envision it in terms of the Social Darwinist perfection of the race, the electrification of the rural South, the construction of a Marxist Workers Paradise, the triumph of abstract art, the Return of Jesus, the mapping of the base pairs of DNA, a leap to Teilhard de Chardin's "noosphere," or the formulation of a Unified Field Theory. We believe that we are "evolving" toward this point, rather than "devolving" from some already perfect sphere.
The key thing to remember is: that the Great Year moves backwards, even as, to us, it appears to be moving forwards. By such means, it "precesses" to its origin.
It was odd to experience the avant-garde as the object of nostalgia.
Now, or rather then, in the year of 1974, although it did seem that the world was moving faster every day -- flashing before us as though it were a collective near death experience -- it seemed possible, nonetheless, that both it and time had stopped. Perhaps my early discovery of Giorgio de Chirico had created in me a tendency to see human beings as manikins, and the world as a haunted stage-set. In any case, its busyness did not argue against the fact that it had ended.
The world's movement could just as easily be viewed as mechanistic, a trick of the eye, the action of the two hands of a clock. Movement, in and of itself, was not the same as living force. To take it a step further: it was possible, too, that our biomass was just so much raw material. Perhaps the human body was once designed and built as a kind of interdimensional factory, in which this biomass would be distilled. The building was a ruin, and the workers were not different than their shadows. One by one, the manikins had frozen in mid-gesture. At the same time, the force had continued to accumulate in the coils, and, with the right help, it seemed that it might be possible to transmit it. I would not discover such help at the Art institute.
"Have you ever heard of an artist called Van Gogh?" one teacher asked. Having read every art book in the Worcester Public and Clark University Libraries, I was not so much offended as shocked. It seemed that we needed to be told on the installment plan that Matisse was a great painter, and that, once we recognized the extent of our own ignorance, it would do us good to read writers such as Shakespeare. "If he knew so much," I once innocently asked, "then why is he still dead?"
Like those before us, our immediate job was to learn the rules, in order to be able to break them. Like instructions from the beloved author of a totalitarian handbook, how many times did I hear these words repeated? Perhaps there was a different way of doing things -- one that did not involve the indefinite alienation of a student from his/her work. Who knew? It was always thus. All parties collaborated to affirm the wisdom of the paradox. "For every Michelangelo," my ex-wife's mother used to say, "10,000 die trying."
Teachers acted the roles of our slightly older siblings; they were more evolved technically, if not metaphysically, earned enough to pay for studios, and were themselves eager to be accepted by Earth's Rulers as something other than intoxicated brats. Our immediate superiors in the war against nonexistence, they had not yet managed to gain access to the illumination of the inner circle.
At the AIB, it was an article of faith that paintings led only to other paintings -- one's own or those of others, it was hard to tell -- as in a museum whose windows opened onto windows, behind which were more paintings, in the range of canonical styles that would be specified in one's syllabus. Those windows in turn opened onto doors that led to corridors that opened onto other windows. At the end, one would emerge into the room where one had started, to experience -- after ego death, perhaps -- one's own translucent image from the back side of the mirror. Just joking! This should have, but did not, of course, occur. At the AIB, such knowledge as was available was purely academic -- as if we students had not existed for some 8 ½ billion years, as if knowledge were additive, and as if a museum had any need of walls!.
Tribe and story had been disconnected. An Aeons-long war had cut local from non-local space. Corporate logos had stolen the magnetism from the World of Ideal Forms. One subject could not reweave the archaic thread of the breath.
We were born "ex nihilo." We were blank as "tabula rasas." It was years before our conscious and subconscious energies had been scheduled to meet.
Anatomy was a challenge, both in the literal and the human microcosmic sense, and it was the job of our freshman anatomy teacher, Mr. Maars, to explain how we were put together. Mr. Maars, for reasons known only to himself and the demons that possessed him, spoke in an almost inaudible whisper, and could not be heard beyond the second row of seats. He was militant in his refusal to speak up. Perhaps, in some distant childhood, he had come down with a sore throat which then led to a bout of laryngitis, of the non-imaginary type, which then left him with a life-long case of PTSD. If a student asked that he speak loudly enough to be heard, Mr. Maars would, no matter how articulately the question had been asked, continue to drone on. On a good day, he would not first pause to correct the student for his rudeness. Encyclopedic lists would quickly vanish into Hyperspace. If we did not speak Latin, well, that was not his fault. Luckily, we had books, which the lack of any actual instruction forced us to read closely. There were always more bones to memorize.
We did learn to make objects -- that much was real. But whom did we make those objects for? Perhaps some catastrophe had swept away our audience -- the audience that would otherwise be waiting to applaud us -- but then again, perhaps it never did exist. No doubt, it was better to think small.
When archeologists excavated the Olmec site of San Lorenzo, settled circa 1700 BC, they found that a number of ceramic gods had been cemented face-down in the aqueduct, which was 560 feet long. This is, or so archeologists theorize, the exact mirror image of an aqueduct still buried. Within it, at key points, they have found a variety of "offerings" -- from the mineral, plant, animal, and human kingdoms -- which we could, just as easily, choose to view as "works of art."
Among these were the following: heaps of human bones showing signs of butchering and burn marks; broken pottery; jade axes; baby were-jaguars, with cleft heads; large rubber balls; small mirrors, some of them convex, polished from iron ore nodes, and perhaps traded from the highlands of Oaxaca; wooden staffs with a bird's head on one end and a shark's tooth on the other, used for bloodletting; knotted cords, for drawing through the wound; a vast quantity of bones from the marine toad, bufo marinus, a creature inedible because of the toxins in its skin, but which could be used because of its production of bufotenine, a potent hallucinogen. All of this had been buried with great ritualistic care, and then covered up with many layers of dirt, so that no sign of the work would be visible on the surface. Perhaps both we and our audience had once been buried in such a fashion. Yet the burials were separate, and we were now many light-years apart.
The Museum Without Walls, in the end, had little use for us, and had long since ceased to be looking for fresh talent. Since it did not have any entrance, or, for that matter, any exit, there was no way to tell if one had actually stepped inside. And once done with one's visit, there was no way to tell what one had gained from the experience.
In fact, the whole of horizontal space, with all of the hallucinatory objects that it held, now appeared to be no more than a quantum fluctuation. The triumph of High Modernism had now, somehow, been immobilized by a flash, by the splitting of an infinitely small point. Its brilliance would neither increase nor decline. Newness, as disjunction from all of the shadows of the past, and as radical ideal upon which one might venture to bet one's life, was now itself a historic footnote.
"Though a permanent storm scorches my shores, far out my wave is deep, complex and prodigious. I expect nothing finite, I am resigned to sculling between two unequal dimensions. But even so. My markers are of lead, not cork, my trail is salt, not smoke.
"To escape the shameful constraint of choosing between obedience and madness, to dodge over and over again the stroke of the despot's axe against which we have no protection though we struggle without stay: that is the justification of our role, of our destination and our dawdling. We must jump the barrier of the worst, run the perilous race, hunt on even beyond, cut to pieces the wicked one, and finally disappear without too much paraphernalia. A faint thanks given or received, and nothing more."-Rene Char, from "The Rampart of Twigs," tr. Jackson Mathews
A painter should learn to paint -- the thinking of the AIB administration was no more complex than that. A bit of art history would do no harm. And what should the visually well-trained -- if somewhat inarticulate -- painter do to make a living after graduation? Time would tell. It would do no good to be pessimistic. If others had done it, in the 1950s or several centuries ago, then it was possible that you could too.
Let the creative waitress negotiate her schedule with the phallic manager of the steakhouse.
Let the intoxicated cabdriver each weekend tube by tube smear his Paleolithic blood across a landscape.
Let the genius who is missing his left ear in a van deliver surplus government cheese. For he will be able to examine the altars that suburbanites have set up in their bathrooms. Also, although American, the 10 pound blocks of cheese are edible, and, most often, there will be several left to take home.
Let every object in the future be kept almost out of focus -- lest, discovering that he or she is naked, and transfixed by unblinking eyes, the student should then experience fear.
Let the graduate attend only to his or her own interests, for these interests are as wide as is the multiverse itself.
Let Mickey Mouse cut the throat of Post-Modernist Irony on the altar of High Finance.
Let the teacher return to the place of dark instruction at the next turn of the spiral. For there his dog, Argos, will run to meet the ragged traveler, and, in the banquet hall, a great slaughter will be prepared.
Curriculum at the AIB was a kind of perpetual motion machine -- designed, perhaps, by the now cybernetic Daedalus -- that flew on autopilot towards an unknown destination.
If the Art Institute had developed a more clear cut set of goals -- goals that went beyond art for art's sake to define the future relationship of the student to society, to the world, or to the field in which this planet is a seed -- the student, in turn, could not help but internalize at least some part of this focus. More important than any technical competence would be the ability to ask probing questions -- of one's self, first, and secondarily of one's teachers.
By asking the right questions, the student could then begin to deconstruct each hologram that Earth's Rulers have -- so solidly! -- projected, and, by looking clearly at the masters of projection, perhaps thank them for the dramas they have staged.
Quite suddenly, they would learn that Time had stopped. A bell would be struck, and then a man-hide drum, to be followed by the rest of the Bone Orchestra of the Spheres. Three distant ancestors would step from an atom to shake hands. A logarithmic mushroom would then light up and assemble the best version of each work at the museum
Big egos would be history, but our bodies would be once again gigantic. Selves once again electrically charged would let go of their images. Ambassadors from the true Assembly Beyond Space would put their infantile grandiosity on hold. For our benefit, they would put on the entire weight of space, with its multitude of problems. For they love to play, and do not mind looking foolish.
Helped by a tornado -- its antigravitational vehicle -- the Apocalypse would move its house from the future to the present.
Entranced by the naked Sophia, Marx and Calvin would collaborate to transform the once thoroughly desexualized body of the Commonwealth. The top one percent would then volunteer to give away their hearts. The other 99 percent would refuse. Way too generous an offer! They would take only their money, their artwork, and their houses. They would draw the line at pets. The Body Politic would once again grow horny, in a good way.
All graffiti would be written in the sky, and all interdimensional warfare would be served at one's table in the café, the scale of megadeath to be negotiated between friends over plates of toast and escargot. Only ancient cities would still be allowed to smoke.
In a graduate course, we would learn to sleep while still awake, and would soon master the archaic art of taking objects home from dreams. From their perches on Babel's rafters, now black and haunted, birds would migrate over oceans to once more roost upon each student's head. Then, even the most conventional of students would dare to test and grade their teachers.
Slaves would punish masters, laughing. Mute victims would compete to heal their torturer's wounds.
Students in altered states would demand the transvaluation of all values -- an alchemical breakthrough that had long ago occurred, but that each must translate into the context of his laboratory, however crude it may be.
Vertical Love would spring -- as if from nowhere -- to set fire to the stone tools of the horizontal Mind.
Visionaries would sell rugs -- a practical tradition, as was demonstrated by the Sufis. Factories would build better oceanic atoms. Alien technocrats would market the latest in recombinant DNA software, and, at each turn, welcome feedback from their customers.
Innate talent would not easily collapse upon its first encounter with external circumstance. Shoemaking would help to ground the youthful artist's imagination, as well as to expand the scope of his attention, since the shoes in question would be 432,000 years long.
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