Babylon ... the decline of empire ... an allegory for oppression, hubris and the arrogance of power ... a decaying civilization where the Machine, fueled by unbridled capitalism, has run amok ...
The GATES of EDEN
As Adam chipped the first stone tool the Gates began to open. The more he chipped, the more they parted, until at long last the Gates spread wide, revealing the vast expanse of the wider world beyond. Hand in hand with Eve, eyes open in ecstatic wonder, they ventured forth, never noticing the Gates behind had silently sealed shut ...
HUMAN HISTORY in a NUTSHELL
Soldier dies. Woman cries. Philosophy wonders why.
QUESTIONS of CONSCIENCE for the ARTIST
Are you one who nails your work to the temple door and cries, "Here I stand and will not move!" Or for sake of social harmony and getting on in the world, do you bend to the winds of propriety and public sentiment?
Are you genuine or merely the ape of fashion? Is your muse the goddess of inner necessity or the whore of the marketplace?
What is the intention of your work? Was that intention fulfilled? And if so, WAS IT WORTH IT?
One man sees God in a tree. They lock him away for insanity. A hundred men see God in a tree. They call it "religion."
The ARTIST and the LUNATIC
The artist and the lunatic descend, step by step, on a similar journey into the savage, unmapped wilderness of the unconscious. The difference is the artist comes back (most of the time).
The LIMITS of ART
A youth raced through crowded streets, flinging his paintings in furious indignation ... I accosted him thus:
"Young man, why throw away your work in such wanton abandon?" Catching his breath, he proclaimed, "The world is a place of sorrow and abominable injustice." "So it is," I agreed. "My works," he continued, "are utopian visions that will transform this world's baseness into beauty and love." "You must know," I countered, "that art cannot possibly ..." "You lie!" he cried. And ran on, leaving a trail of discarded canvas.
EMPIRES of TIME
History throws up empires like a dog vomiting on the beach. And just as quickly time's waters wash the stench out to sea. Only ideas remain. The visions of the poet, artist and scientist ... only they have permanence. Yet, inevitably, we exalt the empire builders more than the visionaries. One should never forget: Napoleon and Alexander were merely great ...
But Michelangelo was divine.
THREE PERSONS in a BOAT
Three persons sat in a boat, drifting steadily toward the thunder of the falls. The first scratched his balls and gazed longingly into an empty bottle. The second raised her arms skyward in desperate supplication. The third sat unnoticed, tracing beautiful patterns in the water with his fingers ...
HOLDING UP the SKY
Women make babies. Men make history ... savage, bloody, interminably violent history. Enough! Time for men to share the reigns of power. Half the sky, you say? ... Better make it four fifths ...
MAN and TREE
“Tree,” said the man. “Thou art mighty beyond all reckoning.” “Go away,” said the tree. “I’m sunbathing.” “Thou art one of God’s finer creations," said the man. “Appreciate the CO2 you brought me," said the tree. "But you’re treading on my roots.” “God loves thee,” said the man. "Your god loves trees?" “Not sure, really … but He did say something about the lilies of the field. "Don't you have anything better to do ... build a bomb, exterminate species ... maybe start a new war?" "He died for your sins, you know.” “I don't mean to be rude,” said the tree. "But if you think making glucose is easy ... try it sometime.” “Fool of a tree! You have no idea of powers greater than yourself!” “Fool of a man! The only power greater than me is human imagination!”
The FOOL and the SAGE
A fool and a sage discoursed eloquently about the nature of time and space. "History," said one, "Is a three-legged tortoise crawling crookedly in circles across the sands of time under a vacant sky." "Wrong!" thundered the other. "History is a half-blind blacksnake slithering from a dark hole toward the glorious sunlight above." A crowd had gathered and applauded loudly at such elegant erudition. But I left uncertain. Who was wise and who was the fool?
FOUR PILGRIMS VISIT a SAGE
"The world,” said the sage, “is a dark place where men kill for worthless real estate, women are assaulted and children enslaved. “I will pray to the all-loving Father for deliverance,” said the priest. “One must be careful,” said the philosopher, “of hyper real, constructs promoting Hegelian absolutes of antithetical progression.” “I hear,” said the merchant, “there’s considerable profit in the slave trade.” The poet said nothing, but covered his face and wept unconsolably … like an orphan in the night.
The WISDOM of the AGES
A dark tavern … a convocation of luminaries seated … a lull in the conversation …
“Wise sirs,” I spoke up. “We are killing off species right and left. What then must we do to stave off the 6th Extinction?” “If you have two shirts,” said Jesus, “give one to he who has none.” “In Paradise there are things no eyes have seen,” declared Mohammed. “Don’t stress,” said Buddha. "It’s all illusion, anyway.” “More wine?” asked Dionysus. “Goddam capitalism!” said Marx. “It’s him!” cried Nietzsche, pointing to his cell phone. “The Superman! He’s on his way. He’ll know what to do.” “It’s all in your head,” said Bishop Berkeley. “Bibo ergo sum,” said a drunken Descartes. “Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent,” said Wittgenstein, belching loudly. “I am a dog,” said Diogenes, peeing into a barrel. “Think I’ll self-deconstruct,” said Derrida.
Thus, the lofty conversation continued late into the night, until at long last I wearily drained my cup and departed for home … Wisdom, I mused, has its limits.
TWO THEORIES of ART
Art is a search for truth ... Art is an escape from truth.
ANOTHER MAN'S SWEAT
Long years I toiled in rain and sleet and under the fire of a thousand suns, rolling that cursed corporate boulder up a hill, only to watch helplessly as it rolled back down again … until one day …
"Looks like you could use some help." I turned to see a tall, broad-shouldered man holding a sledgehammer in arms the size of oak trees, his smile … a string of pearls curled across a face of anthracite … “No use,” I said. “I am cursed by the sins of a misspent youth to push this boulder for all eternity.” “We’ll see about that,” he said. “Step aside.”
Lifting his hammer, he brought it down on the boulder with such force the earth shook and lightning flashed. For long minutes he hammered the stone, sinews protruding like roots, monsoons of sweat raining down massive shoulders. The boulder split and split again ... became a pile of pebbles. Together we flung the pebbles over the hill.
“You have no idea," I said. "what burden you‘ve lifted from my shoulders. “Glad to be of help,” he said. “Listen ..." I said. "There's a tavern in the city where the girls are free and the beer cold ... interested?” “Another time. Got some business with the Machine over yon mountain,” he said and walked away up the trail. "Hey!" I called. "What’s your name?” But the wind took my voice and he heard me not. Odd, I thought, one man’s fate changed by another man’s sweat.
STEEL DRIVING MAN
They say he had arms like oak trees and when he swung his hammer lightning flashed and the whole earth shook. When the Machine arrived at camp he knew he was in trouble, for a machine that could hammer steel faster and cheaper than a man would put hundreds out of work ... and so ...
"Ain't no machine can drive steel like a man," said John Henry. "You're on," said the Machine.
They went at it ... the Machine on one side, John Henry on the other, toe-to-toe for one mile, to see who could hammer steel faster, man or machine. In the end John Henry was victorious by one stroke of his hammer. But alas, he'd worked so hard his heart broke and he laid down his hammer and died. They say in death his smile was a string of pearls curled across a face of anthracite. And that his spirit flew skyward like a thousand silver birds. One of those silver birds came down to nest in the heart of a young black boy from Atlanta (later he would become a king and lead his people out of bondage). More silver birds came down in the hearts of others and one in mine as well. Thus I became a steel driving man ... like John Henry I will die one day, hammer in hand ... fighting the Machine to the end ...
GREAT AMERICAN HERO
John Henry ... the first man to challenge the Machine and win ... We must all hammer the machine before it hammers us!
HISTORY is a BROKEN RECORD ...
History is a broken record, repeating the same mournful melody over and over ... (click) History is a broken record, repeating the same mournful melody over and over ... (click) History is a broken record ...
A DEAL with the DEVIL
Long ago ... as an aimless youth adrift the streets of Babylon, I heard the Devil call my name ...
“Got a job for you, son,” he said, grinning as only a devil can grin. "A job that will fill your heart with such joy you'll never want another." “No shit?” I said. “You’ll be the happiest man in the realm,” he said. "Your spirit will soar like an eagle. There is however ... a catch.” “Let me guess,” I said. “I have to hand over my immortal soul.” “Nothing so Faustian," he said. "The catch is you’ll be poor.” “How poor?” I asked. “Let’s just say … a Florida retirement is not in the offing.” “Intriguing," I said. "Poverty in exchange for happiness. So what’s the job?” “Making art,” said the Devil. Then he laughed and vanished like mist on wind. I thought long. Assayed my options carefully like a miner weighing gold dust. Finally, I shouted into the silence, “I’ll take the job!”
Thus I became an artist, a shaper of dreams. My days are filled with joy and my nights with the clamor of my creditors.
The GALLERY of BABYLON
In Babylon stands a gallery whose innumerable chambers and vast halls stretch into unguessed expanses of space and time. Every work of art made by human hand and every work not yet made are housed within its labyrinthine confines.
Once in the Postmodern section, I chanced upon a room filled with a strange species of bird-men. Standing on human legs but with heads exactly like parrots, first one, then another of these bizarre creatures strutted across the floor with great pomp and self-importance, spouting mysterious phrases like deconstruction! or signifier! Thereupon, the rest would puff their chests, nod their beaks vigorously and repeat the same arcane utterances. So great was their cacophony that I covered my ears and ran for the exit ... Doubtless, I thought, there must be other rooms worth visiting.
The CONFUSED HALLS of MODERNITY
In the Gallery of Babylon, one day wandering, I met Rembrandt. We talked of the sweet muse of Beauty And the bitter vision of honest expression. Suddenly, we came upon a naked man squatting, Legs wide apart, defecating loudly on canvas. "What ...?" An artist," I explained. "He seeks the new." "But the smell!" "Yes," I agreed. "That would be the sweet stench of novelty."
Sometimes the only thing between a man and the abyss is a good laugh. Humor ... never leave home without it.