Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / Survival /
@ K. 2008 06 11
The other day the moment I started off on what I thought would be a good introductory angle but found myself developing the introduction without getting to my main point. Till I can recompose the whole, I restart: with what I mean:
Though I prefer individualism to being a worker bee for Big Brother, I also believe that contemporary individualism is a pathology, toxic: that the human species would do better to retain some of the group-identity we are descended from. We are a social species. I don’t want the society to be too strong; I don’t want the individual to sever identity with the family, the group …
American culture is devoted to profit. I despise it. I believe that the norm for profit should be individuals profiting as a result of the group profiting. Sure Edison should make something: the more if the society benefits.
I recently saw the movie There Will Be Blood on DVD. Daniel Day Lewis’s character, Daniel the Oil Man, is magnificently the opposite: a pure individual, a predator on society. He doesn’t just want to be rich; he wants everyone else to be poor. He tells his own son that he, the son, means nothing to him beyond being a tool for taking advantage. “I needed a sweet face with me to buy land.” Fortunately, reading the abundant macroinformation, information without specific data, the son knows the father too well to believe him. But there was at least an element of truth in father Daniel’s rejection. The son was going into business for himself, the father could read that only as “becoming a competitor.” The movie’s oil man is clearly to be regarded as a monster. That represents my values exactly.
But don’t think that that attitude makes me for the Sunday family, which the oil man exploits. They are not pathogenic individuals like the oil man. Indeed, there’s a strong hint to the contrary: the oil man’s son reports that the Sunday family beats little Mary Sunday “if she doesn’t pray.” This is a marvelously complex image. Prayer is an odd activity in relation to the dichotomy of social / private. I was taught to pray. I was taught to pray in private. Sundays we gathered in a church as a congregation, but even then, our bowed heads were understood to be signs of privacy. We were each “alone” with God, alone, in concert, as a group: a group of one faith. It was understood that if I dropped out of the group, I was the lost sheep, the group remained secure.
But, as I’ve written and said, repeatedly, once upon a time, prayer was emphatically Not Private. If there was drought, the group needed rain, the ecology needed rain, the plants and animals as well as the human group, needed rain. So the humans danced a rain dance, said rain prayers, the rain dance being a form of prayer. If some little girl didn’t dance, didn’t pray, she endangered the entire ecology: her society was obligated to make her conform!
Also, here’s a different contrast: the Bible refers to a practice once common of Jews praying in public on the steps of the Temple: Lord God, thank you for making me male; Lord God, thank you for making me richer than my fellow Jews; Lord God, thank you for making me smarter, better looking … luckier … Prayer can also be a form of social obnoxiousness.
Any part of that could be developed further. My point here is that the Sunday family, poor but far from humble, lives over rich oil deposits. One of them, a preacher type, knows it, and approaches the oil man with a deal. Daniel exploits the Sundays for the oil; the preacher boy exploits Daniel for his church. Later a younger brother preacher boy also tries to exploit — and humiliate and torture Daniel. Daniel submits, takes the oil, violates all further contracts, and humiliates, tortures, and then brutally kills, the preacher: two con men, one more savage than the other. Wait, that still doesn’t finish my point: the Sundays are clearly Not Christians in the way that I was brought up. Their “prayer” is closer kin to the rain dance of the primitive human group. But “Jesus” etc. forms the base of their diction.
I resume, having again gotten deflected by introductory angles: I am not for rain dances, but I am for cultural unity. I am against arbitrary authority, a Church telling a Galileo he can’t see moons around Jupiter through his telescope, an NYU interrupting me when I try to explain Shakespeare in terms of our deepest epistemological agons …
I am for profit where all profit: Homo erectus learning to control fire, Homo sapiens inheriting the knowledge; Homo sapiens learning to kindle fire, subsequent Homo sapiens inheriting that knowledge … I am against the oil man’s style of profit: and I invite all to notice: the oil man’s life was miserable before he got rich, and looked more miserable after he was rich. He is served his wretched meals of burned toast and whiskey, passed out on the lane of his private bowling alley.
Thus: I hate Wall Street. It represents greed; private profit: to me, anti-social profit. To me, anyone who owns stock has invested in Hell and against Man.
God I no longer care about either, or Jesus. I am for life. I am for THIS universe. I am for this ecology: until we find, or make, a better. I am for the pathogen man, unbecoming a pathogen and returned to be a mere predator: then, I am for that new man limiting his numbers and his consumption to fit the ecology; not operating on the ecology without understanding which organs are vital.
Ugh. I’ll make it nice when I rewrite.
In high school, age fifteen or so, I walked into the Museum of Modern Art, and there (advertised I don’t doubt, but unknown to me) was Edward Steichen’s great Family of Man exhibit. It was a revelation to me in several ways: at once or right on top of each other. For one, I had never thought of photography as a “modern art.” By the time I had seen the first few photographs (and the structure of their display) I was converted. For another, I saw that my father did not want to be in the museum, did not want to study the photographs, only barely hid his impatience with me. Further, MOMA and Steichen, then and there taught me, the idea having been all around me all my life, but coming into my developing and maturing consciousness right then, was the idea of “theme” — family, man … — and structure. (That latter I cannot show you easily in words, not in this rushed first draft.) The show was my first conscious acquaintance with many a great photographer. Some I already knew by name: Lewis Carroll I knew through his Alice books, but till then I hadn’t a clue that he was a photographer (or a mathematician, let alone a logician).
Lewis Carroll’s Alice
Some, like Penn, I knew their photographs (along with every one else), but not their name; neither had I considered, not consciously and out loud as it were, the gloss of Vogue or Life to be art. Further, within a few steps, the first sections after a few introductory photographs being devoted to love, and male/female, and procreation, I had my first encounter with the lyric prose of James Joyce: the ending words of Ulysses accompanying a photograph of a couple in coitus. (Latter, at Fire Island, I got briefly close to a girl who said that the girl in the photo, her face near orgasm, was a friend of hers: from Fire Island!)
But the most important ideas were implicit between the show and its title: the idea, the abstraction, man was being associated with the idea, the abstraction family. It’s an association strongly implicit in Christianity. The Jews present themselves as a “family.” They may be a family with divisions, and conflicts, and misdemeanors to felonies, but they are related: they have things in common: they’re saying that they ought to be close. But: the Jews distinguish, sharply, between Jews (us) and non-Jews: outsiders, unclean, Not-Chosen, THEM! As the gospels were presented to me in Sunday School, Jesus began his ministry among the Jews, but then, just before the Passion, told his disciples to bring his news of the Kingdom of God and of Salvation to all peoples everywhere.
If they’re not in the family, bring them into the family.
This was approximately ten years after World War II. Monday to Saturday we reveled in being winners! In surviving and defeating Hitler! in reducing Hiroshima to misery, to ashes, to radio-active waste! Every movie at the theater was accompanied by newsreels of starving German boys amid ruins, Jap atrocities, Hitler’s bunker … ruin and defeat, and America marching in glory: The Chosen!
Somehow this Jesus idea of an expanding family hadn’t quite succeeded. But here at MOMA was a fresh appeal.
Were that show new today I’d have a very different reaction walking in cold. I know MOMA. I know Joyce. And I know Carroll and Penn … and love and male/female, and procreation … and bullshit: from the Jews to the gospels to the US. Man may be one species, in our genes, but in our behavior we are not one family, and those who have tried to follow the group-fiction “Jesus,” like the very real Ivan Illich or the also real yours truly, get our asses handed to us.
World War II was no accident.
Neither was World War I, nor the war in Iraq, nor the war in Vietnam …
Jesus of Nazareth may be a fiction, a plot, but his “wisdom,” patched together from many a previous wisdom (or oxymoron, or grandiloquence), but I believe that a cream of that patchwork could in fact have saved us, had we let it. But it’s too late now, I don’t even want it to be true any more, and saying “if” might as well be saying that “if pigs had wings …” or “if every good Catholic had prayed …”
So. I no longer believe any of that. But I do still love the exhibit of photographs that debuted in the mid-1950s and was called “The Family of Man.”
Well, I sure haven’t steered near my title target yet. Excuse me, I have to take a breath, and wash the dishes first.