Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?

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This claim can be felt and touched. Representations of the beyond realize our desires, not because they point towards the far distance, but towards something that is very close to us; they are projections. In this sense, approach both confirms the religions and their greatness and at the same time it does away with them. Both time as well as space can be concentrated at the price of diversity. Thus, on avenues there are perspectives from which the trees converge and overlap in the image of one vast tree.
Art can help with overcoming fear. It is also the task of architecture which, like art, goes beyond mere need. If it fails to do so, and is subordinated totally to pure practicality and its economy, in the best cases with esthetic trimmings, it is necessary that fear will increase. This fear is, as in any era, the fear of death, which today, in conformance with the style of the epoch, is experienced as an effect of technology. We have always needed those robust spirits who do not accept these demonstrations of power a priori, and in this sense Mao’s statement that “The atomic bomb is a paper tiger” represents one of the few brilliant maxims of our era. Lao-Tse could have said the same thing.
Landscapes, in the natural sense and also in the sense of those associated with primitive cultures, early cultures and high civilizations, are condemned to disappear. And we have to resign ourselves to this. That these aggressions are subject to a fixed time-scale and to an ineluctable destiny in the framework of the landscapes of the factory and workshop is a claim that I have already formulated in The Worker (1932), while the question of their cyclical nature was addressed in my At the Wall of Time (1959). Fire can also contribute to “whitenings”. The pre-Socratics were already familiar with such “purifications”.
At this point we are confronting a particular aspect, that is: we ask ourselves how the individual is capable of enduring this situation without suffering grave harm. The fact that he lives in a workshop is a fact, but not a consolation. It is the usual practice to call attention to a state of perfection to “maintain the morale of the people”—from a religious, metaphysical, technical, economic point of view—that is, to feed them with vague promises. This is what priests, tyrants, and good and bad paterfamilias have done since time immemorial. “You must wait until you are older”, the child already heard. When he is older, however, his concerns have changed; but the restlessness remains.
The claims of the State, which today disguises itself as society, can become irresistible. For the individual, there is always the possibility of evading these claims, even if only by way of suicide. “The possibility of suicide forms part of our capital.” This is one the sayings with which, now and then, I have provoked scandals, and I have heard one of the celebrities who frequent the cafes, figures who these days, sometimes for a very long time, receive tribute as demigods, say: “It is time for our esteemed author to put his capital to work.”
With respect to approach, the desire to flee from reality out of a mere quest for pleasure is irrelevant and even harmful. Everything that we project upon the past—sumptuous temples and pyramids, monasteries and Gothic cathedrals, republics and empires from other times—is painted on the same backdrop. The same is true of future paradises, the perfection of technology, the World State without disease or war, nuclear fusion, intergalactic space travel. In this landscape a lot of things happen, and the more things happen in the future, the more intense will be consumption, the consumption of the substance.26 I have heard that they have installed oxygen tanks on the streets of Tokyo. It has become necessary to install air refueling stations.
All of this is more or less perfect—when it comes right down to it, it is therefore imperfect. To place this dynamic world in the right perspective, as in the Etruscan necropolises, would be to fill the instant of the present, the essence of being, tumultuous and deafening time, with silence. We only fleetingly approach the immense wealth in which we participate and that is always promised and predicted for us again and again. In time, its vision would be unbearable for us. However, approach can lead to transparency. Then it is manifested physiognomically and symptomatically: in works and deeds, in faces and works of art.
And also in landscapes. “No one who really knows nature is unaware of the truth that every spiritual phenomenon has, here below, its symbol, and that, consequently, nature as a whole is presented to our eyes as a hieroglyph.” So said Baader, whom, as is also the case with Böhme, I only quote with reservations, with respect to words like “here below”, but whose vision of art and nature should not be disregarded. In his view, art is the reflection or transparency of supreme concepts in certain forms of sensory reality: fermenta cognitionis.
Tension and relaxation, concentration and paralysis, compression and lethargy characterize the ambivalence of ecstatic intoxication and its consciousness of life.
The possibility of excess is always given: excedere means “to escape”. Here is the rule that is abandoned. What is considered in practice to be excess, depends on the rule that, with the change of the environment, offers a more or less limited range of tolerance. In the world of technology, where clocks play an increasingly more important role, this tolerance has been reduced: the machine does not consent to any escape, regardless of how brief it may be, from measurable time. It demands asceticism and does not allow drugs to be consumed for pleasure. To the contrary: whenever drugs are consumed, it must be for the purpose of reinforcing normality. This is the case with most of the capsules and tablets that are intended to treat psychological and physical disorders.
Strictly speaking, the words “escape” and “exceed” mean an abandonment of normal time. Such a possibility becomes more problematic as the rule of the empire of the clocks grows stronger. It is still the same time, which sometimes plunges into an abyss and at other times expands like the surface of a changeless mirror, and it is the same spirit that modulates time as a form of its representation. Time becomes its object, its plaything, beyond the “clock where the same hour eternally strikes”.27 This explains the extraordinary and unusual states of consciousness, the sudden onset of serenity that flows over the intoxicated person, but also the malaise that follows excess. In those states of consciousness, not only are pleasure and the life force taken for granted, but, above all, time is borrowed and consumed in advance, without worrying about whether it is concentrated or expanded.
Furthermore, the path trodden in the state of ecstatic intoxication is also associated with the memory of an intense feeling of being alive. It is associated less with the uniqueness of the tempi as with that of the keys: with the changing times, spaces also became accessible with unknown images and visions.
The evocation of that way of feeling life is linked to a longing to experience it once again: that atmosphere of festive exaltation and enthusiasm. The latter must be interspersed with pauses; here, too, the motto of the “treasure hunter” holds true.28 One can make long journeys at a walk or a trot, but not at a gallop. When this longing leads to addiction, the intervals are abbreviated; this hastens the onset of exhuastion.29
The German word Sucht, which means “addiction”, is related to the verb suchen, which means “to seek”; etymologically, its meaning is derived from the Gothic siukan, that is, “to be sick”, as is still reflected in our siech and the English sick. As is the case with many other words, with this one, too, we must keep in mind not only its historical meaning, but also the meaning that is suggested by the magic of its sound; here, the realm of the poet borders on that of the grammarian.
The duration of this interval is variable; if we contemplate this process with respect to drugs we see that it is conditioned by, among other things, their toxic effects. The minor euphoria derived from smoking tobacco can be repeated after a few minutes. According to Wilde, a cigarette provides a perfect pleasure, without ever being fully satisfied; a table at the café is frequented almost daily for decades; various acquaintances meet, who know “their dose”; even a considerable dose does not prevent older people from joining in.
Religious festivals in which drugs play a major role are celebrated only once every two or three years. The impact of these festivals can be so intense that the participant does not yearn for their repetition. As we have already pointed out, in remote epochs wine possessed an extraordinary power, but it has long since been subjected to a process of domestication. There are sensitive natures, however, over whom it still wields its old power. In this respect, these individuals remain in an infantile state. Their sensitivity does not necessarily imply a physical weakness. To the contrary, it is all the more dangerous when it coincides with a robust constitution.
A friend of mine from the years after the First World War—I shall call him Kramberg—possessed, even in his external appearance, that primordial force that was even more powerfully expressed in repose than in motion. With the body of an athlete, he also had a face that was both intrepid and intelligent: this is how Bernard Shaw, for example, described the boxer, Cashel Byron. His eroticism was evident; I felt it when I was sitting next to Kramberg in a bar. In such places, it was quite a common occurrence for a girl to whisper to her friends, “Look, over there on the right, next to the door, what a handsome man”. Such signs were not necessary here; Kramberg’s presence attracted attention discreetly, but irresistibly: an admiration that did not seem to surprise him, but which he accepted as a deserved tribute.
It will always be a matter of note that those who are endowed with such a favorable outward appearance are often much less successful than their comrades who are not so gifted in that respect. If one also takes fame into account, such as that enjoyed by actors, then the outlook is even less promising. The more easily we are puffed up by a stroke of good luck, the more easily are we brought down by failure. Byron—I am now referring to the poet—embodies that type of child born under a good star. The divorcee who fed on his substance is almost always concealed behind the background of his life.
Kramberg did not talk much about himself. After leaving home in search of adventure, he took a low-level civil service job, with a modest wage considering the lifestyle to which he was accustomed. He was obliged to pay more attention to his apparel and to take up culture physique. In the evenings, he would often engage in gymnastics while naked in his room and also work out with an elastic band to strengthen his muscles. Despite the fact that he had observed that, at that hour of the night, certain female neighbors were looking out of their windows, watching him with binoculars, he was not very concerned; which was entirely consistent with his exhibitionist tendencies.
Despite his arrogant and provocative demeanor, I was surprised to discover that he never touched so much as a drop of alcohol, not even beer, which was quite weak in those days. At first I just thought he was a skinflint, but then he also declined every offer to buy him a couple of glasses of beer. Once, when it came up in conversation, he told me the reason for his abstinence.
At the age of sixteen, his friends invited him to drink for the first time, and he succumbed to a maniacal state, of which he had no memory, but which lasted several days, during which anything was possible. In fact, there was something he wanted to hide about his past; but he never went into details. In one minute, a whole life can easily be destroyed. In any case, he had promised his mother, as she was on her knees before him, that he would in the future spurn not just the bottle, but even the first glass.
Such cases, in which an extreme sensitivity and a strong constitution coexist and in which excitation is powerfully inflamed, are rare, but never cease to re-emerge, especially in individuals and social groups in a state of nature. In myths we find testimonies, such as the Homeric description of the wedding of Pirithous, which concluded in drunkenness, rage, homicide and rape:
The great Eurytion when this frenzy flung,

Pirithous’ roofs with frantic riot rung;


Boundless the Centaur rag’d; ’till one and all

The Heroes rose, and dragg’d him from the hall;

His nose they shortened, and his ears they slit,

and sent him sober’d home, with better wit.30

This episode in the hall of Pirithous provides the archetype for all those altercations that combine ecstatic intoxication and brute force, including those that the judge must break up after adjourning a kermesse. In ancient Frisia, the betrothed couple arrived at their wedding banquet dressed in burial shrouds. It is not at all surprising that Theseus and, above all, Heracles, should have set about to restore order; what is surprising is the fact that this constituted one of the features that would herald a new kind of rule. There is no question about it: myth derives much more from chance than history: the former offers ideas, while the latter only records events.
The Thessaly of old where the wedding of the Lapiths was celebrated is shrouded in mystery and, at a later time, it was still famous as the place where witches and sorcerers plied their magical arts. Like Colchis, Phrygia, Mysia and Lydia, Thessaly was home to peoples who had resided in those lands long before the time of Herodotus, and in such places we find the splendor and the horror of the telluric power manifested side by side. Heroic morality and clan law ruled there since ancient times, and was still in effect when people no longer lived in forests, mountains and caves. Thessalos, its first king, the son of Jason and Medea, was one of the siblings who escaped their cruel mother.
At the banquet, the cup was passed by heroes and centaurs, in whom Homer almost always only recognized brute force. The centaurs were tamed or exterminated like lions and snakes; new laws and inequalities arose that still affect us today. A judge, whose face displays the scars of old duels, presides over the banquet, and proclaims harsh sentences against those who engage in drunken brawls.
Kramberg died young, which was surprising in view of his strong constitution, but was not really at all unusual. As long ago as the time of the great physician of antiquity, Celsus, one encounters in the latter’s work the observation that the athletic lifestyle, while certainly increasing physical strength, does not, however, guarantee a long life.
The relation of the human being to ecstatic intoxication is one of great importance and it is legitimate that it should be the object of detailed regulations both in the educational system as well as in legislation. Here we find a range of heterogeneous possibilities extending from absolute prohibition, to restriction, to the toleration or even the promotion of the pleasures of ecstatic intoxication. A wide array of motives makes the picture even more confusing. The abstinence of late Protestantism in America and in the Nordic countries is quite unlike the kind of abstinence demanded in Islam. Mohammed himself represents an exemplary case of the type of spirit who, without need for any artificial means, was always susceptible to the supernatural. He was just as capable as Saint Anthony of abstaining from wine. The dervishes induce their ecstatic trances by way of pure movement. In fact, since time immemorial, dance has been a commonly recognized means to achieve spiritual rapture. Abstinence, such as the kind demanded by the Salvation Army and by Islam, is endowed with the same value, but in one case it derives from shortage and in the other from abundance. Hebbel depicted this quite well in his poem, “Die Odaliske”.
As a general rule, the policies enforced by most governments send a mixed message with regard to drugs: on the one hand, they anathematize the stimulants, while, on the other hand, they depend on the industries that profit from the market in stimulants. This applies not just to tobacco and alcohol, but is increasingly more applicable to countless chemical compounds. Anyone who attends a dinner party may observe, as always, that glasses are constantly being emptied and ashtrays filled; one will also observe, however, more and more frequently, how pills or pill bottles are furtively passed from one hand to another under the table. Such indulgence is becoming so common that it is like helping oneself to the psychoactive candy dish.
The fact that one hand of the State does not know what the other hand is doing, and looks the other way, is nothing new. This oscillation between ethical considerations and economic interests is not limited to stimulants. This is the time-honored stance taken with respect to marginal and unsavory zones that are also lucrative, like games of chance and prostitution. Together they form a unity, and it should not be surprising that whenever corruption begins to spread in a palace, the latter swarms with a throng of gamblers, women of the night, criminals and drug dealers. Then a rapid process of erosion sets in; yet a little corruption is of the essence of the State, dust as a drop of oil is necessary for every axle. It has become proverbial in the non olet of Vespasian, who was one of the good emperors.
The fact that the scales have tipped in favor of persecution as opposed to tolerance is more notable today thanks to the growth of knowledge. Science always aspires to an infinitesimal precision; its gaze is directed at details that were previously hardly even suspected to exist. At the same time, the results are analyzed and quantified statistically. If, for example, it is proven by means of statistics that there is a relation between smoking cigarettes and the number of people diagnosed with lung cancer, it makes it hard to deny the implied responsibility.
The growth of knowledge is, in a way, atmospheric: quantification is one consequence among others. Photography can also help shed light in a rational way on things that, in the past, caused a vague discomfort. Naturally, the photographic image does not change the things themselves, but it does prove that consciousness has itself been transformed.
Thus, just as responsibility has many aspects, it would be imperfect if the opportunities for mischief were to be reduced. The traveler who sits at a table in a café in Cairo might conclude that the prophet had, with prohibition, performed a masterpiece: perfect abstinence, for centuries.
This same traveler, upon disembarking in Alexandria, would be jostled by crowds of street peddlers who would offer him everything from cigarettes to hashish, and even tinctures of Spanish Fly, among other drugs. An old objection against Mohammed’s legislation is that, with the prohibition of alcohol, he thereby favored not only the use of opium and hashish, but also sexual promiscuity.
The fact that categorical prohibitions also have their drawbacks was also demonstrated during the Prohibition era in the United States by the unstoppable rise in crime and corruption. It is apparent that the human being has an urgent and unquenchable need not only for stimulants but also for intoxicating substances more generally. The solution foreseen by Bellamy in his Looking Backward (1888) therefore does not go to the heart of the matter. In his utopian world, extracts of a certain substance are added to food that imperceptibly neutralize the attraction of alcohol and suppress the need to consume it.
Bellamy’s book is dominated by the error that the thirst of the drinker is a kind of physiological hunger for liquid. It would, of course, be easy to sate this hunger if something else was not concealed behind it, i.e.: the yearning for a more spiritual world. Like all metaphysical needs, this hunger is insatiable, and this explains the greed associated with it. We must also point out that rationing is opposed to the essence of ecstatic intoxication. The latter issues from the storehouses of an ever-increasing abundance, it accompanies the metamorphoses of a world of festival.
Precocious Initiations31
Usually, an adolescent gets mixed up with his first drinking binge the way he falls prey to his first amorous adventure: by chance. Such encounters deviate from the plan. The sanctuaries of Dionysius and Aphrodite could very well have been built in the precincts of the temple of Fortune.
In the Nordic countries, the god of wine is replaced by Gambrinus, the god of beer: a later addition to Olympus, and not exactly a fortunate one. Such figures arise wherever opulence has not declined, but its background has become nebulous. We see this Gambrinus in Dutch paintings. His spirit reigns over taverns, on life-size murals, in crowded markets and restaurants, and at banquets where a hale old man or king of the fools presides. Holland is surely only one of many regions of an immense landscape that can also offer profound visions. Thus, in The Satyr and the Peasant Family everything becomes magical, enchanted by the spirit of the earth, like the centaurs.
Every festival worthy of the name suggests an approach to mystery. How close this approach comes to its goal also depends on the host. The Bacchus of the Romans already entailed a reduction and a weakening compared to Dionysius. Not in vain did the songs of the troubadours so often evoke the combination, “Bacchus and Gambrinus”.
The keys that open the gates to initiation into the mysteries can be crude, or they can be subtle. In this respect, wine is incomparable; it provides the solemn complement to the needs of life, to our daily bread.
Mystery itself, however, is unitary, just as Aphrodite remains one and the same, regardless of her constantly arising new manifestations. The chamber is still dark; the human being can have access to what is hidden with the symbol, with other people, in gatherings. Even where one senses and feels unity, the latter is nothing but a parable of timeless powers in time.
This also applies to ecstatic intoxication. One cannot suspend time, but one can conduct the initiate to a new perspective of time, from which time would seem to accelerate or slow down in its passage. He approaches something stronger. Then, he is overcome by a state of joyful amazement that, like the response of the farmer’s wife when she was visited by a satyr, also partakes of fear and sorrow. All of this is reflected in the faces of drinkers; and this is all the more striking in our era, which wants to be nothing but time, time and nothing more, nothing else.
Among the ranks of the gods who preside over festivals, Gambrinus is a crude entity, just as beer is a crude key. This testifies to the role that the dose, the “pure” substance, begins to play. Gambrinus is therefore not so much a descendant of the Olympians as of the Aesir, the eight Nordic gods, those prodigious drinkers of mead. Here we encounter, even in the distant past, the drinking bout as a degenerate form of the symposium. When Thor and his goats went to the enchanted castle of the giant Utgard-Loki and entered the great stronghold, they beheld a drinking horn as deep as the ocean, so that Thor drank the whole sea when he swallowed three great draughts from it.
As we have said, this kind of intoxication does not concern the mysteries. Even Valhalla and Olympus are nothing but stations along the way: allegories. And one can still hear something different in the taverns of Gambrinus, and wherever the Oktoberfest is celebrated, amidst the noise of the drunken crowd: the enigmatic character of the exhilaration bursts forth when the god Fro appears in person: here, too, approach and supervention meet.
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