Of Demons, the Creative Soul,
and the Holy Spirit of God;
Drive out the demons. This is an age of exorcism: if the children are out of line, put them in “special classes;” if they get a little further out of line, a medical charm may be called on to fix the unruly spirits. Creativity alone is enough now, not only to make you an outcast (which is normal enough), but to get you completely cast out of normal society.
The complete criminalization of creativity – how far off can that be? Wouldn’t it be convenient to simply throw a fence around the troublemakers, the complainers, the painters and photographers of uncomfortable subjects and nudity and sex, frank writers who talk about bodily realities, those who feel free to use any word or image they please to express all the light and darkness that sleeps in the human soul? Why, you might ask, must we be continuously exposed to this bunch who live “in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” and fashion their art from its remnants, from its “blood and mire?”
“Weave a circle ‘round him thrice…”
There are worse things than censorship. Censorship is not horribly subtle – it is a powerful beast that, though it skulks around the dark alleyways of a society and its government, does have to show itself in order to perform its work, deliver the killing blow, shred its victims, blind the citizenry.
Social suppression is worse, cultural suppression. Defining a creative pursuit and its products not simply technically inept but so wicked that any contact with them renders one’s soul filthy and corruptive to the mind, makes it completely forbidden and without value. Those who may value these artifacts and find some good in them (and those who value the people who make them) are set outside the community. Those who create the art in the first place are worse than merely “outside;” they are seen as enemies of all that is right. They are to be treated as criminals regardless of whether any actual laws are written to enshrine their criminality.
Cultural and societal hatred for creativity can be as blatant as censorship and even lead to overt censorship. More often, though, it is more stealthy, covert. Young people are told that creativity is a waste of their time, killing off any inclinations in most before it has time to bloom. As for the rest, steps are taken to harness and commercialize the creative urge – and commercialization means that the artist must remain within the expectations of her audience, else her things will not gain favor and sell.
Anyone refusing to go along with the unspoken plan is singled out as a matter of course. Their life becomes very difficult because it, by definition, must be lived outside of society – society will make no room for them as society cannot imagine a role they might fill. Worse, society establishes rules and expectations that are designed specifically to discourage and hobble creativity, rules designed to channel and not merely limit the creative impulse and its choices (limitation in itself is a condition of humanity, not a curse), but to demand the impulse be exercised in only a standardized fashion.
Refusing standardization, expressing ideas that are different than what is usually heard, unveiling what is usually hidden so that we may honestly examine it and admit to all aspects of our humanity and inhumanity, utilizing symbols in strange ways as well as traditional ones – none of this can be tolerated. Cultural suppression is also, simply, intolerance, not allowing space for the “different.”
Tolerance does not mean excusing immorality, and it does not mean accepting shoddy work in the place of well-made work. But it does mean that we must allow a variety of visions, whether we like them or not, and look for the fragment of truth that often hides at the core of even the most repulsive of images and thoughts.
A culture, a people that does not listen to and respect differences that are not utterly and inherently degrading is cutting itself off from its own supply of blood and life. It will lose the ability to inspire and motivate – because inspiration and motivations are genuinely functions of creativity; it will lose all understanding of itself as self-understanding only comes through those who step outside normal life and look within it in a deep fashion. A society, a people, a culture that hates its creative people is already dead, though it is too stupid to be able to form the thought properly. When it disintegrates, it will be surprised.
Perhaps we could think of the Roman Empire, but within our own era this is exactly what happened to the Soviet Union. It attempted to live on a steady diet of sterile orthodoxy and was terrified of anyone who appeared heterodox in the eyes of the standard Dialectical Materialist. Therefore that people missed the opportunity to grow by redefining their orthodoxy in such fashion as to allow evolution when change was needed, truthful, beneficial ,vital. The Soviet Union dropped dead of a hardening of the arteries in the heart and head.
The West, America, is suffering a similar death through an unwavering adherence to the materialism required to keep “free markets” supplied with the trash they need to function. Our death is slower only to the degree freedom of speech is still tolerated, but it accelerates constantly. Technologies even militate against genuine freedom and creativity as much as they appear to augment it -- precisely because of whose hands the tools are in and the manner of the ossified values of the people.
Recently, we have raised generations that, as a rule, have no love of the written or spoken word, no love of art, no love of the depths of tradition, no love of the genuinely new built on the foundations of the old. Perhaps, as a whole, generations never have had such a love – but in past times, they at least held a degree of respect for these things. Instead, in our times, the people love entertainment, pure novelty for novelty’s sake, change for the sake of whirlwind change. Religiously and morally, they pretend at tradition by mouthing formulas inherited from the past without having any interest in what it is they are saying, why they are saying it, or what, in reality, they should say. When the wind blows the right way, though, they violate their own ideals while simultaneously claiming to support them – and hating anyone who dares to draw attention to this contradiction.
We have invented the Internet which is the rebirth of the Tower of Babel; it is more often than not an exercise in talking past and at than talking to one another about matters of some importance. It is one tool that often suppresses a creative voice by using the most effective means yet discovered: allowing the speaker to be drowned out by a din of pointless voices.
If we could imagine Homer attempting to sing the Iliad in the middle of a vast and limitless live porn show, I think the image is painted clearly enough.
Our culture opposes the creative person from two directions: from the conservative “moralists” -- those fearful of the different -- and from the libertarians who reject the idea of standards (which do not lead to standardization) and mistake gratuitous, anarchic displays of ego and talentless nonsense for creativity.
Both are enemies of the artist and thinker; both are enemies of vitality and growth and cultural evolution. Each despises the other but, in truth, they are the same people in different clothing with different haircuts. One opposes the creative person by demonizing her – the other by ignoring her or equating her work with trash and unorganized noise.
Better luck next time. The line for failures forms to the left.
* * *
20 February was the second anniversary of the writer Hunter S. Thompson’s death. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Or so they say.
Maybe he died of something else entirely.
A disease? No, I’m not thinking of a mental disorder, nothing like that. Perhaps it was a different sort of disease altogether, the disease of our culture I have been talking about. An artist can die of being hated, feared; he can die of having the core meaning of his work ignored; he can be killed when people pay no attention to him after he is replaced with a caricature.
I’ve spent a couple of years wondering why this man, one of my heroes, put a bullet in his own head and let the spilled blood punctuate his final words. In the end, I have to say unraveling in a world such as the one ours has become is not so much surprising as tragic, though.
We live on fantasy – especially creative people. We live on a fantasy of who we will be and must be, of what we must accomplish and can accomplish. We must have something to look forward to and aim at because without it, all we have is what is, and what is really happens to be no more than facts, mechanical facts, things about which we can do nothing except choose an attitude of acceptance or defiance or depression, or….
Life cannot be formed from what is alone – it generally has to be lived against, in some sense. We are always called to be something more and different, to seek something more than what we are handed by the twin accidents of time and place. Imagining this something else is largely who we are at any given time, this activity and the actions we take to realize or avoid it.
But the what is can overwhelm the fantasy of something else. We can be faced with a reality that becomes so oppressive and so averse to our desires and destiny that we either go down on our knees and surrender or else we take our stand and refuse to be humiliated, refuse to accept.
Some people, maybe, kill themselves because they demand that their worth be recognized, that their humanity and creativity be respected. If the world does not cooperate with this ultimatum, some choose death.
Some people, when the world imposes on them a role contrary to their dreams, decline to accept and leave the stage.
Others, perhaps, choose to stand their ground and suffer until they die a “natural” death. But after years and decades of suffering and mental torment some will finally put their heads in ovens, pick up the pistol, the shotgun, drive the car off the cliff, drink themselves to death, take the overdose. Everyone is capable of breaking and some break before their bodies cooperate -- steady years of being hated and held as valueless is enough to break most of us.
Given that, I am impressed Hunter S. Thompson lived as long as he did. He took his damage and dealt it right back until he decided he’d had enough. Nothing romantic in it, nothing wonderful. His death is more of an indictment of a people who have no use for those who walk the edge in pursuit of their very own glimpse of naked truth, as weird as that truth might turn out to be. Thompson did the best he could and that turned out to be better than most of us will ever accomplish.
I miss his words. After I finish The Curse of Lono, that will be the last of his major works for me. I’m reading it slowly, hoping it lasts awhile.
We ran him off. He won’t be coming back to write anymore.
* * *
The Native Americans were forced to make their peace with the White Man. They were slaughtered and abused, starved and raped; the last of them that refused to go to the reservations screamed their way into battle until the military outlasted or outgunned them. And so dies a civilization and a culture. The wild becomes “tamed and made mild.”
I grew up with creative people, people who lived by their imaginations and their wits. From the tips of their fingers flowed music and their pens were instruments of poetry. Every moment was a flood of ideas and stories; their words and ways were not the common ways of children. As much as I despised my childhood, I loved those whom I grew up with. As teenagers, we were outlaws and drifters in a town that hated its troubadours, its artists, hated those who asked “Why?” and “Why not?”
That town would like to think it loves such now and I pray to the God of Music and His angelic Muses that, by all means, it has grown space for the type of person it once held as useless and bothersome and threatening. I pray above all that the town learns to value and take the creative people as they are and not seek to “tame and make mild” what God Himself gave them wild.
I would ask them to remember and learn to live with the dangerous and the strange because therein lies their salvation. Creativity does not grow in sterile places and pre-planned ways: it comes as it will as a rushing and mighty wind of fire. It is the Breath and Holy Sprit of God – do not stand in its way. Do not chase those possessed by it into the hills and shoot them in the back, starve and rape them, force upon them meaningless treaties trying to make them manageable and predictable. Don’t steal their smiles and, God’s Mercy, don’t give them any more tears than they will bear anyway as the price of their gifts.
I grew up with creative people and, one by one, they made their peace with the White Man and entered the reservation. Some joined his Army and his Navy and found careers. Some serve his courts, some practice his medicine, some run his businesses, and others figure his odds and percentages. Some sought shelter in the houses of strong men and bore them children. Some keep his computers alive and extend his grasp over the world. Some plot a breakout, but they grow gray, their fingers stiffen. I have heard no music for years, no poem has graced my doorstep, no image, no form to speak to me of God’s Fire. Perhaps, in private, these things exist in their homes – I don’t know.
I grew up with eyes of friends that, now, when they look up to the sliver of the new moon, do not see the barest sign of the belly of a virgin girl, do not intuit innocence and hope in the white light, do not see the portent of death in the hooked horns – they see a shadow falling across a rock. They see something concrete and boring. They see “what is.”
I watched an entire generation made manageable.
I remain. I eat my scraps taken from the Fort’s garbage and, before running back into the hills, scrawl my worthless and unread words on the walls, words that fade and are gone, vapor just as I am no more than a vapor that will burn off as the sun reaches midday. I draw my pictures, I speak what I have been given to say.
“Fear upon every height, terrors on the road; almond blossom matched for whiteness; the grasshopper’s weight a burden now; the spiced food untasted! Man is for his everlasting home, and already the mourners are astir in the streets.*** A shadow’s shadow, …a world of shadows!” Ecclesiastes 12:5-8
My compatriots, my tribe – they did not “sell out” any more than my stance is “bravery” or “integrity.” They followed their destiny and made peace with the world they were handed the best way open to them. They resist subtly. I am simply too stupid and incorrigible to follow suit, too much an outlaw to secretly resist from within the system, to submit to being utterly and completely humiliated. I am too proud and don’t have the guts to withstand the ordeal. Every time I decide to submit, I see the moon and see the barest hint of the belly of a virgin; in numbers on paperwork I see universes of geometric forms that are hidden symbols of another world, something religious, not abstractions, not anything immediately useful.
I remain that young person whose hometown had little use for his kind. Only now I am old and a shadow among shadows, and soon my work will go from being nothing to less than nothing as my bones molder and my name is forgotten.
* * *
We live on and within our own fantasies, as rich or thin, as common or as uncommon as we choose them to be, but our age cannot be sustained by an overabundance of thin fantasies. We have good evidence of this now from too many positions of “leadership.”
We have too many people now who lack a sense of self yet are consumed with ego. There is a difference: one is creative and contains unconscious depths while the other is entirely superficial and obsessed with the “what is.” Ego eats money, fame, power over others, and the more it gets of them the more abusive with them it becomes because it further loses contact with the depths of its soul, that dark part which contains the Divine Spark and our Secret Name: the fantasy of whom we might become, a transfigured world, transfigured, not disfigured and cheapened, abused, employed.
Ego knows nothing of the Spirit, only of the rigid letter of the Law, only the rigid surfaces of things; it only knows of the “what is,” and nothing of the “what ought to be.”
It is better to defy an age of egoism than cooperate. It is better to “Become who you are,” as Pindar said (the philosopher Ortega y Gasset made this his motto and the heart of his ethics), than simply accept what you are told to do. Hunter S. Thompson, in his own way, worked out his own path and joined the many, many creative people from all walks of life, known and unknown, who did the same – shadows of shadows in a world of shadows all, but not dead before they reached the grave. No – they were living and full of life, of the pain of life, the promise and the misery of life, faith, hope, love, reason. They came and gave us great gifts and faded in the noonday sun. We live off their gifts, not off the calculating miserliness of the egos of our “leaders” who are, in truth, the most poverty-stricken of all beggars and the only true slaves who have ever walked the Earth.
So, gentle reader, there stands my scrawled text on the outer walls of the fort for this time. I will now rob the garbage of leftovers and go back to the wooded hills to plan my next attack, armed with pen and paint, praying God that this talentless sinner, from the blackness of his soul, can distill ink enough to carry the faintest Breath of the Holy Creative Spirit before it is his turn to leave. Please God, overlook “the foul rag and bone shop of my heart” and see only that moment of art I manage to distill from it.
If I could give you one gift, though, reader, for your patience it would be this: that thin sliver of the new moon when the horns are upturned. Go see the virgin there, smell the innocence. Remember the meaning of the sharp hooks.
Richard Van Ingram
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