Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween--and the Cold War

We spent Halloween evening with artists. No hobgoblins, inexplicably, at the door--at least until our daughter, Sarah, and her friend, also dinner guests, disappeared from the table and reappeared shortly as high seas pirate and Goo the Cat (seen here, hissing...)

Scared the fur off George the dog. But no little ones--suprisingly, because we do have small children in the area. And Ellie had found little trail mix treats, nuts and raisins, to spare their little teeth. Ah, well.

An interesting evening, though. Our old friend Keith Sklar is in town from New York, in connection with the exhibition he has curated for the Jail Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. It's called Pie in the Face--words picked from this Kurt Vonnegut quotation that attracted his attention:

When it became obvious what a dumb and cruel and spiritually and financially and militarily ruinous mistake our war in Vietnam was, every artist worth a damn in this country, every serious writer, painter, stand-up comedian, musician, actor and actress, you name it, came out against the thing. We formed what might be described as a laser beam of protest, with everybody aimed in the same direction, focused and intense. This weapon proved to have the power of a banana-cream pie three feet in diameter when dropped from a stepladder five-feet high. -- Kurt Vonnegut (2003)

The artists in the show are all responding with grim, Vonnegutian humor and a kind of finger-in-your-eye aesthetic defiance to the dire straights into which the world seems to have fallen today, If you're interested in hearing more, you could listen to my interview with Keith in my current installment of The Art of Outrage on Artscene Visual Radio.

Keith brought one of the artists from his show along with him to dinner. Aidas Bareikis an immigrant to the United States from his native Lithuania, now lives and works in New York. This image of his work ...

... gives some idea of what Keith is after with "Pie in the Face." A timely exhibit, you'll agree, for Halloweeen. Bareikis's eerie "figures" seem entangled in the cobweb of some grisly dance of death.

Aidas came up with an interesting thought when the conversation turned, inevitably, to politics after dinner. He suggested that Americans are mistaken in believing that the Cold War is over, and particularly that America was the winner. Ask any European, he contended, and you'll hear that America lost, and a glimpse at the current geopolitical situation would seem to support his contention.

It's not ALL Bush's fault. He simply put the proverbial icing on the cake (if that's not too alluring an image) that we Americans have been baking for some fifty years, essentially since the fear of Communism gave us the cold war and the arms race. Since then we have been busy squandering our wealth and our human resources in pursuit of some desperate need to defend ourselves from every imagined woe and foe. We have been so eager to protect, each of us, our individual well-being that we have forgotten how to live in a civil and humane society, one that cares for even the least of its citizens. In our posturing, bullying, and lecturing the rest of the world about how great we are, we have forgotten how to behave like a great country.

We have lost the war. We are continuing to lose wars on every front, not least the struggle to save our species from extinction. "Everybody knows the war is over," intones the inimitable Leonard Cohen: "Everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the plague is coming, everybody knows it's coming fast."

By the way, have you noticed how often our presidential candidates use that phrase: "Everybody knows..."? Have they been listening to Leonard Cohen, too?

Just a few thoughts for Halloween, friends. Forgive me...


thailandchani said...

Well, you know I stay out of US political issues.. but putting it into a broader context, it seems that the leadership of any society (especially if it is an elected leadership) is a reflection of the social values of that particular society.

I don't think there is any such thing as a "great country". There are just great people.. and they are found all over the world.

carly said...

P: I think I understood your confessional idea. And, true, they are of no value unless applied to future behavior. But that is what is supposed to happen in the Catholic sphere too. Identifying the problem is supposed to neutralize or lead to some correction of it. But, why is it going to change much under the Buddhist banner when it hasn't been effective under the Catholic? I am afraid people are repeating over and over old formulas under new guises. This is what I meant by the superficiality of American culture, and European, and East European, let's be honest. And the problems you mention in today's entry will never change smoothly under those techniques. I am saying these band aid solutions are not going to work. They are illusions. Reality is going to be there when the dreamers awaken. And one can't be in meditation all the time. When one comes out of nirvana, he will need more than an awareness of truth and tools of skill, in the face of the reality that awaits him at street level. He will need to believe to the deepest part of his stratum in his commonality with everything else. He will need a metaphysical idea to make him pick up the tools of skillful practice. AND WHAT WILL THAT IDEA BE? Buddhist metaphysics? I think not. There are no East Europeans who know this more than many enlightened Americans. The problem is the rest of the people. My contention is that tools, like not doing harm, are good, but a metaphysical idea of real substance is necessary to deal with the beast. And that the foundations of all religions have failed and greed and fear is now the foundation of a culture which is dominating the world, not just the US. Only the disadvantaged are innocent in this scheme.

In other words nothing has adequately replaced nor grown out of the the Bible, the Talmud, the Sutras, the Koran, and the Four Noble Truths, etc., to meet the onslaught of decay brought on by the moneychangers and new media and the warrior class - tangent to over-population. Our Ship of Fools has no anchor in the deepest waters imaginable. To preach not doing harm from the bloody pulpit is smaller than a drop in a lake. It's not even an infectious idea. It doesn't affect those 300,000 disenfranchised "souls" I saw at the West Hollywood Carnival last night. They were lavishing in their evening of illusions on a filthy street, while the bourgeoisie was lavishing comfortably in theirs.

There are two kinds of truth, what is actually true and what is only perceived to be true, moral truth. I view it as a polarity between real man and artificial man. Real man is connected to the cosmos. Artificial man is creative outside that universe of reality. Real man's creativity is integrated with natural reality. Artificial man is creating spheres with no foundations.

Paul: As I understand it, meditation, illusion of reality, enlightenment, and Buddhist truths are linked. Correct me if wrong, but the basis of the idea is that all is illusion and the disciple must see this, from which truth emerges, and he can then practice life skillfully without delusions or being attached to anything. IF....that is the basic idea, within a margin of error, am I wrong that for the truly enlightened, the natural world is part of that illusion? I was not speaking of the American version which cobbles together parts of Buddhism with parts of nature. But at the very least, one can say that "inner nature" is, but nature is certainly not at the core of the religion and is certainly not it's foundation, as it is a point of contention in the refutation of reality? I do not assume the Buddhist inner nature is the same as the "true nature" of primitive man, even though a patch to cover man's true nature can be found in the dogma.

Whether the above is altogether accurate or not, the trendy idea that reality is illusion and that perceptions cannot be trusted has grown from the surrealists, Asian ideas, and cinematic fantasy into a dangerously popular Beast. It no less than has undermined moral codes of right, wrong, harm, blame, justice, even love itself, so that many former codes are no longer effectual and are now part of the "illusion". This is a time of colossal transition. The blind specter of nature, which all should quickly understand as non-man-made-intellectually conceived-manufactured-artificial reality, will force it's superior hand. Buddhists don't honor superiorities, but nature will force subservience to natural laws over inferior ideas of man' all levels. In the future, our era will resemble earlier chaotic periods of man's world, when all sorts of silly premises and concoctions floated about. The cosmos, however, will remain steadfast.

As for the sage, he takes what precautions he can in the face of the storm upon our ship of fools.