Humanity and Nature have come to loggerheads
and neither will be quite the same ever again.
With hindsight, it is plain that both have “only kidded”
until now, since even the briefest foresight bids us
soon to expect a whole series of events Promethean,
affecting the deepest traits of the race and its environment.
How far away, indeed, are we from the requirement
(for a more “cost-efficient” form of Earthly survival)
of a grand genetic fusion between animal
and vegetable, some sort of “little green man”
made in the laboratory, in a prodigious vial—
though, for ethical purposes, at first circumspectly—
a chimera able to change light directly
into something that, to itself, is partly edible?
If Mohammed will not go to Mars,
shall Mars not come to Mohammed?
Would not a verdant pope be more credible
when calling for peace from the window-sill?
And if the corolla be Jewish, Goy at most the pistil,
will God not preserve His chosen cabbage?
It behooves not one who is frockless
to pry into other people’s pockets
and say where lies their advantage:
that is Heaven’s part; our part
to do those two things at once that enable Art
to resist the tyranny of Nature, yet not succumb to Man’s—
though no one has ever made any money
at the festival, everyone has always
given generously of their talent.
That the pen is mightier than the sword
has never been doubted by this author,
although he has yet to find the right words
to describe the mincemeat he would gladly have made
of all those in his life who willfully got in the way
(blades of grass, rather, seeming more suited to turds).
But the rivers of ink that have flowed from our quills
have not kept an ocean of blood from being spilled
and a profession of modesty is no doubt in order:
we came, we saw, we tried to conquer
with all of our artistry the hearts of others;
the hope was immense, the result mediocre.
The sense of failure that has thus been our due
comes as no surprise, finally, to those of us who
have suffered intelligence to bow down to stupidity,
not for a want of ability, or better arguments,
or even of the chance to display them in parliament,
but simply in deference to its sheer infinity.
When caught in the midst of a swarm of locusts,
one should not try to bring them too sharply into focus
lest one leafily drop into a state of hypnosis
that razes the spirit more than they do the crops.
The same holds true as regards human props,
though even among those who know this
there is disagreement about them as such:
what to one has become like a leg remains a crutch
to another. Some claim there are none at all,
while others maintain there is nothing but;
between these extremes lies the actual rut
in which one tries to plan one’s footfalls
with blinders on to shut out the horror.
One may rightly wonder what kind of honor
there could possibly be in so grim a tale.
That one has lived to tell it seems irrelevant
by its very account; even an elephant’s
memory would only lead back to this vale,
however jungley and riddled be the way round.
Ah, for a single clean piece to this world’s dying ground!
The disordering of the senses, after it has lived
(if it has lived) its systematic stage,
becomes a semi-automatic quotidian rage
that tends more towards the tan than to the livid.
An inner ear attentive to the littlest thought
remains all that is needed, more often than not,
to immediately spot the dubious claim
which would intrude from the hell of desire,
to cast it back into the earthly mire
where it can be certain to find heaven in pain.
The true artist may enjoy some peace of mind, therefore,
comforted not least by an anthropological metaphor:
no human community has ever tried to hold more
than about five-hundred members and not split in two1.
Here is a number that one might relate to
even if one is not listed in Fortune or Forbes,
an upper limit to the actual number of persons
with whom one could hope to share the same version,
pace the “twenty-thousand close friends” of President Ford.
This glass ceiling, neither too low nor too tall,
may, when the story is finished, be practically all
that remains of infrangible to ward off the hordes
from the inner sanctum of our personal lives.
Without pleading misanthropy or telling a lie,
one may set down terms and plant a few stakes
in honor of that other ancient Roman divinity—
the god Terminus, guardian of all true affinity—
to mark off the borders of our private estate
in the spirit, of a more proper property
protected against the disarming robbery
of meaning that proceeds unarrested at large.
Claude Lévi-Strauss. ↩