Ancient and Modern - Part 3

by Neil Vodavzny

Young Gods is BWS’s tribute to Kirby’s cosmic fancies but, as can be seen from prev, his poetic fancies harken back to Rabelaisian ribaldry. However, the mix of classical and Christian is most reminiscent of Milton! Quoting form the intro to Paradise Lost (Penguin page xxxvii), in book IV Adam and Eve embrace:

Half her swelling breast
Naked met his under the flowing gold
Of her loose tresses hid; he in delight
Both of her beauty and submissive charms
Smiled with superior love, as Jupiter,
On Juno smiles, when he impregns the clouds
That shed May flowers

“Impregn the clouds” is a classical allusion to Ixion, who sired the centaurs on a cloud that Jupiter formed in Juno’s shape. Milton has substituted “may flowers” for “centaurs”. This sort of quite explicit sexuality is certainly classical, but of course Milton was a revivalist Puritan. A weird mix, you may say. Then again, Puritans are concerned with innocence and corruption in equal measure. Here’s the first three verses of “Christmas hymn”:

It was the winter wild,
While the heaven-born Child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to Him
Had doffed her gaudy trim,
With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.

Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw,
Confounded that her Maker’s eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.

But He, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-eyed Peace;
She, crowned with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land

(Note “amorous clouds”, verse three.)

The point I want to make here is that there is a type of primitivism in BWS and Milton; the language is naïve, the imagery garish and born of nature. The art is sophisticated while the imagery is primitive. Primitive imagery is also iconic, inescapable in its force or ribaldry. This is something I want to pursue because it is the very foundations of any culture. Here’s an interesting quote from Bruce Lee on his unfinished last film Game of Death.

As the film opens, the audience sees a wide expance of snow. Then the camera closes in on a clump of trees while the sounds of a strong gale fill the screen. There is a huge tree in the centre of the screen and it is all covered with thick snow. Suddenly there is a loud snap and a huge branch of the tree falls to the ground. It cannot yield to the force of the snow so it breaks. Then the camera moves to a willow tree, which is bending with the wind. Because it adapts itself to the environment, the willow survives”.

A similar concept is found in Milius’s Conan, the riddle of steel which hinges on a sword’s innate flexibility, like a living extension of the swordarm. If give and take is a principle of survival, martial arts illustrate the ethical authority of body movements, grace and artistry under pressure. In less martial settings, the playful energy of Tao is prevalent.

This is readily apparent in the cadence of medieval rondeau, for example:

Such economy of single-note plucking reflects the civil and artistic order rather than mere entertainment, and thereby music demonstrates that society is a functioning organism. Medieval troubadours therefore also represent an ethical order, its etiquette and romantic allure. Where artists are able to exercise an authoritative influence on the society, their hand is seen in the physical milieu the civilization operates in. In ancient days always one finds a playful energy, the unique work of a craftsman-artisan, be it Roman mosaics or the subtle permutations of Greek temples.

Basically, a society without a milieu is like a concrete desert; it has no intrinsic energy. This actually seems to be the aim of Islamists who blow up priceless artefacts of place-history in the name of twisted ideology. Yet, it also seems to be the aim of Cameron to pave-over yet more of England’s pleasant curves with “garden-villages”.

Tao is a principle of non-organization that seems to depend on the intrinsic energy of materials. One can see it in the balance, shape, movement and grace of a Greek temple (supposedly the originals were wooden structures). There are innumerable examples. The 40s Nyoka TV serial I’ve cited several times already, the 60s Green Hornet’s picturesque Chinatown districts. A standby of Isner’s The Spirit comicstrip of the 50s is picturesquely dilapidated river-front pier settings.

spirit-comic

Getting further up-to-date, Colonel Gaddafi favoured resplendent Bedouin tents with camel outriders, ornate trappings of a nomadic culture. His imperfections were many, but what has been gained by his ousting?

Of late, in Syria and Iraq, Aramaic Christian settlements of archaic lineage have taken to arms to preserve a Biblical presence (Aramaic being the NT language). Christianity is the survivor of these heirs to Sennacherib and Ashurnasirpal. The common ground we fight on, as I’ve attempted to elucidate, is hard to deny as a physical and ethical thing (see REH Swords of Azrael).

If we are also facing a threat to the very milieux of ancient civilizations from the wild dogs of twisted ideology, there is an even stronger call to arms. One cannot fight for survival without an ethical milieu; it would be a futile exercise akin to bugs fighting for a rug inflamed by nitroglycerine. Since the West exports its ideology, one has to assume the root cause lies here, not there. A situation where ancient milieux are under threat from corporate capital wielded by mad dogs of war.

An ideology is just another name for a system or style of viewing reality. But, as previously noted, there is no system in the Greek gods or a Greek temple. That’s why they’re classic. None of our systems have movement, balance, shape, grace or pace as a foundation. But anything with real presence has that. A god has more of it, so becomes a myth.

So, in order to escape from the oppressive ideology of systems – whether Western capital or Islamist – one has to have belief. Not belief-system, just belief in expression and grace pure and simple. These ancient civilizations whose remnants and descendants are under threat (Nimrud) rendered material with stark, monumental simplicity, revealing their truth. It is this truth that ancient civilizations may have attempted to systematize, but without the truth there is no system.

Going “beyond system” in Lee’s phrase, means revealing the content intrinsic to materials. That is expression as pure spontaneity or extempore. Neither is it lack of craft; it’s the craft appropriate to expressing the materials (cf CC Beck). Nature has her own craft and that is what the art expresses. If nature had no craft Man could not express it.

This truth is visible in different ways. A 17th century Dutch still life by Willem Kalf “demonstates a level of craftsmanship that surpasses the quality of his subject matter”.  This is art fulfilling an order within civil society, in this case of the merchant class.

Somewhat differently, BWS’s Sybil exhibits a rendering power of striking presence and clarity. Classicism in all its iconic force.

newsybil
Copyright 1981 Barry Windsor-Smith

The earlier comparison of Milton and BWS was meant to show the restrained eroticism found in the Puritan, a completely classical idea. I think it’s something to do with the actual content of images. There’s also a review by Alastair Smart of the British Museum exhibition of Greek statues:

(An) 8th-century BC bronze of Ajax, who is suicidal after losing his contest with Odysseus to win the armour of the late Achilles. His arms form a tense bow as he prepares to drive a knife into his chest. His disconcertingly erect penis is perhaps the artist’s way of stressing the extreme trauma of the moment.

I know we live in a synthetic society, but one can still recognize the erotic when one sees it; his comment is typical of modern preciousness.

Eros, death, Dionysis; archetypal contents of images increasingly lost to moderns. Actually I find them also in Hong Kong or Japanese martial art films. I’m starting a “physical ‘zine’ pursuing this and other topics (pop-culture and Bruce Lee). MR is giving a review with details.

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Science 11 June 2010:
Vol. 328. no. 5984, pp. 1408 - 1411
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189047
Prev | Table of Contents | Next
REPORTS
The Neuropeptide Oxytocin Regulates Parochial Altruism in Intergroup Conflict Among Humans
Carsten K. W. De Dreu,1,* Lindred L. Greer,1 Michel J. J. Handgraaf,1 Shaul Shalvi,1 Gerben A. Van Kleef,1 Matthijs Baas,1 Femke S. Ten Velden,1 Eric Van Dijk,2 Sander W. W. Feith3
Humans regulate intergroup conflict through parochial altruism; they self-sacrifice to contribute to in-group welfare and to aggress against competing out-groups. Parochial altruism has distinct survival functions, and the brain may have evolved to sustain and promote in-group cohesion and effectiveness and to ward off threatening out-groups. Here, we have linked oxytocin, a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus, to the regulation of intergroup conflict. In three experiments using double-blind placebo-controlled designs, male participants self-administered oxytocin or placebo and made decisions with financial consequences to themselves, their in-group, and a competing out-group. Results showed that oxytocin drives a “tend and defend” response in that it promoted in-group trust and cooperation, and defensive, but not offensive, aggression toward competing out-groups.
1 Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, Netherlands.
2 Department of Psychology, Leiden University, Postbox 9555, 2300 RB, Netherlands.
3 Stichting AllesKits, Cypruslaan 410, 3059 XA Rotterdam, Netherlands.

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