Sunday, July 8, 2007

Al Gore's Songlines

It's been a busy weekend: another one hundred or more Iraqis blown up; eight "Live Earth" concerts on seven continents; and I've finished reading Derrick Jensen's "Endgame," and started in on Daniel Quinn's "Write Sideways," a newly published volume that I found in The Dancing Moon bookstore in Boone last weekend. You have to know something is up when everything that you touch is saying the same thing, when everyone you read is infected with the same spirochete of civilizational wipeout. Or maybe my inner magnet is working more like a compass-in-disguise. Here's a little oratorio from Quinn:

"The people of the world simply must confront the fact that the period of mass extinctions that will end with our own has already begun, and that this isn't something we can just go on ignoring."

Al Gore's definitely not ignoring it. He's created these aboriginal songlines spanning the entire globe that are intended to have revolutionary implications. Can we sing the world towards a saner ecological future? Will Al succeed (where others before him have failed) in changing people's minds? Will I, to pull just one random example out of any random summer hat, be ready to give up my car any time soon?

And back to the older, previous question: Does art have enough revolutionary oomph to change the world? We'll see. I used to spend, as I've already said, a lot of time writing and arguing about that. In the meantime, things have changed drastically for the worse during the last ten years (the past 6 and 1/2 of them under the lobotomizing, traumatizing reign of GWB & Co), and now the planet is in real trouble. Now, the relevant questions are: does the human race have the will to change? and will it manage to survive against poor odds?

We have always assumed, here in America, that our way of life is the superior one, because we are the ones with all the "stuff." We are, after all, arguably the most advanced civilization the world has ever known, surely the most "evolved," and definitely the most envied. (Never mind that all of this comes at the expense of everyone, and everything, else.) Are we finally ready to look at these cultural assumptions?

Because I've been so caught up, Virgil--wise old excellency that he is--has taken to reading one of HIS favorite books, the one with the provocative title "Do Alligators Matter?" He received it a few years ago from my good friend Jane Vance, a painter who lives in Blacksburg and works at the Middle School as a teacher's aid. She found the book in a slush pile there, and retrieved it before it got thrown away.

Did you know, for instance, that alligators are related to dinosaurs, and go way back? Unlike the unlucky dinosaurs, however, they did not die out. This has made Virgil a tad cocky about his ability to survive even human extinction as well. "The best strategy," he says, "is just to hang on and see what happens next. If you are not living on your edge, you are probably taking up too much space. And if Kate Moss used banana peels as knickers, she'd triple the economy of Costa Rica overnight."

In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to know that Virgil cribbed this last arty comment from Vanity Fair. He's such a top-notch thief, however, that it's hard to reproach him for his stolen eloquence. He's promised not to indulge too often.

Did you know, Ho-ho!, that most reptiles DO NOT have a voice, but alligators do? Young alligators grunt. A grown male alligator has an earth-shaking bellow, and it makes his glands give off a strange, sweet smell. "It's really useful," says Virgil, "when you're doing fly-on-the-wall reportage."

Some alligators, those with true statesmanship like Virgil, who can double as king of the mambo beat, sometimes even achieve divinely inspired conversation.


Eleanor Spiess-Ferris said...

Can not say I "enjoyed" your comments but I found them honest and eagle-eyed. I have been working through my art making for 20years on much the same subjects. I have sold the work, I have exhibited the work but the core of what I am trying to say has gone to the wind. Humans may be many things - good and bad - but one thing for sure - we are not brave. We will cover our heads with silk cloth and hope for rescue from ?.

keeper said...

Sooz, Read blog, another good one, good point…am I ready to give up my car yet? This is where my dense mind sort of grinds to a halt…I know, I care, I try but am I ready to live without a car, a house, the conveniences of my world? Did I tell you about the book I’ve been plodding through for months now because I keep reading others in between, “Aztec” by Gary Jennings. I like this book because it describes the world of the Aztec before the Spanish came to what is now Mexico, it is historical fiction told through the voice of a very old Aztec man to the Spanish priests who are taking down his history and all he knew which was a lot because he was a scribe and lead a very interesting life. The books (actually I think this is a series) are deeply researched so all the historical stuff is accurate just a fictional character to couch it all around. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the Aztecs as we all know were living their lives just fine, highly civilized in many ways, horribly barbaric in others (the human sacrifice thing is pretty horrible), having wars with each other and being humans killing each other, not needing anything from any body else, they were good with religion, agriculture, standards – not ours but they were just fine. Readingabout all that is fascinating and disgusting, brutal and beautiful. Then the Spanish show up to show the Aztecs how to REALLY live by teaching them Christianity, burn all their books, give them hideous diseases, steal the gold and art objects, bury their civilization and call them barbarians…doesn’t sound that much different than the world we live in now – with us as the hideous perpetrators. And, of course, we are in worse danger because there are far more people, use of petroleum, more destructive weaponry, still the same issues: commodities are always the cause of war and greed and destruction. I guess, as one raised in the western traditions, perhaps a good Biblical Apocalypse is what is needed to burn away the abused earth and a lot of people so the earth can start over and come back. I dread the thought really…but isn’t that sort of what happens ever billion years or so, usually it is nature who makes the call… wonder if that does happen will humanity remember and not make the same mistakes? Assuming any one survives. OK, I’ve got to get The Road and read it……

I often wonder what would happen if transportation as we know it ceased over night. Would we all start a garden in our back yards, buy a cow for milk, raise pigs and chickens? How would I see my children? I think I’d be like Marie Antoinette about to be carried away from Versailles to the prison in Paris…as armed men come into her home she is being dressed my servants… she didn’t know how to do anything for herself… I think I’m more Scarlett O’Hara. I could hoe a row of potatoes… dang, I’d miss driving.