Friday, May 19, 2023

Mythical Powers and the Puritan Dream

Maybe it is the early arrival of the summer heat. I don't know. But I think I am in a surly mood. A whiney, complaining mood. An intolerant mood. A 1 out of 6 depressed adults in America mood. Or maybe it is simply creative constipation. Maybe I am full of envy if not jealousy. It could be simple self-loathing. Or the old rag and bone time of life. I could chalk it up to not having wealth and knowing that soon I will need a new car. And of course, there is resentment. 

Am I tired or simply lazy? I never made the most of my abundant talents. 

And why are so many people simply beautiful on the outside and so goddamned hideous on the inside? 

Yea, yea, yea. 

And maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate, that he seemed to fly along the forest- path, rather than to walk or run. The road grew wilder and drearier, and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil. The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds; the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while, sometimes the wind tolled like a distant church-bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveller, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn. But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors.

"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Goodman Brown, when the wind laughed at him. "Let us hear which will laugh loudest! Think not to frighten me with your deviltry! Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powow, come devil himself! and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you!"
If you've never read "Young Goodman Brown" you've missed a treat. Hawthorne was a much greater writer than Poe in my opinion. By miles and miles. The French loved Poe and made him a literary hero. They also loved Jerry Lewis. Some of my favorite writers are French or would-be French like Beckett, but sometimes I just don't understand. They now love Johnny Depp and are cheering him wildly at Cannes while the Americanized French feel it a scandal. The French will be ruined by Puritan American values eventually, it seems. That and conservative Islamic pressures. One thing you can say about the Catholics--they sure are colorful. I was raised by Mormons. Catholicism would have better suited me. I love opulent corruptions. Simply called The Church when they fought the Moslem horde. You know, "The Song of Roland" and all that. 

Probably not. 

But I stray. 

Yesterday, I sent an inquiry about buying this signed print from a splendid gallery in Atlanta. I thought I would purchase it, perhaps, if it were in my range and power. I would even splurge a bit. I've been fascinated by Saul Leiter's work for a long time and for awhile corresponded with one of his biographers. The print is small, not quite 14"x9". I thought it possible.  

The gallery was quick and precise with their response. 

Hi C.S. It is nice to hear from you. I have attached the pricing for this wonderful image below. Please let me know your level of interest. I am happy to send you a framing and shipping quote as well if you would like. 
I look forward to hearing from you and happy to answer any questions, 

Saul Leiter
Lanesville, 1958
Signed with annotations in ink verso
Fujicolor crystal archive print
Image: 13 7/16 x 8 15/16 inches
Paper: 14 x 11 inches
$ 14,000 + framing
Well. . . I'm going to have to think about this one. Travis says I should buy it. Ha! I guess I am going to have to take a flier on this one, given that my car is old and all. 

Selavy. If any of you are wondering what to get me for Father's Day. . . you have permission to be my child. Red says she'll be my Sugar Momma, but I don't think she was going this deep. I think her idea was more like paying for my flight into the desert where I would be fed hallucinogens and left naked near a dry river bed. Besides, we've made better pictures than this one, I think, and she will sell you one in a larger format. You can send your inquiries here, to me, acting Sales Director. 

I am gutless in my rage, I think, as I experiment with "my new vision." I.E. long, handheld exposures that blur the world around me. I need a person to work with, but I have gotten far too shy and so I have only the natural and unnatural worlds as my models. And of course, the Masked Man in the Mirror. There at the top of the post is my small kitchen at dinner time, rice cooker, coffee maker, coffee beans, olive oil and balsamic vinegar near the salad bowl, and various paraphernalia on my chalk board and the window looking out on the deck below. I think that one is handheld at 1.5 seconds. Pretty sure, but it could be 2. Here's one I handheld for 30 seconds. I mean, that is ridiculous, but. . .  

That I got a recognizable image at all surprised me, but that I got one that fairly intrigued me was a real bonus. 

I studied photography under the stewardship of Jerry Uelsmann. I never really thought that his work had any influence on me. He was, in part, a surrealist, but he used the mythical elements of nature and the human figure to say things that were, in his words, "obviously symbolic, but now symbolically obvious." That is to say, his work was enigmatic. The mythical and symbolic power of natural objects and the naked human form have been subjugated now, or should I say relegated to the Puritan waste bin. I once knew someone who wore the Scarlet Letter. For real. She had it removed, but later, I feel, she tried to brand me with the thing. But I, myself, I now think, was influenced by Jerry far more than I realized. Now, in the time of AI and other digital manipulation, his work can seem naive, but I am coming to a greater appreciation of his work than ever. He was a progenitor. When I studied with him, it was a time when the human form was still revered as something natural, beautiful, and holy. We were Romans. We were Greeks. 

Hawthorne tried to warn us about the Puritan Ethic. Brown's conflict is with the sweet and loving nature of his wife. Let me emphasize "loving nature," for nature was surely to be demonized in Hawthorne's culture. 

I'll end with my favorite passage from the short story. It is the one that drives poor Goodman mad. 

"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "pr'y thee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!"

"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!"

"Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons, "and may you find all well, when you come back."

 And so. . . Young Goodman Brown must suffer his Crisis of Confidence. 

Then came a stronger swell of those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine, at Salem village, but never, until now, from a cloud of night. There was one voice, of a young woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain. And all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her onward.

"Faith!" shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying --"Faith! Faith!" as if bewildered wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness.

The cry of grief, rage, and terror, was yet piercing the night, when the unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown.

Sorry. I don't mean to wear you out with this, but it is sooo effing good. "[A]nd entreating for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain." 

And that's it in a nutshell, I think, the horror of the old Puritan Islamic ethic. Get on your knees. It's time for the Call to Prayers. 

God help me. . . I should have been a Catholic. 

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