Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Raving Lunatic

(A New Autotelism: I)

I'm sitting on an uncomfortable bench — it doesn't have a back. But along with everyone else, I'm trying to sit up straight for the cameras: we're taping a panel discussion show. At least, we're supposed to be taping a panel discussion show. Instead, we're trying not to laugh, and feeling sorry for the host: the teleprompter has been spouting nonsense all afternoon, and she's gotten flustered because she feels she's wasting our time. We understand, of course — no one could have suavely read out the balderdash that was scrolling past the camera lens.

When the panel finally gets started, I'm not paying too much attention to the actual discussion. None of us say anything new — there's not enough time. The topic of the day is dull (internet piracy), and we've heard all the arguments for and against it. So I'm settled in, and trying to get comfortable, to look sage-like, and to say as little as possible.

You can imagine my surprise when I suddenly realize I'm yelling. "Of course it's vital," my mouth has just said. "We've been at it for 30,000 years — what kind of paleolithic fool spent his time on luxuries?"

My gut clenches, and I replay the previous moments in my head.

Ah. The man who was now leaning away from my foaming mouth had said, "We don't really have an excuse; art's a luxury. We don't need it. It's not like stealing bread."

My mouth is right, of course. The people of the upper paleolithic — when us Homo sapiens sapiens began to thrive, and erectus and neanderthalensis sank back into the chaos — they had no need of luxuries. Nevertheless, there sits the Venus of Hohle Fels, a statuette 35,000 years old if she's a day. The survivors made art.

No matter! In the studio, damage control has already set in. I'm calming down, trying to talk rationally, and soon the show is over.

I've never actually seen that episode; to this day I've no clear idea how much I said — but it is my goal in this series to give a reasonable explanation of my gut reaction: art is vital.

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