Is Western Culture Worth Fighting For? by Charlie Finch
My spirit is too weak -- mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
The opening of Keats' On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, what the poet further describes as "a most dizzy pain," shrouds the souls of creative people across New York right now.
We feel attuned to Thoreau's admonition, "When the artist ceases to paint, when the writer puts down his pen, he can always just be."
Being, breathing, nourishment and fitful sleep demand and sap all our energies, as we drift on ominous seas awaiting the next hit.
Writing some 500 years ago, Machiavelli offers some solace:
When the evening comes, I go into my study. I take off my country clothes, all caked with mud and slime, and put on court dress.
When I am thus decently reclad, I enter into the ancient mansions of those of ancient days. And there I am received by my hosts with kindness, and I feast myself on that food which is my true nourishment, which I was born for.
I am not abashed to question them, and they, in their humanity, deign to answer me.
For hours, I forget every worry, I am not appalled by the thought of death. I sink my identity into that of my ancient mentors.
It is partly in anticipation of future audiences unseen that visual artists and their creative counterparts toil. It is a grand illusion built on faith and balancing on air, assuming a continuity which really isn't there.
The Taliban and their terrorist cronies want to stop time, strangle our fecundity, wrapping us in bolts of cloth like their female slaves. It is they, not us, who are truly afraid -- of all the implications of humanity.
Our western tradition answers, in the words of the anthropologist Hans Zinsser, "How cold are your hands, Death -- come warm them at my heart."
Yes, our hopes are severely diminished, here, in New York.
"This is the hour of lead," wrote Emily Dickinson, "Remembered, if out lived, as freezing persons, recollect the snow -- first chill -- then stupor -- then the letting go."
And let go we must, with every pen, and brush, and sword, and bomb, even unto fighting death with death, that western civilization might go on.
It is a fight forced upon us by vile people lusting only for destruction.
Let them reap the whirlwind of their foul desires.
Creative people are like Whitman's solitary thrush:
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.
Song of the bleeding throat!
Death's outlet song of life -- (for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would'st surely die.
There are no songs in Afghanistan; it is time, by any means necessary, to restore the songs of New York.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).