Little School of Horrors
And says, "How does it feel to be such a freak?"
And you say, "Impossible" As he hands you a bone. - Bob Dylan
He stopped doing it years ago, because if he hadn't he'd have killed himself or someone else by now, but New York artist Joe Coleman used to blow himself up.
As "Professor Mamboozo" - either his geek avatar or, as he described it, a raging spirit that would take possession of his body - Coleman would arrive uninvited at the house parties of strangers, provoke a confrontation and ignite the mass of firecrackers he'd strapped to his body. In the confusion, smoke and fear he would slip away before police arrived. When Mamboozo debuted on New York's avant garde art scene in a 1981 performance at the Kitchen he also rolled in bloody meat, bit the heads off live rats and pressed a shotgun against the forehead of the woman who had booked him and asked, "How'd you like the show?" The traumatized crowed was an audience no more, Coleman having yanked them out of their art house detachment through horrification ritual and the sudden shock of their own possible, imminent death. ("I told them as hard as I could without killing them," Coleman told Re/Search in Pranks.)
I thought about Coleman the other day when I read of the teachers of an elementary school in Tennessee who convinced their sixth graders a gunman was attacking, and repeatedly told the hysterical children it wasn't a drill.
One hooded teacher pulled on a locked door, "pretending to be a suspicious subject," and another told the students there had been a shooting, and that they were to lie on the floor in the dark and keep quiet. Twenty kids started to cry and tremble and beg for their lives. Some held hands.
"I was like, 'Oh my God,'" said 11-year old Shay Naylor. "At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out - I was freaked out. I thought it was serious."
School officials cite "poor judgment," but it's a prank worthy of Joe Coleman. They told them as hard as they could without killing them. And when Coleman would lead his classrooms beyond endurance and up to the edge of their own oblivion, he didn't do it simply because he was an artist, but because he had also had visceral contempt for his audience and all of humanity. "You say the man who hates his fellow man is the problem," he wrote in a poem/rant. "But they ain't the problem. You're the problem. The sexual deviant, the murderer, the serial killer, the taker of human life is the cure. You're the problem...."
Teachers and staff may tell themselves and the parents of their charges that it was an exercise in preparedness, but it takes a special antipathy for an adult to terrorize a child, even when they have already told themselves they're terrorizing the children for their own good. And this is often what children brutalized by ritual cult abuse and trauma-based mind control are told: that it's for their own good, and that it will transfigure their minds and flesh into something which mundane experience is incapable of producing. As perhaps other teachers in another small town told themselves and their nursery age children before they drugged and raped them and forced their participation in candle-lit ceremonies.
Naggingly, there is transfiguration in trauma, and it can be communicated through both art and ritual. Coleman calls himself an "alchemist - I'm trying to transform base emotions into a kind of gold." Together, art and ritual are the nucleic acids of religion, which intends to remanifest naive states unknown to us in our current nature, whether that mean union with the divine, with our deeper selves, or with something else. (I hadn't heard the term before I typed it, but I now see "remanifest" is one of the "Aeon-supporting Words" of the Temple of Set.)
The artist and the priest are often tormented by what's missing; by the absence of God and the silence of spirits. But Chesterton, writing of Yeats' "concrete mysticism," said it was "not abnormal men like artists, but normal men like peasants, who have borne witness a thousand times to such things. It is the farmers who see the fairies. It is the agricultural labourer who calls a spade a spade, who also calls a spirit a spirit." It has been those most connected to the Earth who have also found the invisible, visible. Modern life made even the Earth invisible. Now that Earth is recognized to have fallen into crisis worthy of a super villain, and everyone in the "developed world" is seeing green and increasingly experiencing the trauma of a life out of order, we shouldn't be surprised if we start to see stranger things, again, as though for the first time.
The New York Times, reviewing a retrospective of Joe Coleman's paintings last September, wrote that, "in a startlingly prophetic vision of his from 2000 the twin towers burn."
By the way, a provocative post last Sunday from Joseph Cannon on the latest DC hooker scandal. A former high-priced escort he knew "became convinced that the high-powered individuals she saw (she did not name any names and I did not press) were possessed by demons. Literally. She was so persuasive that I could not bring myself to disbelieve her - and I'm not the kind of guy who buys into tales about demons.")
And I apologize again for the irregular updates. Blogging, while getting a book together, while keeping down a day-job, while keeping up a family has been harder than I'd thought. I wasn't thinking.