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Voice in the Gutters Voice in the Gutters
by Cosmas Mairosi
2007-10-22 10:21:14
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It was an eerie dawn, when owls hooted for daybreak and cockcrows crooned for sunshine. Mazvi, alone in an out of the way gutter, wallowed amid mounds of urban waste, the stink from the city’s garbage harassing her bowels. Then the last of the agonizing seizures possessed her for one final moment, forcing her to relinquish the booty she had carried in her womb for nine months.

After eons of agonizing pain, bloodied and still nursing her groans, she planted her child’s umbilical cord in the sun-battered sand – for stray dogs to munch later- and bequeathed the product of her labour pains to the open wind to nurse his howls and the morning dew to give him a welcome bath. Then she rose and never looked back- leaving behind her the crying infant to be nursed by the gutters.

Mazvi melted into the city’s slums, taking her place once again in the plastic palaces by the Mukuvisi River, amid her filthy and bedraggled kinsfolk. At night she played hostess to gargantuan gentlemen in seedy backyard brothels. Then she would play the radio loud, in a bid to forget that, just like someone who drops a mound of stool in the open veld, she had left an unweaned voice crying in the gutters.

What shall we do for him then, a pauper child, dumped for dead in the city’s slums and choking gutters? An unwelcome traveller. Does it mean then that when finally he dies, the gutters shall chew his muscles and cremate his soul? Still his voice rings in the gutters, crying for a warm welcome that will never be.

At least the baby Christ had the horses’ neighing grunts for company. In the manger He waddled in swaddling clothes. What then of this motherless infant, greeted with the stench of the city’s stinking garbage haranguing his nostrils? What shall we say when mangy dogs were the first to sniff his buttocks? And the sun’s scorching haze beat down to smother him. Is the howling of jackals and the yelping of hyenas the kindest of all receptions?

Unwelcome traveller, I wonder why there were n angels to attend to you. For even ghoulads have goblins as their attendants. There are a thousand childless phantoms here that would have given a rousing welcome for someone like you, were it not that the one who bore you placed you beyond human reception.

But, then, this is Eart, my brother, home to billions of humanoid creatures. They no longer know how to welcome toddlers here. Your howling will pass with the wind, till gloom places a cold finger on your lips, to silence your voice crying in the gutters. Then your voice will become one with the gutters’ scattered debris.

Is it fair, then, that jackals should relish in tango over your fresh carcass? Is it fair, still, that vultures should keep your funeral vigil and the gutter rats to chew your precious bones? No farewell hymns ever sung for your departing shadow save the hungry anthems of demented flies hurrying to their feast and screaming scavengers slobbering over your decomposing remnants. The malodorous echo of their munching grunts, and the crunch of breaking bones, why don’t they rend the virgin’s nightmares?

Humanity should be held to blame over your demise. There are millions of unslept beds, any one of which would have given you comfort. Not these gutters which have turned into your bedroom, where you clutch at sharp discarded objects as your toys, and hug broken glass for a bedtime souvenir. Look at how they have marred and distended your princely flesh! What if the rains were to unleash their fury full-throttle on thy naked soul?

Unlucky shadow, whither shall you go- Purgatory or Paradise- guiltless soul much wronged? Perhaps you should have come another time when your parents were ready to receive you and the world a much friendlier place to live. I have no words to pacify your grieving spirit but I will tell your Mamma that you survived three full days under the scorching sun and three full nights under the shining moon. I will tell her that I tried to feed you from gutter- picked crumbs of food. Being a gutter fellow, born and bred in the gutters, I couldn’t afford a decent meal for you. I could not give you a decent shelter but you bode with me under a tree.

I will tell her that you soiled yourself several times and your stale vomit stank. That the ired ants stung your belly and buttocks. I will tell her that in the dark hour nearest dawn the nightjars screeched your departure. But, certainly, I won’t tell her that the mongrels fought over you and wrenched your bowels. That you died battered and bruised, tattooed by the slum’s dirt- a true ghetto soldier, though you never fired a single bullet save your angry howl for survival- barren and thirsty as the Sahara. How can I tell her that you had no peace of mind, which the roaming dogs tore to pieces and lapped at with glee? Perhaps it should suffice if I tell you that your mother cared nothing in your death. By your birth do you know that you soiled her last panties? You see, your Mom has to occasionally sell her body for a lunchtime meal and a pat on the buttocks from an interested gentleman often brought her supper.



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Emanuel Paparella2007-10-22 13:40:20
Some musings on the poignant story above: Romulus and Remo too were abandoned and fed by a she wolf. Is there an archtype at work here asking not how but why? Why did Picasso adore Afeican art?


Sand2007-10-22 14:51:50
Anyone who questions the value of African art, which has a wide display in museums and galleries throughout the world, exhibits a profound insensitivity to essential aesthetic values.


jim2007-10-22 16:06:19
i totally agree, jan.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-22 17:17:07
Voices in one’s head again? Any reader exercising a minimum of logic can clearly see that my inquiry about Picasso’s love for African art does not contain a scintilla of a critique of the value of African art. It is just a leading question to provoke some dialogue and possibly some light. In this case it resulted in an ad hominem argument concocted in one's head wherein the table is turned around. No great surprise there; it has been done before. It reveals something about the unfair intellectual habits of its user, or perhaps some ax being ground in some dark cave, or some secret agenda, but little else. In point of fact the very opposite of what is here claimed obtains: every time I introduce Picasso and abstract art in my Humanities classes I make a point to tell students that the genius of Picasso was his deep understanding of the nexus between African art and life, or between primitive man’s art in the caves of Altamira and life. That kind of powerful art has little to do with art superficially conceived as conspicuous consumption or capitalistic investment or rationalistic ideological propaganda.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-22 17:58:59
P.S. Another aspect of genuine art is this, that it changes with the times, but unlike science it does not get any better. That it gets better, or worse for that matter, is a delusion of rationalists with a partial myopic view of the nature of human reason.


Sand2007-10-22 18:32:03
Obviously you have been successful in provoking dialog. I am happy that you acknowledge the great beauty and skill of African art. Your original phraseology in questioning why Picasso adored African art indeed does not openly criticize African art but there is an obvious implication that there is something curious about his delight in the art due to some aesthetic lack in the product. OK I will grant you that your question was merely clumsy language. But I am also very curious about your final statement that there is no such thing as lousy art and that the impression that there is is a mere delusion of rational observation. It implies a lack of discrimination that is truly monumental. But, again, I may have been led astray by your out of control linguistic syntax.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-22 19:03:21
Read what is there and don' listen to the clumsy rationalsitic voices in your head. The statement reads verbatim "another aspect of genuine art is..." the operative word there is "genuine" which implies that there is also bogus art. That is logic 101.


Sand2007-10-22 19:15:19
You have made me very sensitive to your aversion to science and areas of great precision. What is genuine art and what is not very frequently is extremely subjective although a good deal of material presented as art can be usually agreed upon as crap. Van Gogh is the standard case for demonstrating the very flexible standards of "genuine art".
To make an outright declaration that genuine art of any era is no better than art of any other era betrays only hubris on the quality of one's own subjective standards.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 08:10:58
A Sistine Chapel will be appreciated by the vast majority of people who come to see it from all over the world. So will the paintings of the caves of Altamira or the Starry Night by Van Gogh. It is absurd to affirm that Michelangelo’s painting is better than that on the caves of Altamira simply because it arrived later in time. Picasso was right: the one of on the caves of Altamira is more connected to life because more primitive, but that does not mean it is better or worse; it is just different and reflecting a particular historical era. Authentic art changes but does not get any better. The very few who do not admire the beauty of those works are either bereft of aesthetic sensibility or are barbarians who have never been exposed to art. Genuine art has a nexus to human nature’s attraction to beauty. Competent museum directors will not put crap disagreeable to the majority of viewers in their museums, but works that appeal universally to the sense of beauty. The choice, even when done by an art expert, remains collectively subjective since it is always Man that creates art and Man who makes it a value and in knowing it (what other men have created) gets to know himself by his relationship to beauty; that relationship is one of “I-Thou.” In science it is not so: there Man observes and studies nature which was not created by him and therefore the relationship is an objective one of “I-it.” When the “I-Thou” dialogue with what man has created (history, institutions, works of art) is degraded to an “I-it” relationship and Man is objectified and then Man ipso facto ends up dehumanizing himself and doing things (such as making lampshades with human skin) that stone-age man at Altamira never dreamed of doing or rationalizing.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 08:20:59
P.S. Mr. Mairosi's article is an example of how art can take even what is sordid, evil and ugly and transform it via art; a sort of alchemical aesthetic process takes place and a terrible beauty is born. I submit that such an operation is more powerful and humanizing that what science can accomplish by manipulating nature; a nature often disrespected by Man's hubris. One thinks of Gerricault's The Raft of the Medusa.


Sand2007-10-23 08:22:56
Assuming that stone age man had lamps, I doubt anyone could confidently predict the nature of the material chosen for lampshades. Standards of beauty vary tremendously over different cultures and within the same cultures over time so there is nothing universal for standards of beauty. To say so is to have a mind so tied up in provincial personal values as to make its judgments totally useless.


Emmanuel Sigauke2007-10-23 09:45:32
Well done, Mairos. No voice I have heard could capture the rapture of the times as does this voice in this story. I hope that other readers will understand that the deeper concerns in your story have nothing to do with the rapture of artistic play-for-play's sake.


Emmanuel Sigauke2007-10-23 09:48:42
Let'r try this again: Well done, Mairos. No voice I have heard could capture the rupture of the times as does this voice in this story. I hope that other readers will understand that the deeper concerns in your story have nothing to do with the rupture of artistic play-for-play's sake.


Sand2007-10-23 09:56:39
A recent exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum in NYC of the Virgin Mary portrayed in elephant dung literally belies your statement that no museum will exhibit crap. Of course, crap, in this specific case, may have been beauty itself.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 12:52:01
Indeed Mr. Sigauke, the rupture of our humanity from life could not have been better expressed even by Picasso who knew that only genuine art connected to life could heal it. Picasso (Guernica), Gericault (the Sinking of the Medusa), Goya (The third of May), Dante (the lantern man in hell), Mr. Mairosi (voice in the gutters)who are humans like us, and thus able to reflect on what it means to be human and represent our humanity, can take a terrible theme such as the disposal of a baby and present it in such a way via some artistic medium that we end up crying for the rupture in a humanity that is able to impute the making of lampshades with human skin to primitive Man while conveniently forgetting that such a cultural phenomenon only appeared sixty short years ago within a “civilized-modern-rational-technocratic” European nation proud of having given Bach and Kant to the Western world. That kind of rupture of humanity from life is the kind of monstrosity that no technology or robot or humbot, as the case may be, will ever fathom and resolve. To do that we have to re-discover the fact that we have a soul as well as an intellect, usually understood as a computer of meat. To turn Derrida up-side-down: having domesticated our monsters it is high time to see them for the wild things they really are: misguided wolves in sheep’s clothing (ideological rationalism) rationalizing what ought never have been rationalized.


Sand2007-10-23 14:38:58
To make assertions as to the use of human skin in early human cultures with no data one way or another is clear demonstration of the unreliability of Paparella's historical statements. But of course, religious adherents are very much accustomed to this disreputable action.
But beyond the nonsense, the totally naive concept that art is merely the pursuit of beauty, whatever that characteristic might be, is so absolutely lacking in an understanding of the mechanics and ideals of the field that it disqualifies absolutely the asserter. To deny the many other aims and qualities of the field is to fumble in murky ignorance over what it is all about. Be assured that Picasso's "Guernica", and "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon", Francis Bacon's "Head VI", George Tooker's subway scenes, Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase", Tinguely's strange and sometimes self destrictive sculptures, all these and many multitudes more were certainly not about beauty as their prime attribute, whatever your aesthetic instincts. Your viewpoint is so frightfully simplistic and basically ignorant that it is truly appalling.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-23 18:09:34
Obviously there is no listening here but to the voice in one's head, given that twice it was clearly pointed out that the lampshades from human skin were not made by cave manbut by the so called "enlightened" European man of the 20th century sixty short years ago. That may be an unconvenient truth for rationalists of all stripes but it remains one like the sun in the firmament even when Machiavellically ignored.


Sand2007-10-24 00:38:50
As bad as it is you cannot think, Paparella, it is doubly unfortunate you cannot read. You claimed that human skin usage was invented by the Nazis and was not used by primitive man. I merely pointed out that you have no way of knowing whether or not human skin was used by primitive man. I wonder why I trouble to educate you. You are not even trying. You simply have no appreciation of my charitable efforts.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-24 16:30:35
The Grand Inquisitor is always charitable in its efforts to do good to all the people, for their good,of course. But noblesse oblige will not hide his short-sightedness and simple-mindedness. The point was simple and yet it was missed. We know the strategy of the hidden agenda by now. Style will now be blamed for it, and yet it is there written. Let me repeat it for the sake of those who may still be following this near lunatic exchange: primitive man whether or not he used human skin to make lampshades (which I greatly doubt)never claimed any intellectual and cultural superiority over his ancestors for he was in the first cycle of history, that of the poetic and the imaginative; for that claim to be made we need to wait for rationalistic clever by half Man. How misguided that claim is is proven by the barbaric acts and monstruosities and the cultural wasteland this highly evolved and "enlightened" man has managed to produce only sixty short years ago. What is most disturbing is that the inheritors of that mind-set continue to avoid that inconvenient truth. For shame!


Sand2007-10-24 16:50:49
Evidently Paparella has now progressed from his unsubstantiated claim to know what primitive man did with human skin to a much more subtle knowledge of what went on in ancient men's heads with even less basis for this occult capability. Since he is the lunatic I can accept on his word that his observations are doubtless lunacy.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-24 20:23:36
I wonder if it has ever occurred to Mr. Sand, as surely it must have occurred to most readers and participants in this forum, that the only area of expertise he has given ample evidence of is that of the argumentum ad hominem or in more prosaic terms, that of insulting anybody who as much as dares disagree with his "enlightened" views. So much for freedom os speech, not to speak of confidence in one's own reasoning powers.


Sand2007-10-24 21:59:52
It's extremely odd that you interpret my attempts to indicate to you how foolish so many things you say as a method of abrogating your right to speak freely. I have never, in any way, prevented you from making a fool of yourself and it is obvious how successful you have been at that. I have merely pointed out that much of what you say makes little sense. It seems my efforts to be a good Samaritan are unappreciated.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-24 22:18:39
The Good Samaritan? Mr. Sand got religion? I'll take that with a great grain of salt! In any case, feel free to continue making a fool of yourself with your mask of the good Samaritan offering free advice via caricatures galore and fifth grade bullish intellectual tactics. As Lincoln said: you can fool some people all the times....but...


Sand2007-10-24 22:42:02
Ah yes. Lincoln. Or was it the Pope or G.W.Bush or W.C.Fields who said you can't fool all of the people all of the time but you can fool enough of the people for sufficient time to make it very worthwhile? You can try Paparella, but you can't fool me.


Emanuel Paparella2007-10-25 14:33:37
That was probably one of the voices in your head. Those can indeed fool you all the time but whether they can make it worthwhile for you is problematic.


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