Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
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Robert Rotondo
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Jean Baudrillard
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Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Karel SloaneKarel Sloane is an award winning multi-disciplinary artist with over 26 years of experience in theatre, the visual arts and writing. Her first book, With The Naked Eye, is available from Also a poet, her most recent work appeared in Voices Along The River, an anthology published by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and The Kellogg Nature Center.


Oh Angel, I am burdened by the race
I'll go down burning in your embrace
from song Fire, Daniel Lanois

I carry around my own infinitely connected universe. Cells and their separate organelles float loosely in a sea of intercellular fluid. They're not tightly packed together. Bones do not meet. Neither do nerve cells. Skin seems to touch itself, until observed under a microscope. Hair has each its separate follicle. Little gaps and fissures. Some people think of breaking apart as negative. I won't deny there are deviant varieties of separation. We want our formations to be close together to better fill our senses. Touch is tangible, and we are creatures seeking the tangible. We desire to be touched, to end an isolation of sorts, the apparent isolation of our bodies from everything else. In truth, there are countless interactions occurring all the time that we are only marginally aware of. Before I began to write this, I took a drink from a water fountain. Even as I was swallowing that last sip I was aware that through the mucus membranes of my mouth and nose, as well as sweat glands all over my body, that water was already on its way back out. As I exhaled the breath I had been holding I was propelling countless molecules of vapor back into an apparently cloudless sky.

Recently, I flew back to New York from New Orleans. As I crossed Ohio and Pennsylvania I was struck as I watched towers exhale their perpetual litany of smoke. I remembered being at a Native American healing ceremony in mid-September and how the leader had talked about the importance of smoke as an intermediary of the spirit, or as a way to send a request out into the universe. I had heard this message before, but on this particular day, at a gathering held in the wake of September 11, I suddenly saw for the first time what it must have meant to watch those wisps rising from a medicine pipe 300 years ago, before there was a Louisiana territory or a New York City. I grasped, finally, the significance of sending messages skyward. As I watched, I wondered what kinds of messages had gone up as the Twin Towers came down. On the airplane, I watched and wondered about the smoke stack messengers and what clouds they would touch. I wondered what their smoke was made of, and would those who sent the messages even recognize the answers when they came back.


I am as absorbed in my life as any insect. Sometimes, I am a discordant butterfly in search of more than flowers to satisfy my thirst. Butterflies do not eat. Their long tongues are saved for sipping only. Following the black hydrocarbon flow of estuaries and tributaries, it takes tremendous effort to remember I am riding on the backs of dinosaurs -- across femurs, up and down collar bones, in and out of rib cages and eye sockets. Reconfigured, all these parts now resemble shadows of what they once were. Only the dragonflies and the alligators retain their shape. Someday the alligators -- -- if they escape curio shops, may be swallowed up by swamp and emerge the dinner of some yet undreamed of mechanism. I am reasonably sure dinosaurs, with their tiny cortices, never dreamed their destinies lead to a "substance that is the by-product of a petroleum-cracking operation." What I do know, for certain, is that nature never stops moving, and humans are just one more agent of its change.

© Mady : Allegory of Water

Every living thing is the center of its own universe. Its needs are what matter most. But what about Gandhi, I argue? Mother Theresa? Martin Luther King? Were not their natures more evolved? They saw the world from their particular point of view. My view of the world is not so grand. It's based on the desire to consume.

Consumption ranges from food to devouring ideas, or paintings with my eyes. I am looking from a very small window on a very vast substance, and we must talk together, you and I, for me to see more than just the edges of my piece of the puzzle.

Every day I investigate my biosphere. I walk down Saint Charles Avenue and make an accounting of what I find. Nature is on the move. I measure the rise and fall of ferns. I listen to the ocean of traffic as sound waves rise and fall, whooshing between trees and parked cars. Street estuaries are their own oceans. I always find patterns. Tiny plants, sometimes even small trees, make their homes in human made terraces. They can't tell the difference between earth made rock out-croppings and ones that humans have shifted. To them, rocks are all the same. I can't tell if insects and birds have an aesthetic preference for carved stone. I see nests everywhere. Wild parrots seem to prefer both palm trees and the tops of telephone poles equally. To them, wood is wood. Termites dine on all kinds of cellulose. Much to the dismay of homeowners, it makes no matter whether the wood still has roots or has been reconfigured into house planks. It's just as tasty.

Humans see themselves, by and large, as separated from the natural world. This separation has also been stratified, placing nature in an inferior position and humans in a superior one. To qualify, nature is anything not made by humans while anything humans make is not part of nature; it is artificial. Human intervention, even though we, too, are pieces of the natural, renders the transformation of substances unnatural. This assessment flies in the face of basic biology. We are of the animal kingdom, categorized by a phylum, order, class, family, genus and species like all other animals. If I am to change my views about human creations, I first must accept my nature, my biological designation.

By many, I have been taught to see city as "other." Yet my eyes tell me I am walking and riding on recycled rock. I see the small pebbles blended with mortar, some of it mixed with outsides of recycled bivalves. The little patch of street where I park my car was perhaps a Pteranodon, or a Plesiosaur, or a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Other dinosaurs, reconfigured, are pumped into my car's gas tank. I conduct this same kind of accounting in my home. I have counted 26 rings in the wood rim of my cabinet; 38, 11 and 36 respectively in the three pieces that comprise my kitchen window's frame. My kitchen chairs are a mixture of wicker, vinyl and steel. The steel, melted and smelted and tempered by humans in a factory instead of somewhere near the earth's core. With more reconfigured metal, I eat from a piece of earth that has been shaped, heated, pigmented, reheated and is now called plate. More reconfigured metals line my sink, stovetop and serve as handles. These handles themselves attached to former trees or reshaped rocks. This paper I write upon once stood breathing carbon dioxide. The coverings of my body, like this paper, at one time, exchanged sunlight for energy and drank afternoon rain. The water I use to brush my teeth might have flowed past carp as it meandered past Saint Paul on its way to alligators and New Orleans.

Nature has no borders. It is everywhere, a living breathing boundary -- less observatory. Patterns reveal that nature is orderly while random flux reveals the opposite. This paradox, much to the dismay of my desire for holdfasts, teaches me there is room for both order and chaos. It teaches me to make comparisons. I learn by following patterns. There is symmetry in the dissimilar -- leaf prints, handprints; human and alligator. Shapes and lines repeat. These patterns are what link roadway arteries to the human circulatory system. My palm's surface runs the regular rhythm of an oak tree. Beneath the helter-skelter of broken criss-crossing passage ways lies regular patterns, tree skin shapes, divided by Ys and Vs that give the appearance of ripples. Finger pads too have these long rectangular U-turns. With the naked eye, I can glimpse individual dermis cells on the back of my hands, mostly triangles, sometimes diamonds, trapezoids or squares, each with hair follicles. It looks like an aerial view of a forest or a sparse patch of grass. By discussing appearances, I am not saying things are identical, but rather similar. There is a connection. At the moment, our alphabet is a finite line of characters. Nature's character is circular.

Gary Snyder says, "We live in a society of accumulation." Counting keeps track of things. thousands of species perish without us ever knowing them. They die because we are focused on counting and holding what we already know. Nature is not afraid of destruction. Just look at all the havoc we humans wreck on the biosphere. In mathematics there are problems that have no constant, no solution. Calculus is the mathematics of change. The concept of limits fails when lines that begin from the same point go off in two different directions. How many former trees does it take to build a ten room house or a condo complex? How much heartwood makes a couch, a table, a chest of drawers, an armchair? Confined to his bed, Descartes traced the path of a fly as it meandered around his room. Using longitude and latitude, he invented new formulas. He learned from making an account of the earth. A fly led to algebra.


The tree is the Alpha and the Omega. It is self-fertilizing. My admiration of it does nothing to further its existence, unless I am standing near by, exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide. I am expendable. It makes me cringe.

We are not isolated builders within the animal kingdom. Insects stack. Spiders weave. Birds collect. Rodents tunnel. Countless others dig, burrow according to a template stored in some primeval part of the brain. Maybe the desire for structure is as much a part of the autonomic nervous system as breathing or circulating blood. Maybe everything else stems from this desire for security, for something to hold onto. Even trees attach.

We all start out one shape and end up something else. Leaves will eventually be dirt. Everything sheds itself. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it just changes form. Yes, there is atrophy. You can't be what you once were. It's a transfer. Things don't become nothing. They end up something else. At the moment, I am sitting in reconfigured energy, the visual results of a far-off thermonuclear reaction, on a bench that was once part beach and part tree. I watch as two butterflies, their wings the color and shape of spring Gingko leaves, flutter for a moment
together, and then part ways. Many insects begin as worms and end up with wings, all within a lifetime. Some animals trade tails for legs. The most astounding transformations I know of took thousands of years, that of dinosaurs to birds and dinosaurs to petroleum.

We humans are tinkers, experts at fulfilling our destiny as agents of change. Trees and water both crack rock. Wind scatters it. Earth erupts. Continents shift. Nothing ever stationary. We humans are the ever-change. In one lifetime we can erect and demolish structures that would take other beings thousands of evolutions to effect. What powers we possess. And, how often we don't recognize them.

We seek out and create. We never fully believe we can guarantee our own safety. And we are right. This uncertainty has its consequences. We are both the creators and instruments of our own destruction.

I feel the earth's presence far more here, in New Orleans, than in Connecticut. Change is easier to trace. I come knowing tidal flats. They are perpetual shift, as is the moon that moves their flux. Swamps and river basins are similar. They reinforce my learning that change is constant. Like math, it is the other side of the equals sign, the final answer that is no answer. We have only to look closely to see stillness is an illusion. Heat and moisture and river silt that lies under relocated sand conspire to crack and heave sidewalks and roadways.


Death is the ultimate reorganizer. It's the ultimate appetite. It is the great grotesque. It is never satisfied. I take comfort in knowing someday I will be part of something else. It is my wish to go out like the Vikings, on fire as I float to the center of a lake. The ultimate Ying and Yang. As my ashes scatter, they will become animal and lakebed, insect and plant. I will continue to change after my ability to recognize is gone. There is fear in this kind of safety, too. I can’t grasp the magnitude of it.

Life and death are a process of laundering, of endless spinning. The world is a winding complicated tangle of empty and full. We continue to accumulate and specify without plugging back into the greater whole. If we continue to measure progress without accounting for our impact on the whole, we will surely starve. Only by acknowledging our power as tinkers will we ensure our safety, as well as that of the earth. By safety, I do not mean structure. I mean a full assessment of impact.

The car beside me releases the ghost of some great beast, a grey cloud of former neurons, skeletal structures, claws and skin. I know I’ll never be able to grasp the enormity of it all, but the appetite, the yearning is there.

The puzzle will never be finished because the center pieces are missing. Understanding is forever being strangled by definition. In our effort to hold on to an answer, to make it finite, we miss the greater intangible, natural truth. The hard-wear of holdfasts works until the next invention. Once upon a time, a squint was a slit for eyes to look through, now it's what eyes do. Issues used to be children. A fiddle is a violin.

Holding keeps passing away. I am watching from a cliff without the cover of a cave. You and I are both right, we are just working on a different segment. It's scary. There are no holdfasts here. Back at the Laundromat, I watch a leaf whirling toward its dirt-making destiny. It is November. Nothing is supposed to sit still. Ever. The car is moving, the air is moving, the earth is moving, and I am motion sick.

Appetites serve a purpose. They clean up the messiness of change. Every day, beneficent creatures eat their way across eye lashes, clothing and bed linen, their feast: debris of dead skin cells. How many unwanted pounds of human flesh would fill the world if they were not regularly consumed. In vain, I went searching for these creatures on the internet. When it comes to humans, there is no benign eating to be done.

We think we have sown it all up. The joke is on us. We have gotten lost in the minutiae. Somewhere, new life forms are coming into being. I watch from my window and wait for our next conversation.


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