THE PROCRUSTES TRILOGY
Procrustes In Situ
Oratorio—Variation On A Theme By Joseph Bor
Martyrs of the Cities of the Plain
PROCRUSTES IN SITU, overall plan
About the entire PROCRUSTES TRILOGY, Robert Cremean wrote the following:
THE PROCRUSTES TRILOGY was initiated in 48 A.H. with PROCRUSTES IN SITU. Throughout the following five years my preoccupation with this monster of the Thesian myth became obsessional. Threading back through the eternal Now of PROCRUSTES IN SITU, two events emerged to illustrate Procrustes at his most extreme…two acts of holocaust: ORATORIO, an event knotted in linear time during the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and MARTYRS OF THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN, dating back to the prehistory of biblical time. Both events live on politically, socially, and psychologically within the Now. By dating the Now from the Third Holocaust, which occurred at Hiroshima on the sixth of August, Nineteen Hundred and Forty Five, the Trilogy becomes a play in four acts. The fourth and final event will be the Fourth Holocaust. There will be no fifth. There will be no other.
Procrustes was first introduced into our lexicon of metaphors through the trials and triumphs of the mythical Greek hero, Theseus, as a robber-innkeeper who haunted the road near Eleusis. When travelers accepted his hospitality, he made them lie on one of two beds: one very long, the other very short. If the guest was too long for the short bed, Procrustes cut off his legs until he was short enough; if he lay on the long bed, Procrustes stretched him until he fitted it. In the legend, Theseus slays Procrustes. Once personified, however, like all enduring metaphors, Procrustes refused to die. Through metaphor, he illustrates a truth and, as a truth, he lives on throughout the evolving triumphs and tragedies of the human condition. His existence is indelible.
At approximately the time the myths were personifying the attributes of Procrustes as villainous, a writer named J, in the kingdom of Judah, was illustrating these same qualities as virtuous in the first chapters of the Old Testament. This clash of metaphors exists today in the war between humanism and theism.
PROCRUSTES IN SITU attempts to illustrate the obvious and redundant visages of Procrustes. He is omnipresent within the human condition: cutting, trimming and stretching each individual to fit the beds of conformity. During this phase of the Trilogy, I came to see how essential he is to everything that we are. Without Procrustes, there is no coherence. Procrustes is the antithesis of chaos. He is also the enemy of Art.
Procrustes thrives on repeat, stasis, and order. His sole purpose is to determine and control. Anything that threatens his authority and the dimensions of his beds is trimmed away or stretched beyond its viable scope of importance. The enforced illusions of Procrustes are in constant conflict with the Artist’s desire for truth, no matter what the cost.
In PROCRUSTES IN SITU, the connection between Procrustes and nature, sexuality and reproduction is considered. The linear extension of the species gives Procrustes great authority within the strictures of society. This is acknowledged in the beds of the mother, the father, the young woman, the young man, the child, and fear. Procrustes controls these beds through instinct. We are born into them. By these he controls us all. Chaos is not a threat to Procrustes in his natural form but rather to the illusions that that form has itself constructed. It is this illusion of identity that centers the drama of Procrustes: Theseus versus Procrustes, Art versus culture, chaos versus illusion.
PROCRUSTES IN SITU sets the stage for the following two acts of the Trilogy: ORATORIO portrays an event that occurred during the Second Holocaust, a performance of the Verdi Requiem at the Terezín concentration camp in 1944, with full orchestra and chorus of Jewish prisoners, for an audience of Nazis. The Procrustean overtones here are so obvious as to be grotesque and hideous in their irony. That this event precedes the Third Holocaust by barely a year increases its tragi-comedic theatricality. The laughter of Procrustes is his most terrifying edge and here, in ORATORIO, it is in full display. The Second Holocaust completes the cycle of biblical time initiated by J in the book of Genesis making possible the fulfillment of prophecies. The significance of ORATORIO is not the tragedy of the Jews but rather the paradox of theism: one man’s God is another man’s Satan.The portrayal of Jews in performance of a doctrinal Catholic requiem in a Nazi concentration camp is irony of such magnitude as to make Procrustes himself blush. The similarities of facial contortions involved with singing, screaming, and lamentation are so obvious as to be banal. The permission and encouragement of the Nazi propagandists for such a grandiose undertaking in the face of appalling circumstances is sadism of procrustean virtue.
MARTYRS OF THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN examines the First Holocaust. Based on the blue triangle that descends the back panel of PROCRUSTES IN SITU, the third section of the Trilogy concerns itself with the destruction of the cities Admah, Gomorrah, Sodom, and Zeboiim which the Old Testament attributes to the wrath of God. It examines the procrustean constrictions of patriarchy and the liberating challenge of feminine entelechy through the songs of Procrustes and the opposing chants of Chance, Being, and Desire. Masculine gestalt versus feminine insurrection.
As the pen of J transported good and evil into biblical time, the following centuries of hermeneutics turned the holocaust of the Cities of the Plain into a simplistic hatred of homosexuality.
Ascribing to a Father-god absolute judgement of good versus evil set the illusion that has dominated the religions of Abraham through the millennia: God destroys bad people and rewards good people. Through this lens, men have assumed their superiority.
J, by transporting the monotheistic Father-god of the Israelite tribes onto the pages of literature, initiated the gestalt of metaphors upon which linear history has based its illusions. By casting one protagonist as the sole arbiter of the human drama, J created a monster of deception and paradox, the sort of creature that Greek myth sends its heroes to defeat. He is Procrustes.
As J concretized monotheism in the Old Testament, a Greek poet named Hesiod was composing his Theogony of polytheism. These two dramatizations of the human condition have traversed the centuries in the hermeneutics of morals and ethics.
When J ascribed to the Father-god the destruction of the Cities of the Plain in terms of good and evil, he placed nature within the paradigm of moral rectitude. God’s will became the supreme wisdom of Patriarchy and all its contingent hermeneutics. The Israelites became god’s chosen people and the saga of the religions of Abraham began. By the time of the Second Holocaust, the Father-god had assumed two additional profiles, Christianity and Islam, and in the Second Holocaust, god turned his wrath against the Jews. A year later, in replication of his annihilation of the Cities of the Plain, he would rain death upon the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Fourth Holocaust will be the last and all non-believers will be slaughtered by his wrath. What an ugly and ignorant scenario!
The gestalt of monotheism, with all its attendant metaphors and hermeneutics, is simply bad art. How much richer in imagination and complexity, Hellenic mythology. Comparing the nomadic expediencies of monotheism with Hesiod’s Theogony is like comparing a water jug to the Parthenon.
Compared to the Israelite tribes, the Cities of the Plain were highly civilized societies. To joyously praise their destruction in the worship of a Father-god’s wrath rather than admit to schadenfreude has been the basic theme for centuries of monotheistic history. As long as a Father-god exists, war will never cease. History will remain a drumbeat in constant repeat until the fourth and final holocaust.
THE PROCRUSTES TRILOGY exists for me as an attempt to understand the artist’s plight. (Interestingly, the dictionary gives the word plight two definitions: one is “a condition, state, or situation, especially an unfavorable one.” The other is: “to give in pledge, as one’s word, or to pledge, as one’s honor; danger, risk.”) The artist, as prototype for singularity versus the conforming group, confronts the beds of Procrustes as intrinsic within natural and social Isness.
The grotesqueries of ORATORIO attempt to portray the open hostility that exists between culture and Art. In the faux setting of the Terezín ghetto in Birkenau, Procrustes was operating with deft facility and terrible humor. Verdi’s Requiem was cut short to fit a Nazi time schedule and the musicians who performed this propaganda were shipped off to Auschwitz, their talents of no further value.
If an artist believes that Art is purifying and spiritualizing, what differentiates artists who worked inside Terezín and those who worked outside? Jewish musicians performed Verdi’s Requiem for a Nazi audience and were destroyed because the culture had decided to purify itself. German musicians performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for German audiences and exalted the Nazi culture with the Ode To Joy. It is impossible to imagine any audience not being moved by either work. It is the culture that qualifies the emotion. And what of Wagner? And what of the musicians who performed during the Nazi regime. Were they collaborators because they believed in the power of Art no matter what its audience? No matter what its consequence? What is the moral equivalency here? Wherein lies an artist’s loyalty and honor?
Did the Jewish musicians of Terezín not know that they were collaborating with Nazi propaganda any more than German musicians knew of Nazi atrocities? Can an artist refuse his responsibility to Art?
MARTYRS OF THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN mirrors the artist’s plight set forth in ORATORIO. The eight testimonies of the four voices of Art are inscribed on the four-sexed sails of the Traveler.
By casting the voice of the artist as creator, heretic, healer and slave, an attempt is made to stage individual diversity on the beds of Procrustes.
As the Israelite Father-god rained death on the Cities of the Plain in an attempt to sever the two ancillary sexes from natural selection and societal acceptance, all living things were sacrificed to his dedication. This biblical example of the triumph of good over evil regardless of natural truths and objective ethics persists and continues to martyr the human condition to the plagues of mono-theism. God the Father is now positioned to destroy us all in the Fourth and final holocaust.
Homosexuality is part of Isness. To seek its eradication is to murder one’s children in a conflagration of hate and ignorance and fear. Even the Jews, in the agony of their own holocaust, seek to purify their martyrdom by cutting away the martyrs of the Cities of the Plain. Procrustes is omnipresent. No one eludes his beds. His delight. His laughter. His irony.
By setting a Father-god over the Isness of Being, humankind will always and ever be at war with itself, its nature, its self-recognition and realization.
The four sails of MARTYRS OF THE CITIES OF THE PLAIN are situated between the entelechies of masculine and feminine. The red monologues of War, Religion, and Commerce, with their corresponding heads and drawings of the male body, stand in opposition to the blue essays of Isness with its heads and drawings of the female body.
The blue and red commentaries flowing across either side of the sails relate past and present to the procrustean Now. (These inscriptions relate back to the diatribe that moves across the seven embossed prints of PROCRUSTES INN REGISTER.)*
In opposition to the Songs of Procrustes performed by War, Religion and Commerce, the alcove of feminine entelechy, personified by Chance, Being, and Desire, lies outside the Inn of Procrustes with its beds of conformity. This alcove, formed by the flowing blue inscription across the four sails of the traveler and the two walls of writings and drawings, attempts to define the true face of Theseus, not as a mythical hero, but as any human being who struggles with the destructive forces of dogma. Only truth can slay Procrustes. Only courage can lay waste his beds. Only empathy can destroy the accommodating hatred of his Inn.
Encased in the armor of helmet, miter, and bowler, Procrustes controls the history of men.
*PROCRUSTES INN REGISTER is a suite of engravings and monologues derived from the Preparatory Study that forms one wall of PROCRUSTES IN SITU.
Fresno Art Museum
(Robert Cremean: Metaphor and Process, the video, may be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgrxW8xSvrA)
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