Dark Wings over Cockayne’s Rainbow: Reviewing Myths of Seperateness

30 Apr

by Deliriumliberty–order the ebook (poetry) The House of Violence for 1.99

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Land of Cockayne

The Land of Cockayne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicts a psychological reality: hell shoved out of sight and out of mind–yet leaking through the punctures of a hermetic landscape.  But the borders of every Land of Cockayne fail, as no wall precludes suffering–nor silences death’s dark, pounding wings.  

With the Japanese government lurching and panicking over a degenerating nuclear disaster like a drunk over a burning lamp, Japanese physicist Dr Michio Kaku waxed sanguine about the year 2100:

In your bathroom, you will have more computer power than a modern hospital, so that your toilet will pick up proteins emitted from cancer colonies of maybe a hundred cancer cells 10 years before a tumor forms. The word “tumor” could disappear from the English language, simply because your bathroom will pick up proteins, enzymes, DNA fragments from cancer cells before they even form a tumor.  And then we’re going to have something called nanoparticles, which can actually zero in and kill individual cancer cells like smart bombs.

Note that Dr. Kaku uses the language of war to describe a future without risks.  Indeed, an analogous role is played by genuine smart bombs: hellfire angels blasting termites outside the gates of Eden.  The whole notion of preemption, of squashing every possible pre-terrorist, is founded on a delusion of separateness as obtainable. Vandana Shiva lays bare the arrogance of that myth:

What I love about the rights of Mother Earth is we’re overcoming the separation between humans and nature that was built into the Cartesian thinking that nature is out there and we are out here, but also the kind of divisive separateness that Cormac [Cullinan] pointed out yesterday at the United Nations conference on Harmony with Nature. He said, “I began my life fighting apartheid, and apartheid means separateness—separateness on the basis of color.” I think separateness is the disease of the past. It’s the dinosaur in the intellectual frame. Separateness was a very artificial imposition. Most civilizations of the world, for most of human history, have seen the world in terms of relatedness and connection. And if there’s one thing the rights of Mother Earth is waking us to, is we are all connected. And it’s in that connection we can’t have arrogant solutions . . ..

In On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross gets to the root of myths of seperateness: the fear of death.  She observes that unfortunate consequences, both for the earth and for those who share it, are generated when we weave mechanized pharma-sanctuaries of denial in the face of death.

The Triumph of Death--Pieter Bruegel the Elder

A chance for peace may thus be found in studying the attitudes toward death in the leaders of the nations, in those who make the final decisions of war and peace between nations. If all of us would make an all-out effort to contemplate our own death, to deal with our anxieties surrounding the concept of our death, and to help others familiarize themselves with these thoughts, perhaps there could be less destructiveness around us.

Myths of separateness tend to be so ingrained that distortions go unnoticed.  During Israel’s siege of Gaza, Barrack Obama stated,  “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing.”  Obama’s appraisal betrays lopsided thinking that verges on blindness. 

Thirteen Israelis soldiers were killed in that conflict (a third by friendly fire).  The death toll in Gaza climbed to 1,284 with 70% being civilians.  A third of the victims were children.  (These children, however, fit a psychological space outside the wall).

The Death of Socrates--Jacques-Louis David

Victor Frankl, who utilized his time in the midst of the death and suffering of the concentration camps to add meaning to his life, encourages us to “be worthy of our sufferings”.

The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails . . . gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not.

In the deathless land of Cockayne, wholeness is lost, fears are projected.  Socrates reminds us that only shadows of the imagination prevent us from seeing all children as our own and from meeting death with courage and dignity.

To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know.  For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them, but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. 

In following poem, by Haizi (I have just translated it from the Chinese) the poet flies to the northlands on “dark wings”.  I have finally gotten that Haizi, when he refers to the northlands, really means death.   

Dark Wings

On this Erkezi night, a light shower sets in.

Off north, a single chain of stars–

Seven sisters clenching snow-white teeth–

Observe my two, dark wings.


Northland stars fail

At lighting up the earth.

In that place that lasts for a day–

One muddy today–

A shepherd girl rests her head in highland barley.

Then, after midnight,

The Erkezi sky fills with constellations.


But the night is deep and black,

And light will not pass over my wings.

Tonight in Erkezi: bedrest.

A baby howling.

What’s this villain’s grievance?

Has she been moved by the joy within that darkness?


You may have your low sobs,

But do not stay up all night.

Because of my wings blacker than night,

I find it difficult to drift off.

I do not cry. 

Nor do I sing–

I employ my wings, heading back north,

Soaring back to the northland

And to the seven northern sisters who inhabit it.

The road has merely been pointed out.


In candlelight,

Where black wings resemble darkness,

My entire body is inundated with her

As if with longing.


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