The Scream - A Portrait of America

I wonder if an artist has ever taken the time to sit down and paint a portrait of American life. If he or she did it might look something like this.

But oddly enough Edvard Munch was Norwegian, not American. And there hasn't been a lot to scream about in Norway since the Vikings.

Then last year some maniac went on the rampage killing teens on a tranquil island.

It was like a scene from somewhere else; America maybe.

Needless to say the latest massacre was a cue for my more right wing Facebook friends to post a William Burroughs quote about liberals always wanting to take guns away from people who didn't do it after a shooting spree.

And, to be fair, after a while in America you give up on the boring old argument that gun restrictions may prevent a few utter maniacs from killing lots of innocent people, because folks look at you as if you have just raised a red flag outside your house and declared your intention to impose the 'dictatorship of the proletariat.'

Virginia was the scene of one of the worse massacres in living memory at Virginia Tech. It now has some kind of rule that you can only walk in off the street and randomly purchase one gun a day, although hardliners at the Capitol were looking at changing that.

This is a very familiar story and as the rules on guns are never going to change, it's probably more worthwhile to muse on the inspiration behind "The Scream."

"One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below," said Munch. "I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream."

The figure in "The Scream" looks like a corpse. Or maybe as Munch would have looked in 1994 when someone sneaked into the museum that bears his name and stole "The Scream" along with "The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies."

Munch's comments raise the interesting question whether there's a tension inherent in nature or the tension comes from the manmade world. That's not to say I am absorbed by this question on an hourly basis. Far more pressing is the question about whether to go for Chilean Chardonnay or Italian Pinot Grigot and how if I can find a cart big enough to fit in the box of wine I need.

After this week there is a clearly a need to wine down because things have had a habit of occurring that illustrate the maddening chaos of American life.

For instance the kid cuts his hand on an unknown object, the kid is taken to ER - the bill of $200 will arrive shortly, the kid gets a hospital acquired infection from the ER. This necessitates a visit to the doctors' surgery that costs $25, hand lotion that costs $50 a tube, not to mention the cost of follow up visits.

For instance 2 - in the spirit of being half decent landlords we get the rental property power washed - $200. The power wash does something to the electrics $X and apparently the lock $X. This leaves me facing the prospect of rekeying the locks myself, except the car is being serviced for $500 and the power wash guy is not responding anymore and the laptop guy says the hard drive has gone - $500 and now the financial stress means a group trip to the lunatic asylum = $20,000.

So all good fun, really. But such issues pale into insignificance compared to people losing their lives in a movie theater. There is such a thing as perspective, a quality every artist ignores at their peril.

Oddly all of this makes me think of Henry David Thoreau - well that and emigration.

Thoreau was a transcendentalist - well aren't we all after a couple of beers? He decided to live a simple life in a cabin in the edge of town and the woods which he later wrote about in the book Walden. There are various reports to the effect that Thoreau was a big lying woos and his mother brought him apple pies all the time. Whatever the truth of it, Thoreau strived for a simple life that did not involve car repair or laptop repair bills - although neither existed in the mid 1850s anyhow.

Thoreau described it thus: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

I'm not sure what I get out of this but it probably leads me to the conclusion I'd rather hang out with Thoreau than Munch. But then I'd probably rather hang out with the mag old bag lady who tries to get quarters from me outside Zippy Mart than with Munch on a downer.

I'm finding the idea of a simple life at the edge of a lake somewhat appealing right now, although you have to ask if it was so fab, why did Thoreau only hang out at Walden for two years. It actually took him longer to write the book.

Either way there's much to be said for escape and I'm counting the days to the Sea of Cortez.


  1. I assume you did the top part of the post b/c of the shooting in CO? I know our gun laws seem shocking to the rest of the world. Oh well. I'm a gun totin' liberal and proud of it. I have my own revolver and I'm a good shot too.

  2. Good thing you're not mad then. It's just so scary the idea of going to the cinema or to a supermarket, and some crazy bastard decided that disguising himself as a comic super-villain and killing a bunch of innocent people would be a super fun prank. It seems so unfair. I'm not surprised you're thinking about emigration, David, or even a cabin in the woods.

    1. I am going quite mad Starla - the cabin sounds like a fab idea.

  3. If it were up to me, no one would own a gun, but obviously it isn't up to me. The violence everywhere baffles and frightens me. Too much crazy out there for me to understand. Thoreau's cabin in the woods sounds quite appealing to me.

    1. for real Daisy - it's a kind of culture shock after Britain where they really clamped down on guns after a massacre a few years ago.

  4. I don't think we will ever understand tho kind Of action or violence, no matter how hard we might try. It really is tragic.


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