THE UNWELCOME PERFORMER
Storytelling is an art and Art is broken into two broad camps: the abstract and the representational. Through what was likely intended to be a representational portrayal, the Stone Age was the start of invincibility fables and character delusions. The opening salvo of projective identification. Our first effort of sending likenesses of ourselves into the world, thereby ensuring legacy. Instead of following the representations already cast by artists and media as we’ve done since The Renaissance, our forebears began the process of presenting our image, of inventing social performers, of broadcasting eternal, possibly elemental and even astral, signifiers.
The initial reproductions were so crude that they could barely be considered representational art at all but rather the earliest known expressions of abstraction, suggesting how much evolution and self-analysis we had yet to undergo. Perhaps these earliest known creations were indicative of a deeper understanding of ourselves, a portrayal of our inner workings—the yet-to-be- dissected emotions and confused perceptions of a still untamed, uncultivated world. This was, after all, the dawn of cultivation itself.
Our tribal ancestors engaged in multiple facets of art—music, dance, costume design, mask making, drama, oral storytelling—to bring us into the community, helping us find ourselves and our places within the order, participating in the formation of culture. The primal memory of this invitational-participatory process has been genetically encoded through millennia. Our ancient collective unconscious draws on the propulsive power of this ritual every time we commune for a film or a concert or a museum outing, or even during the solitary interaction with a book.
Prehistoric and seemingly interminable, The Stone Age ran from approximately 2.5 million BCE to 3,300 BCE. The Bronze Age and then The Iron Age ended it, leading to the rise of metalworking. During its time, The Stone Age saw three separate epochs, the Paleolithic Period, the Mesolithic Period, and the Neolithic Period. Before any form of art appeared 40,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic Period, early humans had to face a prolonged Ice Age. They contented with Mastodons, saber-toothed felines, and giant ground sloths. By necessity, they would first be forced to devise various tools and weapons. Much of the initial images were of animals, wildlife, which was at the time all life. Parts of Europe, the Near East, Asia, and Africa saw the first traces of artistic expression in the forms of symbols and signs carved onto cave walls by hammerstones and stone chisels.
The first murals were called petroglyphs and featured animals. Early artists saw themselves as part of the wild, symbiotically connected. We were wild, living in caves, and using the surrounding rock walls as our canvases, our film screens, our concert stadiums, our books, our mirrors. It is believed that shaman created cave art while intoxicated by natural hallucinogens. Archaeologists have discovered petroglyphs on every continent save for Antarctica.
Up until now, the first piece of art made by mankind was a small ivory sculpture of a female figure with outsized breasts and genitals. The 40,000-year-old The Venus of Hohle Fels was named after the cave in Germany in which it was uncovered.
Fauna and flora and the behaviors exhibited by one another were early humans’ only influences. There had not yet been a media beyond plants, beasts, tools, and weather. And if we abide by the strict operational definition of “media,” weather, plants, and animals do not qualify. We are left then with only tools, which were meant to kill, cook, and build. Our subconscious and unconscious minds had only organic sources from which to draw. The primitive art was carnal and bestial, reflecting what we saw, the deer and the bear and the tiger at play in the woods and jungles, or what we understood about ourselves, the woman with the exaggerated breasts and distended gut, perhaps a celebration of fertility and nurturance. We had not yet had the chance to know how an actor, or writer, or musician might “infect” us with meaning or impression. We were raw and nascent. Still gathering our concepts of behavior, character, and personality. Wars during the Stone Age were apparently nonexistent as no proof exists of combat until we began to civilize and establish economic boundaries. Politics was a new form of necessary savagery that would come later. Indeed, a new way or spinning yarns with fabricated narratives designed to persuade.
Brian Alessandro’s conversation with Douglas Cole
What inspired you to start writing poetry?
I am primarily a fiction writer and essayist, though my thoughts and style tend toward the ruminative and poetic. I began writing out of frustration. A frustration with both myself and with the world. Writing satisfied those frustrations because it allowed me to confront the parts of myself, I did not like by revealing them and then dissecting them. Writing also gave me an outlet to name and scrutinize the things about the world that troubled me.
Which poets have influenced you? And what did you learn about the process and the forms of poetry from the poets you love?
As a fiction writer and essayist, I was drawn from a young age to Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, and Joan Didion. As I got older, I discovered James Baldwin, Don DeLillo, and Mary Gaitskill. The poets that have always astounded me remain Sylvia Plath, Keats, Poe, Wilde, and Dickinson. From these writers I learned many different lessons, but what they all had in common was the ability to balance cynicism with idealism, brutality with compassion, clinical precision with warmth, and sophistication with savagery. I am always spellbound by writers who can do that, meld the civilized with the wild. I am a Freudian in that regard.
What would you say is the poet’s place in the world today?
I think poets need to illustrate, not preach. To show without telling. More than ever, economists, industrialists, scientists, and politicians are–or should be!–turning to the poets for an explanation. Why do we bother? How should we behave? Great literature can instruct on morality in that the simple act of reading fiction or poetry can make a person more empathetic. That’s our role: to enhance empathy.
BRIAN ALESSANDRO has written for Interview Magazine, Newsday, PANK, Huffington Post, Lambda Literary, and has recently co-adapted Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story into a graphic novel for Top Shelf Productions. Additionally, Brian has co-edited an anthology of essays and interviews about William S. Burroughs for Rebel Satori Press. He is also the co-founder and editor in chief of the literary journal, The New Engagement. Brian’s first novel, The Unmentionable Mann, was published in 2015 by Cairn Press and his first feature film, Afghan Hound, was produced by Maryea Media in 2011.
Blue Citadel is a column by Douglas Cole (Washington, USA). Novelist, poet, professor and translator.