Monday, 25 December 2017


“The painting depicts a stable.

“The stable is a grotto with curiously shaped stalactites. The light that breaks – or fractures – through the cave is Chib’s red. It penetrates every object, doubles its strength, and then rays out jaggedly. The viewer, moving from side to side to get a complete look, can actually see the many levels of light as he moves, and thus he catches glimpses of the figures under the exterior figures.

“The cows, sheep and horses are in stalls at the end of the cave. Some are looking with horror at Mary and the infant. Others have their mouths open, evidently trying to warn Mary. Chib has used the legend that the animals in the manger were able to talk to each other the night Christ was born.

“Joseph, a tired old man, so slumped he seems backboneless, is in a corner. He wears two horns, but each has a halo, so it’s all right.

“Mary’s back is to the bed of straw on which the infant is supposed to be. From a trapdoor in the floor of the cave, a man is reaching to place a huge egg on the straw bed. He is in a cave beneath the cave and is dressed in modern clothes, has a boozy expression, and, like Joseph, slumps as if invertebrate. Behind him a grossly fat woman, looking remarkably like Chib’s mother, has the baby, which the man passed on to her before putting the foundling egg on the straw bed.

“The baby has an exquisitely beautiful face and is suffused with a white glow from his halo. The woman has removed the halo from his head and is using the sharp edge to butcher the baby…

“The onlookers are struck in their viscera as if this was not a painting but a real infant, slashed and disemboweled, found on their doorsteps as they left home.

“The egg has a semitransparent shell. In it’s murky yoke floats a hideous little devil, horns, hooves, tail. Its blurred features resemble a combination of Henry Ford’s and Uncle Sam’s. When the viewers shift to one side or the other, the faces of others appear: prominents in the development of modern society.

“The window is crowded with wild animals that have come to adore but have stayed to scream soundlessly in horror. The beats in the foreground are those that have been exterminated by man or survive only in zoos and natural preserves. The dodo, the blue whale, the passenger pigeon, the quagga, the gorilla, orangutan, polar bear, cougar, lion, tiger, grizzly bear, Californian condor, kangaroo, wombat, rhinoceros, bald eagle.

“Behind them are other animals and, on a hill, the dark crouching shapes of the Tasmanian aborigine and Haitian Indian…

“Ruskinson’s red face and scream of fury are transmitted over the fido...


“Why is it such an insult, Doctor Ruskinson?” the fido man says. “Because it mocks the Christian faith and also the Panamorite faith? It doesn’t seem to me it does that. It seems to me that Winnegan is trying to say that men have perverted Christianity, maybe all religions, all ideals, for their own greedy self-destructive purposes, that man is basically a killer and a perverter. At least that’s what I get out of it, although of course I’m only a simple layman, and...”

“Let the critics make the analysis, young man!” Ruskinson snaps. “Do you have a double Ph.D., one in psychiatry and one in art? Have you been certified as a critic by the government?”

From ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ by Philip Jose Farmer

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