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  • John Diamond-Nigh

Hitch and the PM

In the second season of the marvelous Fellini-esque #Young Pope series, the third, John #Malkovich pope, ascending after the megalo-imperium of the Jude #Law pope (now comatose) embodies a gentler, more equivocal #Middle #Way. None too soon, you think.

A Middle Way. All well and good, a friend says, but not if you’re #Black, a #woman, or an iceberg. That, of course, is the conundrum. A middle way can be a brilliant solution to conflict, or an equitable country to live in. It can also be a handcuff of complacency that keeps folks unfairly, even horrifically suppressed.


Christopher #Hitchens debated Tony #Blair shortly before his death. Hitchens was in his usual raiment of soigné brilliance and jeweled barbs. But Blair was more impressive, I thought, though less cinematic. Asked what points Hitchens had made that were legitimate, Blair agreed that much of religious creed was based on rules and precepts that were locked into the context and exigencies of a time long ago and place far away and should be viewed as such. And that in fact these rules (the subordination of women, the legitimacy of slavery, even the divinity of gods) inveigh fatally against those great and tolerant qualities of religion that are universal. He could have left his rostrum and walked halfway to Hitchens as he said that.

Must the middle be #average? By no means. Take sex. What if we took it out of the broom closet of smirked jokes, addictive pornography and religious proscription and placed it back in the living room of life, curtains closed of course but as candid and vital a part of life as any other? Ecstasy as a middle way; puritanism rebuked as the withering extreme that it is.

Take #conversation. To talk is good, it protracts the good. As #libidinous as sex, though in a very different way, I start with conversation as the first material energy in any interior I design, whether home or store. I have said this before, I love a conversation that is affectionate, mild and as antic as a dog; I love talking to my wife; I love a conversation that is so compelling, so innovative that I’m induced to change my mind. All are synthesizing triumphs, meetings in the middle and enlargements of the good. There are thirty Tony Blairs in Asheville. Lucky me, I’ve talked to most of them. More bourbon?

Can #art do the same, for all its propensity to shock?––stand for a numinous, equivocal middle court, at once acutely progressive but also oracular, archetypal, tarnished with crumbled time like the oxidized lead in Anselm #Kiefer’s paintings, the melting polar ice in #Olafur #Eliasson’s urban installations, the static in Bruce #Nauman’s videos, the human bones in Jenny #Holzer’s war chronicles, or the cracked mud in Richard #Long’s murals. My comrade humanists get a lot right, they really do, but sometimes, compulsive reasoners that they tend to be, they fall short on the numinous, the ecstatic, the psychic––realms where art in fact is strong and can be a subtle sister adjuster. In the case of all the artists listed above, art has done a fantastic job of conjuring back into the modern mind older forms of #knowing, of what the great Elaine #Pagels calls #gnosis. Not believing, but rather as the early Christians understood, just knowing. We are more than algorithmic white mice. More than political. More than programmable. The #soul is a vivid, ancient, incalculable knower with not much interest in anybody’s creeds.

There, I submit, is where art best abides. In that gnosis. Not to be saved from, but to ascend apprentice-wise, through the wobbly increments of existence from a past too far in the past to see toward a future too far in the future to comprehend. Who ever said the middle was particularly easy?

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