The Adam-and-Eve story as an origination myth for our species is horrid.
It does not match the evolutionary achievements of our species. Its stings are paralyzing.
So let me stop stamping my feet and say what seems more realistic and more hopeful in place of this myth.
Nor am I alone in having come out in this place. Even Hendrik Golzius is going along with this story, the cat is skeptical about the need for such a horrid story.
The Fall of Man, 1616, oil on canvas. Hendrik Golzius, 1568-1617; Dutch. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
‘La Charmeuse des Serpents’ could be a starting point.
The Charmer of Snakes, oil on canvas, 1907; Henri Rousseau, 1844 – 1910, French. Musee D’Orsay, Paris.
Self-taught in art and so not strangled by the conventions of French painting. A toll-collector (‘Le Douanier Rousseau’), a man who visited the zoos and museums filling up with the loot of France’s empire. Where he saw the extent of our paradise of an earth.
A man whose death passed unremarked. His work to be taken up by Andre Breton and Alfred Jarry, breakers of norms.
The first painting of ‘the modern’ art to have been accepted (1937) by the Louvre. One of more than 20 ‘jungle’ paintings. This one is now at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris.
We could run about the world finding origin myths and sustaining philosophies which we like. But that will probably leave us in a syncretic soupy mush of no great merit.
We have this from Paul Gaugin (1848-1903, French) in 1897-’98 as a caution.
In the ninth year of his Tahitian paradise, Gaugin attempted suicide by arsenic after he finished this painting. Surviving the attempt, he wrote Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going in the top left-hand corner. (Boston Musuem of Fine Arts).
Nor would it be safe to be going backwards to the (Egyptian/Near Eastern/European) Great Goddess. As much as I value her values and her peace and envy her shape, her time has passed and has not yet come again.
Council of Goddesses, Romania, 4900 BCE. Baked earth on a glass demonstration circle.
Mother Goddess figurines, Romania, 5000 BCE. Baked earth.
Mother Goddess figurines, Romania, 5000 BCE. Baked earth.
The form of the great goddess Isis which emphasizes the fertility aspects of Aphrodite. Terracotta, englobe paint. Found in Egypt and dating to the Roman era, 2nd century CE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2016.
I am staying close to my own civilization and to Henri Rousseau.
Henri Rousseau painted more than 20 jungle paintings without ever leaving France. One is at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
I know this is my dream and our jungle because of that red sofa which I also have in my sitting room. And there is also this: Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gipsy of 1897 also at MOMA, New York. The artist said that the lion does not harm the recumbent woman, an itinerant gypsy.
The Gypsy, and detail; 1897; oil on canvas. Henri Rousseau. MOMA, New York
Stitch by needlepoint stitch, I came to understand that I should try to leach out the poison of the Adam-and-Eve myth. Liquid ounce by liquid ounce. My efforts alone are, of course, not enough for the world even if the world wanted it. Which it does not.
Spring, c. 1937/38-43, oil on canvas. Francis Picabia, 1879-1953, French. Menil Collection, Houston, on loan in the winter of 2016/7 to MOMA, NY
Nor has my leaching been completely successful for my own return to full health. The well of my life was poisoned when I was young and droplets circulate still in the murky gloom at the bottom of the well.
But still and all I – and many others – are proceeding with this which we know.
This is not original with me. Nor is this the Adam, Eve and original sin to which I was socialized.
We are an animal species and live and die in space-time, and simultaneously in eternity. The experience of eternity from which our egos separate us. Usually but not always.
The ordering of our egos is critical for our lives and that of our earth.
We live in a rare atmosphere which allows our being. All of it evolutionary biology and cosmology, the physics of which are still being unraveled.
Our earth is a paradise.
Design for the cover of The Earthly Paradise, 1891, pencil, black and brown ink and gouache on paper. William Morris, 1834-1896, British. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
Our bodies are the experience of this paradise.
Southern Gate, 1942-43, oil on canvas. Eldzier Cortor, 1916-2015, American. Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
From the museum’s notes for this painting:
Painted in the early years of World War II, Southern Gate offers, a surreal, dreamlike picture of a solemn young woman standing in a space defined by a once-elegant wrought-iron fence, a river, and the steeple of a distant church.
They are evocative elements – the river is a traditional metaphor for passage, the fence an emblem of both confinement and of safe haven from the outside world. Wearing a necklace adorned with a cross and with a bird perched on her shoulder, she invites associations with the Virgin Mary;
but Cortor’s figure is as physical as she is innocent, an Edenic Eve who stands outside the sacred garden.
We could not do better with our time and our lives than to think how to enact this choice phrase of Nicolas de Chamfort (1741-1794, French):
‘Jouis et fais jouir, sans faire de mal ni à toi ni à personne, voilà toute morale’. Take pleasure and enable others to do the same without doing yourself or anyone else harm: that is the sum of what morality is.
Life in its eternal aspect – life feeding on and succeeding life – will continue until our sun goes supernova and our earth is done.
Until then, so fortunate we are. After that it will be up to the ingenuity of our species and the wonders of our universe(s)
Below, Adam and Eve in an 18th century Ethiopian parchment fragment, blessing each other, their left palms open in supplication.
They are fully clothed and are no longer in Eden. Their countenances are of affection; and calm. There is no snake in sight.
This is the representation of the two on earth in that tragic gap which is the human condition and in which we live in our paradise of an earth: between the disorders we experience and the peaceful futures we know can exist, hoping for Christian benediction also known as Lady Luck.
That this little parchment exists sheds light on the underbellies of our religious institutions where everything I have rejected and adopted are fully understood even if they are not taught.
The featured image is a copy in wool on cotton scrim by the owner of this blog (2002-2006) of a door curtain designed by John Henry Dearle, the head of William Morris’ studio after Morris died in 1898.
The original was embroidered in silk on silk and its background was a mass of flowers too difficult to reproduce.
Here the flower is growing in our world.