Better angels and air traffic controllersMonday, January 14th, 2019
[ by Charles Cameron — the curious, little noticed replacement of the heavens by the sky ]
In the introduction to my What sacred games shall we have to invent? — one of my favorite instance of the HipBone Games, take a look — I wrote:
The great German engraver Albrecht Dürer’s illustrations of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) differ from contemporary televised images of warfare not only in terms of the armor and weaponry used, but also and more importantly by recording two worlds, the visible and the invisible, where the television camera records only the visible. The sky in television reports of war contains missiles and warplanes, and if anything “invisible” is depicted, it is invisible only by virtue of being viewed in the infra-red portion of the spectrum via night scope. Dürer’s sky is not merely “sky” but also “heaven”, and thus depicts that “war in heaven” alluded to in Revelations 12: 7, with its angels and demons and dragon, its Lady clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and crowned with the stars…
A crucial shift in the way in which we envision “reality” has occurred between Albrecht Dürer’s time and our own, and that shift has indeed largely deprived us of a real sense of the existence of an “invisible world” — whether it be the invisible world of faerie or sacrament, of poetic vision or apocalypse. That great modern prophet William Blake both predicted and lamented this loss, and his entire corpus of poetry and paintings can be viewed as a singular attempt to replace in our culture that visionary quality that our increasing scientism so easily deprives us of.
This shift in our understanding becomes exceedingly important when we come to consider the awesome potential of weapons now in the human arsenal: and nuclear weapons in particular. For while the “rational” conscious mind is considering Hermann Kahn’s Ladder of Escalation and other more recent “scenarios” and “game plans” in the “theater of war” with characteristic dispassion, the imagination by necessity views the imaginal… and our dreams, our hopes and fears are filled with those same ancient forces that John of Patmos perceived in his visions, and which Albrecht Dürer depicted in the imagery of his own time. As a culture, we are now largely “unconscious” of the war in heaven — but it has not ceased to influence our lives.
I remembered this when MSNBC host Bryan WIlliams told the presidential biographer Jon Meacham a day or two ago:
if you’re going to clear those better angels of yours fo takeoff, remember the air traffic controllers are working without salaries..
I don’t suppose Williams‘ mind made a big deal of the mildly ironic conflation of heaven and sky, angels and air traffic controllers, he’d managed here in what was surely a passing comment — but the juxtaposition is in fact a significant one, as significant as John Donne’s celebrated juxtaposition of the pre-scientific square earth and the scientific spherical one in the brilliant opening lines of his sonnet:
At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels,
Of such juxtapositions are light laughs and great poems made..