Lifting the Lid

By Benjamin De Casseres

Gullibus.—You vote!

Satiricus.—Always. To vote is the duty of every satirist and nihilist. Observe the conventions if you desire to enjoy the spectacle of humanity. When I vote I feel like the wardrobe-mistress in a theatre. I am helping the actors in a Great Play to dress. If they take their occupation seriously that is no fault of mine. My business is to assist in keeping up the illusion. Voting is one of the decorative arts. If you love the picturesque, if you love diversity, variety in life you will always vote. Nothing matters, you know; but that must never leak out. The “question of the hour” is the all-important thing. If there was no “question of the hour,” nothing to decide, nothing to settle, the freeman, dowered with the ballot and the inalienable right to decide his exact status in the sidereal system, would relapse into a state of happiness. But man’s wisdom is greater than he knows. His instinct-to-worry—a sure and infallible cure for boredom—led him to devise the ballot. Voting is his aspiration to cosmic consciousness. It is his rosary. It is his way to salvation. But he is convinced he must worry his way into heaven. So he invents “issues,” “questions of the hour,” “burning questions.”

Abolish the ballot box! Have no “questions of the hour,” no candidates, no parades, no elections! Monstrous! Would you have us reading Shelley and Schopenhauer and Dostoievsky instead of the daily papers! And then the pride of the act of voting! When I cast my ballot, dear Gullibus, I feel like Napoleon must have felt just before Waterloo. I am at Armageddon. I am part of an army. My personal importance on entering the voting booth swells to unmeasurable proportions and at the moment of withdrawal it collapses into the holy sea of my social consciousness. On entering the booth I was a unit. On coming out I am a vast and unknown quantity. I lie submerged, radiant, delirious, in the Will of the People. I have kept my covenant with Maya. I have performed the sacred duty of a human being in twisting the tide of Law.

Before putting the sacred and magical X in the squares I always allow myself three minutes for mediation. I have often felt at that moment as Moses must have felt on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments from God. He fell into a cataleptic trance, no doubt, and into his mind, branded against the atoms of his brain, he saw the Commandments.

Something like that happens to me, my dear Gullibus, every time I enter a voting booth. How shall I vote? Tremendous things depend on that little X. At the Great Sanhedrin of Humanity, which is always in session, I am at that moment the cynosure of all eyes. I am perplexed. Suppose I should vote for no license, for instance, and in the circumvolutions of time, millions of years hence, in super-conceivable incarnations, I should find that I had made a mistake; that my X had decided the issue, and the drought that had fallen on my village could be directly traceable to my indecision at that moment in the voting booth? Conceive my mental and moral agony!

So before I vote I let myself go, relax, let my judgment subside and the tides of my will run out into the sea of the subconscious. Syncope ensue. I remain upright, semi-conscious. Will light come? Will the Voice speak to me at that moment, I ask myself, as it spoke to Moses, Zoroaster and Mahomet? Religious visions dart across my brain. The voting booth seems a confessional. Here I stand naked with my Sociological Soul. A vote may turn this or that way to the destiny of my compatriots. Herob, tariff schedules, the Sistine choir and the price-tag on a piece of trust-inflated ham float before me, inextricably mixed. And then I see a monster procession composed of socialists, Little Sisters of the Poor, politicians wearing papier maché crowns of thorns, the procession of the Holy Eucharist, garment strikers, the Salvation Army, a mob waving torches in Kishineff and Moscow, leering Talleyrands of the underworld with cynical chins an prehensile eyes. Futurists who have canons for epaulettes and who wear caps that are shaped like dreadnaughts, a Coxey army with passionate and empty stomachs walking toward miraged Bastiles, sinister-lipped monks cowled in red, Boxers who roll before them the heads of missionaries, Dreyfusards, Russian nihilists playing battledore and shuttlecock with the bodies of Grand Dukes, Democrats with the Ark of the Covenant raised aloft, which when I look nearer turns out to be a pork barrel, Republicans in Prince Alberts who side-step all the slushy spots with a neat and graceful motion.

Out of the swoon. And then I vote, God knows, as I think best! Ah! the wear and tear of that moment! The mental hell of being a reformer, of carrying within one’s self the destiny of men and nations! Why has God laid that burden upon a few of us, my Gullibus? Why are the times always out of joint and the eternities always right? Why should you and I, terrestrial pulmonate gastropods of elongated forms, be selected among all of the creatures that live to right nature’s wisdom?

Gullibus.—A reformer!

Satiricus.—Again, always. Reform is the tyranny of democracy, and without some form of tyranny life would be stale and witless. Put the screws to on human passion and initiative! thundered the Old Régime in [251] France. The glorious saturnalia of the Revolution was the result. Let us reform everything! cries the good citizen of today. The result will be the same—at least I hope so. I always desire to see a spectacle; now if I cannot live to see a great one I can at least help prepare one for future generations and by an act of the imagination I may enjoy it now. Hence I vote the reform ticket always. On with the screws till human nature screams in agony. Press the spring down till the limit of human endurance is reached; then let go suddenly, and watch the sublime trajectory in the azure. At the moment of reaction—as under Charles the Second and in Holland after the War of Liberation—the reservoirs of pent passions, healthy instincts and all forms of hygienic viciousness, such as lewdness and drunkenness, burst and overflow the world, or that part of it where Reform held sway.

For this reason, dear Gullibus, I think Cromwell one of the greatest and wisest of men. No one understood human nature better. No one saw more clearly that life is rhythm. He was the satanic Puritan par excellence. He foresaw the coming of Nell Gwynn, and desiring to heighten the symbolism of his incarnation on earth he put the “lid” down as tightly as he could, knowing that it would blow off with terrific force. From Valhalla he had nothing to fear and much to be pleased at. Of all men I should have wished to have been Cromwell, the eternal type of the Reformer. He combined the cynicism of La Rochefoucauld with the audacity of Napoleon. He knew one thing supremely well—the Machinery of Reaction. He was that supreme flower of evolution—the aesthetic pessimist. Like every Puritan naturally lewd, lecherous, wine-loving, anarchic and swinish—and never more so than when they garb themselves as Saint Theresas and Saint Anthonys.

Gullibus, in this world we can do without everything except the reformers. Take away all, but leave me the moralist. We owe everything to him. At the end of every “closed age” ther eblossoms a Rabelais. Bernard Shaw could flourish nowhere else but in London. It is by trying to secure salvation to men that we reach the flowery fields of pure paganism. And I—and I, my dear Gullibus, feel proud of the part I play in this superb drama. I have voted to suppress race-track gambling, to wipe out the harlot, to prohibit the sale of liquor under any condition. I have always advocated and voted for a closed Sunday, a rigid censorship of all plays and of course you know that I lectured in many cities on the evils of expectorating in public. I am a militant reformer of the most bigoted type—because I love to watch the construction of the social pyres that shall be.

Gullibus.—Today the pyres are being built by women, and the suffragist—

Satiricus.—No greater movement in the history of the world than the revolt of woman, Gullibus. It is in line with my other beliefs respecting freedom. Only those who are free know how to create great oligarchies. I am, of course, an ardent woman suffragist. Woman deserves all she asks for. See what she has done for the race—and for the drama! Let us evoke the great women of the past. The “good women,” as you know, never make an impression. Women free becomes a courtesan. It is her supreme genius. Motherhood is the dream of the average. My God! (I sometimes drop into the expletive, Gullibus) what a superb gallery of harlots, vampires and demons! Eve and Lilith, of course. Then Jezebel, Messalina, Delilah, Thaïs, Helen, Phryne, Aspasia, Laïs, Cleopatra, the Queen of Sheba, Lucretia Borgia, Elizabeth, Catherine of Russia, Catherine de Medici (the protagonist of the divine comedy of St. Bartholomew’s Night), Queen Mary, Nell Gwynn—but the list is interminable and already I think I hear the ghosts of Nero and Tiberius muttering some stuff about their laurels. It is true there was Charlotte Corday and Joan of Arc and Louise Michel and Clara Barton, and now there is Emmeline Pankhurst, but they are not classic in the sense that Jezebel and Popae and Nell Gwynn are. Among famous women only the magnificent, iridescent Wench becomes really sublime. How poor Joan of Arc, the little French paranoiac, looks alongside of the magnificent Queen of Sheba! And the name of Clara Barton and Emmeline Pankhurst, will it outlive the name of Cleopatra, whose story appears in the text-book of every school child?

The emancipated woman! By all means, my Gullibus. Wherever woman has ruled the artist and the poet will never lack for copy. The age of the Great Courtesan is at hand. And you and I may yet live to worship in a modern Temple of Priapus erected by some delicious supper-huzzy who has become Matriarch-Presidente.


Source: The International, Aug. 1914, Vol. VIII No. 8, pp. 250 – 251