Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Monthly Archives: June 2016

Graphic dreams of Utopia

red virginAs a quick post, here’s a link to my review of Mary and Bryan Talbot’s recently published graphic novel on the life of Louise Michel, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia. Review now up on the Kate Sharpley Library site, with thanks to John at KSL. It occurs to me that utopianism is a form of displaced nostalgia. And that nationalism is a form of displaced utopianism. And that nostalgia … Anyway …

No disrespect to Louise Michel in any of this – a remarkably courageous and principled woman. It’s graphic novels that I find a little worrying these days.

The Improdigal Father

This blogs needs a re-injection of energy. Sorry. Meanwhile, Happy Father’s Day for yesterday! Far be it from me to criticise Jesus’s skills as a creator of parables, but don’t you sometimes feel that the figure of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is rather too blank, too blameless? Isn’t self reproach a part of the suffering of God the Father? Shouldn’t the whole thing be more symmetrical? So here’s a little vision that came to me yesterday during Communion. With a nice pic by Max Beckmann.

The Improdigal Father

After the younger son had left for a distant country, there to squander his wealth, the presence of his remaining brother proved a diminishing comfort to the father, who entered a dark period of prolonged remorse and self-examination. News of the famine in his son’s adopted country and of the young man’s impoverished and pitiful condition only deepened the old man’s guilt, while the severely dutiful character of the older son became less a compensation than an irritant.

Max Beckmann, The Prodigal Son

Max Beckmann, The Prodigal Son

“It’s all very well you slaving out here in the fields all day,”  commented his father, “but your brother is starving, somewhere hundreds of miles away, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. And you working all hours and calculating the profits isn’t going to help. Your brother’s going to die and you’re in complete denial.”

“Well someone’s got to take care of business,” said the son. “And you’re just sitting around moping all day and beating yourself up about it. What good does that do?”

His father didn’t answer.

“And maybe,” his son continued, “he wouldn’t have left in the first place if you hadn’t been so hard on him, banging on all the time about responsibility and aspiration. You never played with us when we were little, you know. We didn’t exactly have a fun childhood.”

“I know, I know” mumbled the father. “But then, your grandfather was very distant with me when I was small. I never had much of an example to follow.”

But his son wasn’t listening. “And then,” he continued, “after all those years of repression, to go and give him his half of the estate, all in one go. You might have known what would happen. Total disaster! He simply couldn’t handle it, but that wasn’t his fault.”

“I know, I know. But I was trying to do the right thing. I wanted to make it up to him for being so hard on him. But I just made everything worse.”

Then news came that his lost son had been spotted, a long way down the road, walking back home. The old man rushed out of the house, tears staining his face, and ran to find him. When he met him he threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“I’m so sorry,” he wept. “It’s all my fault. I have sinned against heaven and against you. I’ve been a useless dad; in fact I’m no longer worthy to be called your father. I’ve been so depressed and guilty about it. A day hasn’t gone past when I haven’t reproached myself for everything that’s happened. I’ve lain awake every night thinking about your situation, worrying about the future. And your brother hasn’t helped. He’s grown so cold and hard, like me. All he thinks about is his work. I only wanted the best for you both. Where did I go wrong?”

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” said the young man. “You don’t have to feel bad about it any more. I’m home now and things will be better, you’ll see. We’ve both learned a valuable lesson. I’ll tell you what – have you still got a fattened calf left? Why don’t we go home and kill it and have a feast to celebrate? That’ll cheer you up a bit.”

When the older brother found out what was happening, he became angry and resentful. But his younger brother said to him, “Celebrate with us and be glad. This father of ours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”