Personal  •  September 21, 2003

Homunkulus

For Irving Wexler

Standing on Sheridan Square I watched the World Trade Center on fire. Powerful symbols of global economic domination burning right in front of me. Should I be excited? Was I excited? Thousands of people working in those buildings. Was I horrified? I should be horrified. I was watching and not knowing what I was feeling. My emotions buried deep beneath my face, as my mind ran on a thousand tracks.

Two very round, big, sexy men were standing on the corner. Mmm they’re the chefs on Channel 13. A kind of pleasure raced through me. Two Italian chefs with accents from the American south who without a trace of shame, cook dishes made with cream and butter and sugar. Good humored and sexy men. Both a lot of fun to watch. The smaller of the two in a deep burgundy silk shirt talking on a cell phone. The other, the bigger of the two, turned in circles looking stunned.

I listened as the smaller of the two spoke to someone in the crowd. He had no southern accent. One eye on the burning towers, one ear stretched towards the chef. A loud van blasting staticky official dispatches. They don’t have southern accents!

A young gay black man screamed and fell to the ground. I turned towards him then back as the first tower fell. Oh look at that!. Hmm.!! God thousands of people dying! I hate those buildings. Really I’m indifferent to them . Thousands of people dead. For the man who fell there was no space between him and the horror a couple of miles away. For me all I had were thoughts that were keeping me from feeling.

A Latino man listening to a radio said they hit the Pentagon and the Capital and the White House. The war of 1812 the White House burned to the ground, I thought. And here was a cruel and vicious assault against a cruel and vicious adversary. Life negative forces unleashed against each other. What was my connection with the people who did this? What was it to the people in the buildings? To the people in the Pentagon?

That night I walked in semi shock on a very dark street in Greenwich Village, a street that was being torn up. A crazed dark skinned man was jaggedly pacing. back and forth. We were alone on the street. I was frightened of him, though he didn’t really seem dangerous. I tripped over some debris hurt my shoulder, my knee, my ribs. The man barely noticed I was there. A block away was St. Vincents hospital. There were scores of hospital workers and a street full of gurnies waiting outside the hospital for victims of the attack. No one would be coming.

I thought about going into the emergency room, then thought better of it and went home to clean up.

*

It was less than a month earlier that I first met Benno Schmidbaur. He invited me to his studio in Saugerties, N.Y. Sculpture work of horror, torture, pestilence and death. Pieces made from wood, metal, stones, feathers. There was a harshness and a delicacy to it. Looking at the work, surrounded by it really, I flashed on the ugly intimate knowledge that the torturer has of the inner psyche of his or her victims. The peculiar erotic dimension to its cruelty. We can see this in the soft poetic face of Osama bin Laden. Or in the heavy breathing, flushed, almost adolescent face of George W. Bush. In the spectacular brilliance of the World Trade center attack. Or in the relentless and brutal response to it.

And there off in a corner of the studio, was a figure half human half devil lying somewhat on its back somewhat on its side. It was called Homunkulus.

Humonkus had hooves and pointed ears and a red face. He was lying on something that looked like a platter with protruding nails around its edges. He looked half asleep. I felt a surge of tenderness towards him. A kind of protectiveness as I wondered what his life would be like. And I wondered what type of relationship I could have with him.

A friend once told me a story of seeing a boy holding a scorpion in his hand. Neither was afraid of the other. And neither hurt the other.

Was this being a danger to me. Was I a danger to it. How much of my life could I give to it?

Many years ago I was invited by a friend to come to a school she ran for “disturbed” children. A boy, maybe seven, caught my eye. He was someone none of the staff had ever been able to communicate with. He made a face at me. I made a face back He made a face back at me. And I at him. And we did this for maybe ten minutes.

He knew I was not mocking him as we kept moving inside this very real and extraordinary space. I remember how powerful our face conversation felt. I can still feel the fragility of the boundaries. So clearly defined. So easily violated. I knew I didn’t have the emotional capacity or the imagination to sustain it. I knew I needed to be released from the intensity of the contact. And how easily it would be for me to obliterate my own vulnerability by punishing the boy both for his fragility and trust.

I had to disengage. And we slowly and very gently moved outside the space we inhabited together. Each taking care of the other as we did.

My friend and her colleagues were stunned. They asked me if I wanted to come back. I said I couldn’t. I knew if I came back I would have to be with this person forever. It was a basic life choice I was far from ready or capable of making. So the rest of my life has been lived without him.

Homunkulus. What do I need to surrender in myself in order to be open to this being. Is it even dimly aware of my presence? Maybe it couldn’t care less. Or maybe it cares very much. Maybe it wants to eat me. Maybe it wants to love me.

At a consciousness raising group of people involved in S&M a woman, a middle aged dominatrix, talked with pain about a series of relationships she had had with men. The men had approached her asking if they could be her submissive. She agreed. At first the men seemed very happy with how things were going. At some point however they would panic. They had entered a transformative process that they were not prepared for. They had promised her a commitment . But they could only be visitors into her world. She had poured much of herself into these relationships. She brought to each man her imagination, her commitment. She gave them the full creative force of her love. And then they bailed out on her. The experiences had left her demoralized, depleted and if not bitter, very cautious of what she could expect from people and their enthusiasm.

Half human half devil. How did Homunkulus come into being? An illicit affair? A moment of passion? A rape? Did it materialize fully formed? Did it come from Benno’s imagination only to enter my own?

Do I need to give Homunkulus human attributes in order to love him. Maybe some mechanism will kick in and make him a mortal enemy. Can I only feel safe if he is contained inside boundaries set by me?

I think of white people, white people from the United States who adopt children of color from around the globe. Often they are people themselves painfully marginalized in the world. Jews, lesbians. All kinds of people. Many of whom have deep consciousness, powerful commitments and enormous ability to love. And here they are benefiting in a real sense from the misery their country has helped create. A pool of children has been created out of that misery. And from a very bitter lens their children are the spoils of oppression. And what do people do with that? Half human half devil. How are these children seen? What powerful racial and imperial scripts played out inside the deepness of their contact?

Half human half devil. Homunkulus lies on his platter. Is he being offered up to us as food? A sacrifice? A burnt offering? He looks half asleep. Resting. I feel a tenderness towards it. What will his life be like? Will he move inside the shadows? Have to sleep under bridges? Will it be humiliated and hunted down? Will it turn vicious? Will he seek revenge? Will it float through the universe lost inside the beauty of its own mystique? Will he survive? Will it die? Maybe he Maybe it Maybe

Maybe Robert just maybe you should just shut up and listen!