Dec 9 2011

#223 “The Cave”

From Kusti in Finland

The cave. It is the very embodiment of fear and mystery. It is the truest representation of adventure and danger. But in the mind of the famous philosopher Plato, it is also a symbol for ignorance and naivete. If you have never read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” I highly recommend it. Taking just a quick glance at this picture of a handsome wolf standing proudly at the mouth of this chamber instantly reminded me of this classic story with a lesson for all of us.

Here is the gist of the tale, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia:

In the “Allegory of the Cave,” Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Socrates, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

The Allegory is related to Plato’s Theory of Forms according to which the “Forms” (or “Ideas”), and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. Only knowledge of the Forms constitutes real knowledge. In addition, the Allegory of the Cave is an attempt to explain the philosopher’s place in society: to attempt to enlighten the “prisoners.”

As the perpetrator of this project, I have been tempted at times to deem myself the great philosopher who possesses the wisdom and knowledge to lead the uneducated masses from the cave of ignorance. But in the end, I know that this self-assessment is just the result of self-centered pride and is truly inaccurate. It is not me who holds the key to enlightenment, and I hope that you will take no offense at this, but it also not even the artists whose works are collected here that are the cultivated philosophers. No, my friends, it is the wolf itself. It is the lonesome lobo, the master of the wilderness, the furry fountain of enlightenment.

Thank you, Kusti, for leading us to this conclusion. For while it is the wolf who is the true leader of the pack, it is you who have made this fact known to us. Best wishes.

To see more of Kusti’s work, check out her website.

Aug 2 2011

#94 “Fair/Foul”

From Samreen

Macbeth paced anxiously in his quarters, stroking his beard with one hand while attempting to smooth his sweaty and furrowed brow with the other. He had left the dinner table, left his guest, his king, unattended. The prospects of the night’s venture weighed heavily upon his mind. Could he go through with the act? He had begun to have doubts. After all, King Duncan had honored him recently; he was also his king and his kinsman, distantly related by blood, but besides this, he was a guest in his own home, and if nothing else, it is the duty of the host to shut the door to the murderer, not become one, himself. He pounded a fist firmly against the table; his resolve had regained its firmness. His strength was renewed but with a new plan: He would not kill the king.

At that moment, the door swung open and a cold breeze entered the room along with the wife of Macbeth. “Why have you left the table?” She hissed. “Do you not know that he hath almost supped?”

“We’ll proceed no further in this business,” Macbeth replied. “He hath honored me of late.”

At this, the countenance of the lady fell. The demon inside took control, and the poisonous words flowed like honey from her lips: “Art thou not a man? Art thou afeard? Did thou not a promise make? I have given suck and know what it is to nurse a child, yet had I sworn you as much you to this, I would pluck my nipple from the mouth of the babe and dash its brains out; this I would do if I had promised.”

Injury. Insult. An attack on his masculinity. He could not stand for it.

“I would do all that becomes a man…” he said, sulking and turning away from her.

“Then screw your courage to the sticking point and we’ll not fail. Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it. Then, leave all the rest under my dispatch.”

And with these words, Lady Macbeth convinced her husband to follow through with the murderous plan to take the life of Duncan. As a result, a country was thrown into turmoil, countless lives were lost, and a dark blot formed on the scrolls of the history of the great nation of Scotland.

These lines are obviously not the actual ones from William Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth, but this brief paraphrase hopefully serves as a reminder of the damage that can be done when we enter into a world of deceiving appearances. The italicized quote above by Lady Macbeth was included in the email from Samreen that accompanied this picture. Samreen also included a few brief ruminations on how appearances can be deceptive and the idea that we cannot always judge a book by its cover. Overall, this is relatively deep material to be associated with a simple wolf picture, but it fits, nonetheless.

In his discussion of this concept, Samreen noted the nonthreatening demeanor of this lupine marvel, but then stated that there was no telling what savagery might lie underneath the animal’s calm exterior.

“Come a little closer”: words that sound sweet but hold so much foreboding. The choice is yours. Keep your distance or take that step forward, but don’t say I didn’t warn you…


Jul 30 2011

#91 “Which will you feed?”

From Steven in Ohio

If you’re like me, your first reaction when you saw this picture was one of shock and horror. Truly this beast brutal. Surely he is deranged and psychopathic. Certainly he is cruel and bloodthirsty. Just look what he has done to those poor men: he has devoured their bodies entirely, leaving nothing but gruesome reminders of his awful strength and savagery in the form of their severed heads. And to add insult to injury, there the evil wolf sits, smiling that victorious and toothy grin in triumph over his prey.

But wait… How is it exactly that we know these things? Yes, we do see a wolf that has apparently eaten two humans, but how do we know it is the wolf who is evil? Could it not be that the men were deserving of death and that their punishment was doled out rightfully?

Since we are only capturing one moment in time by examining this illustration, we may never know the answers to these questions, but this conundrum reminds me of an applicable story. You see, we may not know whether or not this wolf is good or evil, but for our own sakes we must try to analyze the “wolves” that live within each of us. We must explore our own sides of righteousness and wickedness. Ultimately, the end of the moral spectrum that this wolf resides upon is irrelevant, but the end that you are on….. well, that could make all the difference.

Examine this story:

The One You Feed”

An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story.

I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.

But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.” He continued, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger,for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me,  for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”


Jun 18 2011

#49 “The Lesson”

From a stranger in Canada.

It is undeniable that the natural order of the world is largely based upon systematic violence and ferocity. The food chain. Predator vs. Prey. These elements are savage and unpleasant at times, but they are natural and necessary. All around us, even in our most civilized communities, just outside our doors, the fight for survival is taking place; but in this day and age it largely goes unnoticed by us. Why don’t we pay more attention to the savagery and carnage of the natural world that pits creature against creature? Well, simply because it IS natural, I suppose.

We know that this is simply how the world works. However, when it comes to the human race, certain “moral” standards and social norms have developed that we believe separate us from the baser creatures with whom we share this planet. But sometimes things do go awry. Sometimes we cast of the facade of civilization that we believe separates from the animal kingdom and we revert back to the savagery that is found in the forests and jungles and oceans surround us on all sides. When this happens, we are disappointed that we have not lived up to our own standards and we attempt to learn from our mistakes. In order to gain wisdom from our own errors, we often tell stories or fables that simplify matters and are easy to remember. Some stories are optimistic about civilization while others are pessimistic, but that is beside the point.

What is really interesting is to examine who these stories often feature as the primary characters. You guessed it: Animals.

Upon examining the illustration above, I was reminded of the wonderful fable by James Thurber that is reproduced below. I hope you enjoy it.

“The Rabbits That Caused All The Trouble” by James Thurber

Within the memory of the youngest child there was a family of rabbits who lived near a pack of wolves. The wolves announced that they did not like the way the rabbits were living. (The wolves were crazy about the way they themselves were living, because it was the only way to live.) One night several wolves were killed in an earthquake and this was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that rabbits pound on the ground with their hind legs and cause earthquakes. On another night one of the other wolves was killed by a bolt of lightning and this was also blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that lettuce-eaters cause lightning. The wolves threatened to civilize the rabbits if they didn’t behave, and the rabbits decided to run away to a desert island. But the other animals, who lived at a great distance, shamed them saying, “You must stay where you are and be brave. This is no world for escapists. If the wolves attack you, we will come to your aid in all probability.” So the rabbits continued to live near the wolves and one day there was a terrible flood which drowned a great many wolves. This was blamed on the rabbits, for it is well known that carrot-nibblers with long ears cause floods. The wolves descended on the rabbits, for their own good, and imprisoned them in a dark cave, for their own protection.

When nothing was heard about the rabbits for some weeks, the other animals demanded to know what happened to them. The wolves replied that the rabbits had been eaten and since they had been eaten the affair was a purely internal matter. But the other animals warned that they might possibly unite against the wolves unless some reason was given for the destruction of the rabbits. So the wolves gave them one. “They were trying to escape,” said the wolves, “and, as you know this is no world for escapists.”

Moral: Run, don’t walk, to the nearest desert island.