Pursuing the Shaman: Joseph Beuys

August 22, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard

Right now I’m working on something about Joseph Beuys. You can see what you think….

beuys_coyote_2

1. The Boy.
The Nazi crashed his plane—he wasn’t really a Nazi he only fought for the Nazis—he was only German.
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He’d been a Hitler Youth, he marched in shiny boots up down up down up down in unison with others, their boots clattered in unison against the cobblestone streets.

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Mornings the boys woke early and gathered in the square. They gathered in the square and left in legions for the woods: dogs baying at their heels, the sound of a hunting horn, the morning mist a veil exuming from the ground. The boys went into the woods and under an old man’s command they found a stag (the dogs bayed) and they shot the stag (the dogs bayed) a shot rang out and then another (the dogs) wounded, the stag stood still (stalk) staring at the boys. The dogs bayed, pulling against the hands that held them, tethered as they were to taught leather straps. The dogs bayed and the boys laughed in muddy leather boots and the boys lined up as any firing squad.

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Shots ran out a thunderclap and they broke the morning and they broke the stag and they let go the dogs who broke through the thicket. The dogs ran up to the stag, a feeble trembling body. Death was upon the stag and the dogs raced up and the dogs tore into its neck and the dogs bared their teeth and the dogs bit and snapped, strings of spit snapping off their lips, the dogs bore down on the dying stag until the old man called them off the old man on his horse called them off (the old man called his horse Bucephalus) the old man called off the dogs and the boys laughed and the boys strung up the deer, the deer with a weak and fetid dying heart—it beat now, soft as an oyster—and the boys carried the stag on a stick they felled from a nearby tree, fetlocks with leather chords and they trotted through the Black Forest singing the songs of their country, their cheeks flush with the morning, they laughed (they were quite proud) and gathred once more in the town square.

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Boys lined up before the stag and the old man took their photo in front of the stag. The sound of the camera loud like the clap of a gun.

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Morning still early, the boys gathered in the square once more. They lay the stag, its eyes rolled back, on the ground and the dogs snuffed its musty coat and the horse (it had a small head, the horse) snuffed the stag and the boys bathed themselves in the town square. They shared a bar of soap. They lined up at the fountain, they washed their hands, they washed their necks, they washed their faces, they didn’t wear shirts, they smiled wide white teeth, the boys were happy the boys were happy the boys were happy.
The old man gave each boy a shot of Jagermister and they sang more songs and their mothers polished their boots and the boys put on their boots and the boys went to school wearing their boots and the boys went to school with dark mouths having drunk the blood of a stag and they went to school and at lunchtime they would march again in unison over cobblestone streets in unison, the blood of the stag still tasting their mouths, as in the aftertaste of mercury.

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One of the boys grew up to be a pilot first and then a shaman.

2. The Pilot.
The Nazi crashed his plane. He flew a plane. He flew a bomber. He flew a bomber in World War II and he crashed a plane in Siberia. After the crash they told him he wasn’t German at all
afterall.
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He crashed a Nazi plane in Siberia and the Tartars found him. The plane was on fire. Smoke diffused the sky. The plane was on fire. Metal twisted and fetid, the machine groaned like a dying animal. The pilot was inside the dying animal. His heart beat inside the dying animal and his skin felt loose and wet and melted he tasted salt and the machine around him was very hot and death was upon him and he recalled the bay of a dog. The plane was on fire and the pilot lost consciousness.

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His consciousness slipped out him like a shadow and strayed into the night to wander his consciousness wandered through Siberia disembodied. It staggered, absorbing the sound of a night sky, it trembled with comprehension beneath the music of the spheres, shaking like a survivor, it shook the thought of its hands, weak like a ghost it remembered old songs, it was absorbed by the night it shed its incidental traumas. It wanted to stay lost on the Siberian steepe but its thought ran into a Tartar beating a drum in a tent. His consciousness ran into the drum and the Tartar caught it and put it in a jar. The Tartar called the other Tartars and marvelled at the wisp of a spirit inside and the looked to the horizon and saw smoke on the horizon.

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The plane was on fire and until the Tartars came the pilot burned inside his little machine abandoned by his consciousness. The Tartars came on horses. The Tartars came on camels stolen from Ghengis Khan.

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The Tartars came on an elephant stolen from Alexander the Great. The Tartars came riding horses they stole from Marco Polo. They came to see the smoke. The came to save the body. They came to save the body. They wrested his body from the seething wreck—his skin smelled, the flesh round his eyes fat and ballooning, he had no hair, his hands mangled gloms, puss burst from his lips he could not speak his tongue burnt and badly swollen, tendons shone through parts of his skin, he lost his toes like matchsticks—they rescued the pilot. They lay him on a stretcher and carried him between two horses, the horses walked out of psynch and slow across the snow, breathing huffs of steam as they moved away from the wreck. The stars grew brighter as they moved farther from the sky. The body hung between a pair of horses above the ground.

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They took him to a felt tent they took him to a cave. In the cave someone opened the jar. They lifted the jar to the pilot’s hole of a mouth and the pilot drew his consciousness back inside of a cave—the place where men make meaning. And a Tartar began to beat a drum.

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They wrapped his body in fat and felt they wrapped his body (very badly burnt) with fat from the back of a pig they wrapped his body (the man was unconscious with pain and blistered) with the fat from a horse the fat from a cow they wrapped his body a tallow rod and the fat soothed the man and eased his pain and he was born again.

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They went back to the wreck. The snow melted around it like a shadow. The earth underneath looked bruised. The smoke of the wreck was frozen and the man, no longer a Nazi, looked up with tears in his eyes. The tears froze as the smoke and he recalled the sound of the night the sound of the spheres the devastating beauty of transcendance when his conscousness wandered the steepe and mystery revealed itself like a woman like a wife.

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“You are not German,” the Tartars told him. “You are one of us. Your heart beats with our drum.”
But the man, no longer a Nazi, no longer a pilot, did not join them and the Tartars took his picture before the plane he’d crashed (in the story the man made up) they took his picture with a camera fashioned from felt and fat (the man was never rescued by Tartars at all) they took his picture and the man used the picture as evidence that he’d been missing eight days.

3) The Artist.
The pilot said he crashed his plane. He lied. He is a liar. He crashed a plane and he said he was missing eight days. He needed to lie. He said the Tartars rescued him. He said he was reborn. He said he didn’t have to be a Nazi because the nomads fell in love with him. The nomads wrapped him in fat and felt and he transcended and they transcended and they shared with him the secrets of the universe because they said You Are A Good Man You Are A Good Man You Are A Good Man YouAreAGoodMan Good Man Good Man Good Man. The Nazi returned to the Western world an artist. He had a photograph of him standing in front of a plane with his arms folded (he only went missing a few hours). He said the photograph was taken by Tartars with a camera fashioned from felt and fat (it was taken by his co-pilot. Taken by a LOMO). He came back to the Western World and he called himself a shaman and he began to make myths because he believed they might provide a way to transcend the devastating history of the Western machine: the shot gun the airplane the watch the automobile the steam engine train the metal of pistons and machine oil and steely shiny arete.

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When the man became an artist he carried the photo of the plane crash in his wallet and went to many dinner parties, they ate at tables in rooms with a wall missing, they ate like dolls in a dollhouse in a ruined city they ate potatoes and shame for supper and the artist told about the Tartars. Under the wet and dewey candlight he beat the table as though it were a drum and he talked about his wandering soul and he wove stories in and out of dinner such that his hosts believed they were eating bacon and pork cutlets and white asparagas, their guest made them happy their guest made them happy and the artist told how he was almost a Tartar and where steak tatar came from and about the healing properties of fat. He fashioned a camera from the tallow of a camera and the felt of a pussy cat’s tail he showed them his camera and he told about the transcendental properties of fat and felt and how these materials could heal any wounds.

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One Response to “Pursuing the Shaman: Joseph Beuys”


  1. interconnectedness of many things
    –what is truth
    –is anything real
    –lies _____?


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