Lost & Found. Blake, Albee. Us.

Yesterday Raymond Power was discovered living at Chicago’s Pacific Garden Mission a victim of amnesia. Six months ago he left home to go to his office in New Rochelle, New York, as he did every day. This time though, he never came home, leaving behind his wife and two children (11 & 17). Other than receipts indicating he used credit cards at gas stations in Pennsylvania and Ohio within 12 hours of his disappearance, there has been no clue as to his whereabouts since August 1, 2005.

Here is another lost and found story concerning William Blake’s rare watercolors. “The discovery was pure serendipity: nosing around in a dusty bookshop in Scotland on a spring day five years ago, a pair of British booksellers stumbled upon a weathered red leather case engraved with the words “Designs for Blair’s Grave.” Opening it, they found 19 Romantic yet macabre watercolors depicting angels, sarcophagi, moonlit graveyards, arm-linked spirits rendered in a subtle range of grays, black and pastels. Five years, one lawsuit and an export battle later, the watercolors illustrations created in 1805 by the poet and artist William Blake for a 1743 poem are being heralded by scholars as the most important Blake discovery in a century.Yet to the consternation of many experts, all 19 are headed for auction this spring at Sotheby’s in New York, which plans to break up the set and sell them on May 2 for a projected 12 million to 17.5 million dollars.” Pictured at CW is Blake’s “The Soul Exploring the Recesses of the Grave.”

Joni Mitchell once quipped, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone?”

Memory loss comes in all shapes and forms and the Blake story underscores our misplaced values. A work crafted as a set, will be broken up for purely monetary reasons. The art’s value to the creator as a complete and unified vision–a story–is grotesquely rendered mute by today’s culture, blind, deaf and dumb.

Edward Albee observed our cultural lost ness with the following comments in an interview with Seattle Times theatre critic Misha Berson,

Q. Do you look at the younger crop of playwrights and feel heartened by them?
A: The problem is not quality, the problem is an audience that isn’t willing to go with them when their writing is tough and experimental. Also, most serious playwrights are interested in criticizing society. And most people who go to the theater these days don’t want to be criticized. Although they probably deserve to be.

Q: How do you think the new emphasis on digital and home entertainment is impacting theater?
A: All this mechanization is making people lazier and lazier. People are going to be less willing to get off their asses, get out of their comfortable chairs and sit in an uncomfortable theater chair. And be criticized!

Similarly, writer Jonathan Franzen commented “the novelist has more and more to say to readers who have less and less time to read: where to find the energy to engage a culture in crisis when the crisis consists in the impossibility of engaging the culture?”

We are captivated by the story of a lost amnesiac; we love the thought of serendipitously finding the lost Blake’s in a musty old bookstore in Scotland. But the loss Albee and Franzen observe is the greatest loss of all. When we lose our spiritual, intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic and moral compass, we live the unexamined life that Socrates said, is not worth living.

PS- the irony is not lost on me, that by using “Lost” in the title, viewers of the popular TV show will find this article and read words urging them in the words of Albee to ” get off their asses, get out of their comfortable chairs and sit in an uncomfortable theater chair. And be criticized!”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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