Foretelling the future is one of the most intensive and persistent human endeavours throughout the centuries.
Thanks to the World Cup, the World has discovered a new entity that can foretell the future. Paul the Octopus!!!
The regular visitors (and hopefully readers) of this blog know very well how much I love octopus. I therefore rejoice in the discovery of Paul and warmly welcome him (it?) to the world community.
This incident triggered a short journey to the need of humans to foretell the future in any possible or impossible way, both in terms of content (how good or bad it will be), but also in terms of duration (when am I going to die?).
(Source: The Incomprehensible Alaina)
I quickly bypass the sarcasm of the American spirit embodied in the image above, to dwell into the european world of palm reading, glorified by the “Roma” ladies over the centuries.
In this coloured card of the 1880’s we see the customer, a very young and beautiful woman, extending her palm to be read by the expert old lady. The table is full of money, pouches, cards and a couple of books. Anything for a good prediction of the future!!!
This wonderful magical painting that hangs on the walls of the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh, is in my eyes portaying the attempt to read the future hidden in the intense light of the candle. The boy is the good, the fool is the deranged, and the monkey is the bad, the vicious. All share the same passion. Break into the unknown future. the contrast and interplay of light and darkness in a sense symbolizes the interplay between the known and the unknown. The known present and the unknown future.
Talking of the contrast between light and drakness, my mind goes to Georges de la Tour, this virtuoso of baroque painting, heavily influenced by Caravaggio, whose Magdalen paintings (there are more than one), study this contrast and create a hauntingly mysterious atmosphere. I have chosen the Magdalen with the smoking flame that can be viewed in the Los Angeles County Museum. She is contemplating the smoking flame, holding a skull on her knee. She is bare footed, and her shoulders are exposed. Is she trying to foretell the future? Is she waiting for her lover and just killing time? It does not matter, the picture is so beautiful! It is like a “frozen” moment of life, everything is still and quiet. (Between us, I think that the only one who can foretell the future is the skull.)
Robbery and fortune telling go hand in hand according to the scene depicted on the canvas. Fortune tellers are thiefs, working in gangs, stripping all your valuables off while you are busy with your future. I would like to say that another robbery has occurred, a self inflicted one, as the young man has robbed himself of his own existence by resorting to the cunning fortune teller. Once in this position, non existent to the world, the young man is bound to fall prey in the hands of the cunning fortune teller.
But what is Fortune?
In this Roman Mosaic from Pompei, the Wheel of Fortune is under a skull. It can make in no time a rich man poor, and a por man rich (depicted on left and right respectively.) But life is precarious, and our soul can fly to the sky at any moment (symbolized by the butterfly.)
Why is the Future intertwined in our minds and hearts with Good Fortune?
Why are we so scared to face the fact that uncertainty rules as well as precariousness?
Why is Fear of the Future taking out of today the happiness and fun of it?
I do not have the answers, but I think that in the core of all of the desperate attempts to foretell, to predict, to ensure the good fortune, is an absolute dichotomy between Good and Bad, that acts as an eternal trap for us humans. It is very tempting to think that one can get rid of this dichotomy and re-start life by saying “it is not necessarily good, and it is not inevitably bad, it is what it is”.
Lets restart from the key statement “it is what it is”. Then the key question becomes “What is it? What is my True Authentic Existence”? In other words, the whole issue of the unknown future, and the desire for good fortune turns into an issue of coming to terms with the real me, my authentic existence.