petroglyphs the old man has seen in the hills across the valley, but most are not like them at all, are in fact unlike any sight the man has beheld with waking eyes[6]. After the daily necessaries, the old man takes up the chisel from the windowsill. He selects a fist-sized riverstone from a pile by the door and walks the pinebranch ladder to the cliff face. He looks at the patterns and figures before him. He runs his fingers along the yellow channels[7]. He mounts the ladder and climbs to a smooth brown space which he feels with both hands, holding the chisel in his teeth and the riverstone in his shirt. He hears something approaching from behind. He turns on the ladder to look and sees a man on horseback[8]. It is the first human being he has seen in a very long time. The rider calls

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[6] The tropes of the mad artist, the tortured genius, the clairvoyant touched by the gods, have been snuffed out in our postmodern age. Myth and mystery have been replaced by psychology and neurochemistry. Autism diagnoses have risen exponentially, not because of more instances of autism, but because of increased awareness and better diagnostic procedures. Schizophrenia, depression, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, etc. are found more often among creative individuals. The oracle at Delphi inhaled hallucinogenic fumes from a vent in the ground to induce euphoric trances. Pop-psychology self-help books point to 10,000 hours of practice being the magic number for attaining mastery in any creative endeavor. Homer was not a single blind bard but a series of poets, each adding, forgetting, or embellishing lines along the way. There is no magic in art. There is only the desperate, cacophonic howl of a billion individuals seeking acknowledgment.

 

[7] Nostalgia , though, is ever a powerful influence on culture. Powerful, contradictory, fleeting. Postmodern nostalgia for the pastoral, for the loss of the pastoral, for the rise of industry, for imperialism, for sincerity, for irony, for wars with bold black lines between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, for wars fought with swords and arrows, for a dim primordial time before wars existed, for a bright and carefree time before the housing crisis, before 9/11, before Clinton, before Reagan, before Nixon, before Kennedy(‘s assassination), before McCarthy, before Communism, before the Depression, before before before never now, never this moment, that is the wages of nostalgia, to look ever backward with a forlorn and wistful sigh like a dog being shooed from the kitchen.

 

[8] Our continued exploitation and confinement of animals, as in zoos, factory farms, ranches, bullfights, horse racing, pet ownership, etc., another symptom of this toxic nostalgia. In seeking to resurrect the pastoral, or “conserve nature,” we meddle with ecological mechanisms beyond our ability to grasp. Cheetahs should, ecologically, have gone extinct in the last century; a genetic bottleneck left the few wild specimens severely inbred, and wild populations persist only through human intervention. No such concern for the equally endangered but ecologically much more important New Mexico springsnails. Snails aren’t sellable, charismatic animals the way cheetahs, pandas, elephants, blue whales, or snow leopards are. Snails don’t bring in donations, media attention, or David Attenborough-voiced documentaries. Snails aren’t sexy.