Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 2  (Summer 1974)
Shaman dancer, p. 12
Acropolis, Chartres Cathedral, Versailles, the Taj Mahal-many other examples of great architecture come to mind. In some cases these buildings are museums of the past; in others they are the human- istic legacy of the past with validity today. Let us examine two examples in greater detail. To the east of Royan and not far from the es- tuary of the Gironde river in France stands the Romanesque church of Talmont. High on a prom- ontory overlooking the river, the restored chapel remains a quietly elegant architectural statement. Small, beautifully proportioned, simply decorated, it suggests the restraint, symmetry, and balance of French art. With modern techniques and equipment, the original building has been restored and contin- ues to serve the people. To know the history of the church is to know part of the history of France. The Crusades, the Knight Templars, pilgrims to Spain, Arab invaders, German bombings-all form part of its history. Unlike Gothic, the Romanesque does not dwarf man; rather it hugs the ground and hovers over him. There are many Romanesque churches in the Aquitaine region of France. Not all will be preserved, but some will be, as models of the respect we owe the past. Another building probably even less known than Talmont is the Ommiad Mosque in Damascus. Like a medieval cathedral, it is surrounded by busy ba- zaars and looks down the Street Called Straight. In scale and size, it rivals Saint Peter in Rome and Saint Paul in London. Its slim minarets suggest the soaring verticality of Gothic. Beyond the spa- cious courtyard, one enters vast spaces orchestrated by domes, arches, columns, and walls covered with arabesque patterns and elegant calligraphy. One sinks into Persian rugs of subtle and intricate pat- terns. Everywhere prevails a sense of peace, quiet, and coolness. A steady flow of tourists to see the tomb of Saint John the Baptist does not disturb the faithful. A religious leader is advising fathers about their responsibilities; another is teaching the Koran to the young. Everywhere there are clusters of men rhythmically bending in prayer. Built cen- turies ago, the mosque remains today a religious and educational center for many. It remains too a great work of art, an architectural wonder of the past preserved because it enriches the daily lives of so many. At the end of the first program of the Civilisation series, Sir Kenneth Clark tells of a community on the fringe of the Roman Empire. Located in what is now northeastern Greece, the community had awaited and dreaded the Barbarian invasion. Bypassed by the invading hordes, the residents were filled with gloom and despair. They did not know what to do. They had lost confidence in themselves and their ability to help shape their own future. We also con- front new threats and have lost our confidence in ourselves and our future. Today faced by the grow- ing threat of a society in which technology dictates and man obeys, the humanist too can retreat into an ivory tower, wallow in despair and name-calling, and count words. Or he can reassert forcefully the centrality of the humanities in any culture. He can find ways of discussing the humanities with larger numbers of people, mindful that literature, philoso- phy, history deal with man, his values, his way of confronting life with dignity, courage, and ideals. He can make the values of the humanities a major force in the democratic process which holds out the promise of the good life to growing numbers. * *1 would like to acknowledge gratefully the help and support of Martha Harkin, Richard Lewis, and Jean Zieman of the Midwestern Center in writing this article. Robert E. Najem is director of the National Humani- ties Series: Midwestern Center, a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 12 Shaman Dancer Statuette by Charles M. Russell By Russell Farrell Bent low in fanatic earnestness the old man rages, immobilized in dance. There are spirits to be exorcized, demons to be cowed, who have fastened on Indian flesh. They falter before the old man's faith. They slink grudgingly away. He dances. There is spareness, an old man flaunting witch-rags in gyration, lank muscles straining in battle with spirits. Skull-less scalp of the wolfskin spread over his back clasps the sphere of his own skull. Shaman's skull is wolf's skull. The skin has spirit of its own- sinister slits of sightless eyes see- it lives in the frenzied energy of the old man. They are brothers in demon's work. The spirit of wolf and shaman, the violent fire-frozen spirit of Blackfoot nation fulfills itself in pagan dance. You see rage diminished by sensitized hands of cowboy artist, and by me- how do I tell you how it was? Russell Ferrall is a poet from Shawano, a past- president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and an appointee to the Wisconsin Arts Board.
Copyright 1974 by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.| For information on re-use, see http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright