Interview with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”
"It is your human environment that makes climate"
(Interviewer’s note: It wasn’t easy to track him down. Using my best contacts in the demimonde, I located him in a pied-a-terre walk-up in a Paris slum. I was frisked by a bodyguard with an uncanny resemblance to Marlene Dietrich, whisky voice, dangling cigarette and all. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant. The Scream had his back to me out of respect for my person. When "Dietrich" had finished, she excused herself to keep guard in the hall. The Scream turned, his mouth twisted into a rictus of pain, horror and terror, the air in the room turned blood-red and I gasped. The sensation that ran through me was one of an inexpressible, shuddering hollowness that turned my bones to icicles. The Scream gestured me to one of two wooden chairs; I moved leadenly in a dream, set up the recorder, and the interview began.)
INTERVIEWER: Perhaps we should begin with … I think most people would want to know what you’ve been doing, where you’ve been, since you were stolen from the Oslo Museum last August.
SCREAM: First thing is, I want to set the record straight ... I wasn’t stolen. I wanted out. I wanted out for a long time. I got the message to the Underground, and they helped me.
INTERVIEWER: I want to be sure I’ve got this right … You’re saying it was an inside job?
SCREAM: You put someone like me in the museum, it’s like putting a Bengal tiger in a zoo. People come and gawk, but they have no context, no sense of the larger picture. They leave the museum, and they forget about me. I don’t want people to forget, ever … You got a cigarette?
SCREAM: (taking a long drag--) I haven’t slept for days … I’ve been wandering up and down the beaches in Asia, seeing the washed-away lives. Sometimes people just need me to be with them, to scream beside them, because they’ve used up all their screams … I’m going back tomorrow … I came here to help organize relief … There’s too much to be done.
He shakes his head. Tears run freely from his horrified, skull-scalloped eyes.
INTERVIEWER: They’re saying our relief efforts have been unprecedented. The Scandinavians, for example—
SCREAM: Yes … the Scandinavians … the Socialist governments, in general … And people, everywhere … Do you know that the poor give much more, relatively, than the wealthy? That’s documented … That, too, makes me scream. Not just the suffering, which is overwhelming. Even I had to get away—though I can never really get away. The images haunt me … But the sheer stupidity, the complacency, the fatuous complacency … You’re having an inauguration soon, aren’t you?
INTERVIEWER: Some people are having an inaugaration. A lot of other people are declaring a day of mourning.
SCREAM: Well, that’s something … There should be many days of mourning, I think. This inauguration, this coronation of your selected "Leader," your "Emperor without Clothes," it’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars, isn’t it? All the parties, all the "celebrations"? I think I heard $40 million to celebrate "victory" in a set-up election. And this same Emperor of yours, this "compassionate conservative" he didn’t make a statement about the tragedy in Asia—it took him four days to come out of the woods at Crawford, Texas, four days to get out of his Howdy Doody cowboy duds and come in from his "vacation," and make a human statement about this incredible loss of life. And why did he come? Because he finally realized the extent of the suffering? No, because his government, his empire, had been duly criticized as "stingy" before the world. And they couldn’t have that. Your government and your business empire couldn’t have the world thinking the American people weren’t the kindest, the most empathetic, the noblest on earth. It was bad for business!
INTERVIEWER: A lot of Americans are kind, empathetic, even noble.
SCREAM: Yes, they are … And most of them are outside of government service … And that’s worth screaming about, isn’t it? A lot of Americans will dig deeply into their pockets—the poor even more than others--and they’ll look beyond race and religion and reach out, person-to-person, because it is the right thing to do. Because it is the Christian thing to do—not the Christianity of Falwell or Robertson and the feel-good, us—against-them Rapture-guys, but the Christianity-of-Jesus thing to do. The Christianity of Mother Theresa and St. Francis … It is also the Jewish thing to do. Not the Judaism of Sharon or Dershowitz, but that of Solomon the Wise and Maimonides. And it is the Islamic thing to do. And, above all, it is the human thing to do.
INTERVIEWER: Then, there is some hope …
SCREAM: Yes, there always is, it keeps us going. It is a dreadful hope. The life force.
INTERVIEWER: What else can we do?
SCREAM: Change your governments! Your governments that separate the suffering of the many from the contentments of the few. Your government-corporate-media-academic alliance that censors the imagery of war and suffering, dulls the sensitivity, sanctifies consumerism and celebrity as the greatest of human goals and values when you know in your heart of hearts that the greatest among you were those who gave the most—King, Gandhi, Christ, Buddha … Stop buying the products that exploit billions for the sake of a handful of billionaires. Stop rubber-stamping sham elections and the exploitations they lead to. Ask questions! Challenge assumptions!
INTERVIEWER: You’re advocating revolution.
SCREAM: A revolution of the heart … Look at this world your business classes have created for you! You’re an empire of Scrooges who celebrate themselves. Two hundred billion dollars for the war in Iraq, and when the final calculations are done, the equivalent of a couple of days’ spending on that war for an unprecedented disaster! Do you wonder why the people of the world hate your government?
INTERVIEWER: We march, we sign petitions, we vote, we write, we cry out, we talk to our Red State brothers-in-law … What else can we do?
SCREAM: Kill your television sets and look at the world! Do you know what I heard a foreign tourist say in Phuket? … "It looked like a movie." Can you begin to understand how mad that is, how out-of-joint all your judgments and perceptions are? Life doesn’t look like a movie! A movie looks like life!
(There was a knock on the door. THE SCREAM was busy--so many claims upon his precious time. I thanked him, and he seized my hand in his bony grip, squeezed until it hurt, and he would not let go. He began to wail. It was a keening sound of grief, loss and damnation. And a siren sound, too—ambulances and police cars in it; and the sound of bombs falling was in it, and tsunamis and cyclones.)
SCREAM: You tell them … Don’t let them forget … For the sake of their humanity … For the God they worship above money and above self-interest … For the sake of the Earth, and the children …
Gary Corseri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has published 2 novels, 2 poetry collections, the Manifestations anthology [edited], and his work has appeared at Axis of Logic, Counter Punch, Common Dreams, Dissident Voice, The New York Times, Village Voice, Redbook and elsewhere. His dramas have been presented at PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. A deep commitment to peace, justice and true freedom lies at the heart of all his creative work.