Money Is God’s Blood Circulating in the Veins of Creation | R.S. Thomas on Greed

greed made oh so prettyThe city of Las Vegas has been placing magazine ads that could be used to illustrate Dante’s Inferno. Incorporated in each photograph of Sin City Sybarites are the words GlitzGlamourGluttony. Not printed but patently present is another “g” word Greed.

Dante’s gluttons are punished by being mired in muck and fed great gobs of rain, hail and snow. Miserable, but not overflowing with Dantean insight. His handling of greed, on the other hand, is masterful.

The greedy shriek at one another: “Why pile it up?” and “Why waste cash?” In another translation: “Why do you hang on to everything?” and “Why do you throw everything away?”

I remember a disembodied voice on an airplane as it was landing at Las Vegas, saying, “Welcome to Lost Wages” – it was meant to be funny, but . . . .

But it was another take on Dante’s description of the greedy: They “had minds so glitter-struck / In their first lives they couldn’t see / Their own unbridled overreaching.”

Greed involves overreaching in one of two ways: Some greedy people suck in as much wealth as they can, some spit out as much as they can. Dante was for moderation in both gaining and spending.

R.S. Thomas gives voice to the Ronald Reagan—Margaret Thatcher era “greed is good” person:

I had forgotten
…………the old quest for truth
……………………I was here for. Other cares

held me: urgencies
…………of the body; a girl
……………………beckoned; money

had never appeared
…………so ethereal; it was God’s blood
……………………circulating in the veins

of creation; I partook
…………of it like Communion, lost
……………………myself on my way

home, . . .

I went on with that
…………metallic warfare in which
……………………the one casualty is love.

Brian Chikwava, a Zimbabwean writer and musician now living in London, notes that the masterstroke of capitalism is that it makes “people feel permanently dissatisfied with their own condition so that they always want to have something more. Everything around you solicits a response. It is really a kind of mental banditry.”

And the victim of capitalism’s banditry is love, which is why medieval Christian thought – Dante’s intellectual world – viewed greed as the sin most offensive to the spirit of love.

Today, greed is the new god, and its priests use glitz, glamour, and gluttony to attract new worshipers.

As ever, “the one casualty is love.”

 

Quotations used in this post:

“Why pile it up?” and “Why waste cash?” – The Divine Comedy, translated by Clive James (2013), 37.

“Why do you hang on to everything?” – Inferno, translated by Mary Jo Bang (2012), 72.

“had minds so glitter-struck” – Bang, 72.

“I had forgotten” – “The Casualty,” R. S. Thomas, Laboratories of the Spirit (1975), 21.

“people feel permanently dissatisfied” – Marius Kociejowski, God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners (2014), 227.

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2 thoughts on “Money Is God’s Blood Circulating in the Veins of Creation | R.S. Thomas on Greed

    • I saw it in Bon Appetit, a food magazine I look at, occasionally finding a recipe for which I think I can find the ingredients without going to New York City. Las Vegas is using this and similar images to attract people to the city’s restaurants.

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