By Penelope Dreadful
I wanted to call attention to a less-well-known-than-it-should-be poem found within a science fiction novella, Riders of The Purple Wage by Phillip Jose Farmer. Wiki says:
Riders of the Purple Wage is a science fiction novella by Philip José Farmer. It appeared in Dangerous Visions, the famous New Wave science fiction anthology compiled by Harlan Ellison, in 1967, and won the Hugo Award for best novella in 1968, jointly with Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey.
Riders of the Purple Wage is an extrapolation of the mid-twentieth century’s tendency towards state supervision and consumer-oriented economic planning. In the story, all citizens receive a salary (the purple wage) from the government, to which everyone is entitled just by being born. The population is self-segregated into relatively small communities, with a controlled environment, and keeps in contact with the rest of the world through the Fido, a combination television and videophone. The typical dwelling is an egg-shaped house, outside of which is a realistic simulation of an open environment with sky, sun and moon. In reality each community is on one level of a multi-level arcology. For those who dislike this lifestyle, there are wildlife reserves where they can join “tribes” of Native Americans and like-minded Anglos, living closer to nature for a while. Some choose this lifestyle permanently.
Art (and art appreciation) are prominently displayed in this society; artists receive press coverage comparable to that of today’s movie stars. Hardly less glamorous are the art critics, each of whom has a pet theory about art. A critic also acts as an agent or manager, promoting the work of one or more artists, especially if their work seems to support his ideas. The story revolves around one of these pampered artists, who sometimes find themselves uninspired, due to the lack of major conflicts in society.
Sexual relations and sexual orientation are portrayed as absolutely free from prejudice. The main character is bisexual, and it is implied that most of his acquaintances have had at least experimental relations with members of both sexes. Several forms of birth control are also commonplace, encouraged by the government and freely discussed. See also: Sex in science fiction.
For people who do not want to bother with social interaction, there is the fornixator, a device that supplies sexual pleasure on demand by direct stimulation of the brain’s pleasure centers. The fornixator is technically illegal, but tolerated by the government because its users are happy, do not demand anything else, and usually do not procreate.
Two new sets of customs have arisen which profoundly influence the story. By tradition, everyone has a Naming Day when they are grown, at which point they select a name which reflects their outlook on life, their chosen profession, or the way they want others to see them. The second change derives from the so-called “Panamorite” religion, which features total sexual freedom including oral sex between parents and their children. One source of frustration for the main character is his mother’s decision to “cut him off” from intimate physical contact, a situation made worse by her becoming morbidly obese, which is not unusual in this society.
This is a blurb from an online study guide:
Farmer tells Chib’s story through a dazzling series of puns, wordplay, and allusions, often interrupting the narrative with bizarre headlines — “Excretion Is the Bitter Part of Valor” — and equally strange “quotations” from such imaginary works as Grandpa’s How I Screwed Uncle Sam and Other Private Ejaculations. The precedent for this literary extravagance is James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (1939). Joyce, the archetype of the rebellious artist in our era, sensed a deadening atmosphere of frustration and disintegration in modern society. His refuge (like Chib’s) was in art, where he worked the most absolute and brilliant experimentation ever per-formed on the novel. Finnegan’s Wake contains multiple levels of meaning in each word and jams several English and even foreign words into one. The result is a unique Joycean language that is a dismaying puzzle to some readers and soaring poetry to others.
The poem is found on page 35, in the chapter, The Only Good Critic Is A Dead Critic:
Omar Runic’s Extemporaneous Poem
From Philip Jose Farmer’s
Riders Of The Purple Wage
“Call me Ahab, not Ishmael.
For I have hooked the Leviathan.
I am the wild ass’s colt born to a man.
Lo, my eye has seen it all!
My bosom is like wine that has no vent.
I am a sea with doors, but the doors are stuck.
Watch out! The skin will burst; the doors will break.
“You are Nimrod, I say to my friend, Chib.
And now is the hour when God says to his angels,
If this is what he can do as a beginning, then
Nothing is impossible for him.
He will be blowing his horn before
The ramparts of Heaven and shouting for
The Moon as hostage, the Virgin as wife,
And demanding a cut on the profits
From the Great Whore of Babylon.”
“Melville wrote of me long before I was born.
I’m the man who wants to comprehend
The Universe but comprehend on my terms.
I am Ahab whose hate must pierce, shatter,
All impediment of Time, Space, or Subject
Mortality and hurl my fierce
Incandescence into the Womb of Creation,
Disturbing in its Lair whatever Force or
Unknown Thing-in-Itself crouches there,
Remote, removed, unrevealed.”
“_Quid nunc? Cui bono_?
Time? Space? Substance? Accident?
When you die — Hell? Nirvana?
Nothing is nothing to think about.
The canons of philosophy boom.
Their projectiles are duds.
The ammo heaps of theology blow up,
Set off by the saboteur Reason.
“Call me Ephraim, for I was halted
At the Ford of God and could not tongue
The sibilance to let me pass.
Well, I can’t pronounce shibboleth,
But I can say shit!”
“Sir, I exist! And don’t tell me,
As you did Crane, that that creates
No obligation in you towards me.
I am a man; I am unique.
I’ve thrown the Bread out the window,
Pissed in the Wine, pulled the plug
From the bottom of the Ark, cut the Tree
For firewood, and if there were a Holy
Ghost, I’d goose him.
But I know that it all does not mean
A God damned thing,
That nothing means nothing,
That is is is and not-is not is is-not
That a rose is a rose is a
That we are here and will not be
And that is all we can know!”
“The earth lurches like a ship going down,
Its back almost broken by the flood of
Excrement from the heavens and the deeps,
What God in His terrible munificence
Has granted on hearing Ahab cry,
“I weep to think that this is Man
And this his end. But wait!
On the crest of the flood, a three-master
Of antique shape. The Flying Dutchman!
And Ahab is astride a ship’s deck once more.
Laugh, you Fates, and mock, you Norns!
For I am Ahab and I am Man,
And though I cannot break a hole
Through the wall of What Seems
To grab a handful of What Is,
Yet, I will keep on punching.
And I and my crew will not give up,
Though the timbers split beneath our feet
And we sink to become indistinguishable
From the general excrement.
“For a moment that will burn on the
Eye of God forever, Ahab stands
Outlined against the blaze of Orion,
Fist clenched, a bloody phallus,
Like Zeus exhibiting the trophy of
The unmanning of his father Cronus.
And then he and his crew and ship
Dip and hurtle headlong over
The edge of the world.
And from what I hear, they are still
Here is a pdf of the entire novella:
And here is a Word doc. format copy:
I hope that you all enjoy this poem. I just bought the paperback! I hope the publisher puts out a new edition one of these years, or Kindle or scribd picks it up. For now, it is out of print.
FootNote: The Image is from City Lit’s production of a Arnold Aprill’s play adapted from the novella. Here are the reviews:
Riders of the Purple Wage Newspaper Reviews
City Lit’s lame staging hobbles ‘Riders’ satire by Albert Williams First appeared in: Chicago Sun-Times, Dec 5 1989
When Philip Jose Farmer wrote the novella Riders of the Purple Wage in 1967, the sexual revolution was still in adolescence, and no one had heard of AIDS. Public mentions of abortion and contraception were taboo. Television was dominated by three commercial networks. Drugs were confined to the fringes of society. And the National Endowment for the Arts was just a couple of years old.
Today, ideas that seemed far out 22 years ago are part of our daily life, exaggerated only slightly for satiric effect in City Lit Theater’s stage version of Farmer’s novella. Government-sponsored birth control, omnipresent two-way TV with limitless channels (called Fido), widespread use of artificial pleasure inducers and politically influenced grants for avant-garde artists (the “purple wage” of the title) – Farmer’s visions of Beverly Hills in the 23rd century seem very familiar in City Lit’s staging, running through Jan. 14 at Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark. (Tickets: 271-1100.)
The hero of “Riders” is a “neo-primitive” painter named Chibiabos Elgreco Winnegan.
Chib, portrayed as a punky kid with a lean and hungry look by Steve Emerson, is troubled by his dominating mama (played as a grossly fleshy human puppet), hung up on his pregnant girlfriend, tormented by corrupt critics and hype-happy hangers-on, and guided erratically by his rascally great-great-grandfather, an “ancient marinator” who bears a strong resemblance to Walt Whitman.
City Lit’s adaptation of Farmer’s story, though generally faithful, drags down the writer’s flights of fancy with an all-too-earthbound production. Eric Barnes’ original songs, in styles spoofing Cole Porter and Gilbert and Sullivan, enliven the proceedings somewhat, but seem unconnected to the script. And Arnold Aprill’s direction of the young, 11-member cast is filled with clunky movement, cluttered blocking and uncertain intentions.
Weakest of all is the show’s attempt at bringing to life Farmer’s bawdy and freewheeling comedy.
Instead of the anarchic and ambisexual exuberance of the 1960s youth rebellion that inspired Farmer’s satire, Aprill and his design team – Tom Bachtell (sets), Faye Fisher-Ward (costumes), Thomas C. Hase (lights) and Jim Janacek (special effects) – have created cute, colorful, unchallenging images that could have stepped right out of the MTV-style commercials that glut Saturday morning TV kids’ shows.
And despite some energetic individual performances by Donna Jerousek as a fortune-teller, David Ward as a babbling cultural commentator and Robb Williams as a venomous power broker, the actors’ efforts at sexual satire come off about as daring as an episode of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
“Artists should be allowed freedom of expression,” declares one character in the play, “so long as they stop upsetting everyone.”
But City Lit’s mild staging isn’t likely to upset anyone – so it misses the point.
Amateurishness takes `Purple Wage’ for a ride by Richard Christiansen, Entertainment editor. First appeared in: Chicago Tribune, Dec 5 1989
Everyone in “Riders of the Purple Wage” appears to be having a very good time in City Lit Theater’s adaptation of Philip Jose Farmer’s science-fiction satire. Unfortunately, it takes too long before their raucous, bumptious merrymaking lets the audience in on the fun.
Farmer’s 1967 story, much revered in sci-fi circles (of which I am not a member), takes place in the television-dominated, post-Orwellian world of A.D. 2189, but its central, overheated concern-the dilemma of an independent artist trying to maintain his integrity in the face of financial necessity and critical frippery-is essentially timeless.
Chibiabos Elgreco Winnegan, Farmer’s rebel hero, is a young painter beset by several problems, many of them stridently sexual: a whorish mother who fools around (and tap dances), a bosomy girlfriend who wants to abort their child and a flamingly gay critic who offers a favorable review in exchange for sex.
Buttressing Chib’s resolve, however, is his beloved 120-year-old great-great grandfather Winnegan (Cameron Pfiffner, smoking a cigar and wearing red, white and blue undershorts), a crusty codger on the run from government spies who encourages his protege to follow his heart.
Decked out with outrageous costumes and ingenious props, “Wage” takes almost a full act before it defines its world and finds direction for its plot. Even then, much of the atmosphere is murky and too much of the performance is over-the-top campy, as if amateurishness had been equated with zestfulness.
Innumerable bad puns and obscure literary references lard the text, and every once in a while hints of the complex financial and social structuring of Chib’s world surfaces in bits and pieces.
The actors act as if they know what’s going on in this mad scramble. Steve Emerson is a lanky, likable Chib, and in the swirling supporting cast, Betsy Freytag has some loud-mouthed fun as a Tarot card-reading hoyden.
Some of the production’s happiest touches come from its musical number inserts, harmoniously sung and neatly danced by the cast. The music and lyrics are by Eric Barnes, and they’re so clever that they make one want to hear more.
`Riders of the Purple Wage’
A play adapted and directed by Arnold Aprill from the story by Philip Jose Farmer, with scenery by Tom Bachtell, costumes by Faye Ward Fisher, lighting by Tom Hase, sound by David Kodeski, special effects by Jim Janacek. Opened Nov. 29 in a City Lit Theater Company production at Live Bait Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., and plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 14. Running time: 2:05. Tickets are $14 and $16. Phone 312-271-1100.