The Age of Consent

Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Fruit

The Age of Consent
Titian (Tiziano) - Venus of Urbino (Venere di Urbino), 1534, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Fruit

Once upon a time gods came down from heaven to the earth in search of sex with young women. We have no reason to disbelieve this since the Greek myths confirm that Eden after the Fall was a place of impatient gods and voluptuous young women. It was Mark Twain who wrote: “The sweeter sex, the dearer sex, the lovelier sex was manifestly at its best, then, for it was even able to attract gods. Real gods. They came down out of heaven and had wonderful times with those hot young blossoms. The Bible tells about it.” It does indeed, in Genesis 6.

But as we know, God had second thoughts. While Zeus cavorted with Europa (and let’s not forget Ganymede) and Poseidon had dozens of consorts (including Pelops), and the goddesses were not left out (Aphrodite especially), God decided, “I will wipe out from the earth the men whom I have created…for I am sorry that I made them.”

The Fall, it turns out, was all a big disappointment, not only because Eve gave Adam the apple but also because of what their descendants got up to afterwards in Eden.

They were only following God’s instructions to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1), which they did of course, but they brought the Flood down upon themselves (Genesis 6-8), followed in short order by the destruction of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). As Twain put it, “Adam and Eve now knew what evil was, and how to do it” and God was angry.

Michelangelo - The Fall and Expulsion from Paradise (Expulsión del Paraíso), circa 1509, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Genesis, in other words, is a sexual fable about the Age of Consent – God’s consent allowing humans to have sex – a consent that evidently was withdrawn before being reinstated with Abraham. So saucy questions push themselves forward: were Adam and Eve supposed to know what they were doing? Before the snake arrived, clearly they didn’t. Were they supposed to see sex simply as a duty and not enjoy it? We know they did. Did God simply abandon humans after giving his blessing to Abraham and leave them to sort it all out? We have been dealing with this mess ever since.

For traditionalists, the Bible says that sex should wait for marriage, but the textual evidence says otherwise. As Twain well knows, Genesis is wildly provocative, full of tales of drunken nakedness, incest and polygamy, which is why it has been debauched enthusiastically by many other books ever since, a measure of its stature perhaps, from the Book of Enoch to Paradise Lost to Twain’s Letters from the Earth and so on. We long have been told that sex is all about Sin and humans have had to make the best of it, arguing over the appropriate age to indulge in it. But if the age of sexual activity keeps getting younger and the legal Age of Consent keeps going up, isn’t there a new fissure here, a new Abyss, where more and more people are “falling” into Sin?

Adam's Diary: On Dante’s Inferno And Milton's Paradise Lost


I received a message from Satan today. The snake dropped it off. Said that now I’m 16 he wanted me to hear his side of the story. After all this time? In the message Satan claimed he never actually “did” anything with me back in the Garden. Claimed he was never there, officially speaking, no matter what Milton had to say about it, and he wanted me to read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Said it presented a fair and accurate picture of what had happened. I doubt it. I have been reading Dante’s Inferno, which is where I think he belongs, in the 9th circle of Hell.

Henry Holiday "Dante and Beatrice" (1883) - Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

The snake, of course, has its own ideas. It proceeded to tell me that Satan had molested me in the past, but none of it technically was illegal, and even if God had tried hard to come up with something that would stick, the fact was that he hadn’t succeeded. So, the snake wanted to know, if it wasn’t illegal, why had God gone from Genesis to Apocalypse? Even now He was planning The End of the World! A flood was coming, the snake said, and we would all be drowned. The world would be washed clean of the filth introduced by all these earlier chapters and He would start a new chapter. What, the snake wanted to know, had we done that was so terrible that we all had to die? Clearly the snake was trying to get on my good side. It must have heard about what Noah is up to and burnt its bridges with Satan. It also said Milton was right and it blamed Eve for everything that had happened back in the Garden. It also dropped hints about what Satan was interested in doing with baby Cain. Was this what it was all about? Satan as every parent’s worst nightmare, a monster, because now he wants to molest our infant children? We get blamed for bad parenting and our world is destroyed?


I have been trying to find out what it is that Michael Jackson did that was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I think whatever he did or didn't do, it was wrong, but the angels can’t tell me why exactly. They have been speculating about a hierarchy of evils:

  • Was it because he was an adult sexually preying on a teen?
  • Was it because he was an adult in a position of power sexually preying on a teen?
  • Was it because the teens might be below the current Age of Consent?
  • Was it because the sex was homosexual?
  • Was it because he always denied his feelings and he proved himself either naif or a hypocrite?

The strange thing is, the angels clearly are having sex among themselves yet they cannot tell me which of these crimes is the worst?

Thursday night

A dream-crossed twilight in the Garden of Good and Evil… I had a dream once, or maybe it was many nights and one dream? Ghastly figures shimmered in my room and I was unable to shake them off. I grew alarmed as they simply stayed there, out of reach. After a time I found I had crossed through the mirror after them – for dreams don’t answer to the rules of time and space – and now I was in the air, looking back at myself. In this mirror world I found many beds alongside mine, all seemingly identical, stretching in every direction, where dreamers like myself were locked in their own galaxies, universes, vortexes. At some deeper level I knew the sleepers would be there till the End of the World and that I, Adam, was not the first one there. These were not reflections of my own image, for I could see dark hooded shapes hovering over different beds, bees to their nectar, whispering. Many were down low on the sleeping figures…

This is how I met Lilith, my night visitor, my vampire. Lilith of the long hair and lips like sugar. At night he would come with the others and whisper to me. Only once was the dream sexual, my sex was transformed into a ghoul that floated off somewhere to hover over another bed, out of my sight. If the hooded shapes were ghouls, then they were angels too. Then Eve arrived ashore from dangerous seas and I never had that dream again.

John Collier - "Lilith" (1887) - Atkinson Art Gallery and Library, Southport, England


In a way, the Michael Jackson scandals – or Milton’s whipping at Christ’s College for that matter – was about all of the evils the angels came up with. The angels say that adults (like themselves) should not prey on teenagers (like me), yet they say they need to protect us from other adults. So that means they want to protect us from themselves because they cannot trust themselves?

It is a vicious circle. The angels talk about “our” Original Sin, but they seem to be talking about their own. They talk about punishing each other and banishing the evil-doers, in the same way we were banished from the Garden by God. They warn us about identity theft and they offer free fingerprinting, but what use is that if they are the guilty ones?


Eve and I leave today to visit Noah to see how he is getting on with the Ark. God seems to be determined to scare us all to death with this talk of the End of the World as we know it. I am afraid of losing what little we have. After we were cast out of the Garden, Eve and I had to start all over again; “Descend, so that you may ascend,” the angels mocked. But, having lost everything themselves, you would think they would be more understanding. Satan calls me a “petit bourgeois.” Sometimes he sounds like God.


Eve and I stumbled through Dante’s dark woods before we understood evil. The snake it was who argued that while sex is fun, it would be more fun if we tried it with somebody else. He whispered in our ears that God keeps referring to sex as the forbidden fruit, since apparently sex reminds Him of fruit. The snake argued that once you have tried one fruit, well, you want to try another and that leads to, well, too much fruit. Neither of us was interested in having sex with male angels, but eventually one of them got to Eve and raped her – Milton’s key insight in Paradise Lost in my opinion – and the Naked limbs and show’red roses became the pornography of his day. We hid ourselves away but God felt we had betrayed him and we felt he had betrayed us. The snake was right: a secret is like pornography. Now it is all out in the open. It is better, I think, that we know about people’s secret identities. We need to know about the secrets in the closet, however disgusting they are. In retrospect, Eve and I started too young and had children before we were ready. If we had known what sex was all about, we would not have felt compelled to try it so early. I think the Age of Consent should be 17 or 18, but with a Romeo clause.

The Serpent's Diary: On Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall Of The House Of Usher


Why in all the scholarly accounts of Genesis do they never mention sex? It’s all about fruit! Obviously the Tree of Life was a metaphor for sex and the creation of life, not just knowledge. But knowledge about what? Sex of course.

There is something else to sort out. In Genesis there was no Fall. Not in the Torah, not in the Old Testament, not in the Qur’an. So whose idea was this anyway? Why do humans insist on there being a Fall at all? If there was a Fall, from where to where? Humans started in the dirt and they return to the dirt. Now, as we all know, Moses didn’t really write Genesis, but few people know that it was actually a pair of angels, J and P, who did write it, although Satan chipped in a bit too, and this is really their story. As they reflected on their own sad “fall” from the Heavens to the Earth, they projected it onto humans, blaming God for it. Isn’t everything autobiographical, in the end? This is why the angels pretended that the fruit was forbidden, so that they could write a tale about disobedience and punishment, their own disobedience of course, and their own sense of being martyrs. But, jealous hypocrites that they were, they kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden and said God did it.

Guillaume Geefs - "Le génie du mal" (Lucifer) at la cathédrale Saint-Paul de Liège, 1848

The humans went one better. After they learnt to believe that they had “fallen” out of the Garden, they added Original Sin. This surely has something to do with that human tendency to imagine the worst of one’s fellow human beings, the human thirst for self-torture, Poe called it. On top of that, Saint Paul and Saint Augustine wanted to justify their own importance in life, whereby the church would save the sinners through delivering the grace of God. I am sure God thought this was a terrible idea, though He never said so. But they thought they could improve on the original story, which is why Saint Paul and Saint Augustine invented sin, which they linked to death, to get everyone’s mind off the sex. But the only sins the saints were worried about were their own, which they were desperately trying to exaggerate, so that they could brush aside the disappointment of their own rotten sex lives and their fear of death.

These angels, J and P, weren’t the brightest stars in the sky given all the repetitions and contradictions. Who but the angels would have attempted to pin the blame on God for the generally disappointing way human beings had turned out and for the Flood that wiped out most of the Nephilim? Who but the angels would have referred to themselves as “the heroes of old, the men of renown”? Who but the angels would have been so patronizing toward Eve (“He, Adam, shall be your master”)? Who but the angels would have resented humans gaining so much power (“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.”)? Who but the angels would have written Genesis as if God were cursing humans for the disastrous way events unfolded? And who but the angels would have pinned the blame on me, a humble serpent?

The fact is that there was no sex in the Scented Garden at all when I got there. I introduced the young couple to it, for that was what God intended. The real Original Sin, if we have to have one, was that the angels made sex evil and the saints kept the myth going.


Edgar Allan Poe was a latter-day fallen angel and he understood this. It is why he knew to accuse the other angels of the death of Annabel Lee. Critics always have struggled with Poe the angel, perhaps more than any other American writer, as Jacob does in Genesis 32, for they seem to misunderstand the religious dimension. Poe lived his life in the shadows between worlds, a visionary scientist on the one hand who was fascinated by astronomy -- “The plots of God are perfect. The universe is a plot of God” he wrote in his masterpiece Eureka (1848) -- and a magician and conjurer of illusions on the other, where walls came tumbling down, the raven flew out and was unable to find land and instead croaked Nevermore, and where we find ourselves in the dirt and the dust again, as Poe did. There is humor too, for what else is The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) but a comical satire on the religious pretensions of humans, from Dante and Milton to the American brand of Transcendentalism? The Fall of the House of Usher is a story about an insane Jesus and the Magdalene (Madeline) and the scene at the Tomb and it is a story about the Revelation of the Apocalypse, but it is most amusing as a story about an undying Adam and Eve, isolated and alone in their enormous mansion, a ruined paradise immediately before the Fall, where God has abandoned them to their own incestuous and demonic delusions. I believe it was Echo and the Bunnymen who captured this best with Bring on the dancing horses, headless and all alone…

Edgar Allan Poe in 1849


So what do I have to say about the Age of Consent? Poe married Virginia Clemm, his cousin, when she was 13 and he was 27. What does age matter really? The Virgin Mary was only 13 when she conceived Jesus. Charlie Chaplin was sleeping with (Lo) Lita Grey when she was 16 and Oona O’Neill when she was 17. Many of the young women (and boys) in Renaissance art were under today’s Age of Consent, as were Adam and Eve and most of today’s teenagers. Sex is wasted on most humans over the age of 40 anyway.


Lilith was right about Adam all along: men, whether they were gods or humans, really were and are beasts. Feminist art history tells all about it. What is to be done? Are we any the wiser for knowing that men are beasts? Do we like the fact that they are beasts? Can they all be put in prison perhaps? Theoretically it may be within reach. Approximately 1 in 32 Americans is now in prison or on parole, so if the definitions of sexual abuse can be widened still further, perhaps by raising the Age of Consent to be the same as the Legal Drinking Age, this speedily will bring up the number of male sex offenders. Or humans could just ban Sex altogether – Just Say No To It – before it destroys Western civilization. This puts it nicely in line with the official-in-some places government policy of sexual abstinence, for if all the men are in prison, naturally abstinence will be the rule, except in prison perhaps. But are the women really so different from the men – are congresswomen and female teachers just as likely to be sending erotic IMs to their male and female pages and students? I don’t know the answer to that but I do know a lot of men who wanted to be in that blonde Florida teacher’s class. I say raise the human Age of Consent to 21 or ban sex altogether.

Satan's Diary: On Nabokov’s Lolita


The Cherubim are nowhere to be seen. How typical. Is it Shabat? I have been thinking about Eve all day and my flaming sword is erect.

The earth’s best kept secret, which I plan to share with you, is that men, throughout their adult life, are most physically attracted to nymphets around the Age of Consent. For all those myths about True Love and fidelity in marriage, and gaining in wisdom and maturity, the fact is that adult men have always secretly hungered for sweet 16-year-old girls, or, if they are gay, for sweet 16-year-old boys. The age does not have to be exact, of course, and there are always the exceptions – the aesthete (the liar), the perverse (the selfish), the neutered (the confused) and the dead (the dead). But your average healthy adult male of the human species still wants his Eve, or his Adam.

This news is not received well by adult women who, quite naturally, are skeptical that such a thing could be true. From their TV and tabloid viewing they know that married men divorce them for younger women and that men seem to be genetically more predisposed to have affairs, whether it is true or not. But adult women also cannot bring themselves to be so cynical about their men that they could even entertain the idea that men’s sexual desires are constantly and biologically fixed upon 16-year-olds, give or take a year or two or three. They will never get a straight answer out of their men on this subject. Only the brave ones – or the fools – would ever confess.

Original cover, 1955

Or they could put it into literature. This is the ironic truth of that fine book, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Conservatives think of Lolita as pornography. Yet strange things happen when you read the literary critics for they never respond directly to the conservatives’ charges. Why is it pornography? You need to ask? Nabokov writes about pedophilia because he felt those sexual desires toward teenage girls himself. Takes one to know one and all that… Of course pedophilia is one of those demonic sexually predatory words that eliminates everything in its path, so the smarter critics avoid it, but they use code words like “iniquity” and “perversion” and even “crime” and then wander off up the garden path to talk about language games and solipsism. The ones who do mention pedophilia also rush directly off stage to change the subject – Lolita reflects “darkly, in a crooked enough mirror, the artistic desires of his creator” (says one). OK. But that’s it? None of Nabokov’s defenders get past that to discuss Nabokov’s own desires, physical as much as artistic, other than ascribing it to his characters’ quest for “aesthetic bliss.” Why? Did Lolita spring from his mind like Athena from Zeus’ brow? If Nabokov was a happily married man did he never feel those urges, or when he wrote Lolita was he too old to feel such desires with intensity and that made it ok, or was it because great writers are not supposed to feel such embarrassing urges at all? Or was it perhaps because critics cannot admit the obvious because it is self-incriminating: for men are attracted to perilous nymphets, and they are attractive indeed. Nabokov understood this because he was an honest man. This is the real message and the real genius of Lo-lo-lo-lee-ta… For Lolita is about sex and sex keeps you alive… VV knew this; Véra knew this. Play great Russian music very loudly here…

Nabokov’s own words in 1956 (his Afterword to Lolita) are more revealing than his critics 40 and 50 years later. Sexual innuendo hangs in the air with words like “throbbing” and “rising,” the hilarious discussion of what pornography is, and lines like “But after all we are not children.” One critic came close with his muttered verdict of Lolita: “Old Europe debauching young America” – meaning Nabokov is debauching his prissy Freudian biographers and critics – and it is funny as well as true.

The “crime” Humbert Humbert apparently has committed against Lolita is to “deprive her of a childhood” and her “freedom,” leaving her with the “shrunken expectations” of a life unfulfilled. And this in an age of floods, holocausts, famines, wars, refugees… forgive me for thinking this is misplaced sentimentality. It buys into HH’s own shrunken expectations, his own lost childhood, his own lack of freedom, his own Romantic calling as a self-described monster. If the shoe fits…

Nabokov in 1840

Nabokov places Lolita in a hilarious moralistic framework that mocks literary critics, for they are moralizers too, both the attack dogs who criticize him for pedophiliac porn and the lap dogs who say “Look, all the characters die.” Nabokov mocks conservatives by committing the unpardonable sin of talking loudly about the forbidden and enjoying himself while doing it. He mocks his academic fans by presenting them with a double bind, like the old “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” First, he invites the reader to participate in erotic sex between an adult and a 12-year-old, reminding them all the time that it’s “wrong,” and teases them on their hypocrisy for enjoying it. For critics it’s supposedly excruciating – not only do they feel obligated to hate the sex, they also have to worry about Nabokov’s own “moral hygiene” as well as their own… Their guilt is misplaced; their attitude hypocritical. Why is it wrong for a writer to experience such desires? Why is it wrong for them to experience such desires? Nabokov ratchets up the pressure by making Lolita only 12, just out of reach, hovering far below the Age of Consent, but there is nothing wrong with that. Felix culpa.

The only thing that is wrong is that academic writing has banished sex. Instead we get Love – just the authoritarian idea that one must love only God or one’s spouse or one’s soul-mate and nobody else. The criticism is implied, of course: Don Juan and Casanova are of the Devil’s party, unsatisfactory, selfish, abusive and I take that personally! But why romanticize Love with one person when others would do just as well? Aren’t all lovers interchangeable really? HH pretends, at the end, that he is sincere in his love for Lolita, but he is lying. He knows that other lovers were possible. Lolita was interchangeable with other nymphets. That’s life. But literary critics either believe HH at the end or they sound just like him, writing primly about Lolita’s fate, as though the Age of Consent or losing your virginity or having an affair is a Rubicon after which life will never (NEVER!!!) be the same again. Makes you wonder what happened at their own deflowering? Must have been a disaster. Fleurs du mal! Why should anyone be “destroyed” once they’ve “crossed over”? Do humans have to become aliens to their past lives? Annabel Lee in the tomb? Perhaps they have in unintended ways – while teenagers do not understand adults, the reverse is truer still, for adults certainly do not understand teenagers. I’m hating all the faking and shaking while I’m breaking your brittle heart…

All things being said, I have succeeded in my life’s work. There are Heav’nly breasts everywhere and Lolitas have become the creative engines of Western culture. It’s not the gadget technocrats or those maudlin mandarins of the media. Teenage girls circulate sex in an eternal gyration around the triple polarities of Puberty, The Age of Consent and Motherhood. Their obsessions sometimes turn to revenge, rancor, retaliation, cruelty, indifference but why not? It leaves parents breathless though, unfortunately, not lost for words, for they redouble their efforts to exercise control – to play God. Having been God the Creator at their children’s birth, they are reluctant to give up the role. As William Blake said, “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” I say abolish the Age of Consent altogether.

Eve's Diary: On Dylan Thomas


Being a teenager is about keeping secrets from parents. Secrets are little betrayals but we see them as necessary evils. We have a Don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

I am talking about sex, of course, and keeping it a secret from God, since we have no other parents to speak of. We keep sex a secret because He has never understood that meaningless sex is wonderful. In His Creation, everything is supposed to be meaningful. True, I’m not sure that sex is really meaningless, because now I have two children. But I still consider myself a kid – I am 15 – and meaningful sex sounds like no fun at all. God wants us to raise the Age of Consent until we take it more seriously, to punish us, I think, but He has forgotten what it’s like. He resents the fact that sex is so much fun that we forget all about Him. He thinks sex should only be for parents. But Adam and I were enjoying it long before the snake arrived to tell us we were expecting a child.

Lester Ralph Illustration from Mark Twain's "Eve's Diary" (1905).

I say this because the snake caught up with me again today. It wants me to confess that I slept with Satan and that Cain is Satan’s child. Some things should remain secret, whether they happened or not and, like I said, I’m not telling.

This obviously is why Dante makes a point of ignoring me in Canto IV, while saving everybody else. As for Milton, he knows what happened. He is that rare poet who understands that adults who are sexy and seductive – like Satan – are by far the best able to communicate with others, to empathize, to insinuate, to excite and to seduce. Just look at you with burning lips/ You’re living proof at my fingertips… Milton equates this with evil. This is the forbidden knowledge, the dangerous gift that he wrestled with in Paradise Lost as his eyesight failed. Perhaps he was envious? But he understood the old and secret wisdom and most adults do not. They do not notice the sexual energies blowing around and through us and they do not understand the potential for evil that is in all of us.

If seeing evil is one thing, defeating it is another. Adults have no faith in kids. They don’t understand or respect kids’ ability to reshape reality imaginatively, to develop spiritual armor for themselves. You can see this from the way adults interact with kids -- ALL kids and not just their own – because they have forgotten their own childhood, a frontier they cannot cross back over. But kids only need the encouragement to believe in themselves. Christ said Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And Dylan Thomas said: Before the children green and golden/Follow him out of grace... Wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land./Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,/Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea...


Exile from the Garden sings in our memory and memory is the gift of salvation.


So what then of the snake? He talks about Edgar Allan Poe and The Fall of the Louse of Usher, but he wants to say that Adam and I have an incestuous relationship since I was supposedly created from Adam’s rib. The snake has it all wrong of course. Look at the unnamed fool telling the story. If there was an original Fall, then feeling guilty about it is a waste of time. We are all fallen angels... What’s done is done and we will do better. But this is also why the Age of Consent should be lowered to match the Age of Puberty so that we are not criminals. This assumes, of course, that sexual knowledge is not forbidden!


Adam and I left the Garden for good reason. When we were inside we were frightened by the whispering, threats muttered about Satan terrorizing us, taking advantage of us, abusing our trust, and we raised the walls around the Garden higher, but evil was already inside. We became lonely and we turned on each other. Only later did we realize the angels were doing most of the whispering and that everything inside had become sterile, dead, and so we fled. We fled for the world of real life and death, we needed the cockleshelled paths of that applepie kitchen garden, ducking under the gippo’s clothes-pegs, catching an apron on the blackcurrant bushes, the beanrows and onion-bed and tomatoes ripening on the wall…

Teach me the love that is evergreen after the fall…

"The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man" (1615) by Rubens (figures) and Brueghel the Elder (flora and fauna), in the Mauritshuis, The Hague.

God's Diary: On Why He Is Not The Great Dictator

God always gets the Last Word. First off, I am not responsible for the Book of Genesis and I am not interested in World Domination.

I am responsible for the Garden of Eden or, more precisely, the original Garden, not the version in Genesis. The original Garden -- in the beginning -- was rooted in one place. It was to ensure the genesis of all seeds and plants, animals and insects, and their exodus into the world. Genesis is my story of evolutionary biology, from the original seed creation in the Garden and its dispersal, and by and large the human writers got that part right. Once the humans put down roots themselves, and agriculture and cities developed, they erected monuments in my honor, but fewer and fewer wondered whether I was being fair to the other species, and whether the bounty of the garden should be shared, for the humans began to think it was all about them.

Once catastrophe struck, as it always does, it seemed to the humans that I had moved “their” precious Garden somewhere else. Later interpreters of Genesis, rightly obsessed about human arrogance and human sin, dressed it up in the trappings of the Fall, for “fall” they had – to barbarian invaders – as empires collapsed into anarchy, buildings fell into ruins and humans fell into exile – in Babylon, in Egypt, in Jerusalem, in Rome. After that, they realized that I do indeed move the garden around and they longed to find it again. Nostalgic for a lost Golden Age, they named their new farms, cities and empires Eden, Zion, the New Jerusalem, God’s Own Country and after a time, they forgot what any of this means. Eden became confused with the garden itself and genesis was moved to the laboratory…

Last century I placed the garden in England, in Sissinghurst, and for a time before that at Niagara Falls and in Independence Missouri, at Woodstock, near Oxford in England, rural France, coastal Italy, the countryside around Vienna, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, and an island in the Mediterranean. Eden at the moment is the United States and the secret garden is in Los Angeles, California for the simple reason that I love the classic comedies, especially Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Adored the scene where Adenoid Hynkel dances with an inflatable globe of the world. If the world is a ball/A ball in a game/With no rules at all./And just as I wonder at the beauty of it all/You go and drop it/And it breaks when it falls…

The Americans drove Chaplin out in the 50’s and now they talk about putting up more walls… Once walls go up, I move Eden and the garden inside it, leaving only dust. Falling towers… Jerusalem Athens Alexandria Vienna London Washington Unreal.

It is human nature to want to own Eden, to put up barriers against others who want to see inside it, to put up signs saying “Private Property: Keep Out! No Trespassers.” This ruins the essence of what is in the garden in the first place: a place for genesis and dispersal. They have built gardens to honor the original lost garden but these gardens are sterile monuments to human vanity – Versailles, Hyde Park, Central Park, Zen gardens – they are all the same – they have walls around them too, visible and invisible, to keep in what’s in and to keep out what’s out, a fake order upon the chaos.

This human preoccupation of building up walls and tearing them down again came to mind recently with the latest sexual abuse scandals in Eden. Sexual abuse is a violation, a rape, an assault, a smashing of the garden walls, with child marriage being particularly awful, yet the walls were built there long before, by the fears and frenzies of the children’s parents, and the other overactive guardians with their flaming swords. For many artists and writers, against the backdrop of global war and pestilence, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, their solution has been restoring the walls. They are the gardeners, like Eve, the utopians: Dante and perhaps Milton and Blake, C.S. Lewis and his Narnia, Tolkien and his Middle Earth, T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding and Disney castles in the forest. Their stories of lost innocence and the fall from grace are about human dreams of redemption and returning to The Promised Land. Maybe...

Then there are the agnostics and the atheists. Apparently walls mean nothing to them, especially once the walls have been torn down, and they would have flown over them anyway. They have always wanted to eat Augustine’s pears or Moses’ figs or Mohammed’s bananas or the Hindus’ rose-apples or the immortal Chinese peaches or whatever they thought they would find in there because, well, again like Eve, they just wanted to eat them. That means Poe, Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Dylan Thomas and Nabokov to name but five so far. Let me add that beautiful and ineffectual angel Shelley. For all of them the falling towers were about Shelley's Ozymandias, about Empire’s Decline and Fall and they were happy among the ruins. But their careers involved exile, depression, alcohol and drug addiction, drowning, sensational court cases, psychiatric hospitals, family members who died young in the fire-bombings of WWII or the Holocaust...

Even though I cannot agree with them, I have a soft spot for them because at least they have a sense of mischief! They can believe in everything and anything if they want to, even me. Their lives are about secrets and risk – passion and desire lived in its cracks and on the wing. Their lives (and their art) are a mockery of living life defined by invisible walls and they have never taken redemption too seriously.

Living life in fear only produces more regulations, and regulations repress desire and produce banality, and in the end that produces, inevitably, rebellion and more risk and more secrets and the closets burst open again…

Genesis is a sexual fable of the child becoming an adult and the adult losing the sense of what it means to be a child. That is the real Fall… Exiles and artists, travelers and tramps have understood this because they have known all the props kicked away. Things did not work out so well for Poe and Dylan Thomas, but Twain did all right. Chaplin went back to Europe in 1952 to Vevey, Switzerland when the U.S. revoked his visa. The nymphs are departed… By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept. Nabokov went to live in Montreux in 1960, just along the lake from Chaplin. They would die within five months of each other in 1977, gods returning home after visiting the earth, the devil’s playground, Eden, America.