Friday, September 21, 2012

Three Wheelbarrows

“Do you know Ben Shahn’s great answer to that question? I take a guilty pleasure in the man’s paintings, knowing his whole pastel, representational aesthetic has been on the outs for a decade. But his essays need no excuse. He tells a story of an itinerant wanderer traveling over country roads in thirteenth-century France who comes across a man exhaustedly pushing a wheelbarrow full of rubble. He asks what the man is doing. ‘God only knows. I push these damn stones around from sunup to sundown, and in return, they pay me barely enough to keep a roof over my head.’

“further down the road, the traveler meets another man, just as exhausted, pushing another filled barrow. In reply to the same question, the second man says, ‘I was out of work for a long time. My wife and children were starving. Now I have this. It’s killing, but I’m grateful for it all the same.’

“Just before nightfall, the traveler meets a third exploited stonehauler. When asked what he is doing, the fellow replies, ‘I’m building Chartres Cathedral.’”

Richard Powers, The Gold Bug Variations, p 148


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