1 Book and back cover
4 Further description
Reading 1 The beggars are the temples of the town
Reading 2 The nude in front of Central Station
Reading 1 Five Questions
Reading 2 The Curse 2
Reading 3 The Kiss
Reading 1 The first and second scene
Reading 2 In front of the country house
Reading 3 Feeding of the ogre
The Beggars’ Banquet Content
By MA Paul Kachur
In his Books of Life series, author George Grow expounds on his Integral philosophy as the Other Way, a way out of a mentality based on extremes, such as theism and atheism, idealism and rationalism, open and closed society even proposing a social and political vision based on its principles entertainingly and critically grappled by a great variety of fates.
Beggars Banquet places this topic in a post-apocalyptic setting, namely the ruins of Manhattan after the next war, plagued by the subsequent social and political collapse. Fits and snatches of the familiar are still visible as the play commences with two figures in Central park discussing their techniques of survival in everyday life.
Babir is an illegal immigrant from Pakistan who was left stranded in America and is unable to raise resources to get back home because of rampant inflation and chaos. His interlocutor Chad is an unemployed engineer who camps out in Central Park, which has become a refuge where people come to bury their valuables to keep them safe. He lives from stray items he has found. He is particularly proud of his sack of coal, which has helped heat his hovel through the winter.
Babir announces that he has gone to join the cult of beggars which has arisen amid the ruins of a once prospering society.
Questions of theology and the meaning of life come up in the discussion in a matter-of-fact manner along with issues of survival, finding enough to eat and keeping warm and sheltered amid the ruins of Manhattan. There is still some sort of world order, but it is only a loose thread holding together a chaotic society. The only thing that seems to be reliable and regular are the planned electricity outages, they lend a rhythm to daily life and worship.
In Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 novel Super Sad True Love Story, he describes a future following the economic collapse in America in which society is divided into the haves (those with access to stable foreign currency) and the have-nots (those who have to rely on nearly useless US Dollars).
Social change as the result of catastrophic upheaval is the topic of many other famous works of speculative fiction, from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers to the science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. It is also part of Strauss-Howe’s generational historical thesis as expressed in The Fourth Tuning. Their point is that humans are creatures of habit and comfort, and require a major crisis in order to finally effect meaningful change. This change is not always necessarily progress, though.
In Beggars’ Banquet, Grow’s vision is set in a postwar Manhattan where the extremes are even greater and an army of beggars has appeared on the streets. But these are more than just beggars, they are also representatives of an educated association of beggars whose principles center on overcoming dichotomy and achieving the unity of spirit needed to grasp the big questions of life, the cult of the Integral. They are attempting to make up for the chaos that modern life has slipped into.
In his Books of Life series, the author expands on the applications of his Integral approach. Here the example is given in the form of contrast between beggar and donor: total social opposites. The beggar is no longer just a passive recipient, their task is to help the donors overcome the barrier between themselves and the great Integral Power.
In the alternate future of the play, the mendicants are not just part of an organized crime syndicate as in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, but are part of a religious cult, not a doomsday or personality cult, but the cult of the Integral, in which it is the goal of every beggar to assist the people who assist them. They are taught to be vessels, open on all sides, to aid and respond to their donors and to try to form the necessary unity required to achieve full internication, the form of Integral enlightenment and the communicative exchange with the universe.
The second act of the play takes place as an introductory and training session for the newly appointed beggars, held in a hall on the third floor of a building in Manhattan surrounded by wrecked skyscrapers, the Central Station and the ruins of the One World Trade Center in the distance.
Mrs Slamecka and her team have the new inductees recite the Beggars Codex: Beggars are the temples of the town, they stand for a world in which everyone has enough, in which there is no distinction between beggar and patron. They redefine not only the relationship between beggar and donor, but the notion of sacrifice, not burnt offerings to a stone temple or cast into a sacred body of water, but self-sacrifice to another living being as means of opening the doors of consciousness.
We hear mention of institutions that George Grow has proposed for an Integral future of humanity in his other works. The I-Courts, which have come to replace the churches in the new social order, are taken as given in the setting and have already been established as the foundation and patron of the Beggars’ Association.
The introductory seminar for the newly hired beggars turns however more into a discussion of Integral philosophy, a nod is given to many western thinkers, such as Viktor Frankl and Logotherpy, Freud’s oceanic consciousness or Solzhenitsyn’s notion of freedom and barbed wire, which, like a monastic cult, frees us of everyday concerns and allows us to concentrate on our spiritual growth.
The Tao, the teachings of Meher Baba and even the Egyptian goddess Maat also arise and contribute aspects from the side of religion and mysticism.
The session is interrupted near the end of the second act by a police operation. The commissioner announces to Mrs Slamecka that there is a naked beggar presenting himself as the Messiah of Manhattan near Central Station, drawing a large crowd and creating a disturbance. But he is drawn into the seminar as well as soon as it is demonstrated that begging naked was not in violation of any laws against aggressive begging, simply trying to demonstrate the inner nakedness of the passing public through his outer nakedness.
Is this beggar violating his code by causing a public disturbance? By strict interpretation, he is not causing any physical disruption, only a moral and spiritual one, which is fully in keeping with the role and the task of beggars. Here again, Integral philosophy is imparted through a juxtapositions of extremes or opposites.
The beggars cult is not a sect. It is maintained by the city government and is incorporated as a cult of culture in public life. Mr. Kessler, the voice from the loudspeaker, who recites one article after another from the Beggars Codex, epitomizes the authority of the state over the training seminar.
At the same time, the Kafkaesque humor and the question pending in the second and third act about whether it is realistic at all that a new spirituality and metaphysics can arise in a future society, reveals that we cannot answer this question from today’s point of view. Clarity comes when we look at the play in conjunction with two other plays by George Grow. As a trilogy, Honey Fungus represents the past, Awaken, You Sleeping Beauty the present and Beggar’s Banquet the future of metaphysical growth following George Grow’s theory of history which divulges in three phases. And because Phase Three will be initiated in the year 2,500 and until then there is half a millennium in which much can happen, it seems almost impossible to say whether or not a new metaphysical cult will emerge as a common good.
One condition for Grow’s vision he takes up again and again in his work is the change from the closed society to the open society. As Sir Karl Popper and Heinrich Heine before him, he realizes that since Plato, the “theory of the elite” has been ruling resolutely conception of human life, which is repugnant and frightening to Grow.
In The Open Society and its Enemies of 1945, Popper settles in detail with the intellectual systems of Plato, Hegel and Marx, who, in his opinion, have served as a theoretically basis and practically promoted totalitarian systems. As a positive counterpart to these “closed societies”, he designs an “open society” that is not planned on the drawing board but is supposed to evolve in a pluralistic way in an ongoing process of attempts at improvement and correction of errors. Only in true democracy, where the lying propaganda of authoritarian elites no longer narrows the life of the population in favor of their own profit, a social development of metaphysics, as Grow portrays it, is conceivable. However, what possibly will be valid for a whole state or the whole world in the distant future, maybe can be realized today at least of some people, if they deal with the latest state of the subject matter presented in Awaken, You Sleeping Beauty and other Books of Life.
Act Three is a birthday party for the beggars, of whom there are some 15,000 worldwide, meaning nearly 300 birthdays to celebrate every day. This presents us with the image of candles lit in the darkness of the power failure which happens right on schedule and giving vision to the blind and orientation to the lost and thus exemplifying the role of beggars in the new society.