ing breakfast at the Yale Club in therncompany of a lively Anglo-Russian child,rnand looking around the room saw a scorernof identical broadsheets billowing likernthe sails of a flotilla of conformity over arnsea of watery coffee. “Look, they are allrnreading the same newspaper!” I exclaimed.rnThere must have been somethingrnmanic in my voice, because myrncompanion, like a hospital orderly persuadingrna patient not to throw plates,rnsuddenly grew agreeably philosophical.rn”It is like e’er)’body in the world cuttingrnwood with the same saw,” he said. Hernwanted to produce an analogy thatrnwould highlight the fantastic absurdit}’ ofrna countr’ where every person who wearsrna clean shirt and owns cufflinks reads thernsame issue of an upper-class Pravda,rnwhile the grubby multitudes just gruntrnand look at pictures in the Sun and thernSunday Sport. I suppose he thought thernnotion of there being just one handsawrnfor five billion people to share was justrnabsurd enough to keep me calm.rnThe other social venue of my narrativernis Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, named,rnsignificantly, after Leonardo da Vinci,rnwhere on my return I drank a smallrnespresso. It was all right. Now, please tr’rnto imagine yourself making somethingrnfor tens of thousands of faceless andrnnameless foreigners, none of whom yournare likely to ever see again and few ofrnwhom can taste the difference betweenrngood and evil. Would you need to makernit well? Would you bother?rnAnd now for the grand synthesis. Thernrevolution I mentioned earlier was reallyrnthe French Re’olution, which could notrnhave occurred without the accompanyingrnassault on the irrational componentrnin the fabric of European life by what isrncalled reason. It is quite obvious, lookingrnback, that the cultural strands whichrnheld our society together had not beenrnspun in the dark satanic mills of the IndustrialrnRevolution, nor bought with paperrnnotes in Adam Smith’s free market,rnnor designed bv science for the benefit ofrnall mankind. Concepts like God, duty,rnhonor all come off a different spool, andrnthough this is not historically demonstrable,rnit is philosophically accurate tornclaim that the Russian Revolution ofrn1917 was a logical denouement of thernWest’s effort to bring the backward countryrninto line with the rest of Europe byrndestroying in Russia what had been destroyedrnelsewhere since 1789.rnThis is an inexhaustibly, absorbinglyrndusty subject, and I only wish to concentraternon a single speck where the two socialrnvignettes with which I began combinerninto a whole observation. The vulgarrnadaptations of famous rationalistrnprinciples by which the world now livesrnare legion, as by and by we come to learnrnthat there is no organ in the human bodyrnthat could conceivably accommodaternthe soul, that one cannot win at rouletternbecause statistically one must lose, andrnthat virginity is a prejudice that went outrnwith the geocentric model of the universe.rnIn a recent survey, 19 percent ofrnNew Yorkers admitted to having hadrn”group sex,” while what 32 percent ofrnmen “looked for in a partner” was anrnapartment and what 31 percent of womenrnwanted in a man was a car.rnBut perhaps the most ubiquitous andrndastardly of these is the nursery-schoolrnbirds-and-bees biologism of supply andrndemand. Ask a well-meaning, decent,rnconcerned American why there is nornother supplier of serious news and opinionrnin the country besides the New YorkrnTimes, and he will tell you that it can onlyrnbe because there is no call for anythingrnelse, mumbling something like “I guessrnit does the job.” This is tantamount tornproposing—which, consistent enoughrnwith the historical origins of this particularrnabsurdity, is exactly what Darwinistsrnpropose —that a camel has two humpsrnbecause one would be too few and threernwould be too many. Something exists,rnergo it must exist; it changes, hencernchange was inevitable; it becomes extinct,rntherefore its possible existence isrnnot even a matter for discussion.rnHere is something I read on the planernon the way over. The author of the article,rna well-known British art critic namedrnWaldemar Januszczak, thinks “photographyrncould be the new painting” becausern[t]he lively photo-art crowding ourrngalleries has been produced by anrnimpressive array of labour-savingrnphoto-gadgets: digital-enhancementrnscrew-ons, computer solutions,rndisposable cameras, autofocusrnjobs, and all sorts of easilyrnbuyable ways of making the productionrnof memorable pictures anrneffortless process. The result hasrnbeen a freeing up of photography,rnand the enfranchisement ofrnall sorts of fascinating artisticrnimaginations.rn,11 right, you may murmur, he is justrnanother idiot, one of thousands, pay nornattention. What is at work here, however,rnis not so much the pretentious pratriingrntongue of a random illiterate hackrnas the invisible hand which seems to directrnmuch of contemporary ratiocination.rnLeonardo painted because therernwas demand for Leonardo. WaldemarrnJanuszczak is intelligent because there isrndemand for intelligent people in newspapers.rnAnd of course both are only possiblernbecause easily buyable, labor-savingrnscrew-ons have enfranchised their artisticrnimaginations.rnWell, then, why is the espresso at Fiumicinorngood enough to drink? Silence.rnI would define genius as the quality ofrnthe human mind which makes a personrncapable of risk. And risk, by anybody’srndefinition, is neither rational nor prudent.rnThe gnarled little Sicilian barista,rnworking the antiquated and gadget-freernespresso machine to make coffee whenrnordinary dishwater would do, has anrnartistic imagination a million times morernpowerful than the art critic’s. LikernLeonardo, he does what he does becausernhe cannot do otherwise, gambling awayrnhis time and energ}’ without certain recompense,rnprobably the way his fatherrnand grandfather did, and the day he stopsrnwill be the day he dies or is replaced byrnStarbucks. He is, in short, supply incarnate,rnsupply profligate, supply defiant,rnsupply existing independently of demandrnand testing itself by its own irrationalrnsurveys of honor, virtue, andrncourage.rnEverything good in this world, includingrnthe world itself, has come from thernsame source. It is impossible not to becomernwhat a Darwinist would call a Creationistrnupon reflecting that if the universernhad not been created by God andrnwas the product of evolution then all thernart critics would write like WaldemarrnJanuszczak, all the newspapers would bernlike the New York Times, and all the coffeernwould be undrinkable. We are veryrnnearly there, of course, but we have ourrnmemories to remind us that thingsrnweren’t always the way they are and ourrnchildren to ask us why the airport isrnnamed after a Renaissance barman,rnAndrei Navrozov, formerly Chronicles’rnpoetry editor and London correspondent,rnis now Chronicles’ Europeanrncorrespondent.rnFOR BACK ISSUES, please caUrn1-800-877-S4S9rnAUGUST 1998/37rnrnrn