I feel the need to explore the dreadful problem of covetousness. It is not a usual vice for me, but lately I have fallen prey to its blandishments and I think it is worth discussing its fearful mechanics in order to help guide both myself and other souls at risk.
I am a huge Grant Morrison fan and recently a kind friend lent me about the first third of the original Invisibles comics.These are the original comics, published in the 1990's, mind. Rare beasts.In good nick, with all the extra newsy bits and the ads for other comics, and the dusty feel of first editions.
As soon as he offered them to me, I began to scheme. I offered to buy them. He said no, they are not worth much financially but he will never get them again. However, I was welcome to borrow them.
As soon as I got them, I began to have terrible unworthy thoughts about the comics and about my friend. Here is a sample. He has so many books and comics, in fact his house is full of them. He won't miss them if I just don't return them. Perhaps I will just quietly lose them. Except, I only have the first third. I need to get the next lot before I lose them. Perhaps I will ask him to just leave the second lot somewhere and I will spirit them away before I pretend to return the first lot.
After a bit of everyday common or garden scheming things start to get weird. No one can appreciate the comics as much as I do. My friend only owns them by happy accident. They were meant to come to me. He only got them in order for them to work their way into my hands, as if propelled by some grand cosmic imperative I am sure I will understand later on. After all, the comics are saturated in Chaos Magick, and are in themselves a magickal working. Clearly they know where they need to be. It is plain destiny. I am meant to have them. And so on and so on.
By this time I am trying to get a grip on myself and telling myself sternly, THEY ARE JUST FUCKING COMICS! This is ridiculous.These are Terrible Unworthy Thoughts and you should know better.
Admittedly I have had the beginnings of this train of thought about library books. Like this:
I love this book. Nobody else could appreciate it as much as me. I could pretend to lose it and then just pay the fine. I got out of the library once a large format book of Peter Beste's photographs of Black Metal bands and their members. It included articles and memorabilia and all sorts of goodies. I wanted it so much, and it had already had its best pages ripped out. A year or so later I went to get it out again, and it had been stolen. Stolen! Not by me. By bad thieves! Not good thieves like me, who would only steal for literary appreciation.
I have always been slightly prone to rash decisions. Once I watched an infomercial. I mean it: once I watched an infomercial. It was probably the only time I ever watched an infomercial, unless you count the time back in the 1980's when we would put the TV ads through huge-ass speakers and play them insanely loud and fall about laughing - The Ginsu knives! But wait there's more! Ah, simple pleasures. Anyway, I watched this infomercial about the Vacuum Action Duster and I wanted one. I coveted one. It was the only thing that made sense that moment. And I had to phone now to get a second one for the same price, I had to phone.. I was going to phone...now...I went to use the phone, and when I regained my normal consciousness my small daughter was holding both my hands firmly and gazing intently into my face with her big blue eyes, and repeating earnestly: 'Mum! Mum! It's just a cloth on a stick! Just a cloth, Mum. On a stick. Mum! Mum!'
People do make light of the vices, or deadly sins, and they have been largely stripped of moral seriousness. Here in New Zealand we have a pizza chain called Hell, which names its pizzas gluttony and sloth and lust and so on. Actually I don't think there is one called covetousness, which makes me wonder if it is an unfashionable vice. Or just awkward to say as in 'I would like a large Covetousness please'. In the Bible you are not supposed to covet your neighbour's ox or ass and I guess that is a bummer if your neighbour has a really cute ass. So we joke about such things. But my coveting of my friend's comic books actually messed with my head a little. It turned me briefly into Gollum. It made my world a little smaller and meaner. Religious dogma aside, perhaps that is what a vice is, something that shuts us down, de-means us, limits us, closes our world in.
So I never got the Vacuum Action Duster and since then I have had to be content with putting my own cloth on my own stick. And now, older and wise to the vice of Covetousness, I have decided what to do with the comics. I will return them forthwith.
Oh yes, the image above. It is a nineteenth century painting by Octave Tassaert, and it depicts the temptations of St Hilarion. He was an eremitic and extremely ascetic type and the inspiration for St Jerome, who wrote about St Hilarion's temptations in forensic detail. Alone in the desert for decades, the poor saint could barely lie down without being visited by visions of luscious women bearing lascivious food and drink in appalling abundance. My temptations are sadly less lysergic, although probably more eccentric.