A Math Problem and a Human Solution to Paradise

I meant to show a fascinating picture from an Islamic manuscript called “The Path of Paradise,” which I saw in the exhibition of Jerusalem 1000-1400 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Muhammad see seventy thousand curtains made of light, fire, precious stones, pearls, or gold. Seventy thousand angels guard these curtains, one of whom leads him through to the throne of God, which is ringed by seven hundred thousand tents of enormous proportions, each housing five hundred thousand angels reciting praise to God.” (The Sarikhani collection, UK) The vivid description shows us a part of heaven that looks like an enormous fabric showroom.

How many angels are you able to count from the grand and imposing scene? Does any angel wish to become human? Perhaps the brilliant red and golden color of the theme is only a backdrop. It seems contrary to a muted vision of the world depicted in Wim Wenders’ Wing of Desire (1987) and its angel protagonist Damiel who was running away from and heading for a mortal life; only the moment Damiel determined to give up his immortality and became human because of love, the monochrome film started shifting into vibrant color. Being mortal is not equal to a mundane existence.

Here is the “confession” from Damiel the guardian angel in the film:

I’d like, at each step, each gust of wind, to be able to say “Now.” Now and “now” and no longer “forever” and “for eternity.” To sit at an empty place at a card table and be greeted, even by a nod. Every time we participated, it was a pretense. Wrestling with one, allowing a hip to be put out in pretense, catching a fish in pretense, in pretense sitting at tables, drinking and eating in pretense. Having lambs roasted and wine served in the tents out there in the desert, only in pretense. No, I don’t have to beget a child or plant a tree but it would be rather nice coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe, to have a fever and blackened fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal, by the line of a neck by an ear. To lie! Through one’s teeth. As you’re walking, to feel your bones moving along. At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen.”

The Archangel Israfil from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Damiel in the film
Visual Themes from Wings of Desire

這是在大都會博物館《耶路撒冷1000-1400》展覽上最讓我印象深刻的一件作品。“穆罕默德看見七萬條金銀珠寶做成的布幕,由七萬個天使守護著。其中一個天使引領著穆罕默德進入布幕來到上帝的寶座,七十萬個帳篷圍繞著寶座,每一個帳篷住了五十萬個天使正在歌詠上帝。” 這段描述著回教先知穆罕默德通往天堂之路上看到的冠冕堂皇聲勢浩大的情景,乍看之下像道算數題,你能算算總共有多少天使嗎?不知為何,突然想到了德國導演溫德斯的經典名作《慾望之翼》Wing of Desire 裡那位動了真情的天使 Damiel,被貶下凡間後,他眼裡看到的世界都成了彩色^^

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