On the Hook

Inanna On-the-HookAfter Inanna was declared guilty by the seven judges of the Underworld, her sister Ereshkigal stepped down from her throne. The poet tells us:

Then Ereshkigal fastened on Inanna the eye of death.

She spoke against her the world of wrath.

She uttered against her the cry of guilt.
She struck her.

Inanna was turned into a corpse,

A piece of rotting meat,

And hung from a hook on the wall.

This is the turning point of the poem. Inanna is dead. It is always a surprise to me how little space on the page a turning point takes up. Whether in an epic poem or a novel, it only takes a few words to kill off a character and change the whole direction of the story. Even in the movies, shots of a death usually don’t take up much camera time. (The exception is opera in which sung death scenes can go on forever.)

But how to put a Goddess on a meat hook? I puzzled over this for quite a while. Where does the hook go in? Where does it come out? What does a body hanging on a hook look like? I didn’t want a full frontal corpse. My solution was to insert the hook in her back so that she falls forward over it. Of course here I invoked artistic license: I have no idea if my hook-and-body arrangement would actually work. If I’d been writing the scene in a murder mystery, I would have had to do a lot more research to maintain credibility. But since I was simply carving it into Japanese plywood, the only research I did was to hunt for meat hook images on the World Wide Web.

The next problem was the background. What does the Underworld look like? The ancients conceived it as an arid, dreary gray plain – not the inky blackness in which my body was hanging. I took a ruler and started breaking up the space around my corpse with lines. I was hoping for a gray effect by incising white lines into the black but gradually the lines became a cityscape looming above the corpse. There was something familiar about its bleak emptiness. With rather a shock, I realized I had drawn the environs of a recurring dream in which I am hopelessly lost in an underground city. In the less unpleasant versions, I can see a slot of evening sky far above me between the faceless buildings. When I pulled the first proofs, I felt a kind of settling. My dream was no longer so oceanic, so engulfing. It was contained in two dimensions and in two colors – black and white. Like the print, the dream was of my own making. I was literally holding it.