Tuesday, January 25, 2011

John Gabriel Borkman

Henrik Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman was beautifully performed. I saw it BAM on 12 January. The play itself was predictably desolate and depressing; but the actors were excellent. Fiona Shaw, certainly, in a difficult role of Gunhild (so unlikeable a character) was superb but I thought Lindsay Duncan as Emma was particularly noteworthy. Alan Rickman did not have the megalomaniac power needed to create the character of Borkman, perhaps too defeated in Act 2, in the upstairs apartment where he is cooped up. The set was covered with banks of snow as if they hauled them from outside the theater.  Most of all, I was reminded that theater is above all recitation.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

News falsifies

News in news media falsifies. It falsifies even when it tries for the highest standards of truth merely by its inherent limitation that it cannot cover all the news. It falsifies by exclusion. A paper may claim to print “all the news that’s fit to print,” but leaves out all the news that it deems unfit to print or not quite fit to print by limitation of space or else according to the presumed interest of the readership. The individual new item, similarly, tells the story edited down suitably, that is to say, to make it manageable. Even in a small community paper there are events that are never reported; in the wide international world there are more events that are never brought to our attention; and stories are never fully told except those of high sensational value (or actually even those). Every piece of writing is edited, and editing reduces, abridges, clarifies, and thus falsifies. As Jean-Luc Godard said of film: “Every edit is a lie.” A film that is called a documentary documents only those facts and events it chooses to document and fictionalizes them despite itself. A documentary documents only to the extent a fiction film is a documentary in that it documents the event enacted by the actors performing against a set, real or painted, in front of the camera. In fact, the filmmaker’s individual point of view, achieved by her selectivity, is absolutely inevitable. Even a scene shot with a stationary camera, no less than a picture in still photography, selects by leaving out what exists outside the frame. The public at large, nurtured by televised images, is hard put to question their reality and realize their falsity. News in news media, print or graphic, never tells the whole story and feeds us a false notion of the world we live in. This is the nature of the media; but it is important to be constantly and fully aware of it, or else we live a life duped.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Willy Decker's La Traviata

The stark iconoclastic production of Verdi’s La Traviata by Willy Decker, inaugurated this season at the Met, is inevitably a shock to the audience long seeped in the version set in Dumas’ 19th-century Paris. But approached with an open mind, it does free the opera from the burden of the spectacle and foregrounds the music and the stage action effectively reminiscent of some of Wieland Wagner’s productions of the Ring. Decker in an interview explains (not very convincingly) that the circular wall and the clock in the set design, alluding to the cycle of passing of time, were suggested by the overture playing the theme of Violetta’s death scene. But through the three Acts there are some inspired conceits that are worthy of note. The surging figures at the party, all in black, in Act I, overpowering in their choreographed movements across the stage, registered vividly the social isolation of Violetta, alone in red. The random placement of five sofas covered with homely floral chintz (with the matching robes of Alfredo and Violetta) captured the casual rustic life style without a country house set; and Violetta’s stripping the covers during her interaction with Germont was terribly expressive of her condition of being robbed bare of her happy life and made the "Addio" duet very touching. In the scene of the masked ball, the clock was ingeniously turned into a roulette table; Flora, who hosted the party, wearing a black suit, was lost in the crowd In the final Act, the Carnival, heard outside the window traditionally, rushed onto the stage obtrusively; but the tapes left strewn on the floor looked like streaks of consumptive blood. The death scene without a bed made the final scene less affective than usual. The figure of Dr. Granvil, appearing hauntingly through the three acts made sense emblematically only if we accepted the director’s reinterpretation of Violetta as a victim of inexorable time. It rather turned La Traviata in Paris Nordic.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Those who attribute shooting rampage in the political arena to polarization in politics are betraying their inverted notion that political polarization justifies violence, oblivious that such violence is itself an act of polarization; no heated argument justifies physical assault either.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cultural reciprocity

If I stand next to a person taller than I, I am shorter, but I am taller next to another person shorter than I. I am short and tall alternately; I am also taller and shorter simultaneously. This is the law of relativity. Tall and short are not absolutes. While this is obvious, we are in the habit of thinking in categories in a variety of situations because thinking categorically promises efficient learning. But it oversimplifies. The doorway is where we enter and exit alternately. When we pass the door between two rooms, we may be entering or exiting from one room to the other depending whether we consider the room we are in as inside or outside. Inside and outside are reversible. So, in a cross-cultural encounter, the same event or phenomenon which may appear to present itself as contradictions from two different sides is only two aspects of the same thing viewed from two different points of view. When we understand this reciprocity, we promote better mutual understanding by the members of the two opposing parties. This is what diplomacy should try to accomplish -- between nations no less than between individuals.