Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fresh Water Please

Hey, can't you tell why I'm drinking from the faucet?  The water in the drinking fountain is stale.

Do I turn the faucet?  Don't make me laugh!  I know how it works, of course, but I don't dare hurt my paw tryin' anything like that.  When Mom goes to the basin, I rush up before her and block the faucet and, no fool she is, she understands. Mmm. fresh water tastes good.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Vif at 2 years and 9 months


Eh, what!  Hey you. What you lookin’ at my face like that for?  What’s so funny, eh?  You think it’s crooked or somethin’?  All right, I’ll show you.  Right. The white around my mouth is warped.  Yeah, before coming out of mommy’s tummy, I shook my head fast and hard, and this is what happened.  It’s totally unique, you see, and I’m proud of it.  Say something funny about it, watch it.  I’ll scratch your nose. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lecture Performed Socratically

In a New York Times Sunday Review (17 October 2015, “Lecture Me.  Really.”), Molly Worthen debated on the importance of the lecture as a teaching format as opposed to the group discussion.  It prompted me to think more about lecture as teaching. 

 It is true that a good lecture, well delivered, teaches students not only to listen actively but also to organize thoughts efficiently, much better than a group discussion. She fully recognizes, too, that the key to a good lecture is delivery; she writes that she rehearses the detailed script thoroughly and know it “well enough to riff when inspiration strikes,” and does “pace around, wave my arms, and call out questions.”   In short, a good lecture is a performance.  This does not mean mere histrionics.  A good lecturer must know how to edit the complex material so as to facilitate the aural reception and realize it into a well-articulated oral presentation such that the argument is crystal clear; the lecturer must learn to be a playwright and then an able performer.  A scholarly article published in print is fine for sight reading but not for lecturing; boring professors are those who fail to understand this fact and read their text, adhering to the Old French etymology of the word lecture, which indeed means reading, and they give the lecture format a bad name as a teaching method.  Then, too, there are students who assiduously take notes verbatim, hearing and recording the words and letting the sense of the lecture slip by until comes the time to read their notes for the exam.  A lecture, simply read aloud, might as well be distributed in print to be read individually at leisure. 

The importance of this distinction between lecture as reading and lecture as performance was not sufficiently made clear by the author of the Sunday review.  Lectures read aloud do not teach listening; only lectures well performed teaches listening attentively and successfully transmits the art of argumentation and solid thinking. 

I claim that the best teaching occurs in a Socratic dialogue, ideally one on one, in a sequence of question and answer.  In this situation, the teacher has the luxury of knowing more precisely what the student knows and does not know, what she or he understood or failed to understand, and thus what can be skipped and what reinforced, proceeding thus step by step with maximum efficiency. The seminar with a group of students is a guided discussion as we find in Plato’s all-night Symposium.  A successful seminar therefore has the professor playing the role of Socrates, who guides and oversee the discussion, challenging the class, as a well-focused multiple-channel dialogue such that a student-led discussion can achieve only sporadically.  With an audience larger than can be managed in a seminar format we compromise and shift the weight from the group discussion to the professor’s lecture but without losing the benefit of teaching by dialogue, if the lecturer learns to address the class collectively and severally.  This is what many good lecturers know almost instinctively or else by effort; there are inevitably professors who never seem to learn it.   A good storyteller can make any story engaging and persuades the audience to listen.  Lecture as performance does the same.  I say that it must be designed and delivered Socratically.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Yogini with Mynah Bird

Friends called my attention to this remarkable painting Yogini with Mynah (Freer/Sackler, 1603/04, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, India Karnataka, Islamic court of Bijapur), and it prompted me to gaze at it and scrutinize it. 

The arbitrary scale in the landscape, like the overscaled plants in the middle ground, is conventional enough in a non-European work like this one; the oddity is apparent only when viewed with the perspectival perception ingrained in the Western tradition.  The detail that I find befuddling is the bird, perched on the woman’s right hand, which turns the head completely upside down, an anatomically well-nigh impossible position.  With its beak close to the mouth of the woman, the artist, we can be certain, designed it to draw the viewer’s attention to focus on the relationship between the Yogini and the bird, and we are forced to ponder on it.  

Reading a picture is a risky business.  Since the mynah, like the parrot, is a bird that “talks,” one may be tempted to to understand that the bird is conversing with the yogini, or, since the woman’s mouth is closed she may be only listening to what the bird is saying.  One interpretation, mistakenly speaks of “the lady whispering to her talking bird” (http://www.indianart.ru/eng/of_the_deccan/7.php). This writer, moreover, doubts the lady is a yogini but believes her to be possibly "Balqis, the Queen of Sheba.” Another writer reads the yogini’s gaze differently: "The mynah, perched on her arm was playfully speaking with her or maybe tugging at one of the pearls from her earrings but the yogini appeared to be in a trance, looking beyond the bird, beyond everything." (http://mariecameronstudio.com/tag/yogini-with-myna/). The yogini may SEEM to be whispering to the bird or only listening to it.  She may SEEM to be gazing or contemplating, or she may be merely gazing without seeing anything.  Then, the mynah may be talking or just listening except that a mynah, by convention, is understood to talk.  When we read a picture of a bird or any animal, we engage ourselves in an anthropomorphic projection. 

Mention of anthropomorphism may at first seem to make light of the sense of deep communication between the yogini and the bird.  But instilling a human character in any non-human creature, from mammals down to fishes is an act of COMPASSION, and it allows us to talk, say, to a fish, even, though it may not respond.  Compassion is a one-way traffic, unlike communication which assumes correspondence, that is, answering each other.  Between two individuals, on the other hand, there is never a complete comprehension.  one never fully fathom what is in the mind of her or his interlocutor from the words spoken. But understanding occurs without comprehension as described in this Zen mondō: A Zen master, taking a walk with his disciple along a pond on a beautiful day, said, “Look, how happy those fish are in the pond, ”and the disciple retorted, 'Master, you are not a fish, so you cannot really know if they are happy or not’. The Master then replied, “You are not me, so how do you know what I had in my mind when I said what I said.”  Compassion enables us to empathize and trust what was meant by what was said though ultimately we can never be sure. 

To say that a mynah or a parrot talks means that it imitates sonically the human speech.  When we humans try to imitate the sounds made by birds and beasts, our effort is onomatopoeia and it is a crude approximation, like “meow,” “oink,” and “tweet tweet.”   A mynah does not merely imitate spoken words but the pitch and tone, as well as the timbre, of the vocalized phrase it has been taught to repeat by its trainer. If we had this capacity to imitate we will learn to speak a foreign language without any accent. A child learns its mother tongue by close imitation, much closer than an adult can trying to speak a foreign language but still not as close as a mynah or parrot.  When we think a mynah is talking when it is only repeating the sound, we are acting anthropomorphically and think by compassion that we are being understood.  Seen in this light, we can consider that the Yogini is communicating with her mynah in this image, and in so understanding we are in turn reading the picture compassionately.  So, the bird, momentarily appearing supine but more likely upright, SEEMS as though it is making a tremendous effort to communicate with his yogini, and therefore the yogini in turn SEEMS as though she is contemplating without responding directly to the bird’s beckon and yet understand it compassionately.  This may be ultimately the meaning of the painting.  Reading an image is quite like reading the mind of another.   

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kentridge Masters Lulu

The opera Lulu at the Met in its new production by William Kentridge was an exuberant spectacle, dominantly his than of its composer Alban Berg.  Despite Marlis Petersen’s superb performance in the title role, both in singing and acting, and the powerful music under the direction of Lothat Koenigs replacing indisposed James Levine, what remained in memory was the dynamic stage display of Kentridge’s design, rapidly and incessantly changing sets composed of fragmented flats, video images, placards, masks, and the brushed drawings in process coming out of Kentridge’s own hands.  The belief underlying the production, no doubt, is opera as Gesamtkunstwerk as conceived by Richard Wagner.  I contend nonetheless that what distinguishes opera from other forms of music theater is singing to which other artistic endeavors are certainly not to be subservient but stay eager participants.  Kentridge’s so-called chamber opera at BAM earlier, Refuse the Hour, was this artist’s similarly dense multimedia spectacle but it succeeded totally because he was his own ringmaster.

It dealt with a complex idea of time, temporarity, and memory, resulting from his consultation and collaboration with the physicist Peter Galison, and the ensemble of dance, music, and singing performed on stage and the remote-controlled set of drums suspended from the loft, and Kentridge’s own sketches and collages and film clips, together with his recitation of the libretto text he wrote, worked dramatically together to expose the mystery of time — time arrested, reversed, accelerated, decelerated, elasticized, fragmented, and otherwise distorted.

But the spectacle similarly overlaid and orchestrated was just too much for an opera production, domineering our attention excessively.  Kentridge also introduced two extraneous non-singing characters, non-singing, therefore, additional visual distractions, a butler character who flittered across the stage every so often and a young woman, nominally a pianist, who sprawled on the piano most of the time and occasionally making choreographed poses.  What I found sorely missing is the clearly defined mise-en-scene for the three acts, set successively in Vienna, Paris, and London, marking Lulu’s progressive degradation.  After several viewings, with the visual novelty wearing out, we may learn to pay less attention to the stage and concentrate on the music and singing.  But I suspect it will take more than a few years of repeat performance.  William Kentridge is a great artist, visionary and inventive in his conceit, broad and profound in his socio-political perspectives, and most adroit in realizing them.  His work on Shostakovich’s opera The Nose was admirable no less than his earlier efforts Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Die Zauberflöte. It is a pity that there was no one to restrain him in this latest effort.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Revisiting Swarthmore 2015

Last weekend, I spent two days, Friday and Saturday, on the campus of Swarthmore College, where I taught from 1966 to 2001, the year when I retired.  As I tell my former students in jest, I am in the Class of 2001, having taken me 35 years to graduate, and to me Swarthmore truly feels like my Alma Mater, certainly more strongly than any of the schools I graduated from — my high school (St. Joseph’s College in Yokohama), UC Berkeley, and Harvard, or Santa Rosa Junior College where I spent the first three semesters in the U.S.  In fact, I have never been to any reunion at these institutions.  

The occasion for this visit was the Inauguration of Valerie Smith, the 15th president; I admired her from afar since the time her appointment was announced and considered most opportune to attend her formal installation.  So, I also volunteered to be one of the hosts to accompany visiting delegates (some in proxy) as this gave me the opportunity to put on the regalia and join the Academic Procession for nostalgia’s sake.  The celebration started with performances the previous evening.  On Saturday, there was a breakfast by invitation, followed by two symposia on the character of the Swarthmore education with panels of alumni, entitled Changing Lives: Access and transformation and Changing the World: Local Actions and Global Impacts.  Following the lunch the Procession Ceremony and Installation Ceremony the full afternoon.  I headed home before the evening entertainment. 

The day was exhausting; I came home exhausted.  But I was glad to have been there.  Hearing the alumni talk about Swarthmore's excellent education was stirring; seeing old colleagues, including David Fraser and Dorie Friend, the two earlier presidents, was gratifying; finding Maralyn Gillespie looking well and remembering the alumni cruises she had me to participate, one trip to Scandinavia, Estonia, and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and another to Japan and China, was heart-warming; meeting and chatting with alumni-friends I have not seen for years was endearing; marching in the Academic Procession for the first time since 2001 was enthralling; and the addresses by visiting college presidents and by Valerie Smith herself were all so uplifting. 

This is certainly the last time I shall wear a regalia and march ceremoniously; this may well be the last time I shall participate in any formal event on campus.  I went with a certain sense of collegiate duty, a sort of pilgrimage, but returned home totally gratified, feeling almost patriotic to my “alma mater.” 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Antigone stripped down

The appearance of Juliette Binoche brought me to BAM to see her in Antigone, a Sophocles masterpiece, which I discovered only after making a reservation that Ivo van Hove directed it in Anne Carson’s new translation.  This information deflated my enthusiasm.  But, surprisingly, van Hove showed restraint quite contrary to his customary self-indulgent histrionics; the stage was bare and the actors moved sparingly; and Anne Carson’s translation, heavily edited down, followed the original closely so far as the lines she retained were concerned.  Spoken words took precedence, and that was fine; but more poetic lines were gone and so the high emotions of the drama.  The production, with its nearly exclusive focus on the theme of law and justice, was drained of flesh and bone, like the limp raincoat that represented Haimon’s bloody dead body in the last scene.  There was no tragedy in this Greek tragedy, not much Greek either in modern dress. 

50 Old, 50 Young

When I left Japan to come to the U.S. to study, I was 19 and Mother was 50.  From my vantage point, she was by no means very old but mature and old, perhaps just for being my mother.  When I reached 50, I thought of myself as still young and vigorous; there is no way I could think that I was at Mother’s age.  My niece in Japan, the younger daughter of my elder sister, with an 11-year old daughter of her own, reached 50 this year, and she is oh so young, over 30 years my junior.  A person’s age is a peculiar phenomenon.  It betrays the fluid perspectival perception of time. 


Monday, September 28, 2015

あたしの運動能力 - My Athleticism


So far as my trophied athleticism goes, I was at the top of class since my childhood.  I was spectacularly limp in gymnastics that it is a wonder that I passed. I managed to hang from a horizontal bar but I could never pull myself up, and I was too scared to make a rotation.  I feared a ball flying toward me, and I never succeeded in hitting a baseball with a bat. In broad jump, high jump, or whatever jump, I made a record low.  In any race, I was the first, turned around about-face. In swimming, I sank swiftly. Later, I played basketball, during the recess; since the ball was large and I learned to dribble passably I did not look so bad even if I rarely made a basket.  In my first year of college in the US, I tried golf but I was better at hurling a clod of turf than the ball, and I was ousted from the class.  I did tennis but my racket behaved as though it had no net on it; occasionally I succeeded in hitting the ball but it invariably flew in odd directions.  Archery was a good exercise because my arrow failed to hit the target, not to speak of the bull’s eye, so walking over beyond the target to pick up the stray arrows, covering more distances than anyone in class.  I passed. Still later, for the swimming required for graduation, I mastered floating on the back to view the sky, and learned to make 5 or 6 back strokes, and for this accomplishment I passed by a slim margin.  Ha, ha, ha, spectacular.  During my college years, I got a job as a counselor at a summer camp, and there I learned to ride a horse.  There was no flying balls to steer, catch, or hit, I succeeded.  It was only a question of balance.  In fact, in my grade school years, I did well in jumping ropes and swinging on a swing.  For this same reason, the circus trapeze and tight rope walking tempted me and I thought I could try.  But when I thought of it I was already 70; so, thinking it was much too late and gave up the idea.  Most regrettably.  I was also drawn to ballet.  It’s not anything anyone can do, and that is the challenge and special attraction of the ballet.  Aside from disciplining the body to be beautiful and graceful, it also trains the body athletically and inculcate a musical sense — a threefold benefit.  So, I am only a spectator.  As I sit and watch a ballerina, I watch and feel each of her moves physically and move my muscles imitatively.  In my next life, I will do ballet.  Definitely. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A. R. Gurney's Love & Money

True, this is not among the best of Gurney’s plays but just as delightful as any, neatly constructed with agile dialogues and peppered with wry humor, lightly satirizing the WASP as in many of his other plays.  This is not a full dinner; it is a lunch fare, simple and light but so delicious. 

Annie Baker's John

Annie Baker’s new play John is a modern masterpiece, not only as a writing, both in matter and manner, but in its realization on the stage, perfectly integrated as it is with Sam Gold’s direction and Mimi Lien’s breathtaking set representing a bed-and-breakfast guest house in Gettysburg.  These three artists together with the cast of four form a perfectly tuned quartet so beautifully balanced among themselves.  The play runs nearly three-and-a-half hours with two intermissions, and this length together with many moments of pauses and silences through the three acts made some - not a small number — in the audience restless, and some among them fled the theater during the two intermissions. 

Those long silences annoyed those who think theater is dialogue, expecting the actors to talk on incessantly as in TV sitcoms and failing to realize that in silence actors also act actively.  Pauses in John gave the play not only constituted its substance and made it so memorable; they were not only carefully calibrated but pregnant and often terribly tense and to those attuned to this pacing three hours did not feel long but continuously and excitingly mystifying. 

Most generally, the team that realized John intriguingly managed to overlay naturalism on the artifice of dramatic composition achieved the totally credible reality of never-fully-comprehensible murky complexities of human relationships, and the playwright accomplished it with only four characters in one single set.  This alone is a superb artistry.

The play opens with the owner of the B&B, Mertis Katherine Graven who calls herself “Kitty” (remarkable Georgia Engel) effortfully pushing open the stage curtain (rarely in use in contemporary plays) to reveal a huge common room extending the full width of the stage; it is studded with tchotchkes of all kinds everywhere, and, since it is as though Kitty opened the drapery of the fourth wall of the room, the audience is immediately engulfed in the milieu of the play, made to feel we are well within the room, perhaps at its far corner.  Silently, Kitty, limping lightly, shuffles about the room to turn on the music and adjust the grandfather clock to indicate the time of the scene, the action repeated at every change of the scene, one example of the artifice which is so natural that we never feel it a gimmick.  After a long silence, we finally hear a car pulling in and we hear a noise of something being knocked over outside the door.  But we never find out what it was, the first intimation of a mystery.  A 30-and something couple then arrives (Christopher Abbott and Hong Chau as Elias and Jenny); Kitty comes to open the door and meet them  but for a while no one says anything.  We wait and at long last Kitty, absent-minded, realizes her duty and indicates them to the room upstairs, a different room, unexplained, from what the couple had reserved.  We hear the loud quarreling between the man and the woman but we don’t quite hear what they are saying — another mystery.  So, in the first few minutes we find ourselves already drawn into the emotional tenor of the drama, a particular kind of anxiety and tension existing in a couple who think and want to believe they love each other and yet feel uncertain and confused and doubtful; and we wait with our own anxiety akin to that of visiting someone we have never met before and made to wait a bit too long for the host or hostess to make an appearance.  

This anxiety is the theme of the play, and it is consistently maintained and intensified as the drama progresses but at a deliberate pace with only bits and pieces of information as in real life to allow the characters to be shaped in depth, to some extent by the behavior of Elias and Jenny themselves and the strained interactions between them, like the quarrel at the breakfast table, trivial and yet revealing a deep-seated mutual discontent and Jenny’s childhood memory of an angry doll which she identifies as one of the dolls in the room, but also and more importantly by mysterious and mystifying happenings around them.  On the one hand we see more obvious strange happenings, like the player piano which starts playing by itself and the Christmas lights that go off and on, and on the other hand, and more importantly, we are exposed to Kitty’s seemingly non-consequential remarks about her sick husband we never see and her first husband long dead or her impulsive recitation of the collective names for different birds; at one point she tells us that the her inn was was a hospital during the Civil War with dismembered limbs piled high by the windows so that the room was dim.  She sounds naive or else senile, talking like a little girl, and yet she bursts out with astute observations.  After a while she is joined by her friend, Genevieve Marduk (Lois Smith), blind and unseeing but all knowing, keeps making declamatory pronouncements about her state of mental disintegration with ample self knowledge and articulate precision not just to Kitty and the suffering couple but also to the audience, whom she detains, at the end of Act II after the curtain is drawn.  Hers is a voice of the pervasive uneasy universe, so to speak; and she sits in the dark without a word while Elias and Jenny entangle on the sofa. 

As we are inexorably drawn deeper into this world of anxiety, the psychology of the story gets inexorably thicker and thicker.  In Act III, Elias sits with Kitty as the night approaches dawn and tells her his intimate and turbulent sentiment as one can only do to a virtual stranger as he would never do to anyone else; and we learn of the infidelity he suspects of Jenny on the basis of the text messages she reads but conceals from him.  In the last line spoken by Kitty who leans over to peek in Jenny’s mobile phone, we learn that the sender of the text message is John.  

The dialogues among the four characters are not only broken by pauses, long and short, but are often given in piece meal small talks, and yet they are step by step, scene by scene, calculated to deepen our anxiety, so that despite its length, we are continually kept tense, and the three-and-a-half hours zips past. Yet, on the other hand we feel as though we spent the whole stretch of events in real time because of the effect of life-like realism even though this is achieved by close calibration.  

Annie Baker's John impressed me so and I went back for the second time; and it was even better.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Rice and Tree: Two Dances

The dance performance Rice by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan at BAM Gilman Opera House was very exciting.  It far surpassed my expectations.  So far I saw the company twice before this one: Wild Cursive and Water Stains on the Wall, and I heard Lin Hwai-min, the choreographer, twice in a pre-performance talk, the first time with Anne Kisselgoff interviewing him.  We saw in Rice the same varied body movements that are uniquely his and the highly sophisticated ensemble dancing, complex and yet never confusing.  In addition, the cycle of the rice cultivation through the changing conditions of wind, sun, and rain, beautifully projected on the large background screen with moving soundscape, gave the dance, aptly integrated with the sound and images, a fine sense of thematic cohesion. The folksongs in an old Chinese dialect provided more poetry to the piece.  So, the choreography was excellent, now dynamic and now poetically restrained, now fast and now slow; the dancers equally excelled in their vigor and precision; and the costumes, simple but with carefully coordinated palette, added a flair, all very impressive and satisfying.  

Two days later, I saw Tree of Codes, a production at the Park Avenue Armory, a spectacle by Wayne McGregor choreographer, Olafur Eliasson light designer, and Jamie xx composer, inspired by the book of the same title by Janathan Safran Foer.  Despite the grand scale of the work, it was sorely disappointing.  It lacked any sense of integration between Eliasson’s lighting, itself gimmicky with no coherence, and McGregor’s choreography, itself vigorously athletic but repetitive with no running theme of any sort nor expressive impact and thus boring.  There was some magic in the frontal glass surface serving at once as a reflective mirror and the see-through surface foreground glass wall serving at once as a reflective mirror and the see-through surface.  During the very first scene where the dancers were rigged with lights schematically outlining the dancers, I was thinking that what makes a dance wonderful in live performance is the human body, here concealed; then, in the next scene we saw simulated naked bodies, and they made me think how costumes amplify the bodies in motion.  The play of light for the rest was entirely arbitrary, like a child playing with a flashlight.  It was a striking contrast to the poetically illuminating dance by Cloud Gate. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Alone at Theater

In my years of theater going, I was usually alone.  Since theater going for me is not a social entertainment as it is for many but a study project more like going to the library to read, I did not miss having a companion.  I rather liked being alone at the theater and be able to concentrate on what goes on the stage without a companionable distraction.  Moreover, sitting with someone we experience the performance separately, not together, since we don’t chat obviously as we should not.  We could engage in silent communication, like glancing at each other to frown, smile , or nod, but I am not naturally inclined to do these things either.  With a friend at a theater, we can exchange notes during the intermission or, before and after the performance if there was no intermission as is often the case with contemporary plays lasting an hour and a half or even less. 

So together with a friend at theater, we are each alone, interacting with the performers and their performance rather than with each other.  Yet together we are not really alone.  Having settled in New York, by and by I made several theater companions, some for dance, others for opera, and still others for straight theater. Then, I came to realize that there is a special pleasure in seeing a particular play together with a friend of shared taste, sitting next to each other, rather than separately on a separate night.  That is because, I believe, each live performance is unique in that the performance itself, as well as the audience, and therefore the vibration felt between them as well, is different from night to night.  Comparing notes is much more finely tuned when we see the same performance together with the same audience around us, anonymous as it is, than when we see the same play separately on different nights.  The companionship at theater, rather than a distraction, in fact can add to and enrich the pleasure of experiencing the theater by oneself. 

Learning to Learn

There is no better way to learn anything than to teach, whatever the subject matter, one’s specialization or out of it.  I say this often and hold it as my credo.  I also believe that there is nothing under the sun that is not worth learning.  So, it follows that this passion for learning, learning for learning’s sake, is a prerequisite for a good teaching.  It is a kind of teaching which also instils in the students a passionate desire to learn and then they learn how to learn.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Authenticity, Credibility

Authenticity in acting is an oxymoron.  A person can be authentic — honest, sincere and truthful.  We can speak of the authenticity of a gem, a document, and a signature.  A product can be authentic — genuine and unadulterated, true to what it claims to be.  A painting deemed inauthentic is a copy, a replica, a workshop piece, a misattributed work, or else a work of forgery,  But acting is feigning; therefore, the performer can never be authentic nor her or his performance.  Its art consists in the ability of the actor to impersonate convincingly a character she or he is not.  If successful, the actor achieves credibility, not authenticity but a semblance of authenticity or verisimilitude. There are people who fail to see this distinction.    

It is absurd to expect an actor, who once or at the time was a hooker, promises to perform the role of a hooker better than anybody.  If she played the character convincingly, the accomplishment owes to her acting, not her other profession.  The actor can become a thug on stage or screen without being a thug in life.  

A skilled Caucasian soprano can sing Aida and Madama Butterfly and act out the characters credibly; conversely, an African American, a Native American, a Latino or Latina, or an Asian can certainly successfully sing appropriate roles in Don Giovanni and Parsifal. Similarly, a a black actor can be cast and effectively perform King Lear and Oedipus Rex.  

These are stylized dramas, of course.  But it is no different in contemporary plays and films set in the contemporary world and realistically realized.  

A controversy in Hollywood was reported recently in the New York Times article with the headline reading “Who Gets to Play the Transgender Part?” (3 September 2015).  The answer to the question is: “Anyone who can should.”   Refusing to answer the question decisively, the writer Mr. Brooks Barnes, muddled the issue.  There is no question that the movie industry should seek out and use more minority actors with more effort — Asians, Blacks, Latins, Physically Challenged, Gays, and Transgenders, but not necessarily, I argue, in their corresponding racial, ethnic, and gender roles The confusion apparently issues from the community of transgender people pressuring the industry to cast transgenders in transgender roles.  This is befuddling to say the least, or rather, downright silly, if we can assume, as I do, that a transgender man or woman striving to pass as the person of the opposite sex should welcome a non-trans actor assuming a transgender character.  

We remember Theodor Bikel, a Jew from Vienna, was a Southern sherif in The Defiant Ones, 1958, and he was credible enough to be nominated the Best Supporting Role by the Academy; and Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant in Rain Man won him his second Oscar.  

As the Hollywood producers and directors interviewed in this article are said to have insisted: acting is acting.  Indeed.

Police&Comminity White/Black

The press, enthusiastic for sensationalism, was at fault in writing up the 2014 Ferguson incident as a major racist event (even though it was in fundamental sense).  It failed to recognize that this was not simply and simplistically the question of black vs. white but there was the fact, as fundamental, that poverty breeds anger and violence, and it is more often suffered by the black population  in predominant black community.  The press thus helped the racist awareness and prompted a series of racial demonstrations on racism but unnecessarily incited antagonism between police and black rather than reporting more accurately the problem of the police dealing with the poor.  

My opinion in this regard, which I have already said before, arises from my perception that racism discussed persistently as a question of black and white is not really so black-and-white, because the color of the skin is never black or white but varies in a spectrum ranging from dark brown to light brown.  The whitest Caucasian, standing against a white wall, or even wearing a white blouse or T-shirt, shows that her or his skin is a pale tan, and the blackest African skin against his or her black hair shows that his or her skin is not pitch black. as it would be revealed standing against a completely black backdrop.  

With increased interracial marriage, the line separating black and white, already blurred in reality, may get even more blurred in thinking, and then the identification of racial categories in terms of black and white may eventually get removed from the census and statistical accounting. 

One year from the Ferguson incident, the press now seems be directing its attention  more to the need of improving the behavior of the police force in the community it serves. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vif growing up

Here I am, Vif, looking serious.
C’mon, I am serious.
I’m deep in philosophical thought about the state of the world
and the state of Mom’s desktop.
You see, I’m almost two-and-a-half years old, no longer a kitten.
That’s like twenty-six in people age.
But Mom tells me I’m immature
just because I enjoy knocking down things like waste baskets
now and then,
and nibble the arch of her feet, trying to be affectionate.
Oh, well, Mom is not very feline, she is not.

I did this. Crushed paper all over me.  And the noise.
Oh, such fun!  Such thrill!