Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Merchant of Venice

Those who write on antisemitism in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice are, in my opinion, misguided whatever their opinion.  I claim that the Bard did not create a Jew to focus on his Jewish character but, rather, he created a money lender who was a Jew, because in the historical time in Venice where the story unfolds money lenders were generally Jews, as earlier in the last century in the U.S. cops were Irish, dry cleaners were Chinese (as they are predominantly Korean today), and tailors were Italian.  These are stereotypes and Shylock is a stereotype, and Shakespeare wisely used the convention because stereotypes dramatically clarify the ideas he would have the characters embody, that is, moneylending in this case, and the associated social conflicts of which drama is made.  Since Rabbinical laws prohibited Jews lending money to fellow Jews, the perception held by Gentiles was necessarily that Jews took advantage of them by demanding high interests, that is to say, practicing usury.  Moreover, Christians rejected non-Christians, characterizing them as pagans and infidels or, otherwise, heretics as the Catholic Church eventually considered Protestants to be.  Christian Venetians saw Jews as contemptible, and Shakespeare amply endowed them with antisemitic epithets and actions.  So, The Merchant of Venice realistically portrays Venice’s mercantile society for which Shylock appears as a synecdoche rather than as a thematic focus.  We are presented with those who hate and the plight of the object of their hate, and this is what gives the play its enduring pertinence in any society unable to free. 

A sense of historicity is elusive insofar as  a text from the past exists in the present.  We are always prone to read a writing from the past in the context of the present standard of ethics.  Ardent feminists are easily tempted to accuse a past writer of sexism concerning any matter which was taken for granted as a norm at the time of writing or at the time set in a historical past.  Historical fallacy is the case in point.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Sitting in a theater, I have been noticing for the past year or so that my hearing has been weakening.  Weakening is not quite what has been happening; it is more like blurring. It’s not that the sound I hear is getting faint; words are losing clear contours.  So, the lines spoken on the stage are getting hard to hear unless I am sitting close to the stage, perhaps within five or six rows. It is somewhat like seeing through a grime-covered glass; outlines are recognizable but details are lost.  I have been noticing, too, that I am more often asking to repeat what the person I was conversing with was saying.

The very same phenomenon is happening with my eyesight.  My ophthalmologist assured me that my sight is good and that I am free of cataract and glaucoma.  Yet, even with my new glasses on, writings in the distance are blurred; and supertitles in the theater are sometimes hard to read.  On the computer monitor, I can enlarge the text, and that is helpful.  Reading printed books has become hard and slow Again, I easily misread words, and reading small types is painful. The hyphen often shows itself as an equal sign; a and s are interchangeable.  Squinting the eyes used to sharpen the focus and make the text clearer; but now I see better if I open my eyes wide, as wide as possible, apparently so as to allow more light into the eyes.  So, it makes sense that I see better under brighter light.

My memory is also getting blurry, especially the short-term memory, words and names, sometimes some simple words.  All these blurs are expected at my age. I’m sure, approaching 84.  I get sleepy a lot during the day; I often doze at the table after or even during my breakfast.  My mind is then really blurry.  I believe this has to do with the fact that my bedtime is normally 2:00 a.m. and I have habitually six hours of sleep.  I don’t forget tasks and appointments. My hands don’t shake and my balance is good.  My knees are firm though I wobble a little when I take a seat on a subway, and my gait is still secure.  Most importantly, except when I am sleepy, my thinking is clear and alert.  Thank heavens!  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Living Live Theater

What makes live theater special is that it is live, that is to say, it is alive.  It is live action.  The experience of attending live theater may be likened to watching a glass blower blow a glass or a potter shaping a bowl on the wheel. The finished work is surely exquisite; watching it being made is an experience on another level.  A beautiful painting is wonderful, of course; but watching a painter paint it over her or his shoulder gives us a special excitement that can be experienced only vicariously when inspecting the brushwork visible in the finished painting.  A stuffed bird is beautiful but a live bird flutters and screeches and flies. 

When motion picture was born at the turn of the last century, it was photography come alive.  Performances as screen images are surely exciting enough; but next to a live event, it is only a shadow of the real event, a virtual reality.  Live theater is to movies as moving picture was to photography.  A circus on television is exciting enough; but attending a live circus performance is incomparable in its unparalleled thrill.  A circus coming to town is an event.  A field trip is hard work but it is always worth the effort. 

Attending theater is so much work.  The endeavor is certainly costly, not only in monetary expenses but also in time and effort.  It’s a lot of time-consuming work to order subscriptions and make reservations, whether by phone, on line, via mail, or in person, and then it is more work to manage the calendar with packed schedules; but it is also hard work to ride and walk to the theater and back, often taking up an hour each way, and it is still more work to sit concentrating on the actions on the stage, sometimes at no easy hearing and viewing distance and in an uncomfortable seat.  Planned and then undertaken, live theater is a labor intensive field trip. 

It’s so much easier to stay in and watch television, DVD, or streamed videos in the comfort of one’s home without all this work.  There are New Yorkers, of course, who, like suburbanites, prefer to relax after dinner on their favorite couch or armchair and entertain themselves with shows on television, which provide enough variety, too, and more recently DVDs and streamed movies which meet their individual taste and preferencs.  They would go out only as special events on special occasions.  Life is easier this way; but I insist that they are missing a lot.  In the world of modern technology, virtual reality has become the norm.  Those for whom canned tuna has become the norm, fresh tuna may taste strange, even unpalatable.

Living in New York, as I do, and enduring a high cost of living here, I consider it foolish if I didn’t take full advantage of the cultural amenities this city uniquely has to offer that are not quite as abundantly available elsewhere, and one of them is certainly live theater.  So, I take in as many live performances as I possibly could — music, dance, and live theater, ranging in variety and scale from sumptuous grand opera events to shoestring black-box productions.  I go out night after night, exhausting but tremendously satisfying.  Occasionally I attend movies but they inevitably seem slim even when they are good and I have no television at home as I have no use for it.  Live music is alive; live dance breathes; live performers share our space.   After enjoying fresh tuna, raw or cooked, canned tuna tastes, well, canned. not fresh. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

七夕 - Tanabata Festival


影ばかり     香織