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On Woman’s Hour they are talking about Coco Chanel and now Francoise Hardy is singing about her friend the rose and also, I imagine, about withering away, decay and death (must learn French) and I’d like to be in Paris right now, more precisely with the cherubs and the nymphs on Pont Alexandre III, because over-the-top art nouveau is the perfect antidote to dreary autumn weather and that vacant feeling left by the long-gone melancholy glamour of the 60’s. And in Paris quality red wine is mandatory. Steel constructions and stone ornaments filtered through a red-wine haze is what makes it so beautiful.
But I’m not in Paris. I am sitting at home, eating lunch consisting of chai tea and riesen chocolate while wrestling with Mikhail Bakhtin. Actually it’s a bit of a triangle drama between me, Bakhtin and Milan Kundera. Francoise is cheerleading, although it’s not clear whose side she is on. Possibly on Dostoevsky’s. He is also here, standing in the corner, with his polyphonic novel, looking terribly misunderstood.
Milan Kundera says “The novelist is neither historian nor prophet: he is an explorer of existence” and “existence is not what has occurred, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything that man can become, everything he is capable of.”
And I think, really, are we not all explorers of existence? At least our own existence. I think I’m going to put that on my business card either way. Explorer of existence and gratifier of human mankind. Charges on a pro rata basis. And Francoise sings j’ai besoin d’espoir sinon je ne suis rien which I think I will use as an advertising slogan (really, must learn French).
I clearly have nothing of importance to talk about. So bye. Au revoir, a bientot mes amis.
This time it makes perfect sense why two critics’ views of a show are miles apart. You remember Phedré getting one respectively five stars from the Independent and the Guardian? This time it is The Telegraph who thinks Mother Courage and Her Children, currently running at the National Theatre, is worth one star while over at the Guardian it has been rewarded with four. Charles Spencer calls it one of the most embarrassing spectacles I have ever seen in a theatre, a desperate ploy to make Brecht, the discredited old Marxist, seem relevant and modern while Michael Billington thinks it’s one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. As another Guardian writer points out; As a rule, the more Conservative the newspaper, the less its critic likes Mother Courage.
Without getting overtly in to my political views here; I am very, very fond of my Brecht. This three hour spectacle was not embarrassing at all; most of it was actually quite enjoyable.
Fiona Shaw gives her all as Mother Courage, scampering around the stage like a gypsy-cum-rock star and is noticeably exhausted in the end. Her hard-headiness and sharp-witted nature makes her a charismatic and principally likeable character. But as Brecht pits war against morality, her capitalistically driven business-sense, that not only allows her to endure the 30 Year War but also to profit from it, has fatal consequences as she loses each of her three children. There is in Mother Courage (both the character and the play as a whole) a gradual build-up of a deeply emotional dimension, which I have to say I found lacking in this production. You could argue that Brecht favoured Intelligent Thinking over Emotive Feeling but in fact he was of the opinion that the two cannot be divided. His call for an epic theatre was based on the view that it was not enough to incite emotion in the audience; those feelings also had to be examined.
So with Brecht you get a bit of a disjointed narrative, stage directions read out loud (in this case by Gore Vidal. You know, I really thought he had kicked the bucket a long time ago but apparently he is still going strong.), dressers and costume changes on-stage, musicians and random song outbursts (this role is given almost entirely to Duke Special which I think explains the hordes of screaming teenagers). Director Deborah Warner has been more than faithful to Brecht’s intentions. A barn is a barn, not because it looks like a barn but because there is a sign that tells you it is a barn, that kind of thing. But all those distancing effects need to be balanced by an engagement of the heart as well as the mind. It gets a bit like with Moulin Rouge. It’s loud (extremely loud), confident and showy and while you’re watching it does feels really impressive. But afterwards you leave feeling surprisingly unaffected with only some stupid song stuck to your brain. Nonetheless, even though Mother Courage is not all there, Brecht sure is and somehow that is more than enough.
Today is not only the day when this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been announced but also National Poetry Day.
T.S Eliot has been voted the Nation’s Favourite Poet in a poll at BBC’s Poetry Season. Not a bad choice. Sadly, although not very surprising, not a single female poet made it to the top 10. I voted for Christina Rossetti, but I seem to have been in minority.
As for the Nobel Prize, it was announced at noon today by Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy. My predictions for these kind of things are never right but I did really think it would be an American winner this year, or at least non-European. But no, Rumanian-born German writer Herta Müller is the winner with the motivation that she with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed, Apparently her first comment was I cannot believe it, I do not deserve it, I am overwhelmed. Congratulations Herta, I’m sure you deserve it!
Oh dear blog, I have been neglecting you terribly, haven’t I? I blame it on Don Quixote (yes, I did get trough it in the end). I also blame it on the radical change of life style I have been forced to undergo the last couple of weeks. You know, like waking up to an alarm clock in the mornings, getting in to the commuting routine from hell (London Bridge at peak hours is surely something Satan came up with) and filling up the calendar with nasty words like ‘essay deadline’. Yes, that’s right; I’m back in school. After the first day it felt like I had run a marathon or two. I’m clearly not used to using my head for anything more complicated than playing Tetris on my mobile phone. Now I need to exchange my one-syllable vocabulary (wine, film, bed) to words that I can neither pronounce correctly nor know exactly what they mean (I don’t want to give myself away here but, you know, the French stuff.)
It feels like it is about time to change that picture at the top too. No more graceful ladies lapping up the afternoon sun in floating silk gauze that looks like it’s been spun by angels. How about this one;
Hugo Simberg’s Garden of Death exists in a few different versions, the largest is one of the. now famous, frescoes he did for the Tampere Cathedral in Finland. According to Simberg, it is a place where souls go before entering Heaven. The skeletons are little helpers of Death, and the plants and flowers are people’s souls. That is so sweet, in a morbid kind of way. Read more and check out the rest of the art in Tampere Cathedral here.