March 29, 2007

Heads Up

Good Stuff, read it all:

1. Clive James writes about Rilke, using Brecht as a foil for contrast:

In the long run, there was no reversing the erosion of Brecht's shamanic prestige as the personification of radical theater. It had been apparent since The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui that Brecht had never had any intention of telling the truth about the central facts of politics in his own time. He knew what the truth was: Nobody knew better, he just wasn't going to bring it in, even by implication. Above all, the main truth was left out. According to his dramatic works, Nazism, not just at the beginning but throughout its career, existed because capitalism willed it so, and communism was the soul of freedom. In the end, there was no considerable audience left anywhere, West or East, for such a fantastic interpretation, and Brecht's reputation as a seer melted away in good time to be replaced by a contrary reputation based on the repellent details of his real-life biography.

He emerged as an ice-cold, ruthless, self-serving egomaniac contemptuous of all decencies, and especially pitiless to the women who made the mistake of paying him allegiance. Even people who admired his work have given pen-portraits that turn the stomach. Yet somewhere in between the thoroughgoing con man Brecht was in real life and the hollow prophet he was as a man of the didactic theatre, Brecht was a great poet.

2. Alvaro Vargas Llosa (a Catalan?) writes about the film "The Lives of Others" and points up the central weakness of totalitarianism:

The German film focuses on Gerd Wiesler, a captain in the Stasi, East Germany's feared secret police, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is ordered to spy on a playwright and his actress girlfriend simply because the minister in charge of culture lusts for the lady and needs an excuse to put the writer away in order to clear the path. Through a tantalizing series of small twists and turns in which what is not said is more important than what is, the plot leads us toward the moral awakening of Wiesler. As he records the details of the playwright's and his girlfriend's lives, the gray, obedient bureaucrat discovers in himself a humane depth to which nothing in his ideological rigidity or in the chilling machinery he efficiently serves seemed to predispose him. This moral awakening is intimate and unassuming, and it leads Wiesler to an act of quiet heroism that will save his intended victim from the fate that the minister wishes for him without leaving traces or claiming credit for his actions later on.

What "The Lives of Others'' reminds us of -- and the reason it is such a timeless work of art -- is that man is capable of totalitarianism, but not perfect totalitarianism. Even when all the pegs are in place, something will alter the clockwork mechanism of the regime. That ``something'' is human nature, pure and simple. Nobody in the film is a perfect totalitarian in the sense that no one -- not the bosses, not the servants, not the victims -- acts in the way that the logic of the system dictates they should act in any given circumstance. There will be moments of weakness in the least humane of despots and moments of fortitude in the most hopeless victims that will shatter the perfect order of the totalitarian system.

Posted by Dennis at March 29, 2007 8:02 PM

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