Last night I saw For and End to the Judgment of God/Kissing God Goodbye, a theater piece directed by Peter Sellars. The text is the translation of a work performed by Antonin Artaud on French radio (and immediately banned) in 1947, and the poem Kissing God Goodbye by June Jordan.
Artaud was an avant-garde French playwright and actor. As part of a long history of mental illness, in 1937 he was taken to a mental institution in France. During his ten years at the institution he was subjected to fifty-seven (yes, fifty seven) electro-shock treatments and suffered from malnutrition. The rest of the wartime population ate poorly but those in institutions ate hardly at all. He died a year after he was released, the text above was written and performed during that year.
The performance takes the form of an American naval officer giving a press conference during a war, in this case, of course, the war in Iraq. Along with the garden-variety crazy person?s obsession with poop and farts, the naval officer explodes with the gut-wrenching suffering, and inevitable truths, of a madman. Now and then he is forced to take a break for military press conference images of limbless bodies and repeated bomb explosions accompanied by a drumbeat. At the end of the press conference he asks if there are any questions. An actress stands and recites June Jordan’s poem Kissing God Goodbye in response. ?Are you asking a question?? the officer says.
Sellars introduced the piece. He asked us to listen to the pain of the rest of the world, to listen to what they are trying to tell us. Yes, if we are bombing the shit out of a country or they are bombing the shit out of each other as part of the turmoil following our interference in their affairs, we had better be feeling their pain.
I have a problem with much of the current barrage of art aimed at shaming us into removing the blight from our country that is George Bush. In a New Yorker personal profile by Larissa Mac Farquhar, British writer and playwright Michael Frayn decries the ??literature of denunciation?-the kind of fiction that emerges from the view that, as he puts it, ?what writers should be doing is making people conscious of how inadequate and bad they are and how they don?t respond adequately to the sufferings of others.?? It could just be my repressed British upbringing but I agree with him.
We now have Farenheit 9/11, Farenhype 9.11, Celsius 41.11 and Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man. Michael Moore has more guts than anyone in the Democratic party. If a miracle occurs and Kerry wins, Moore should get the credit. Me, however, I always liked Jimmy Carter, global mediator extraordinaire and Nobel Peace Prize winner. But Carter is synonymous with weakness in the presidential food chain. Mediation doesn?t sell, it?s not sexy. Can you imagine the reality show, ?Big Corporation Crushes Little Guy Then Goes Off To A Desert Isle For Mediation? starring Jimmy Carter?
In yoga, disease and pain arise from doing nothing (a-yoga), doing too much (ati-yoga), doing something but not enough(alpa-yoga), or doing something incorrectly (mitya-yoga). Refusing to take on the Republicans with the same ferocity that they attack you is doing nothing, sending Michael Moore out to do the job is doing too much and doing it incorrectly, going to a Bruce Springsteen concert for John Kerry is not doing enough.
Appropriate yoga (yukta-yoga) eases the pain and disease. Though we are unlikely to agree on an appropriate response, we can probably agree that it would be very nice for someone to stand up and actually say what they think, to admit that they are a liberal and will raise taxes, to rise to the occasion that our current global role calls for.
Curt Schilling comes to mind. Need a hero: suture the wayward tendon causing his ankle pain, strap him into a shoe and send him out on the mound to beat down the curse, need someone who speaks his mind: Schilling called in and blasted the hosts of a sports radio show for trying to start a feud between him and Pedro Martinez, need an economist: Schilling negotiated his own multimillion dollar contract. A lot of people are much more excited about the possibility of the first Red Sox championship since 1918 than they are about our presidential election. No amount of pain seems likely to change that.