Syberberg’s Hitler

September 22, 2006

In last week’s post I mentioned Syberberg’s Hitler, a film from Germany as an example of political art reaching beyond the confines of both politics and art. I’m not sure if it came across like that, but I’m sure that’s what I meant. At least, that’s what I mean now. And that’s all that matters.

Since then I’ve spent three evenings watching the first three parts of the film. The last part I’m gonna watch tonight. But before I do so I wanna put down some thoughts on what it’s been like so far. Not that I’m expecting a surprise ending – I’ve been through the whole thing a couple of times before – but just to keep my thoughts untainted by the entirety of the work, and instead focus on some of the particulars.

At the end of Part III – after some five hours of patiently trying to map out the psychology of Hitler and his bedfellows – the grand old Führer has finally had it. Come alive as a puppet at the hand of a ventriloquist he takes on the screen, and does a monologue that not even the puppeteer knows how to answer.

Instead of defending his own stance Hitler praises his posterity for fulfilling his own visions of the future. ”Ich grüse die Amerikanen!” he starts out, and then lists all the wonders they and others have performed to his memory. How the Pope received Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in audience, how Palestinian freedom fighter Yassir Arafat carried a gun to the UN building, and how 110 out of 153 member states of the UN violated human rights in 1977 when the film was made.

In the end Hitler also praises the mass of Western populations for not doing anything about their abusive governments and their lack of concern for other countries and people. ”Thor Heyerdahl,” he states, ”couldn’t wash his clothes for 43 out of 56 days on his Kon-Tiki raft – is this what you wanna hold up against my culture?” To Hitler the case is clear. Today’s way of propaganda and natural selection by capitalism is a direct continuation of the Third Reich he imagined for himself when he was democratically voted Chancellor of Germany in 1933.

I’m not really interested in the credibility of such a statement. But I’m interested in the statement as such. Are we really working away from or towards the view of the world as held by Hitler? Or less dramatically put, do we have any idea where we – we as a society and as a culture – are headed, and do we at all spend time thinking about it?

In Denmark the equivalent of Hitler’s NSDAP – or more plainly stated: the Nazi Party – is a young fast-growing party known as the Danish People’s Party. They share characteristics with many other popular right-wing parties throughout Europe, and have often been known to substitute Muslims for Jews in search of a scapegoat and a bogey for their supporters to believe in. And this with such success that they’re presently in parliament, and holds the balance of power in many important governmental issues.

I wonder whether the people who vote for the Danish People’s Party would be horrified or flattered if somehow forced to watch the monologues of Syberberg’s Hitler. Most probably they wouldn’t care because they wouldn’t be able to see the connection. That’s my prejudice anyway. And I would love to be proved wrong.

So if you know anybody dating right-wing populism, and who might be up for some six-seven hours of intense enigmatic cinema, send them this link and my email address jacob@fabularasa.dk. I would love to hear their reply. Now, at least, I have given out the option.

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Bablestorm

September 14, 2006

It’s been quiet in here for a couple of weeks. Hasn’t been out there, though. I sense a connection. Can’t quite establish it. I mean, it hasn’t been that busy out there. Perhaps it was just the whole 9/11 thing that got me. Even though I carefully avoided all the fuss, I knew it was there. Gotta work harder on that solipsism if I’m ever gonna get it right 🙂

Well, no matter what the cause of my silence, the levee broke last night. I went with a couple of friends to watch a play called Bablestorm. The interim stage was set in an empty film studio. Sand was strewed on the floor in the shape of a circus ring, and the circle was divided like a cake or a clock with two long black poles radiating from the centre. Props were sparse – mostly musical instruments together with a few suggestive pieces of furniture, and such. In the background a satelitte dish completed the circular theme while showing projections of wavering colors and live footage from the Vietnam war and the Iraq invasion.

The play had been announced as a poetic soap opera concerning the kidnapping of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena in Baghdad in the spring of 2005. Rather a pretentious setup. But I like it that way. At least pretentious people are serious about what they do. Or so they like to believe. And this last thing is usually enough to get my emotions untangled and my brains throbbing.

My first impression was that Bablestorm was a letdown. Bordering somewhere between documentary, office talk, spleen poetry, Mesopotamian mythology, political agitation, and ritualistic hymns it was quite hard to find any kind of leitmotif. Stories were begun but never concluded, songs were sung by a blind guy bumping his way across the stage, and the actors performed as if they were posing for a new world order. And in the centre of it all was the traumatized Italian journalist comfortably slipping into the limbo of madness and ecstasy. Nothing made sense. It was indeed a bablestorm.

When the play finished the audience clapped politely, and quickly left the building. As if everybody knew the actors and were afraid that they might be forced into making a statement about it all. Afterwards a cup of coffee and an attempt at reflection didn’t bring me and my friends much closer to a catharsis. We gave it up, and went home. This wasn’t a night to get drunk and disorderly, and rave about the misfortunes of art.

Sleep, however, didn’t come lightly. I lay on my bed, revolving like the chamber of a gun, a bablestorm slowly rising in my mind. Something bit at my heels, and I didn’t know which way to turn and face it. What was it all about? Why couldn’t I just let it go? The eye of the storm was nowhere to be seen.

A quick analysis stranded me somewhere on the banks of political art. Only, politics kept defying art, and vice versa. It seemed to me that the play was an attempt at reaching behind and beyond both art and politics. All the way back to the phonetics of language that make up both propaganda and poetry. At one point the blind singer had been reciting vowels continually, as if to deprive them of all meaning. Language is sound first and foremost, and everything that follows from there is just post-rationalization. I didn’t buy it, and neither did the rest of the audience whether they saw what I had seen, or not.

Once when I was travelling in Iranian Kurdistan a local painter and sculptor told me that the problem with Western art was that Western artists didn’t believe that there were anymore causes left fighting for. With the problems of their own countries solved in the name of Capitalism with a capital C, they couldn’t bring themselves to truly believe that other people suffered physically in the way that they themselves suffered mentally. As a consequence art became decadent, and the now famous canned shit exhibition the utmost altar of worship. Anyway, that was how he saw things.

I think Bablestorm was an attempt at dismantling the notion of Western art as impotent. The play wanted to fuse political idealism and subversive artistic self-criticism in the hope of creating something that would establish art as a legitimate and influential statement in itself. As noted above, it didn’t succeed very well. In fact, about three-thirty in the morning I ended up considering the failure of the play as the most successful thing about it. Because it had made me wonder. Wonder why art works better in opposition to than in alignment with. And why Danish art has forgotten how to be in opposition. It’s mostly just a big drivelling mess without the ability to even throw a napkin. And then, only to dry the eyes of the artist him- or herself.

To German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen 9/11 was a work of art. To Hitler World War II was as well. At least, that’s what German filmmaker Hans-Jürgen Syberberg hints at in his obscure (and hence unacclaimed) masterpiece Hitler, A Film From Germanỵ. To me Bablestorm was as well. A work of art and nothing but. And art in itself doesn’t touch upon the world just because it deals with the world. To think so is both naïve and mysophobic.

I think I’ll call it quits here before I reach a conclusion that the play didn’t, and that I – hopefully only still – don’t know how to reach. Remember, this too has been a bablestorm.


Just another word war

September 2, 2006

Iranian president Ahmadinejad recently launched his own personal blog. Considering that Iran has one of the fastest growing and most directly oppositional blogging communities in the world, I guess it was about time. It’s probably a wiser move than trying to close down the more than 700.000 Iranian blogs out there.

When last I checked Ahmadinejad’s blog only had one post. Very long and very autobiographical. Almost a genealogical novel. My eyes quickly drifted away from the small font, and found an even smaller opinion poll in the upper left hand corner of the page:

”Do you think that the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word war?”

I’m not really into laughing at other people’s mistakes, but something about the tragicomical qualities of this little typo made for an exception. I was still chuckling when I went to bed that night. Meaning is so easily distorted, and at the end of the day a single letter is all it takes to save the world from destruction.

And then again, meaning is such a powerful force with us that it arises even when it’s lost. For what is politics – and especially international politics – but a war of words? The West claims that Iran is enriching uranium to produce weapons of mass destruction, whereas Iran claims that it’s doing so to produce electricity. Who to believe? Who to side with?

When it comes to megalomaniacs like Ahmadinejad and Bush there’s always the risk that word turns to world, and everybody else gets to suffer the consequences. Gunboat diplomacy, I think it’s called. It leaves just about as much room for negotiations as a collapsing building. Or the Cuban Missile Crisis, for that matter.

Back then Khrushchev beat his shoe against the table, and turned away his ships in the eleventh hour. Later exposures have shown that the world came even closer to an all-out nuclear war than previously known. So, yeah, we’ve been a lot further down the road to extinction than we are at present.

Still, I can already feel the laughter tickling the corners of my mouth. Makes me think of a joke I once heard sci-fi writer Kurt Vonnegut crack in an interview. An interstellar space traveller is called up in his ship, and told that there’s bad news for him.

“Did somebody die?” he asks. “My dog? My wife? My daughter?”

“No,” the voice at the other end of the line tells him. “Your whole universe just did.”

Perhaps the world would be a safer place if more people cracked jokes like that. Words heal, worlds don’t.