Monday, November 07, 2005
Saturday, November 05, 2005
In 1896, a French play went on stage and on its opening night was riot and strong incriminations from the "well-behaved" society of Parisian theatre watchers. The play? Ubu Roi. The playwright? Alfred Jarry. Now, what made it sacrilegious? The very opening words uttered on stage were "Merde! Merde!". And it is such an innocuous word these days - Merde: Shit!!! But you can relate to the amount of smugness that prevailed. And thus started the first attempt at Modernism truly. So Modernism is a proactive response to changing non-productive, complacent, conservative, orthodox values of how art must be. Modernism was not merely a form-based protest as many believe. Neither is its successor PoMo. If one thought the experiments with form and structure is what PoMo is all about, it is wrong. Simple example: how often we take a path of overt external manifestation to show our inner dissent, be it in food habits or resorting to vices or anything else you can conjure up, refusing to confirm ultimately? PoMo and its predecessor Modernism are precisely that.
While dealing with any -ism, one has to always remind oneself that they evolve contiguous with an era or a period in history, and is exemplified through arts, literature, music and other genres and projections of media. Nevertheless... this is the key to understanding... with moderation and without getting carried away by our aversion (which is largely a result of the non-comprehension or the lack of opportunity to comprehend the root of its evolution)... that -isms are schools of beliefs and as a natural extension have an ideology and a philosophical standpoint. So what could be the philosophy or idea behind PoMo, you ask?
We need to trace its evolutionary history, which inevitably takes us to Modernism.
Modernism, I had already told you, is a protest form against Victorian values to art, literature etc. And when Modernism evolved, in its nascent stages during the 1910 to 1930, it largely was "high modernism" - perhaps as ivory tower-ish as the predecessor it was protesting against. There were no earth-shaking deviations or experiments in form. Even the Eliotean writings or those of Virginia Woolf, were still within a comprehensible structure. It protested subliminally and subversively by being "an insider". On the French side, it was more in the area of shock usages of vocabulary and metaphors and images. The French have always relied strongly on images and visuals than words, which may explain the trait. Getting back. Only with the advent of the early 30s, Modernism started breaking fresh grounds. By then, the tantrum throwing tween of Modernism had moved on to becoming a protesting adolescent who in time and given the laws of nature would evolve into a mature and discretionary and responsible literary -ismer of the 50s-60s. Thereby, we see the Hughes and Larkins and the late-TSEliots and Samuel Becketts, Ezra Pounds, e.e. cummings, James Joyces - not to mention the French Existential playwrights like Giradoux, Genet, et al - of the literary world producing mature works that have a settled structural deviation from the 19th century form, yet ideologically and philosophically a more searching frankness. All would have been well if these folks were able to keep it going.
Every generation needs its change. To establish what happened to Modernism and why PoMo was needed, I digress heavily.
I cite as example the Tamil film music industry. The 50s music had a different feel to it. People wanted musicals. The moment you ask someone their name, they would go on a High Octave singing. High art and artisans and practitioners dominated the industry. You had to be trained in music and dance to get to the industry. Then came the age of 60s where acting was evolving as a melodramatic art and people wanted what was to become the forerunner to the capering around duet routines. The actors were not necessarily singers. Synching started. It was also the period of social dramas. You could slowly see the drop in the statistics of historical films. They were semi-social semi-historical (more due to their period-ification through costumes) productions that almost became civil-war type films and social movies in the late 60s. And the music also changed. From the MKTs and PUChinnappas we moved to K.V.Mahadevans and R. Sudarsanams... we moved from Pattukottai Kalayanasundarams and Bharathiyars to Kannadasans and Vaalis...
Later in the 70s - that unforgettable period of tacky and heavy color usage in costume, makeup and sets from '70 - '74 (the period when MGR and Sivaji Ganesan starred in all those bell-bottomed pants, 2 inch heeled shoes, orange and rose and pink and garish colored bobby-collared overcoats and safaris, and during which period the heroines looked like Cinderellas and Snow Whites being pimped with made-over Wigs) - the music became confusedly racy. This was truly the period - my icon music director - when M.S.Vishwanathan truly dominated. We will not discuss the legitimacy and the need for some of the tunes he composed. But the 60s MSV and the 70s MSV were definitely different until he lost out to the emerging thin Pannaipuram native with a guitar and bell-bottoms and 50-watt bulb curl of well-oiled hair on his forehead - the one who would go on to become the legend Ilayaraaja.
Come mid-70s. A horde of people with artistic aspirations from the interior of Tamilnadu rushed to Chennai to make it their home. Bharatiraajas and Ilaayaraajas... - the music changed again... the Ilayaraja of 16 Vayadhinile (folk) and Priya (first digital recorded western tunes) gave way to the Ilayaraja of Dhalapathi, melody scoring over technology... and then came ROJA. And the music changed again... and so on and until now.
Similarly with Modernism. Things had to change. An -ism had lived for 60 years as a form of protest. It doesn't deserve that long a period. No movement needs or can sustain anger and protest that long! So it was inevitable something had to happened. And Post-Modernism happened.
How? Meanwhile colonialism was getting a beating politically. The Raj world-over had to give way both politically as well as culturally, leading to a change in the weather conditions of creativity. Actually PoMo and PoCo happened simultaneously. Subtly they have been lapping the shorefront of the Modernist and Colonialist beaches of arts and politics since the mid-40s. Thankfully the fall of Nazis did not have major impact on this. Expressionism had taken care of it in Germany and Symbolism as well as Impressionism in France. Actually the German Expressionism in literature started in the 1820-30s through a revolutionary called Georg Büchner - that Büchner of Woyzeck and Danton's Death!
Back to the beaches of arts and politics: that was perhaps one credit no one can take away from the Brits. But the structural changes have been emerging on the Continent and in Russia meanwhile. Hence PoStu (Post-Structuralism) had joined the race making it a tri-partite coalition to overshadow Modernism and its counterparts in economics, philosphy and politics.
By the 60s, as Elvis came, Beatles came, Reggae came, Marley came... PoMo, PoCo and PoStu had also arrived. And the rest is KAOS. Yes, if historification is not organised there would be chaos. And if a movement sets in without revolution, then the sudden realization that the backyard had somehow changed to present a picture that was not there when we went to sleep overwhelms us that there has to be chaos of the mental geography! And that is the state people still find themselves. And you are no different from them. The reason is: PoMo had advanced too much that it was difficult to find a starting point to catalogue it and put an inventory of things that constitute the cupboard called PoMo. As a result we find ourselves like Dorothy in Munchkinland. Too much sudden colour and too many details. The richness is overwhelming and the depth is staggering, of what is a PoMo work of art and what is not, that one suffers from a syndrome akin to being caught like a beggar in a Five-Star Champagne party of Mega-corporate figureheads!
Now, what are the probable constituents? Having provided what I intended to do, viz. open the doors to a lay reader of literature, I leave you with a wonderful link to Post-Modernism. Hope this helps dispel some doubts and stigma towards PoMo!
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
A surprisingly sunny (albeit chilly) day as I gazed through the curtainless window of my 2nd floor room in Wohnheim 13 at the Walter-Rathenau Strasse, belonging to the Otto-von-Guericke Universität, Magdeburg, Germany.
I stared at the handful of blue-overall-ed, yellow miner-helmet-ted, grimy mustachioed Germans (4 in number) working at the overlooking greyed old cadaver of Wohnheim (whose number I forget now). They had kept that Student's Hostel beyond occupancy as erstwhile East German universities were trying to breathe fresh life into their attractiveness thanks to the West German Marks being siphoned to make-believe the completion of a cordial (political jingoism of Western Bloc?) integration of both Germanies. The point is this: the authorities were trying to make 'the twain meet' in an attempt to create a unified Germany where a student from Aachen would travel to Magdeburg and another would travel from Hamburg to Dresden to enrol and study. I actually had a guy at our regular Thursday-night Stammtisch parties in the Irish pub we used to meet, who came from Aachen and used to glorify Alfred Andersch as a great writer ('we' being the Magdeburg-resident native-English speakers and anyone who wanted to try and get their English going. Due to my better English ability, I was considered alongside the native speakers of English - all those Amis, Kiwis, Aussies, Canadians, Brits... - as party-able in English at this pub where we guzzled lot of Guinnesses and Kilkennys buffetting with a wide mixture of English accents and staged Monty Pythons in English to the bemused drunkenness of the local Teutons who came to have a jolly good noisy Thursday night. My friends back here swore at me for an indistinguishable accent in my English that anyway had lost all its traces of Indianness when I came back six months later.)
Ouch... a long digression. Coming back to subject! As I kept staring at these structures going up and those other structures coming down and the noise of machinery boring and drilling and baring their teeth and lifting and consuming humungous loads of mortars and bricks of erstwhile DDR, I was starting to think Wow! Germany is really happening!! Here is the hub of Europe's economy. This, my adopted country of research for another 8 months!!! I was to be laid low in less than a year. They say that Go East and you see ignominy and poverty and suffering. Go West and you see Germany. And here it was, totally topsy-turvy. But...
It was much later in 1996 November, when I shifted to Oldenburg to do my Internship at the Oldenburg State Theatre Lighting Department where I got to be involved in a production called "Herr Paul" by Tankred Dorst that I would realise what this merger has come to mean to the Ozzies as the erst-while West Germans called the erst-While East Germans and vice-versa. (Digression! Oldenburg has to be clarified for those not familiar with German geography. Like our Gandhi and Nehru and other Nagars and parts of cities across India, there are lot of places in Germany bearing the same name. So, I was at Oldenburg-Oldenburg as I would explain to the Railway Station ticket assistant each time I went by the Deutsche Bahn to someplace. There were 2 other Oldenburgs. And this Oldenburg is 30 mins. from Bremen which is one hour from Hamburg up on the North West part of Germany and just an hour or more drive from Groeningen, Netherlands) Coming back to the spin-offs and fall-outs of East-West merger: my conjecture is, plenty of West German academics would have had to camp down from Universities or would have had to be forced to accept low pay if the merger had not happened. Lot of artists would not have found new markets... so would the Karstadts, Kaufhofs and other innumerable West German commercial houses! A lot of unsuspecting Easterners who lead an ignorant life - even if it was filled with routine that Ernst Toller calls "born to live to eat to work to earn to eat to sleep to live to work to..." (it goes on, the cycle!) - happy enough to get their dose of all those standard East German branded pickles, cheese, pickled cucumber (those famous Spreewald Gurken), beer, whatnots that were glorified in that cult classic Goodbye Lenin. Plenty of politically charged interpretation would not have been possible in arts, further driving the bored German theatre going audience as well as Feuilleton reading intellectuals, not to mention the Sekt-sipping glitterati who throng the openings of an art exhibition in the Kunsthaus-es of the North Rhine Westphalia or the black-pashmina-ed Opera-house visitors! God, Germany, but for the East-West merger would have had an Art-attack leading to clogged veins and cardiac arrests in the pseudo-cerebrums! Anyway, I was disturbed from my reverie by my friend who was driving me to Quedlinburg to see the Dom on top of the picturesque mountain and on our way back, to the famous Jericho Cloister, a little detour off the Strasse der Romanik (The churches and Klosters and Doms that were built in the Romanic style along the Sachsen-Anhalt state route... something like our own Chennai's ECR Art corridor or IT Highway on the Old Mahabalipuram Road). And as we wound our way out of Magdeburg along the Elbe, we passed a small burg with shutters down on most industrial belts. He pointed me to a particular downed shutter. "That looked downed for 4 or 5 years", I remarked. He patted me saying I was right "Back in 1990 after Die Wende", he qualified referring to the change, the wall-downing. Also adding, "you know, it used to be the arms factory where 1000+ men used to work!" Did I sense a bit of pride from the past or lump in the throat of lost culture? I know not now. It is too long past. But there used to be work, and basics assured even if life was grimy and Dickensian in them old days of Communism.
I don't know if that was good or bad. One thing is sure, this acculturisation of the Eastern past and breaking up of lands or merger of lands (Slavic and Cyrillic especially in Europe and anyhow elsewhere in the world) is starting to show its impact. I believe it has added numbers to a lot of existent political agnostics who have lost trust and belief in the efficacy of any system to ameliorate or alleviate their predicament. And this division of lands has singularly identified, and made naked exposition of the Islamic population of some of these erstwhile Eastern bloc climes and specifically the Soviet people of the segmented Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan (all the 'stans'): a lot more addition to the existing separatist fundamentalists. Add to it, in the name of accommodating refugees, asylum-seekers of the African lands and Palestinians, and the Turks and the Greeks and the Croats who come seeking to earn living (of course, striving within the edicts of the Germanic constitution) in Germany, the country has put itself to seeds slowly but steadily whereby we have 5.5 Million unemployed in Germany alone.
I am focussing on Germany, because of my first-hand knowledge of its state of existence. And if this is the case of Europe's biggest economy today, think of other European nations... developed European nations... move on to Asia's weaker economic countries such as Burma, Pakistan, Indonesia, Phillipines... China-suppressed states such as Tibet and Nepal and neighboring North Korea, Mongolia... move as well to Central American neighbours of the Big Bully Brother United States... and we have a global network of crumbling economy, rising unemployment rates, plummeting currencies, deteriorating state of anti-state and -social activities, climbing belief in terrorism and separatism as the only elixir for a deprived horde of peoples!
It seems inevitable, given the global context of rising unemployment rates. Am shuddering to my bones... am scared... I had visited the StaSi headquarters in Leipzig on an Open Day in 1996. I have seen video clips, photos, hardcore real-time hard copy evidences and seen and heard and spoken to the victims of the East German StaSi regime. As the wall fell, the world as well as a huge part of Germany felt relieved. Or so it seemed. But the unrest brought by the jubilation and euphoria that there would no more be cruelty, no more slavery to work without enough compensation, pay and perks according to one's capability (wherein those who till now had to work for 48 or more hours and still get paid the same Laissez-faire would be able to see their real worth)... all vanished; the promise of a Western Capitalist Utopia left soon a disquieting feel and discomfited visages what this would mean in the long run.
The worse that can happen to man is NO WORK. This was one thing the Leftist philosophy and the socialist-communist school of politics never denied. As a result, they ensured workforce, work done to keep productivity (even if that was the euphemism for drudgery and driven work), paid all equally. Believe me, you even got your how-much-to-drink-and-smoke-and-what-brand quota of vodka and cigar based on what the state decided. And all domestic requirements rationed and served. Except, ultimately when you received your pay, wage, salary whatever, it was more like a basic pocket money in case you have to pay entertainment (which was not much except what the state decided to show. But why not, that's what happens in Hong Kong as well as Singapore in an oblique way) tax other than for sex entertainment with your spouse. Yeah, the logic is, if everything is provided for, what do you need money? And that was socialism, communist weather-vane! Nothing wrong in that, looks like a common-sense enough deal. But given man's nature and the Biblical quotation that Money is not Bad, But Lust for Money is what is Bad, the Reds had it figured right. But then, again, the call of flesh, heart and emotions are more urgent and urging than constrictive Communist ideals... and hence the wall had to give way sometime. And then there was none... like Dame Christie would write! That also meant, idiomatically, the Writing was on the Wall! Every change begets a chain reaction. The Proof of the Pudding is in the Pravda! Remember Glasnost and Perestroika? Well, I guess it is one thing to try and bury Lenin's statue and another to rebuild crashed economies. I don't envy Vlad Putin! Especially when Gorby himself advocates against the said action. And what of Mother Nature? She's having her say on the economies as well. As Keshav rightly drew it up in The Hindu Editorial page yesterday or so, Mother Nature truly is the resident-deity of the TIME Magazine cover. Why, she must be the Pin-up Girl in Playboy for all her Naked Fury!
Now what after all these years? You asking me? Have you been reading the papers the last one month? Seen the news channels in Telly the last 2 months? Surfing the NY Times, Guardian Unlimited, Herald Tribune and Die Zeit and FAZ, Le Monde and other requisite newspapers on the web? The global economy abetted in cahoots by the Grand Dame of all - Mother Nature - is waking up to ruins and battered visions buffetted by Ritas and Wilmas and Katarinas and tsunamis and others of the ilk, pointing to FRUSTRATION, UNREST, STRIKES triggered by LAY-OFFs because the Western world suddenly is not able to adapt to striking a balance between the need to lowering cost by the Governments; the Western world of employees is not able to adapt to the realization that their seeking high pay per hour work done (because they are DEVELOPED NATIONS!) is not anymore compatible with the rise in amount of global population that believes in getting paid for work rather than how much.
The entry of China and India into European Economy as well as the economy of the Americas (esp. the North America) has been happening for years, though suggestively, marginally, at the peripheries and negligibly. Suddenly, they are noticeable. Of course, the one consolation is the spiraling competition between Japan and China to grab more than a pie of the global economic pizza that the West, especially the Americans can hope to bank on to play the proverbial Cat between the monkeys fighting for the bread. Nevertheless, it is very clear that the Americans and West Europeans are having Economic Diaspora without having to migrate and in their very own couches that are becoming their little KZs. The Xetras and DowJones have not exactly been looking up although internally they claim (at least the Big Brother on the other side of the Atlantic Pond claims so) that the GDP has grown (well, so is the inflation!). They are getting laid off (pun intended) right left centre diagnoal horizontal vertical that their lives are looking like a veritable NYT Crossword.
Wow, the English would be proud their National Pastime is getting to be a metaphor for the Economy of the two biggies of the Western World. Colonialism at its best. These are two countries they never could colonialise in the past. Only, they, the Brits, are also getting shoved with crowbar up their rear-sides without buttering! Painful beyond pain. Ask the Labour MPs. So, it is gallows humour. But what the West gets, it passes down to the East as well. True Legacy! Yes, and this threat is looming large on the whole world now. UNEMPLOYMENT. Is this a capitalistic bane or necessary evil of materialism? Can this be Downsized! Lo! In this corporatised world of management jargons and jingoisms, even UNEMPLOYMENT can only be Downsized. We haven't reached Rightsized yet! Thank God for small mercies! But what say the Lefties?
I am not personally a Red or have or had Leftist leanings... but for me whatever works works. If Democracy works in the US and Germany and Socialism works in Russia and elsewhere and Social Democracy works in India, am all for the amalgamation. But the Commies may have the truth somewhere. In spite of it, the Capitalists can take comfort from the fact that while Communism has always been nailing the 99 Questions constantly on the foreheads of flailing Capitalist economies, they have not managed to come up with an alternative that works!
Feed in folks!