अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

November 17, 2010

So Dissent is Just a Disease After All

If you are even a little bit well read, you might have come across the name of Bertolt Brecht, even if you don’t recall it now. He is well known as one of the most important figures of twentieth century theatre (theater for the more dominant party). But his influence goes far beyond theatre. It extends to movies, literature, poetry (he was also a poet), political thought and so on (not excluding the Monty Pythons). It even goes beyond the boundaries of the East-West or the North-South divides. I wasn’t surprised at all when I read yesterday that there are ’30 something’ MA theses in South Korea alone (written in Korean) on Brecht. In India, he has been widely written about and heavily quoted by intellectuals, especially those writing in Indian languages. One of the most respected Hindi poets, Nagarjun, even wrote a poem about Brecht. I would have loved to provide a translation of that poem here, but I don’t feel equal to the task as the poem uses words whose equivalents in English I am unable to think of. Some poems are translatable, some are not.

Brecht has been on my mind these days as I have translated some of his poems (from English) into Hindi in the last few days. This excercise included a bit of surfing the Net for his name too and as a result, I came across something that made me write this. Or, at least, acted as a catalyst or the precipitating agent for writing this.

I don’t mean to present a brief bio of the man here. You can easily find plenty of material about him on the Internet and in any good library. I am not even a minor expert (in the technical sense) on him or his works. But I might mention here that some of the things he is known specifically for, include these:

  • His plays and his active theatre work (in particular the ‘epic theatre’ works like The Life of Galileo, The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage and Her Children)
  • His theory about theatre, which is centred around the idea of the ‘alienation effect’
  • His poetry
  • His affiliation to Marxism (though of the dissident kind)

It should not be hard to guess now (if you were unfamiliar with him earlier) that it is the fourth point that would get most people interested, either approvingly or otherwise. You write plays, you do theatre, you pen poems, that’s all quite alright. No problem. Have your fun. Let us have some too. We can spend time discussing and arguing about it too. But being a Marxist is taking this business to a different territory. That’s politics. That might lead to talk of revolution. Or, at least, to that of radical change.

And so it does. Intellectuals, artists and activists around the world who are not satisfied of being a real or potential (‘wannabe’) Salman Rushdie or V. S. Naipaul and who want to do or say something more about the injustices in the world, in the society, in the institutions, have almost all paid at least some attention to this guy. Some disagreed and turned away, some agreed wholeheartedly and became loyal followers and some agreed partly and adapted his ideas and techniques according to their own taste and their own views about things. One from the last kind is also someone with whom I have happened to be concerned recently. That one was Fassbinder, a prolific filmmaker from the same part of the world as Brecht. Another filmmaker (from India) of this kind was Ritwik Ghatak. But about them, later.

Brecht’s ideas about ‘epic theatre’ (the quotes are there because it is a specific theory or a specific kind of theatre, not necessarily what you would guess from the words: it is a technical term) were a result of synthesizing and extending the ideas of Erwin Piscator and Vsevolod Meyerhold.

About the alienation effect, this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Brecht gives a fairly good introduction:

One of Brecht’s most important principles was what he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as “defamiliarization effect”, “distancing effect”, or “estrangement effect”, and often mistranslated as “alienation effect”). This involved, Brecht wrote, “stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them”. To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor’s direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, and, in rehearsals, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense, and speaking the stage directions out loud.

But more than this somewhat technical aspect, what attracts me to the ‘Brechtian’ art, was expressed extremely well by Erwin Piscator in 1929:

For us, man portrayed on the stage is significant as a social function. It is not his relationship to himself, nor his relationship to God, but his relationship to society which is central. Whenever he appears, his class or social stratum appears with him. His moral, spiritual or sexual conflicts are conflicts with society.

I read this only today, but as my (few) readers might have noticed (which I explicitly expressed once), almost all of what I write here is about ‘Individual and Society’ (which is also one of the most common tags that I use). For me, the above is the crux of the Brechtian enterprise. But I should add that in my opinion the Brechtian technique, along with its variants, is not the only technique for achieving the goal (for expression in art as well as for scholarly investigation) outlined in the above quotation. Still, I can’t resist saying here that it is the key to understanding Fassbinder. Many a reviewer of Fassbinder movies has made a fool of himself by ignoring this.

Having provided this little context, I will move now to the thing that precipitated this article. Yesterday, after posting one more of the translations of his poems on a blog, I came across a post that pointed me to a news story from Reuters. Since it is from Reuters, it has been carried by many other news outlets.

The story reports that a researcher from the University of Manchester “has uncovered the truth behind the death of German playwright Bertolt Brecht”. It goes on to say:

Professor Stephen Parker … said the playwright died from an undiagnosed rheumatic fever which attacked his heart and motorneural system, eventually leading to a fatal heart failure in 1956.

Previously it was thought his death in 1956 aged 58 had been caused by a heart attack.

So far, so good. But here is the precious bit:

Parker said the playwright’s symptoms such as increased heart size, erratic movements of the limbs and facial grimace and chronic sore throats followed by cardiac and motorneural problems, were consistent with a modern diagnosis of the condition.

“When he was young no one could get near the diagnosis,” Parker, 55, told Reuters. “Brecht was labeled as a nervous child with a ‘dicky’ heart, and doctors thought he was a hypochondriac.”

Brecht’s childhood condition continued to affect him as an adult, making him more susceptible to bacterial infections such as endocarditis which affected his already weakened heart, and kidney infections which plagued him until the end of his life.

Parker believed that his underlying health altered the way the playwright felt and acted.

“It affected his behavior, making him more exaggerated in his actions, and prone to over-reaction,” he said. “He carried the problem all his life and compensated for this underlying weakness by projecting a macho image to show himself as strong.”

I have quoted at this length because I didn’t want to lose anything in the paraphrase. So this researcher is a medical doctor? Wrong. He is an expert in German Literature. And he derived all these conclusions from Brecht’s medical records. The report ends with this gem:

“Going into this project I felt I didn’t really fully understand Brecht,” he said. “This knowledge about his death opens a lot of new cracks about the playwright, and gives us a new angle on the man.”

As the Americans (and now even the Indians) say, Wow!

The Superman might have been fictional, but we now have a Super Researcher. Nothing short of real superpowers could have made him achieve this amazing feat: “his underlying health altered the way the playwright felt and acted”. Felt and acted! That is a nice summing up of the whole business of existence. The key to all this was rheumatic fever! This would make a nice present to an absurdist poet looking for ideas. An expert in German Literature goes through the medical records of a man who was born in 1898 and died in 1956, having lived in various countries during one of the most tumultuous periods in history (when there were no computers: well, hardly). He (the Expert) felt “he didn’t really fully understand” Brecht and by going through these medical records (one of the key exhibits being an X-ray) and found out that all this ‘epic theatre’ and the ‘alienation effect’ and affiliation to Marxism and his poetry and his immeasurable influence on a large fraction of the best minds of the world for the last three quarters of a century was just the result of his rheumatic fever. All his politics was just a simple disease.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is something else that would have caused cries of “Conspiracy theory!” if a different party was involved in the affair. His research shows that the 1951 X-ray report, which showed an enlargement to the left side of Brecht’s heart, was never shown to the playwright or known about by his doctors and it may have been (emphasis mine) held back by the German security services, the Stasi, who had a grudge against the playwright.

So all of you loony lefties, you commie fairies, this idol of yours was just a sick man. And if he was not, well, then he was at least (indirectly) killed by a communist government. So wake up, man! Give up all this talk about the individual and the society and injustice and imperialism etc. Get back on track and let’s live up the market dream together. We can change things. Yes, we can.

To be fair to Professor Parker, he has written a ‘literary biography’ of Brecht and it might be that he is not really claiming all of the above. However, what matters in the world outside the closed academic circle of experts on German Literature, is the effect of the reports of this study on the common readers. And what appears in these reports is, to use a word from the report itself, quite a sinister subtext. The Indian media right now is full of such reports (often of a much cruder, laughably cruder, moronically cruder variety) with similar, barely concealed subtexts, with obvious relevance to the current political situation in the country.

The ‘study’ apparently says nothing about the effect that his blacklisting in Hollywood might have had on him. Did the FBI (or any of the other agencies) had a grudge against him? Here was one of the most admired and influential playwright who had sketched notes for numerous films, but he got to write the script of only one movie that was directed by Fritz Lang. He was interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and decided to leave the US after that. He lived during the period when his country went mad and so did the world, with millions upon millions dying. He saw Germany descend from relative decency into barbarism. He later also saw the degeneration of the revolution in the Eastern Block. Did all that have anything to do with what he was and may be even with why he died relatively young? Parker doesn’t seem interested in such trivialities and externalities. At least Reuters doesn’t, because I don’t have access to the complete and original ‘study’ as written by Parker.

Very long ago, I had read one of the novels by that great favourite of those looking for gentlemanly humour, P. G. Wodehouse. In that novel (whose name I don’t remember), one of the main characters (Jeeves, perhaps) decides to go, for some reason, on a kind of fast. And from the time of the very next meal, his whole personality starts changing. He becomes dissatisfied with lot of things. He starts finding faults in everything. His good nature is all gone. In short, he becomes the caricature of a dissenter.

Finally, when things go beyond a point, the plot has him give up the fast, may be with some persuasion from others. As soon as he has had a good meal again, he reverts to his usual self. The dissenter is gone. Then comes an editorial comment from the narrator which goes something like this: If only Gandhi (no ‘Red Top’, as you probably know) were to give up his fasting antics, he won’t be creating so many unnecessary problems. As far as Wodehouse is concerned, he has won the argument against the whole idea of Indian independence and whatever else Gandhi said he was fighting for.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on poor Wodehouse, as cautioned by Orwell in his defense, because, for one thing, the humourist was just too innocent of political awareness.

A scholar of Brecht and one of the biggest news agencies in the world, however, belong to a different category.

But this is not such a unique event. Parker has just given a new meaning to the idea of pathologizing troublesome people. To the idea of ‘finding dirt’ on people who don’t follow the rules of the game. It is just a sophisticated version of the understated witch hunt against Julian Asange. A small attempt at rewriting History in somewhat Orwellian sense. The motivation is all there, as more and more people start talking about the ‘churning’ and ‘renewed stirrings’ for a more fair world. Yet another facet of the psychological operations (psyops) in these times of the gold rush.

(Using Bob Dylan’s words, we could say that Professor Parker is perhaps just a pawn in their game, but of a different kind than Wodehouse was for the Nazis.)

 

One of the significant influences on Brecht was Chaplin’s movie The Gold Rush.

Life is full of poetry and drama.

And melodrama.

August 20, 2010

A Self-Hating Anti-Semite Jew

I am not from your country, but I have been following your local version of the Truman Show. Excuse me, but is this guy of the Jewish persuasion? I ask because I have noticed that he keeps harping about the Nazis and fascism and once he even wrote “I am a Jew”. I understand that your country does have a small Jewish population.

Since he also seems to be critical of the Israeli policies and has bad mouthed respected figures like Henry Kissinger, I am of the opinion that he may be one of those self-hating anti-semite Jews who take the side of the Palestinians every time anything happens in the Middle East. The number of such people has been on the increase ever since people like Tony Judt started joining these Israel bashers and got the attention of many in the mainstream, despite all the efforts by the pro-Isreali groups in the US and elsewhere.

I wonder whether he has a record of involvement in Zionism. A number of these self-hating anti-semite Jews are known to be former Zionists of one kind or another.

I appreciate your efforts in trying to contain people like him. Who knows, perhaps he is a Holocaust denier too. Or perhaps he supports those who are, you know, like Chomsky.

Good luck to you all.

August 9, 2010

No Letup

This is to inform the followers of the show that there has not been any lack of diligence or letup from our side, as might have appeared to some. As you might have seen today, we have been on the job. As soon as there is any rising up of spirits, any getting back to work, we act swiftly to hit where it hurts to ensure that the status goes back to staring vacantly. The techniques we have been using have proved very effective. Even though we have the advantage of observing all in real time, it requires a lot of commitment from many people in many places and and in many positions to make effective use of all the information.

For our continuously successful efforts, we wish to thank all those who have been supporting us and taking part in these activities of national importance (in addition to providing entertainment). We also thank all the followers of the show who have not let petty considerations of privacy, human rights etc. come in the way of patronizing and enjoying the show.

Together we have been able to come up with very effective ways of dealing with any kind of potential subversion, even when there is little evidence, without resort to problematic use of violence or even any argument. Let us hope that all subversion (what they call dissent or resistance) will soon be either eliminated or completely confined virtually.

We won’t need any prisons.

Under such confinement, it will gradually rot away*. This will further give us an opportunity to study the process of rotting away on subjects never before studied.

*Rotting being the process of bio-degradation, it is also ecologically beneficial. Ha! Ha!

July 10, 2010

Potential Replacements

There has been some concern about how long can the local-Truman last. It has been asked whether, in the eventuality of his unavailability due to migration, flight or ceasure of existence, the show will continue or not. We share this concern, but we might be able to help in addressing it.

We are the co-ordinating members of the Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) in our place. As part of our national and social duties, we have been observing several noteworthy individuals. Based on our observations over the last few years, we have shortlisted a select few for special attention. These few might form a part of a shortlist of potential replacements for the show.

We believe that the LIUs in other places too might have their own shortlists. We suggest that these shortlists might be combined together and the process of selecting the replacement be initiated, so that there is no delay, in case we are suddenly faced with one of the aforementioned eventualities.

July 5, 2010

The (Not So) Secret Logo of India Inc.

The (Not So) Secret Logo India Inc.

A Trophy of the Operation Green Hunt

July 1, 2010

A Dose of Randomness

Predictability can indeed compromise the confidentiality aspect of the techniques being used for the show. It is not only intuitive, it is even supported by the probability theory. I know that the show is being coordinated by very competent people, but if I might be so bold as to suggest an improvement, I would like to say that introducing an element of randomness can reduce predictability significantly. We might, in fact, go further and associate randomness not just with individual events, but also with schedules. And the schedules themselves can be varied in timing, duration as well as length on the same principles. In other words, we can mix purposeful individual events (which have to occur at some specific time, either decided in advance or based on observation) with schedules that are of varying length, varying duration and continue for a varying number of days. These randomized schedules can serve as a camouflage for the purposeful events which require some confidentiality. As an additional benefit, their randomness can itself become purposeful in the same way in which the events are purposeful.

The problem can be formally studied in terms of the probability theory alone, but while implementing it in practical situations, we also need to take into account pragmatic, psychological and behavioral aspects. The latter are harder to study and require prolonged exploration that might require considerable resources. Ordinarily, i.e., under conditions different from those of the current decade, it would have been difficult to get support for such studies for a show of this kind. Fortunately, at present, we are in the midst of a security goldrush, otherwise known the terror goldrush*, that will most probably last for a long time. Therefore, it should not be difficult to get the required support. But wait, does not the said show owe its existence to the same goldrush? I think it does, but even so, we should try and get the required support and utilize it efficiently for the studies mentioned above.

* It really has terrorized the local-Truman. Ha! Ha!

So, my humble suggestion is that we should conduct these studies as expediently as possible and reduce the predictability to which the existing techniques are susceptible. Confidentiality is an important aspect and we should do everything we can to avoid it from being compromised.

June 28, 2010

A Nice Electric Game

That was a nice electric game today, though quite predictable, even for the local-Truman. The ones in the last few days were good too. But, as I said, the timing is becoming very predictable.

I don’t understand one thing though. We have quite a well oiled machinery in place and enough personnel. Then why should the effects be borne collectively when we only want to experiment on one person? After all, this show is very different from the original show where collective effects were unavoidable but also harmless. And if things become so predictable, the entertainment value might be reduced. In fact, I think even the desired effects might not materialize as much as expected. Most importantly, the confidentiality aspect might be compromised if the same techniques involving some level of visibility are overused.

Is there some plan to overcome such deficiencies? I will be happy to provide some feedbacks.

June 24, 2010

A Pussy

You must be joking!

For he’s a pussy kind of fel-low (and so say all of us).

Just consider the facts. He is so scared (of electric shocks, may be) that he has stopped cooking regularly even the faminish meals he used to cook. And he doesn’t eat out because he is scared of you know what. He has even stopped traveling and taking photographs of trees and fields from trains because he’s afraid of being reported to the police, after it happened only once! He’s so ridiculously totally completely scared that he has painted himself in the corner (though that is probably a good thing for the coordinators of the show). Can you seriously imagine him going to fight in the forest?

However, I am not saying that, as you suggested, all possible steps should not be taken from preventing this very unlikely event. Security is the paramount consideration in today’s life and we all know it. I wouldn’t want it any other way, just like any other good citizen.

But he’s a pussy and someone should go to his place and tell him that here is an interesting video that he might like.

June 22, 2010

A Hard Nut

I don’t think the local-Truman is going to do himself in and become heavenly. He is a hard nut. Techniques like electric shocks are not going to break him easily (pardon the pun). I think the symptoms that he is showing are actually of the agitation of a life-changing preparation. I am sure he is planning to join the rebels fighting in the forests. That is why he was watching all those videos about their history.

That said, I share in the opinion that the show must go on. If I am correct, he is a major security risk and he must not be allowed to bring his plan to fruition. All possible steps should be taken to avoid it.

But quite apart from the security aspect, I too will miss the show if it stops. It has added a new meaning to collaborative entertainment.

June 13, 2010

Will it Stop?

I have heard that the local-Truman is fed up and is going to kick the bucket, become fuel for the flames, celebrate 3-10-13 and turn into an ex-local-Truman. Is this true? Will the show stop if that happens?

I will really miss it. I hope a way could be found to continue it.

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