Wednesday, April 29, 2009

because of hope


Of hope we always look
for glimmers though there may
be none. Life is no book
with happy endings, “Say
it’s not so” the refrain
we want to hear before
the end, though always pain
concludes the tragic score
that we ourselves compose,
so we can only cope
when we misdiagnose
events because of hope.

Inspired by seeing a near-tragedy, “The Soloist,” the movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx based on Steve Lopez’s book about a homeless man in LA who does not manage to make it back to the world of Beethoven and the Disney Music Center. George Steiner, in his explorations on tragedy, reviews a new biography on Kafka in a recent issue o the TLS. He finds Kafka’s pronouncement that “there is plenty of hope, but none for us”, almost too much to bear. This, he argues, is why true, “absolute” tragedy, of the type that makes us sorry we were born, is so rare. Hamlet, Macbeth and even King Lear end on at least a glimmer of hope.
Alex Danchev writes in the TLS on December 31, 2008 (“Princes and players: From a play banned in Athens to Samuel Beckett in Sarajevo–why theater still matters”):
Bertolt Brecht asked sceptically, “Can the present-day world be represented by the theatre?”. Do these authors offer any answer to that fundamental question? Do they address it? Some more directly than others: George Steiner more resoundingly than most. In a contribution to Rita Felski’s stimulating symposium Rethinking Tragedy, Steiner confirms the suspicion he first voiced in 1961, that the twentieth century saw “the death of tragedy”. In his mandarin summation:
It is virtually indecent to envisage high tragedy engaging recent and current events as Greek tragedy engaged the Persian wars or the massacre at Miletus. We distrust the truths of eloquence. Who now shares T. S. Eliot’s melancholy conviction that verse drama is the natural, legitimate format of conflict and concentrated sensibility? The aesthetics of conceptual art, the semen on the bedsheet, the creed of the happening, of Merz (the nonsense word used by Kurt Schwitters to describe his collages or assemblages based on scavenged scrap materials) or the ready-made – reflecting as they do the collapse of agreed values and developing the parodistic genius of Surrealism – are antithetical to high tragedy. Our immediacies are those of derision, of black farce, of the multimedia circus. At some moments of political \[and\] social crisis, tragedy in its classical mask still provides a shorthand: as the Trojan Women did during the Vietnam war, as the Bacchae served during the turmoil of the drug culture and flower children. But these are loans from the museum. Whether we swallow this whole or attend to other, more meliorist perspectives – offered by Sarah Annes Brown and Catherine Silverstone in another timely collection of essays, Tragedy in Transition (or is it remission?) – Steiner in his stonking fashion has captured something of the spirit of the age. Greek tragedy is not what it used to be. It is no longer “Howl, howl, howl, howl”, Lear’s anguished response to the death of Cordelia. Sometimes it is hardly howl at all. Tragedy has been trivialized. Blair’s former bag man, Jonathan Powell, is supposed to have pulled up on his bike next to Boris Johnson at the traffic lights and observed, as one Oxford man to another, that Gordon Brown’s situation was a Greek tragedy – consumed by ambition, he would never be Prime Minister. Since Brown succeeded to that office, needless to say, there has been no shortage of commentators eager to cast his fate in the familiar frame. In common parlance, at least, the scale and moral force of the genre have been devalued. Pain and grief and rage dwindle into mere misfortune. Tragedy is in jeopardy.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 4/29/09

1 comment:

  1. I just found out that, on top of everything else, Jamie Foxx has also won a couple of Grammys for his R&B album... that guy must be busy