Thursday, December 07, 2006

Auntie Laura Reads A Book

Yesterday was 14 years on from the Babri Masjid demolition. In another couple of months we will mark the fifth year of the Gujarat riots. We remind ourselves again and again of what we're capable of as human beings. Not that we're in any danger of forgetting -- who can, when there's a Khairlanji taking place every once in a while?

I have always felt that these events are hard to fictionalise, or turn into anything other than what they are. At least, if it is at all possible, it cannot happen for some years yet. Adorno famously said, "after the Holocaust lyric poetry is impossible."

Of course, even such definite pronouncements have a best-before date; Adorno later retracted his statement, many films have been made on the Holocaust (though we have to decide for ourselves which is more truthful: Resnais' Night and Fog or Spielberg's Schindler's List. Yes, yes, the comparison is entirely unfair, I admit. But it indicates, if nothing else, a range of artistic responses within which we could try to understand a horrible event.); we learn, with time, to calibrate our responses and make out of events something that can be remembered without being expoitative or egregious.

The war in Iraq is, depending on how you look at it, either a few years old, or at least a decade-and-a-half old. Such sustained warfare might even inure us and those suffering it, to many things. Another airstrike, another pile of bodies. More dead. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're in danger of saying. So what are you doing for New Year's, we might even ask, though we will be careful to space that question out carefully so as not to appear callous.

Tony Kushner's play, Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy is one possible response to such events as we are in danger of getting used to. It is angry and absurd. And most importantly, it does not uselessly wring its hands while torturing itself about What Is Happening In Iraq.

In it, Laura Bush is meeting Iraqi children for the first itme in her life, and she is very excited. She is going to read to them; so what if they are dead? She can read Dostoievsky to them instead of The Hungry Catepillar, because "I figured, being dead, you all command a broader view, and I hope you’re going to like it. I think you will!"

There's an ANGEL, moderating the interaction between LAURA BUSH and THE DEAD CHILDREN who only make noises like bird music. LAURA BUSH asks the ANGEL how many children have died.

ANGEL: Hundreds of children. Thousands of children. 150,000 children.
400,000 children. Who's counting? No one is counting. A lot. From diseases
related to the sanctions and the power outages and the depleted uranium dust
shed from the casings of American missiles? Perhaps related? Probably related?
Nearly 600,000 children have died. Many, many children have died.

LAURA BUSH: Oh gosh. And on the bright side, all those dead children
and yet look, you have maintained such a low student-teacher ratio.

ANGEL: We believe a low student-to-teacher ratio is necessary for

LAURA BUSH: I agree!

ANGEL: And yet in the United States it's so high, on the average.

LAURA BUSH: On the average, thirty-to-one, forty-to-one! Way, way too
high! I was a teacher once. Before I married Bushie. Or, as I sometimes call
him, The Chimp. You know, those ears. It would be nice if there was government
money to make schools smaller. For living children. But you see, honey, sweetie,
precious--do they have names?

ANGEL: They do, but I'm not allowed to tell you.

LAURA BUSH: Why not?

ANGEL: I'm not allowed to tell you that, either. Sorry.

(Little pause.)

LAURA BUSH: Oh. All right. Well anyway, children, free educations with
three-to-one student-teacher ratios or even twenty-to-one student-teacher ratios
or even enough classrooms with enough desks to sit in would be swell, wouldn't
it, of the lessons from the wonderful book I'm going to read to you
today is that if you accept free bread, or free whatever, education, daycare,
whatnot, if you accept that free stuff you will have to give up freedom in
exchange, and that isn't right. Freedom is what matters, not things of the
earth. Like food. And I know you died starving, honey, but look at your nice
pajamas! Do you see what I mean?

ANGEL: Children, do you see what Mrs. Bush means? (They stand and
answer, talking happily, but again the only sound is Messiaen's

Link via Amitava Kumar.

Here's Adrienne Rich in the Guardian, arguing for more poetry in our dark times.


the mad momma said...

that was seriously depressing... and yet... there is nothing much one does but ask you what plans for new years...

Yves said...

Well I thought it was funny and uplifting and a wonderful piece of creative writing.

Space Bar said...

TMM, Yves: It's both funny and depressing. You laugh, almost involuntarily, and then -- hopefully - you question your laughter.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

came across your blog while i was looking for something else, am bookmarking SPACE BAR.

Anonymous said...

A nice take on reality. ironical though that it take serious imagination to bring realities into the open.

Will come by again.