Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
Volker Schlöndorff's Der Junge Törless (Young Torless, 1966)
It should have been a mere co-incidence that I read Schlink and watched Young TÖrless in just nearly a week’s gap. But this has made more sense than any other recent co-incidences to me, in that the second incident has cast an entire new light on the first and I need to re-consider The Reader now. The essence in Young TÖrless is still stymieing a clear path of thought. Perhaps, it would never consolidate in words, for I think the cinema meant more than just an explainable and satisfactory logic. TÖrless’s eventual acknowledgement and acceptance of the principle of torture, hideousness and shame, in one sense, does relate the film to a rational conclusion. But his passage to this conclusion puzzles me in more ways than one.
The precocious TÖrless observes:
the need to discipline;
the forces that discipline;
diabolic leaps of minds;
losing the good in the bad;
Realization of the blurred divides between both,
And finally comes to a stoic acknowledgement of it.
The stark black and white frames put the boys together, in the beginning of the film, on an effete field. They move to a pub, where Basini loses his money in gambling. In a follow-up Reiting insists Basini on returning his money, and in desperation Basini steals from Beineberg’s closet. Next morning, however, it does not take much time for Reiting to put two and two together, and Basini is exposed. Or is he? At many a point in the film, Reiting and Beineberg use 'exposing' Basini to the general crowd as their token to torture him. The moment of exposure culminates the tension in the film, and the damage has been done: the few silver lines that separated humility and humiliation break away. The claustrophobic nature of the military school, and the atmosphere laden with sadistic and homo-erotic tension pulls the cork out for TÖrless. Though he considers himself untrained to adequately express the lesson he has learnt, he understands that he has learnt it. The imaginary numbers that the mathematics professor has been talking about would help in making a real firm and usable bridge, as how the imaginary in the thoughts of the human – the layer that slides betwixt Reason and Psychic urges – the Imaginary where each carry his own values, perennially attempt a coming to terms or compromise with either reason or psychic urges. And in understanding this as “perfectly normal”, there is the lesson that TÖrless grasped.
The Military as a system of pure-logic (of sadism) and the Erotic (closet homosexuality and masochism) installs itself triumphantly inside the structures of the State. In bringing together Reiting, Beinberg and TÖrless under this roof, the clearer symbolism of Bestiality, Fascism and Existential Stoicism apart, Robert Musil and Volker Schlondorff were also giving light to the standing prospects of humans as social/rational animals. Disciplining the criminal is a given; the means to discipline but, turns to be, nothing less than sequestering each of the victim’s (it’s almost naturally that the shift from criminal to victim happens) ‘properties of the self’: his sense of being one with the community (Basini is desperately trying to be so all through the film); his will to action (this is insisted ad nauseum by the perpetrators), his sexuality, and in a wicked twist later in the film, his soul (the hypnotizing scene). All communications of the victim is cut off: internal and external. In being alone, and in being under ‘surveillance’ he should find pleasure by serving the ‘considerate’ punishers.
The court of law is played out in a miniature in the film. The power to punish becomes the monopoly of Beinberg and Reiting as how order is the monopoly of the modern governing machine (and not the people). what separates Basini from the three (TÖrless shall not be considered otherwise) is the latters' access to violence. That’s perhaps the reason why even when he does nothing materially harmful on Basini's persona, TÖrless feels himself more righteous than him (in the beginning. Later the decisions take on a dramatically different mode of reasoning). In the company of the three boys, TÖrless learns a peculiar morale. As I have said earlier this principle is passed over as a feeling and not a concrete or even tenable argument. And when he gives an honest (garbled, nevertheless) attempt at saying this, he is deemed to be mentally unstable and is sent back home. He would not help Basini escape the torture. He would not support the punishers either. He leaves them to their fates. Running away from the school he wanders off, eats at wayside inns, meets up with Bozena one last time (outside her apartment), and tells her that he is done with the school. Meanwhile Reiting and Beinberg record their statements and are vindicated beyond a shadow of doubt, off their behavior. Not that TÖrless cares anymore (as is clear from his statement at the office).
The last scene has TÖrless leaving the Gasthaus with his mother in a horse carriage. He looks out of the carriage as they pull around Bozena’s apartment. In a dash of recollection, we see Bozena under the hanging bright bulb demanding a kiss from TÖrless, having said both he and Beinberg were no bigger than her little kid in the cradle. Frame darkens with the leafless trees at the railway station in sight.
I should have been with Rafael now.
For a plot-driven analysis of TÖrless, that would help get the point i was tryin to make:
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg) (2002) Directed by: Alexander Sokurov
The intersecting of two secrecies results in interesting, however unpleasant may it be, revelations. When the hidden-away in a museum and the clandestine byways of history overlap visibly, it results in a rather violent exposure of the collective insecurity. Russia has taken much from Europe, like most of the East has done, when it comes to (modern disciplines of) academic/fine arts. In this case, however, there is one qualification: that Russia in itself is considered to be European in essence. Let us return to this point later, but.
Archiving being a modern necessity – as ‘an art of the state’, say – in terms with the sense of nation and people-as-kin, museums hold a veritable mode to relate to what is stored (and distributed) as culture, in the post-industrialist society.
What qualifies some specimens to be inside a museum of culture and what goes into the historiography of the nation are both important nodes of enquiry when thinking about reading the peoples’ consciousness vis-à-vis a museum. Museums are important spots in the map of a city: not-too-infrequently, even the centre of it. Always listed in the places-to-be-visited, regarded as landmarks, and entry restricted with passes or security checks, they make a cult of authority in their sit(e)uation. These buildings pride in imposing architectural feats and the ‘rarity’ of the specimens preserved. A metropolis is incomplete without a museum (or an archive of equable gravity) and the people therein connect to it in much the same way as they connect to public libraries and court circles. Even if they never see the inside of it, for an urban population, the building connotes a space of modernity, a mark of progress, and a record of ‘culture’.
The museum is a reservoir of time. You swish past into the beginnings and flash down into the current, within its space. Inside a real time, vicarious times dangle in tempting threads. And simultaneously, within a real space, tangible records of spaces that existed are pre-served. They belong to the public by belonging to the state. It is always a display, an invitation to think in time, and never a sell-out. You don’t own anything in a museum as a person. Your right over it, as said, is reserved in your being a citizen who abides by the state. The exhibits therein hold its magic over you by being your past and not belonging to you, directly. You will have to link up with nation/kin/citizen/subject paradigms to ‘possess’ it.
Having said that let me come to Russian Ark. The Russia herein is a brilliant spacious block, and not the space of the scantily lit congested wooden-walls of the potato eaters. We, for one, are fetched far from the politics that is Russia (to the Indian leftists, at least) and the inscrutable tongue that is Russian. We are removed from anything unlike the European inheritance in Russia. We are shut out to the toil, revolt, and terror that paved the Karamazov homestead. And we see the pretentious bourgeoisie socials that drove Anna to death, ironically, gaining an elevated splendor here. With bated breath we peep into the intrigues of (bourgeoisie) history, savor high art, and attend studious classical western music.
It is a (Russian) ghost who is taking us through the grand (which is a minor word to describe it) museum of St Petersburg. And very unfortunately, he is accompanying a not-so-Russophile European (Marquis de Custin who authored La Russie en 1839, as we are told in the glosses) who thinks Russia in fact is a veneer of Europe spread over Asian rocks. For Custin, all composers are German and all masters of sculpture and painting, Italian. Being extremely religious, the splendid collection of paintings in the given museum, for him, is a blasphemy, mostly: he shows how the Circumcision of Christ is placed together with the licentious Portrait of Cleopatra, for an instance. And practically terrifies an adolescent who admits that he is not a Catholic. Not being a Catholic, Custin says, it is impossible to appreciate a portrait of Paul and Peter. Custin, sure, is pictured as a very insolent figure and is thrown out from the courtly gatherings almost always. He knows that he would be hurting the feelings of the narrator when he derides Pushkin and is cognizant of his appalling-prank in putting the back of a blind Russian woman against a painting asking her to accost it, but doesn’t stop from doing either.
Starkly in contrast with the rest of the flamboyant cast, Custin wears an arrogant black costume. And considers whoever else in the milieu as mere ‘costumes’ and ‘actors’. The whole of Russian history is a ‘theatre’ for him. And instead of disproving Custin, the drama of Russian Ark stays away from any jolts of reality that can upset his tirade (or the audience's dream-journey). Very significant to this point, at almost the middle of the cinema, the author begs the Marquis to not open a door, which concealed empty painting-frames and snow and a “desperate Leningrader” (cf. wiki) working hard on his own coffin. In yet another scene, situated in the Stalinist phase, we spy the museum officials thinking about renovating certain portions of the museum. The grand ball conducted by Valery Gergiev and the subsequent exit of the whole cast through the front door, winds up the sequence.
But the coda, I believe, is that exit which the ghost takes, where we see myriad specters of fog rising from a frigid sea that surrounds the museum. The ark that is the St Petersburg museum is floating in a frozen sea. In other words, all history outside the museum is dead history, issuing ghosts (like the narrator) that nostalgically live up to the Russian nationalist dream, inside the museum.
The technical achievement in shooting a 90 minute film all at one go, assembling a cast of 2000 and sorting innumerable costumes is the most talked-about aspect of Russian Ark, as I glanced through the reviews. I am not underplaying Alexander Sokurov’s feat by any means. The magical flow of the single shot (canned by Tilman Buettner) does have its place in film history, I understand. Just that, more important to my viewing was the thrill imparted by feeling the cult-space of the museum perpetually challenging the ‘timely-ness’ of any archive.
For a fuller discussion of the plot and the feat, the review is available at: http://www.kinokultura.com/reviews/Rark.html
[the painting: Rene Magritte: Lunette-Approche (1929)]
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
it is the ease with which the characters disappeared from the mind's screen and of the something-else that lingered. talking of the disappeared people, i didnt want Hanna at least to fade away that soon. i wanted her to stay on. to puzzle on, as she used to, through out my reading of the work. but may be because she grew old and "smelt" of old age; may be because she grew fat and lumbered across her cell; because she, midway through her term, lost the fire of self-righteousness, because she no more cared about the why-she-should-care, she faded off from the montage all too soon like the ineffectual "reader" (Berg) himself. and i was left with nothing to write home about, but a vague feeling of disturbance. the kind of disturbance that a voyeur feels when the looked-upon looks back at him, kind of knowingly. to discuss killings as if it is a process necessitated by policies, and to dismiss policies as belonging to a period's specific needs and calls, the reader confuses "understanding" and "condemnation", by fondly juxtaposing the body of justice with the body that defines the protagonist's sexuality. Hanna is that open invitation for Berg to "forget the world in the recesses of the body" (p.16). world (as a condition of being answerable), body and guilt move in disturbing loops as eroticism is deftly instilled at unexpected leeks in time (Berg's hepatitis and the vomit, and their ending up in bed in the first chapter, for instance).
there must be a way in which the holocaust, as a word, unassumingly covers all the real - palpable - pain and reduces the choking-to-death, burning-to-death, and hacking-to-death, all to an Event. given the opening to it, through the court scenes in the text, the readers - including Berg, the second generation German - are invited to 'look' and be a (meta-)part of the trial: the 'view' to the time's ruptures - to the "past that brands us and with which we must live". stranded morally in between condemning the self and condemning the past, the novel is a crevice that puts the reader/voyeur behind it. necessitated by the past into attending the trial (necessitated by erotic drives towards the event); all too curious, but simultaneously totally aware of the culmination ( as how a voyeur doesn't really see 'different' events/things every time, but still see them as different), trying to repress the condemnation of the self and immerse in the degradation of the accused (like how the pleasure of looking is suddenly more real than the guilt of the agent of the look) the justice mechanism, as described in the book, turns holocaust into an 'event' circumscribed by the word, not withstanding the descriptions of the church in fire. it invites the non-German reader into watching. the obvious metaphor of Hanna Schmidtz's illiteracy for the un-speak/writ-ability of the horror of holocaust, augments the conversion of real feelings to the vicarious see-and-feel equation. she speaks with her body, in total. she, being the guard who has not written the order which the court considers, dissociates herself from the written code, while ironically becomes the crucible of a written message. she claims to know what "idiocy" is, and her shower-read-have sex routine with the 'kid' is pictured as a leap to transcend it. life and its truth and idiocy is coded in Hanna's body. it is in watching it, freezing it, adoring it, and constantly (without much reason to) apologising to it, that the mind of 'the reader' shapes itself. the figure of the guilty voyeur is implicit. the "recesses" of (Hanna's) body holds not only the world(of Berg) but also a tempting invitation to watch the world as it is held. it dilutes the guilt of being inside any other world (the post Third Reich Germany or the post WW II world, say). to feel a share of guilt for the ruthlessness perpetrated by the human world is subterfuged by the reader's merging with the voyeur. breeding voyeurs of history in schools, colleges, in libraries, in intellectual discussions, in judiciary and in the media, perhaps, this is how we have been successfully disowning our share in what went past.
Friday, February 8, 2008
- It bothered me to wear the author’s mask that was hanging on this wall. A mask always needs to have a face inside, to become a mask. So in a way, without this botheration on my part, the mask would not ever function. I pushed my face in the mould and felt the welcoming vacuum: I shall belong to it.
- After fixing the mask, I held my breath. A trembling noise crawled on my face.I sensed vaguely that the mask was making a hole in my consciousness – a hole that ate up along with chunks of memories, unexpected fringes of conversations and unfocused contours of sights.
- I was warned in a dream later, of storms forming at the horizon.