Monthly Archives: October 2014

Toller / Klinghoffer

Here are a couple of truisms (for me anyway):

  • Politicians should never comment on art that’s anything but decorative, old, and uncontroversial.
  • When politicians of both parties agree about anything (but especially about art), they’re wrong.

Both of these prejudices of mine jumped out strongly when I read some of the comments by politicians of both parties protesting the Met’s current staging of John Adams’ 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

In a perfectly bipartisan stand against the opera, Rudy Giuliani (Republican ex-Mayor) and U.S. Representatives Peter King (R-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), all spoke at a rally outside Lincoln Center protesting the opening performance on October 20.

I have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear tabloid newspapers or religious organizations or pandering politicians calling for the suppression of any artist whether it’s Andres Serrano or 2 Live Crew or Entartete Kunst, but this latest particular example of that all-too-common phenomenon had a special resonance for me because my novel Fire Answers Fire has in its later chapters the story of an unproduced (and totally fictional) Ernst Toller play (or opera) also entitled Fire Answers Fire shot down in 1939 by would-be musical collaborators and producers because of its sympathetic portrayal of terrorists (in this case the attackers of the Nazi Hindenburg).

… So Toller had gone ahead without a collaborator and shown the play without music to a producer and old friend, Jude Lear. Despite the English name borrowed from Hardy and Shakespeare, Lear was a recent exile like himself with an even thicker German accent than Toller’s. Lear didn’t even skim halfway through the script before rendering his judgment. “Why don’t you just write a sympathetic play about the kidnapper and killer of the Lindbergh baby? After all, Lindbergh’s a Nazi sympathizer too.”
“That’s different. That’s an attack on a child. On an individual. This is a symbolic striking at power. At a machine. At giant swastikas flying as provocations over American cities.”
“That’s not the way the audience will see it. Lindbergh and the Hindenburg are both innocent victims. Lucky Fucking Lindy could wipe his ass with an American flag and fly a plane around the world bedecked with swastikas and christened the ‘Spirit of Berchtesgarten’ and he’d still get sympathy about the kidnapping of his son. The swastikas on the tail of a Zeppelin don’t mean shit either. The audience members won’t care about the politics. It’s the fiery scene they all remember from the newsreels that’s important. And it’s not the announcer saying ‘Oh, the poor dead Nazis’ they remember. It’s ‘Oh, the humanity!’ they remember. It’s the same on these boards,” he said, sweeping his hand across the floor on which they stood in front of rows of empty red velveteen seats. “People react to people on this stage. Not ideas. Not rallying cries. Not politics. Especially not European politics. Your politics. They want to see themselves reflected in the actors up here, not terrorists fighting foreign wars.” He might as well have said this isn’t 1918 and this isn’t revolutionary Munich. No one will care what you have to write or think anymore. …     (from chapter 12, “And Happy Endings With Dead Villains”)

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As in IQ84, a single piece of music plays a repeating role throughout the book; this time it’s Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays’ rather than Janáček’s Sinfonietta. Listening to that short piano piece at a key moment late (page 322) in his pilgrimage, this paragraph appears:

“And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”

Once again, I was immediately hooked by the music behind Murakami’s deceptively simple prose. I highly recommend Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. I also want to say that (though I’m sure I would have also loved this book on an e-reader) the size, look, and feel of this physical Chip Kidd-designed hardcover added to the experience of following Tsukuru Tazaki on his journey. Everything from the railway maps to the significant colors used on the endsheets and the treatment of the page numbers contributed greatly to the pleasure of reading.

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