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ESTEAP Conference Paris – Theatre and migrants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THEATRE CONFERENCE ON MIGRATIONS- Decentering the vision(s) of Europe, October 2018.

Théâtre et Migra(tio)nts

Théâtre, nation et l’identité : entre Migration et Stasis

Nina Živančević

Université Paris – Sorbonne, Université Paris 8

Résumé

Alors que je marche parmi des corps ensommeillés de réfugiés Syriennes dans la gare routière de Belgrade, en essayant d’adresser mes efforts humains envers l’Autre, ma vie soudainement est apparu devant moi comme si elle a été posée sur un…Et la question « si j’avais jamais quitté cette ville où ma grand-mère avait créé la filière de la Croix Rouge en Serbie et où mon grand-père avait caché les Bakuninists sous son toit pendent leur voyage migratoire de la Russie vers les États Unis » Ici, les questions comme « L’art, est il encore possible ? » ou « C’est quoi sa dernière forme mourante ? » ne me parviennent pas.. Et de même les questions sur la signification de la « résistance », sur le pouvoir migratoire du peuple ou sur la présence de ce pouvoir ou bien son absence dans la vie quotidienne du peuple.

Mots-clefs

Réfugiés, territoire ,filtre, peau, phénoménologie, membrane, E. Husserl, Théâtre corporelle, Pablo Posada Varela, the Living Theatre

THEATER AND MIGRA(TIO)NTS

Abstract

As I’m walking among the sleepy bodies of the Syrian refugees at Belgrade’s  bus station park, trying to address all my human and performative efforts towards the Other, my whole life appears suddenly in front of me as “ on a stretcher” :  have  I ever left this place where my grandmother founded the Serbian branch of the Red Cross, and where my grandfather was hiding the Bakuninists under his roof, on their way from Russia to the United States ? Here, the questions such as “Is art still possible?” and “what is its current dying form?” have never occurred to me, nor the questions about  the true meaning of resistance, the migrating power of people and its dying absence or presence in everyone’s life.

Keywords

Refugees, Territory, Filter, Skin, Phenomenology, Membrane, E. Husserl, Corporal Theatre, Pablo Posada Varela, the Living Theatre.

 THEATER AND MIGRA(TIO)NTS

Theatre, nation and identity: between Migration and Stasis

A:Idea of a migrant could be incorporated into the saying by Ovid : in this place I AM a barbarian  because men do not understand me.

B:As to an idea of theater, any theater, for me personally the idea had to be extended (not reduced to) to the idea of the corporal theater, theatre which treats body as such, for what it is. The theater which tends to body and all its aspects, body being the basic unit of any theatrical activity.

It is interesting to notice that wherever I lived, I have always felt as a refugee: an artist in an inner, as much as an outer exile. True, no one has ever forced me to leave my homeland, former Yugoslavia as I had left it out of my own free will that distant 1980. I was neither Nabokov, nor Joseph Brodsky or Soljenitsyn. However, the merciless hand of High Capitalism  tattooed with certain Stalinist slogans, has  ruled my country, our schools and our artists and intellectuals . All of us have felt its rude consequences even under the reign of Tito. As I’m walking among the sleepy bodies of the Syrian refugees in a Belgrade’s bus station park, trying to address all my human and performative efforts towards the Other, my whole life appears suddenly on a stretcher in front of my eyes, and here comes a question: have I ever truly left this town where my grandmother founded the Serbian branch of the Red Cross, and where my grandfather was hiding the Bakuninists under his roof, on their way from Russia to the United States? Here, questions such as “Is art still possible?” and “what is its current, ‘disappearing’ form?”, have never occurred to me, nor the questions about the true meaning of resistance or its absence or presence in everyone’s life. The answers to these questions would impose themselves on me quite naturally. Let me dig into some fitting examples of the artistic practices concerning the Migrant theater and the Theater of the Migrants that will help  illustrate my quandary.

As I’m trying to sort out some basic terms operandi let us have a look at the notions of « migration » , migrants and « the migrating forms of theatre ».

 As I worked with the Living  Theater for a long time, for me personally the notion of LIFE, ALIVE and the LIVING have always meant Theatre and it included its various subterms. « The term migration is  closely linked to the construction of the Other, the figure of the foreigner in our everyday realities, in the media, and on stage.  The uprooted person, the migrant figure, whether political, economic or spiritual, often triggers tensions between the familiar and the unknown, native and foreign, us and them.  Within the current global political climate, marked by the increasing rise of the right and of xenophobic sentiments, the term migration prompts us to grapple with a variety of contradictions of hospitality and hostility, of solidarity and security, of activism and passivity, of movement and stasis. “

In the interview (2015) focusing on hosts, migrants and hospitality in general, a leading anthropologist and politico-economic anarchist-activist David Graeber , founder of Occupy

Wall Street movement, who also exiled himself, had a couple remarks to make on the notions of real and ambiguous hospitality:

We are witnessing an incredible global control of the territorial borders and laws which govern their borders. Although we know that the technology has advanced a lot, we are still confronted with an incredible quantity of walls and of frontiers being imposed on us, virtual or non-virtual ones, the walls which cut our planet into a million separate pieces- until recently this was a sort of an abstraction to us and now it’s becoming our physical reality….   in the era of feudalism, people travelled from Africa to England, I don’t mean here the slaves, these travelers were not slaves, they would only enter another country physically, no one prevented them to enter some country. 

 The interesting thing is that they were welcomed pleasantly and warmly by the local inhabitants, the system of hospitality was highly developed and the host felt a moral obligation to welcome a stranger- he would bring the best food to him and feed him for three days. Perhaps if this guest overstayed the host could turn him into a slave-  we will not enter here the psychological aspects or reasons for someone’s hospitality! The Austrian anthropologist Franz Steiner had written a lot about this problem, he wrote a doctoral dissertation, “On nature of slavery”, where he developed the thesis related to his personal experience- he himself was a refugee in England but at that time an already famous professor who had always said that people had been inviting him to visit them, wined and dined him, asking him to read his interesting work- only to ask him all sorts of favors in the end, for instance- to wash the dishes! “ Further along, discussing the notion of the Other and his presence in a new environment Graeber remarked: “It seems that in so called Western Europe- the administration and the government started to calculate how many refugees they could accept and which jobs these could eventually get, and where they would feel the best. Oddly enough, they came up with the calculus that the first and the best country for the refugees was Hungary!! …It seems that the National Front and their anti-immigrant politics are to be found today in those small towns and villages where the refugees would not land anyways. In France, for instance and in some other countries where the National Front is in action, their representatives live in those forlorn places spared by the immigrants. In London, for instance, the representatives of the National Front have never met the immigrants in person- as they live in those posh suburbs where the immigrants never go, and- if they were to meet some of them they wouldn’t even know what to say, what to ask, how to present themselves.. The Germans seem all of a sudden more tolerant in treating the refugees who arrive there now. I would like to emphasize the fact that the Germans had not entirely created all the forms of torture or behavior towards the minorities during WWII- all these forms had already existed in the big colonial empires: the concentration camps, the bureaucratic consensuses and lists of special citizens in Holland and in France, as well as the systematic avoidance of laws, and the double standard for the application of these laws to different groups of inhabitants, as prescribed by the Geneva convention when it was signed- these were not applied in their colonies. This is to say that in a conflict between the empire and say, the Zulu tribe, or in Ecuador, the laws from the Geneva convention were not respected in these territories. The arms that the empire used there were not even known as such in Europe, like those “dum-dum bullets » for instance.  However, the Germans pushed the farthest the war terror as they decided to use the most drastic forms of armament over the population which they declared not white, though these people were seen as “white” by all other nations but the Germans.” In discussing the relationship between the current politics towards the migrants and the Arts in general (here we’ll focus on Drama Studies), Graeber commented on Jacques Ranciere’s remark  that politics and art build a fictive relationship, and that something that we see and what we do is just a part of that relationship. So  what we do and what we could do in future is another part of that relationship.  What kind of relationship could be built between the refugees and the countries where they arrive? 

Graeber agrees that there is a fictive, imaginary relationship between them – and he says that people project all sorts of desires when they meet with the foreigners; we observe here strange and perverse desires as they find these foreigners different from them, however we know that the precondition for building solidarity with the refugees is the feeling of equality and togetherness. Another thing is that people like to see the refugees as victims, they sympathize with them until the certain moment, they imagine themselves in a similar situation which causes them to have empathy, until the moment when these poor refugees start feeling good. Then their hosts’ feelings change, they start having certain doubts in regards to these refugees, now the question is- how do we overcome this feeling?”

Graeber also elaborates on  the term migration  which immediately invokes one of the central political, social, humanitarian and cultural issues of our time.  It conjures images of people on cramped boats approaching the Italian island of Lampedusa and of people trying to jump on board lorries to cross the English Channel; images of dead bodies floating in the sea and of places left behind, turned to rubble; images of refugee camps from Dadaab in Kenya, the size of Minneapolis, to the infamous ‘Jungle’ in Calais. The notion of migration is intrinsically linked to questions of mobility and access as it evokes various performances of borders—for some they are porous, almost flexible, and for others they are impenetrable. The fences erected along the US and Mexican border and the India and Pakistani border, the checkpoints and walls separating Israel from the West Bank, the razor-barbed wire the Hungarian government installed on the border with Serbia to stop the influx of refugees: all these elements map the most extreme aspects of migratory geographies, playing out over and over again the Derridian hospitality/hostility paradox. Here, I’m quoting David Graeber again:

The notion of Other does not include only fear but also the attraction which we feel towards the Other. Whenever I’ve read the Levinas observations about the face, human face I was hearing him, in a paradoxical way, as we are all the same, in the sense that we all come from mankind, that they are all different. Levinas wishes to point to the absolute uniqueness of each of us, of each face which we cannot entirely assimilate, which causes certain pain but also an awareness in us that everyone is unique and special. And that it forms a part of the humanizing process, makes us human, this sort of constant appropriation of awareness that every human being is unique. As an anthropologist I am in a constant process of studying the Other and I am constantly aware that the Other is different and that we are constantly of the verge of an abyss of not understanding other culture, and the so called  Other- we are reaching here the point of limitation in us- I often do not understand my own brother who is a great unknown to me.”

When asked to  reflect upon  Karl Marx’s economic postulates which would ultimately claim that the refugees and the migrants are not such a weight or burden on Europe,Graeber explained that these  could be a source of investment for Europe which needs a greater working force.That force is neither physical nor ‘intellectual’ , and it represents “the force of immaterial labor” as Tony Negri called it. Graeber further continues :.” if I could draw a certain parallel- in North America the situation is clear: until recently all immigrants without papers there had a status which was worse than any pariah’s- they were not allowed to vote nor they had any other rights.  They did not have a syndicate which would allow them to speak out, and only recently there started a movement for civil rights which allows for these people to speak out. At the same time the immigration coming from Mexico becomes ever prominent in the US, and the politicians on the top are constantly reflecting whether they should throw them out of the country or not- they cannot agree on this issue- and what these immigrants are today is exactly what the capitalist class has always been fighting for: to have a group of people who have no legal rights and who don’t have a workers’ syndicate capable of defending their rights.  As they don’t even have a right to have a syndicate, these people are in a legal limbo.  So here we are talking about work which is legally outlawed. These illegal workers have no rights and they swim in the waters where everyone can throw them out at any moment and this is exactly what the capitalists want. “

 This problematic is widely explored in Silvina Landsmann’s experimental film HOTLINE which describes a daily work of a NGO in Tel Aviv, the agency which fights for human rights of the migrants coming from Sudan and Eritrea to Israel.The questions of right for the asylum and the feelings of non-hospitality in the nation composed entirely of refugees are raised here. But not only domain of film treats the problem of migrant workers- the medium of theatre  always treats the problematics of the Double and has started recently conceiving its role as the major mediator between the Double and the Other. Several issues are at stake here. As Graeber again pertinently remarked, one of

the problems starts when “ the migrants who move into someone’s territory want to take leadership over the territory where they have just landed- if the Syrians wanted to take leadership in European countries where they have just arrived,  that would be a problem. After the II World War the Europeans thought that they had to do something, at least partially for the Jews, and as it was not possible for them to give the Jews a part of the European territory, they decided that the Jews should be directed towards Palestinian lands. You see how that thing got totally complicated as the Jews were originally Europeans as well. This is all a very sad story- when I moved to London in a quarter called Bethlehem Green one could still find numerous synagogues. However, through certain municipal decrees by the end of 1990s, the Brits started moving Muslim refugees into this quarter, telling them “this is the area where you are going to feel at home”. This is just one of the examples which show how the Zionist politics has done the most harm to the Jewish population itself.” And again, beyond its immediate, topical invocations, the terms migration and migrants implies, more broadly, a body of persons or animals migrating together. These moving migrating bodies range from the political to the economic and to the spiritual; from refugees and asylum seekers to tourists, guest-workers, and visiting scholars; and they even stretch beyond human migration to include other kinds of migrating bodies—inspiring us, perhaps, to think of migration as a kind of a performative ecology that involves a wide variety of agents, processes and geographies.

       Migration understood as an act—a form of being/doing—unfolds within different socio-political scenarios and through a repertoire of performative and affective gestures making possible for both individual and collective aspects to emerge. Dictionary definitions also describe the term ‘as movement from one part of something to the other’ — which includes both spatial and temporal dimensions, individuals, communities, animals, but also forms, ideas, aesthetics, and conventions. Thus, migration emerges as ultimately a relational category. In chemistry, it means a change or movement of atoms in a molecule. In physics, it means diffusion—the intermingling of substances by their natural movement. Applied to culture, these attributes of migration also suggest the spreading, mixing and remixing of forms and ideas. Hence, migration does not unfold in a straight line; it is rather a process of moving from one point to the other that necessitates meandering, wandering, changing of pace, transformation, negotiation, and adaptation.

The contemporary theater is highly aware of all the different problems which rise with the relocation of migrants to someone’s territory. There was a conference recently given in April 2018 at la Sorbonne which tried, through the work of the current contemporary theater companies to answer some of the following questions  such as :how have theatre and performance responded to the issues of exile, displacement and Otherness both historically and in our times? How has the process of migration been shaped and reshaped through various political, social, cultural and artistic scenarios? How can the notion of migration be employed to grapple with issues of cultural cross-fertilization, transfer, appropriation and mutation?  What does constitute ecologies of migration in theatre and performance (and beyond)?

Within the scope of the seminar VALE , Elisabeth Angel-Perez, Kerry-Jane Wallart and Jeanne Schaaf gave a report -summery on the work of the companies of the “Theatre of NON-LIEU”. The report was notably on the work of the virtual and nomadic Scottish National Theatre which moves from one city to another virtually and allegedly occupying the same mental space within the spectator as other  companies physically do.

Another company worth mentioning here is ERRINA company founded by Anastassia Politi, a Greek director whose brother drowned in Italy doing his activist work on the migrants’ boat near Lampedusa island. ERRINA is a completely nomadic, migratory enterprise in terms that it employs theatrical settings, props and scenery on the spot, whenever it gives performances as it moves from Greece to France, from the north to the south performing the thematic units related to the migrants’ life, and is always on the move.

The visual artist Judith Barry is displaying her work entitled Global Displacement in the memory of the Lampedusa’s boats at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the states. She conceived her work in an inflatable boat, somewhat similar to the one that was drowned near Lampedusa filled with the collages of asylum seekers and followed with the artist’s words « nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide are displaced from their homes ». In this particular case boat is seen as the stage for daily life, that is living performances given by the asylum seekers. Looking up, the asylum seekers greet the effortlessly hovering drone with the mixture of relief and elation- even though the drone is not human, and even though the resulting encounter is no guarantee of a rescue or of entry into another country. There are hundreds of these images circulating online, says Pieranna Cavalchini, Curator of Contemporary Art. The refugee crisis is on-going and shows no sign of abating.

According to Pablo Posada Varela, a contemporary philosopher of phenomenology, the question of frontier is very old and profound as it touches the essence of human being. What is a frontier anyways ? Is it something that distinguishes our interior from the exterior in a human being ?; By definition it is not an impenetrable wall but more of a filter. A human being is above all an animal, a living being which moves and that’s ?the first quality which distinguishes it from an inanimate object. The man recognizes its exterior by the limit imposed by his skin ; this membrane and this frontier saves his interior from spilling to the outside world. But this membrane is never conceived as the rigid wall, it is porous whose function is to protect, to assimilate and to evacuate, Varela says.If we exposed this frontier too much, it would be destructive for our interior, but an excessive closure would lead the body to natural death. This frontier, our skin, defends our interior which is, according to the philosopher « transcendental » and which is also different from the man’s « visceral » interior. A man, as an animal, has a constant need to move, to conquer his territory outside himself, but his own territory is designed by his skin which guarantees him certain serenity and defends him from climate, and from other animals, but the man seeks an exterior territory which is secure and  which the animal counts on in order to survive. When basic security of his territory disappears, the man as an animal moves in order to find another territory and in this basic instinct lies the phenomenon of migrations. The skin as the protective denominator does not always protect the body, that’s why we put additional clothes on it, in order to save the energy of our interior. We add to the clothes protection provided by the house, then the roof, a city and then the country, a supplement of the « membranes » to protect our interior. But these membranes, as we have seen have a double sense, they are just the filters. Our body has bladder and openings on it, the house does not consist only of  walls, it has windows, doors and other openings. The body itself if it wants to survive, it has to be able to « go out ». A space without openings is either a tomb or a prison ; thus humans build these transitional places where they grow up, where they can retreat and the frontier conceived in those terms is visceral and already included into the bio-topology of man’s nature. However, Varela says that aside from this so-called visceral determination of man’s interior/exterior, there is a transcendental interior of a man, the sum of his experiences which he lived phenomenally. The man moves in his thought through the past, his presence and his future, his interior here has no frontiers and he moves his interior transcendentally, ignoring borders, now supported by the technological crutches, that is, by the virtual equipment. But here Varela says that despite the intricate specifics which we get today in technology, and regardless of all the prosthesis and mediation given to us by the virtual , it cannot replace the living experience of a certain subject. This sentiment of the experience lived here and now puts the idea of the virtual theater into an abyss if not garbage. The idea of   phenomenology teaches us that the spaces that we mark by our presence and our experience are also the spaces that mark our interior. Therefore the migrants’ theater can be  seen as an osmosis of frontiers, our inner frontiers as well as the exterior ones which shape our experience, as much as we shape them by crossing them constantly. The presence of a human body is quite important in a theatrical experience, although, the virtual experience either in theater or in a psychiatric session via Skype is an experience highly acceptable and belongs to the realm of something which Marc Richir, a Husserlian scholar would name « a perceptive phantasia ».

There are two theater companies which follow Richir’s philosophical investigation, both of them work actually in Paris . They presented their work within the scope of the thematic festival EXILE which took place in LA MAISON des Metalos in the third week of May. The first show entitled simply Crocodiles or the Real History of  a Youngster in Exil follows the original story of the author Fabio Geda contained in the book « There are Crocodiles in the Sea ». Here, the excellent performance by a young Remi Fortin reveals a story of a young Afgani boy , Enaitollah, whose mother, fearing the massacre commenced by the Hazaras, first smuggles the boy into Pakistan. Here the boy is left alone and during the five years he tells his story of a 9 year old who  crosses the borders of Iran, Turkey and Greece all alone, until he finally reaches Italy. This piece in a form of monodrama (one -man person) is  directed with a really great sensitivity by the French directors Cendre Chassanne and Carole Guittat. Although The directors are not themselves the displaced people,  they skillfully manage to find  both the intimate and universal words for Enaiat to address the audience so in the end the public can affirm that this humanist show  transcends tragedy in its final message as it makes us believe in a possibility of true human openness and hospitality.

The second play entitled « Countries of Misfortune and Sorrow », and directed by Charlotte Le Bras is much less encouraging that the Crocodiles. It was mainly realized after the book written by Younes Amrani and Stéphane Beaud , the book which retells the « dark matter » or the problematic part of the recent French history, the one of their colonization, and the so called « assimilation » of the North African families who came to live and work in France. Very few authors would tackle this subject, and rightly speaking, they certainly avoid  this particular thematic which has, from Camus up  to recently Tahar Ben Jalun, provoked many authors to think about this complex issue. However, it seems that we have never had enough of this particular theme in France as the wounds are deep. Younes Amrani is a sociologist who worked in a public library in 2002 where he started rethinking the social issues, notably the suffering through which the generations of his parents- migrants to France, had to go through.  Two actors and an actress in this play represent different voices of Younes who had listened in his youth the underprivileged voices of his cousins and friends living in a ghetto while fighting for human rights. The children of the immigrants are often more split apart in their fight for justice than their elders ; they love the notion of the ancient country where their parents came from, but they also love the « new » country adopted by their parents which they  call their home. Here, again, the migrants’ story is different from the story of the migrants fighting for « bare life », they are fighting for the recognition and an access to social privileges guaranteed to everyone in the democratic society. They all agree that « el ghorba »(exile in Arabic) is a condition which is utterly unfavorable, but it could be overcome but the willful means. In the play there is a voice of the Maghreb kid who has seen a lot, just by growing up in his ghetto, in this « country of misfortune » as he calls it. He prefers prison to growing up in « freedom » where he is constantly humiliated and reminded that he does not have his real place in it. In 1996 the Maghreb encounters religion, becomes a « good Fundamentalist ». The director and her company, les Papavéracées, magnificently explain throughout the play how the terrorism comes to be conceived and born in the West or in the « countries of sorrow and misfortune ». In other words, as much as the Maghrebans , or the involuntary work force, present or are viewed as « a misfortune » to the Westerners in their lands,  the same goes for the North Africans who view their hosts as the inevitable misfortune which fell upon their shoulders through the acts of colonization.

In conclusion : the problem of migrations and the migrants’ stories I already tried to tackle in my book « 11 Women Artists in Exile » which I published in 2011 in Paris. In this work, which follows the steps of Edward Said in his investigations, I tried to distinguish the phenomena of « bare life », bare existence and the « meaningful or the « thinking life », vita contemplativa, as Hanna Arendt would have it. The migrants have right to both. Often they are fighting for the first one only, and the presence of theater, of a theatrological situation attests to the presence of the second one. Walter Benjamin tries to distinguish both forms of living while discussing the notion of « the mythic violence’ : The application of mythic violence to life produces a very peculiar form of life , naked or “bare life”. Bare life is not simply natural or biological life but a product of legal violence: life as bare life is rendered as the natural bearer of guilt, a culpable life, which is, at the same time, the subject matter of the modern humanist “doctrine of the sanctity of life, which [the humanists] either apply to all animal and even vegetable life, or limit to human life” (SW 1, p. 250).

 Benjamin, however, dares to ask what is sanctified in such doctrine – a doctrine, which is also the foundation of the modern idea of inalienable human rights. For Benjamin, the abstract subject matter of human rights is bare life – a life deprived of its supra-biological properties. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the sanctification of life as such leads to a life without

freedom, truth, or justice. From this consideration, Benjamin concludes

that the “idea of man’s sacredness gives grounds for reflection that what

is here pronounced sacred was, according to ancient mythic thought,

the marked bearer of guilt: life itself ” (p. 251). The invention of life and its culpability share the same origin, which is also the mythic ground of modern state violence, sanctioned and justified by the law. The theater which bases its praxis on these tenets has to take into consideration all the aspects of the living, the real, the symbolic and its imaginary issues.

 In “11 Women-Artists, Slavs and Nomads”, my book on the exiles, I also remembered Hal Foster’s notion of the “abject art” which discusses  the “vulnerability of our borders, the fragility of the spatial distinction between our exterior and the interior, as well as the concept of self in a crisis embodied in the cut of the dismantled body whose chopped off members now independently follow their own “game of chess”. Finally,  we  may conclude here that such a traumatic cut is productive because it evacuates and raises the subject, showing us that the totality is an illusion as it also confirms its existence only in multiplicity, in a dynamic interaction of the whole and its segments.

REFERENCES :

Jason Read : in Companion to Critical and Cultural Theory, Work and Precarity, pp.269-280, Wiley Blackwell Press (ed. by  Imre Szeman, Sarah Blacker)

Nina Zivancevic : 11 Women Artists Nomads and Slavs, NON-LIEU , Paris, 2010

Sami Khatib : Towards a politics of « pure means » :Walter Benjamin and the questions of violence,

 Interview with David Graeber, November 2015, London , conducted by Nina Zivancevic,

Judith Barry: untitled : Global Displacement: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/05/key-facts-about-the-world-refugees/

Pablo Posada Varela: Le viscéral et le transcedental. Préliminaires phénoménologiques sur la frontière, Eikasia, revista de filosofia

Pablo Posada Varela: Le dedans entamé. Enjeux et paradoxes du frontalier contemporain,

Eikasia, 2018

La Maison de Metallos, Focus “Exil” du 4 au 24 mai 2018: deux spectacles, “Crocodiles” de Cendre Chassanne et Carole Guittat, et

Pays de Malheur” de la compagnie Les Papavéracées.

Projekcije filmova Pjera Mereškovskog u Srbiji/Films of Pierre Merejkowsky

 

Četvrtak, 28. jun, 19:00, Mala sala DKSG

Dom kulture Studentski Grad, Bulevar Zorana Đinđića 179, 11070 Novi Beograd
Теl: +381 11 3191 108 Моb: +381 62 267 843

Naš gost – PJER MEREŠKOVSKI (Pierre Merejkowsky), Pariz

režiser, scenarista, glumac, kompozitor, tonski snimatelj

Učestvuju Nina Živančević i autor

Razgovor vodi Miroljub Stojanović

 I deo – projekcija kratkih filmova Mereškovskog

  • BILA JEDNOM JEDNA EKOLOGIJA (Il été une fois ecologie), 12 min. 
  • LE CASTING, 1min.

II deo- razgovor s autorom i projekcija dugometražnog LJUDI PROROCI (Les hommes prophetiques),108 min.

Petak, 29 jun, 19:00 Parobrod,

Kapetan-Mišina 6a, Beograd  Tel +381 11 4142163

  • Dugometražni film ČTO DELAT /Que Faire

         koktel

Utorak, 3 jul, 20:00 Kinoteka, Beograd

Kratkometražni filmovi

  • POST VIEW 4 min, IN REGARDS TO Eric P.,6 min., i THERE WAS ONCE ECOLOGY (Il était une fois l’écologie) 12 min.

Dugometražni film

  • MALI RAT, 50 min. praćeno komentarom autora o njegovom filmu i savremenom francuskom filmu

 

 

Petak, 6 jul, 19:00 Muzej Savremene Umetnosti Vojvodine,

Dunavska 37, Novi Sad, Telefon:+381 21 526634

Dugometražni film

  • ČTO DELAT (Que Faire) i
  •  kratkometražni: IN REGARDS TO ERIC P. 6mn, DAWN 8mn,  POST VIEW 4 mn, THERE WAS ONCE ECOLOGY 10 mn  engleski titl 

Kratak komentar postprodukcije. Učestvuju Nina Živančević-Mereškovska i Autor

 

 

Nekoliko reci o PJERU MERESKOVSKOM

Uvek je tesko govoriti o bliskim osobama jer ono sto coveku prvo padne na pamet dok govori o nekom bliskom moze da bude vrlo banalno- ako bi me neko pitao sta sam ja naucila od Pjera Mereskovskog a sta mi prvo pada na um je uzasna radna disciplina koja je verovatno njegovo rusko nasledje, a tu je mozda i kljuc za delo njegovih predhodnika, pisca Dimitri Mereskovskog i Zinaide Ksipius, njegove bake i velike ruske pesnikinje koji su gotovo ceo zivot, nakon Ruske revolucije proveli u izgnanstvu. Ono sto je zanimljiv momenat jeste da su oni pobegli od Boljsevika, i od Lenjinovog komunizma, da bi mu se Pjer vratio kao veliki francuski autor i reditelj, militant levice koja se granici sa verom u individualno “ja”, stvaralastvom autora anarhiste.

A onda, ceo Pierov rad na filmu, oko 50 produkcija do danas, koji se zasniva ne samo na Godarovom nasledju, Godar njegov veliki ucitelj i inspiracija, ali tu su i  skole velikih ruskih prethodnika- LJUDI PROROCI kao i CTO DELAT ili Mali Rat su filmovi radjeni pod znakom Ajzenstajna, Medvedkina i Brehtovog teatra. Za Merezkovskog snimanje je pre svega metod preispitivanja slike, CTO djelat sa slikom? On preispituje publiku kao i temu, pravi sadrzaj filma, sto predstavlja tehniku blisku Brehtovoj metodi uspostavljanja objektivne distance. U CTO DELAT kao i kasnije u LJUDIMA PROROCIMA Maoisticki metod ankete ili preispitivanja bio je baza za stvaranje kinematografije  koja je bila u stanju da prikaze kontradiktornosti u svakodnevnoj stvarnosti koju je prikazivala. Ova kinematografija se bori protiv naturalizma, istovremeno pokusavajuci da odbaci ideju da je snimanje neke  revolucionarne akcije dovoljno po sebi da bi takav film nazvali “revolucionarnim”. Od pocetka svog filmskog opusa Mereskovski se zanimao za razlicite nacine  koji bi publici ne samo okupirali gledalacku paznju vec i koji bi ih drzali stalno u stanju angazovane aktivnosti ponavljajuci tvrdnju da je ambijentalni naturalizam neka vrsta drustvene igre koju igra drustvo  da bi nas nateralo da prihvatimo njegove postulate. On to cini, u procesu rezije, verovatno imajuci Brehtov postulat na umu koji tvrdi  “da nista ne bi trebalo smatrati prirodnom pojavom u smislu da bi svaka pojava ili dogadjaj mogli da postanu predmet drustvene promene”.

Jedna od aleatornih tehnickih metoda ponavljanja u  filmu je kvalitet zvuka koji se pretvara cesto u kakofoniju razlicitih glasova i razgovora. Na primer cesto se javlja asinhronican zvuk u filmu koji nas navodi da se zapitamo kako u potrazi za “radnickom istinom” reditelj dolazi do asinhronicnog zvuka. Mozda, ako kazemo da je ovaj zvuk proizvod tehnickog ogranicenja koji je posledica ekonomskog ogranicenja pri snimanju, opazamo da je proizveden neki drugi efekat koji se ne tice iskljucivo estetskog kvaliteta u filmu vec koji ima veze sa filmskom politickom akcijom koja zeli da ukine naturalizam i trudi se da probudi kriticku distancu  u citaocu. Prisustvo ovakvog zvuka u filmu dovodi nas do pitanja koje vecina militantnih filmova nakon 1968 postavlja u procesu rezije-: kako cemo zabeleziti na filmskoj traci marginalizovani ili cesto priguseni govor koji je negde zabelezen i koji verovatno nesto znaci? Odgovor Mereskovskog  nije jednostavan- on nas navodi da verujemo da takva vrsta prigusenog govora ne nastaje slucajno vec je prethodno konstruisan, usiljen i stalno u traganju za odredjenom sinhronizacijom.

Mereskovski ili kako ga kolege zovu “Merez” cesto insistira na trebljenju slika van njihovog obicnog i prirodnog konteksta da bi ih smestio u odredjeni millieux i specificni istorijski kontekst. Ako pod datim svetlom iscitavamo njegov film CTO DELAT pomislicemo da je reditelj “u sluzbi” revolucije, marksizma i radnicke klase, isto kao sto  kod Lindzi Andersona, donekle kod Slezingera  ili Andree Arnold  Merezove generacije, gledaoci veruju da gledaju nesto iz odredjenog kolektiva odredjene klase; pa opet, glas reditelja/snimatelja/ autora ce se glasno pobuniti protiv odrednica poput “beo” ili “crn” gde nema dublje mozda “politicki nekorektne” analize.

Moralno-pedagoska lekcija  dovodi reditelja do ludila i on od nje bezi. Svaka vrsta eksplicitnog politickog komentara, kao i formalno pribegavanje Brehtu, Ajzenstajnu, Vertovu i drugim ruskim pobratimima dovodi ga do ludila, kao sto ga i svaki naturalizam izludjuje , bilo kom kulturno-politickom periodu da pripada. Mozda je i to nasledje francuskog novotalasnog filma koje se nije plasilo Mao Ce Tunga i Che Gevare. U ovakvom pristup filmu podvlace se jasne crte izmedju takozvane intencije autora u pogledu filma koji pravi, izmedju kriticke recepcije publike i interpretacije filma. Tradicionalnom begu od naturalizma Mereskovski dodaje svoje strategije- on nam ne samo otkriva nacine koriscenja svojih tehnika , uvodeci pritom prolazne posmatrace (slucajni prolaznik Zerara Fromanzea i Brace Dimitrijevica) u svoj film, uvodeci takodje ideju (koja bese napustena od strane boraca protiv naturalizma) da film moze biti veran nekoj istini, da od istine ne treba bezati i ako je posmatraci ne cuju, da je treba nekoliko puta u tekstu ponavljati, variranjem jacine glasa od povika do sapata..

Merezovi filmovi su neka vrsta preseka formalnih strategija jer za njega film kao umetnost predstavlja pre svega pokusaj koji se krece ka vizuelnoj polifoniji (pri ovom zadatku  su mu muzicko obrazovanje i trening kompozitora  neizmerno korisni). Njegov film najcesce (ovde je akcenat na «  najcesce ») kombinuje militantni dokumentarac, epsko pozoriste, polifoniju glasova, neorganski i organski pristup tekstu, strategije komunikacije, genericka i formalna pomeranja oduhovljene slike , direktan  pastis  postmodernog francuskog  filma kao i veliku Sovjetsku skolu Ruskog formalizma.

 

Nina Zivancevic-Mereskovskaja

 

Few words about Merejkowsky Pierre

It is not easy to talk about the people we feel close to, whatever we say may appear banal- if somebody has asked me what I had learnt from Pierre Merejkowsky and that it does not appear banal is a very harsh working discipline and that probably goes way back to his Russian herritage, the very thing may be the key for understanding the work of his predecessors, the Russian writers Dimitri Merejkowsky and  Zinaida Xippius, who lived their whole life in exile. What’s really interesting is that they escaped the Bolsevics, Lenin’s Communism so that Pierre, as a French author and film director could only get back to it; he’s a militant of the Left which borders on the belief in the individual “I” which characterizes the creativity of an anarchist autor.

And the we have the entire Pierre’s work on film, some 50 films until today, work which is not only founded on Godard’s heritage, as Godard was his great teacher and inspiration, but in his film work we also find the schools of his Russian film predecessors: Merejkowsky’s films such as MEN PROPHETS , QUE FAIRE (CTO DELAT) and Small War , are films which come out of the schools of Eisenstein, Medvedkin but also Brecht’s theater as well. For  Merejkowsky the shooting as a procedure in film means, above all , the investigation of IMAGE, or “CTO DELAT”(what to do) with the image. He’s investigating the image as much as he investigates the theme,the real subject of the film,  the technique close to Brecht’s method of establishing  the objective distance.  In his own CTO DELAT as much as later in MEN PROPHETS, the Maoist enquette or the investigation was the base for creating the cinematography  able to show the contradictions in the contemporary reality which these contradictions tried to explain. This cinematography fights against naturalism as much as it tries  to reject the idea that the shooting of a revolutionary action per se is enough for us to call such film a revolutionary one. From the start  Merejkowsky was interested in different ways in which he could not only draw the public’s attention to the film, but also in the ways in which one could keep the spectator in the state of permanent active engagement. He had been repeating the fact that the naturalism of the athomsphere and landscape is more of a social game which society plays in order to make us accept their postulates. He entamed his own directing process probably thinking of Brecht who once said that “nothing could be considered a natural fact  as such,this is in order that we treat each phenomenon as something natural and  a potential subject to a new social change as well.”

One of Merejkowsky’s aleatory technical methods is the method of repetition which, when it comes to the treatment of sound in his films , brings us to the cacophony of different voices and sounds. For instance, there is often a asynchronic sound in the film which makes us often wonder as to how  the director who searches for the “worker’s truth” ,comes to the phenomenon of the asynchronic sound. Maybe we can understand this phenomenon, if we say that this sound is the product of the limitations imposed by the technicality which was further imposed by the economic limitations on the film; in his films we can also observe that as the spectators we have arrived  at something which is not only at some aesthetic effect . It is not only of the aesthetic nature but this effect  became a certain political action seeking to abolish naturalism, at the same time trying to awake the critical distance in the spectator. The presence of such sound in the film brings us to the question which most militant films after 1968 : how to record the inaudiable or often marginalized speech which is somewhere hidden but probably means something else? The answer of Merejkowsky is not very simple: he makes us believe that this type of faded speech is not a by-product but that it was carefully constructed prior to the shooting of the film; as such, it is constantly in search of a certain synchronization.

Merejkowsky or, as his friends simply call him “Merej”, often insists on the pruning of the images and placing them out of their natural context so that he would place them into their specific millieux or a specific historic context.  If we read in such light his film CTO DELAT  we are to think that the director is in the service of the revolution, marxism or workers’ class, the way we read it with Lindsay Anderson, Schlesinger or Andrea Arnold,( the director who is more of Merej’s generation). The spectators believehere that they watch the scenes which belong to a certain class millieux, however, the director/author/technician is likely to rebell against our labeling of the scenes; “are they “black” or “white” are they “politically correct” or incorrect? “

The moral and pedagogical lesson drives the director insane and he escapes from it. Any sort of politically ouvert commentary as much as the formal treatment of it by running towards Brecht, Eisenstein, Vertov or any other Russian cousin- drives him insane; any escape towards naturalism drives him insane, no matter which cultural or political period  it belongs to! Perhaps that fear belongs also to the heritage of the French New Wave, the films which were not afraid of the influence of Mao Ce Dung and Che Guevara. In such “political attitude” film there is a strong line drawn between the so called author’s intention and the critical reception of the public viewing this film; there is also the line drawn between the author’s work and the possible critical interpretation of the film. To the already traditional escape from naturalism Merejkowsky adds his own strategies : he not only directly shows us the manner of using his strategies, the one of introducing the casual passers-by (as Fromanger or Braco Dimitrijevic in their art work), but he also introduces the idea (formerly abandoned by the naturalists) that a film can serve some higher truth. We should not escape from the truth and if the spectators cannot see it or hear it we have to repeat this truth in the script, and vary the tonality of the actor’s voice from a very loud to a whisper.

Merejkowsky’s films are taking a form of the formal strategies as for him the film as art means above all other things- an attempt which moves to the visual poliphony (and in this respect the musical training and composer’s education come in handy for his  art). His film often combines (here we should underline the word « often ») militant documentary, epic theater, poliphony of the voices, organic and non-organic approach to the script, the strategies of communication, the generic and formal shifts of the spiritual image , the direct pastiche of the postmodern French cinema as well as the heritage of great Soviet school of Russian Formalism.

 

Nina Zivancevic-Merejkowskaya

Wrestling with the Sky: Mayakovsky Revolutionary Influence on Frank O’Hara’s Revolutionary Verse

 

“Does a literary work simply chronicle and accompany revolutions or can it change the world? Was each formal revolution which … ushered in a new phase of literary history just the reflection of a change in the way writers saw the world or did it create new ways of representing this change? What makes a piece of writing revolutionary? Is it its immediate impact?” Some of these pertinent questions I have tried to ask working on my first doctoral disertation”Mayakovsky and his influence on the contemporary American poetry” far back in 1982.

Marjorie Perloff warmly supported my research and gave me ‘green light’ to continue my investigation but the ultra-conservative team of professors at the American University in Washington,DC., did not approve of it as my theme was a bit too radical in those times. I’d like to clear some of these incentives at this  conference as many pertinent things have changed in poetry for the last 35 years, for the better we hope. Some of  these changes touch the very core of poetry writing in itself, a breath unit leading to an open, so called free verse. One of them is the question that Perloff discusses in regards to the American poets who underwent “the Revolution of the Word”, as Jerome Rothenberg would have it . More precisely what happens when the « natural speech » model inherited from the Modernists,comes up against the « natural speech » of the « talk show, » or how visual poetics and verse forms are responding to the languages of billboards and sound bytes. These questions  had been already raised by the Russian avantgarde writers of the Revolution in 1917.

What makes a piece of writing revolutionary, indeed? Is it because it  can be revolutionary in form, but it can also carry a political message, as is the case with Vladimir Mayakovsky? A renowned scholar of Russian literature and its  Revolutionary avantgardes,Caryl Emerson, tries to untangle some of the Russian Revolution’s brightest literary hours by presenting and discussing  an anthology of the early 20th century writing published in the TLS as of February 2017, and I would be more than honoured to extend and elaborate on some of his premises .

Another  burning issue here will necessarily imply the rich field of

translation,   being the torch bearer of the cultural and technical revolutions which shape our fields of study. However, if there is time and space for further discussion, I would love to tackle the issue as well of

a “translator as a rebel, an enemy of patriotism (Derrida)”.  At the time when the area of “translation studies” has revolutionized the university everywhere, it is clear that “the links between translation and questions of identity, political thought and the diffusion of knowledge,” have not yet been sufficiently discussed but we should strive  to do so.

I.

In 1940, a great Russian theoretician and semiotician, Victor Chklovski had written about the great revolutionary poet Mayakovski:  » Mayakovski reorganized words in Russian in the way that their semantic value was changed. He penetrated the solid ice-sheet made of words and reconstructed them to form new poetry based on the experience of Khlebnikov, on the Russian folk songs and on the vast field of the street conversational language. » ( Chklovski, On Mayakovski  » Moscow, 1940)

Perhaps we should explain something here: Mayakovski , a young poet who was 33 in 1926 and who had already gained the stature of a great poet with his people , quite early in the 20th century, tried to write something quite pertinent in regards to the genesis of his unusual verse . He wrote a text  » How to write Poetry  » in which he showed the newly born necessity on the side of the form to convert and guide the content, and above all, the necessity of the verse to attain a more casual character in its essence. In 1926 the great Russian revolutionary acts were already behind and Mayakovsky was still trying, despite many personal disappointments, to believe in the powerful Revolution which shook his country nine years ago. In his text, Mayakovsky speaks of those revolutionary times and ideas which he wanted to extend naturally as he was one of the most illustrious participants of the October’s revolution. He has always believed that the poet had one special role in society – the one which implied not only the showing  the obligatory respect to the formal inventions in poetry, but that such role also implied the creation of the  committed and avant-garde content , the one which in turn would further help the readers understand their tasks in their new revolutionary society.The  real biography of Vladimir Mayakovsky was recorded several times by various biographers and in very different manners: all of them agree (Bengt Jangfeldt, Edward J.Brown, Ann and Samuel Charters, Patricia J.Thompson) that he was a teenager who happened to live through the Russian Revolution poor and disoriented- his father died and his mother was raising him by herself in the Moscow in the revolutionary times. As a member of a Social Democrat party he went to jail as a youngster and served a  5 year long sentence, only to return a party membership card after he gained his freedom. The books which perhaps preserve the best the elements of his theoretical work remain Poetic Culture of Mayakovsky, written in French by Nicolas Khardijev (L’age d’Homme), Mayakovski- I travelled Around the World by Claude Frioux and Mayakovski and His Circle by Victor Chklovski himself. Equally precious and moving testimonies of Mayakovski’s life were given by his fellow-poets such as Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaieva and Guennadi Aigui as well as the poet’s long lost companion Lili Brik. Mayakovsky’s life was larger than a life of any other poet as it had so many violent notes in it and it ended quite violently, some claim that the poet committed suicide,and some better informed of his contemporaries maintain that he was killed by Beria and his KGB agents. At any rate much of this violence leaks into his verse  where we feel poet’s struggle to exit his inner jail that the revolutionary life had condemned him to, but most of his verse remains sunny and optimistic, despite everything and everybody and this quality of his verse is the best described by his biographer Philippe  Blanchon. He wrote a preface to Mayakovsky’s theoretical book HOW TO WRITE POETRY ( in the revolutionary times, we should add) where Blanchon pertinently remarks “In his castle where the poet is suffocating, he is putting his last force to change the air and to open the windows out. He is attacked by everyone and everything, from the inside and the outside and his solitude must had been the total one.” (p.3) Three years after having completed his tractat the poet dies. But the chapbook remains in which he explains his working method; he has accomplished a new cycle of poems after his long voyages in the U.S. and in Europe, and has explained most of his poetics in a part entitled Essenine . In the text which he considered as his working laboratory he explains his metric and phonic demands which suit his semantic explorations and his search for the inner rhythm of words which slowly untangles his creative process accomplished- in the age of the mechanical reproduction. A similar search for rhythm and meaning we also find in the verse of Mayakovski’s distant spiritual cousin and poetic descendent, the American poet Frank O’Hara who lived and worked a bit later in the 20th century in the U.S., but the observations and the possible parallels of the work of these two poets we are ready to share a little bit further down in this presentation.

II.

In the beginning of his tractatus on poetry Mayakovski says that his intention was not to ‘destroy’ old poetry but to discredit its intrinsic value. He says that we should not quarrel with it- but rather study it carefully. Our criticism  and ‘hatred’ ( he uses these passionate words) should first of all go towards the “sentimental” in poetry which is “waiting for the poetic spirit to descend onto us straight from haven like a dove, a peacock or an ostrich”. Mayakovsky here is doing something that we,  children of the postmodern, can quickly understand, but for those times  it was a far and rare outcry of a brand new method in poetry; however, Frank O’Hara who had a poetic sensibility close to Mayakovsky’s got his messages right away, straight from the Russian source, and started applying them quite readily in his own verse. And what were Mayakovsky’s postmodern messages? Let us see them one by one

  • Introducing very trivial low register theme or expressions into a highbrow subject ((doves, peacocks, ostrichs)
  • Introducing an “extra” outdoor theme or story and sliding it into the relevant material (he compares old poets and their love of the pathetic to Tatiana’s love (a bit démodé, for Onegin)
  • By assuming a funny or humorous tone throughout the text, he is getting to the heart core of the scholarly or a difficult subject such as writing the creative verse

However, he says :“I am not giving you any rule which could make a poet out of an ordinary man, a man able to write poetry. Such rules do not exist. Every poet is a person who creates his own rules for writing poetry on his own and only for himself.” (p.11) And then he adds”I will emphasize: just to create the rules is by no means the goal of poetry- if that was the case, a poet would be no less than an office clerk who invents unnecessary rules for all sorts of things and non-existing situations.” And then he adds quite humorously in a jocose manner: “we all agree that it is futile to invent rules for counting the stars while we are riding the bicycle, right”. Further along the line, as he explains the revolution of “THE WORD”, that is the development of the revolutionary language in poetry he underlines the fact that the necessities of life always enter the body of poetry and observes that “the revolution has rushed and forced a foul and simple language of the streets , the language which belonged to millions of men – into poetry; the argotic expressions from the suburbs entered the city center and the week language of the intellectuals- effeminate words such as ‘ideal’, ‘social justice’ ‘divine origin’ and “the transcendental images of Christ and Antichrist”, as well as that refined murmuring happening in the restaurants- had been suffocated by a necessity.” (p 14) How do we introduce a totally new linguistic material into poetry?

Mayakovski had been asking himself that question in that long distant 1926, almost a hundred years ago, and we are more than ready to ask the same question today. Well, he did not know, Frank O’Hara did not know in the 1960s, and we do not know today, but in one thing all poets throughout the last century echo Mayakovski’s doubts in writing – one of these is whether we should apply old poetic rules and old prosody to  new subjects and new poetic themes, and the answer of all of them is in the negative. In his struggle for the new poetic language The Russian poet exclaims “It does not suffice to give examples of the new verse or rules of a verbal action to the revolutionary masses; it is necessary that action happens unanonimously and that it is enormously great in its support on the side of the whole social class.” (p.15) And he says also: “Novelty is indispensable in the creation of new poetics. The words as material have to be put in new combinations, if poet encounters them he has to rework their relationships. And if we use in new poems old and forgotten phrases, these should be used proportionately with the new material. However, the newness in a poem does not have to contain always new unedited truths. Iambics, free verse, alliteration and the assonance we do not invent every day. We can work in order to expand them, deepen them and elaborate them further. “ Also, he says that the description and representation of reality are not independent issues in poetry. This type of work is worthwhile but it should be considered as secretarial in a large assembly. All poetry, he says, starts with higher purpose and a hidden tendency.

He does not believe in the purposeless verse and thus he says:

“ I think that a poem “I’m travelling lonely on the road” is just an invitation to the girls to go on a trip with that poet. Ah! If a poem of that force had been only written to shake people and make them gather in cooperatives!” However, he was the one w<ho was able to write such a poem and shake people;Mayakovsky believed in future of the cooperatives. After all, he was a founder of the literary movement Futurism (1913) for which David Bourliouk, a member of the Futurist circle said that it was not a new movement in art but a new attitude towards everything in life. However,the movement gathered several poets of the same sensibility who later became famous such as Alexandre BlokVelimir KhlebnikovVassili Kamenski et Alexeï Kroutchenykh. The first  Futurist manifest  A Slap in the Public Taste, was published as early as 1912. But contrary to the belief that Mayakovsky’s poetry or of any poet from that group was heavy, modeled upon the need of the new society to be industrious and serious, one could easily remark that the poems of the Futurists were funny, full of revolutionary optimism and lighthearted. They were liberated from the chains of the traditional form and catered in their spirit the brand new society, people of the Russian revolution who needed hope and encouragement.

Let us take a brief  look at the principal  “revolutionary”poem of Mayakovsky’s, entitled “Ode to the Revolution”( beautifully translated by Rosy Patience Carrick) where he says :To thee/hissed at/mocked by the whole batteries/to thee/I rapturously render up../..you send sailors/onto the sinking ship,/where/a forgotten/kitten miaows./And afterward!/You roar through the drunken crowd/.

Why would he address the revolution in his first line with the most romantic, reverent “thee”, unless he loved and respected it from the start, and while other poets disliked it, “hissed at it” and went to exile, like Marina Tsvetayeva and Zinaida Xippius, the poet Mayakovsky remained faithful to it. Nonetheless, he will admit further down in his poem that ‘his’ revolution sent sailors onto the sinking ship, therefore it made willful and  deliberate victims. However, his line that follows the former one explains this long metaphor by stating that there was a “ kitten forgotten on the board”and the “sailors”, otherwise called “the revolutionaries”, were probably sent in there with a noble task- to save a living being from the sinking boat, which was truly Russia itself in the feudal times, just before the grand October revolution. Very few poets, descendants of the 20th century had enough subtlety and tenderness to embrace the revolution and the revolutionary zeal in the same manner. In a way, Mayakovsky knew that the revolution  was killing him, but for the higher, humanitarian goals he had to embrace it; he did not mind Lenin and then later Stalin and Beria, he just “had to shine, no matter what”; his sunny stance is shared with Frank O’Hara, his American twin, unvoluntary disciple and eternal aesthetic-revolutionary rebel.

Born in Baltimore 1926, just 4 years before his Russian counterpart died in Moscow, O’Hara is considered nowadays a major participant of the so called New York School of poetry (together with John Ashbery, James Schyler and Kenneth Koch). He worked as a curator in the MOMA (New York Museum of Modern art) and also died young (in 1966) in a tragic accident, but he left behind a substantial body of poetry which was not perhaps so large in scope but truly substantial in its revolutionary  and innovative approach to verse that it formed the whole generation of successors-followers who have stared wide-open into the work of their beloved teacher of wild and funny postmodern verse many decades after O’Hara’s death.

In O’Hara’s short but ever- pertinent explanation of his verse, entitled “Personism-a Manifesto”, he jokingly teaches his Anglophone readers how to write, or even better, how not to write certain poetry.  He starts with his Mayakovshian reproach to the literary criticism: “Everything is in the poems.. so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures.. I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve”

As the result though.his revolutionary attitude in writing, and his verse got on many critics’ nerve though- America was not used to this sort of poetry, it did not have poets who would say like O’Hara “ I am not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today…but they are just ideas. The only good thing about it is that whenI get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives”. However, what the ‘resfreshment “ meant for O’Hara, we are just allowed to have a glimpse, an idea about it. Further along the line he would say “Only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets are better than the movies.” And why he loved them and not the others we can only guess- he probably loved that long, river-like Whitmanesque line, meandering like a river, and that indented rough verse by Hart Crane,  and WC Williams- perhaps for his take on the ideas “no ideas but in things”, yes, we can guess but we can never be so sure as O’Hara quoted everything and everybody, then also nobody specific in his humorous sardonic pastiches. In his Personism “ a movement for only two people which is going to become popular” Frank O’Hara has already announced “the death of literature as we know it”. Of course, he was referring to the critical avant-garde movement in visual arts which was announcing ‘death of art’. O’Hara was making a take-off and he was laughing at his readers already, while they were beginning to figure out what he meant by saying that “poetry was quicker and surer than the prose”. Some of us are still trying to figure out whether he was right or not, but it is sure that the poet’s delivery was reaching the heart quicker that some long descriptions, O’Hara was a quick and sporadic writer who had no patience with the events, just like his predecessor, Mayakovsky, but was reminding us already in the early 1960s that the heart is there, hidden but open, and an artist has to reach out loudly and then simply grab it. He was not there to share with Mayakovsky his revolutionary zeal, but the echos of futurism are already with him , as early as in his “Memorial Day 1950”s poem in which he picks up something which could be named “the Russian proletarian call” to verse:

O Boris Pasternak, it may be silly/to call to you, so tall in the Urals, but your voice/ cleans our world/clearer to us than the hospital:/you sound above the factory’s ambiguous gargle./ Poetry is as useful as a machine!”

And yet, one of the best FO’H poems is dedicated not to Pasternak but to Mayakovsky, more precisely “in the memory of Vladimir Mayakovsky” in a subtitle, but nowhere in it can we say with certainty why the Russian poet was the object of his dedication. True, the poem is long, divided in 10 sections, and is rebellious in its nature- it is almost not a poem in genre, but a long hybrid text which only makes us think that Mayakovsky was more of a real and enormous inspiration in poetic musings for O’Hara, rather than a real down- the- line influence and predecessor who  determines the younger poet’s style. How could we ever deduct the O’Hara’s lines from Mayakovsky’s? “ Quips and players, seeming to vend astringency off-hours,/ celebrate diced excesses and sardonics, mixing pleasures/as if proximity were staring at the margin of a plea..”

A mere joke or an attempt to appear more Surreal that the acclaimed Surrealists of that time? We cannot understand, as the poem goes, neither the quips nor the player who was witty enough to flash them, and by all means we could not feel Mayakovsky’s style or intention in any of O’Hara’s parts, and yet! The Irish American gave us a superb lesson in something which was called ‘ a dedication’ of a poem. From that epoch on, it became trully possible for any poet to dedicate a poem in his true intimacy to another poet while writing something entirely different from his peer’s style and content. The revolutionary word was there and it came straight from Victor Chklovsky a Russian theorist and Formalist who collaborated with Mayakovsky on his magazine LEF (Leftist Art’s Front) in 1923 and who developed his famous “method of defamiliarization” in art, a method which justly claimed that the best way to speak about a fact was to ignore it completely and to speak all the time about something else (see Chklovski’s “Zoo or the Letters which do not speak of Love”.) If we are to speak of the new and revolutionary methods in literature, we have to go back to Chklovski who preserved his art from Stalin’s purges and died rather late in the 2Oth century (1984). Chklovski was also rather in favor of the cinematographic style, that is the technique of film-editing in literature, a method that both Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara felt very close to.

Of course, in 1950s and 1960’s in the U.S. one could  relate this particular method more easily to the New York Pop art where we find O’Hara’s buddies Larry Rivers and Bill Berkson . We are not trying to direct the readers here to a possible influence of Mayakovsky on O’Hara in those terms, we are just trying to draw an incredible similarity, a serendipity on the side of O’Hara who must had liked Mayakovsky’s brief, oratory style suited to be posted in an imaginary Popish cartoon’s balloon. However, the balloon was Pop  and extremely fresh in writing,and both poets rejoiced in it. Or, what’s happening here ,according to Alain Badiou is the mere dissemination of a poem , as “its operation tries to overcome a certitude of an objective and pushes its inner action towards a void, towards a pure scintillation which  places its object in front of its absence or annihilation.” The philosopher says that such dissemination wishes to dissolve the object by its infinite metaphoric distribution, so as soon as the object escapes to a different meaning in a poem, at the same time it “disobjectivizes” itself and becomes something else. The object loses its “objectivity” not because it got lost but because it got multiplied by the means of becoming excessive, it became excessive in regards to other objects”. (p. 21) The active dialogue with the Russian poet becomes more visible in O’Hara’s poem entitled simply Mayakovsky. Here, O’Hara suffers a real “anxiety of influence” and writes a real response poem to Mayakovsky’s Cloud in Trousers which is not  Mayakovsky’s best and the most renowned poem but often it appears so. However, with O’Hara it becomes a vaudeville, a pastiche, a post-modern take off, a sort of a Monthy Python’s take on Tarkovski as O’Hara wants to escape his own flood of emotions, a pathetic bathos and he says: “I/ My heart’s aflutter!/I am standing in a bathtub/crying.Mother, mother who am I?/ If he will just come back once/and kiss me on the face/his coarse hair brush/my temple, it’s throbbing!

We see here that Mayakovsky’s verse is turned upside down in a comic manner, we have a comic relief to a sad situation of abandonment but is it really comic? O’Hara’s heart is also hurt but he would not allow the reader to cry with him, it’s unbecoming for a poet to be pathetic; however, his sincere questioning of identity comes through in the line “mother, mother, who am I?” as it becomes a tragic quest devoid of laughter. He keeps his mocking tone throughout the “epic”, as one of the primary tasks of every postmodern school of writing relied on the ancient quotes or sincere sentiment in the predecessor’s verse now being turned completely upside down- what was a high tone in writing now becomes a lower subject and the small, insignificant events- for the sake of the comical effect are being turned into high odes and quasi worthwhile themes. (see Marjorie Perloff, Postmodern Genres, UN of Oklahoma Press 1988)

“2 I love you. I love you,/ but I am turning to my verses/and my heart is closing/ like a fist./Words!be/sick as I am sick, swoon,/roll back your eyes, a pool,/and I’ll stare down/at my wounded beauty/which at best is only a talent/ for poetry.”

A “wounded beauty”, or a talent for poetry  at its best is quite visible in Mayakovsky’s long  poem

“An extraordinary Adventure which befell..in the Summer at a Dacha” written in 1920s: “Like one hundred forty suns blazed/as summer rolled into July;/the weather was hot,/heat shimmered and swam-/ this took place at a dacha./ The knoll of Pushkino hunched up/ against Akulova hill/was a village/ its rind of rooftops grimaced”. In this one the Russian converses with the sun- his equal  and personalized diety: “I shouted at the sun:/Hold it!/ listen up, goldilobe:/ don’t just drop idly/from the sky-/drop by/ my place for tea!” Once invited,the sun started talking to the poet who did not miss his opportunity to complain “ I talked of this/ and I talked of that/ said Rosta was really wearing me down,/ to which the sun retorted:/ Cmon, /don’t grieve-/just look at the things simply!/You think/it’s easy/ for me to shine?/..But here’s the thing:/you chose to go,/so you go-and shine wide open!..Let’s go, poet/ and blaze/and laud/in the gray rubbish of the world./I will pour out the sun that’s mine/and you, your own,/in verse./…To shine all-wheres/until the end of days,/to shine-/and that’s all there is to it!/My slogan/and the sun’s!”

Before we turn to Frank O’Hara’s immense response to Mayakovsky’s poem, it is just correct to remark that the poet who had written such verse, an ode to the sun, was more than unlikely to commit suicide. He was emotional, as poets usually are, and despite Shelley’s slogan that “the poets are the least poetical of all beings”, and despite the fact that he was emotionally ruined by his love affair with Lily Brick- hard to imagine such a poet committing suicide.

O’Hara, a sunny poet as well indeed, writes “A TRUE ACCOUNT OF TALKING TO THE SUN AT FIRE ISLAND”, the poem he wrote after having read Mayakovsky in translation of Kornei Chukovsky, an early translator of Whitman and a friend of Mayakovsky’s.However his translations were almost as excellent as the original- here is what McGavran, his larter translator says on translating the Russian poet “Translating Mayakovsky is a daunting task. The traditional impossibility of verse translation- maintaining poetic form and semantic content- is compounded in his case by Mayakovsky’s penchant for word creation and highly unusual, at times ambiguous grammar. Furthermore, form- which comprises rhythm, rhyme, all sorts of sound-play and other effects that rely on the phonetic or graphic make-up of words in Russian- is almost always a bearer of meaning, and it is often central to Mayakovsky’s work that to throw it out entirely would render a poem meaningless. There is also the challenge of conveying Mayakovsky’s frequent changes in tone and stylistic registar: from jeering to pleading, from vulgarity to eloquence (or mock eloquence), from bathos to pathos and back again.”

O’Hara starts his “True Account of Talking to the Sun” in Mayakovskian unique self-assured manner of a salesman who tries to barter a couple of verses for a piece of your heart: “The Sun woke me this morning loud/and clear, saying “Hey, I’ve been/trying to wake you up for fifteen minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are/ only the second poet I’ve ever chosen/ to speak to personally/so why/aren’t you more attentive?” Here the poet takes up on Mayakovsky’s revolutionary street language stance and continues in the same style throughout the poem “Frankly, I wanted to tell you/I like your poetry. I see a lot/on my rounds and you’re okay. You may/not be the greatest thing on Earth, but/ you are different./.. Just keep on/like I do and pay no attention. You’ll/find that people always will complain/ about the atmosphere,either too hot/or too cold/..And don’t worry about your lineage/poetic or natural. The Sun shines/on the jungle, you know,/ on the tundra/ the sea, the ghetto./..I was waiting for you to get to work.

In the first part of the O’Hara’s take off , the American poet speaks the same words of the professional encouragement as we had already heard them in Mayakovsky’s poem, but in the second part  he pushes the Mayakovskyan metaphor very far. Here we have O’Hara speaks Mayakovsky’s lines that his predecessor had never spoken, enlarging the spirit and the situation the way Mayakovsky would have done but he never did, so O’Hara anticipates the verses which Mayakovsky failed to fill in his poem and he says:”And always embrace things, people earth/sky stars, as I do, freely and with/ the appropriate sense of space./Sun don’t go! I was awake /at last.”No, go I must, they’re calling me”/Who are they?/ Rising he said, “Some day you’ll know.They are calling to you/too.”

One can rightly ask the question who the Sun is in O’Hara’s poem and the answer falls naturally- it is his peer, the Russian poet Mayakovsky, giving him the supreme advice  in  life and in his poetics which is larger than life. To me, these two poems are some of the best poetry ever written in the history of literature as both of them in their similar but also very different ways teach the artists how to fight oppression in the world and in themselves,  the opressive melancholy, or the dark Sun that the poets are often prone to. Both of these poems sing in the voice of the oppressed teaching the artists how to love the weak and how to embrace  misfortune by taking a stance larger than life, as both of them did. What could have Frank O’Hara  picked from Mayakovsky,being  a difficult poet to translate ? Mayakovsky was famous for his revolutionary, innovative form in poetry, but his content, inspired by the great October revolution was no less revolutionary than his fight for the new form in poetic language. And O’Hara followed, certainly in a different way, but what he recognized was the kindred spirit in Mayakovsky , the one similar to his own. Both of them believed in being faithful to the spirit of the times, that is of those unique, respective eras that they inhabited and which inhabited them , each poet  in his own times.

In conclusion,we should observe here that it is not an easy task to talk about the influence in poetry or about the legitimate heritage that one poet inherits from another who was his predecessor . Our task to understand one’s poetics is doubled here, as Badiou justly remarks that the nature of poetry, anyone’s poetry in our epoch tends to evade us. And he says that poem is an uncompromising , intrasigent exercise. It cannot be mediated and it avoids mediatisation. It is an act of rebellion in itself as it does not demand to be communicated. It is not a general action and it does not try to please; it gives itself to our ears as a thing in language which we always encounter as an event. It is a pure event which hides itself in its own tissue, waiting for us to take it out from its envelope.. and also it dwells in the essential silence, it is a “musician of silence” as Mallarme named it, or Rimbaud who called it “a thought sang in a song together with the singer”.

How can this song be transmitted from one poet to another and from that one to the masses, we do not know; what I am only trying to say is that Vladimir Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara tried to do it, in their respective eras and in their different ways. And as Badiou pertinently remarks again, poetry happens to be the only artistic form to keep the thought alive in this “age of poets” when philosophy failed to keep the world together and only the poets are able to show their writing as an exercise of vigilance. Pessoa had seen their role as the great metaphysicians of our times who keep the flame burning, and Heidegger called them “the guardians of being”. Their role is to shine and to revolutionize the word, thus  to revolutionize the world that fell into some temporary or permanent darkness.

Nina Zivancevic

 

 

(p.8 the Selected Poems of F O’H, ed. By Donald Allen)

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Alain Badiou, “Que pense le poème?”, NOUS,2016

Carrick, Rosy Patience,”Vladimir Mayakovsky: the Language of Revolution”, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sussex (British Library, London , 2017)

James H.McGavran, Mayakovsky’s selected poems, vol III, 2013 Northwestern University Press

Mayakovsky, Vladimir :Comment écrire des vers, adaptation Philippe BlanchonÉditions de la Nerthe, 2014.

Mayakovsky, Vladimir : L’amour, la poesie, laRévolution, trad. Henri Deluy, Le Temps des Cerises, Montreuil 2011

Perloff, Marjorie, Postmodern Genres, UN of Oklahoma Press ,1988

Bilingual poetry reading Ivy writers

discussion et lectures bilingues (en français et en anglais) avec les auteurs :

Lucie Taïeb
Kristin Sanders &
Nina Zivancevic

Le 03 avril 2018 à 19h30
Au : DELAVILLE CAFE
34 bvd bonne nouvelle 75010 Paris
M°ligne 8 Bonne Nouvelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my dead lost and forlorn friends

You inhabit
That special hidden nook in my heart
From that unseen and never heard of space– you never depart
I placed you on the top of Pantheon
Where you’ve always dwelled from the beginingless time
Ahoy! Justly or unjustly so
You’ve been my eyes to see the world
My ears who had heard the nicest music of them all
You’ve been my mouth and my voice who spoke poetry all the time…
And to say that I ve always loved you so
Is just another way to say: without you, I’m completely fucked…
And the life goes on, and these words.

I’ve been kinda repeating them every couple of years or so
And Ira and Beba and Maya and Elio and Gera and Philippe and Radovan and Zoran and Luka
And now you- please. sail gently into that light,

you’ll join the best

and the rest will like you

 

Razgovori s razlogom : Ono Što Se Pamti

Nina Živančević, Aleksandra Mančić i Pavle Ćosić; Srpsko Književno Društvo 22.12.2017.

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