Saturday, March 29, 2008

Faithfully in-between...

‘I do not deny anything but I preserve the right to doubt everything’

I am a person who abides the above principle. Perhaps the main reason behind this is that the statement above denounces the value of absolute truth whilst it refuses to become an absolute truth itself. I am not a rationalist and so I need some kind of faith in a higher power, but so does everyone else. That is all clear to me. The question is – why do people retain their faith even though they go to great lengths trying to escape from it? In the end faith in itself adopts a different form and shape altogether and remains within us, never truly leaving us but simply progressing and regressing, sometimes violently alternating between one such form and another. Ultimately, we revolt against it but its clutch on our throats is inconceivably greater and more powerful than our means to liberate ourselves. But it is not this asphyxiating clutch that is the true issue here; the crux of the matter is to be found elsewhere, in this very process of progression and regression, this constant, seemingly perpetual flux that our concept of faith undergoes each day.
We, ultra-sensitive doubters, are mentally structured in such a way that our faith is extremely variable and often completely random to the point that sometimes we may abruptly experience a total shift in perspective even if it is for a fleeting moment. Our quintessential aim is to squeeze out the most of it so that our memory is kept fresh for reason to instigate the process of fermentation – our chief goal. But in our aim is to be found our pain, for in that very same process of fermentation, we end up in a state of emotional hypothermia – a feeling of internal stagnancy eventually transformed into bitterness and resentment.
Allow me to be more personal here. I am generally a reserved character, often shy though I do frequently experience bouts of spontaneous arrogance which I later end up regretting. I think I also lack will-power because in all the times I have tried to be someone other than my usual self, I have mostly failed though I have had some high points. I am perceived as shy and ‘charming’ by some people, and well, the rest are more or less indifferent. I absolutely loathe the word ‘charming’ when it is used to describe me for it implies meekness and general clumsiness – a shorter way of saying ‘good-natured’. To a latent egocentric like me, this is intolerable and rather pathetic because such adjectives are far too modest and unimpressive. A cuddly teddy-bear could be described as ‘charming’ but not a man. Call a highly-opinionated man ‘charming’ and you might well sense that his ostensibly grateful smile is, figuratively speaking, a worn-out curtain behind which an anarchical feeling of spite is concealed; there is the most effective rhetorical device to emasculate a man – to call him ‘charming’. And so I feel, to my utter embitterment, that on the outside I am perceived precisely in this manner. Of course I might be wrong for I am no mind-reader and I cannot know what other people are thinking but the overriding gist of it all is I think pretty clear.
Our problem as ultra-sensitive doubters is that in our hyperactive self-denigration, we base our faith on preconceptions. These preconceptions tend to distort our view of the universe as a whole and chisel directly into the realm of our instincts. We end up being judgemental in accordance with principles extracted from raw instinct and raw human instinct is never moderate; it always strives towards sensationalism and often succeeds in reaching the point of intuitive Jacobinist totalitarianism. In other words, it preaches chaos.

However, I am not here to discuss the inner-workings of vanity.

It is simply the case that when our desire is to convey to the outside world a sense of self-assertiveness and we come to fail and instead this self-assertiveness is mistaken for self-deprecation, this failure becomes the ingredient for future mental volatility.
I am not ‘charming’ and I do not want to be; but when I am perceived as such, well what choice am I left with but to continue pretending. In our daily lives, our moods oscillate according to circumstances and we try to give a false impression of ourselves to every individual person we come across. How are we to stay sane then? We can’t and you are wondering why we need faith...
It is not simply to keep us going and make us put up with a lot of shit. That’s not the case. Our faith is lost in the abyss of timelessness. There is not enough time goddamn it!

With this indomitable current of crap that society showers us with, we simply do not have time to stop believing...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Marat/Sade

Recently I saw the 1967 film adaptation of Marat/Sade – the well-know, though not too famous play by Peter Weiss. I was aware of its reputed quality and the prospect of a play within a play is generally something I cannot possibly refuse to watch. It basically recreates the atmosphere during the French Revolution and the events leading up to the assassination of the popular and influential journalist Jean-Paul Marat by the disillusioned Charlotte Corday in his own bathtub. Throughout its duration, the infamous Marquis de Sade, a patient in an insane asylum who has himself written a play about the death of Marat, has been permitted to stage an adaptation of it by using his fellow inmates as actors. Weiss’ play is set in 1804 during the Napoleonic Era, with the Revolution long over now.

The film itself can perhaps be best described as eerie. It makes use of only one setting – that of the asylum ward. This makes the film uncomfortable to watch as it forces you into this claustrophobic state of being and even though it is not a black-and-white film, its bleak, post-apocalyptic colours give us little else than slightly varying shades of grey, visible in most characters’ clothes. Indeed, hardly anything could be more distasteful to watch for the film is obviously not explicit in terms of language, nor does it make use of excessively graphic imagery; it is simply the truly repulsive way in which its two hours drag slowly and painfully, coercing you into abhorring it in every way possible. It is psychologically tense but then many films are; what actually distinguishes this particular one is its clinical coldness, its idiosyncratically dispassionate ambience which as I said, is seemingly perpetual in the slow unfolding of events. Indeed, they are not real ‘events’ in the conventional sense of the word but merely vivid simulations of real historical events, focusing mainly upon two starkly contrasting historical figures – Jean-Paul Marat and the Marquis de Sade. The former as a character in the actual play, is not even a tenth as impressive and fascinating as the latter. Marat’s physical appearance is of course in keeping with David’s iconic canvas Death of Marat but it is de Sade and his softly-spoken, pensive nature that protrudes each scene with an electrifying presence which let’s face it, can only be the focus of our latent admiration than merely the subject of ridicule. His equanimity and well-controlled manner only makes us ponder over the question of whether he ought to be in a mental asylum at all for he never truly shows signs of being clinically insane but merely stands passively by as an observer to most of the dealings of the other inmates, occasionally interfering in the process so as to guide them as the director of the play within a play. Patrick Magee’s masterful acting paints precisely such a picture of de Sade. His principal apathy is arguably not what the audience would have in mind, particularly when we consider that he is after all the author of 120 Days of Sodom. There is hardly anything outlandish about him though it does not take a quantum leap of the imagination to see through his composed behaviour which to me betrays powerful repressed desires and covert bitterness, channelled curiously through his cold disposition. He is confident but careful and not intrusive; his virulent conduct is marked by supreme coolness and seeming level-headedness, and his words are articulated in a detached, simple manner. He is still far from being a positively heroic figure but in a way, he reminds me of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed and the character of Stavrogin, only considerably older. Unlike Stavrogin however, the character of de Sade is not especially revered by anyone and this is hardly surprising bearing in mind that we are dealing with people who are basically all nuts. Indeed, the qualities of appearance possessed by de Sade are completely irrelevant here and in fact, in this nightmarish realm of cold indifference, hardly anything is of any relevance at all as most of the characters are effectively doomed to remain in this mental ward for the rest of their insignificant lives; they are portrayed as leeches and nothing is done to enhance their position but on the contrary – everything is made as desolate and miserable as possible, undermining them constantly.
You become a puppet for the film’s director Peter Brook and his awe-inspiring machinations which compel you to abhor the characters and wish only the worst for them. Even the meek Charlotte Corday, intriguing as she is, makes for an unpleasant viewing and scarcely conjures up empathy from the audience.

Indeed, the ward within the film is hellish in its coldness, however oxymoronic that may sound; it is infinitely more depressing and bland than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest simply because it is actually, the only setting in Marat/Sade.
Directly tying with this is the undercurrent of absurdism that creeps within this slow paced film. In fact, perhaps Peter Weiss would have had Kafka’s work in mind when writing the play, for I found that within the two-hour duration of the film, you are most unwelcomingly transformed into a cockroach, being placed on the same level as the actual characters who all seem to be physically trespassing into your own world. The net effect of all this is that you more or less become a host for their embryonic insanity and all boundaries between you and the characters simply disappear as you are effectively absorbed by their overwhelming eeriness and sinisterly-sounding songs. For me it does work similarly to Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty which manifests itself in highly-dramatised scenes with the upshot being the ultimate illusion of gritty realism, which is meant to immerse the spectator into the often shockingly-powerful action of the play. Marat/Sade does this and does it brilliantly – aesthetically appealing only to hardcore fans of Kafka’s writing or perhaps Joy Division’s music. In fact, the atmosphere evoked within the film has much in common with the ethereal monotony of ‘The Eternal’ by Joy Division.

Marat/Sade does not compromise and does not at least care about the potential revulsion on the viewer’s part. It goes beyond that; it portrays a post-revolutionary world in a post-apocalyptic setting that does away with false idealism – a world where God is rid of. It works simultaneously as a biting satire for the French Revolution and as a cathartic tragedy that illustrates Man’s irrational side and how easily it is found provided it is situated against the backdrop of the right set of circumstances. I would even go as far as saying that human mental endurance should be tested through it and if you do come across it and watch it in its entirety, and if you do eventually grow fond of it, there is a reason for this and it is contained in the Marquis de Sade’s famous remark– ‘You are already dead to the world’.
Happy viewing.