Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama Meets The Shrub (meanwhile at the White House)

drawing by marguerita

Just a couple moments later, Bush and Obama were seen walking along the White House collonade to the Oval Office.

The Obamas' arrival had the look of a foreign head-of-state state visit - although there were no fife and drum bands, speeches or official pageantry. The Obamas were driven up to the South Portico, where they were welcomed by the Bushes and escorted into the Executive Mansion that they'll call home in a little more than two months. BARACK OBAMA TO MEET WITH PRESIDENT BUSH AT THE WHITE HOUSE - New York Post


The Visit

by Friedrich Durrenmatt

"Feeling for humanity, gentlemen, is cut for the purse

of an ordinary millionaire; with financial resources like mine

you can afford a new world order."

Der Besuch der alten Dame ("The Visit of the Old Lady")

premiered in Zurich in 1956, when Durrenmatt was 35.

It was such a success that productions sprang up

in England and America over the next two years.

Durrenmatt called this story "A Tragic Comedy."

More than any other of his plays, this story of an

old lady who returns home to wreak an exact and

merciless vengeance on her former lover

intimately joins comedy and tragedy to support each

other in nearly every scene.

The play really has three major characters:

the old lady, Claire Zachanassian; her former

lover and object of her ruthless justice, Alfred lll;

and the people of the town of Gullen, who make up

a kind of composite representation of society itself.

Through these characters, Durrenmatt is

able to give the audience a darkly comic, breathless,

and in the end, unanswerable debate about

the nature of justice, redemption and community.

Claire is a hodgepodge of patched-together artificial

limbs, held together only by her hate. Since her

betrayal at the hands of lll and the people of Gullen, she

has spent her life in a single-minded vengeance.

Her justice is god-like. Across all

of Europe, she pursues the two men who lied

about her in court like a fury; they are castrated

and made her slaves. Durrenmatt compares her

to an ancient idol. She is like the statue of Justice

- eternal, something out of myth.

When the townspeople first refuse her offer

of a billion marks for the life of Alfred lll,

she says quietly, "I'll wait," and you can imagine

her waiting centuries.

Amazingly, we find ourselves cheering her on;

as the play begins, she is the only character who

speaks the unadorned truth. In The Visit, characters

use language to hide their real intentions.

As Durrenmatt writes, "Today man lives in a world

which he knows less than we assume. He has lost his image

and has become a victim of images."

In The Visit, he puts the preconceptions that get us

through day-to-day life under the microscope.

Although Durrenmatt decried symbolism

("Misunderstandings creep in, because people

desperately search the hen yard of my drama

for the egg of explanation which I steadfastly

refuse to lay."), it is hard not to see the poverty

of Europe during the Depression and the slow

growth of fascism in-between the lines in

The Visit. With the ashes of World War II

still in their mouths, the people of Europe in

the 1950's faced the growing Cold War and

the shadow of the atomic bomb. The question

of how a man can hold on to his ideals in

the face of grinding poverty was still a strong

one. Many saw Claire Zachanassian as

a symbol of that desperate fear, but Durrenmatt

was steadfast: "Claire Zachanassian represents

neither justice nor the Marshall Plan,

nor the apocalypse; let her be just that which she

is, namely the richest woman in the world who

is enabled by her money to act like the

heroine of a Greek tragedy, absolutely,

cruelly, perhaps like Medea..."

Durrenmatt wrote about the town of Gullen

(meaning "excrement" in Swiss),

"It is a community which slowly yields

to temptation...yet this yielding must be understandable.

The temptation is too great, the poverty is too bitter.

(The Visit) is a malicious play, but just for that reason,

it must be presented without anger and in

the most humane way, with sadness yet with humor,

for nothing hurts this comedy that ends

tragically than brutal seriousness."

Durrenmatt uses the people of the town to

show the weakness of authority, the disorder

just beneath the civilization's order. When

the people of Gullen begin to buy expensive

items on credit, lll panics, and goes for help

to his Family, the Government (the Mayor),

the Law (the police chief) and the Church

(the minister). He is rebuffed at every turn.

Even the teacher, representing Intellectualism,

sees what is happening but is too weak to fight it.

With no where to turn, lll takes responsibility

for his crime. He achieves the serenity and

acceptance that Durrenmatt saw as the pinnacle

of human heroism. He gains stature in our eyes

through this transformation. He can reject

the city's offer to commit suicide;

the town, too, must be made to face

its responsibility.

In The Visit, lll is the only character who changes

and grows. Claire is sterile in everything

but her need for revenge; the people of Gullen do nothing

but reveal their true, rotten selves. Only lll has

the epiphany of self-knowledge that

Durrenmatt prized so highly.

At the end of the play, with lll dead at the town's

feet and Claire's check in the Mayor's hand,

"order" and "community" are restored,

but now the audience knows these ideas are

grotesquely false.

As Peppard writes, "In the closing scene,

the townspeople appear as much slaves

as they did at the beginning; if at first

they were victims of poverty, they are now

the captives of prosperity. Only lll has found

freedom, and he has attained it only by

a withdrawal from the community into death."

In The Visit, Durrenmatt writes a classical

tragedy for the 20th century, a modern answer

to ancient questions of honor, loyalty and

community. When The Visit was written,

the world was on the brink of disaster, and

every town was a Gullen. He wrote that in

the 20th century because "we no longer

find tragic heroes, but only tragedies staged by

world butchers and carried out by meat-grinding

machines...power today is only minimally visible,

since like an iceberg the largest part is sunk

in faceless abstraction...Today's state has become

impossible to survey, anonymous and bureaucratic...

genuinely representative people are lacking and

the tragic heroes have no name."

"Everything is dragged along and everyone gets caught somewhere in the course of events. We are all collectively guilty...Comedy alone gets at our problems."

Born January 5, 1921 in Konolfingen, Switzerland, Friedrich Durrenmatt bore an interesting and telling background: his father, Reinhold, was a Protestant minister, his grandfather Ulrich, was a behind-the-scenes man in Swiss politics and a well-known satirist. These different threads would meet in the young playwright and thinker.

a brief biography written by Peter Royston

No comments: