Thursday, September 28, 2006

---My double review of John McCracken's solo show at David Zwirner, and Rita McBride's Double to Watch, Triple to Help, at Alexander and Bonin, is in The New York Sun today.

The Deutsche Oper has cancelled Hans Neuenfels' three year old production of the Mozart opera Idomeneo, striking it from its program because of fear of reprisals from the Muslim community. The move has sparked off protest about self-censorship, including from Harald Jähner, an editor of the Berliner Zeitung, who takes the opera house's decision as "not only cowardly but dangerous":

The director's scaredy-pantedness is furthermore dangerous because it represents a huge victory for the tiny minority of Muslims for whom terror is a legitimate means of political response. And that's precisely what terror wants to create: an atmosphere of horror in which every attack is multiplied in its potentiality. Within the realm of the possible, terror surfaces quickly in the every-day and influences our behaviour, even before a shot has been fired, a hand raised or a threat spoken. The worst accusation that one must make of the opera house director is that she has strengthened the terrorists' sense of power.

The sensitivity of many Muslims with respect to the Prophet and insults against him has unsettled our understanding of artistic freedom. There's an upside to that: the unsettledness has lead to a heightening. The debate on the Muhammad caricatures didn't only frighten Western artists, it also made them more aware of the effectiveness of art than they had been for a long time. What unholy fury art can release in societies that have yet to dissociate art from seriousness! For this and other reasons, cultural respect of religious feelings has grown markedly. In the midst of modern society, art accrues religion - Christianity included - as a kind of forgotten relative, viewing it with scepticism, new-found respect or animosity. Neuenfels' four-fold critique of religion must be understood in this context.

You can still see the Met's much less controversial production of the opera, with Ben Heppner and Dorothea Röschmann and James Levine, through the fall.

--Keats on visiting Robert Burns' old cottage for inspiration:

We went to the cottage and took some Whisky. I wrote a sonnet for the mere sake of writing some lines under the roof--they are so bad I cannot describe them. The man at the cottage was a great bore with his anecdotes--I hate the rascal--his life consists in fuz, fuzzy, fuzziest. He drinks glasses five for the quarter and twelve for the hour--he is a mahogany-faced old Jackass who knew Burns. He ought to have been kicked for having spoken to him...Oh the flummery of a birthplace! Cant! Cant! Cant! It is enough to give a spirit the guts-ache. Many a true word they say, is spoken in jest---they may be because his gab hindered my sublimity: the Rat dog made me write a flat sonnet.

---Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s interpreter at the UN, who was his "English voice" in front of the General Assembly, writes about it in a piece called Mahmoud and Me in the New York Observer:

Nuance in Persian is difficult to translate, but it can be most ­misleading—sometimes comically so—during interviews with the American press. When Brian Williams of NBC asked about Mr. Ahmadinejad’s attire—a suit rather than his trademark windbreaker—the Iranian president replied, “Sheneedem shoma kot-shalvaree hasteen, manam kot-shalvar poosheedam”—which was translated as “ … you wear a suit, so I wore a suit.” The phrase is actually much closer to “ … you are a suit, so I wore a suit.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Age of Horrorism

Martin Amis has published a sprawling, scathing, brilliantly argued three-part essay in the Observer, on the rise of extreme Islam, terrorism, boredom, and barbarity in general. Amis vents spleen all around--especially at what sees as the West's faltering response to what he loosely calls 'horrorism'---but one particular passage stopped me in my tracks:

"The age of terror, I suspect, will also be remembered as the age of boredom. Not the kind of boredom that afflicts the blasé and the effete, but a superboredom, rounding out and complementing the superterror of suicide-mass murder. And although we will eventually prevail in the war against terror, or will reduce it, as Mailer says, to 'a tolerable level' (this phrase will stick, and will be used by politicians, with quiet pride), we haven't got a chance in the war against boredom. Because boredom is something that the enemy doesn't feel. To be clear: the opposite of religious belief is not atheism or secularism or humanism. It is not an 'ism'. It is independence of mind - that's all. When I refer to the age of boredom, I am not thinking of airport queues and subway searches. I mean the global confrontation with the dependent mind.

One way of ending the war on terror would be to capitulate and convert.
The transitional period would be an unsmiling one, no doubt, with much stern work to be completed in the city squares, the town centres, and the village greens. Nevertheless, as the Caliphate is restored in Baghdad, to much joy, the surviving neophytes would soon get used to the voluminous penal code enforced by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. It
would be a world of perfect terror and perfect boredom, and of nothing else - a world with no games, no arts, and no women, a world where the only entertainment is the public execution. My middle daughter, now aged nine, still believes in imaginary beings (Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy); so she would have that in common, at least, with her new husband. [My emphasis.]

The passage, and the irony [see post from last week below], is undeniably Amis---and the note of secularism is sustained throughout the essay. Amis' new novel "House of Meetings," is published at the end of this month by Jonathan Cape.