Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Consigned to Flames of Woe

Mozart: "Flammis Acribus Adictis." How would you translate that?
Salieri: Consigned to flames of woe.
Mozart: Do you believe in it?
Salieri: What?
Mozart: A fire which never dies, burning you forever?
Salieri: Oh... yes.

There is this wonderful song from a mid-80s film called 'Sangeetha Megham'. Music composed by Ilayaraja. And that particular song was picturized so horribly, with Mike Mohan at his very best... orchestrating his antics... shaking his head .. jumping and kneeling and somersaulting on the stage etc..
Well, that apart, when you close your eyes and listen to the song again.. the brilliant prelude.. the wonderful interludes takes you to a different world, much away from the drudgeries of everyday life. The music was composed when Raja was at his peak.. almost everything he composed became runaway hits.. his popularity skyrocketed on every subsequent hits and producers were queuing up to somehow get him compose the music for their forthcoming films.. And around the same period of time marked the commencement of Ilayaraja's spiritual search. This brief epoch marked the transition from the person who composed Communist propaganda songs to the person who composed 'Thiruvasagam'.
The lyrics of this particular song was in some way, a tribute to the man himself.. Bordering on narcism but at the same time addressing the quest and longing every artist has to see their works surpass and outlive themselves.. and thereby, become eternal.
"pogum pathai dhooramaevaazum kaalam konjamaejeeva sugam peraraaga nadiyinil nee neendhanva Indha thegam maraidhalum Isayai Malarven Indha thegam maraindhalum Isayai Malarven".....
"Ullam ennum oorilaePaadal ennum therilaeNaalum KanavugalRaaja pavanigal pooginradhaeEndhan Moochum Indha Paatum Annaya VilakkaeEndhan Moochum Indha PaatumAnnaya Vilakkae"
Watching Amadeus reminded me of this song(and the man behind the song) all over again and the universality of such themes.

Peter Shaffer, BoardWalkers, Rain et all

My first taste with any of Peter Shaffer's plays started with the Indianized version of 'Black Comedy' by Boardwalkers (Directed by Michael Muthu). A breezy, hilarious work was cleverly improvised by Boardwalkers to fit into the Indian context very well. The German Philosopher-cum-electrician on the original play became Santhanam - a Tam philosopher/electrician working in Mumbai Metropolitan Electricity board. References to Hamlet in the original play became Mahabharath (or rather, 'Magaabaradham' as uttered by Santhanam :-))). Add to this, wonderful acting by Karthik Srinivasan as Santhanam. I thoroughly enjoyed the play and I started thinking of Peter Shaffer as the Britain's answer to Crazy Mohan ;) [Well, why is it that we Indians should do all the answering all the time? Sanjay Leela Bansali i s India's answer to Kieslowski... - Dhoni - India's answer to Gilchrist.. Kokki Kumar is Royapuram's answer to Al Capone.. blah blahhh ... Whom are you answering to? And Who is asking these questions in the firstfukinplace? Well, what the fuk? I am digressing. You talkin to me?]Okay.
Then, during last year’s Theatre fest, I bought the ticket for another Peter Shaffer's play.. again by Boardwalkers.. It was a working day for me and the play starts at 7 in the evening. I pulled out all the tricks I had in the bag and managed to leave office by 5:30. And then, it stated raining like hell. Driving continuously, I somehow made it by 7. I was thoroughly drenched. The organizers even refused to let me in if i dint drain myself ;). Add to this, I was sitting right in front of the air conditioner. The play started. And for the next three hours, I was continuously getting goosebumps every fuckin five minutes. Is it because of the play or is it because of the good acting or is it because of the elevated music or is it because of the effect of air conditioner on my thoroughly drenced dress... I am yet to figure out :-) Well...

Apollo and Dionysus - The archetypical conflict
“There is in me a continuous tension between what I suppose I could call the Apollonian and the Dionysian sides of interpreting life. … It immediately begins to sound high falutin’, when one talks about it oneself—I don’t really see it in those dry intellectual terms. I just feel in myself that there is a constant debate going on between the violence of instinct on the one hand and the desire in my mind for order and restraint. “
– Peter Shaffer

Amadeus deals with some profound themes and asks lots of difficult & disturbing questions. On one level, it is a semi-fictional account on the life & works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as narrated by his contemporary- Antonio Salieri , the court composer to the emperor of Vienna. On another level, it assays to understand the eternal mystery behind the genius. It could also be seen as the archetypical antagonism behind the individual personnas of Mozart and Salieri and attempts to demystify them. It probes into the sphere of psychology, sociology, musicology, theology et all but at the same time maintains the subtlety needed to create an aesthetic experience. These elements are richly textured into every act, scene, dialogue, monologue, speech and music throughout the entire duration of the play. but it never whoringly tries to grab the attention and give the viewers a delusion that it is an ‘intellectual play’.
Peter Shaffer was inspired by Pushkin's verse drama called ‘Mozart and Salieri’, which for the first time drew a parallel to the contrasts inherent between their personalities with the archetypal conflict between the Apollonian and Dionysian forces. Nietzsche mentions about the duality of these forces in his 'The Birth of Tragedy'. He even goes on to describe that the progress of art depends on the pulls between these forces.

Apollonian and Dionysian forces are similar to the Taijitu or the Yin-Yang of the Chinese Culture.. Remotely linked to Hegelian Dialectics and the 'thesis -antithesis -synthesis' triad, to the Freudian id-ego-superego tripartite, to the Jungian 'Anima/Animus' archetype .. connected to the post-modern Derrida's theory of 'Window/Frame' and also kinda connected to 'Dvaitham' of Vedanta.

Simply put, Dionysian forces are about 'letting go. breaking out', moving beyond the patterns and the conditioning of the mind. Apollonian forces are about 'being in control'. about logic and reasoning. Both are these are essential and one loses its meaning without the other. And Amadeus is all about the conflict between these opposing forces, both between and within the individual characters.

The conflict between Mozart and Salieri represents the Apollonian/Dionysian conflict between individuals. And yet, the same struggle is undergone within an individual as well. Each one of us has within us both of these character traits, but one of these would be predominant and would super cede and suppress the other. For Salieri, it is the Apollo which dominates. It urges him to be prim and proper, to be in control and drives him towards social acceptance. Whereas, it suppresses his Dionysian urge to breakout and Sing to God, in the absolute fullness of his naked existence. For Mozart, the Dionysian forces dominate which enables him to compose divine music but tumbles away the Apollonian reason and fails to gain social acceptance. Dionysian forces also make him instinctual and boorish.

The God that Mocks
Salieri: They say God is not mocked. I tell You, Man is not mocked! … I am not mocked!…They say the spirit bloweth where it listeth: I tell You no! It must list to virtue or not blow at all! Dio ingiusto—You are the enemy! I name Thee now—Nemico Eterno! And this I swear: to my last breath I shall block You on earth, as far as I am able! What use, after all, is Man, if not to teach God His lessons?
- Amadeus, Act I, Scene 12

Peter Shaffer also examines the psychological / psychoanalytical components behind the dynamism of their motives and actions. Salieri is controlled by the superego, which urges him to be on control, whereas Mozart represents the id in its purest form. But during the later part of Mozart's life, the superego takes form as his father and haunts him for the rest of his life.

Salieri's weakness to sweets compensates for his poor sex life. As he admits, 'My invention in love, as in art has been limited'. Mozart, on the other hand, is shown as a childish, fart-obsessed, anal fixated philanderer. These characteristics gets reflected in their music as well. And the burning tension arising out of this is brought out very well in the play. Mozart comments that Salieri's music is like ‘dried dogshit’ and looked like the ‘music of the man who can't cum out', . While Salieri wonders on how such an ill-mannered, vulgar kid possess such incredible musical gift.

Salieri's music might not be genuine and soul-stirring but his Apollonian reason enables him to instantly recognize and appreciate divine music from the ordinary. He was the one of the first to recognize the genius behind Mozart's music.

"The beginning simple, almost comic –- just a pulse –- bassoons and basset horns –- like a rusty squeezebox ...Then suddenly –- high above it –- an oboe –- a single note – - hanging there unwavering –- till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight...., The God I acknowledge lives,for example, in bars 34 to 44 of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music "

This contrast remains universal and it is also reflected in Somerset Maugham's "Moon and Sixpence" . There is this character, a Dutch Painter named Dick Stroeve, a wonderful critic of art & paintings, has the gift of instantly recognizing the genuine works from the ordinary. He was the first to acknowledge the genius in Charles Strickland. But his own works lacked the originality which he found in Strickland’s The generosity and kindness Stroeve showers over Strickland, which helped Strickland recover from his life threatening conditions, was reciprocated with Stroeve’s wife running away with Strickland.

Thus, incomprehensibility behind such acts leaves the Stroeves and Salieris eternally perplexed. They feel as if they are getting mocked by God himself, which leads them either towards extreme self-pity or towards an all-out vendetta.

The Eternal Mystery behind the Genius

[...] my life acquired a terrible and thrilling purpose. The blocking of God in one of his purest manifestations. I had the power. God needed Mozart to let himself into the world. And Mozart needed me to get him worldly advancement. So it would be a battle to the end – and Mozart was the battleground [...]. I did not live on Earth to be His joke for Eternity. I will be remembered! I will be remembered!
– Salieri.

Few days after I watched the play, I picked up Milos Forman’s wonderfully adapted movie as well. The movie was as powerful as the play, with superb acting by Murray Abraham. Some improvisations were done in the movies which were not present in the play. Like the remarkable scene wherein Salieri writes down the Requiem as dictated by Mozart. The dynamics between them was so beautifully captured in this scene. It looked as if God was speaking through Wolfy and the dumbfounded Salieri awestruck watching the goddamned-genius-in-action.

Then, a few months later, Boardwalkers did the play again at the Museum Theatre. I went to the play because 1) My cousin was urging me to take her to the play and 2) I wanted to check whether the goosebumps I got during the first time is for real. But this time it turned out that there were more mosquito bites than goosebumps.

Well, that attempted attempt at humor apart(sigh!), my cousin was engrossed and moved by the play. She was talking about it non-stop. ‘Mediocrity is pitiable’, she said and went on talking about it. Suddenly, I noticed the cardinal difference between the way she looked at the play and the way I looked at it. She, a school topper, an under graduation / post graduation Gold medallist, followed by a high-end managerial /consultant job in the corporate, then a Doctorate and an extremely successful career in the academia, looked at the play as the representation of the every-day fight happening between the “Mediocrities” and the “Geniuses’” of the world. She readily identified herself with Mozart and she was telling me about the Salieris she encountered in her life.. in the corporate.. in the academia etc..

But I, an average-middle, six-arrears-in-under graduation, also-ran-the-race types, looked at the play differently from the way she did. Salieri looked more real to me and I was really moved when Salieri shed tears after hearing the music of Mozart. Here is the mind that exactly knows the feel of God and yet, trying extremely hard to come out of its shell to touch Him. I could more readily identify and empathize with Salieri. He was no mere villain to me, as he was, in my cousin’s eyes.

When I told my views about it, she kinda scorned at me for perpetuating mediocrity. ‘Salieri could have worked hard on his music rather than spending his time and energy on devising a plot against Mozart’, she said. It made lots of sense to me then. But heck, what role would ‘hard work’ play in such primitive artforms like music or painting? Sure, Salieri would have worked hard his way up to become the court composer. But how much hard work is needed to move from the court to the sanctum sanctorum? Could it be quantified? Did Mozart work real hard to become what he was? Or was it a gift, which came naturally to him? If it is so, what did he do to deserve this? Such disturbing questions... Such disturbing questions..
I bet it is easier to say that Salieri should have concentrated on his music over Mozart or over anything else. It is far more easier for one to pin him down as the patron saint of mediocrity and thereby gain some kicks out of it. A person with genuine artistic aspirations would feel pathetic when he realizes the spiralling conditioning of his mind and his inability to come out of it. And far worse the pangs of misery becomes, when he sees someone effortlessly moving beyond this conditioning into a ‘trance’ like state. Even Tolstoy underwent these pangs.
While I am not trying to justify the venomous plot of Salieri, it is no better either to reduce this archetypal antagonism into a ‘Good vs Bad’, ‘Mediocre vs Genius’ fight. As Robert Frost said, ‘We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and Knows’, the Truth, as usual, lies somewhere in-between.

Tao – The Eternal Balancing Act

“..All sound multiplying and rising together –- and the together making a sound entirely new! ... I bet you that’s how God hears the world. Millions of sounds ascending at once and mixing in His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us!” - Mozart

This body is a vessel with unbounded energy. The excessive energy, when unchannelized, takes different forms. Especially during the late mid-years of one’s life, while acceptance and approval and fame – which one strived for throughout their middle-ages becomes less important, wherein realizing their innate potential becomes paramount. Wanting to leave a mark behind, and thereby, moving beyond the death and decay of the material body.

But the tricky part here is, for actualizing the potential, one need to find out what he/she really wants to be and what it takes to become one. The Answer, The Purpose, The Meaning, The Arthah, The Daemon. Till we uncover the Daemon, life is one restless, discontented, anxious struggle.

And this Razor edge path of finding out the answers drains the heck out of people. And sometimes, during the mid-way, it looks like one downward spiral into the abyss. And the energy used for this goes awry, unchannelizes and takes different shapes and forms – as envy, venom, lust, anger, aggression, void, angst, meaninglessness et all. The Arthah obscured. The Daemon befogged. Leading to imaginary creation of Arthas or Daemons, like what Salieri did.
‘my life acquired a terrible and thrilling purpose. The blocking of God in one of his purest manifestations’

And this well-imagined Daemon consumed him in full. This fire which never died, burnt him forever, inch-by-inch and inch-by-inch, which made him call himself ‘the patron saint for mediocrity’ and proclaiming ‘mediocrities everywhere. Here and more to come, I ABSOLVE YOU ALL. I ABSOLVE YOU ALL’. It eventually progressed into a slow death full of remorse and self-hatred. Consigned to flames to woe.

So, what went wrong? Moral of the story? Well, it feels insincere and hypocritical to look at this like an allegory, and to derive at definitive conclusions from them. For, I could feel and see the man in Flesh and Blood and Tears. Well, RIP, Antonio Salieri.

Some people say the movie could be very well remade in Tamil. With IlayaRaja equated to Mozart while Rahman to Salieri. While I do love Raja’s music over anyone else’s music, dumbing down Rahman as a glorified sound engineer looks overtly simplistic and re-asserts the fact that we humans could only think in terms of dualities. Rahman’s popular film music might not stand the test of the time (except a few) and might not sound as fresh as it used to sound like. But little parts of Sufi music within his popular works are soul-stirring. Think about that short interlude in ‘Dil Se (‘Vinmeengalai thandi vaazhum Kadhal..’)’, which keeps repeating throughout the movie. Or the BGM in ‘Iruvar’. Maybe the distinct difference here is that, unlike Salieri, Rahman knows his limitations very well and is slowly moving towards something which he really believes in – Sufism and the affiliated music, which remains his forte. Maybe it is this which differentiated him from Salieri. Dedicating to a cause, to a belief system, which is over and above one’s own personal ego and self-gratification.

The duality inherent in everything is perplexing. And moving beyond the dualities is one ceaseless struggle filled with years and years of disenchantment. The perpetual confusion over ‘Being’ vs ‘Doing’ and ‘Letting go’ vs ‘ Be in control’ is treacherous and tiresome, but it adds some spice and color to life. Maybe, it is in finding something over and above ourselves and dedicating ourselves to it leads to the eternal balancing act – The Tao betwixt the Yin and Yang - leading towards peace, freedom and an end to suffering.


3. Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber