Sunday, 22 March 2009

in der Mode des Labels


Stanislaw Lem held little regard for science fiction as a literary medium and didn't care for the purveyors thereof. His disregard may be summarized as a disdain for the American variety (henceforth within these musings to be referred to as "SciFi") which he considered commercially conceived.

I imagine such a crass appropriation of a style is tragic insofar as it narrows the field of exploration. Science fiction has at it roots, just like any literary form, allegorical intention. In this regard, science fiction is philosophy that just happens to use technology as its device.

And it is not as if SciFi is not rich in subtext. Indeed, the imaginings of Rod Serling are considered subversive yet manifest themselves so overtly in The Twilight Zone that the CBS execs must've been idiots not to have noticed. Or maybe they just thought their viewers were - and wouldn't.

Of course it hasn't only been SciFi and science fiction which have masked social proselytizing. One could make the argument that literary device owes much to political oppression; the novel a child of persecution.

To me, it's when the device becomes the story that style mutates into genre, to the exclusion of creative conception independent of a standard mindset.

It's at once understandable and ironic, then, that labels are often shunned by gifted artists. As is the case with Lem, one doesn't want to be associated with mass-produced mainstream crap on the one hand, but at its heart, science fiction has the same thematic symbolism which spans cultures throughout history.

It should be no surprise that one of the American authors of the medium Lem did respect was Philip K. Dick, whose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? instructs Lem's The Futurological Congress just a little.

The latter deals with a lot of genre pet themes and at its center perhaps the most topical, which I would say is the perception (or not) of reality. Here the author makes use of control by pharmacology as a way to explore humankind's proclivity not to want to deal with that with which it's uncomfortable; to the extent that that which is perceived as ideal supplants conscious choice.
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This tale has been staged by Deutsches Theater. I saw the play in the Box&Bar space at DT. The first "act" (there's no intermission) was the more frenetic and hence slightly harder to follow; fortunately I knew the story well enough.

There is essentially one actor, Thomas Schmidt, protagonizing - and through the character occasionally portraying the other figures - while the on-stage sound tech, Kornelius Heidebrecht, plays a minimal role as needed.

As for the sound design itself, it's inventive, if not revolutionary; not as polished as it could have been on this evening, despite the fact that Heidebrecht executed his function - which at times includes playing piano, singing, and activating electronic cues simultaneously - quite adeptly. The overall effect is at least as liltingly illuminating as it needs to be.

To the extent that Schmidt's humorous delivery reminded me of the comedian Michael Mittelmeier, his performance was, for me, less amusing. He does, however, make a fairly daunting task look relaxed and easy; something which shouldn't go unstated.

It's in the play's second half that he really settles into the role, which makes me wonder if the pacing of the first'd been a bit slapdash. Based on the ostensible control that Schmidt has over his instrument, my guess is this is because of the director, Martin Kloepfer, whose other work I don't know.

Thanks goodness for the German dramaturg, ironically in this case, the same Kloepfer. Thanks to his focused minimal staging and attention to detail - all aspects as a director in the US, he usually would have to handle anyway - the piece is largely successful. I recommend it.

update:
I would also be remiss not to make brief mention of the fact that both performers themselves exhibit tiny manboobs, seemingly accentuated in the first act by the director's choice of attire. I can't imagine it was intentional, but you (never) know, Germans...
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On my weekly excursion to get milk at the market on Boxhagener Platz, I just happened upon the third consecutive weekly demonstration against a new clothing store on Petersburger that sells the Thor Steinar brand of wear, which is exclusively (short of the unwitting consumer) worn by neonazis. The stink that has already been raised over this stink led to the landlord cancelling their lease, but that process is anything but final. Hence the continued protest.

Again, a contradiction: protesting the symbology of intolerance. But as our dear rep to the Bundestag, Hans-Christian Ströbele, here elucidates...

...there is a lawful limit to uniforming one's hate when that uniform goes from being a mere symbol, to instrumentalizing oppression. His explanation notwithstanding, irony abounds in law, certainly in my interpretation of it, so I can't really do his words justice, as it were, and the red tape, besides, is longer than the thousands who showed up for this procession of solidarity.

The mood was overwhelmingly positive, like the sun which shone throughout the afternoon. It's as if the coming spring was saying to winter: My philosophy is heavier than your ideology.

I mostly enjoyed looking around at all the people on their balconies and rooftops along the route. Always wondering how many were planning vengeful branding.