Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Multiple Dimensions

Tonight, I finally finished watching Kevin Kline's Hamlet, and as I was going back and forth across various scenes, I was immersed in the fullness of the subtlties in this production, not in its theatricality but in the superb delivery of its performance.

While, in recent years, multiple renditions of Hamlet have kept arriving on DVD --and I have seen several of them over the years-- the best so far, must be Kline's. It was apprantely recorded in a New York Shakespeare festival and released in 1990 under the Broadway Theatre Archive series. By comparison, Kenneth Branagh's 1996 Hamlet, a movie and not such a bad Hamlet, proves to be a rather weak cinematic imitation of Kline's theatric production. (Let's not even touch on Mel Gibson's Hamlet, which is even more poorly done in comparison to Kline's.)

It is the logic of Hamlet --or rather what we know of it-- that any good theatric production must preserve and propagate to the audience. The visual fanfare of cinematic productions (Gibson's and to a lesser extent Branagh's) obscure that logic. It is as if the visual display pleases the eye but deafens the ears (the heart?) to the story. In describing the logic of Hamlet, Lajos Egri says it right:

Literature has many tridimensional characters--Hamlet, for instance. We not only know his age, his appearance, his state of health; we can easily surmise his idiosyncrasies. His background, his sociology, give impetus to the play. We know the political situation at the time, the relationship between his parents, the events that have gone before and the effect they have had upon him. We know his personal premise, and its motivation. We know his psychology, and we can see clearly how it results from his physical and sociological make-up. In short, we know Hamlet as we can never hope to know ourselves.

In a good play, every scene works to advance the story and its premise. Not an extra word. Not an extra move.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Everything transitions from one form to another through stages. In a play, a character may transition from hope, to frustrated ambitions to bitterness and despair. Death itself comes as a transition. Thus, does Leonardo da Vinci describe, in his Notebooks [as quoted by Lajos Egri], the transition to death:

... And this old man, a few hours before his death, told me that he had lived a hundred years, and that he did not feel any bodily ailment other than weakness, and thus, while sitting up on a bed in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova at Florence, without any movement or sign of anything amiss, he passed away from this life. And I made an autopsy in order to ascertain the cause of so peaceful a death, and found that it proceeded from weakness throgh failure of blood and of the artery that feeds the heart and the other lower members, which I found to be very parched and shrunk and withered, and the result of his autopsy I wrote down very carefully and with great ease, for the body was devoid of either fat or moisture, and these form the chief hindrance to the knowledge of its parts ... The old who enjoy good health die through lack of sustenance. And this is brought about by the passage to the mesaraic veins becoming continually restricted by the thickening of the skin of those veins and the process continues until it affects the capillary veins which are the first to close up altogether; and from this it comes to pass that the old dread the cold more than the young, and that those who are very old have their skin the color of wood or dried chestnut, because this is almost compeltely deprived of sustenance.

What is in this description that makes it such a more revealing read that today's medical treatise on aging and death?

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Comedy of Errors: Paper as Technology

Back in April of 2005, Robert MacMillan of The Washingtoon Post commented on a blog entry I had written earlier praising paper and books for their "user-interface" qualities and the durability and mobility of content they transmit. Even farther back, in 2001, Knut Nærum wrote a little comedy about the book as technology (of medieval times) performed by Øystein Backe (helper) and Rune Gokstad (desperate monk). You can find the 2001 act, originally taken from the Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) show, "Øystein og jeg," on Youtube and on Boreme.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Column from the Past

"Combodia Reflected in Iran," a column by H.D.S. Greenway of Boston Globe writes, looks for parallels between Vietnam and Iraq.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Fear Machine

Thus, writes the national security advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski:

Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.

...The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

...That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.

...The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.

...A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.

There is more. Read the full text in the online edition of The Washington Post.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wrong Direction

We are under no obligations to follow a leader who is marching firmly in the wrong direction.

Sir Rodric Braithwaite, UK ambassador to Moscow 1988-92, in Financial Times, Wednesday 21, 2007.