Monday, July 11, 2011

From Fragmentation to Integration 23


Elie Wiesel, aged 15
Sometimes words fail us.  Anyone involved in writing knows that one can under-state something or over-state something or even fail miserably to communicate what one wished to so do in the first place.  The really great authors - and indeed composers of music who can use silences so effectively - get it right.  In fact, often it is what they leave unsaid in the particular context that paradoxically says more about the human condition than anything positive they could have said in the first place to fill the apparent gap or apparent silence.  In this regard it was the great Irish Nobel Laureate of Literature, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) more than any postmodernist writer, who managed to achieve this balance in his writing and in his dramatic art.    Beckett said that when he wrote in French it was easier to write "without style" - he did not try to be elegant. With the change of language,  Beckett escaped from everything with which he was familiar. His books written in French reflected Beckett's bitter realization that there is no escape from illusions and from the Cartesian compulsion to think, or to try to solve insoluble mysteries.  He was obsessed by a desire to create what he called "a literature of the unword." He waged a lifelong war on words, trying to yield up the silence that underlines them.

In this sense, then, we may say that Beckett managed the unmanageable, to make art out of suffering, out of the pointlessness of life, out of the absurdity of life, revealing life to be neither Comedy nor Tragedy, but rather a type of Tragi-comedy.  This ability made this Irish novelist and playwright, one of the great names of the Absurd Theatre with Eugéne Ionesco, although much recent study regards Beckett as postmodernist. His plays are concerned with human suffering and survival, and his characters are struggling with meaninglessness and the world of the NothingBeckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.  In his writings for the theatre, we notice the influences of burlesque, vaudeville, the music hall, commedia dell'arte, and the silent-film style of such figures as Keaton and Chaplin.  Great artist that he was, Beckett knew suffering, as indeed we all do.  In fact, once the Second World War broke out, our great writer returned to France where he fought bravely with the Résistance.

A Personal Note on Silence

There is very little we can say in the face of dying and death, and yet, and yet we desire to say something.  It would seem that, like a great author or artist or comedian, we must get the timing right.  At the age of 53 I have been to many funerals and the words of condolence we express to the bereaved are often so empty, one might even say meaningless, and yet we know that at some unconscious and symbolic level they mean something both for the bereaved and for us.  It is often much later than the funeral service that we can say something that is more meaningful than our first formulaic expression of sympathy at the funeral service proper.   For us as a school some years back there was so little we could say at the funeral of a fifteen year old student who had dropped dead, apparently from Sudden Death Syndrome or at the funeral of an eighteen year old boy who had been stabbed to death with two carving knives by another eighteen year old, out of his head on drink and drugs.  However, it was our presence, the strength of our support that said more.  It was literally our silent solidarity that said anything that possibly could be said in the immediacy of the situation.

And Yet

These are two words that presage the mitigating factors to the thorny question at hand, and they play a similar role to "both/and" and "yes and no" in seeking to give an answer to a complex problem or intricate mystery.  One is always forced to qualify one's statements to get to the root of some intricate problems.  That is often why courts are so scarily black and white, because the law in most cases does not allow for more nuanced interpretations of fact.  These two words, "And yet" are also the ones chosen by Professor Levine as a title for his last chapter or last essay in this small volume: Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul (Jessica Kingsley, London, 1992).  Also these words come from the writings of the great Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel (Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel1928 -    )  A lot of concentration camp inmates who managed to survive remained silent for a certain number of years, no doubt attempting to process in their souls the sheer hell they had been through.  And yet, they could not remain silent forever because the truth/reality they had experienced had to be expressed somehow, to be true to their own souls and to the memory of the thousands who perished around them.  Ultimately, something must be said, something must be written, some artifact lovingly and respectfully crafted.  In other words, it was the years of restraint, the years of quietness that prepared for the balanced artistic expression of horror.

A recent picture of Elie Wiesel
 Elie Wiesel tells us that " 'and yet' is my favourite expression." (Quoted op.cit., p. 115)  He also wrote these interesting words: "The only language appropriate to the Holocaust may be a mystical language, and that language is a language shrouded in silence." (Ibid., p. 115) And yet he wrote 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps.  And yet, and yet, we have to try and give meaning to all of our experience no matter how horrific, and that means we have to find some medium or media to act as containers for our suffering, in an effort to make sense of a seemingly meaningless existence.  We are creatures who desire meaning and structure.  To leave an horrific experience without some expression is to go on living it relentlessly over and over and over.

However, great art never attempts to anesthetize the viewer or participant who comes to the gallery, or the reader reads the poem or novel, or the music-lover who goes to the opera or the theatre.  Any art which attempts to do that is a false, sham and ersatz art - in which case it ceases to be art at all.  Art can bring us down into our own hell/Hades, but it must also bring us up like Orpheus ascending back to the real world, beaten, bruised, broken but never crushed.  The therapist must be brave enough to accompany his client down and up, and indeed accompany him/her in answering the question which s/he does not fear to pose: "When all illusions are gone what is there to live for?"

I agree firmly with Professor Levine when he states that "nothing else is strong enough [outside the Arts] to contain the destruction of the self" (Ibid., p. 120)  However, I should like to add the words "and hopefully the healing and renewal of the self" after the word  "destruction" in the last quoted sentence.

The end of this sequence of 23 posts. 

No comments: