Sunday, August 31, 2014


Sweden, Stockholm, October 2-4

An International Conference in Stockholm Sweden
I’ll be there to speak of Booker T. Washington


Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up from Slavery is famous because it is a milestone on the road to black emancipation in the USA after the Civil War.
It covers the period from a few years before the Civil War to 2001. It covers the author’s infancy, youth and adult age, his education mostly at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, his first years of teaching in West Virginia, his teaching in Hampton (Indians and night classes) and then essentially the creation, opening and development of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute with his campaign for the elevation of the black race in the USA.
This autobiography is in fact a pamphlet that does not specify questions about the antebellum slavery period he experienced, about his black slave mother and white “unknown” father, about the extreme exploitation of blacks in West Virginia’s coal and salt mines. He concentrates on his pedagogical project.

He negates the existence of the Ku Klux Klan after Reconstruction. He hardly mentions the important racial riots of the end of the 19th century, particularly Wilmington, North Carolina.
I will concentrate on his motivations as they can appear in the book and the contradiction it raises when compared to Solomon Northup Twelve Years A Slave, and the inspiration it represents for Marcus Garvey later on. How can Booker T. Washington be turned into a founding father of Marcus Garvey’s thought by Marcus Garvey himself when we know the latter advocated race purity, absolute refusal of segregation, separate and equal development at world level and an agreement with the Ku Klux Klan.
This autobiography was a way for Booker T. Washington to promote his own vision of racial integration that was a positive version of Jim-Crowism.

An International Conference in Stockholm Sweden
Södertörn University, Stockholm, 2-4 October, 2014
You are cordially invited to this international conference on autobiography organized by the English Department.
Although autobiographical writing has ancient origins, the term 'autobiography' itself has only been in use since the late eighteenth century. Theories about autobiographical writing have been developed even more recently. Whereas early autobiographical writing was often either self-celebrating (res gestae) or self-justifying (apologiae), Augustine's Confessions marked a turning point. The contemporary study of autobiography encompasses a broad variety of research perspectives. This interdisciplinary conference seeks to explore a broad variety of ideas within the field of autobiography. We invite papers and presentations on the following or related topics:
·                     Spiritual Autobiographies
·                     Self-representational Writing
·                     Online Writing of the Self
·                     Fictional Autobiographies
·                     Fake Autobiographies
·                     Autofiction
·                     Auto-ethnographies
·                     Autobiography in Cartoons
·                     Autobiography in Dance and Film
·                     Postcolonial Autobiography
·                     Celebrity Autobiographies
·                     Autobiography and Gender
·                     Indigenous Autobiography
·                     Autobiographies of 'ordinary people'
·                     Autobiogeography
·                     Therapeutic autobiography
·                     Autobiography in Translation

Conference Organizers:
Kerstin Shands, Professor of English, Södertörn University, Stockholm
Giulia Grillo Mikrut, PhD Candidate, University of Queensland, Australia
Steering Group:
Dr. Kerstin Shands, Södertörn University, Stockholm
Dr. Harriet Sharp, Södertörn University, Stockholm
Giulia Grillo Mikrut, PhD Candidate, University of Queensland
Dr. Wim Van Moer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Dr. Karen Meyers-Ferreira, University of Swaziland
Dr. Dipti Ranjan Pattanaik, Banaras Hindu University

Preliminary List of Participants - Autobiography conference - 2-4 Oct 2014

1. Agnieszka Rzepa, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
2. Anaïs Fusaro, University of St Andrews
3. Andrew James, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan
4. Andrew Miller, Flinders University, South Australia
5. Anna Helle, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
6. Anna Hollsten, University of Helsinki
7. Anne Coudreuse, University Paris
8. Anneli Meriläinen-Hyvärinen, University of Oulu, Finland
9. Aparajita Nanda, University of California, Berkeley
10. Apostolos Lampropoulos, University of Cyprus and University of Pennsylvania
11. Ari J., Finland
12. Arnaud Schmitt, University of Bordeaux, France
13. Belinda Hilton, Griffith University Gold Coast, Australia
14. Carolina Villalba, University of Miami
15. Catharine Frances, University of Central Lancashire
16. Christine Savinel, Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle-Paris 3
17. Claire Larsonneur, University Paris 8
18. Claude Desmarais, UBC, Kelowna, BC, Canada
19. Dagmara Drewniak, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
20. D.R. Pattanaik, Banaras Hindu University, India (Steering Group)
21. Daniel Warzecha, Charles-de-Gaulle Lille 3 University
22. Daniela Chana, Independent Scholar, Vienna, Austria
23. Danielle Hall, Leeds Metropolitan University
24. Doris G. Eibl, University of Innsbruck, Austria
25. Ebere Nnenna Agugbue Nweze, Botkyrka Folkhögskola, Sweden
26. Elisabeth Bouzonviller, Jean Monnet University, St-Etienne, Universités de Lyon, France
27. Eva Norrman, Åbo Akademi University, Finland
28. Eva-Sabine Zehelein, University of Regensburg
29. Filip Buyse, Université Paris Panthéon - Sorbonne
30. Floriane Reviron-Piégay, University of St Etienne, France
31. Giulia Grillo Mikrut, University of Queensland, Australia (Steering Group)
32. Guy Galazka, Paris Sorbonne University (Paris IV)
33. Hans Vandevoorde, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
34. Hertha D. Sweet Wong, University of California, Berkeley
35. Heta Marttinen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
36. Hywel Dix, Bournemouth University
37. Jo Woodiwiss, University of Huddersfield
38. Ioanna Mylonaki, University of Cologne
39. Jacques Coulardeau, CEGID, Paris, and Synopsis Paie, Nice
40. John C. Hawley, Santa Clara University, California
41. Karen Ferreira-Meyers, University of Swaziland (Steering Group)
42. Karen Stockham, University of St Mark and St John
43. Karoliina Kähmi, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
44. Katarzyna Macedulska, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
45. Katja Sarkowsky, WWU Münster, Germany
46. Kerstin Shands, Södertörn University (Steering Group)
47. Kevin Binfield, Murray State University, USA
48. Kirsi Tuohela, University of Turku, Finland
49. Konrad Gunesch, Higher Colleges of Technology, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
50. Lamia Mokrane, Université Nice, France
51. Laura Castor, University of Tromsø
52. Laure de Nervaux-Gavoty, Université Paris-Est Créteil
53. Leni Van Goidsenhoven, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium
54. Lut Missinne, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany
55. Lynn Penrod, University of Alberta, Canada
56. Manuel Brito, University of La Laguna
57. Margaret Daymond, University of KwaZulu-Natal
58. Martina Sias, Pisa University, Italy
59. Matilde Martín González, Universidad de La Laguna
60. Matthieu Sergier, Université Saint-Louis, Bruxelles & Université Catholique de Louvain
61. Melissa Schuh, Queen Mary University of London
62. Michael Sheringham, Oxford University
63. Mikołaj Wiśniewski, Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Faculty of Philology
64. Nadja Soudunsaari, University of Lapland, Finland
65. Nicholas B, UK
66. Nicole Terrien, Université Rennes 2
67. Nina Työlahti, University of Oulu, in Finland
68. Palina Urban, University of Oxford, New College
69. Pamela J. Rader, University of Colorado at Boulder
70. Pascale Antolin, Bordeaux Montaigne University
71. Patrick Doherty, University of Central Lancashire
72. Patrick Hayes, Oxford University
73. Phil Cohen, Birkbeck and the University of East London
74. Piotr Sobolczyk, Institute of Literary Research, Polish Academy of Sciences
75. Priya Jha, University of Redlands
76. Rachel Knighton, The University of Cambridge
77. Sara Eriksson, Universität Stockholm
78. Seana Kozar, University of Bristol
79. Seraphima Kennedy, Goldsmiths, University of London
80. Sophie Chapuis, L'Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
81. Tanja Reiffenrath, University of Paderborn, Germany
82. Tracy Ferrell, University of Colorado, Boulder
83. Valérie Baisnée, University of Paris Sud
84. Wim Van Moer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium (Steering Group)
85. Yair Seltenreich, Tel Hai College and Ben Gurion University, Israel
86. Zachari Duncalf, University of Strathclyde


These 12 years of horror also have their beauty


This book has just been adapted into a film. In fact it is the second time.

The first time was in 1984 under the title “Twelve Years a Slave Solomon Northup's Odyssey.” The more recent adaptation, “12 Years A Slave,” kept the title of the book and is based or connected to this present edition of the book.

This fact brings a question to mind that is more and more asked among people: is that interest for the past of African Americans in the recent period the sign of a deep change in the cultural and mental approach of the Blacks and slavery in the United States, or is it only a fad reflecting the fact that the President of the United States has been black since 2008 and will be till 2016? I do not have an answer to that question and I lean towards a twofold approach: the fact that the President of the United States is a black man has some influence on the United States as a whole and every American in particular, and on the other hand Americans have always cultivated their historical dimension probably because they are all of them, except American Indians, uprooted immigrants who were transplanted into a new continent, by force or by choice. All Americans have thus to face this important period in their past: slavery that started for the English colonists in 1619 and ended for the Americans in 1865, though it continued in some form of apartheid or other till the end of the 20th century if not till today.

There could be a third side to the question reflecting a change among the Blacks themselves. Since the beginning of this century the Blacks influenced by the mostly Christian NAACP and those influenced by the Nation of Islam have developed an approach of their heritage as Post Traumatic Stress. They have two names for this. The First group calls it Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and they are essentially centered on the concept of reparations, hence a collective approach, neglecting the psychological individual problem and hence admitting more or less, like Booker T. Washington, that they have no knowledge of their ancestry. The second group calls it Post Traumatic Slavery Disorder and they are centering their approach on an individual procedure within group processing to help each individual and his group to understand and step out of the problem by re-assessing and revalorizing their past generations and their heritage going as far as possible within slavery itself.

The recent adaptation of the book (first published in 1853) is outstanding in spite of the fact that it cuts a lot of stuff from it. It shortens the legal battle at the end for example but it gives a clear vision of what the Trauma of slavery was and how the Blacks managed to go through it. Never did they really drop their belief that surviving was not worth suffering for. The film gives some fundamental elements that enabled the Black to survive under the worst possible duress and violence. First of all the very planters and slave owners for reasons that have not yet been explained on the Anglo-Saxon side of slavery actually preached their slaves the Bible and Christianity. In the film one planter uses it to elevate their morals and ethical vision, and another uses it to justify his violence against them. But in a way or another they transmitted to them, more nilly than willy, willy-nilly anyway a religious vision that claimed hope and that eternal life was won by suffering in this world. The slaves turned this belief around into a clandestine and underground call for rebellion (openly stated in the next world) in the name of freedom doubled with a tremendous patience in front of the real situation that was a sign of some complicity with God himself. One song, in front of the grave of an old slave, is just that double message. Booker T. Washington explains in his autobiography Up From Slavery:

“Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. True, they had sung those same verses before [emancipation and the end of the Civil War], but they had been careful to explain that the “freedom” in these songs referred to the next world, and had no connection with this life in the world. Now [after the full emancipation after the Civil War] they gradually threw off the mask, and were not afraid to let it be known that the “freedom” in their songs meant freedom of the body in this world.” (p. 21-22)

The other elements that enabled the slaves to keep their sanity for one and their dignity in their survival for two is the direct negation of what Willie Lynch had said: deprive them of their language, deprive them of their culture, deprive them of their religion. He thought that by doing that he would be able to negate their humanity. The Slaves just had to learn another language (the interest of their own masters), English, French or Spanish, and then this new language enabled them to retain and develop their mental power and intelligence. They replaced their old religions with Christianity though they often invested in this Christianity some old beliefs and myths producing Voodoo, for example and other local Africanized version of Christianity. They retained their rhythmic culture and nature and they transformed any task performed on the plantation under duress and violent overseeing into a singing class, a rhythmic experience, a unique cultural survival (enabling them to keep the rhythm of the work, hence satisfying the interest of the planter and escaping whipping in the evening). Actually it is this cultural survival that has produced the music of the Blacks in America and that music has become the polyrhythmic music of the world today. It is a shame the film does not five a full experience of a “Christmas vacation” all planters provided their slaves with. That was one of these moments (present in the book) when the Black slaves were mostly reviving and re-energizing their own African heritage, even five or ten generations after the Middle Passage.

The film shows that mental survival, at the cost of psychological trauma, and we can thus understand that even when a slave wanted to die in order to escape his or her suffering, the survival instinct, multiplied by their own survival experience, will be stronger and will take over and enable him or her to go on one more step or two. The main character, Solomon Northup, is the acme of that survival attitude in how he manages to never forget who he was and still is, in spite of his having to hide his real nature and identity behind the imposed name and identity of Platt.

After the lethal selection of the Middle Passage, the Africans who had survived crossing the Atlantic had managed to develop this survival stance that will enable them to enrich our world today with one of the greatest African heritage we all share in music.

But that has not erased the Post Traumatic Slave/Slavery Syndrome/Disorder because this PTSS/D is individual and has to be treated individually. Their survival stance is collective but the consequences of slavery are essentially psychological and individual. This will explain why Black education advocated by Booker T. Washington and some others did not solve the PTSS/D problem: it did not even address the question. Neither did Marcus Garvey succeed because he only considered the collective level of the problem. In fact NAACP is not the best approach for the problem and it is among the Muslims of the Nation of Islam that today we find the most realistic and effective cure for that PTSS/D. Strangely enough this film, more than the book, does not really cover the Post Traumatic Stress of Slavery, even for Solomon Northup who yet manages to ask for forgiveness from his wife and children, though he did not do anything wrong: his twelve years as a slave have transformed him into a humble fault-carrying individual instead of standing like a liberated and hence regenerated victim.


Friday, August 29, 2014


It's a shame Mao is depicted as an invalid sex obsessed old ranter and raver


I will not re-analyze the opera in its formal content. I have already done that five days ago for the following recording: JOHN ADAMS – ELLIE CAULKINS OPERA HOUSE – DENVER, COLORADO – MARIN ALSOP – COLORADO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – COLORADO OPERA CHORUS – 2008 – NIXON IN CHINA – 1987. The review is available on Amazon but also on my blog dated Monday, August 25, 2014, at, under the title: “You must be a fool to believe you are making history.” I will only concentrate on this particular production and what it modifies or adds.

The first element is that we have here the live capture of the opera on one particular performance, February 12, 2011, as produced by one particular team. The intermissions are used for various interviews and supplementary resources. I must say these short interview of the singers impersonating Richard Nixon, Patricia Nixon, Chou En Lai and Henry Kissinger are not that interesting. Too short and too personal within the performance, so too deeply involved at the time. The singer impersonating Richard Nixon is the one who actually created the role in the very first production of this opera. And he apparently has held this part over and over again.

The short interview of Peter Sellars and John Adams are absolutely useless and do not bring much. The interview of the ex-US-Ambassador to Beijing at the time of Nixon’s visit only tells us this particular production has been enriched with the notes he took at the time and so we learn that some official toasts and conversations are nearly verbatim. The interview of the set-designer Adrianne Lobel pushes aside the idea that the setting was inspired by real pictures of the real event. She does say she remained at a certain distance of these resources.

The very repetitive music of the overture, seven notes and eight beats, turns the first part of the opening chorus into a prayer mill reciting some mottoes from Mao’s Little Red Book up to the sentence “The people are the heroes now. Behemoth pulls the peasant’s plow.” At this moment the music changes, becomes more melodious and this sentences is repeated over and over again. It is a mantra in a way but not implied by the music this time but by the very repetition of the two sentences.

Richard Nixon is not particularly flattered by this production; When he disembarks from the plane he starts stuttering, stammering and repeating in the most ungraceful and displaced way, words and sentences as if he were a debutante in the political game, as if he were overwhelmed with the situation. This image of a man who is not really in touch with reality is going to be kept all along. When he meets Mao he tries to say a few things to a man who is far beyond any possible contact. Nixon then sounds like improvising some remarks that fall flat on their own faces most of the time, except once when Mao picks Nixon’s expression, “History is our mother,” and distorts it with his retort into “History is a dirty sow.” Later on in the ballet Nixon is dragged into the action by his wife but even so he remains on the side of what his wife is doing, which is by the way integrated into the ballet by the stage director and ballet master. His last scene in the third act, and his various interventions then are reminiscences from World War II in the Pacific and they are also very pathetic: he is on the verge of crying, he is mollified by the recollections and the story itself is miserable: he transformed a war station into a hamburger joint. At this moment he looks completely corrugated (like the roof of the shanty where he is stationed), inundated with the storm of the rain outside then and of his own memory.

Pat Nixon is just what she is. An innocuous person who has no personal project, who is entirely representative of the standard little middle class American housewife who finds herself in the position of First Lady and does not seem to be able to cope in any creative and committed way. She makes most of the time off the point remarks like about the glass elephant, which is green ceramic or china actually, that she sees as the symbol of the Republican Party, which is sort of off the point in China and for the Chinese. She imagines it is a unique piece and when she is given the lie about it by the workers who presented the elephant she does not even know what to say. The second mention of the elephant later on when a “real” one, at least by its size, is presented to her is a typical Walt Disney reference to Jumbo, which is an echo of the cartoon character Dumbo. We know what Jumbo was going to become when he got into the jet generation. The worst part for her is when she intervenes in the ballet believing the dancer is really dead. Apparently the stage director was nice and saved her dumbness by integrating her to the ballet and making her the one who presents the glass of some fictional red beverage to the “dead girl” for her to be resuscitated. Her part in the third act is meaningless since she is here only to repeat many times to her husband that he has already told her the story. She is a typical Republican First Lady who has no project of her own and is only the president’s companion trotting behind him. Only Democrat First Ladies actually had something to say and do, at least since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Chou en Lai is shown without any real change in his allure and style. He is the realist pragmatist in the “revolutionary” team, the one who comes behind and mops the rivers of blood. At the end of the second act, after Mrs. Mao has created havoc on the stage by transforming the ballet into a real revolutionary act, he is standing tall in front and over Mrs. Mao, unmoved by her violence, or shouldn’t I say viral virulence, she, holding up in the air the Little Red Book, and he, looking down upon her sternly. He is the dam that managed to keep China together, and most Chinese alive. But in the last act Chou En Lai is really changed. He is shown from the start suffering from his pancreatic cancer and, since the stage is only furnished with six beds for Nixon, Pat, Chou, Kissinger (who will excuse himself to the toilet for nearly the whole act), Mao and Mrs. Mao, the six main characters (in this order from left to right), he is shown dying on the bed with a whole set of white lilies being brought and deposited around the foot of his bed, and him lying down, dead, covered up with a red Chinese flag till the last concluding solo when he will come back to life. This death is artificial, is a metaphor, and at the same time is dictated by the future of the event described here. In 1972 he was not yet dead, and this does not add anything to the opera since at this moment, if he dies (and Mao is also put to death in the same way) then Mrs. Mao is the only one who survives and there we are creating a tremendous hiatus with history. Does the artistic team want to tell us a story about what happened several years later? Why then is Nixon not shown out of the way too and the Vietnam war concluded with a full defeat? At this moment a strange ideological discourse prevails and seems to show that modern China has fallen in the hands of Mrs. Mao and her supporters. In other words it completely distorts history since Mrs. Mao will commit suicide after many years in prison due to her death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, since the Maoists will be nicely pushed aside by Deng Xiaoping, and China will start growing at a record speed. This production has not yet digested that Nixon opened up the door, the gate actually, that was going to lead China to what it is today, the second economic power in the world and the leading force of the BRICS and the alliance around the BRICS, the first economic power in the world.

Mao is by far over-presented as a senile quasi-impotent-cum-invalid old man who is ranting and raving, repeating ad nauseam some old mottoes of his transformed into mantras, like “Founders come first, then profiteers,” “Revolution is a boys’ game,” “The revolution must go on,” and a few others. He is even presented as an old dirty sex obsessed lubricious freak who uses his secretaries (three mind you) as sex toys for his own masturbation. His recollection of Mrs. Mao when she was a young actress who got into his life in 1938 leads to a sex scene on the beds in the third act. Does this add anything to the character? It sure makes him look like a dirty boar echoing the dirty sow that history is according to one of his mantras. But is this sexual innuendo and real reference a motivation for Mao in this historical period and event? It only more or less blurs the real motivations and the fact that history is not made by human beings. This production loses this meaning: only fools can believe they are making history. The over-emphasis of the sexual obsession of Mao in the third act makes us lose the philosophical under-meaning or at times front meaning of what Mao may say. The end of the opera then becomes absolutely messy and meaningless, in spite of the last intervention of Chou En Lai who concludes the opera on a both poetical and realist note. In fact this last soliloquy by Chou is the real meaning of the opera: it is the alliance of the free birds who sing at dawn, still in the dark, underground, and the caged birds, the prisoners, the slaves that will bring the future, maybe. And yet this metaphor of the future brings up a “chill of grace.” Grace comes from the fact that human beings are part of the history they do not control but that carries them through time or rather duration. The chill comes from the fact that realistically Chou knows history will be able to come only if many rivers of blood are abundantly provided to wash away the horror and the suffering of the victims of exploitation and liberation. The sexual meaning added to Mao’s presence in this third act is wiping away the meaning that a good revolutionary leader needs to lean on some volunteers who have no pangs of no conscience and on some realists who will try to keep these volunteers within some acceptable limits, though it will not mean no blood shed along the way.

Mrs. Mao is a vain, superficial fundamentalist that sees revolution and change as havoc, necessarily and compulsorily. It is not change if it is not havoc and what’s more a good old bloody havoc at that. There the opera is more than clear, and this production pushes that havoc at the end of the second act, after the ballet, at the end of the ballet, to some extreme form more or less justified at this moment. Unluckily the third act goes on with this vision by introducing the dancing couple of the male soldier and the resuscitated female victim, dressed in red mind you, behind the six beds at first and then in front. This is a link with the second act and Mrs. Mao is thus bringing sexual havoc in Mao himself by literally encouraging him to get one of his secretary to sexually satisfy him, in front of her, Mrs. Mao, and then by entering the same sexual game with him directly. This is not a case of literary creative freedom as some insisted in the interviews, but it is a case of diluting the deeper meaning into a superficial meaning that cuts off all depth in Chou En Lai’s concluding soliloquy. In front of such havoc caused by the anarchistic fundamentalists with no possible restrain, there is only one possible vision: history itself and the cosmos with it are out of joint. It is not something rotten in the kingdom of Denmark but it is something rotten in the cosmic order that controls us entirely.

It is true that Nixon then in his final hamburger enterprise in the US armed forces in WWII appears like and as a victory. The Customer is really the king of the show, capitalism is really the victor of the comedy, ego-centered selfishness is really the master of our human tragedy that is thus turned into a melodramatic weeping and crying dereliction.

A great production but slightly – only slightly, you say? – warped out of shape. The hope that event brought to us in 1972 and the new energy it provided us with to force the defeat in Vietnam and to support Angela Davis in her trial and the Black Panthers in general is wiped out with a rag engorged with blood and sperm. I regret that lack of historical seriousness, if not depth. Is modern Homo Sapiens regressing to the state of not-yet-development of Neanderthals? I am afraid so. The customer of the opera in the west is the king of the performance: the creator does not create but satisfies the needs and desires of the critics and the audience (not the people since only a very narrow minority of the people go to the opera, even within the DVD revolution that widens the audience but does not make it a majority of the people).


Thursday, August 28, 2014


A video opera that tells us a quite famous story: Jesus is being reborn


This opera by John Adams is quite different from what we may expect, though it is in line with The Gospel According to the Other Mary (2012), A Flowering Tree (2006) and On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), these operas where John Adams is concerned by spiritual heritage within several cultures. We won’t be surprised by the use of Spanish, since he did use it in some other works. We are dealing here with one fundamental mythologized story of the Western Christian civilization, the birth of Jesus.

What is most surprising is that it was premiered in Paris for Christmas 2000. Surprising because Paris is not exactly the capital city of American culture nor of the Catholic Church – or faith – or other Christian affiliations.

You might be surprised by a few twists in the standard story and first of all the fact that the three wise men, the Magi, are sent by Herod to find out about the newborn baby who has been announced as the King of Jews, and the objective is clearly to have him killed. The Magi will betray Herod and worship the baby and apparently not give up his location, so that Herod will have all children in Bethlehem killed but too late because in the meantime Jesus and his parents will have gone to Egypt.

Of course the miraculous supernatural events are clearly reported: the impregnation of Mary by the Holy Spirit. Mary is stated to be 16 which is wrong since she was of age for impregnation and that meant 13 at the time (legal age for girl to get married up to the 18th century in England when it was reasserted by law at the beginning of this very 18th century). The author forgets to tell us she had been given to the Temple as a child by her mother Ann in order for her to weave the Temple’s veil. Mary is said to be married to Joseph before impregnation which is a slight twist with reality since Joseph is a widower who accepts to marry Mary in spite of her state. Joseph here is of course seized by a jealousy fit pacified by a dream.

At the end we have the episode of Jesus ordering the dragons to be peaceful and then the palm tree to bend to provide everyone with refreshing fruit on the way of the family to Egypt. Jesus asserts of course he is a full-grown man then though still swaddled up in his diapers. These supernatural episodes are part of the story, so we can live with them, since after all it is a story.

This opera is great for various other reasons. I am going to give a few.

First of all it is bringing together the stage work of singers (two choruses, three soloists, a soprano, a mezzo-soprano and a baritone, and a set of three countertenors); the stage work of dancers (a set of three, two women and a man); the use of a vast screen over the stage that is being used constantly for the projection of various filmed scenes and sequences. This screen enables the stage to be absolutely empty. The stage production as such has no setting whatsoever. The stage setting is replaced by the film production.

This film production is essential for very many reasons. First of all it enables the opera to have a real setting, I mean to have its action projected into a real-life situation. This projecting is all the more effective because the actors and dancers can be filmed in the said situation. Thus they force our eyes and attention to concentrate on the filmed situation and to project the opera into it. Most actors though in the filmed sequences are different from those on the stage. The filmed situations thus introduce desert scenes with enormous rock formations; sea scenes with a beach and even a harbor; city scenes in various places and clearly American with US flags and street fixtures and furniture of various types; a lot of road scenes and particularly the inside of a car with Mary and the infant for example travelling to Egypt. These filmed sequences are identified as a location film and they have eight actors and two musicians of their own. The film thus widens the stage production.

But it also provides the old story with a modern setting: car, a self-service laundry, a kitchen, cops, portable telephones, taking off planes, etc. We are not surprised to find Joseph, Mary and Jesus sitting around some open fire in an urban wasteland area. This is the modern shape of a stable. That also enables the opera to contain a real baby who would not be possible on the stage itself.

The dancing is very important too because it is the way chosen by the stage director to materialize the difficult scenes, particularly the impregnation and the birth. The impregnation is shown essentially by a mixed couple on the screen actually performing, though fully dressed, the sexual act necessary for the event: the fact that it is on the screen makes the illusion of a non-sexual intercourse possible (along with the fully dressed actors who are thus going beyond simple modesty) though obviously shown as an episode of very close and carnal sexual intercourse. The screen dematerializes the sexual dimension of the scene whereas on the stage Mary is singing and more or less contorting herself and twisting on the ground alone. This sequence is heavily loaded with sexual depth but dematerialized as such. Gabriel is a dancer dressed in white on the stage and he is going to be the newborn Jesus on the stage. The two singers who impersonate Mary, the soprano and the mezzo-soprano, join their arms in a big circle, one woman standing on the left and the other on the right and Gabriel impersonating Jesus will be born through this circle. Once again the real event is shown though dematerialized this time in a symbolic way.

The Baritone identified at first as Joseph is going to be used for God, or some kind of surrogate voice for God, and other male characters, among other the narrator, the Evangelist as J.S. Bach would call him in his Passions. The best initiative as for the singers is the triad of countertenors, called Theatre of Voices. They are most of the time used as a small chorus but they may be used individually. They represent either a ternary group that stands for the simple trinity of the Christian mythology and as such do not have individual identities, but they also identify the three wise men later on in the tale and then they will sing separately, one after the other in the name of the three Magi, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar delivering their goods to Jesus, respectively frankincense, myrrh and gold.

One use of the dancers, of one dancer, is the identification of the star, called the Christmas star, as being carried by a girl who is on fire. The dancer is that girl and her dance is he burning up with the light and fire of the star that the Magi are going to follow. What’s more she is going to be both on stage and on the screen.

The film is not the only modernizing element. The use of Spanish is a direct allusion to California and the USA, but in the second part of the opera, the slaughtering of the new-born children ordered by Herod is identified to the Massacre of Tlatelolco that took place on October 2, 1968 in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Plaza de las Tres Culturas, ten days before the opening of the Mexico Olympic Games, when 30 to 300 students and civilians were killed. That is a very distinctive trait of John Adams productions: his attempt to connect his music with recent events. This is in the line of Nixon in China (1987). This allusion to this particular event is also bringing back to our minds the essential event of the Olympic Games in Mexico, the famous scene of the three Black American athletes saluting on the podium their National Anthem with their raised right fists in the famous Black Panther Party salute. The fact that Joseph is a Black originally Jamaican baritone can help us recall that particular event to our mind.

Some say this was a Christmas Oratorio. We can think it is because of the premiere a few days before Christmas 2000, the first Christmas of the 21st century, but in fact we can also see it as a Nativity Oratorio more in the tradition of European Nativities and less in the tradition of the commercial red-dressed Father Christmas, even if the dominant color is red: the main chorus is dressed in red, the main color of Mary is red and the color red is often used in some scene lighting. The title itself is clearly centered on the child, the boy, the new-born, Jesus and not some pagan Irish or whatever winter solstice celebration.

The last remark has to do with the music. Once again John Adams surprises us since the music is definitely very harmonious and melodious with the singing developing musical sentences that have some length and some rich composition; The rhythmic minimalist hammering we can find in some of his works is not completely absent here but very dramatically used and very fast merged into the main music. That gives to this opera, or oratorio, a very agreeable and light-flowing musical sound that is perfect for some festive celebration of a happy event, even if the massacre of all new-born is included in the celebration. In conclusion I will say it is a real opera because of the video dimension of it and not a simple oratorio that should not show any kind of setting, or dancing, at all in a common concert production.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


The pits in human minds are so deep that can't be fathomed


A very interesting mini-series taking place in New Orleans and Louisiana.

A recent and very disturbing crime, hardly described actually, sends two cops in today’s world back into the past and a similar crime that is described with more detail, though not too much, and especially the two ex-cops who dealt with the crime at the time in 1995 or so. The crime got a solution. In fact a solution was found and the spectacular crime was not repeated but the deeper crime which was the abduction and disappearance of children was never examined in depth because of a blocking element in the family circle of the governor and one of his relative, nephew or whatever, who was a preacher and who had a whole network of religious institutions dealing with the education of children, and yet any piece of inquiry was leading that way, to these institutions, particularly one that was closed after some kind of hushed up scandal.

The two cops who dealt with that older case are both out of the police force and they become, particularly one, suspects or persons of interest for the two modern time cops.

The investigation of the two modernistic cops will lead nowhere. They actually will come across one of the people in the case but they will not know the difference between right and left (or wrong as for that) nor back and front.

The two ex-cop turned private investigators will come to a real solution this time, some kind of a closure but the solution will not be satisfactory because the political and religious establishment in New Orleans will accept you arresting in a way or another one or two of the members of the grass and roots monstrous army that practices children abduction as a sport and entertainment for further games and distractions but not higher than that.

The happy abducted children end up soliciting in New Orleans. The unhappy ones end up being live toys for some adults whose minds are so perverted that the captive will end up in small pieces but death will only ensue long, long, long after the beginning of the live slicing up and live cutting off and live extracting of this or that organ.

The mini-series remains very prudent as for graphic exposure of this violence and torture. The main interest is the effect of it onto the two cops who originally started investigating the case and will bring it so some kind of a satisfactory though partial solution. As one of the two will say: “You can never get them all.” He should have added “You can never get the big fish in such cases.” And you must get yourself satisfied by the fact the big fish authorizes you to take the minnows, their minnows. It is true one minnow down, ten minnows up. Volunteering in this field of human monstrosity is the most common element you can imagine.


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