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February 3, 2023

Politics for parents and teenagers

Seen initially as merely a disrespectful and absurd experiment, fruit of a radical refusal of both aesthetic and moral conventions, “Ubu Roi” by avant-garde writer Alfred Jarry was considered, as time went by, a prophetic play. On one hand, because it had announced Eugene Ionesco’s theatrical revolution, with his innovative burlesque parables, exceeding psychological realism and semantic rationality. At the same time, the character Ubu became a more powerful symbol than any other of the typology of the fantasizing tyrant that mercilessly sacrifices any charitable considerations in the favour of his paranoid deliriums. The century that followed the premiere of the play was filled with various Ubus and therefore, the absurd nightmare of bloody usurpations became historical reality quite frequently. Moreover, Jarry’s unleashed world was considered as an irrational pendant of a bourgeois society with a false decency. And, perhaps, every one of us hides Ubu’s meanness and cruelty that, although filtered by social conventions, are sometimes defining our actions.

Yet, Jarry’s play provides ground for a different interpretation. And it is explored by the remarkable Declan Donnellan, seconded by scenery painter Nick Ormerod, in a performance that was recently presented in Cluj as well, as an event of the Festival “Interferences”. The live footage made on the stage and the simultaneous streaming of images on a screen is already a trend in contemporary theatre. This film double of the theatre performance is usually intended to multiply perspectives, to introduce a game of mirrors that either multiplies the relativistic chaos that defines a kaleidoscopic reality, or introduces the audience as well in a wider perceptive flow, as images are successively refracted under various contexts, depending on the eyes watching. And Donnellan  introduces a camera manipulated by a bored teenager with a weird passion to seek the sordid detail by extreme focus. The nasal secretion in somebody’s nostril, the hair on the toiled lid, the discrete traces of urine on the bathroom carpet – all these scabrous details are decisive in Jarry’s work, yet the English director moves the emphasis from a world defined by an inflation of dejections, a modern reply to Hieronymus Bosch’s infernos, to a world dominated by sickening curiousness. It is indeed our contemporary would that insatiably and passionately records all trivial aspects of our existence, in the name of an ambiguous ethics of sincerity and total confession mostly based on hyper-realistic aesthetics.

This directorial vision introduces a counterpoint between the comfortable and bourgeois atmosphere of a homemade dinner with friends and the dreamlike flow of a criminal adventure. It resembles zapping from one TV channel to the next, with an amazing succesion of artificial intimacy and unleashed cruelty.

This alternation of incompatible realities not only reveals the contradictions of the human being but it is also the starting point of a special manner of conceiving politics. Normally, the experience of intimacy, of the life we now call “private” leads to the development of personal affections that have an impact afterwards on political commitments as well. Nonetheless, the voyeuristic invasion of the private space changes this relation, undermining both the natural gestation of intimacy, as well as changing the emotional mechanisms the political option is based on.

In a public space dominated by private images, politics is, in a certain way, made differently than before. It is made by apparently taming other people’s violence and integrating it in our everyday universe. Our emotions, as constant viewers of violent images – although the representation of violence still has a share of artificiality, despite of the authenticity pretences of the “reality show” genre – make us vulnerable to a brand new technique of political manipulation. We sometimes become actors in a play that fails to represent us, or even our darker side, as it is more like a game that went beyond control, a game we cannot oppose to. And this game is similar to video games, that are so popular today, especially among teenagers. All the ambivalences of a still unshaped teenager personality, dreaming of a power they still lack and wishing to undermine a world that is too stable in its arrogance, are revealed by this passion for violent video games. Isn’t the contemporary world too similar to this uncontrolled gaming? Or isn’t it too similar with this alternation of domestic pseudo-comfort and, respectively, wild imagination, secreted by a culture that pays compensatory privileges to the “virtues” of immaturity? Contemporary politics frequently treats us as if we were parents incapable of educating our kids or as if we were teenagers, easily tempted by ambiguous adventures.





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