The Playgoer: the "chorus" grows

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

the "chorus" grows

Heavy hitters now going on the record more every day on Rachel Corrie.

Here's Harold Pinter: "'a clear case of self-censorship' amidst a political atmosphere of the 'suppression of dissent and the suppression of truth'". George Hunka has the scoop and the link to this recent interview, a must for Pinter fans.

Also, by way of Alison Croggon at her Theatre Notes, leftist mideast reporter Robert Fisk cries foul, and of course smells the traces of the Bushies in it all.

So we hear more and more "chatter" in theatre circles and also, increasingly, among the more politically minded (both pro- and anti-Israel) who never even see a play! Will we ever all join the same conversation? Or maybe that's not a good thing for people like me, who care more about the free speech challenge and artistic principles than the supposed perils of the play's preaching. But I do know that at this point it might have to take a "perfect storm" of various interested parties to keep this controversy a news story.


Alison Croggon said...

Hi Playgoer: I can't see where "lefty" (?) Fisk mentioned "the Bushies" anywhere in his article. He mentions three wildly disparate cases - a campaign in the Jewish community in Australia against a book, a novel by an Israeli-American and his own adventure with the Military History Society of Ireland. What he is identifying is a growing orthodoxy of repression of open debate about the Israel/Palestine question, of which the Rachel Corrie furore is only one part.

I fear it is impossible to take a high-minded aesthetic stand on this one, to divorce oneself from the politics. Like most writers, I am uncomfortable with ideological certainties of any kind or stripe. I would never describe myself as an activist; again like most writers, I am far too egocentric. But issues of repression always, without exception, rebound on artists; and it is impossible to abstract the issue of censorship from the particular circumstances around it. That is, the silence of which you've been so critical stems from the fact that it is precisely this issue, the Palestine/Israel question, that the RC play deals with, and there seems ample evidence that there is a growing McCarthyite atmosphere of repression - a "vicious campaign", as that nameless Boston academic has it - to expunge any discourse at all that is critical of the State of Israel.

Playgoer said...


First as for Fisk, I must confess I didn't read the whole thing, but my Bushie reference is justified I think just from what he said in the direct quote on Rachel and "courage." (And I'm not criticizing bringing the Bushies into this at all.)

And just to clarify what I meant at the end: I completely agree the politics of this cannot be divorced from the artistic issue. What I meant was basically that I support the play's right to be seen no matter what its politics are.

That is my riposte to those in the artistic community here whose answer seems to always be: "Well since I haven't read the play and don't know what it's saying, then I can't comment."

And perhaps what I should have ended with was that it probably would indeed ultimately be good to have "one conversation" (political + artistic). But people need to understand that one can support this play without supporting Hamas, for instance. That's the kind of thinking that got us in this mess. And I hope a conversation with the political commentators could proceed without having to agree on a position on the middle east. We can all agree shutting down disperate viewpoints is wrong, whether we agree with them or not.

Of course, you are right that in the end is all about politics of Israel and the radioactiveness of that issue here still, even among "liberals". I have raised this on the blog, but it's clear I need to try address in full and will do so soon.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Neither politics nor theater exists in a vacuum, of course. Early on in this debate I mentioned that one could address the issues of this controversy without necessarily taking sides on the issues that the content of the play itself raises. I still believe that. But it would be naive indeed not to see this as part a growing pattern of pressure to keep discussion about this particular content from public airing.

Corrie, a young American woman, was crushed under an American-built bulldozer in the possession of the Israeli Defense Forces while defending a Palestinian residence. That above sentence alone contains enough explosive material for millions of editorials and traces literally hundreds of threads of political and financial interests. There is some controversy whether or not she was crushed by the bulldozer itself or by debris that was being moved by the bulldozer; in any case, it was the agent directly or indirectly of her death. Of all of Corrie's words, her very last--"My back is broken"--may be the most heartrending, and the most human. That human voice necessitates the continuing dialogue, and the theater, a most human and humane art form, is an ideal place for hearing it.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Garrett - I'm sorry, I misread you - I thought you meant that the "Bushies" were behind the censorships Fisk mentions. Yes, the real issue is that whatever its political colour, the play ought not to have been pulled for such specious reasons and in such circumstances. (And the accusation about supporting terrorism is such a canard, familiar to anyone who thought that invading Iraq was a bad idea because it might lead to, well, what is happening there right now...)

You're right, George, of course, about the human dimension. But I think like Garrett I feel a little uneasy at the potential appeal to sentiment in that, how easily an emotive response takes over ... It's how conservatives everywhere (here too) manipulate the electorate. I suppose I feel a little Brechtian on that question... over the past five years I've started to hate public irrationality. And I make a private distinction between feeling, which for me articulates a complex and intelligent awareness of emotion (perhaps Musil's "precision of soul") and sentimentality, which merely appeals to crude empathies, perhaps narcissistic lacks, and is endlessly manipulative. Feeling is, for me, the fuller experience, in life and aesthetics, and the other is a cheat... Even though, from what I can gather, the play sounds well put together, I am almost sure that the RC play itself is of a kind I probably wouldn't enjoy. Still, no reason to ban it. And every reason to be concerned about a wider climate of censorship.