Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Graeco-Polynesian culture in Paris?

Over the last six months or so this blog has several times discussed the attempts by the late great Futa Helu and other Tongan intellectuals associated with the 'Atenisi Institute to fuse classical Greek with Polynesian culture.

Futa Helu was a man of considerable imaginative powers, but I'm not sure if he ever envisaged the confluence of Greek and Polynesian cultural motifs which Bill Direen recently witnessed in a Parisian theatre. Here's an e mail Bill sent me last week:

Perhaps your blog visitors might be interested in something that took me by surprise last night. I went to see a local production of Lysistrata by Aristophanes. By local, I mean a professional troupe in a theatre near where I am staying in Paris. The theatre has an English name, Sudden Theatre, but 99% of its works are in French. There was a lot of singing: I'd say about half the cast was hired for their singing skills. The key roles were filled by professional actors and the difference showed.

After the women established the situation and made clear their intentions to deprive their menfolk of sex unless they stop making war, the men arrive (half-masked) and proceeded to do a haka. It was a copy of the best known All Blacks haka, intended to display their warring frame of mind, their readiness to fight, and their inability to find peaceful solutions. It was not done disrespectfully, but it certainly took me by surprise. To further emphasise the unity and teamsmanship of their bellicose mind-space, not long after, the men formed a scrum, with all of the genital grabbing gestures rugby fans take for granted. The whole thing was more of a satire on rugby, than on the All Blacks or Maori culture...and yet....

So there you have it. Ted Jenner would have enjoyed the production, I suppose. It used a traditional setting, with polystyrene columns and a raised framed strusture centre stage, which led to more mysterious places. The robes and masks were Greek in flavour. Aristophanes' sense of mischievous fun prevailed. The sex-starved men eventually appeared with gigantic phallic attachments pushing out from under their robes...
I wish I'd been able to see Lysistrata with Bill. I had the good fortune to be introduced to Aristophanes' crusty comedies by a seventh form Classical Studies teacher, and I instantly preferred them to the tragedies of Sophocles, let alone the endless lines of the Aeneid.

I was excited by the way Aristophanes threw chunks of aggressive political polemic into his plays, and I was fascinated by his ability to mock and at the same time honour Gods like Dionysus and heroes like Ulysses. When an old man wants to escape from the home where his family has imprisoned him in Aristophanes' The Wasps, he clings to the belly of a smelly donkey, and thereby reminds us of the way that Ulysses escaped from the lair of the Cyclops by clinging to the belly of a ram. Although the old man's escape is rather pathetic in comparison to Ulysses' heroic exploits, its very pathos somehow ennobles it, and also somehow humanises the legend of Ulysses. James Joyce must have learned a few lessons from The Wasps and Aristophanes' other plays.

The folks at Sudden Theatre might enjoy Marian Maguire's elegant collages, which often fuse Polynesian and Greek scenes, and which sometimes dwell on the martial qualities the two cultures share.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

culturally inappropriate appropriation tho?

7:09 am  
Anonymous PS said...

i mean it's not like these froggies have found about tikanga, right?

7:09 am  
Anonymous herb said...

If we had more time for discussion we should probably have made a great many more mistakes. ~Leon Trotsky

herb (ex-SAL)

8:03 am  
Blogger dave said...

I think the anthropologists appropriated the term 'culture' to mean everything (and thus nothing) about a society. They are welcome to it.
It seems appropriate to me to make use of Ancient Greek and Maori customs in a work of drama since both were are roughly the same point in evolution as modes of production. Greece had made the transition from a kinship society in which womens' prime position was usurped by a patriarchy (leaving aside the question of slavery). Maori society was about to make that transition following European contact.
However, the lifting and insertion of these historical parallels in a play today about capitalist war, is anti-historical and does what most so-called art does, obliterates the specific historic categories that allow us to understand what causes wars today and whether a sex-strike would have any impact on wars fought largely by mercenaries who use rape as a weapon.

12:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No way did ancient Greece and pre-contact Aotearoa have the same modes of production.

12:03 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

Have to agree with anon. Not too sure about any 'evolution' in their respective modes of production which are readily comparable. Unless you're merely talking about pre-industrialism. The problem with an overarching culture evolutionary schema (other than the fact people usually insert some sort of linear model) is that they usually only work in low resolution. Look closer and much of it falls apart under exception heaped upon exception. Tension between the specific and the universal I suppose.

I think Dave raises an interesting point about the way art can appropriate history while obliterating the details. Also I suppose the cultural inappropriateness of the play depends on what the owners of that culture - Maori in general - think about it. Considering that one haka or another has been appropriated and capitalised on by pakeha for quite a while. Haka every five minutes. I saw a haka on NZs next top model the other night. Was kinda cheap.

9:43 am  
Anonymous The People's Choice said...

French are notorious for their racism. Just look at how they deny the national rights of their minorities: Bretons, Kanaks, Basques. So this appropriation is possibly dubious.

Expropriate the expropriator?

Why does Bill Direen live in such a noxious capital of imperial capital and snobbishness as Paris?

Why doesn't he move to Quincy or Kanaky?

6:21 pm  
Anonymous The People's Choice said...

PS The Greeks were not that militaristic. It was the Romans who were the true ancestors of modern imperialism.

6:21 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That's interesting re Lysistrata: my father used to take me to plays etc in the 60s and we once saw Lyisistrata. It was great. And funny.

But I also like Sophocles as in Oedipus Rex etc

I don't think it was necessary to put rugby in the play. But it is interesting to see it happen in France where they are quite strong on rugger.

Ted and Bryony Jagger are two I know who have probably read all of the main Greek plays in Greek (and or English I presume) and maybe seen a few performed.

Aristophanes I was reading about today (and coincidentally realising I would like to read his the other plays); as..hmm.. I was reading Huxleys 'Ape and Essence' )a pre '1984' political-philosophic satire about a possible 3rd WW (aftermath) written in 1948 which Anthony Burgess liked in his book of his "greatest" or favourite 99 books!!); and Huxley references something by Plato (and I think Aristophanes is implied by Huxley who was also able to read Greek and Latin etc, and The Clouds I think satires Socrates-Plato's ideas of "essence" (or Forms etc) as indirectly does Huxley (but paradoxically (?) for a famous literary-scientific family he seems also to take a big Swiftean swipe at Science))) ... which led me to Wiki where it seems that Aristophanes, while he satirized other writers and play writes did it in a good humoured way...but it is quite a few years ago now!!

Ted will know all like Eliot's Lazarus or Homer's Tiresias!

9:42 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think that Ancient Greece and Maori societies have some similarities. I mean both were pretty war like.

That doesn't mean they were at war all the time but iwth small city states we see a parallel...well there is a // maybe with tribes and various areas of Greece. Of course there are huge differences but the same struggles were happening everywhere. (They still are.) There are points of conjunction: given also the huge differences.

I think that Aristophanes was as close as a million Marxists would ever get in 1000 years to stopping wars and achieving Utopia; or a million Pacifists and 1000 years of Pacifism. Why not Aristophanes, other culture, Art, pacifism, other Big Ideas, music, Art and poetry Bill Direenism, Sport and other "non-useful" things, AND Marxism etc and maybe place for those Liberals even?

We probably wont see an end to war...but he at least took the subject (war, human progress, women's status) on with humour which is one thing i see absent from (many) Marxists (and some card carrying Postmodernists I know of).

Marxism unfortunately (can - like Science itself, and maybe Art also - and often does to many) become a kind of fanatical religion...Yeats, talking of murder and politics in Ireland during the (e.g. 1916) uprisings and the Troubles etc talks about it all in his poetry.

"The worst are full of passionate intensity
The best lack all conviction"

A bit unfair after all why not the other way round?...but...

Or things such as "The heart that fed on fantasy's grown brutal from the fare" (Yeats of course was somewhat guilty of over indulgence in fantasy himself...but he wasnt just a poet he was an MP at one stage)

But it is typical of fanatical Marxists to condemn culture, which IS all human knowledge. NOT some formula for change or a new Utopia. There are no Utopias, never will be. We may in fact never be free of war or "injustice"...we are just rather happenstancial selfish-genetical animals (as Richard Dawkins in explains to us) as and may in fact be only temporary on Time's Stage here.

10:11 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It would be great to see some deep sea change but....the prospect doesn't look good.....

But it is culture and art and science and psychology etc and ideas and so on - not any formula - that will be our best bet.

We can even learn from certain negative examples of the miss-use of culture..

And Lysistrata is good thing to see on stage. Just as it is good to say read about Maoritanga and Maori (and other histories and so on)... see how Te Kooti amalgamated Maori and Pakeha ideas...

There have indeed been many great and positive changes even under capitalism. There are many ways open to us.

10:21 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I mean both were pretty war like.'

How so?

9:56 am  
Anonymous Steve Dedalus said...

I went to a packed Bloomsday show on K' Rd two Thursday nights ago and they showed Kirk Douglas in the 1954 sandals-and-shields Technicolor epic "Ulysses" and Hone Harawira turned up.

4:36 pm  
Blogger Oh Harry said...

In France I feel that the HAKA is seen as something to be tolerated as a relic of a primitive (pre-Europeanised) culture. But its use in this satire disregarded Maori culture (although it showed evidence of careful dance-tutoring, i.e. there was something authentic about it). The SCRUM was also depicted in this particularly physical and homo-erotic way, which spectators can't have helped seeing as downplaying and even mocking the values of team spirit, of working as a group against insuperable odds which the French Rugby Union and its sponsors (cultivated elegance and bank-finance publicity/colours prominent) is promulgating in order to prepare the public for defeat, and offer the public a platform from which to support a team whose winning of the World Cup would be nothing short of miraculous. I rather feel now that both HAKA and SCRUM were being satirized not as elements of Maori or Rugby culture, but as elements, public domain elements, of a ridiculous global (homo-erotically stimulating) entertainment industry.

9:09 pm  
Blogger dave said...

Oh Harry, is SCRUM short for SCROTUM?

On modes of production in Greece and Aotearoa. The similarities are more important than the differences, without leaping to any evolutionary schema or 'pre-industrialism' which are both non-Marxist concepts.
What I mean is that both were moving from a lineage or tribal mode of production towards a class society in which men overthrew gender equality to establish a patriarchal ruling class.
But anyway these similarities and differences are lost by inserting them like historic artefacts into modern capitalism. War becomes war in general, peace likewise etc. when in all of these societies war has a specific purpose to reproduce the extant class relations. In other words war is class war.
In Lysistrata The rebellion of the women is to stop men from warring by reducing their power, symbolically by withdrawing sex, but materially by taking control of affairs of state, capturing the treasury etc.
Its an acting out of the war of the sexes that is actually a class war in which women still resist their overthrow by male patriarchs.
So while Lysistrata speaks directly to the class war in ancient Greece, it is an anachronism in modern capitalist France. Capitalist social relations have subordinated gender relations to the point where they can only play a revolutionary role in the struggle for socialism. Lysistrata is literally fucking irrelevant.

10:37 pm  
Blogger Oh Harry said...

"symbolically by withdrawing sex, but materially by taking control of affairs of state, capturing the treasury etc ... Lysistrata is literally irrelevant." Great points! Cheers.

11:11 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"The People's Choice said...

French are notorious for their racism. Just look at how they deny the national rights of their minorities: Bretons, Kanaks, Basques. So this appropriation is possibly dubious.

Expropriate the expropriator?

Why does Bill Direen live in such a noxious capital of imperial capital and snobbishness as Paris?

Why doesn't he move to Quincy or Kanaky? "

Yes, but we are not talking about all French people (or all Parisians I pesume). [Paris, the city of Hugo and the great Balazac!]

If the French are racist all humans are... (in varying degrees we indeed are all so) it is true that anti-semitism was also very strong there but we can look anywhere for racism. N.Z. is a good example.

It is the case anywhere that the "good" people (if there are any! Can we define "good people"?) Are in a minority, sadly.

We are all racist. Or , to repeat, there are no people who are not racist (however defined), in some way. No?

Bill Direen is not (in the general way but if my statement is true then he and all the rest of us are!).

But we all don't want to die of Politicalus Correctectalnessus either - or Borificatus poefaceus stereotypus Lisistratus estus incorrectis Marxitis analysatisissimus

Come on Dave, lighten up!

Back to Bill D - he is good value - he has family in France and also N.Z.

12:16 am  
Blogger Oh Harry said...

This week a face with a Maori tattoo, full facial tattoo, is on a poster in all the news-stands of Paris. It is the cover of the top-selling gay (male) mag called Tetu. (Tetu is the equivalent of Proud, as in Gay Pride, and actually means "obstinate", or more favourably "headstrong"). Coincidence? (I will sneak a peek at the content when I get time.)

11:52 pm  
Blogger Oh Harry said...

For the pakeha Gay Maori with full facial tattoo see
http://www.tetu.com/lemag/sommaire-du-dernier-numero/.
In fact it is a special Rugby issue.

12:22 am  
Blogger dave said...

How can a full facial tattoo escape from alienation? It's appropriated out of historic context, commodified, as someone's art or intellectual property, so its embedded in capitalism, serving to reproduce it. What is 'headstrong' about it then? It is a fetish (Marx) or phantasmagoria (Benjamin).

11:24 pm  
Blogger Oh Harry said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:36 am  

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