Monday, January 07, 2008

Anne Frank, again:

I wrote here just the other day about the legacy of Anne Frank.

I've just seen this report:

Is it just me? Or do you too find something a bit grisly about the idea of a musical based on the Diary of Anne Frank? Opening in Madrid next month, it will tell the familiar story of the Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic. The show has the backing of the Anne Frank Foundation. The 13-year-old lead, Isabella Castillo, also has personal experience of living in hiding as a Cuban refugee. But the musical, as a form, demands uplift. And, however moving the story of Anne Frank's inner life, it is one that ends tragically..

... the Anne Frank story has a documentary truth that hardly cries out for the melodic embellishments of music.

This surely is the point. Anne Frank's diary exists as a record of a young girl's thoughts and feelings. Even the play based upon it, according to Kenneth Tynan when he saw it in New York in the 1950s, "smacked of exploitation". And a musical will surely take us even further from the world of raw truth.

I suppose this explanation best describes my own feelings about it. Whether an exhibit is located in a church and aimed at being used as a kickoff for discussion about racism in football, or it is made into a musical, there is an inexorable movement in the direction of contraction and diminution, a growing distanciation from the core "raw truth" of the diary and its immediate circumstances.

I am pretty sure that it is mostly Jews who sorrow over the devaluation of Anne Frank's story. Most people will probably ask: So what? The popularization of her story may dilute the message but it will still reach much greater numbers of people and something of the value in her life and her written testimony may touch them.

Paul Celan is mentioned in the article, as one who squeezed poetry out of his Holocaustal experience.

Anne Carson, in her book of essays “Economy of the Unlost”, tries to locate, as far as she can, the meaning, source, energy of poetry, its possibility of being and what that possibility means. The “economy” of the title refers to the spareness of poetic application of language. One of her suggestions is that at times when parts of language and meanings of words have been appropriated and deformed, thereby lost, it is the duty of the poet to use what is left economically.

For Celan, this reality is not of his own choosing. The German language, into which he was born and upon which he grew up, was hijacked at a certain point for a national “deathbearing talk”. Once the 15 minutes of the Thousand-Year third Reich were over, language survived, but badly beaten, warped, crippled, decimated, terribly fragile. That’s what Celan had to work with, decided to work with, but with great care and frugality, to preserve what is unlost that is still usable. In other words, to use language with extreme economy. Paul Celan was anxious about the erosion of meanings in language.

He sometimes saw language-death as a more universal problem: The tendency of meanings to “burn out” of language and to be covered by a “load of false and disfigured sincerity” is one that he here ascribes to ‘The whole sphere of human communicative means” (Anne Carson).

Similarly, the bathetic popularization of Anne Frank's story burns out the meaning of her singularity. What is her core truth I don't think I can say with any assurance, but I do know it should not be reduced to a discussion about racism in football or a sentimental musical.



Norm does not seem to share my quandary. He is much more patient and willing to give this initiative a chance:

.. there is no forbidden medium for dealing with a Holocaust-related subject or theme. Dangers there most certainly are. You can try to make a Holocaust comedy and end up delivering Life Is Beautiful. But in principle a musical about Anne Frank is no more unthinkable than an opera on any serious subject, or than a cartoon treatment of surviving Auschwitz - like this one, which I recommend to anyone who hasn't read it. Dent ends by saying:

I do not think that the Holocaust is off-limits to the arts - only that it's best left to great artists...

The flaw there is that you don't know who will do something well till they've done it; and though the great artists are few, it's one of the endearing features of our species that many people would like to have a shot at it.

I remain sceptical.


At 2:37 AM EST, Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

Since I detest musicals of any kind (suffering through the Cats to the point of almost nervous breakdown once), I am biased, of course.

But the mere idea seems beyond comprehension to me. These are the only printable words I can manage.

At 9:50 AM EST, Blogger bob said...

(Unrelated to Anne Frank) Noga, I failed to reciprocate your Happy New Year, as I had half-written a big, fat New Year post which would have featured you heavily, but time seems to be passing rapidly and I don't know if I've missed the boat for new year posts! Anyway, thanks for all your support in '07 and hope '08 is a good one for you! Cheers, b

At 11:11 AM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Thanks, Bob.

At 7:30 PM EST, Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

Snoop: Your reaction to the musical reminded me of Elaine Benes' near psychotic episode when she is forced to watch, again, "The English Patient".

"Oh. No. I can't do this any more. I can't. It's too long. (to the screen) Quit telling your stupid story, about the stupid desert, and just die already! (louder) Die!!"

A sad moment for Elaine. I would die to have a chance to see Cats...


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