Silencing the sirens

(see the film)

Now the sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing has never happened, still it is conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never. Against the feeling of having triumphed over them by one’s own strength, and the consequent exaltation that bears down everything before it, no earthly powers can resist.

Excerpt taken from Franz Kafka: The Silence of the Sirens, in The Complete Stories, ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, Schocken Books, New York, 1971

The film was shot in Athens in March 2016, as Greece was – and remains – in a financial crisis. EU and the World Bank had put their feet down, because Greece for a long time did not follow rules set by capitalism. Today, the EU and Europe urge to stand up as a counterweight to a similar capitalism and divisive protectionism, which, for the time being, is democratically elected to govern the United States.

What separates sincere emotional involvement and propaganda?

Music is central to the film The Sirens. The film builds on Gurholt’s ‘foyer opera’ of the same title, created for the project Monsters of Reality: The Mimesis Machine. This took place in Oslo’s National Theatre last September during the International Ibsen Festival. When I asked Crispin Gurholt why he chose to create an opera, he spoke about a need to engage, to elicit emotions, to revive political presence in an era of pixels and virtual reality. But, what separates sincere emotional involvement and propaganda? Following the Second World War, most European composers made great efforts to avoid writing music that could be assigned to benefit propaganda of any kind. However, as the British Parliament clubbed Brexit through last week, Scottish opposition parties hummed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, also the EU anthem, as a final protest.

Monsters of Reality: The Mimesis Machine was the result of dramaturge and curator Siri Forberg’s invitation to a group of artists to join her to Athens – the cradle of theatre – to investigate the concept of mimesis. This principle of imitation, or counterfeit, contains a fundamental duality. In theatre, mimesis simultaneously evokes reality and staging, truth and falsehood, presentation and representation. But, this could also describe what we refer to as reality. It has been said that the most unreasonable parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban might have been deliberately calculated and staged to make sufficient noise in public so that chief strategist Steve Bannon could install himself in the US National Security Council, with a minimum of attention. If this is true – is it theatre or reality? Late January, political philosopher David Ernst published an article on The Federalist.com where he argued that Donald Trump is one of the first politicians who has turned postmodernism against itself.

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