And yet perhaps we are not quite yet at war either. We seem, at the time of this writing, to be in a confusing middle ground of 'not-Peace.' The threat of war looms over all the art produced since the end of 2001, and will continue to loom until terrorism and its roots have been obviated. But we don't quite have actual war, a simple condition that tends to reduce everything to a straightforward binarism: friend or foe; alive or dead, intact-or-destroyed. The violence of war flattens all the ambiguities, all the complications -- in short, all the humanity that escapes simple categorisation.
As such, war is clearly to be wished-for in some quarters. Could the clarity of actual armed conflict not remove the ambiguity of our current weak leaders? One suspects not -- that however much Bush and Blair want to enact a military intervention (a 'real' war) that will not change their domestic situations. Although many wars of the past have been comprised of domestic anxiety and foreign military action they are necessary rather than sufficient components of a 'real' war.
In contrast to the Manichean absolutes of war, the international soap opera diplomacy of not-peace is beginning to look more like the complications of Dido, Aeneas, Laoco÷n, and Cassandra. Diplomats and arms inspectors, Generals and dissidents, priests and poets all navigate a grey zone that is more murky than simple hatred and friendship. And within that grey zone, where do our sympathies lie?
In Les Troyens, we pity Cassandra as she foretells a doom she can do nothing to prevent. She, like the audience, knows what is coming but can only watch with fascination and dread as it unfolds. A Cassandra's knowledge of what is to come does not help her change the future, even though she is part of the elite, a member of the ruling family. Yet her action in response to her powerlessness complicates the sympathy we have for her. Unlike Laoco÷n, the Trojan priest who thrusts his spear into the wooden horse's flank and is killed by Athena for his pains, Cassandra is the agent of her own death. As it stands, the opera's most violent scene is her suicide, along with the mass suicide of the vestal virgins she has exhorted to martyrdom. Should we read the suicide as a form of protest? Cassandra's act explicitly spites the marauding Greek conquerors: the Greeks shall not claim that they enjoyed the high-priestesses of their enemies. And yet, if it is a protest, is it one we would emulate today?
Readings and Misreadings
Zeek live, March 20 at Makor
the reason for
war and not-peace
josh goes to prague