Thoughts on Argentina's Conjunctures :: Recuperating Work, Recovering Life (2005-2007)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Goodness - A play by Michael Redhill

I went to see Goodness on the weekend, a play about genocide, memory, and responsibility (see Toronto Now's write up ). I was moved. Here are some of my thoughts immediately afterwards:

What a deeply complex play, working on myriad layers. I love how Redhill wrote himself and the audience into it, problematizing his own role of writer as interpreter, the role of the audience as (passive) viewer, and, of course, the philosophical morasses of good and evil, action and inaction, hope and despair, and, as the older Altheia so provocatively and despairingly uttered, the "stupidity of humanity." Redhill also delves deep into the problem of "the story" -- i.e., narrative -- and the telling of the story: Whose story is being told? His? Altheia's? The victims'? The perpetrators'? How does the storyteller position him/herself within the storytelling? What "right" or moral/ethical/political authority does the storyteller have to speak for and about others? By placing himself into the story, he both showed how one can begin to approach such deeply complex -- and political -- issues of the narrative while simultaneously showing us -- the audience/reader -- his own moral/ethical/political struggles to articulate this very narrative. This is something Derrida and others talk about often.

And, the problems of good and evil and responsibility? Where to begin!? I'm still working this out. Probably will for the rest of my life. Argentina also suffered a holocaust during the 1976-1983 dictatorship where 30,000 of my compatriots were murdered in Nazi-like death camps or in the very spaces of their everyday lives (at home, at work, etc.) in organized ambushes. It's a part of my own history as an Argentine that haunts me like the Polish holocaust haunts Redhill. The play definitely left me thinking about how things like this can happen, and probably will for a long time. One thing that still resonates with me from the play is the notion of "invisibility" and the desperation and inhumanity suffered by persons -- perpetrators and victims -- who remain invisible, lost to the terror of perverse ideologies and historical contingency. Did the Nazi's, for example, embody and act out on the perceived or real invisibility and humiliation of the German people after WWI by attempting to scapegoat and eradicate -- invisibalize -- those who were Jewish in order to rectify their own historical fate?

Another is this: What is the explanation for a Third Reich, and the genocides experienced in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Argentina, East Timor, etc.? Are there ever simple explanations to these events? Or are there already-always less obvious and more elusive factors at play than the commonly-held belief that the perpetrators are "just evil people"? Besides this empty common-sense response (it's an "empty signifier" that gets reified by us, is it not?), what is it that pushes otherwise good people to do unimaginable evil? Is questioning and critiquing a statement such as "They're just evil people" justifying the heinous crimes, or ignoring -- and further invisibalizing -- the deep pain of the victim, Altheia? If you look at the six cases I mentioned, all were societies that were dealing with deep issues of socio-political humiliation or extreme poverty or geo-political marginalization. In such socio-political quagmires, it isn't hard to find the scapegoat that will temporarily alleviate such invisibility and peripheralization. How complex it is indeed when the victim becomes the perpetrator.

And, a final question? I wonder if Redhill chose the name Altheia for the character because in Greek it means"verity, truth" or "truth revealing". Altheia as the holder of various truths in Redhill's narrative, truths that the Redhill character in the play had to negotiate in dialogue with her, just as Redhill the writer had to negotiate the truths that lurk hidden and frustratingly-ellusive in his own history and creativity when he set thought down to paper and wove the script together. Truths, in Redhill's chosen topic, made more elusive by the fading from memory of his own family's experiences of genocide over time. Sketchiness, confusion, and even incredulity always plague the memories of such horrors. Perhaps for Altheia, in her always-already present, as she stated, the tragedy was still all too present in her own present. That is, she was condemned to re-live the horror for the rest of her life. Where does the truth lie when we are so close to the horror?