Thursday, April 7, 2016

WAR: Will you hear? Will you perceive? Will you think?

Britten's War Requiem - June 3,4,5, 2016 - Berkeley
An amazing thing that will be happening -- in fact, has already begun happening -- here in Berkeley is a performance of Britten's War Requiem. The performance itself will be at the beginning of June, and there have already been lectures at the public library about World War I, the work of Benjamin Britten, and Wilfred Owen and the other WWI-era War Poets. One more lecture will take place next Tuesday with contemporary poets writing about war.

I've written about the War Requiem in the context of other antiwar art. It's a masterpiece.

Some people may question why we need a 50-year-old piece built on the traditional Latin requiem for the dead plus poetry from World War I, created to commemorate a cathedral that was destroyed in World War II, in order to inform our lives today.

I was inspired by commentary on one of Wilfred Owen's poems, provided by Prof. C.D. Blanton at one of the library lectures. Prof. Blanton guided us through "Apologia Pro Poemate Meo" and helped us see the challenge to us in these works of art: when it comes to war, "you shall not hear ... you shall not perceive ... you will not think .... " Most of the time, this is true. (Even if we could, it might make us uncomfortable -- think of Harun Farocki.)

But on the few occasions when we do want to hear, to perceive, to think -- or at least try to begin to do so -- it is through this kind of poetry and music that we can hope to do so.

See you at Hertz Hall . . . .

Related posts

If you want to hear a really angry antiwar ballad, listen to "Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash:

If you smile at me, I will understand
'Cause that is something everybody everywhere does
in the same language . . . .

(See What Would It Take for Friendship to Trump War? )

Consider the moment in the film All Quiet On the Western Front when the young soldier returns to visit his old high school. The soldier visits the class of the teacher who had goaded him and many of his classmates to enlist in the first place. Encouraged by his teacher to tell about the "glories" of being a soldier, he delivers a damning verdict . . . .

(See Back to School (All Quiet On the Western Front))

"A terrible disease has struck the area . . . people call it the "flu" . . . many in our own community have fallen to it . . . including someone very dear to you, someone in your own family . . . I'm talking about your sister, Margaret." (See November 11, 1918: Another Veteran for Peace )

"Because of the intensified division of labor," the narrator explains, "many technicians and scientists can no longer recognize the contribution the have made to weapons of destruction." "Our department extracts lareic, oleic, and naptha acids . . . . "  "I'm a chemist. What should I do? If I develop a substance, it can be good for humanity . . . ."  "Besides napalm, Dow Chemical produces 800 other products . . . ." Does this familiar to you?

(See American Fire: Still Spreading, Still Inextinguishable)