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“A Debate of Depravity”

Here’s one from a theater critic who gets it: He doesn’t mention the character this blog has been mentioning from the moment the current president took office: Alfred Jarry’s Pere Ubu. (Here’s last night’s debate. Settle in.) But in a short piece he makes two other stops along the Theater of the Absurd: Sartre’s No Exit and Carroll’s Wonderland.

And what in particular he gets is that Carroll, Jarry, and Sartre (throw in Beckett and Kafka and Ionesco) deal in tragicomedy – the grotesque mix of violence (“Stand back and stand by.”), farce, and despair that characterizes human beings abandoned by a world of meaning and spirit and therefore no longer human beings at all, only empty angry creatures mired in the thing we’ve got left when humanity vanishes: “primate-dominance.”

Still having trouble grasping the tragicomic absurd, the agonized incredulity we feel again and again at the spectacle of our shabby, vacuous, almost unbearably stupid world? Try this: Our country’s most intensely Christian, most deeply born-again, population, has anointed as its savior, its avatar of spiritual transformation and transcendence, a stillborn baby, one of the dead bundles tossed onstage in another absurdist drama, The Marriage of Bette and Boo. That’s what we’re worth! That’s the value of human life in a dead world!

And that’s why the theater critic writes this – of a political debate! –

No other presidential debate, ever, has been so personally painful, or made one feel one’s mortality more.

Why the hell does one feel one’s mortality during a presidential debate?

Because this husk, lent artificial animation with rouge and roughhousing, embodies our fears about about our own death-in-life — he’s Gustav von Aschenbach at the end of Death in Venice, a corpse painted and pomaded in an effort to disguise itself as infused with vitality, spirit, and meaning. The pointlessness of the debate, with Ubu doing his terminal rattle over the thing until time ran out, is the futility we feel when we allow ourselves to contemplate not just the death that awaits us, but the life-in-death of our absurd world. Mr Trump, last night, staged the personally painful possibility that nothing – including us – means, or is, anything.

Margaret Soltan, September 30, 2020 6:52AM
Posted in: sounds and looks very samuel beckett

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2 Responses to ““A Debate of Depravity””

  1. Matt McKeon Says:

    At least Gustave was in love. Deluded maybe, but thinking of someone besides himself.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Matt: Excellent point. His story was about late-onset passion and beauty. He had in common with Ubu the degeneration into a clown.

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