Monday, July 03, 2006

Reading. Tsvetaeva.

I wonder how political art (by art I mean in all its forms, literature, poetry, visual arts) sustains itself across time and space. I remember reading all these poems featuring cockroaches, which in reality symbolized Stalin (with his mustaches) and which landed their writers in prison; how do they stand up to the passage of time? Does the political element fade away and only the art remain? Does the art obscure the message, or vice versa?

Every child knows the story of what is best known as the Pied Piper of Hamlin, or some variation of it. One of the older versions comes from the Brothers Grimm, whereupon the town of Hamlin (in German, Hameln) was overrun by rats. The mayor (or burgomaster) promises a large sum of money (or his daughter's hand in marriage, I'm not sure which) to anyone who can get rid of the rats. The Piper (otherwise known as The Ratcatcher) comes along, and lures the rats away with his music, drawing them to the river where they drown. But then the mayor reneges on his promise of a reward, and refuses to give the money (or the hand of his daughter). In revenge, the Piper lures away all the children of the village (including the mayor's daughter) and leads them to the river where they all drown, as the rats did.

Some time in the mid-1920's Marina Tsvetaeva wrote The Ratcatcher, based on the story of the Ratcatcher of Hamlin (the Pied Piper comes from later, English versions of the legend), reimagined as a satirical commentary on the Bolsheviks. It is the battle between Art (the Ratcatcher) and Philistinism (the people of the town). It is a withering, brutal, sarcastic commentary on the times, against materialism, against bourgeois philistinism. And it is like music, as is all poetry that transcends its political undercurrents. As though Tsvetaeva's previous work led to this explosion of words that sweeps you up, carries you along in its torrents. I have only just begun and already my heart is racing.

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