Orgy of Tolerance

(Publicity photo for Orgy of Tolerance by Jan Fabre’s Troubleyn company. Curtesy of Troubleyn.)

In the 20th century, logic came to power.  That which was unnecessary was eliminated in Bauhaus, communist propaganda, American manufacturing, engineering, war, design. . .  Life was simplified to a minimum that could be logically understood.  Everything else was eliminated.  That is the world we still live in today.  Our scientific understanding abstracts from all emotion.  Subjectivity is set aside in search of a greater truth, but what is good for research is not necessarily good for life in general.  We lost our ability to understand ourselves.  We do not know how to deal with our desires except to satisfy them or to cry out in want and pain.  We abstract our emotions when sympathy is called for.  We are emotionally dead to violence when it is performed in the name of our own protection.  We are slaves to fear when violence draws near.  Hoping to escape from or at least deaden our fear and desires, we overcompensate with consumption.

I saw Jan Fabre’s Orgy of Tolerance in Saitama today.  It was more surrealist theater than I had ever been exposed to.  It was the first surrealist performance I had ever seen live.  The scenes were obscene, violent, and disturbing, but they were kept just short of repulsiveness by cariacature, mystique, and a relevant message for modern society.  A few lines from some of the music written by Dag Taeldeman show the message of the play most clearly.  Here is part of Everybody Talks about Freedom (taken from Fabre’s Troubleyn website):

Everybody talks about freedom freedom
So let’s get some
Everything’s good good
Great great
Normal liberal
Acceptable adorable
Ignorable ignorable
Damn!!! Right!

You can be a fascist, communist,
Racist, Budhist
Catholic, Muslim,
Scientist, terrorist,
Jesus Christ, Anti Christ,
As long as you don’t bother anyone
Damn!!! Right!

(click on lyrics for full text on Troubleyn website)

And here’s a little of Fear Sublime (also taken from Troubleyn website):

We are here to thank our beloved government, who has taught us how to fear but above all how to use it!
What would our lives be without this most basic human instinct?
Fear creates work.
Without fear: no war, no jobs.

. . .

With fear we can be suspicious
and suspicion creates safety.
We all must make sacrifices
to have the privilege to live in this clean, safe and comfortable land.
So let us all come together and thank this most basic human instinct.
Fear sublime!

(click on the lyrics for full text on Troubleyn website)

The Japanese advertisements and the whole show is staged in a student-guerrilla-revolutist design that created a beautiful unity to the piece.  The lighting reminded me of interrogation scenes by the light of a single bare bulb.  The luscious leather sofas, cigars, liquor, and drugs display the actual affluence of the bourgeoisie portrayed by the revolutionists.  Beyond the consumerist bourgeoisie characters blinded by grand delusions of sex, violence, consumption, gratification, safety, and tolerance, the same performers also portray prisoners, designers, Jesus, torturers, and terrorists.  Thankfully, Fabre does not leave the audience frustrated with the raw force of the majority of the play.  At the end, he gives them catharsis in the climactic angry attack on absolutely everything and in the full out celebration of the beauty of life in the dance at the end.

By showing audiences Orgy of Tolerance, Fabre hopes ‘that I can help people to look and think in a different way, or even cure the wounds they have in their minds.’ (from The List review)  [I would interpret that as a moral goal for his works, which] is an admirable goal, which I think he achieves, but I think what he says can be broken down into two [more specific moral] goals.  The first goal of art is to point out our [moral] weaknesses.  That is what Fabre’s work does splendidly.  He provides overstimulation and catharsis.  He plays with the power of theater and art in general, which is to say he plays with the audience’s emotions, making them realize their own emotional insufficiency.  The second goal of art is to nurture the audience’s emotions [through moral reflection].  I do not think shock treatment like Jan Fabre’s will educate people beyond the initial realization of their state of existence.  Ever escalating novelty and sensationalism does not have the power to nurture.

To nurture the audience, a more reflective atmosphere is necessary. Needless to say, I have Noh in mind.  The ability to create a reflective atmosphere is Noh’s greatest strength.  It draws on older systems of beliefs no longer held in scientifically-minded modern Japanese society: mythology and Buddhism.  These two contrasting forms of religion confront and engage the powers beyond our rational understanding, including our fears and desires, each in their own way.  In that sense, religion is very close to art, and one must only think of all the art inspired by Christianity to understand how universal the relationship is.  But Noh does not simply praise the beauty of life as Fabre and his dancers do in the final scene of Orgy.  Noh questions the [moral] conditions of our existence.  It examines the forces within and outside of us and develops possible [moral] resolutions to the universal human challenges of jealousy, sexual desire, wisdom, rejection, beauty, mortality, pain. . .

Having thus stated Noh’s greatest strength, its greatest weakness is its lack of novelty and its seeming irrelevance to our modern lives.  Resolving this problem is the greatest challenge for Noh actors and supporters, because here the integrity of Noh’s tradition is challenged.  What may be changed and what must remain the same to preserve the tradition?  I cannot resolve this problem simply nor alone, but perhaps exchanges with avante guarde artists like Jan Fabre and productions like Orgy of Tolerance might provide appropriate inspiration.  For now, I can only brainstorm and daydream, for few actors and supporters seem to look beyond Noh itself for its meaning.

One thought on “Orgy of Tolerance

  1. The performance sounds like it was quite amazing. I wish I could have seen it with you. As always, your post is fascinating and thought-provoking. I always learn something about the role of Noh in your life and the meaning of Noh in Japanese culture (past and present). However, I must disagree with you in two major points — or rather than disagree, I think your argument deserves more nuance.

    That logic came to power in the twentieth century is as much true as it is false. I think that type of statement continues to pursue modernism as a period of “high” art and not pay attention to daily life. Bauhaus did not create rationalist housing alone. It created buildings with attention to community and had a utopian goal (at least at some points in its history) of bringing art to all levels of society. Rational means were used to go about achieving this goal, yes. But in actuality there was a lot of nuance in the movement. Also, I think some (post-)modern thinkers have explored the dimensions of the daily as well as the costs of early twentieth century attempts (and I say attempts because I don’t believe they succeeded into our time) to place logic above all else. Some have also shown that logic is not a part of our culture at the expense of art.

    I also disagree with your twofold definition of art (again a very modern definition, I think) and argue that art should point out our weaknesses perhaps, and in some cases, it should nurture emotion, but both of these are as lofty as they are dangerous. Fascist art focused on weakness and emotion in the creation of art in its depictions of leaders who could “save us” from our weaknesses and provide us with a feeling of strength and honor. Art, in my opinion, has an ethical and moral role to play. This role is not simply fulfilled and exactly how it does this without allowing us to reify emotion is something that I continue to struggle with formulating.

    Anyway, I would love to continue to discuss this with you. I read your post and was so thoroughly overwhelmed by the similarities of your concept of culture to Broch’s — partly because it is his concept of modernism with which I am spending so much of my time these days.

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