Looking near the edges

News as interpreted and presented by main stream (including web-based) media tends toward the immediate, the garish, the confrontational. Accuracy and relevance be damned, it’s visceral appeal which builds ratings.

Not to mention literacy, grace, and art.

Still, if you look near the edges, listen at the interstices, you may find stories which enlighten more than they confuse. That is not to say they are cheery, mindless, unaware. They are, in fact, even more realistic, more mindful, more aware than most of the dreck you have to slog through on any channel, at any major web site. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few days.

A long interview with Khaled Hosseini, whose 2003 novel The Kite Runner was made into a successful film. His newest novel, Splendid Suns, is also set in his native Afghanistan. A Mother Jones interviewer asked him how long — if the fighting ended right now — how long would it take for society to flourish again in his homeland.

I would think a generation or two. Virtually every institution of some meaning was destroyed. The fabric of that society was torn. We have millions of people who became uprooted. You have an entire generation who know nothing but warfare and suffering. So it would take a long time for this to turn around. In The Kite Runner, the first 100 pages or so speak about Afghanistan prior to the Soviet war, which many Afghans now view as the golden era.

My own interest in theatre as theatre, and not simply as a branch of literature, began, I think, when I read Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Can you really do stuff like that on stage, I wondered. You can. Or Stoppard can, anyway. I’ve never seen Arcadia, his major work, but it’s at the top of my list of productions to watch for and get to whenever possible. There’s an extended commentary on Arcadia at The Independent, from which this brief excerpt.

The stale cliché about Stoppard – and about this genre – is that he is a brilliant manipulator of ideas, but with no heart. Yet here – at the core of his best play – is the greatest love story on the British stage for decades. Yes, the characters bond over ideas – but some of the most interesting people in life do just that.

That would be enough to make Arcadia a masterpiece – but it is even more than that. The play stirs the most basic and profound questions humans can ask. How should we live with the knowledge that extinction is certain – not just of ourselves, but of our species?

And one of the stale clichés from adventure novels, going back to the era when Arcadia begins, is the white explorer who becomes a hero or a god among African natives. It’s always a god, of course, never a goddess, because who could imagine a woman doing that sort of thing? Well, one woman could. It was Suzanne Wenger, who

left her native Austria as a young woman and found her place among the Yoruba of Nigeria. Dubbed “the white priestess of black magic” by the international media, Wenger rose from novice seeker to high priestess of Osun, the spirit-goddess of the waters of life, who represents love and maternity in Yoruba mythology.

All right, I’ll admit it. Two quite different men gave speeches yesterday, from quite different backgrounds and perspectives, but on the same subject. As is usually the case, the most trenchant commentary, and the most useful coverage, was provided by Jon Stewart. Take a look.


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