Monday, April 23, 2012


The acts of violence against innocents and the shear hatred that it encompasses is not in the past, as we remember the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah this past Wednesday and Thursday. It is with us today. The trial of  Anders Behring Breivik for the massacre of 77 people in 2011, mostly teens at a summer camp, that he executed in Utoya, Norway, shows us how pure unadulterated hate leads to a violence that is unimaginable by civilized people. 

The recent killings done by a madman in Toulouse, France when Mohammed Merah went on a rampage in March 2012, killing three paratroopers and seriously injuring a third. Then four days later Merah went to a Jewish school and slaughtered a 30-year old rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his children aged four and five, and another child, the daughter of the school's principal. The 7-year-old girl, Miriam Monsonego, died in her father's arms as medics tried to resuscitate her. Merah was described as chasing her and then holding her by the hair as he shot her at point blank range.

As I teach my classes this quarter on representations of the Holocaust in theatre and film we think about why things like this happen. We try to get "inside" the events that are being depicted on stage or on the screen and we examine how they represent what the Holocaust was about. We discuss the ongoing history of anti-Semitism and acts of violence that come from racism and prejudice that humanity perpetrates against the other. And as theatre people, we try to imagine. 

Yet our imaginations fall short. We have no thoughts that can truly picture it. So, even as we realize the paucity of our understanding, acts of violence against children and other innocent people still happen. The theatre of the real takes over and erases the theatre of the stage. This is not the same as so-called "Reality TV", with its superficial nonsense that wears us down when we watch and anesthetizes us. The theatre of the real is the performances of every moment that make us feel and think and shock us to what is important in life.

Today Elie Wiesel and Barak Obama met at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. They went to the memorial and spoke about the continued need to ferret out atrocity and intervene before it is too late. Wiesel spoke about how the Holocaust could have been prevented if nations had moved to stop it. Obama spoke about the new commission on atrocity and the sanctions against Syria and Iran. 

Are these acts enough? When will the violence of hatred end? As Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote today in the NYTimes in reference to the trial of Breivik, "Our task is to witness it, to allow the weight of reality to break through the picture and correct it. And never, never the reverse." This is the theatre of the real.

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