Horror news out of Syria, ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan etc. and the world’s news media framing stories fitted into the various political and economic frameworks (eg: show only blood and violence, show only clebrating troops and liberated people, etc.), is saying something about our understanding of Power and Authority.
Having witnessed first-hand one of the twentieth century’s most contentious struggles — the dissolution of apartheid — William Kentridge brings the ambiguity and subtlety of personal experience to public subjects most often framed in narrowly defined terms.
Using film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, he transmutes sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. Aware of myriad ways in which we construct the world by looking, Kentridge often uses optical illusions to extend his drawings-in-time into three dimensions.
Kentridge says: “Can one find an art that is connected to politics, which relates to politics, but in which the same ambiguities and uncertainties that one find when describing the rest of the world, exist in a political sphere? And that’s not the norm in political art.
Mozart writes “Magic Flute” in 1791. Magic Flute looks at the enlightenment in Germany and it’s most optimistic moment when it looks as if the world is going to be subject to human agency, and rationality will prevail and human brotherhood will triumph.
In the opera the key character of Sarastro, embodies both rational benevolence and all power.
Mozart was writing the opera just around the time of the start of the french revolution, before the excesses of it had become clear, when it seemed possible to have a benevolent dictator, someone who could combine wisdom with authority, and wisdom with violence.
So there is a way in which one could to a colonial production of the whole opera. Which understands Sarastro, as the colonial overlord and the chorus as the colonial subject, and it goes a certain distance, but it there are many parts of the opera where that falls down.
But what is implicit in the opera is the whole question of the authority of Sarastro, and the certainty of the enlightenment.
What the history of the last 200 years has shown that the one thing that is completely toxic, the most toxic combination in the world, is the combination of certainty of being right and an monopoly of power. Wether it’s Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot, each of them have believed they’ve been Sarastros in their own way, they know what’s best for everyone, and the have the power to act accordingly.
And so the character of Sarastro is kind of this benevolent figure that hides amongst us. It’s not to say that the enlightenment project itself is necessarily false or doomed, but there are disasters that come through enlightenment.”