February 14, 2011

Modern Times

The man visited the Neue Nationalgalerie near Potsdamer Platz  in order to look over the Moderne Zeiten exhibition. He could never quite reconcile himself to the abdication of morality among certain modernists. Art that gave itself to mere daubs and splatterings seemed to him an insult to painting. The pursuit of pure form, of messages surreal, abstract or non-existent, seemed to him pompous and puerile. But the man was drawn to new objectivity – to the confrontation of those parts of the human most joyous, most erotic, most grotesque in candid representation. He went expecting a heavy dose of the latter element.

He argued with his companion over the meaning of Lotte Laserstein’s Abend über Potsdam (1930): whether the men bored and ignored their women, or if they fought over them in that faux-relaxed intellectual manner that attempts to prevail without ever coming to violence. In either case, the feast is meagre, the mood depressively alcoholic, the outlook grey with pending gloom. If this was a last supper, it was not a prequel to an apotheosis, but a repast before a fall: sin and daggers cum panis. The man, shocked by this portrayal of masculine shortcomings, walked away trying to shake of his admiration of the portrayal of their clothes, to which he was compulsively drawn. There is more to civilisation than dressing, he considered.

In the next room, a crowd of people stood laughing. The man joined them and began to laugh too. They watched Charlie Chaplin, at his beautiful best, in Modern Times. Across languages and cultures people came together to laugh at the master who has never been approached in comedic cinema. His performance transcends time. And so does his critique. The man ceased to laugh and looked again. So many muscular men; so many hard workers. But the machine enslaves them, and makes men subject to unworthy men, who hold power in capital, but who occupy themselves in effete activities, engaging with reality through jigsaws that cannot be put together. The weakling is put on a par with the strapping chap; the function of biology put in rhythm with the machine. Woman is reconceived as mere nuts and bolts, to be tightened compulsively and without any notion of humanity. Modern Times was emasculation in extremis.

The man moved on, searching for an image of a man to which he could hold. He could not find one.

1 comment:

  1. What great resonance, in your prose, doctor. You start with that apprehensive juxtaposition of joy, eroticism, and grotesqueness - which only fit in comedy - and then you end with comedy. But Chaplin was neither erotic nor grotesque, so you seem to have bought your joy at quite a price; after all, as you suggest, Chaplin was a stranger to speech...


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