Blogging at Columbus Circle: Candide’s Flawed Assault on Hope

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Columbus Circle TWN.jpg
I’ve been blogging and reading this morning at Columbus Circle in New York — and a TWN reader said hi to me at 7 a.m. there. It’s become a strange thing to run into people in parks, on the street, on planes who read this blog. I love it, but it’s still unusual.
I keep wondering whether the next person who says hello will be POA.
I saw Candide at the New York City Opera last night. Fun, but not what I expected.
The performances of Richard Kind as Voltaire/Dr. Pangloss, Lauren Worsham as Cunegonde, and Daniel Reichard as Candide were fantastic. The voice work that Worsham and Reichard managed was the most memorable thing for me in this weird musical which is supposed to be an assault on naive hope.
Given my own tilt towards realism generally, I thought I’d gravitate to the show’s themes, but Leonard Bernstein who apparently fought with Lillian Hellman and others during a tug-of-war creative process that birthed Candide prevailed in creating a too frilly, unsubtle satire of optimism. I would have done it differently and would have made allusions to today’s great political challenge: semi-realist experience that produce the wrong decisions vs. powerful currents of hope and an alternative vision that could be all talk and no walk.


There were two hooded victims who were, in the production, manhandled and ultimately done away with. This was an effort to remind of Abu Ghraib in the context of the Spanish Inquisition. I don’t think it worked.
I really wanted to get up there and re-do this production myself — but I get the sense from reading about it in the playbook that lots of far more creative people felt that same way in many stages of this show’s development.
But while the production itself was flawed, the performances and singing were excellent.
I love New York. It’s Hollywood and DC sort of merged. Walking on the street yesterday, I ran into my friends Jennifer Chun and her sister Angela Chun — who together are one of the great violin duos. In case you are interested, the latest CD of Jennifer and Angela Chun is here, and that’s what I’m listening to in my GMC Sonoma Truck right now.
I also saw Jack Wetherall yesterday on the street. Didn’t speak to him — but he’s an actor I admire.
I rarely comment on culture given my general cultural illiteracy — but sitting around all of these fountains moved me to do it — as well as my frustration with Leonard Bernstein, who made an acquaintance of mine happy for life for kissing him at a party long ago at Harvard, but who was perhaps the wrong guy to interpret the nuances of realism.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

23 comments on “Blogging at Columbus Circle: Candide’s Flawed Assault on Hope

  1. David Irwin says:

    What a field day Voltaire would have had with this bunch of
    religious hypocrites who pumped up the public for this war.

    Reply

  2. DonS says:

    Listening to “To The Point” on radio driving home this evening, the topic was the Middle East and the recent Obama-Clinton ‘debate’, with surrogates Ann Lewis for Hillary and ex-AIPAC guy Mel Levine for Obama.
    Host Warren Olney (sic) prodded them about which one had, essentially, split more hairs than the other. They each recited their principals major sound bites, with Lewis sounding a bit more defensive, e.g., stating, oh no, Hillary did not mean to imply by threatening “massive retaliation” on Iran for an attack on Israel or any other state under our umbrellas of good guys, that she was implying use of nuclear weapons.
    Levine, for his part, said Obama was being “presidential” in saying there would be an “appropriate response” for any attack on Israel, our closest ally in the region.
    So, both of the candidate’s surrogates have, blithely and apparently proudly, thrown around assurances of their respective candidates intentions to come to the defense of Israel in the case of attack. In one case, with massive retaliation. In the other case with an, clearly implied, appropriate military response.
    In both cases there is the assumption of apparent impunity in suggesting inevitable U.S. military response, even in the absence of any formal treaty arrangements with Israel (much less any other ME states under some fictitious U.S. umbrella). This is the sort of reckless promised military force by the U.S. that used to be avoided up until now. At best, it was previously an implied threat but we all knew there was no such defense pact in place. Now, by these current Senators, who should know better, assurances are given regardless of the legal niceties and the absence of any formal treaty.
    Finally, Warren Olney failed to ascertain, or even ask, if the “attack” on Israel that would trigger these responses by the candidates/Presidents (varying only in their intensity but not their certainty), would be occasioned by a – shall we say ‘unilateral’ attack on Israel by Iran – or would a U.S. attack be similarly unleashed on Iran in response to a provocation from an Israeli attack.
    Where are the media that will address this shameful bastardization of American foreign policy and foreign policy law and principle?
    Details. Shame on them all.

    Reply

  3. rich says:

    Rich:
    “Any warhawk or profiteer who thinks they’re fooling anyone is massively deluded”
    POA: “I heartily disagree. They are fooling HUGE numbers of Americans . . ”
    POA,
    Competitive nihilism is a fool’s game because it’s not possible for you to believe in More Nothing than the cynic sitting next to you, holding the same rhetorical trump card. Absolute rejectionism is just silly. The question isn’t how Impure EVeryone is, but whaddya gonna do about it?
    Your response doesn’t dispute my point in any way, so I’ll rephrase. More Americans are NOT fooled by the active propoganda campaigns of these heavily compromised ex-generals, and NOT fooled by fact-free shills like Frederick Kagan, than at any point in American history.
    The story here (whether explicitly covered or not) is the massive failure of the Bush-corporate media propoganda campaign.
    They’ve gone to great lengths to lie, cheat, steal and propogandize—and they’ve been exposed every step of the way. That unraveling has accelerated.
    Sure, SOME cling to what they’re told, fearing discomfort and the ugly truth. Others are true believers. But that doesn’t negate my point.
    The scale and breadth of ordinary Americans who saw through the manufactured intel, PR lies, and Frank Luntz’s tortured rhetoric—is both reassuring and staggering.
    Despite Bush’s best efforts to force false info and bad news through the pipeline with a big fat happy face plastered on it, people aren’t buying. Their numbers far exceed those objecting to and contradicting the official line during the Vietnam War. Low approval levels bear that out.
    Ineffectual ‘gotchas’ in Pennsylvania are just the latest shoe to drop. The ‘bitter’ smear didn’t send Sen. Obama’s numbers into a tailspin, despite the media’s best efforts to repeat that ‘gaffe’ ad nauseum.
    Why? First, older white men in Pennsylvania, so beloved for being easily manipulated, are proving alert, media-savvy and not easily manipulated. Second, they’re bitter. Live in a post-industrial town in Michigan or Pennsylvania, post-NAFTA, and try to ignore what the Best and the Brightest have done to the economic engine of America’s Heartland.
    That’s why you saw interview after interview of older white guys saying flat-out they got what Obama was saying, and didn’t mind he said it badly. Culture is persistent. It outlasts recession and dot.com bubbles, war and peace, misguided Presidents and remarkably ill-advised Supreme Court decisions.
    None of which means they’ll vote Obama.
    Second example: Cheney’s hunting ‘gaffe’ cost him the respect/support of the hook-&-bullet crowd in the Upper Midwest, mostly rural and blue-collar, conservative Dems and Repubs alike.
    They knew instantly he was no sportsman, had nothing in common with him, transparently lied about the escapade–
    (NOte: Steve posted awhile back that an insider viewed the VP’s PR as a huge success. That is NOT the case. It was a catastrophe in a highly prized demographic–with Republican hunters flooding WPR to condemn Cheney.)
    –and was incompetent to boot.
    George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson’s massive failure to actively replace substantive issues with a coordinated tabloid-level hit on Obama—to prolong the faux gaffe and drag out the manufactured gotcha—also failed miserably.
    Point is, Obama can’t screeech about accountability while he’s appealing to the middle of the electorate, b/c he’s not a prosecutor. And b/c he wants to win. He made the case that he has the temperament, leadership, judgement and policies to be President.
    (Love that turn of phrase. the MSM repeatd that after every lie-filled speech Bush gave, pre-war: “So there you have it,” intoned Charlie Gibson, the President made his case for war with Iraq,” implying incorrectly that Bush has sucCESsfully made his case.)
    But if you listen closely to Obama’s words–he uses tempered, measured language to state he’d pursue accountability on torture. Those looking for a Dean Scream moment or Bush’s rhetorical lynching will miss or overlook his actual words/ direct language.
    Agreed that Pelosi and the Democratic bulls need to demand accountability more loudly–instead of handing over another $178 Billion blank check. The Democratic nominee will need a staunch flank, and w/o that, they won’t have it.

    Reply

  4. pauline says:

    POA wrote:
    “In the nation that we purport ourselves to be, this NYTs expose’ would be HUGE news, but I assure you we will get nary a peep about it from Obama, Hillary, or McCain.”
    Have the miltary analysts mentioned in the NYT article taken these three on a booze chugging, pizza gobbling outing, or is that not even necessary?
    As it has already been told on late nite TV, McShufflingcane already has settled on “Old Grand-Dad”, Barry’s now downing “elitist Manahattans with extra bitters” and of course, HRC is downing “Old Crow” straight up!

    Reply

  5. arthurdecco says:

    http://www.warisaracket.com/
    Major General Smedley D. Butler’s timeless critique of the real reasons we go to war and how we’re manipulated into it.

    Reply

  6. JohnH says:

    Hey guys, don’t expect Steve to comment on yesterday’s NYT article. By and large official Washington can’t wait to bury it.
    As the old saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

    Reply

  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Any warhawk or profiteer who thinks they’re fooling anyone is massively deluded”
    I heartily disagree. They are fooling HUGE numbers of Americans, and they are doing so because of the active complicity of these pieces of shit masquerading as Democratic leaders. There has been virtually NO opposition launched by these two effin’ cowards Hillary or Obama.
    The candidate I want to elect would be standing in front of the American people loudly making ACCOUNTABILITY the issue of the day. But Hillary? Or this fraud Obama? Have you seen ANY such activism from either of these two? In the nation that we purport ourselves to be, this NYTs expose’ would be HUGE news, but I assure you we will get nary a peep about it from Obama, Hillary, or McCain.
    The Fourth Estate is dead, and these bastards helped execute it.
    (Thats a mighty shakey fence you’re teetering on, Steve. Sooner or later, its gonna throw you off, and your choice about which side you land on will be over)

    Reply

  8. rich says:

    Dirk,
    Turns out those generals weren’t just spinning the Beltway’s revolving door for all is worth, and weren’t just tightly & intimately tied to the military industrial complex.
    Several are charter members of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, and/or the Iran Policy Committee—which are closely aligned and heavily overlap with the Project for the New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute. McCain, Lieberman, Bernard Lewis, Richard Perle, Billy Kristol.
    The SAME cast of characters who pushed this war and occupation have been assigned to tell us, of late, just how well its really going.
    Note well: Spotting a shill on broadcast TV is like shooting fish in a barrel—ex-military or civilian. Throw on some civvies, whip off that tie, and suddenly you can be plausibly presented as an agenda-free, objective ‘analyst’? Get a load of the NYTs photos..
    Any warhawk or profiteer who thinks they’re fooling anyone is massively deluded. The NYTs article just drew a picture for those not aware of the mechanism of manipulation.
    3.5 seconds using ‘the Google’ by this poster confirmed just how tightly tied the military ‘analysts’ to a contrived push to war.–>
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/4/20/2114/37870/624/499734
    (for the record, I’m not a huge fan of dailykos, but mining the site for a few minutes yields some choice nuggets, if you’re willing to assess them yourself.)
    The link spells it out:
    1. Form a group like the PNAC, CLI, or IPC.
    2. Meet with the subcommittee run by the Congressmen who’re board members of your own group.
    3. Send the think-tankers and military guys (pre-war) to testify and go on talk shows to gin up the supposed threat (offering no evidence, mind you) and inflate fear.
    4. Swap out personalities once your front-men have exhausted all credibility (Frances Townshend, Fred-er-ick Kagan).
    5. Deploy your original players, in civvies, to pose as objective analysts.
    6. Rinse and repeat, spinning as fast as possible.
    Obvious corollary–> ABC, PBS (Jim Lehrer), NBC, etc., are active players in running this process. Not passive observers or neutral conduits.
    Bush’s Iraq Escalation was made viable by this process, by working these interlocking levers, and by the willingness of people in those positions to be worked.

    Reply

  9. DonS says:

    Condi manages to put American soldiers at greater risk by insulting Sadr while, at the same time, opining that democratic states don’t need a second amendment. What a disgrace and disaster.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20080420/wl_mcclatchy/2915454
    The wife and I just couldn’t complete watching the stupidity of war — even a non pre-emtive one — portrayed on PBS last night The foolishness and danger of zealotry through the personage of Rudyard Kipling.
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/myboyjack/kipling.html
    We are led by the stupid and craven people.

    Reply

  10. Dirk says:

    Steve,
    By now you’ve seen the article in the NYT on the DoD’s use of generals to not only sell the war but buck up support at various junctures. I wonder if you still feel that the country is yearning for a general to take political control of the executive branch, presumably this Petreus guy, in ’12?
    I have to say, for my part, I’m not in the least bit convinced. There was initial respect for Petreus when he changed to much more effective tactics in Iraq, but his cagey endorsements of GOP talking points in congressional hearings have left me cold.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/washington/20generals.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

    Reply

  11. George Stephenopoulos says:

    Doesn’t emphasizing hope instead of fear undermine the war effort?

    Reply

  12. David says:

    I forgot to add that I’m jealous as hell that you are there and saw that production, and I’m not and didn’t.

    Reply

  13. David says:

    “But aren’t it all sham?”
    Billy in the Darbies
    Ever since I first encountered that question at the end of BILLY BUDD, I have been unable to get more than a few successful growing seasons away from it before some new absurdity pulls it back to the front of my brain. And for the past seven years, I have been unable to get as much as 24 hours away from it. I try. I swear to God I try. And I have great admiration for people of Steve Clemons’ intellect and by god determination in the face of the madness. When I first read CANDIDE as an undergraduate, it struck me as a compelling reminder of the reality/Pollyanna divide, of course, and I took the conclusion as being tongue-in-cheek, but intentionally ambiguously so, in part, I guess, because of the hopeless hopefulness of that admonition, unless indeed we are just accidents put here simply because we are put here, and there really is no point in taking on the larger world or its vagaries or injustices.
    An earthquake we can’t do jack shit about, except that now we have some slight ability to forecast them, I gather, and we can certainly aid the victims. But now we have this whole new phenomenon of being able to exacerbate natural catastrophes, along with the technological ability to instantly render our existence here ended.
    Perhaps CANDIDE is more of a first-rate self-help book in its perplexing take on the human condition. But isn’t the greatest literature just that – intriguing artistic posing of questions, not answers? Meanwhile, of course, we’d better come up with some answers to how to extract the United States and the rest of the world from the debacle Bush/Cheney et. al. have visited upon us. I say start with a genuine sense of possibility, of hope, and then use knowledge, brainpower, and the ability to absorb and assimilate respect-worthy analyses and then make the best, most insightful decisions possible. And I also say that if we go retro and/or follow the “conventional wisdom” that plagues Washington’s elites, we are screwed.
    Oh, and thanks again, Steve Clemons, for being an honest link to those people and what they think, but at the same time an independent-minded “policy wonk,” or whatever the current pejorative beloved of the mainline opinionmakers and their mentally lazy suck-ups in the press is.
    And also thank god for people like Robin Wright.

    Reply

  14. Linda says:

    I’d just read POA’s interesting post about the Mexican gardener in SoCal on the previous thread before reading this one about “Candide” and could only think of the closing song and ending of the musical, “Make Our Garden Grow.” Voltaire has the last word about living happily ever after:
    CANDIDE
    You’ve been a fool
    And so have I,
    But come and be my wife.
    And let us try,
    Before we die,
    To make some sense of life.
    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow…
    And make our garden grow.
    CUNEGONDE
    I thought the world
    Was sugar cake
    For so our master said.
    But, now I’ll teach
    My hands to bake
    Our loaf of daily bread.
    CANDIDE AND CUNEGONDE
    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow…
    And make our garden grow.
    (ensemble enters in gardening gear and a cow walks on)
    CANDIDE, CUNEGONDE, MAXIMILLIAN, PAQUETTE, OLD LADY, DR. PANGLOSS
    Let dreamers dream
    What worlds they please
    Those Edens can’t be found.
    The sweetest flowers,
    The fairest trees
    Are grown in solid ground.
    ENSEMBLE (a cappella)
    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow.
    And make our garden grow!
    (The cow dies)
    VOLTAIRE
    Ah, me! The pox!

    Reply

  15. questions says:

    Horrible typo above…apologies. I never see them til they’re too late. And Rich, the Scott book is wonderful!

    Reply

  16. Linda says:

    Steve,
    I’d just read POA interesting post about the Mexican gardener in SoCal on the previous thread before reading this one about “Candide” and could only thing of the closing song and ending of the musical, “Make Our Garden Grow” where Voltaire has the last word about living happily ever after:
    CANDIDE
    You’ve been a fool
    And so have I,
    But come and be my wife.
    And let us try,
    Before we die,
    To make some sense of life.
    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow…
    And make our garden grow.
    CUNEGONDE
    I thought the world
    Was sugar cake
    For so our master said.
    But, now I’ll teach
    My hands to bake
    Our loaf of daily bread.
    CANDIDE AND CUNEGONDE
    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow…
    And make our garden grow.
    (ensemble enters in gardening gear and a cow walks on)
    CANDIDE, CUNEGONDE, MAXIMILLIAN, PAQUETTE, OLD LADY, DR. PANGLOSS
    Let dreamers dream
    What worlds they please
    Those Edens can’t be found.
    The sweetest flowers,
    The fairest trees
    Are grown in solid ground.
    ENSEMBLE (a cappella)
    We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood
    And make our garden grow.
    And make our garden grow!
    (The cow dies)
    VOLTAIRE
    Ah, me! The pox!

    Reply

  17. rich says:

    Maybe adapting Candide is like trying to administer a modern nation-state. The principles are the same, but the cultural and technological circumstances have changed.
    The need for artistic control demanded by “Leonard Bernstein . . . Hellman and others” whose egos clashed “during a tug-of-war creative process” (to produce “a too frilly, unsubtle satire of optimism”) was the problem.
    Geniuses and divas invested in their own unitary aesthetic ambition aren’t going to re-kindle the essence of Candide, nor be able to strike a balance between realism and vision that offers any contemporary relevance.
    Since imposing one’s will and talent to master or capture Can-dide didn’t work, maybe a little Can-do spirit could.
    An artistic practice with some humility and collaborative give-and-take could engage the piece and our current circumstances from a position both plainer and more authentically grounded in the American cultural fabric. Might’ve breathed a little life into the production.
    It’s the difference between the Dead Letter and the Living Word. You need to be responsive to the fine-grained details of any text or work fo Art.
    Or neighborhood. Or nation-state. Le Corbusier’s top-down modernism killed whole cities, eliminating the economic efficiencies, vibrant cultural froth and social cohesion that all occur at street level.
    And as James Scott makes clear in Seeing Like a State, any King or bureaucrat that simplifies their metric for exerting power, but fails account for and retain crucial aspects of the on-the-ground reality, incurs great cost and radically destabilizes their own administrative control.
    It’s all in the approach.
    Sure, I’m a Eugene O’Neill fan. And interpersonal politics in the theater is just as messy as it is at the local and state levels.
    But it is through good-faith engagement with a messy creative process, with the unending competing minutiae of domestic policy—and with the “unacceptable” demands of bogeymen on the international stage—that artifice becomes art, workable policies stumbled over, and political common ground identified.
    In any production, that is, that doesn’t prompt much wincing among those required to receive it.

    Reply

  18. Rudin's butler says:

    Yeah Steve, there’s only you could rewrite Voltaire.

    Reply

  19. JohnH says:

    A new book for you to read while you sip tea at Columbus Circle. Sounds right up your alley: “Re-engage! America and the World After Bush” by Helena Cobban. http://www.re-engage.net/
    I haven’t read the book, but from what I have read of Cobban, it should be required reading for everyone in the foreign policy/national security establishment. Cobban is advocating nothing less than a change in the traditional beltway mindset, away from domination towards mutual respect and cooperation.

    Reply

  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Hello.

    Reply

  21. questions says:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/terrall04172008.html
    Hi, Steve,
    Only partially unrelated link to a piece on Haiti — a disaster on every level.
    Any thoughts?
    (And thanks for the compliment on my barely remembered reading of Votaire in actual French!!)

    Reply

  22. Steve Clemons says:

    In fact, the themes of disaster juxtaposed against hope for a better world or better circumstances were the poles in this show. “questions” — your review of Voltaire is far better than mine…thanks.
    best, steve

    Reply

  23. questions says:

    As I recall from French class a couple of decades ago, the Voltaire ends with “Il faut cultiver notre jardin” — but how does one remain private, minding one’s own business for very long? A lot of texts and sayings deal with this issue of staying local, being charitable at home, letting things be. Eventually, however, we all end up needing to do more because no one is an island. (Amazing how you can just line up cliches and seem to have a dialogue!) I think what there really is, is a (metaphorical)pendulum swinging back and forth. What motivated Voltaire originally, as I recall, was the earthquake in Lisbon. A lot of innocent people suffered and died and so, clearly, there is no way to say this world is a good world. At the same time, there is no way to avoid involvement in trying to make the world better despite the misery. It’s enough to make a person feel bitter! Or get hope and then see “natural” disasters and get frustrated again. If there’s any insight that might have changed Voltaire’s conclusion, it’s that there’s no such thing as a NATURAL disaster. Progressive distribution of resources would go a long way towards alleviating misery and might help make this be best possibility in the best of possible worlds.

    Reply

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