Brian Hughes Kasoro
The Hallway is an interesting art exhibit by [Miranda July] that (to me) seems to sum up the western [existential dilemma] in a nutshell. I also saw Spike Lee's "Passing Strange" recently and it made me think about many of these same topics. I've noticed that many of these conversations discuss this "existential dilemma" in the context of the individual on this linear road into a dark unknown future. That seems problematic to me. We. Must. Es-cape. This. lol. What also seems problematic to me though, is to try and escape an individualistic existential dilemma with more individualism.
Speaking of that hallway, my homegirl got me tickets to see Mark "Stew" Stewart and Spike Lee's "Passing Strange" at the IFC Film Center. A hit Broadway musical, Spike Lee was tapped to produce and direct a film-capture version of the play for (poorer) movie theatre audiences (and, perhaps, longevity's sake). The title "Passing Strange" comes from Shakespeare's 1603 play "Othello, the Moor of Venice". In the play, Othello famously says:
"My story being done/ She gave me for my pains a world of sighs/ She swore, in faith 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange/ 'Twas pitiful. 'twas wondrous pitiful/ She wish'd she had not heard it, yet she wish'd/ That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me,/ And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,/ I should but teach him how to tell my story,/ And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:/ She loved me for the dangers I had passed,/ And I loved her, that she did pity them."
-Othello, the Moor of Venice, act 1, scene 3, lines 158–163
A quite depressing tale of a black man in a white man's dilemma, with a white woman as the love of his life, when I read this in high school it never felt relevant to me. Obviously, to Mark "Stew" Stewart it was highly relevant, because this play is loosely based on him. Except, perfectly non-coincidentally, the race element is muted by the fact that all the actors have black skin -- even the women the main character encounters in Amsterdam and Germany. Post-black, indeed; I guess. The story was moving though and I actually found myself tearing up toward the end; until I thought about all the ways that this long depressing journey isn't about me. What I came in thinking was a story about black folks, and therefore relevant and perhaps instructional for me, ended up a story about a man, "passing as black", who has purchased in full the dilemma of this solitary "hallway", as all his own. Does he become depressed? Or does he simplify it to the point of amusement? Probably not ironically, it's like a musical rendition of America's path to electing a black president, a long time late, to lead itself out of it's own "manifest destiny". And we continue to wonder why Americans are so angry and confused.
Aside from merely enjoying it on a superficial level (say, how I might watch "The Office" on NBC now and then), the only lesson I can take away from this film is to remember to not get so caught up in the complexities of this existentialist "woe is me-ism", that I no longer realize that this "question" ought to be irrelevant to me in the first place. This character's journey takes place in a reality that has enslaved him, and he thinks he can escape it by exploring it further as an individual "pioneer" within it. But choosing to be a pioneer within a reality enslaving you seems to be an acceptance of your enslavement.
Like "The Hallway", what seems problematic to me in all of this mind-fuc*ery, is that the best answer some folks have is to continue trying to escape an individualistic existential dilemma with more individualist pioneering. Where is the conversation with the past? How lost is this character? How blind, that he never once in the play stops to look back, or even to his left or right to really connect with who is with him on this journey? Even if he did choose to try and pioneer, why the solitude? Aside from his ghostly mother whispering, from within his own subconscious, to him from half way across the world (reminiscent of white kids backpacking through Europe as college graduation gifts), not once do we see him pick up a book, or stop to ask genuine advice of someone more remembering of the past than him. And at no point in the second act is this failure even suggested as a mistake to be avoided. No lessons here from the cyclical nature of time, just linear pushing on. "Do you", seems to be the message, because in the end every choice you made is "alright"; after all, it's the only choice you could have made. And so, admittedly, I was tearing up towards the end of this sad story. Feeling sorry for the character and wondering if my life too would end up as this elementary choice of perception. But then I choked up them tears that were welling up in a sympathetic connection to this poor boy's story, because something felt strange -- this doesn't feel right to me. This doesn't seem instructional, this wallowing, this swallowing and suppressing, this pioneering arrogance. It all seems so childish. And I want to grow up so bad. I don't think it's that we are not to be individuals, or pioneers. But should we be defined totally as such? Yes, I am responsible for my own freedom. But it just seems wise and right to ask, who before me has been free?
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