One of the many things I gained from living and working in Germany is to think about one thing thousand times from all possible angles before I can probably put it to rest. Surely there are many reasons for this. For one thing, my countless encounters with German intellectuals, who get their points across without any unnecessary extra words, make me unconsciously chew my sentence three times before I even open my mouth. For another, do you know that our personality actually shifts every time we speak a different language? Now imagine this, your brain has a thought in German, which got examined in English (What did I tell you about that unconscious self-consciousness?), and then in Mandarin (I can’t help it!), until your thought got so torn from these three that you are not sure whether the thought you wanted to express is really the thought YOU (which one?) have. Before I got all these inner monologues figured out, everybody has long gone home. But today, after attending a symposium about Fassbinder, I am so inspired by his straightforwardness that I promised myself to write this blog post in thirty minutes, instead of „thirty hours“.
I was struck by the title of the Symposium “The Private is Political.” It reminded me of my own statement about political theater for International Forum in 2007, of which the theme was “Political Theater Today”. Here is an excerpt:
„Wenn das Theater überleben will, dann müsste es sich mehr mit dem Leben beschäftigen und weniger mit dem Theater,“ sagte George Tabori. Wenn die Beschäftigung mit dem Leben der Inhalt ist, soll das Theater als Form dienen, um diesen Inhalt darzustellen.
Das politische im Theater ist auch eine Darstellung des menschlichen Zusammenlebens. Aber der Inhalt geht noch darüber hinaus: es geht nämlich um den Menschen an sich. Und das ist was mich an Theater interessiert und was mir im heutigen Theater auch am politischsten erscheint. Denn wenn es gelingt, dass der Mensch gesehen wird, wird auch die Gesellschaft in ihrem jeweiligen Zeitbezug zum Vorschein kommen. Bleibt der Mensch unsichtbar, sieht man nur Konzepte und Ideen, die dann auch einen Menschen zeigen- allerdings nur den Theatermacher.(2007, Chang Nai Wen on Political Theater)
Watching “Deutschland im Herbst,”(“Germany in Autumn”) at Berliner Festspiele today, I saw a 32-year old West German young man in 1977, on the one hand, paranoid about the possibility that an individual could be at disposal of a higher power such as the State and distressed and enraged by the powerlessness and hopelessness of an individual trapped in a society. On the other, his unceasing battle for clarity, truth and individuality makes him the biggest enemy of his own, narcissistic, ego-centric, unable to love others rather than his suffering self. Fassbinder’s contribution in the film is absolutely private and definitely political.
“Deutschland im Herbst” was composed of episodes contributed by 11 directors, who tried to make sense of what was going on in West Germany then: It was 1977. After three members of the Red Army Fraction (RAF)-terrorists committed suicide at the Stammheim prison near Stuttgart, the RAF murdered the German industrial leader Hans Martin Schleyer, who they originally kidnapped to force the West German government to release their members. What Fassbinder was trying to figure out through his constant heated discussion with his mom was not only what happened in 1977 but what happened at all after the war. He belonged to the post-war generation whose efforts to get some answers in regards to the Second World War from their parents and great parents are mostly in vain. Even though the murder of Schleyer seemed to put an end to the “German Autumn”, the past is still not past. Obviously neither silence about the war nor violence against the continuation of a fascist state proved to be the solution. What about democracy? But what is democracy? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?
It was sometimes hard to watch how brutal he was with his lover and his mother. But then it was liberating to experience such honest emotions, especially in the German context. It was sometimes hard to take in all his in-your-face fragility and despair but then I have to admire his courage to put himself out there, completely naked, literally and figuratively. For it is not only the portrait of one’s suffering but one’s ability to look at one’s own existence critically as an artist that make one’s self-portrait a public discourse about a nation in need of some honest and thorough self-examination.