Monday, September 12, 2011

Broken Identity:

    ~ Pina Bausch and The Pulse Of The German Soul

‘Anything moved by hatred will endure’ 
 (Freire, 1921)

             When considering how societies are doing at integrating its waves of immigrants, what one first notices is the clash between the guest, who wrestles to become a new self in a foreign environment and the host, who struggles to preserve itself balancing cultural forces versus upheaval and change. In the human quest for peace in upgrading cultural heritages to new realities, both, immigrant and citizen pursue the same goal but at the pulse of their own distinctive cultural resources. 
Germany, that nowadays pairs with the heads of European leaders and that is today’s Euro Zone’s richest nation, hasn’t in fact grown at the same pace than its counterparts, neither its core was carved by the same chisel to expect to respond to global issues within current customs.

           As an effort towards social integration, liberal societies have introduced social plans such as bilingual education in elementary schools and ethnic studies at the third level. Unfavorable approaches regarding integration include repatriation, deportation, and denial. Germany, since it has systematically denied the social participation of its immigrants up to their third generation, like all liberal states that after the postwar period had failed in culturally assimilating its members, has now to tolerate the fragmented character of the multicultural transformation of its society.
       In spite of since the collapse of communism Germany has taken in more immigrants than any other country in Europe making it ‘the nearest thing Europe has to a melting pot’, multiculturalism is not about foreign affairs   but an exclusive debate of national identity (The Economist,  1994)
         As a result of the defeats of the two great wars and the National Socialism that paved the dark successes of the 20th century, a positive national identity became impossible in postwar Germany, and rejecting all external influences, citizens retreated to themselves. Immigrants of postwar Germany found an unavailable host too consumed by the urgency of working on a new awareness of self, sense of dignity, and hope towards launching a new place in the world to be concerned about them beyond basic commitments.
       But factors that account for the unreconstructed ethnic nationhood, in which the transformation of foreign migrants into German citizens remains unsolved, not only entail the notion of nationhood that has been discredited by Nazism, but a general consent that accepting and assimilating the foreign would mean to abandon the homogeneity of society as well   (Joppke, 1996).

           The blood-based (‘jus sanguinis’) society of citizens in which one cannot become a member unless of course, one already is one, in which European nations stand, had a defensive yet punitive origin in the very nest of the German identity. According to the political rhetoric, German identity primary corresponded to the cultivation of cultural values like education, freedom and enlightenment. By this standard German identity was available to any individual. But gone were those days when German identity had functioned as such an earned virtue; social closure began as a defense against both; stubbornness from Eastern Europe neighbors to become Germanized, and perceived aggressive tactics of foreign infiltration. In a time of increasing social and political mobilization, Germanness became less a mark of cultural achievement and more an essentialized form of identity to differentiate from 'others'. Calls for purification typically insisted on re-establishing endogamous national identity by ridding language and culture of so-called foreign elements to fight the "spreading plague of foreign words, to cleanse the German language of foreign influences, and to strengthen the general national consciousness of the German people." And nationalist writers made several claims to a kind of moral superiority, based on empirical evidence of German economic prosperity (Judson, 1993). 
         At the outbreak of revolts of the turning to the 19th century, western nations constituted themselves by intra-state revolutions, secularism, freedom, and equality, but distinctively, the German nation born from a succession of inter-state conflicts and from the negative features of resentment and closure; from the ‘us’ versus ‘them’, restricting migrant policy dividing the world into ‘Germans’ and ‘foreigners’.
          While multiculturalism is the attempt to break the ‘us’ versus ‘them’, in which Germans have traditionally defined themselves, the ‘völkish’ conception of nation as a community of ‘descent’ is an anachronistic conception towards European integration that both actual political parties left and right, unabashedly still share. 

         German’s society has been judged of being intolerant with foreigners, sunken in self-pity and tangled in ‘compulsive self-analysis’ more than once within the present political arena. A third generation of Turkish-German activist explains it: ‘The problem is simply that the German have not found a healthy national identity. They are torn back and forth between self-denial and a völkisch-German [blood based] identity. That makes it difficult for the ethnic immigrant groups… we Turks find it strange and can’t respect it if a German says that he doesn’t like being a German…   How can you identify with a nation that has a broken identity?’    (Joppke, 1996)

     First notions about narcissist personality report the ones developed by S. Freud who proposed two different concepts of narcissism 'the first identified with self-love, whereas the second presuppose a state of mind antecedent to any awareness of objects separate from the self. According to Ch. Lasch in his studies about narcissist societies, love is first a centrifugal motion impelled by an urgency toward others; this is an extraneous concept of love for the contemporaneous narcissist. In fact, the mythological Narcissus (meaning numbness) never took account of his lovers because he was so fond of his handsomeness that at attempting to kiss his own reflection on a water pond, he sunk in it and died. His sinking wasn't prompted by casualties but by a distortion of realities. Narcissus drowns in his own reflection, never understanding that it is a reflection. The point of the story is not that Narcissus fall in love with himself but, that he fails to recognize his own reflection; that he lacks any conception of the difference between himself and his surroundings’  (Lasch, 1978).

          Caused by historical factors, then, Germany may be judged for being extremely consumed about the purity of their blood and driven by self-love, but while knowing that art forms of a society are but the internal representations of a generation, an even closer study to German idiosyncrasy will tell us anything about self pride and vanity, but about a crying society consumed by self-hatred, intense pain, and exhaustion. 
          Film critic S. Kracauer, who focused in the mental processes crystallized on artworks, explains that art forms such as films, while conditioned by the particular stage in which the society is undergoing, reflect a nation's character;  'In the course of its history every nation develops dispositions which survive their primary causes and undergo a metamorphosis of their own. They cannot simply be inferred from current external factors, but, conversely, help determine reactions to such factors. We are all human beings, if sometimes in different ways. These collective dispositions gain momentum in cases of extreme political change. The dissolution of political systems results in the decomposition of psychological systems’   (Kracauer, 1947).
            Metropolis, the most expensive silent film ever made, was an idea conceived when from shipboard, film director F. Lang saw New York for the first time ‘a nocturnal New York glittering with myriad lights’. The film elaborates upon the rebellion of workers, (which are rather slaves of the system where the elderly works and machine is exalted over men) are misguided by a robot looking exactly like their spiritual muse Maria, that incites them to revel against the upper world, and ends with reconciliation. It shows the easiness in which the German is inclined to follow a cerebral elite (Judson, 1993).    
            Regarding inner and outer worlds of the postwar period he describes how millions of Germans seemed to have shut themselves off from a world determined by allied pressure, violent internal struggles and inflation. They acted as if under the influence of a terrific shock which upset normal relations between their outer and inner existence (…) while this mind neglected, or obstructed, 'it made an extreme effort to reconsider the foundations of the self, to adjust the self to the actual conditions of life.’ (Kracauer, 1947)
          When we observe the exposure of the German soul through history, we realize then it oftentimes crystallizes in macabre, sinister, morbid, insane, chaotic, riddlish and in ached forms.

       Pina Bausch, choreographer and former student of the Tanztheater, (theater which blends artistic and historical contexts of post-war Germany and whose works will be staged as a highlight of the Cultural Olympiad preceding the Olympic Games of 2012 in London), never reflected völkisch-love connotations. Instead, she used to compare herself to a migrating bird without any national identity. Through her works she questioned the roots of the welfare society by exposing the country’s Nazi past. ‘Her pieces usually did not follow a tightly scripted story or plot, but rather were composed of sketches, scenic montages, associations, and images (...) The agony of working through that painful legacy often took a more personalized form in the shape of expressing the cruelties of the gender struggle in Bausch’s earlier work’ (Stegmann, 2010). Since she was more concerned about what drives movements than the moves themselves, she sustained a divided audience because, as a critic explains, ‘her style is so antithetical to the trends in American dance’ (Tashiro, 1999). But what makes her remarkable is ‘her ability to decipher what people are revealing through their bodies’ (Win Wenders, 2009)
             Only Pina Bausch knew well the limitations of history and artworks to connect the men of our era with the feelings of painful facts of the miseries of war. Café Müller, one of her earliest and possibly the most biographical of her works, is, in effect, a neo-expressionist German dramatic dance about a recollection of childhood memories.
           Having grown up in a café inn run by her parents at the end of WWII, young Pina Bausch used to hide under tables to take refuge from conversations and encounters of customers and peasants of the post-war Germany. What she remembers then, are not words or detailed stories, but deep feelings of incurable sorrows and infinite loneliness caused by the inability of humans to make well-founded connections, despite of our great need for love. While a child she was unable to understand the adult world with a realistic perspective  but she did understand and could translate the codes of a surviving world pregnant with violence, and the intense sufferings of the human condition beyond words.

             There are no casual coincidences in Café Müller. What may be judged as disorganized improvisations are indeed, hard scrutinized and rehearsed works all building toward sensibilizing the calloused feelings of compassion of the contemporaneous spectator. In a single line; Café Müller portrays the inability of two lovers and a café owner to communicate. A fugitive paranoid, a personified ruler, a neutral assistant and an animated soul personified by Pina Bausch complement and add volume to the scene.
Pina Bausch, embodying fragile memories enduring in the coldness and darkness of the confinement of the human mind, remains lost, inoffensive, and undisturbed, until 'it's called to remember’. Her immaterial character is put in evidence from the opening scene when none of the characters acknowledge her presence and when she doesn't run into furniture,  although, she does bumps on walls since these are the merciless limits of her imprisonment and a determinant of her state. She, while barely sustains her own weight, will manipulate the characters from this place as a storyteller. The successes remembered have happened so long ago, that details of the facts seem to have been lost in time, (or that don’t matter at all) but the paths leading to its impressed feelings seem so familiar to her, that tell us that she recalls them frequently as being trapped in a  labyrinthic nightmare. In this way, what she remembers is the disarray in what the shop was left from the night before, and the futility of the busyness of the owner. 

            Irrupting the scene enters the woman. To Pina Bausch the woman represents in the first instance, love. A sensitive and imaginative creature, with luscious hair, exuberant and fertile body; a motherly love-type characterized by wild passions. Even so, she seems so gravely affected by internal sufferings, that lusterless, is unable to function, and self-consumed on her sores, blindly walks, articulates and dismays bumping on chairs, walls and people around. The material world is but a source of distress and obstacle for her untamed expression form. Worn out and sick of her pain, her clothes, that uses just to cover her nudity (this is, not as a social instrument) are an obligation and a nuisance for her, thus oftentimes she'll simply get rid of them. She has eyes, still are useless since her life is driven by emotions, not by sight. There is an assistant (Pina Bausch’s real partner at the time) who knocks chairs and tables down at clearing her way, causing noise, disturbance, violence, and discomfort in the audience.  
            Eventually, the woman meets a man who comforts her. Their love relationship will be promptly regulated by the ruler (click on the blue words to see this scene) who is quick to instruct them in appropriate 'socially acceptable' behaviors. Choreographer Pina Bausch represents social norms with a tiresome and grieved male figure that imposes the collective canon with the strength of dedication, patience, and discipline until stubbornness persists. Its major weight and force is innate in its sole presence. Unfortunately, these same social norms that once have been detailed confectioned by men with the sole purpose of enhance and serve him in a well-designed, and man-shaped society, are now not only foreign and unfit, but so structured, inadequate, and inert that they reduce the couple’s love's flames unfailingly to ashes. The lovers' personal inner conflicts impede them to generate new routes to accomplish their desires or even to acknowledge the other's needs. 
         The man in spite of his disarticulated, mined with cramps, blackouts, runaways , paralyzed and mystifying discourse, is still the richest and noblest of all representations on stage. At the same time, he is the most heartbreaking and shattered character; the most conscious, tormented, and mortified by his fate. He passionately desires norms to shape his life in society, in spite of that the rigidity of the available order is unfit to satisfy his actual needs; he has a vast raw unnamed passions that burn inside of him. In addition, he is capable to be loyal to a distressing love, despite of the café owner’s seduction, and his considerable need for love. According to Pina Bausch, he is also the most honest and genuine of all characters because, besides of being able to acknowledge his own internal struggles, he recognizes the need of others, and the existence of a superior being outside of himself as well. For his efforts of intensive reaching out, he seems to be the only one with chances of, one day, getting out of the trap of the self in which got all tangled. 
He makes continuous references to the woman although, she's not his exclusive concern, since the center of his monologue seems to be placed rather on pleading for forgiveness at stressing his discourse around the phrase 'Forget my Fate', in which he reaches momentum. He exalts the woman, still he’s been stepped by her while she let herself be blindly managed by the norms. While Germany sustains an egalitarian society, violence surrounds the man anywhere he goes, because he causes it as a natural reflex of what he lives, not with the purpose of harming, but because it is men's instinctive way of expression (Sontag, 2003)

    Lastly, the café owner, (or Pina Bausch’s somehow representation of her mother, or her future self, or her actual self played in society, since at the end (click on the blue words to see both clips) she’ll ‘must carry her burdens’ bumping on furniture after becoming a human representation) is an excellent social norm user and people-pleaser who exhausts herself focusing on other’s well-being. Her solos, monologues as well, express solitude e ingenuity in the core of a grotesque and vicious world, that does not take account of her. After taking off the masculine heavy shield that protects her from the outside world, she displays naïve and dreamy stanzas highly contrasted with the elements around, signifying a delicate, feminine  and vivacious woman type, who's eager to live. Concerned about looks, she’s in any way more satisfied about life outcomes.
' When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast.
Remember me, remember me, but ah...! Forget my fate.
Remember me, but ah...! Forget my fate'
(Queen Dido's lament 4min aria that inspired Pina Bausch to dress her personal discourse, was also interpreted by the moving voice of Lucy Crowe in 2009 for the 350th anniversary of composer Henry Purcell's birth). There's much to say about the election of the music, the micro-structure of the individual stanzas, their politics and significance, but they'd make a too extensive analysis for a single blog, but contact me for a more extended study.

           It is sure that an occupied mind submerged on retrospective thoughts can help an unappealing present be less real, but a prolonged apathy, lack of hope or courage can have detrimental effects in a society at large, indeed, these attitudes are more resultant from an inner decision than from the undesirable external influences alone.
           Clearly, Pina Bausch wasn’t anxious to stir the demons of the past. Rather, thinking that past errors are like tutors for our present, her work is a denounce of an insensitive world that instead of working on making up failures is too quick to forget.
          In 'Regarding the Pain of Others' S. Sontag concludes that the digital media cooperates in hardening the sensibility of postmodern cultures; ‘Citizens of modernity, consumers of violence as spectacle, adepts of proximity without risks, are schooled to be cynical about the possibility of sincerity. Some people will do anything to keep themselves from being moved. How much easier, from one’s chair, far from danger, to claim the position of superiority (…) There is simply too much injustice in the world. And too much remembering embitters. To make peace is to forget. To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited. If the goal is having some space in which to live one’s own life, then it is desirable that the account of specific injustices dissolve into a more general understanding that human beings everywhere do terrible things to one another’ (Sontag, 2003)


Pina Bausch brings awareness about the internal state of the German soul. What consumes the introspective thoughts of the contemporaneous German, is the insight that there's no beauty in pain. That war is hell, and its repay is death.
        But acceptance is a great healer. 

     Until Germany won’t accept itself in its inner world, forgive itself for its wrong doings, and reconcile itself with the past, it won’t be able to define itself, restructure its identity, nor regain its humanity to have compassion to find a suitable place for others.