The Nose Knows

The Saint Louis Art Museum has an exhibit of prints, by William Kentridge, entitled Nose. Nose is a series of thirty prints inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s short story The Nose. The Metropolitan Opera commissioned Kentridge to direct a modern interpretation of Shostakovich’s opera, by the same name. The tale of the story begins with a Russian bureaucrat, waking up one morning to find that his nose is mysteriously missing. The absurdist narrative follows the journey of the protagonist to locate his nose. In the print exhibit, Kentridge elaborates on Gogol’s tale by picturing the nose independent of the face, “free to make its own way in the world.” I have chosen Nose 28 as a representative for this exhibit. Here is the museum’s explanation of this work.

In a nod to Russian Constructivist posters, Kentridge makes an energetic composition out of the red letters, “XA.” He was drawn to this phrase because it was designated in the singer’s transcript of Shostakovich’s opera “The Nose” as a cue for laughter – an important musical element in that production. Kentridge sees laughter and the absurd in art as “an active and productive way of understanding the world.”

 I’ve offered up this Russian absurdist interlude only as prelude to my discussion of this week in American politics. I’m speaking of the Kabuki Theater that is our nation’s budgetary process. You know though, Kabuki Theater has become so overused these days that I’m switching to Russian absurdist theater, the new Kabuki Theater. [Note: need to polish that new part.]

So brave Odysseus sailed the ship of state, between the twin terrors of Scylla and Charybdis and brought us safely again to calm waters. Except that is not the way that Homer wrote it and that is not what happened last week. In the book, Odysseus had himself lashed to the mast so that he could hear the sirens song, but still resist it. If by resisting, you equate being forcibly restrained, then by leadership, you must also equate this last week’s proceedings, because in neither case was freewill involved. I’ll leave it to the reader to cast the part of Odysseus, but I will offer up two, President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner.

Casting Barack Obama as Odysseus requires also casting Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as Scylla and Charybdis. One president he does not want to become and one president that he would never be. One wailing a song of warning, one singing softly, come here, baby. Strapped to the mast of his presidency, Obama is confined from freely choosing anything that will jeopardize 2012.

With John Boehner the whirlpools lie within his own party. Will he be able to sail down the mainstream or be sucked down to the right? With many more budget battles yet to be fought, not even Delphi could predict the fate of Boehner as Odysseus, but as the sole elected, national leader of the Republican party, he has to balance party politics and our nation’s business. Maybe he too relishes the opportunity to be strapped to the mast and let the fates decide all?

I heard a good joke about Boehner. He has been known to show his emotions. Being a conservative, you could call him a compassionate conservative, but like Kabuki Theater, that is so over worked, how about, emoticon? 😉

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