Friday, October 17, 2008


Free association makes constellations of disparate stars - and some of the forms burn brighter, whether because of fate or timing or dumb luck. I saw Woyzeck, with music by Nick Cave, at BAM tonight. Chris Isherwood didn't love it, claiming that it lacks the tragic spirit of Georg Büchner's still-modern 1836 play (unfinished and fragmentary when the author died at 23). Yet...this increasingly disjointed, stimulus-driven world can be well served in art, I think, by expanses of silence - and also by rapid-fire sensory experience and juxtapositions of the sweet and the horrible, of which this version of Woyzeck delivers plenty. I found it evocative and sad, and drew star patterns with the themes of torture, simplicity versus mechanization, true love versus material splash, inwardness, modern despair, and the loss of innocence and thoughtfulness in a world of brutality and homogenization.

Woyzeck slowly goes mad, experimented on by doctors in order to earn money for the woman he loves, crazed by this woman's affair with the drum major, and dehumanized in his milirary experiences. Today, I was reading an article from the September 29th New Yorker, about the great love some people bear the U.S. military, even while their experiences in it unravel their lives. Travis Twiggs, a Marine deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan five times, is the article's tragic protagonist. Following his various stints in the Middle East, and the torment of coming home, Twiggs (courageously) shared with the military community his experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and worked with returning soldiers who suffered from it. For myriad reasons, and despite being well loved, Twiggs committed suicide in May.

In January, Twiggs had written, "Every day is a better day now. As my body and mind grow does my spirit. I see everything so much differently now. Looking back, I don't believe anyone is to blame for my craziness, but I do think we can do better. We have got to make our Marines and sailors more aware of PTSD before they end up like me and others."

According to the New Yorker article, a RAND Corporation study estimated that nearly 20 percent of people who have served in "America's post-9/11 wars" suffer from PTSD, which many doctors believe should be considered not a disorder but an injury. That's 300,000 veterans. Yet Dr. Ira Katz, chief of mental services at the Department of Veteran Affairs, in hearing about numbers like these, wrote in an e-mail to a colleague, "Shh!...Is this something we should (carefully address ourselves in some sort of release before somebody stumbles on it?"

This is the world Woyzeck lives in. It's also a world of love, potentially. The New Yorker article is as much about Twiggs' wife, Kellee, as it is about him. If cowardice is many costumes...courage is many different kinds of nakedness. Kellee remembers, "He'd hear a car coming up our gravel road here and just hit the floor, just bam, because the tires crunching sounded like machine-gun fire to him. Or he'd just go sit upstairs and watch for lights - watch for Iraquis, because that's what he used to do in Iraq. I'd call his name, get him back to bed, and the only way I could get him to sleep was to put him in a bear hug and rock him. Then he'd sleep."

This is the world Woyzeck lives in. Tom Waits wrote a musical based on the play in 2002, called Blood Money. It incorporates Waits' signature carnival sounds with poignant lyrics and vocals that, by turn, grate and break the heart.

I went walking when I got back to this corner of Brooklyn tonight, and captured, Under the BQE, my own version of these stars, this moon (the middle light in the last photo), and the surrounding dark.

No comments: