Saturday, August 27, 2016

Three Ancient Chinese Drinking Songs- Li Bo

Li Bo (also known as Li Po and Li Bai) was a classical Chinese poet during the Tang Dynasty also known as the “Golden Age of China”. He never attempted to take the civil service examination, which was the primary but not sole venue for advancement for the middle class in imperial China. Thanks to his connection with an influential Daoist at court, Li Bo gained a post at the eminent Hanlin Academy, an institution founded by Emperor Xuanzong to support alternative academics and literary gifts. But Li Bo’s drinking habits and caustic personality caused him to be dismissed after two years. During the An Lushan Rebellion he joined the cause of a prince who attempted to establish an independent regime in southeast China, and after the rebellion was suppressed he was arrested for treason. Sentenced to exile, he was pardoned before he reached his remote destination. He died a few years later.
There are many legends about Li Bo’s life, aided by the blasé stances of his poetry. According to one legend, he drowned while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon’s reflection on the water. For someone who claimed in his poetry to converse and drink with the moon such an end is a very poetic story, if completely ridiculous. Most likely his death was caused by a degeneration of his body due to massive alcohol consumption and his known use of Daoist longevity elixirs, which often contained mercury, very probably had more to do with it.
The poems were models for celebrating the camaraderie of companionship and the joys of drinking wine. Author John C. H. Wu observed that, "while some may have drunk more wine than Li, no-one has written more poems about wine." Classical Chinese poets were often associated with drinking wine and Li Bai was part of the group of Chinese scholars in Chang'an his fellow poet Du Fu called the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup.
Presented below are three of my favorite of his poems about drink. As they were originally written in was is called Middle Chinese and I’m afraid might lose some of its beauty in the translation. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.
Drinking Alone with the Moon
A pot of wine among the flowers.
I drink alone, no friend with me.
I raise my cup to invite the moon.
He and my shadow and I make three.
The moon does not know how to drink;
My shadow mimes my capering;
But I’ll make merry with them both—
And soon enough it will be Spring. 
I sing—the moon moves to and fro.
I dance—my shadow leaps and sways.
Still sober, we exchange our joys.
Drunk—and we’ll go our separate ways. 
Let’s pledge—beyond human ties—to be friends,
And meet where the Silver River ends.
Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day
Life in the world is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labor or care.
So saying, I was drunk all the day,
lying helpless at the porch in front of my door.

When I awoke, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
a lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird.

Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
and, as wine was there, I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise;
when my song was over, all my senses had gone.
Bring in the Wine
Look there!
The waters of the Yellow River,
coming down from Heaven,
rush in their flow to the sea,
never turn back again
Look there!
Bright in the mirrors of mighty halls
a grieving for white hair,
this morning blue-black strands of silk,
 now turned to snow with evening.
For satisfaction in this life
taste pleasure to the limit,
And never let a goblet of gold
face the bright moon empty.
15Heaven bred in me talents,
and they must be put to use.
I toss away a thousand in gold,
it comes right back to me.
So boil a sheep,
  butcher an ox,
make merry for a while,
And when you sit yourself to drink, always
down three hundred cups.
Hey, Master Cen,
  Ho, Danqiu,
Bring in the wine!
Keep the cups coming!
And I, I’ll sing you a song,
You bend me your ears and listen—
30The bells and the drums, the tastiest morsels,
it’s not these that I love—
All I want is to stay dead drunk
and never sober up.
The sages and worthies of ancient days
  now lie silent forever,
And only the greatest drinkers
have a fame that lingers on!
Once long ago
the prince of Chen
  held a party at Pingle Lodge.
A gallon of wine cost ten thousand cash,
all the joy and laughter they pleased.
So you, my host,
How can you tell me you’re short on cash?
Go right out!
Buy us some wine!
And I’ll do the pouring for you!
Then take my dappled horse,
Take my furs worth a fortune,
50Just call the boy to get them,
and trade them for lovely wine,
And here together we’ll melt the sorrows
of all eternity!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Marat/Sade: A Play About a Play About the Marquis de Sade


            The full title of this truly unique film is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. For obvious reasons it tends to be shortened to Marat/Sade. This play is without a doubt one of the finest commentary on revolutionary politics and man’s inability to resolve the critical issues of our existence. It fully captures the unending struggle between the politics necessary to obtain freedom versus that which enslaves, and demonstrates how one could easily become the other.
Set in the historical Charenton Asylum, Marat/Sade is almost entirely a "play within a play". The main story takes place 15 years after the French Revolution, when de Sade was indeed committed to the insane asylum. It depicts the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday.  The actors of the play within the play are all meant to be inmates of the asylum, with various nuns and guards around who occasionally step in to maintain order when the action gets out of hand. It is directed by de Sade himself, who take parts in it- offering up his philosophies and debating with Marat on the merits of his claims (or lack thereof) and revolution in general. It is overseen by the bourgeoisie director Abbé de Coulmier who occasionally steps in to object to some of the material presented in the play.

This is all based on actual events (though the substance of the play was entirely created by the author Peter Weiss. De Sade did perform plays with the inmates at the asylum at Charenton (now called Esquirol Hospital), encouraged by Coulmier- who viewed it as a form of therapy. Coulmier incidentally was widely praised for his new revolutionary ideas of asylum reform, as opposed to the old ways of just locking them up.
The Death of Marat (1793)
Jean-Paul Marat was one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution. His first political work, Chains of Slavery: A work in which the clandestine and villainous attempts of Princes to ruin Liberty are pointed out, and the dreadful scenes of Despotism disclosed was hailed and hated throughout France, depending on your social status. His other works contained many radical ideas, including the argument that society should provide basic needs such as food and shelter if it expected all its citizens to follow its laws, that the king was no more than the "first magistrate" of his people, that there should be a common death penalty regardless of class, and that each town should have a dedicated "avocat des pauvres" and set up independent criminal tribunals with twelve-man juries to ensure a fair trial.
During the revolution he started a newspaper championing it, after he continued attacking (and promoting violence against) those he considered too moderate or those he deemed counter-revolutionaries. Advising, "five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom and happiness." During the turmoil that occurred after the execution of Louis XVI, Marat was arrested, acquitted, arrested again, acquitted again and the political landscape shifted from one dictator to the next. His life was eventually cut short by Charlotte Corday, who gained admittance to his home under false pretenses of having information on his political enemies. She stabbed him to death in his bath, where he spent much time due to a skin disease.
Donatien Alphonse François, the Marquis de Sade- from whose name the word sadism is coined- was a proponent of extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion, or law. He was one of the seven prisoners freed when the Bastille was sacked by the crowd and numbered among the few aristocrats to survive the French Revolution. During his imprisonment in the jail he had been working on his magnum opus The 120 Days of Sodom (which was made into the film Salo). To his despair, he believed that the manuscript was lost during his transfer, but he continued to write. Indeed for a time he even thrived, acting as a judge, part of a hospital reform committee, and was elected to the National Convention as a member of the far left.
His works were, and still are, provocative to say the least. He often dealt in terms of sex, rape, and the abuse of power by the wealthy elite class. These were applauded by the founders of the revolution, then condemned by those same men after they took power, realizing that the vilification of the powerful now applied to them. He eventually was committed to Charlenton by Napoleon after the printing of Justine and Julliet- which were published anonymously. He stayed there until his death, apparently having an affair with the 14 year old daughter of an employee. After death his skull was removed from his grave for a phrenological examination. The bumps on his head showed nothing of interest.
The use of music in the film comments on themes and issues of the play. Unlike a traditional musical format, the songs do not further the plot or expositional development of character in the play. By contrast they often add an alienation effect, interrupting the action of the play and offering mocking historical, social and political commentary. Richard Peaslee composed music for the original English-language production of Marat/Sade directed by Peter Brook in the film below. There is no official score to the play in any language.
Marat/Sade is the best example of avant garde in the style known as “theater of cruelty” ever put on film. If you are looking for something truly different then you can do no better than this.
 The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor!