Or perhaps I’m crazy because I was under the illusion that I could heal,…like Jason, who for a sheepskin provokes destruction and horrendous crimes and madness…
Claudio Magris, Blindly
Jealousy is less the outcome of self-interest than the vehement desire to avoid profanation.
Gonzalez-Crussi, On the Nature of Things Erotic
Ai, what a superb opera! In the Amsterdam Muziektheater I saw and heard Richard Strauss’ Arabella – a grand cast of voices, a faultless management of the stage, sober and impressive decors. And, not to forget, a conductor whose loom of an orchestra made the opera sound like the musical tapestry the composer intended it to be.
Also a great libretto from Strauss’ contemporary Von Hofmannsthal. Faithfull to the Zeitgeist of the beginning of the 20th century, the author trusted The People and the capacities of Mankind. By the time of Arabella he had exchanged his youthful, 19th-century faith in what many considered to be cosmic harmony for Strauss’ musical theatre – that wonderful fusion of word and sound. Von Hofmannsthal also developed his own ingenious critique of both the petty bourgeoisie and an aristocracy that had survived its own expiration date. The misty shadows of Freud are hovering over the waters. Strauss gave all this his tones.
Arabella is answering Dido. The aristocratic daughter from Vienna, by now become bourgeoise, is giving beautiful, archaic Dido from Carthage tit for tat.
Immediately after their engagement favourite bridegroom in spe Mandryka has falsely accused his fiancée Arabella in a gruesome manner of having committed adultery. She still manages to forgive that man – if only at the very end of the opera. After his requisite lonesome night in the outhouse she symbolically hands him a glass filled with clear water, the very sign that Mandryka himself has explained to her during their first encounter, a tradition in the country where he comes from. Symbol of eternal love.
Try and find such courtship in these postmodern times.
Sacchi Andrea – Dido abandoned
Now over to Dido, the fierce protagonist in Purcell’s powerful opera. Her lover from Rome, the great Aeneas, has only once considered leaving Carthage, this at the holy request of no less than the supreme god Zeus.
“Jove’s Commands shall be obey’d,
Tonight our Anchors shall be weigh’d.”
“The Queen’s forsook” the witches cry out loud. However, the man didn’t actually leave the town, merely thought about it. Nevertheless this meant that he had considered leaving Dido behind… Then he decides to scorn Zeus and runs back to his beloved to tell her that he has changed his mind.
For god’s sake! – what is Dido doing.
Aeneas: By all that’s good…
Dido: By all that’s good, no more!
By all that’s good you have forswore.
To your promis’d empire fly,
And let forsaken Dido die.
Aeneas: In spite of Jove’s command I’ll stay,
Offend the gods, and Love obey.
Dido: No, faithless man, thy course pursue;
I’m now resolv’d as well as you.
No repentance shall reclaim
The injur’d Dido’s slighted flame;
For ’tis enough, whate’er you now decree,
That you had once a thought of leaving me.
Aeneas: Let Jove say what he will, I’ll stay!
No, no, I’ll stay, and Love obey!
Dido: Away, away! No, no, away!
To death I’ll fly if longer you delay.
This reminds one of the equally rough horror story of Medea. This dark queen has been chosen by civilized King Jason, who took her away from a far archaic country after she has sneakily given him the Golden Fleece which her father did not want to grant him. However, after a while he finally decides to exchange her for a new chick. Medea punishes the man by slaughtering her own children, then to escape to Athens. In her archaic code there is no place for forgiveness, not even as an exception.
After the break-up with her teacher, her lover and the Nazi sympathizer Heidegger, the German philosopher Hannah Arendt, a Jewish woman, very clearly argued that without forgiveness no civil society can survive. It would be permanently running the risk of dropping into totalitarianism. Without forgiveness as an institution whole groups will always be excluded from society, people who in the eyes of those who want revenge deserve to be punished harshly, or be simply expulsed and even rücksichtslos eliminated.
With a tear still in my eyes, resulting from the closing scene of Arabella, it is clear to me that this forgiving woman represents the highest form of humane humanity. Only someone who can truly forgive is really good. Yet, how difficult is that geste.
How lucky I am with my abominable memory. I almost always forget the hurt and offence that were inflicted upon me – after a while I never think about these. I can still remember, though, the surprise in the eyes of those who had once hurt me, the moment I naively greeted them, full of good will, simply because I had forgotten what they had done to me. I needed others with a better memory to remind me of that. This seems to be worse than forgiving.
Perhaps, to forgive is only possible in cases where you know someone well and when that person is close to you. To that person you might say: “Forget it, let bygones be bygones.” Not that you forget the hurt once inflicted – or you must be me. Nonetheless, it may be untied from its mind unsettling power. Others have forgiven me; I also have succeeded in this, now and then.
However, what about people more at a distance? According to william Blake “it is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” Perhaps, this is only true in a superficial sense of forgiving, like signing a renewed peace treaty with an opponent. Yet, I think that the deeds of strangers are sooner pardonable than those from inside ‘the inner circle’, inside one’s personal periphery of implicit trust in those who suddenly abuse this. It’s those close ones we should have to live with, and is this still possible after a thorough breach of trust? Possibly the general ethics of forgiveness that Hannah Arendt tried to argue may be philosophically true, yet are not very… human. Perhaps allzu menschlich.