Saturday, October 21, 2006

Rachel Corrie--the play

Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout writes about "My Name Is Rachel Corrie," Alan Rickman's play about the 23-year-old left-wing activist who was run over by an Israeli Army bulldozer in 2003. Teachout leads his article with the trenchant observation that "Politics makes artists stupid." While there is a certain truth to his claim, a more accurate observation would be that spate of obnoxious political tracts in art is more the fault of the artist's philosophy than of his politics, and here Rickman's play is a prime example. In fact, Teachout almost says as much when he writes:

"My Name Is Rachel Corrie," [is] a scrappy, one-sided monologue consisting of nothing but the fugitive observations of a young woman who, like so many idealists, treated her emotions as facts. "I am disappointed," she declares, "that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world." To mistake such jejune disillusion for profundity and turn it into the climax of a full-length play is an act of piety, not artistry. [emphasis added]
Indeed. When a person (or an artist) enshrines emotions as self-evident primaries, the end result is always irrational. Rachel Corrie was an ignorant young woman who stood for a reprehensible cause. Who cares how she "felt" about it.

I argue that if Rickman would have been willing to turn the tables on Corrie and dramatize just how and why she developed the core ideas that led her to so foolishly impale herself upon the blade of an Israeli bulldozer, that might have made for interesting drama. Corrie was a self-conscripted pawn in a far larger war, and the ideas behind it have yet to be explored artistically. Such is the shame of the art world today, for in the massive conflict of civilizations, all it elects to offer us is some vapid activist's personal diaries.

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