The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Friday, August 18, 2006

DIE HAPPINESS -- excerpt one

At the beginning of the 21st Century, against a backdrop of political and military catastrophe, questions of what art is, what art can do, and what art should do acquire new importance. But the irony is that, precisely because of the crisis that is currently unfolding across the world (the crisis of failing and corrupted Western power), these questions seem trivial and beside the point. After all, there is a deep-seated human tendency to view art as secondary to the needs of daily life. More precisely, because art is secondary to essential needs, humans tend to think its importance evaporates.

But that just isn't true. Art -- and by this term I mean all culture, from literary novels to fine art to movies to pornography to advertising to reality TV -- molds our thinking. It even molds our perceptions, or, as they say these days, our hard-wiring. It is both one of the major sources of human folly and one of the best hopes of its salvation. The problem, though, is that when we talk about art, there is not one kind, there are several. Some are traditional in their narrative, some experimental, some are socially engaged, some are based on the authors own experience, some spring from the imagination.

What follows are a series of excerpts from a novella I wrote and then videotaped several years ago. (The tape was never broadcast, but I have copies available for any publishing/broadcast professionals who might be interested.) The monologue is entitled DIE HAPPINESS, and on the surface its the story of a love triangle a contemporary, sort-of, kind-of love triangle.

It's about Nils, a failing artist, and his encounter with Bitte and Hilde, two exchange students from Germany. Hilde is the nice one, Bitte the sexy one. But both are conspicuously decent; they are educated, after all, and they are German. And to be German sums up so many of the contradictions of the 20th Century -- the capacity of civilized people to do astoundingly monstrous things, of course. But more than that, the sins of the German nation were also the sins of economic progress; one aspect of mid-20th Century history that is rarely discussed is not just the failure of the nearby European states to put a stop to Nazism, but their start-and-stop, occasionally-winking complicity with it. Nazism served the goals of some people in some other countries -- namely, it was an effective means of stopping socialist revolution from starting in Germany and spreading across the continent.

To be German, then, is to be both linked to a terrible historical crime but also aware of a historical over-generalization. More than Germany was guilty of the murderous racism that ultimately engulfed Europe, and more than Germans made deals with the devil. As the history of collaboration shows, the Nazis found "willing executioners" in many lands.

But the novella DIE HAPPINESS is not about the Second World War. And it's not about its aftermath. It's about the mid-1990s -- a time when the stock market (but not the job market) was roaring, when the most recent war in the Middle East had been the techno-krieg of Gulf War One, and when a popular dance club tune was Prince's "1999". If the ideology of mid-20th Century democracy was defeating fascism, by the late 20th Century the ideology had become ... no ideology! Hey, whadd're talkin about anyway, egghead? Have a good time!!!

The ideology, in other words, was happiness....

Who could have thought that happiness, too, had its dangers?


The adequate moderating of emotion may not sound like the most thrilling topic, but it's a timely one. We live in a world which is headed towards disaster -- what kind of disaster, we don't exactly know. It could be nuclear, it could be pollution-caused, it could be the social instability and resource-depletion which will inevitably result from overpopulation. Or it could be war ... simple, old-fashioned, never-ending war.

There are so many big things on the verge of going wrong that we deal with them by not thinking about them. Or rather, since that's a cliché, we think about dealing with insoluble problems by sublimating them; our fantasy life is dominated by this kind of pseudo-reasoning. We're subconscious extremists. We believe in bold actions, and violent and romantic either/ors. It's hard to approach the beast of Global Complexity without reducing it to something that can be overcome in a showdown with a gun, or, at very least, a yelling argument like the kind you see in a drama on TV.

But the world is filled with grey areas. And grey (as we, demographically, grey) is good. It's subtle. However, subtlety is borne of self-control, and to a large extent self-control feels unnatural to a modern soul. It isn't, it seems, heartfelt. And this is too bad, because sometimes what's constrained is deeper than what's expressed. The trick is in not allowing your constrained feelings to eat away at you; not letting them destroy your capacity for happiness.

In the fall of '95, on Thanksgiving weekend, I met a couple of exchange students from Germany. Their names were Bitte and Hilde, and they were adorable. Meeting them, I felt, indicated that my life was finally taking a turn for the better...

[more to follow]

All rights reserved. Copyright 1997,1998, 2006 by Finn Harvor


Post a Comment

<< Home