Magazine article Czech Music

E. F. Burian and Faith

Magazine article Czech Music

E. F. Burian and Faith

Article excerpt

When several events were held to mark the E. F. Burian anniversary, I was puzzled by the way the living witnesses of his era sometimes maintained a strange silence, or gave ambiguous answers and contradictory accounts, while the speakers who had no personal experience of him insisted on sitting in judgment on his communist "agression". Paradoxically, on both sides the atmosphere seemed dominated by faith: on the one hand faith in a legacy (and a mysterious legacy), and on the other faith in judgment after death (and a rather presumptuous identification of that judgment with the speaker's own opinion). Meanwhile, what was remarkable about Burian was precisely his faith. When we look at the "history of faith" it is generally clear that the earlier faith (linked with Christianity), which believed in a "great cause" and was even strong enough to change reality, declined in the course of time into faith in mankind (the Renaissance) and progress (the 19th century), Burian not only believed in a great idea (communism), but a kind of metaphysical faith saturated his entire life's work. He himself believed he was capable of doing world theatre, and capable of making Czech a world language. He simply had a hundred-percent belief in everything he was doing and wanted to do, even when they turned out to be complete trifles. Yes, Burian had absolute faith in every kind of apparently secondary thing. So he believed both in communist ideals, and absolutely, but also in the idea that he could create revolutionarily vertiginous theatre with two headlights that the actors would keep rejigging during the performance. And he gain he had absolute faith in this banality. For us it is all rather ridiculous, but our sense of the ridiculous is based on our completely different disposition and completely different historical context.

I recall Burian's speech to the company at the re-opening of his Theatre D after the Second World War. Rationally, the only real content in the speech was that they would "be faithful to the legacy of dead comrades" and would be "a communist avantgarde in every respect", but Burian nevertheless talked for maybe 40 minutes and the speech conceals several pieces of guile. On the objective level we simply can't understand him today. We can't grasp the point of all this endless relating of the self to history (this says something symptomatic about the way the post-1989 period has come to terms, or rather not come to terms with our history). We can't grasp what all this faith in an "absolutely perfect theatre" is about, when most Czech theatres today could be nicknamed "U Nejdu" (i.e. most things "nejde"--in English "don't or won't work"). We don't understand what faith in the "communist avantgarde" is, since we ourselves don't believe in anything, and are only concerned with getting by in the profane day-to-day world. We are incapable of seeing the meaning of Burian's speech, which is partly to the point, but partly unprecedentedly (in expression) poetic and also often escapes logic and "clear thinking" as if Burian was sometimes wrenching himself away into a curious world of pataphysics. We don't understand why he goes on talking so long, when today we live in a world of photography and short slogans that convey nothing.

In the present period, which tends to be characterised by absolute doubt about everything, nobody can understand it. But this is of course the stumbling block of all histories of the 20th century that cannot comprehend how anyone could have believed in the idea of national socialism or communism. Yet national socialism actually represents one of the greatest onslaughts of faith; the idea of the birth of the "Third Reich", "the new man", "the next world", into which forces and civilisations still concealed in the underground world will break through. And communism is similar in its great faith in an absolutely "just society" where everyone will receive what he needs, making it paradoxically akin to another breakthrough faith of the 20th century, satanism, with its slogan of "do what you will". …

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