Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No Exit: Sartre Style and Bush Style

Just short of being old enough to collect Social Security, Jean-Paul Sartre's play, No Exit, had a cast of four and one set.

Of the four cast members, one, the Valet, is used to usher the other three into a small, windowless room which these three come to realize is literally Hell. The remaining three are Garcin, the man; a coward and a bit of a bully. His two roommates, with whom he believes he is destined to spend eternity, are Ines, attractive so far as Garcin is concerned, but unavailable to him for two salient reasons, her sexual orientation and her honesty.

The remaining member of this otherworldly menage is Estelle, the trophy wife of a wealthy man, her overt beauty in constant battle with her own deceitful and shallow nature. We are given a few clues about the Valet, but must decide each for himself, if his job is hereditary, voluntary, or a punishment.

Point-of-view seems to go to Garcin although, on any scale of admirability, Ines is the most willing to see things as they are and get on with them.

By play's end, we have come to know why each of the principals is in Hell; we also get some individualized sense of what each anticipates in the way of cosmic punishment, of karma, if you will. 

Garcin loudly demands that the one door to their room be opened, which would allow each of them to move out and beyond to whatever came next. The stunning dramatic irony of the conclusion arrives when Garcin no sooner demands the door be opened than, indeed, it does open. But neither Garcin, Ines, or Estelle opt to leave.

An amalgamated product of Sartre's Existentialism philosophy, the amphetamines he took to allow him longer access to his teeming brain (see last blog about Keats and his memorable sonnet), his tempestuous romantic/intellectual relationship with Simone De Beauvoir, and the then zeitgeist which featured the Bunker Mentality and then the death of the Third Reich, No Exit has become an archetype of circumstance and interpretation.

With this background as subtext, come with me to a fictional setting at a large ballroom, where hundreds of couples are dancing or simply enjoying the music of a live band. In this midst, a nattily dressed master or mistress of ceremonies calmly advances on the podium, signals the band to silence, then calmly indicates the several convenient exits before inviting all present to move calmly but purposefully to one of these exits because there is a fire on the roof of significant enough intensity to pose an immediate danger to all. And suppose a group of young men complain bitterly at the cost of rental tuxedos and the expenses related to this event of pleasure, and insist on another dance. And suppose those in attendance vote for another surge of dancing and screw the effects of the fire.

You can see the emerging metaphor for our time emerging.


No Exit. This is particularly good metaphor because in the past elections, enough of us have loudly but legally, repeat legally, demanded that the door be opened. Indeed the door was opened.

Why are we still inside? Why haven't we packed up our things and begun to leave? Remember, we voted legally (in most places) to undo something we initiated illegally. Why do we to this day persist?

It is the f-word, filibuster. The Republicans, oh so outraged when Doctor Frist was Senate Majority leader, actually spoke of setting forth new rules that would obviate cloture votes, and now shamelessly use it in the same cowardly manner Garcin performed in No Exit.

Sartre has left us with the quintessential archetype of the times. The door had been opened long ago when cooler heads and a fleet of helicopters got us out of Viet Nam, allowing that beleaguered country to get on with its life and, in the bargain, send waves of manicurists and pedicurists to this country, where they have industriously opened salons in every strip mall except those in Utah. The door was opened wider in November of 2006.

Since then, we have had surges, General Petraeus, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani, he of the twenty-three tax cuts while mayor of NYC.

All we want is out.

The roof is on fire and it will cave in and all we want is out.

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