'Play for values, respect at stake'
| v Being
present, and then?
The first dynamic layer: presence
The second layer of dynamic relations: play
The axes of interest and of the place in the group
The third dynamic layer: elaborate on possibilities and perfection
Playing, that is, challenging; two illustrative stories
Story: "Così fan tutte; or, As they all do"
The function of figures and stage-properties
A wager with an unforeseen risk
The opera's public
|v Mozart's antithetic qualities in action|
Story: 'Mother Superior's Room for Play'
Mother Superior and her public
|v What to do with the proceeds of the play?|
Being present, and then?
You wake up and find yourself back; you scrape yourself together innerly. Or, you open
your mouth and there is milk coming in or a spoon with apple-sauce or a stray fly. There
is always something that demands a reaction, perhaps something that you have to resist.
Just by the simple fact of being there, of walking around, a human being is compelled to
continually adapt his balance to the circumstances.
Actually, with every form of contact with the environment, however simple it may be,
exchange of energy is taking place. A human being exists in a situation of
interdependence. Whether it is anger or charm that is coming up to him, openness towards
the environment with its sensorial impressions requires of a person continual apposition
of old images and correction of one's equilibrium. Presence in the world demands that of
us, as self-regulating systems, and makes us, alert or not, desire a firm base and
securities. That is, in short, what has been dealt with last time. The previous theme
INNER STABILITY and language use, with the stories 'Exclude' and 'Alienation', was an
illustration of this (hypo)thetic form of energy exchange.
|Humans have more possibilities then just being present. We ourselves can take the
initiative and actively challenge our environment. In order to ourselves be able to make
choices we need after all a general view of all kinds of possibilities. We want to find
out what risks the world hides and how far we ourselves dare to go. With that goal in mind
we play, for as long as we live.
In this part of the themes line I lift the antithetic forms of dynamic interaction,
that is dialectics between individual and environment, out of the network of connections.
Here the human being takes, intuitively and instinctively, the initiative in his own hand.
He needs to achieve an overview of himself and of his environment. He wants to find out of
what use and value, the possibilities and qualities of his body, of men and situations
are. He starts for himself to challenge, he plays with himself and with his environment,
he learns to assess risks, he exercises his courage and muscles, collects and preserves
material of experience. He just does and only names the experiences at a later point; at
this moment the good and evil of things is of no importance. Homo ludens is the
playing human being, the individual who plays with incertainties, looks for experiences in
order to, afterwards, get an idea of their meaning and value and to base his choice
thereupon [ note ].
This second theme, PLAY FOR VALUES, in a situation of interdependence ánd equivalence by
which it is inevitable that respect is always at stake, is also to be illustrated with two
stories. But first some essential information about its structure.
The second layer, the antithetic, comprises the own initiatives for the development of one's own values and of one's proper place in the world. This is also a dynamic combination of two sets of extremes crossing each other at a right angle. In the |2|-|8| axis of inner values my inner interest is confronted with the interest of the other or the general, the attention for my personal interests opposes the attention for other, or more general, interests, their essence and the choices possible. These are the tools to gain experience on this inner field in order to be able to, later, weigh them against ethic or other frameworks of - familiar or new - values. In the |5|-|11| axis of the place in the social group the testing and challenging individual is confronted with acceptation and social development. These are the tools with which to collect experience and courage in this creatieve area in the environment and to determine later on a place in social frameworks of respect - giving or demanding. These are two combinations of antithetic instruments whereby the person intuitively searches for the essential, actively creates and seizes his possibilities and trains his courage. This is indeed about practising, using possibilities we run into, experiencing and offering resistance, testing of tools and capacities which we may need in our situation of dependence.
Playing with stability, challenging securities. In this layer the body of experience
regarding important human needs and capacities is being ever further extended. In other
words: playing leads to experiences with your own values and with the values of other
people, with laws and obligations and to a better survey later. Playing is the means with
which trust and principles, respect and resilience can be developed [ note ]. Therefore, play will show
different nuances and vary from fair to false, it can be played wittingly or unwittingly
and cover every imaginable domain. A question can be taken as a challenge and lead to
friendship, the challenge of a hooligan or from a political leader can end in homicide or
war. The precondition of active participation in a play is inner room for play, it
includes both earnestness and confidence, the purpose is to be surprised and to relish a
The network of connections within the self-organising system, within the process, has
several dimensions [ note ].
This, the dialectic dimension, comprises three parts. Besides the hypothetic and the
antithetic part now under discussion there is the synthetic layer. Therein personal
stability and security shall come into play both unconsciously and overtly: the
experiences are placed in suitable frameworks in order to be able to compare their values,
to weigh their importance! After all, to have an overview is not necessarily to have
insight, to that end the experienced matter has yet to be elaborated. This is the human
who takes care of his business, wants to discern problems, uses and develops existing
frameworks and, in this way, is able to find solutions and can become more conscious of
his usefulness and importance for his environment. That's the purpose of the synthetic
instruments and tools which shall come up for discussion in the next theme.
Looking for an example of someone who seems to be a playful person and who handles his possibilities with care, I found that in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What did playing mean to him, what has that to do with his inventiveness or fantasy, his want for equivalence and individuality and what does that tell us about what was important to him, what he really valued? This man was, as is evident from his music, an imaginative and playful being and, as is evident from some of his operas, also a socially involved human being. He has written several operas in which social problems are dealt with. I shall take a close look at one of them, after the remark that, while the play-element can be quite easily lifted out theoretically, in the practical situation this produces difficulties as it is interwoven. Especially with personal stories the reader will tend to mix them with ethical judgements and comments but those have their own place in the third dynamic layer of the process.
'Così fan tutte; ossia, La scuola degli amanti',
The contents of 'As They All Do; or The School for Lovers':
Act I. Two friends are bragging about the fidelity and the rare
virtues of their fiancées. Don Alfonso, the learned friend of both the young officers and
the two sisters, wants to teach the braggarts as well as their fiancées a lesson and
suggests a wager to the gentlemen: If you do as I say you will see that the young ladies,
like all young ladies, are not at all so steadfast and faithful (costanza) as you think
and they will this very day marry your friend. The friends agree.
Act II. The sisters are in shock but Despina, given information about
the bet by don Alfonso, explains to them the things a lady of fifteen years should know
and do and how she can make sure she stays in control. One of the sisters is persuaded.
When her fiancé hears that his sweetheart has yielded to his friend's sweet words there
is real grief, but his sense of honour says that he can't get out of the wager and he
finally gives in and succeeds in winning her sister.
To find out what Leonardo da Ponte and Mozart, librettist and composer, exactly want to communicate to us, I need to take a close look at the function of figures and props. For what purpose do they need precisely these?
1. Don Alfonso, the elder cynical friend of the four young people, is
the inventor of 'the school for lovers', and the organiser of the plan to prepare his
young friends for their marriage.
|Da Ponte and Mozart approach their goal point-blank. But how has
Da Ponte put the 'lessons of life' into words? Don Alfonso's lesson is, I think, 'You'd
better know what your values ánd what your limits are before you commit yourself to
The lady's maid Despina, who presents herself as the teacher of the young ladies, addresses herself twice towards the girls. In the text of her grand aria at the beginning of the second act she says:
'A woman of fifteen
It's a mocking story which however has a sound kernel. It resembles a paraphrase of the
ideal woman, the elusive 'strong woman', who keeps her ground in situations in which
people like to play with her for their own purposes.
It is quite clear then that Mozart and DaPonte recommended that young ladies and young gentlemen take the rudder of their lives in their own hands and carefully weigh the consequences of decissions. What that includes, according to them, for both sexes is - don't expect security (COSTANZA) in the form of fidelity from the other, rather pay attention to how you yourself handle fidelity and what the value of your promises is. It is remarkble that they, in that time and consistently, extended equivalence between people to women. Such a long time after the world-shaking drama Antigone by Sophocles and still before the Romantic period, at the end of which the story of Carmen was to be written by Prosper Mérimée to be adapted by Georges Bizet into a shakingly realistic opera, their Così certainly is a modest but sensible and moving stimulus to reflections on dignity and maturity.
Da Ponte and Mozart were men who already had proved to know the balance of power in their time, the end of the feudal period, and to be acquainted with modern thought on human nature. 'Così fan tutte', first put on the stage in 1790, is the fifth of Mozart's seven great operas and the third that he wrote in co-operation with Da Ponte, one in which they speak out in their own way about important matters which they had explored together earlier. Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni bear witness to psychological insight and profound knowledge of the situation in which men and women find themselves. The sentence 'Così fan tute le belle' had already been used in Figaro. In Così they say that women can be fostered with the tendency to be unfaithful and men have too little self-knowledge at their disposal. An old setting of a play with a ritual character is used by them in order to emphasise the teaching element in a playful manner. In that time manly honour still weighed heavily, but in modern times that would disappear. Man and woman shall have to pledge themselves in their own decisions for an individual future, as adults leave behind the childlike. In the modern human the childlike ideal has died, says Foucault [ note ]. In the opera Die Zauberflöte, which Mozart would later make in co-operation with Emanuel Schikaneder, there is no room to play for modernity, although one can hear in Mozart's music how he relaxes when the unsophisticated Papageno and Papagena playfully set things right and form an unpretentious contrast with the classic ideal world of the high priest's puppet-show of securities.
The couple Mozart - Da Ponte handle the symmetric structure of Cosi very ingeniously,
to follow strictly the mirrored-form would be lethal for a work of art. By letting in
little divergences and fine nuances they created a harmonious unity. I think that
precisely by these subtly handled constructions it was possible to represent equivalence
and righteousness on the basis of individual differences.
The opera has excited both positive and negative reactions in the course of time. She
is often called the most 'perfect' of Mozart's operas on account of the symmetric,
well-balanced structure and rich emotionality. At the same time it has been and is
rejected by many because of the 'superficial plot and the anti-women content' and for that
reason, until today, is often 'saved' by appealing stage management.
Mozart, antithetic qualities in action
The antithetic parts of the system are the following four phases, four colourings and four functions:
The natural relations between antithetic phases, colourings and functions produces the
following picture (see the figure on the right):
It has become clear now that Mozart - if all you look at is this part of his specific combination of connections - was full of playful, challenging presence. He also had enough courage to hold on to his musical and social ideals and to express them, where he could, in a wide environment.
'Mother Superior's Room for Play'
'That year in sixth grade, when I had finished my tasks, I read books on the lives of
saints and martyrs in an empty room. Since mother was of a trustful nature and honest and
since she, via the parish priest, had been promised by the headmistress of the primary
school for girls that, by way of exception, I would be prepared for the entrance
examination for secondary school, mother counted on that. After all, two years earlier
John's change-over from the parochial boys' school to the lyceum had gone off smoothly. In
the spring of 1946 I went up for the examination and failed. My parents received the
message and as it was clear that I had not been prepaired for it - I did not know what an
extraction of roots was - the secondary school offered the arrangement with extra coaching
which was also available for children returning from Indonesia. In the deliberation
between father, mother and me (in my first story I
referred to this) we decided that we would not accept that offer but that I would repeat
sixth grade at another school.
With hindsight I can understand that Mother Superior was forced to carry out and defend
her superior's strategy and that, at other primary schools led by nuns, it also happened
that pupils were enlisted for the extended primary education provided by their own order.
The idea behind the School for the many, that its limited goal should suffice for
these girls, wasn't right of course. By the way, there was no fault to find with the
quality of the teaching the sisters offered.
What to do with the proceeds of the play?
In this zine I have looked at challenging the environment and playing with relations of
interdependency. By acting and trying out of things, by exercising capacities, people test
their self-esteem, discover their room for play, acquire experience with mutual respect
and learn to govern themselves. Mozart was capable of acting in a manner which gives
evidence that he could well interpret his experiences from playing and, as a versatile
autonomous person, was capable of taking respectful decisions. Così turns out after all
to be a show which challenges serious thinking. Other than in the world of my parents in
which I was allowed to be special, Mother Superior's environment of order and of
predominantly black & white thinking left little room for individuality. Her show of
authority unmasked her as an insecure and not free person.