First scene: 1973.[footnote This text was written on the occasion of Deleuze’s death in 1995.] I begin a friendship with Gilles Deleuze, whose seminars I have been attending over the past two years or so. With his mischievous humor, he insists on saying that he, and not Félix Guattari (with whom I am undergoing analysis at the time) is my schizoanalyst. He proposes that we work together, offering me a gift and a theme: an LP with Alban Berg’s opera Lulu and a suggestion to compare the death cries of Lulu, its lead character, with those of Maria, a character in Wozzeck, another opera by the same composer.
Berg’s Lulu—already impregnated by the image of Louise Brooks, who played the protagonist in G.W. Pabst’s beautiful film—is an exuberant and seductive woman whose attraction to many kinds of worlds sets her off on a life of experimental drift. On one such adventure, her vitality suffers the impact of reactive forces that cause her to leave her country. In the miserable cold of a Christmas night in her town of exile, Lulu hits the streets to make some money. In the anonymity of hustling, she meets none other than Jack the Ripper, who inevitably attempts to kill her. Foreseeing her death in the image of her face reflected on the blade pointed in her direction, she lets out a piercing cry. The timbre of her voice has a strange force that startles the Ripper to the point that, for a few seconds, he hesitates. We too are hit by this strange force, transported by it—the pain of a vigorous life that does not want to be taken resonates in our bodies. On the other hand, Maria, the woman from Berg’s opera Wozzeck, is the gray wife of a soldier. Her death cry is almost inaudible, it blurs with the aural landscape. The timbre of her voice conveys the pale pain of an inane life, as if to die were the same as to live. Lulu’s cry vitalizes us, despite, and paradoxically because of, the intensity of her pain. Maria’s cry drags us into a kind of melancholy that tinges the world with monotonous dullness.
Second scene: 1978. The setting is one of the Saturday afternoon singing lessons I have been taking along with two friends. The teacher is Tamia, whose repertoire is contemporary music and free jazz, an effervescent current within the Parisian 1970s. On this particular day, to our surprise, she asks each of us to choose a song to work with.
The song that occurs to me is one of the many Tropicalismo songs I learned in Brazil.[footnote Tropicalism was a cultural movement of the late 1960s, which revolutionized popular Brazilian music, then dominated by the aesthetics of Bossa Nova, by making use of derision, irreverence, and improvisation. Spearheaded by musicians such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil (the current Minister of Culture in Lula’s government), Tropicalism reactivated the ideas found in Oswald de Andrade’s “Anthropophagic Manifesto”—particularly the way in which elements of foreign culture are included and fused with Brazilian culture, mixing fragments of erudite, popular, and mass culture, without any reverence for dominant hierarchies. Tropicalism manifested itself in other artistic realms as well, such as the Oficina Theatre, directed by José Celso Martinez Corrêa, which staged Oswald de Andrade’s play O Rei da Vela (1967), among others. Indeed the very name of the movement comes from visual artist Hélio Oiticica’s 1965 installation Tropicália. The movement was brutally interrupted in December 1968, when the Fifth Institutional Act (AI-5) was decreed by Brazil’s military dictatorship, allowing for any action or attitude considered subversive to be punished with imprisonment without recourse to habeas corpus. Caetano and Gil were sent to prison and subsequently freed only on the condition that they leave the country. They went into exile in England in 1969.] As musical expressions of the intense movement of cultural and existential creation Brazil had seen at the end of the 1960s, the movement marked a period whose brutal interruption by the military regime had been the reason for my exile in Paris.[footnote A dictatorship came to power in Brazil in 1964 by means of a military coup. The regime became much more rigid and violent from 1968 onwards. A succession of generals remained in power until 1985, and the first direct presidential elections were held in 1989.] “Cantar como um passarinho…” as Gal Costa sang it, with the soft and tender timbre of her interpretations.[footnote Tuzé de Abreu, “Passarinho,” recorded by Gal Costa in India (Phonogram, 1973). The lyrics are “Cantar como um passarinho de manhã cedinho... lá na galha do arvoredo, na beira do rio … abre as asas passarinho que eu quero voar … me leva na janela da menina que eu quero cantar…” (“To sing like a little bird early in the morning … up in the branches of the trees by the river bank … open your wings, little bird, ‘cause I want to fly … take me to the girl’s window, ‘cause I want to sing ….”). The Brazilian singer Gal Costa was part of a group of friends from Santo Amaro (Bahia, in the Northeast of Brazil) that included Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia. In the 1960s, they formed an important element of the Tropicalist movement’s driving forces.]
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