Systems and Riders
August 10, 2017 § 2 Comments
Years ago, when I was in Delhi, a clerk in the Central Government Secretariat , committed suicide, leaving a note that he was tired of being a machine. One can sympathasise with him, as in a mass-society, the success of the society in terms of material gains depends upon man being increasingly mechanized. The problem of man’s mechanical reaction to the outside world has become one of the bogey-men of this century.
Slawomir Mrozek, one of the most eminen Polisht playwrights has dealt with this subject in the most interesting manner. He makes the bogey-man an institution in his play ‘On a journey’.
A traveler finds the post-office employees standing erect at certain intervals along a country road, forming a ‘wireless’ telegraph line by shouting telegraphic messages to each other..
The puzzled traveler asks his coachman in regard to the efficacy of this system.
He replies: ‘Sir, this is better than the telegraph with poles and wires. After all, there is a possibility of live men being more intelligent and there is no storm damage to repair and a great saving of timber and timber is in short supplys, you know.’
Before he could recover from the shocking reply, the traveler finds ‘the transmitter work’.
Heard from a distance, it resembles the cry of birds on a moor, but when the nearest telegraph man receives the cry with his hands cupped to his ear, he passes it with a resonant voice, ‘ Fa…….ther…..dea ….d ……fune ral….. Wed…. nes…. day’. Even the message of death takes a sterile, meaninglessness in the mouths of the’ transmitting poles’ and the coachman’s ‘May his soul rest in peace’ sounds grotesquely irrelevant.
There is another play called ‘A fact’, in which, a young wife confesses to the priest that she has just discovered , purely by accident at the breakfast table
That her husband is artificial , made of plasticine.
The husband, a pillar of bureaucracy, noticing his wife’s sudden dismay asks her about it. She does not tell him about her discovery because of an apprehension that he, himself may not know about it and also, if he does but remains oblivious to the situation, in which case how it would affect her. So she decides to reconcile herself to living with a lie for t he rest of her life at the side of an artificial man and who is also the artificial father of her children!
At one level, these plays look like fanciful dreams that have little bearing on realty. But. At another level, the situations described are the outcome of logical reasoning. What makes the situations unreal is merely the fact that Mrozek has not stopped with his reasoning pocess at a point at which the sense of reality, or commonsense, would suggest a stop.
Rather, he goes on reasoning, supporting his argument with incontestable evidence, that live men are more intelligent than the poles, they can crouch and protect themselves during a storm, while the pole just stands remains standing until it breaks, the artificiality of a man’s reactions can strike his mate with the suddenness of a revelation.
The way of logically pursuing a line of thought at the expense of a real situation , a delightful tendency in the reasoning of children is Mrozek’s strongest device. What he reveals in precisely this way in the two plays is how the bureaucratic and social apparatus of a nation integrates people into its process on the higher (the plasticine men) as well as at the lower level (telegraph transmitters).
The apparatus created by man has changed its nature and it has become the master to give orders. Man creates systems b,ut ultimately he becomes the vivtim, their slave.
Mrozek wrote his plays during the communist rule after the second world war and most of the time he lived ibn France in exile.
During the Martial Law, when , for the first time in history, the proletariat rose against the oppressive Soviet domination over Poland, Mrozek’s plays were clandestinely staged in the churches, which used to draw a large number of people, mostly, the teachers and students of Warsaw University and other educational institutes.
(Courtesy The Wagon Machine’ My column)