A friend recently arrived from Paris told me he had seen a unique play.
The plot was not taken from literary fiction, but from a phase in the history of France. Scenes from the frantic, filthy and bloody debacle of the Terror were represented on the stage with the most rigorously authentic costumes of the period.
Whenever an episode outstanding for its historical importance or its poignantly dramatic character was being played, the actors would, at a certain point, pause — “faisant tableau”. That is, making a static but living scene.
This dramatic device corresponds perfectly to the way the mind of every lucid spectator works. Such a person is not consumed with haste to reach the end of the story, but he knows how to gather every pearl, every flower, every ray of light and every stream of darkness as the plot develops. To “gather” is to fix one’s attention, pause, analize and — without a supreme delight! to conclude.
So, an historical play that pauses from time to time like a living picture, appears to me to be profoundly psychological.
The reader is going to ask me what this has to do with my topic today. No matter whether he agrees with me, disagrees with me, or finds himself in that typical mixture of agreement and disagreement that is the brackish muck of modern indecisiveness, he will still ask.
Let me explain. Just a little while ago, world events were unfolding in that mixture of drowsiness, moans, laughs and howls so typical of modern chaos.
For example, Spain was bitterly divided between those for and against divorce. The Cabinet had fallen. A rather colorful coup d’etat had shaken the country. Was it the emerging tip of a great iceberg of discontent? Or was it a joint effort of a Don Quixote in Madrid and a Sancho Panza in Valencia? Nobody knows. The coup was foiled. Nothing more was heard of the polemics over divorce, nor of politics, for that matter. In the minds of the people, like living tableaux, there remained only the scenes of the hero — or the Quixote — breaking into the Cortes to arrest the members of the government and later dramatically surrendering to the police.
It was the same thing with Poland. Just yesterday John Paul II was receiving the labor leader Walesa in the Consistory Hall and conferring on him in a most solemn and impressive way a real commission to direct Catholic opinion in his country. One would have said that a great plan was being traced out and that an important event or rather, a whole series of them, was going to burst onto the scene.
Walesa returns to Warsaw and everything goes on as before. That is, the same tensions and the same showy clashes brought about by secondary matters continue between the government on the one hand, and the front made up of Cardinal Wyszinski and Walesa on the other. As usual, right after the clash there is a suspense. It looks like the worst is going to happen. But behold, an unexpected formula is found that leads both sides to a dialogue. And this, in turn, finally leads to a middle-of-the-road solution. Tensions relax, there is a general relief. Praise is lavished on the government’s prudence, Walesa’s agile firmness, and the tact of Cardinal Wyszinski, already celebrated a thousand times over. A few days later the same process starts up again about another matter of the same importance; just one detail is new. According to the Polish Army paper Zolnierz Wolnosci some Catholic priests affirm that there is a betrayal on the part of Cardinal Wyszinski, who is playing this game in complicity with the communists (cf. O Globo, 3-4-81). Is this an invention? Of the communist newspaper? Of the priests? The exhausted public no longer follows the events very much. As a living tableau, there remains in its memory only the scene in the sumptuous and sacral Consistory Hall with John Paul II, in the presence of a limited public and TV cameras, giving guidelines as Walesa protests his obedience to him.
More recently, the communist parties gather in Moscow for their latest world congress. Giancarlo Pajetta, secretary general of the Italian Communist Party, the largest one in the West (with a markedly eurocommunist tendency) has his speech prepared to be read in the plenary. His speech contains attacks on the Russian policy toward Afghanistan and the European crisis and demands autonomy for the non-Russian CPs. The censors consider Pajetta’s harangue heterodox and forbid him to read it before the congress. As a consolation, they allow him to speak to a union meeting. How many people were present? How many of them belonged to the KGB? The dispatches don’t say.
The only thing left in the memory of the public is a living tableau of a Soviet agent of dynossauric features returning Pajetta’s speech and shouting “nyet!” Head down, an intimidated Pajetta takes his text back.
Another much less emphasized and less noticed report comes out. It is that the red propaganda is doing all it can to spread the news of this episode with Pajetta hoping that many readers, persuaded of the incompatibility between the Kremlin and Eurocommunism, will be attracted to the Italian Communist Party. Was this incident in Moscow nothing more than a show, a kind of a living tableau to influence the Italian elections? It seems so.
I am abstaining from commenting on the tableaux and suspense on the Brazilian scene: The drowsy workers’ agitation in the ABC area of Sao Paulo and elsewhere; the Basic Christian Communities, which appear to be less aggressive than they were up until recently; the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, which spent all of 1980 agitating the country with its land reform and its threats of urban reform, and that now, after its 1981 meeting, comes out with a sleepy commentary on the country’s present situation.
So many things seem to have become more or less stagnated. Only here and there one sees mysterious flare-ups. In Ceará — where there have been unfortunate but likeable populations that have suffered in times of drought — small groups are beginning to make mini social revolutions. Why is this? Are there professional agitators there? It seems that the agitation is spilling over into the States of Bahia, Piaui, Paraiba, and elsewhere, tending to form living tableaux.
Will other living tableaux have begun to form around the world by the time this article comes out? Will some of those already existing be once again set in motion? At times immobility gives rise not to normal movements, but to explosions.
The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on March 13, 1981. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.