Sunday, March 25, 2007

Critique- Primo Levi

My initial response to the play “If this is a Man” was quite disappointing. I expected a well decorated and designed set that resembled real “concentration camp” waiting to devour my whole attention, and I hoped that it would summarize the whole story again. Unexpectedly, the set was overly simplistic; I even wondered whether the financial problems have prevented the director to spend enough money to create the setting of the play. However, I soon realized that my assumption was far off. As the play progressed on, all of my five senses seemed to be drawn into the play as my imagination expanded and matched the description that Anthony Sher gave. This was when I realized that there were purposes behind even the tiniest details; light, stage, props, actor, setting, costumes, and sound effects. As my imagination ran wild to portray every scene that Anthony Sher drew in my head, I realized the play was totally different thing than simply reading a book.
It is paradoxical to say this, but “If this is a Man” depicted the “Survival in the Auschwitz” in fullest by showing the least of it. The overly simplistic setting and props that even caused audience to feel like seeing the empty space actually helped audience to relate more to the concentration camp. No matter how much time, money and effort one puts in, and how intricately designed setting it is, the setting would never be able to portray the “exact” scene from the one existed during the period of Holocaust. The setting might also limit some individuals’ own imagination because everyone would have different interpretation of the Primo Levi’s writing, so by showing the audience what the concentration camps might have looked like would immediately block the imagination of the audience by letting them to submit imagination to the tangible subjects that is in front of them. Realizing this, the director of the play, Richard Walson, came up with a shrewd plan to make the stage as empty as possible and let alone the audience of the play to let their imagination run wild. By doing this, the audiences were able to make tighter connection with their own imagination to the setting and the props. The main prop of this play was a chair. A chair resembled everything, from a load of work, to bed, and this gave a room for audience’s mind to virtually visualize in their heads what the load or a bed would have been like in the concentration camps. It helped audiences to concentrate more on then natural flow of the play by developing their original shapes of what the loads, beds, and other things that Anthony Sher alludes to would have been look like. Additionally, the stage was covered by grey walls that caused the least distraction of the audience. However, the director adds symbolic points like purple light at the end of the empty room. The dark purple evokes gloom and sad feelings and it can cause frustration. Thus, I guess the empty room symbolized the gas chamber that terminated all the Jews and the cruelest place where dead corps were also left for audience to imagine. The play, therefore, were largely dependent for audiences’ imagination to really being able to follow the play or not,
The light effect allowed the act to represent the deepest emotions that the prisoners felt during they were in Auschwitz. In reading the book, ‘survivals in Auschwitz,’ the way how Primo Levi constantly described how horrible the conditions were in concentration, and after several times the subject became dull and boring. However, the play solved that problem by representing it through light to display emotions, rather then, writing out emotions every once in a while. Take the dark room behind the wall that appeared frequently during the clip, it portrayed Primo’s deepest fears in his life. The fear of hunger, coldness, suspiciousness, and the threat of being selected constantly haunted the prisoners in the concentration camps. The light usually symbolizes the hope, and this performance also portrayed light as a factor that gave them the actor a hope. In the book, concentration camp were such a harsh surroundings that everyone grew “selfish” and concerned only about their survivals, and prisoners lacked a chance to share freely about their concerns to one another because nobody really trusted anyone, and they have to save the last strength to endure next suffering days by saving the energy to talk. By doing so, many prisoners had mounted concerns and worries in their heart that they never had any opportunity to share that burden. However, with the spotlight on, it gave him an opportunity to share his story to the audience who would alleviate his “burden.”
The play was adapted by Anthony Sher, who excelled in provoking a whole different perspective and emotions that I have not quite attained from the book. The great difference from looking at the book from seeing the movie was that the visual aids that were represented to the audience had huge influence on how we tended to perceive things. The delicately designed and well thought out costumes reflected the dramatic changes from ordinary working Jew to the prisoner in the concentration camp without a break of a flow. Initially, the typical middle aged Jewish men with glasses and collared shirt appeared on the scene. This was a pleasant shock, because most of the people would have expected a man with torn shirts and pants. However, as plot moved on, Anthony Sher took his glasses off, unbuttoned his shirt, and rolled up his sleeves and revealed the number printed on his arm. This suggested how well and insightful the play had been thought out because it illustrated the changes as a typical Jew had to go through as he moved to the concentration camp without stopping the play to explain the changes. Additionally, the change in costumes gave the bases for audience to see that Jews were same people as every other person, and it gave audience an opportunity to visually compare the difference in appearance before and after a Jew was captured to the Nazi Germans. Delicately designed costumes were a direct contrast with the empty settings that portrayed almost nothing to the point of vagueness. The contrast worked in favor of the audience because it helped the audience to base their imagination on the costume and expand from then on. At first glance, the costume of Anthony Sher suggested that he is an average working Jew, and there were still many other factors like his physical traits, body structure, and facial features that suggested that he was a Jew. These traits were added in order to emphasize how the life of the typical Jew was like before he was sent to the concentration camp. The numbers shown through the folded sleeves of the Anthony Sher was another important part of the costume. The numbers were identities that SS officials forcibly placed upon the Jews, and it illustrated how harshly Nazi Germans treated Jews by stripping of all the identities, property, and many lives of the Jews. The director’s intentions were well served as the audiences were able to build bases for connection starting from the beginning by the appearance of Anthony Sher and how those gradually changed. Without the costume of the Anthony Sher portrayed to the readers, only the vague symbolism of the concentration camp would wonder around the heads of the audience, and many people would have had hard time to ponder their thoughts into the stream of imagination that flowed throughout the whole play. The book, however, lacked the stimuli factor that caused readers to expend on to their imagination. The book was more restrictive in a sense because the readers only had to follow the description of the somewhat limited description of the author. It was effective that the director of the play to leave some base to start their imagination from and leave other huge part of the play to depend on the imagination of the audience. However, the director of the play would also have to realize that by doing so, the success of the play was under great risk because the audiences who didn’t realize the book would assume that the whole play was unprepared and empty and the only thing that the director cared was the costume of the Anthony Sher.
The tone of Anthony Sher was perfectly set as if a guitar was tuned to create a perfect sound. His voice had strong attraction in that the voice was calm yet clear. He had somewhat strong European accent that added flavor to our ears to imagine as if I was in Europe. Throughout the whole play, Anthony Sher projected a monotonous and dull voice that was somewhat boring, however, I think that is also a point that the director wanted to make. The director wanted to show how boring and monotonous life the life of the prisoners had become after prisoners went through so many sufferings and were under constant fear of being executed that no other factors seemed to threat and the dull weary voice suggests that the prisoners lost most of their hope in living their normal life again.
Ultimately, the play “If this is a Man” evoked whole different feelings than what I have felt from the book. The way how the play combined light, stage, props, costume, and actor into a union to stimulate imagination of the audience deserves credit. These factors worked in such a harmony that I did not merely serve to summarize the whole book, but it actually expanded our branch of imagination to think beyond the original book.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Journal 17

The Story of Ten Days
In reading this chapter, I have to say Primo Levi must be the luckiest person I know. Throughout the book, there were number of luckiest things that happened to Primo Levi that allowed him to survive in the concentration camp. First of all, he most fortunately met Alberto who gave him a great physical as well as psychological support, to Primo Levi, he was kind of figure who gave and shared hope and strength. Additionally, he was selected as a laboratory worker who had great advantage over many other ordinary prisoners. Lastly, the scarlet fever saved his life in allowing him to avoid the death march 20,000 in moving to the different concentration camp.
Other factors also contributed to the survival of Primo Levi than just luck. Primo Levi showed great leadership and willingness to survive to the other prisoners who were left in the concentration camps without the SS officials, because they assumed many of them would die even though they were not killed like the other healthy 20,000 prisoners who left. It was true, many of the people who were left just died out of their own illness, however, Primo Levi and other fellows worked really hard and portrayed their will to survive. Although, they were sick, they set out to explore to gain the necessary goods and foods they needed to survive along with the people who Primo Levi shared room with. In this room, Charles and Arthur were great supporters who had done a good job in gathering food and goods. For instance, they found an oven to generate warmth to the all the people in the room, they found food and water to sustain their lives. The way how they managed to gain all the food and necessities for living deserves applause because they have done all these despite their illness and hunger. Without their strong will and determination, they wouldn’t have survived out of that dreadful situation.
Primo Levi at one point states, “was annoyed that they should be afraid: they had not even experienced a month of the Lager, they hardy suffered from hunger yet, they were not even Jews, but they were afraid.” This suggests how Primo Levi experienced such a hardship that he is seeking for empathy from other people to notice the sufferings he had to go through in his life, and criticize anyone who suffered less that complains. This shows the human tendency of wanting to get credit and respect for what they have done. The story ends as they get rescued by the Russians, and how each of them exchanged long letters. I wonder how emotional they would become in writing those letters to one another, who had walked together the path of life and death, and they have survived the dreadfulness of Auschwitz. I could not imagine how much things that they wanted to tell each other. For them, their relationship would be an unforgettable one that will last until their death. I think dreadful situation tends to create more concrete relationship than when its’ not, because suffering and enduring hardship together by giving one another strength and hope will bond much solid and concrete relationship than a relationship that does not suffer together. From now on, I will look for a long lasting relationship who would take part in the long suffering journey that I will be on.

Journal 16

The Last One
In this chapter, Primo Levi describes the effects of the transition from “manual laborer” to the laboratory worker who has many advantages over ordinary prisoners. He has much higher living standards and the advantage of stealing tools. The comfortable surroundings of laboratory allowed him to look back at the life, and in looking back, he finds how he had adapted well in this surrounding. He writes about his “strategic” way of living, and within his writing, how he had accumulated all the knowledge to “survive” in the camps are well written. The way how he stole parts of tools that might be a value in laboratory and sold in black market to obtain ration food reflects how much experience he has accumulated to “survive” in the dreadful surroundings of Auschwitz, and the establishment of “Operation File” with Alberto suggests how deep and kin their relationship was. I guess Alberto was kind of a figure, whom Primo Levi depended or relied on, or it could be vise versa. They always shared even the smallest thing they had. The trust that formed between them allowed them to survive in the dreadfulness of the camp where nobody believes anyone, but because each of the existed for Primo Levi and Alberto, they gave strength and hope to one another. The story progresses on and Primo Levi describes one man who tried to revolt in the concentration camp. “The man who is to die in front of us today in some way took part in the revolt...He is to die today before our very eyes: and perhaps the Germans do not understand that this solitary death, this man's death which has been reserved for him, will bring him glory, not infamy." The one man who revolted probably have brought strong emotional appeal to the prisoners in the camp to revolt because he posed a whole different perspective of the meaning of “survival.” He seems to suggest that “survival” in Auschwitz is being subjected under German control, and most prisoners might have felt or agreed with him and felt ashamed, however, I believe there are many different choices that prisoners could make that are wise. The man who chose “revolutionary” way that was willing to give up his life, while Primo Levi and other prisoners chose to “survive” and endure the hardship that Germans might give them, and they reflected their will to go home. It depends on people what choice is good or bad for them, but as for me, I would also have chosen Primo Levi’s way of living. Probably because of the hope that one day if I would get out of this concentration camp, I would taste the freedom and warmth in full appreciation. Thus, nobody could blame on anyone for the choice they have made for their own future.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Journal 15

Die drei Leute Von Labor
This chapter illustrates how prisoners are in constant tension and in suspicion because nobody knows what fate is waiting for them. Initially, Primo Levi had a sigh of relief when he was in the Chemical Komando, however, as no prisoners in the concentration camp predict what would happen to themselves, the most unexpected happen to him. Primo Levi had to work more than the prisoners who were not in the Chemical Komando. “So far, the advantages of being in the Chemical Komando have been limited to the following: the others have received overcoats while we have not…how can we still think about the chemistry examination and our illusions of that time?” Initially, Primo Levi thought that being in Chemical Komando would at least benefit him, however, the result came opposite. This allows us to guess what it would have been like to be in the camp, where nobody knows what to expect every second that they are living.
In the midst of chapter, news was spread that three of the people were chosen to work in the laboratory; one of them was Primo Levi. This new, however, was frightening for the chosen ones because nobody could expect what to happen. Although, many comrades congratulated them, the chosen ones were suspicious of what would happen. Primo Levi mentions Alberto a lot; probably because he was kind of figure that Primo Levi relied on the most in the camps. He was a kind of friend whom Primo Levi shared the last bit of bread with, he was kind of friend who always congratulated Primo first when he was chosen to work in the laboratory. I hope one day I would also have friend like Alberto who is trustworthy and always there for me. After that, Primo Levi discusses how good the laboratory was, it was the critical turning point of Primo Levi’s life in the concentration camp that it was like heaven in the midst of hell like environment in the Ka-Be. The temperature was warm, and everything was there for them “so it would seem that fate, by a new unsuspected path, has arranged that we three, the object of envy of all the ten thousand condemned, suffer neither hunger nor cold this winter.” This chapter will be a critical turning point for Primo Levi’s life as foreshadowed in the previous chapter; I guess Primo Levi’s description and tone will change dramatically from now on.

Journal 14

This chapter mainly describes what kind of person Kraus was in the concentration camps. However, in doing so, I sensed a little harsh tone in Primo Levi’s writing when he was describing Kraus. “I warn him to be careful, but without much hope: he is Hungarian, he understands German badly…” I was curious why Primo Levi described Kraus in such a manner. He was a fellow who worked really hard despite the harsh surroundings, and Primo Levi constantly criticize the hard work of Kraus by saying “He does not yet know that it is better to be beaten, because one does not normally die of blows, but one does of exhaustion…he seems to think that his present situation is like outside, where it is honest and logical to work, as well as being of advantage, because according to what everyone says, the more one works the more one earns and eats.” I think the harsh tone of Primo Levi’s writing probably rooted from his hatred toward Germany soldiers, not Kraus. Primo Levi’s hatred was so deep that whoever benefited Germans was the target of his hatred. Kraus, for instance, was an honest fellow who wholeheartedly worked in the concentration camps, probably not for German’s sake, but it was his personal habit that he worked so hard in any situation given. Although, Primo Levi probably knew that Kraus was not working so hard to gain special recognition for Germans, but his anger blocked Primo Levi from seeing it, and that prejudice built upon him resulted in Primo Levi watching Kraus in pity and degrading attitude.
Primo Levi, however, did not hate him personally, it was the most illogical, and unbearable environment that caused him to view Kraus as silly, poor fellow who could didn’t see the current situation he was in. Primo Levi describes how Kraus must be a good fellow as a civilian “What a good boy Kraus must have been as a civilian: he will not survive very long here…” This quote shocked me because it contradicted the very sayings of my parents that whatever situation I am in, I have to do my best in everything. This again suggests how dreadful the conditions were in concentration camps that even the most logical statement, “the more one works the more one earns and eats” was not options in this camp. Thus, I think I could understand Primo Levi’s view on how we sometimes must work minimal for our survivals.

Journal 13

October 1944
This chapter describes how the cold weather was directly affecting the prisoners in the camp in devastating manner. The approaching cold weather was like a death sign for them. Primo Levi, in the beginning of his life in concentration camp, had suffered through devastating winter, with temperature below freezing. In this freezing weather that seems to freeze even the brains of the prisoners, nothing but weakness, hunger, and knowledge of end dominated the minds of prisoners. However, the season was natural flow of the world that nobody had control of. Prisoners hated the approaching of the winter because of the devastating cold it brought; however, I thought some of the prisoners must have once liked the winter. The prisoners faced too many adversities that even the factors that they enjoyed once became the worst foe in their lives. This reminds me of the Boy Scout camp out. Before the camp out, I always liked the cool and refreshing breeze of the winter, and the beautiful snowflakes that covered everything in white blanket. However, the winter in Boy Scout camp out was dreadful experience for me. After the hard works in the morning and afternoon, I felt weak and hungry when it was time for us to sleep, in addition, the cold weather kept me from sleeping. I shriveled in the cold, but the winter did not pity me and it continued to pour freezing breezes inside our thin tents. After this experience, I still liked winter, but I became suspicious of this season that I always wear thick clothes whenever it’s winter. Thus, I believe the devastating adversities situation they were already in created an atmosphere that converted once joyful factor in their lives to be a devastating enemy that would kill them.
The prisoners are now appreciating in full of what they already have. The ration that they received was treated in most precious way that I was shameful that I sometimes throw away food in cafeteria. I guess it is just that I just haven’t suffered enough that allowed me to throw away the food. Thus, I learned how I should be more humble and be aware and thankful of my current position and try to help people who are unfortunate than I am.

Journal 12

The events of the Summer
This chapter tells us how the value of time could be different from one another. As for me, time is one of the things that I value most, because planning and using the time wisely would most likely to help you reach the goals that you have set. For instance, my goal is attend university in United States could be achieved only if I manage myself wisely by restricting myself of playing games, watching movies, and other hobbies that I enjoy and to spend most of my time studying. Like this, time or the future provided motives and invigorates our lives due to the hope that we could succeed. However, it was different for the prisoners in the concentration camps. For them, time was simply another part of their life that was dominated and controlled by the German soldiers. The German soldiers controlled every moves that prisoners made, thus, they stripped prisoners of hope, motivation, and plans that they had for their futures. Without the purpose of life, time simply became a “set schedule” that told the prisoners of when to eat, sleep, and work. I guess this futile and vague feeling coming from fact that none of them could set goals and use time to reach that goal took away all the energy they had.
This chapter also discusses how Lorenzo symbolized hope within Primo Levi’s mind. Lorenzo constantly portrayed his “goodness” even in physically unbearable conditions in the concentration camp, and his constant goodness allowed the fellow prisoners that “there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage… and worth surviving”. The quote suggests how strong the influence of Lorenzo was to the fellow prisoners. The conditions in the camps were so bad that it was hard for them to keep pure and whole, and as the harsh environment continually tortured them, they would eventually lose what it means to be pure or not savage, rather they only concentrate on how to survive. If this kind of thinking continues, prisoners would soon lose hope and purpose in living. However, fellow prisoner like Lorenzo portrayed strong will to remain pure and do something that would benefit neighbors gave them hope that if they go out of this concentration camp, they could see the “goodness” of people. Thus, his “goodness” split the hope and motivated them to live to see the “goodness” of the human nature.