Saturday, February 27, 2010

Theme and Variations: Etosha National Park and Schizoid States

Years ago I saw a documentary, "The Living Edens," broadcast on public television about Etosha National Park in Namibia, in Africa. I was enthralled by the show. Africa's Etosha is a vast and ancient land of seasonal paradox. During the blooming of the wet season, spring boks, elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jackals, zebras and giraffe thrive. It is also an Eden that slowly disappears when heat, drought and thirst put all life at risk, except for the opportunistic vultures.

Variation I

Etosha National Park is one of Southern Africa's finest and most important Game Reserves. Etosha Game park was declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22 270 square km, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish. The Etosha Park is one of the first places on any itinerary designed for a holiday in Namibia.

Etosha, meaning "Great White Place," is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.

A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

It's now clear what fascinated me about Etosha. It's a variation on a schizoid fantasy. The park represents symbolically the schizoid child's fantasy of emotional plenty in the midst of his family's emotional desert.

Variation II

In The English Patient, the novel by Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, the Cave of Swimmers—-the most important of Count László de Almásy’s discoveries—-was a cave in the midst of the desert with prehistoric drawings of figures swimming. This proved to Almásy that in Tassali, 6000 years ago, there had been a lake where now there is dryness. The desert is turned by him, in his imagination, into a plentiful sea. This is what a schizoid child does in the midst of deprivation.

Variation III

In some symbolic sense the Cave of Swimmers is the equivalent of Klingsor's Magic Garden in Wagner's opera, Parsifal.In the second act of the opera, the desolate realm of Klingsor's domain is transformed magically into a luxuriant garden, inhabited by flower maidens. At the end of the act, the garden suddenly vanishes, and is replaced by a barren desert. This is, once again, a schizoid fantasy.

Fittingly, Christoph Schlingensief’s production of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival in 2004 transplanted the opera to Namibia, with the singers attired in African costumes, wearing blackface makeup.

Here is an excerpt from the Flower Maiden scene in Klingsor's Magic Garden:


Gary Freedman said...

Does Alex Ross know what he's talking about?

Schlingensief Parsifal at Bayreuth


by Alex Ross

The New Yorker, Aug. 9 and 16, 2004.

"A ray of light: the Grail is fully radiant. A dove floats down from the dome above.” These are Richard Wagner’s stage directions for the maximally transcendent final moments of “Parsifal,” his last opera. Christoph Schlingensief’s production at the Bayreuth Festival last week gave us instead two dead rabbits, their rotting bodies intertwined, their images projected on a screen above the stage. We then saw a sped-up film of one rabbit decomposing, its body frothing as the maggots did their work. I’ve seen a lot of stupid, repulsive, irritating, befuddling, and boring things on opera stages over the years, but Schlingensief’s dead-rabbit climax was something new: for the first time, I left a theatre feeling, like, ready to hurl.

The trouble with this sort of provocation is that if you criticize it, even with an involuntary emetic reflex, you end up playing a role that the instigator has written for you. You are cast as the reactionary, the sentimentalist, the sort of person who requires a kitschy white dove, as if white doves and rotting rabbits were the only options. You are suspected of harboring Fascist tendencies. When Endrik Wottrich, the tenor who sang Parsifal, disavowed Schlingensief’s attempt to transplant the action to Namibia, the director accused him of having uttered racist slurs. No matter that the staging was full of hackneyed “darkest Africa” imagery, with several singers done up in inky blackface; the provocateur will always have the upper hand against the provoked.

Gary Freedman said...

The complete Alex Ross article is at:

Gary Freedman said...

Significant Moments

No doubt, the taboo of a mother-representative goddess figure has several determining causes but the slow process of alienation was certainly due to the chief cause to which other factors later contributed. This primary cause was the relation to the soil, the land, and that early bitter disappointment produced by its aridity resulting in famine. . . .

The relation of a people to the soil is pattern forming in the same way that an individual is related to the mother. It is the mother who feeds the infant. . . .

The Hebrews daydreamed of Canaan, promised to them as a Lady Bountiful, as a country overflowing with milk and honey. Here was the picture of a freely giving foster-Mother, of the "good earth" in contrast to the original land that had become parsimonious and mean. . . .

[T]he bitter experience of that earliest period, the drying up of the soil of their original homeland, did not prevent those tribes from forming and worshipping
the figure of a mother-goddess, but the repercussions of that primal experience led to an ambivalent attitude toward her, to an inherited vacillation between attraction and repulsion. This conflict of opposite forces resulted finally in the removal and
the taboo of a mother-goddess.
Theodor Reik, Curiosities of the Self.

Gary Freedman said...

Significant Moments

The apparent reliving of a lost past in terms of grasping at the illusion of ecstasy can only represent a falsification of memory for the purpose of defence. And the dry, brittle memories of an emotionally arid childhood are as fearsome as those of more openly violent abuse.
J. Moussaieff Masson and T. C. Masson, Buried Memories on the Acropolis: Freud’s Response to Mysticism and Anti-Semitism.

Parag said...

Etosha national park in northern Namibia is one of the largest wild game preserves on the African continent. It provides one of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in Africa. Etosha wildlife consists mainly African big five supported by other species of animals.