Is it OK to Enjoy Mozart’s ‘Abduction from the Seraglio’?

A British postgraduate musicology student loads up the arquebus with a gigantic clot of academic jargon and unloads on Wolfgang:

Within the boundaries of Saidean Orientalism, a work is deemed more ‘Orientalist’ if it purports to be authentic. Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail makes few, if any, claims to authenticity, most significantly because in theatre the boundary between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘imagined’, what is literal or ironic, is difficult to define. In a sense, the onus of ideological responsibility is shifted from the work itself onto the audience, and the way in which they perceive it. Moreover, in the blurring between Self and Other, Die Entführung does not provide a clearly Oriental identity, against which the Westerner may posit their notion of Self. The work is clearly of Orientalism, as Said states of Aida, since there are allusions to the East within a discourse of power, political or otherwise, yet this could be said of so many disparate works that it is an ultimately useless conclusion.

The negative stereotypes of the East in Die Entführung clearly portray it in a way which would reinforce the West’s perception of its own superiority. However, in order to satisfy Said’s contextual conception of an Orientalist work there must be a hegemonic discourse which favours Western Imperialism, a clearly defined Other, to enable a codification of the Self as its converse, and an attempt to provide an ‘authentic’ depiction of the East. The political tensions between Vienna and the Ottoman Empire, however, mean that Die Entführung is less an ‘assumption to power’ than a reaction to the current threat of an equal, albeit temporarily sedated, enemy. Self and Other were too similar in real life, and overlap too much in the opera, to facilitate a clear distinction. Far from attempting a quasi-ethnographic authenticity, in his reliance on stereotypes and musical convention, Mozart makes no such claim and, owing to the theatrical and often comic nature of the work, it would be foolish to take all its implications at face value. The absence of an internal ideological consistency means that the opera, as a self-contained unit, cannot be interpreted as uniformly Orientalist in a Saidean sense. Moreover, as with any artwork which is sent into the public domain, the multiplicity of possible interpretations by audiences existing in different times, places and cultures, force one to admit that, even if a work were deemed Orientalist according to Said’s doctrines, this could never be a permanently unequivocal designation.

As one outrageous Internet wag put it after quoting this piece, 'I think that means: yes, it’s still okay to enjoy this opera.'

German Word of the Week: Einsatzort


Being the Friend of Nature™ that I am, I'm gonna plant some bee-friendly plants on my balcony this weekend. To find out which ones to plant, I visited (bee-rescuer). One of the main pages is labeled Dein Einsatzort: Balkon! 

There are a couple of things to note here. First, the website uses the private/intimate form of address, something which is increasingly common in the German media and which often irritates extremely traditionalist Teutonophiles such as myself. Sure, bee-rescuer website, we may have some ideas in common, but that hardly gives you the right to address me informally.

Honor is saved by the use of the German word Einsatz. What is (an) Einsatz? Einsatz is a mission, a task, purposeful activity of some sort. Work. Diligent accomplishment. Soldiers go on Einsätze (missions). The sign above lets you know that this car is owned by a doctor who is currently doctoring someone up — he is im Einsatz (literally 'in a mission'). Einsatz, being value-neutral, and also being German, has its dark side. The mobile SS death squads in the occupied East during World War II were called Einsatzgruppen, often lamely translated as 'special action groups'.

Now, many German words have other, completely unrelated meaning, so Einsatz (literally, 'in-portion' or 'in-set' or 'in-part') is also the incredibly useful, general term for something smaller that fits into something larger, as these images, found at the previous link will immediately convey to you:

Bildergebnis für mit einsatzBildergebnis für mit einsatzBildergebnis für mit einsatz

At first, the two meanings might seem unrelated, but upon further reflection, a metaphorical Einsatz refers to something someone or a group does to fulfill a larger mission.

Which brings us back to Einsatzort: Balkon! Your place of Einsatz, this website is telling you, is your balcony. By planting the right plants, you, ordinary German citizen, can help assure the survival of bees. And with that, I plan on beginning my Einsatz with a beer-fuelled visit to my local Gartencenter.

Japanese Revere, Eat Insects

You might notice I've been on a Japan kick recently, so here's a pice from Aeon in which Andrea Appleton describes Japanese insect love

Insects have been celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries. ‘The Lady Who Loved Insects’ is a classic story of a caterpillar-collecting lady of the 12th century court; the Tamamushi, or ‘Jewel Beetle’ Shrine, is a seventh century miniature temple, once shingled with 9,000 iridescent beetle forewings.

Insects continue to rear their antennae in modern Japan. Consider ‘Mothra’, the giant caterpillar-moth monster who is second only to Godzilla in film appearances; the many bug-inspired characters of ‘Pokémon’, and any number of manga (including an insect-themed detective series named after Fabre). Travel agencies advertise firefly-watching tours, there are televised beetle-wrestling competitions and beetle petting zoos. Department stores and even vending machines sell live insects.

Nor do the Japanese merely admire insects: they eat them too. In the Chūbu region, in central Japan, villagers rear wasps at home for food, and forage for giant hornets that are eaten at all life stages, while fried grasshoppers or inago are a luxury foodstuff. Entomophagy once had a place in Western culture too: the ancient Greeks ate cicadas, the Romans ate grubs. But while modern Westerners blithely eat aquatic arthropods – lobster, shrimp, crab, crayfish – we’ve lost our taste for the terrestrial kind.

More Peppy/Doom-Drenched Japanese Signage

First of all, a huge thank-you to all the people who responded to the last post. Whenever I think 'blogging is so 2007, why bother anymore?', something like that last comment thread happens. Although I have to say, I do a lot more on Facebook than I do here. You can always sign up with a fake name and follow me without becoming my 'friend'.

In any case, like most travelers to Japan, I found the omnipresent signs more than amusing. Of course, Germany is also full of signs telling you what to do and not do, but they're always generic and uniform. Japan boasts an artisanal underground of graphic designers hired to make instruction of the populace as amusing as possible, generally by creating yet another animated mascot (yuru-chara). They often come with poetic English translations: 'An Important Thing is Protected.' 'No! Drug!' 'Water Can Not Drink'.

So here's a whole contingent of other signs, slogans and mascots from Japan. My attempts at an explanation are in the hover text, but feel free to correct me. The first is actually a poem, posted at Saisho-in temple. Anyone know who wrote and/or translated it?

Saisho in summer poem Woman on tracks signGinza Woman Holding Christian Repent PlacardHardened Japanese CriminalsKyoto main station sign with terrified salarymanMr Funtime and Mr BadassNanzen ji warning sign someone stole my fucking bikeNanzenji fire control yuru-chara (animal mascots)
Nara sign with deer and disabled childrenNo Depositing Carefully Wrapped Packages on StreetShelter for People Who Cannot Go Back HomeShibuya an important thing is protectedShibuya drunken salarymen about to dieShibuya italian slow food lifeShibuya whale meat restaurantTokyo rainbow kitchen special night for boozeYanaka cemetery dog with tiny shovelYanaka no smoking gingko leavesYanaka no smoking signYanaka no! drug! sign
Yanaka cemetery dog with tiny shovel Arashiyama water can not drink Harajuku maple lake vfw girl Kyoto main station what you cannot store in lockers Shibuya donky boulange-001 Shibuya twits the americana hat Yanaka body identification poster outside police station Yanaka stagecoach western 'pub' yeehaw