Havel, Scruton, and Others

by Jay Nordlinger

Last week was an oddly and unexpectedly Czech one for me. Let me explain. On Friday night, I attended an extraordinary play at the 3LD Art & Technology Center, deep in Lower Manhattan. I have called it a play — but that is not exactly the right word. It’s a theatrical production, in any case. With lots of music.

The basis of the show is a dialogue that Václav Havel wrote in 1987: “The Pig.” It was published in samizdat. In 2010, the director Vladimír Morávek combined it with The Bartered Bride, the Smetana opera. Then, the American Edward Einhorn played with it further, resulting in the present production.

I can’t say that I fully understood everything that was going on, but I understand the show to be a commentary on the Communism that Havel and his friends were opposing with all their might. Even at this late stage, anti-Communism in art is something newish to me. When I was growing up — and where I was growing up — the rule was more like pro-Communism (or at least anti-anti-Communism).

The evening opens with a sort of cabaret show — 20 minutes of music. You can also eat a meal, appropriate to the occasion: a Czechoslovakian one. Then comes the play (or whatever the right word is). Afterward, there is more music, a kind of Velvet Underground rock-out.

Everyone does everything in this show. Cast members act, but they also play instruments, sing, and dance. A prominent role is taken by a friend of mine, Katherine Boynton. The cast at large on Friday night demonstrated an esprit de corps. This was a goofy, charming, weird, and also serious evening.

For a webpage, go here.

And let me append two musical notes, if I may: The name of the Czech director mentioned above is Morávek; the great pianist spells his name Moravec. Czech has long been rather mysterious to me. But The Bartered Bride has not. Some may know that its overture is the “theme music” to our talk series, The Human Parade. (For a “highlights reel” of that series, go here.)

Earlier last week, I attended a book party for Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, novelist, composer, etc., etc. He is one of the last of the Mohicans, one of the last of the all-purpose intellectuals (and an artist as well). His latest book is a novel, Notes from Underground. It is a story of Czechoslovakia in the last years of Communism. Roger participated in the underground, to the extent a foreigner could. His book is a political story — it tells you a lot about living in a police state — but it is primarily a love story, I think. And a knockout of a love story.

Incidentally, 1984 is too little credited with being a love story, in addition to all the other things it is.

Obnoxious as it may be to quote one’s own blurb, let me do so in the case of Notes from Underground: “Roger Scruton knows many things, including communism, the human heart, and the English language. He was perfectly positioned to write this extraordinary, haunting novel.” Yes, indeed. And as I remarked to Roger, it’s one thing to write an elegant novel. Lots of people write elegantly. It’s another thing to have insights worth writing down, elegantly or not.

How does Roger know all that he puts in this book, and his other books? These intricacies of the human heart and so on? Whatever the case, he does, and the elegant writing is almost incidental. Roger Scruton is a seer, which can be unnerving.

Presiding over a dinner for him was Roger Kimball — like Scruton, an all-purpose intellectual. I thought, “What would we do without our three Rogers? Kimball, Scruton, and Ailes.” There are others, no doubt, ones who don’t come to mind just now.

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