Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

09 April 2011

Makropoulos on Makropulos

The only problem with
Janacek's Makropulos Affair
is that it is not the original.
In fact, Janáček
took the opera and made it
as much about him as it was about
Elina Makropoulos,

just as some crazy blogger
might take my story
and make it as much about her
as it is about
Elina Makropoulos.

This past week, I decided to reread the play that some might claim 
was my origin, and I want to comment on it,
for a line or two or three,
or more.

I think it is unfair to the playwright that the opera appears to get produced
far more than his play does.  And the play, quite frankly, is very good,
and very timely, indeed.

The author, Karel Čapek
(and I've made it a point to represent his name correctly -- it appears that his last name,
if represented and pronounced correctly, would sound like "chapik" more or less.)
was, in no uncertain terms, a visionary.  His play about me
 reminds me of some of the details that I had forgotten,
and even misrepresented, here in my blog.  So, to begin, 
I would like to correct them:

In both the opera and the play it appears the actual origin of my 
perpetual eternal state of youth is explained as this:
my father was the alchemist for Emperor Rudolf II
of Greece, and the Emperor wanted a formula for
eternal life.  My father obliged.  The Emperor demanded, though,
that my father try the formula out on me, and he did. I was in a coma for
a week, and then woke up and that was that.  I was altered, and began to experience the comings and goings of every dear person that I ever loved. 
Now, according to Janáček's
libretto, I ran off with the formula, and began my operatic career.  It appears to me
that the opera is a bit more deliberate in making me want eternal life.
And of course: why wouldn't one want
eternal life?   This, of course, was the question that intrigued my dear
Mr. Čapek.  The poor man, after all, was nearly a cripple 
all of his life, and hopelessly in love with a woman who perhaps 
he also even feared.  Lucky for him, he did marry her, in his 40's,
and I sincerely hope he found some kind of joy with her before he died,
so young, right on the brink of the Second World War.

And why wouldn't one want eternal life?  For a time,
I adored it, and I adored the different men who fell
at my feet.  In a nutshell, everyone thought 
I was pretty "hot."  And the beauty of experiencing life
and love more and more in a body that does not age
is that one gains a knowledge and certainty
that shines in the eyes, and makes one's ever-youthful body
all the more attractive.  Yes, for a time, one 
Elina Makropoulos had the time
of her endless life -- men fell at my feet;
women, too, and occasionally I suffered
the side-effect called pregnancy 
and children.  So there are bastards
that might be credited to me.
To keep them from being able to find me,
I kept on changing my name.  Always
but a different name every fifty years
or so, to defray suspicion.  Dear Mr. Čapek's play
spills the beans, so to speak, telling the tale of a century's old property suit
that only I know the solution of.
(As of right now I realize that it is pretty wrong to claim my name is
Emilia Marty, the name I had in 1922, but instead just 
admit it is Elina Makropoulos, 
which is the most honest I can be short of 
giving the name of this crazy bitch who claims
she is me, and who also feels she has lived
for an eternity, and I will also tell you:
she is right.  This woman who claims my name has lived forever,
and will live forever, as will I,
in these words I write here.)
 But what does one lose if one lives forever?
One loses one's humanity.
Emilia Marty is not a nice woman, but men
do overlook it because she is beautiful; they fall
in love with her, but she does not care.
(Rather, I should say "I" -- it is so disorienting to speak 
of one's self in the Third Person.
But one does it on Facebook,
so I will continue to do so

She is a bit like the robots in Čapek's other visionary play:
R.U.R.  Ah, now that's a masterpiece, a play
worth producing today, a play about robots; in fact, Čapek coined the term
"robot."  His robots in R.U.R. are manufactured
to make human life easier -- 
and they are manufactured in absolute
human form, some even manufactured in the likeness
of beloved humans.  One such robot is made to look
as beautiful as the beautiful Helen, only for her creator to realize:
 "She's half asleep!  How can she be beautiful
if she does not know how to love?  It makes me shudder to look
at her -- I've created a cripple!"

That line from R.U.R. could be very easily moved to the Makropulos Case,
where  the eternal Emila/Elena is about as human as a robot, 
indeed -- in her drudging trudge through eternity,
she - or should I say I - loses her capacity
to love.  Each day and each love
is as dry and stale as sawdust.
Only her singing retains a trace of love,
as it wells up from a heart
that has ached a thousand times --

This strikes me as so relevant to humanity's condition today:
here we are so mechanized, and so reliant on machines,
we have lost our hearts.  As we march toward
the looming spectre of the cyborg and the Singularity,
one might say of this,  what Čapek's character Domin says of the robots:
"They say they're on a higher evolutionary plane
than man.  More intelligent, stronger.  Man is just 
their parasite . . .!"  In so-called First World Countries today,
we humans have become so wedded to our technology
that we have lost our sense of community, and with it
our hearts.  As we strive, with our medical advancements,
towards trying to attain eternal life, we overlook the importance
of love and the momentary pleasure.  

Do humans really want to be eternal?  And here I must quote
myself, Elina Makropulos, in the play dubbed by my name:
"People never get better.  Nothing changes, nothing.
Nothing matters, nothing happens.  
Shootings, earthquakes, the end of the world -- nothing!
You're here, and I'm somewhere far, far away, three hundred years away!
If only you knew how easy your lives are!"

(And why, you may ask, would a 425 year old woman
damned to eternal life,
say your lives are easy?)
"You're close to things.  Everything means something! 
Everything has value in the few short years of life,
so of course you live it to the full. . . . 
Fools, you're so happy!  It's disgusting to see you so happy!
And all because of the stupid accident that you'll soon be dead!
. . . . Everyone, everyone believes in something. 
What a life, you fools!  What a wonderful life!"

We try so hard to exceed ourselves, to become eternal,
but perhaps, dear friends, we've reached
our limits.  Perhaps, dear friends,
as the world seems to crumble around us,
and technology looms, threatening the end of humanity,
we need to embrace that one thing
that makes us human:
we are living, dying entities
who can find meaning in the short space of time
during which we inhabit this wonderful place
called earth.  And the greatest meaning we can 
find is the meaning the robots found at the end
of Mr. Čapek's R.U.R. , in a world where it appears
robots have overpowered all:
"Friends, life will not vanish, love will endure!
From love comes life, naked and tiny, taking root
in the wilderness.  Houses and machines will disintegrate.
The names of the great will whither like leaves.
Only love will bloom in the emptiness, 
casting the seeds of life to the wind."

And Makropoulos will live forever,
because at this stage of her life,
this stage of life she has attained 
after gaining the knowledge of the preciousness of death,
she has nothing left to embody
except that love that promises eternal life.

1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I feel I know you a little better now, Makropoulos.