I went and saw Tony Kushner speak tonight. He was pleasantly all over the place with a lot of readings (which he does very well), and I’m sure other pieces of the night will get written about later.
However I want to discuss almost the first things he said, which stuck with me. He was discussing Brundibar, his recent collaboration with Maurice Sendak to translate the libretto of the same name written in 1938 as opera for children and performed most famously 55 times in the Terezin concentration camp.
He described the story thusly,
“2 children go into town to buy milk, they see a teenage boy with an organ grinder busking, they decide to sing, the boy, who is a transparent parable for Hilter chases them off. Later they get 300 school children to march on the square, they chase on the bully, sing, and people shower them with coins. Good, solid Eastern European Socialist fairy tale.”That tickled my fancy, it comes as no surprise to anyone who is read Kushner’s work that he is avowedly political, but in this country we tend to think of politics as something for grown ups (or not to be discussed at all, but I’ll address that some other time). Or at least most of us do, Cory Doctrow was apparently raised on Marxist re-interpretations of Conan stories starring a gender diverse trio, and noted sociologist and Marxist Eric Olin Wright has put up a page of audio recordings of Marxist bed time stories.
So now you know what to bring to the next baby shower you attend.
Kushner closed his story by noting he felt compelled to add an epilogue in which Brundidar, in verse, promises he’ll be back some day. Kushner said this was so that “no child reading the book could sleep that night” with a wicked chuckle. But if you take the whole story as elementary school agitprop then the update seems like an accurate reflection of the times. After all if the 20th century taught us anything it taught us that the Revolution is not, as Marx had hoped, inevitable.