Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How A Modest Suggestion Came To Be - Ken Kaissar

One day in playwriting class, my teacher was explaining that a writer’s work should reflect their philosophy towards life. In other words, by reading someone’s writing, we should understand how that writer understands the world in which they live. Do they think people are intrinsically good or evil? Are they conservative or liberal? Pessimistic or optimistic? Materialistic or hedonistic? Are they for abortion, or pro-life? Socialized health care, or capitalist health care?

And in this laundry list of possible views that could be reflected in a writer’s work, he said, “Should we kill the Jews, or should we not kill the Jews.”

My teacher of course was intentionally raising an absurd question to make a point. He is in no way anti-Semitic, but is actually quite passionate about people from all backgrounds. But he was trying to exaggerate the sick and twisted thoughts that lurk in people’s minds. I think he was trying to help us tap into our dark side. Everybody knows that great writing comes out of a writer’s dark subconscious mind.

But in that moment, my mind stayed on that terrifying question: “Should we or should we not kill the Jews?”

I started to imagine a scene in a corporate board room in which four executives engage in a cold and calculated cost-benefit analysis to see if it’s actually beneficial and cost effective to kill the Jews.

I intended the scene to go on for about ten minutes. Ten minutes became twenty. And at the end of the first scene, I decided, “okay, now we have to see them interact with a Jew.” And then I thought, wouldn’t it be “funny” (that’s the sick and twisted part) if they decided that this Jew isn’t Jewish enough. And the piece quickly became a statement on ethnic identity, and what it really means to belong to a people, in this case the Jewish People.

A Modest Suggestion is not just an absurdist look at genocide and bigotry, but also a statement on what it means to be a Jew. Or, to put it in a more universal way, what it means to belong to any nationality or ethnicity.

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