Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The monster with no name

Some things are difficult to get my head around.  Film and theatre - no problem.  Live performances of plays, ballet and opera screened direct to cinemas - a bit strange having a theatre experience in a cinema space but it makes sense.  Showing a recording of a live theatre performance in a cinema many months later feels very strange.  However, it gave us to catch up with Danny Boyle's acclaimed production of Frankenstein from the National Theatre.  The superlatives of the time were justified, in spite of not getting the full effect of being present in the auditorium.

The new play from the book is powerful in bringing out several themes such as the nature of humanity, prejudice and the inter-dependence of creator and created.  But it was the issue of the name of the"monster" that has been running round my head.  I use the term "monster" as shorthand but we have to recognise that it is not a name but is a perjorative description.

Boyle has said that he wanted to give the "monster" a voice.  In the play he turns from an incoherent being at his creation into someone who aware, well read and articulate (in content, albeit with a speech defect).  But, as in the book, he has no name.  He describes himself as an Adam to Frankenstein the creator but he does not claim that name, which anyway is a descriptor.

So why, I ask myself, does Frankenstein not give him a name and why does he not give himself a name when he has the intellectual capacity and literary knowledge to do so?

Giving a name or knowing a name is often understood to give power over a person.  Traditionally, parents express their authority over a child by naming them.  Traditionally, a wife took the husband's name on marriage to indicate whose authority she was now under.  People converting to Christianity have often taken a new name, a Christian name, to indicate that they are now under Christ's authority.  I could go on about this but I hope it makes the point.

For Frankenstein to name his creation, it would imply taking responsibility for his work.  For the "monster" to name himself, it would mean taking responsibility for himself, becoming his own person.  So here we have the tragedy - neither wants to be or is capable of being fully human.  The non-humanity is not just a feature of the creation but of the creator too.

In the end, they disappear from sight, ineluctably bound together in their inhumanity, to their mutual destruction.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A Greater Manchester mayor?

Being old. I can remember things (at the same time as forgetting things). In 1974, England had a major reorganisation of local government. In Greater Manchester, a hotchpotch of smaller and larger local councils were coalesced into 10 metropolitan borough councils with a Greater Manchester council having responsibility for county wide strategic issues. The churches even responded by setting up the Greater Manchester County Ecumenical Council to coordinate their work across the county and to engage with local government.

Mrs Thatcher abolished metropolitan county councils in 1986 - they tended to be Labour and she didn't like local government anyway. Some of the Greater Manchester county council's responsibilities were given to the 10 boroughts, others had to be fulfilled by several ad hoc coordinating committees. Some of these have been reasonably successful - the development of the Metrolink tram system and support for the arts, for example. However, their success was only possible because they built on what had already been set up under the Greater Manchester Council.

Now, 40 years on, the current government has had an idea - Greater Manchester would flourish (economically, of course, what else matters) if there was proper strategic planning and direction. Their answer is an elected Mayor with those responsibilities. This does have the benefit of democratic appointment but not the checks and balances of accountability between mayoral elections. A region like Greater Manchester does need some strategic authority with resources. So far so good. Better a sinner that repents!

However, I can't help but wonder why a government facing economic problems should decide to give £1 billion to Greater Manchester. Of course, there is great merit in spending decisions being taken at as local a level as possible rather than by people in London. For a government, though, there is the happy position of being able to say, when people complain about lack of funding,that decisions were taken by your Mayor not by us. The reality is that the government's generosity is an illusion. Local government is being systematically starved of funding with ongoing cuts to their budgets with front line services on which many depend being destroyed. Is the appointment of a mayor a way of deflecting anger?

A Greater Manchester mayor as Trojan horse? Beware Greeks (or governments in this case) bearing gifts!