Review by Amy Henry
Opera Bufa is the latest collection of poetry from the Greek poet Manolis. A departure from his more serious poetry of the past, this collection toys with the ideas of Albert Camus and his concept of absurdism. The result is at times comic, poignant, and often striking in the truth revealed in illusions.
“In Camus’ works…his emphasis had been on the presentation of the absurd as a crisis for the self’s yearning for lucidity and meaning in a world that is opaque and unresponsive.” And yet he further explains that “the sensibility of the absurd is not born out of any dark, morbid sense of nihilism, but is the result of a certain love and longing for life” (Thoyakkat 3).
Camus contrasted, with his Myth of Sisyphus, how poorly the purposed, meaningful life fits in a world of chance and unpredictable outcomes. Essentially, how can one find meaning if no meaning is to be had-do they continue to persevere or give up? Camus acknowledged that some find purpose with a belief in a higher-power God figure, while others live for the moment, intending to enjoy the here-and-now rather than live for a distant and possibly nonexistent future.
In a different avenue of entertainment, in the 18th century, the ‘theatre of the absurd’ found its way into popular culture, when operas were designed to appeal to the common, working man and to the topics particular to such. These “Opera Buffas” were a place for an ordinary man to laugh at the inconsistencies of his existence and featured a comic take on life’s painful travails.
Pablo Neruda followed along this style with his “La United Fruit Co.” poem, which examined the good and evil forces in the same comedic fashion while tackling the serious subject of the US and the ‘Banana Republics’ of Latin America (Fernandez 109).
Manolis takes this idea further in his Opera Bufa, which is decidedly more humorous, and creates altering poems of Hour and Canto in a 24 hour day that tweaks the concept of absurdism. He contrasts two types of individual: one that seeks to improve their lot in life, and the other that responds to complexities with a “who cares” attitude. In each Hour, an ironic personage dismisses the attempts at meaning with an aggrieved “who cares,” while by contrast, in each altering Canto, the other reaction, to virtually the same experience, is to diligently respond “we can do better.” Both sides expose their own sort of absurdism in relationship to how they view the world.
To illustrate: in the Fourth Hour, God appears and intervenes:
To throw punches at
Death who laughs His guts
Out sending up a pair of
Devils disguised with velvet
Veils to reduce the game
To a parody of errors while
Despicable people persist at
Loving and sharing things
Like nothing happened
An absurdity of seriousness”
While in Fourth Canto, the viewpoint is different; devils and veils appear yet again, but this time
Fears to maverick months without
Songs eluding to the graveness of this
Absurdity and soil negates its
Passive resolve to non-involvement
With opera music and spirited
Fervor of lovemaking shredding even
The stiffest veil of darkness…”
Their ascent to earth, despite their cynicism and mocking of the pathetic humans and their rites of love, leaves these veiled devils touched with jealousy of the human condition, no matter how absurd it may have seemed to them. Similarly, in the Fifth Hour and Fifth Canto, the dichotomy of “great with minor” and “light and dark” still inspires its observers to yearn “we can do better” despite the Fifth Hour’s inability to resolve the awe of colors and light and could only respond with “who cares”.
Using his poems, Manolis dissects the problem of evil that Camus so articulately defined, even quoting portions of Camus’ theories. To Camus, the problem was the two disparate options: “…either we are not free, and God…is responsible for evil. Or we are free and responsible but God is not all-powerful.” The two opinions plague both the angelic and demonic forces who jostle for the more relevant position. Manolis seems intent on showing how frustrated the human creature is to discern his place and his purpose when even supernatural powers are confused.
In the Twenty-First Hour, Death appears again as a dubious savior when physical disease has worn down the human:
“nothing remains but need
For a colder heart and
Death to re-emerge as savior at
A moment of need with His foul
Breath and missing teeth although
He filters the hopeless gap
Between ordinary and absurd
Choice and picks who
To take who to leave behind for
The next round of emotional
But a far more peaceful picture of imminent death appears in Twenty-First Canto:
“My voice softly caressing your earlobes
And your new path searches for another
Day declaring that scattered
Songs and lullabies
Bring up your memory until all that
Was past is present….”
All these contrasts, along with the unexpected juxtapositions of ordinary themes make this collection one that is difficult to both predict and put behind. The concepts succeed in seriously challenging attitudes while comically illustrating the often illogical beliefs that we cling to.
Fernandez, Carlos. “Opera Buffa and the Debunking of US Hegemony in Neruda’s “La United Fruit Co.” Romance Notes. U of North Carolina: 2009. Vol 49, Issue 2. Literary Reference Center. Web. Jan 21 2010.
Thoyakkat, Sreedharan. “The World is What Was Given, The World is What We Make.” IUP Journal of English Studies. Sept 2009. Vol. 4, Issue 3/4. Literary Reference Center. Web. Jan 15 2010.