Sunday, December 10, 2000

Sex, Revolution, and Lysistrata

Ever since we watched Lysistrata, one of the more erotic classics available on video, we at Classics Corner have been preoccupied with the idea of sex, revolution, and smashing capitalism, and we owe it all to the Seattle Public Library.

Should you want to see, oh, say, Tom Cruise in Magnolia, there are 85 holds on the library's 21 copies. The wait is two weeks to a month. But tonight, the SPL's single Greek language production of Lysistrata is ready whenever you are. Obscurity has its rewards.

Lysistrata is one of the three surviving plays by Aristophanes to plead for an end to the devastating war between Athens and Sparta. Unlike the other two, this play was produced at a time when Athens was militarily and economically on the ropes. By 411, no peace was possible without capitulation. Yet Aristophanes produced a drama in which the women of Athens and Sparta end the bloodshed and untangle the animosities driving the war, just as they would a knotted mess of yarn.

The basic plot is that the women swear a pact to withhold sex until the men agree to a lasting peace. The men, who have all become big and tense, eventually come around to their point of view.

There is much to love about this play, not the least of which is that the women embody common sense and resolution in the face of folly and arrogance, and that their revolution is both playful and serious. Their protest is an eruption of life and love in opposition to the everyday work of death and commerce.

"For myself," says the Chorus of Women, "I will never weary of the dance; my knees will never grow stiff with fatigue. I will brave everything with my dear allies, on whom Nature has lavished virtue, grace, boldness, cleverness, and whose wisely directed energy is going to save the State."

Speaking of life opposed to death and commerce, Seattle's Little Scab Newspaper recently compared our WTO anniversary demonstrations to Mardi Gras. The "reporter" went on to spend a good many paragraphs discussing the improbable fact of bare breasted Lesbian Avengers in late-November.

Sadly, we at Classics Corner were not personally in attendance. Opposing international capitalism that day took a back seat to our fundraising mailing, which also held a certain charm.

Yet we remember our youth, when we too had energy and ambition to smash the state full-time. In those days, certain professors made us read Marxist-Freudian philosophy at gunpoint as part of our indoctrination to the liberal democratic tradition.

Happily, this included Eros and Civilization, by Herbert Marcuse, the most radical philosopher we'll never really understand. According to Herb, meaningless work, deadened sexuality, commercialized entertainment, and other unfortunate aspects of civilization will always contend with an irrepressible life force that refuses to be contained.

We wonder whether the sweater-challenged Lesbian Avengers might offer the same advice as Aristophanes' Chorus of Women: "Be ever like a bundle of nettles; never let your anger slacken; the winds of fortune blow our way."