A pre-French Revolution salon. The entire history of Western world in a shelter in the eve of the cataclysm of the Great Change. Outside, the world is cracking across the heavy stitches, forged through millenniums. Inside, silk is cracking under the touches of fear and beauty. Soon nothing will ever be the same. The Outside and the Inside will definitely become two remote Universes, while the human existence will be transformed into an eternal journey in the quest for their connection point. But in that particular moment, the Outside and the Inside are still for a short while one and the same Universe. Boudoirs and cities still speak the mutually comprehensible languages. World and Home are still one and the same place. Soon, people will never again be capable to communicate with a world outside of their own; they will be constantly searching for a possibility of co-existence, learning the languages of communication. Beauty will remain captured in the mirror, incapable of getting out of it. A valiant lie will never again be more sincere than the Truth. The salon/shelter is trembling in face of the thunder of the approaching change. Fear, love, hope and despair are to become a game without winners. The game will win over itself.
Dangerous Liaisons are the first step of the journey through this Change. The dangerous liaisons of the philosophy in boudoir turn the ménage a trois into a quartet. What is needed is to revisit and meet for the first time all the old, once so familiar places. While waiting for this to happen, the desperate effort to preserve the familiar world as we always knew it turns into an elegant, bloody game of loveliness and cruelty.
To foretell catastrophe is unbelievably earthly. It is much more original to suppose that it already happened.« Jean Baudrillard, »Cool memories«
Choderos Laclos wrote his novel »Dangerous Liaisons« seven years before the French revolution. Heiner Muller published »Quartet« exactly twenty years after. It was as close to the fall of the Berlin wall as Laclos was to the revolution. Laclos had seen his characters degraded and removed by the historical fury in which only the guillotine knew what it was doing. Muller already places them under shelter after world war three, because he faced the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, »the light was thrown from its throne, and the lowest of all won: the paradox of force.«(Canetti) Revolutions and wars have repeated themselves so often that we count them as natural. People no longer glorify the winners. They can not stand them even. They hail them for two days and on the third they annoy them, reminding them of their own facelessness. So they throw them into mud. All winners are predestined to failure, but there will always be new players desperate to succeed. We call this wrestling in the mud History in which fear always enforces the longing for freedom.
Laclos and Mueller are inspired by the same story which »glows like ice«(Baudelaire) in the conflict between Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont who are still settling accounts with history and »the customs of their time« (Laclos). Through them they clearly declare great historical events, the fury of which sensible ears could not have overheard. Cinematic versions of the same story did not concern themselves with historical connotations, for them the theatre of human passions, vanity, love and longing, was a satisfactory edifice. The demonesque battle between reason and emotion, play and reality, desire and chastity, a combat in which the combat is far more important than victory (because victory means the end of the game and that is a form of failure for all participants). This battle is actually the smallest denominator into which we can squeeze the history of humanity. But what are we to her and she to us after this story has been told so many times? After all stories have been told a countless number of times? Is this the same Story which appears in books as the history of meaning, the history of Reason? A History which is after all only a (written) text. No more no less. A group of phrases. Highly stylized and thoroughly polished. A story that does not document reality, but only produces myths, because it has lost the connection with the reality of events by its countless mediations.
This sort of History tells us of past events in the same way as novels and plays. How are we then to distinguish the true and false events between each other? And which are True? Is truth in fact only an illusion that grew so old that we can no longer recognize it as an illusion? Or is our reality in fact realer than the real? The French name their cultural history »l´histoire de mentalites«. The history of human relations can clearly be seen as the history of dangerous liaisons. Maybe precisely because of this, all great history books do not even deal with people, but only with events. Revolutions, wars, discoveries, inventions, conflicts, and then again from the beginning … In such an endless repetition of identical events it seems as if history is only digging in her own dirt, and it is not hard to believe Canetti´s statement, how after reaching a certain point, history was not real anymore and with it, without even noticing, humanity abandoned reality.
For the human being this History is of course not a friendly place, for inside it he does not do anything else except enduring its flow of (ever repeating) events, constantly striving for something big that could have come from some other story. Because in this one everything is already known and always the same. Ancient myths of the End of the World or contemporary dwellings on the End of History emerge from the fact that History has some kind of flow, and probably also a Meaning, and that it will at some point reach the end of the line and complete itself. But what if this is not the case? If history has »deceived us and turned us into another direction, backwards« (Baudrillard)? Or it is only circling all the time? Or it does not actually exist and we invented it in order to legalize our own myths of Progress, of our revolutions, enlightenment and utopias? If nonetheless during this game of creation and deceit the Utopia becomes human life itself? As if life has become its own meaning and we stopped living because of life. Because of life we stop drinking, smoking, everything we created reveals itself as dangerous to life, work is life threatening, sex has become life threatening… all human activities are threatening to life and without them life is no longer any kind of life. Our time has got itself entangled in the nets of its own intelligence and these knots of thoughts and books can never be untangled. But anyway we repeat the game, without locating the point of error, from the sacrifice of which it depended.
But it is impossible to escape from history, especially if it does not exist. If we believe our personality to be a work of art, and history its stage and art a form that struggles to awake from a nightmare, and that the enterprise of art is inspired by anxiety, we will recognize in the salons of dangerous liaisons the pure theatre of our deepest inner truths. The hysterical battle between man and woman as two sides of the same Indifference. Whose meaning and essence is revealed only on the stage of their battle. Without searching for forgiveness in the past, because it does not have past nor future. It is perpetually present. The story/history of their gluttony is maybe the only story which we can identify as reality. We could wrap the story with exquisite veils of beauty as Laclos, or let her bleed as sinuously as De Sade, but we would still be speaking about the same battle. Pornography, as well as beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. A war that does not have its cause nor a winner lasts perpetually even if the enemies exchange uniforms, banners and sides. In a fanatical religion of desire, the altar was where we kneel down.
This kind of History shows itself even more meaningless than the one which does not know anything truthful about Alexander the Great, but writes books about him nonetheless. Only because this history does not falsify reality, does not lie, does not invent myths.
This history/story leads the performance. For an audience that plays in another performance. Their audience are also characters in an performance. A theatre within a theatre is nonetheless a much too simple explanation. What if the big theatre is also someone else’s small theatre? And this one even bigger inside another small one, and so forth, similarly to a toy where inside a box there is another box, in which there is a box in which there is another box with a box inside which is another box. We even pretend not knowing this. Considering this it is naive to suppose that there exists a performance which we have to play until the end. It is much more interesting to suppose that we are constantly playing it over and over.