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Nothing is set in stone. Those things that are, end up eroded or shattered. Because time is stronger than stone.
In Part 1 I argued how Agora wasn’t a film about Hypatia’s persecution by the Christians in 400 AD that also worked as an allegory, pointing out the dangers of religious fundamentalism, drawing indirect parallels between early Christians in Alexandria and current-day Salafists and Islamic theocrats at large.
The film was, in other words, a cautionary tale about the rise of present-day radical Islam and how it persecutes science, women and progress.
More Than One Meanings
Like all good allegories, Agora was written and shot in such a way that the connection was not blaring. It was camouflaged in a manner that enabled it to fly under the political radar of religious and political sensitivities. It was, in fact – in my eyes anyway – reminiscent of the Mikhail Bulgakov’s work.
Bulgakov (The White Guard, Heart of a Dog) was a master of allegory. Born in the Ukraine and trained to be a doctor, he switched careers in 1919 and became an author and playwright in the middle of one of the most dramatic transitions in human history: the Bolshevik revolution. He didn’t like what he saw, so he put his thoughts on paper, offering the world one of the most incisive representations of early Soviet society.
Writing during Joseph Stalin’s reign was a dangerous task. To avoid persecution, Bulgakov wrote with subtlety, making indirect allusions through allegory and metaphor, addressing the human element of the story, not the political one, delivering his message quietly and discreetly to those with a knack for connecting the dots.
His run was short. Though Stalin supported him at first, paradoxical as that was, the propaganda machine caught up with him, banning his work. Many of his books and stories were published posthumously, in the 60s.
One of them, The Master and Margarita, is considered one of the iconic novels of the 20th century.
Agora may not be in the same league as The Master and Margarita, but it makes one hell of a statement. It points to a pernicious way of thinking via uncompromising allegory, via history itself. This is not a work of fiction. Bar the creative license, it’s based on fact.
Sometimes it’s good to be ambiguous. It helps everyone figure things out for themselves. Here we are, examining allegorical stories that address reality, dressing up our themes in ways that enable them to fly under the political radars of the angry and hateful. One would think we were past that, but we’re not. No matter the age or political system, there’s always someone who takes offence at something, and who poses a threat to anyone who speaks out.
Hence the need for ambiguity. It’s one of the ways to get the message across without getting targeted.
Thought-provoking communication may be indirect and time consuming, but it’s one of the greatest assets of human interaction. Spelling things out is good for certain activities and procedures, not all of them, least of all for engaging one’s imagination and prowess, let alone escaping the fury of the offended. Sometimes one needs to remain ambiguous. It helps readers/viewers figure things out for themselves while letting sleeping dogs lie.
…And Let Others Make Fools Of Themselves
All one has to do is let the zealots open their mouths and put their foot in it
Our battle with self-righteousness says a great deal about the groups under whose rage-radars we fly. Their reaction to criticism, should they get wind of it, brings them to light. The more forceful and indignant they become, the more they reveal their true colors. All one has to do is let the zealots open their mouths and put their foot in it, and the chaff is separated from the wheat, for lack of a better phrase.
Sometimes they keep quiet, not reacting in any way. They’re not all dumb, and have realized that laying low is often to one’s advantage. So let them. By laying low and trying not to show their true colors, they hand over the discussion to others.
Either way, they lose. It may take a while, but the zealots get weeded out. Our patch is never fully weed-free, the weeds keep coming back, but with every new one that grows, another is deracinated and thrown away. And the garden becomes healthier.
Bulgakov’s work identifies this premise. Not to give away any of his stories, let me just say that his endings aren’t Hollywood material where everyone drives off into the sunset. Instead, people suffer in the course of events, and issues aren’t fully resolved. But hope remains, and so does the ability to weather a storm. The experience shapes the hero in a number of ways and the human spirit shines in the wake of challenge, inviting others to be patient, brave and determined to outdo whatever disturbs him/her, all by way of deft allegory, inspiring us to do the same.
In the final part of this series I will identify the advantage of using historical case studies and letting time be the judge of one’s action…