Identitàlibri e letteraturacinemafilosofia


A cura di Valentina Dolciotti
24 Mar 2023

Dear Amalia, let’s start with this: our life is not necessarily divided into separate drawers, so at University we are busy women who do complex reasoning (wearing glasses of course) and in front of a camera instead we nod and smile in showy necklines.

This makes me think of Hannah Arendt’s initial discussion on being and appearance in her book The Life of the Mind. Being perceived in the world is inevitable and what we decide to display and what we cannot help but show, will make up who we are among our peers. Arendt presents the somewhat cynical approach that what appears is unfortunately more relevant to who we are, than our inner life. Arendt reasons “the question is whether thinking and other soundless mental activities are meant to appear or whether in fact they can never find an adequate home in the world” (The Life of the Mind, p 23). From my understanding this goes well together with her reasoning on Vita Activa (the active life) and how philosophers should reflect less and play an active role in society more -what is a principle worth if you don’t actively follow it? “I can flee appearance only into appearance” she says and to me that shines a light on the comparison you bring up: we cannot help but be perceived in one way or another. The timless feminist quest to widen the concept of how a woman can live and express herself while maintaining an active and respected role in society is still very present in our world. I was happy to hear that you thought my answer to that question shifted a perspective and introduced an unpredictable, out of tune element in that context. I too enjoy being rocked a little in my boat. For every event of surprise, it’s like time stops for a moment, and that makes it appear less fleeing and makes life feel a little longer.

I am pleased to notice an emerging generation of young actors and actresses not completely absorbed by the charm of the big screen, by their ego or by their image on the covers of gossip magazines. I see a generation of actors and actresses (or maybe just people?) who are not exclusively concerned with being made up or elegant to carry out an interview, but also with saying something thoughtful and sensible to make a contribution to collective reasoning, without necessarily posing as a committed intellectual.

I like how you speak of seeing a new generation of actors and actresses wanting to say something thoughtful and sensible to make a contribution to collective reasoning. Personally, I find myself stuck with a much more cynical outlook, perhaps due to being immersed in the industry. I tend to see virtue signaling, crowd pleasing or reckless positioning and provocation for the sake of provoking on one hand and political apathy on the other hand. I too am guilty of these vices. I think many people experience qualms regarding what to do with the spotlight they’ve attained. Does doing and intending to be good in the private realm translate to the public realm? Does a well grounded personal moral compass even translate to a wholesome guiding or leadership of others? Are reasonable people bound to be shy of expressing their views and leave the world to its fate in the hands of opportunist, power-greedy, mean or unreasonable people? Please, rise: the good kings and queens, whose morals and backbone will endure hardship without hardening in the wrong places and hold power without becoming corrupt.

I think we are all prone to act in accordance with what we perceive as suitable in a given moment, and the more you learn about a platform or an industry, the harder it might be to ignore the social cues that tell you what you are expected to say. I find it fun but challenging to give answers that are genuine of the present state I’m in, true to my core values and still open for interpretation in the dialogue.

As you know, the reason that brought me to you today is an interview on YouTube, where to the question "If you could spend time with someone already dead, who would it be?" I remember that you gave Ingmar Bergman as first answer but, shortly after, you added "Hannah Arendt too!" and my attention was caught. Why? Because part of the daily work of dismantling the stereotypes that afflict modern societies I believe consists (not only, but also) in introducing unpredicted out of tune elements in a context that does not expect them. Because they shift the point of view. And doing it they force us to get out of the schemes and therefore from stereotypes and prejudices (of gender, role, ethnicity, etc.) This is what your answer did, in my opinion. So tell me, why did you choose Hannah Arendt? And staying on the subject: do you feel or see that there could be some connection between "The Banality of Evil” (1963, Ein Bericht von der Banalität des Bösen, Hannah Arendt) - which I imagine you have read - and the Spree and, in particular, Scylla Ramshorn, the character you play in the series Motherland: Fort Salem?

From what I have read and understood of her, I find Arendt to have been a fascinating thinker, person and romantic. She is also one of few thinkers I’ve taken the time and effort to explore properly outside of my studies. I resonate with her tone and find that her essence comes through in a brilliant way in most of her work. I think of her as a role model and I try to carry her habit of questioning given concepts and turning tables with me, in my life. I was first introduced to Arendt as part of my Bachelor studies in Political Science in 2017. We read the Human Condition and I loved her way of reasoning with herself. It just made me so curious about her morals, my morals and everyone else's. Her way of reasoning demands a lot of good will from her readers, as was made clear in the big controversy surrounding her famous piece for The New Yorker about the Eichman trial in 1961. That is what led to the book you are referring to “The Banality of Evil”. The big takeaway from the book is, widely considered, to never stop thinking for yourself. The “banality of evil” in that context is the mediocrity and thoughtlessness of Eichman himself, guilty of committing such awful crimes in a systematic way.

You ask about the connections to my character Scylla and the organization she works for in Motherland: Fort Salem. The similarities can be found in Scylla’s and The Spree’s view on how individual witches must think for themselves and not succumb to the military organization and a system that systematically kills witches in the name of protecting “civilians” (non-witches). In the series, witches carry out warfare worldwide which enables witches to kill witches to protect the lives and societies of civilians. Witches have limited social access to the civilians they protect.

I wonder if the connection you are looking for has to do more with the controversial statement Arendt, jewish herself, made on how “Jewish police”, appointed and threatened by Nazi officials, assisted in keeping order in the fabricated Jewish ghettos, implying to have “helped” stall the Jewish resistance? This statement is not necessarily representative of Arendt's work, but the controversial statement and how it was perceived raises questions about who can protect or represent whom and under what conditions.

The Spree and my character Scylla definitely think that the witches of Fort Salem are legitimizing and strengthening the military system and thus cementing an illiberal destiny for witches. The military system in Motherland Fort Salem assumes that all witches feel a common pride and accountability for their actions and attempts to enhance that. While the Arendt approach views bureaucracy as a faceless machine that can do evil without accountability, in Motherland Fort Salem, witches in all parts of the military system seem rather convinced that they are doing the best for their people and the world. The witches who dodge conscription live in fear of the violent retaliation of the military organization. My character Scylla’s parents were executed for being draft dodgers, without a trial. Scylla later joins the anti-military organization The Spree. The Spree believes that the oppression caused by the military system in collusion with non-witches to be so horrible and violent that it can only be met with violence. Arendt reasons in “On Violence” that violence can be justifiable, but never legitimate. This is too vague to be relevant to The Spree. As The Spree see no other option than violence to free witches of their fatal position in the world, they would rather have been inspired by the French West Indian psychologist and philosopher Franz Fanon, if any. Fanon was a marxist and anti-colonial political theorist. According to Fanon, the violent system imposed and up-held by colonialists cannot be taken down without violence, thus legitimizing it in certain aspects. Followers of the Spree might argue that witches can only be themselves, culturally, among their own kind, free of being compromised and in comparison with civilian society. Fanon reasons on how being constantly portrayed as “the Other” and viewed as less than human, in a colonial society, will be so psychologically draining and degrading that you risk losing your sense of self. That aspect of the effects of racism too would resonate with Spree followers. Both Fanon and Arendt have been mis-interpreted to be direct opponents in their view on the use of violence and Fanon has sometimes been characterized as an apostle for violence. That is probably what the Spree would have referenced, had they wanted to legitimize their actions in his name - implying witches to be the victims and civilians to be colonizers and the military merely a tool to keep witches institutionalized in their oppressed place. But in regards to all of this, I think my personal ability to theorize about what The Spree would mean and do in our (real) world is limited by the fact that I’ve made such efforts to empathize with them in my prep to play Scylla Ramshorn. It would not have worked to identify with Scylla if I saw her evil as banal, I had to justify it by accepting her reality formed by her particular context. Nor would Arendt’s views on power or violence be efficient in understanding the context of Motherland: Fort Salem, to my understanding. While Arendt is useful to me in my own moral navigation, it did not work with his particular character.

I recently heard an old interview to a writer (1965) who answered the very old and long-standing) question “Are there any against nature behaviors?” with a lucid and destabilizing observation: “Every human being is in his own way against nature. The act of human civilization is itself overbearing and against nature.”

What do you think about it?

I think all human behavior is according to human nature. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have rules for how to organize our society, to protect the safety of the weak and the freedom of all. But when people really mean “against this hierarchy” or “against the hetero norm” or in general “against the norm which I benefit from” they should say so rather than to claim it having to do with what is natural or un-natural.

Many years ago I took a University exam that focused on bilingualism and education. The report showed that children who grow up speaking more than one language they will be boys and girls and adults smarter (in a traditional sense) and also more open to diversities.

That’s because they immediately learn that there are two (or more) ways to say something: milk, hello, let’s play, cat. And if there are two words to define the same object, there will be two (or more) ways to think about it, two (or more) points of view, lifestyles… What do you think about it? Do you find something about yourself in this words?

Hehe, what a flattering premise! I have heard similar theories about smartness, but not about the openness to diversities. I like the sentiment and as much I would love for that to apply to me, but I think my own bilingualness of Norwegian and Swedish doesn't quite make the cut. The languages and the cultures are far too similar to provide a mind expanding perspective, in my opinion. On a slightly similar note I wonder if this phenomenon is in play when kids in Scandinavia are taught and exposed to English at an early age. I wonder how that affects what role the English language plays in their lives and if it potentially leads to higher sympathy for anglo saxon affairs. In my childhood, spending time in both Norwegian and Swedish culture, it was very common for parents to speak English to each other when they didn’t want their kids to understand their topic of conversation (classic sayings like “I think she is just very tired”). Thus English became a language for grown-ups in the eyes of the child, and a language skill highly attainworthy. Because of the subtitle norm in Scandinavia, rather than dubbing British and American tv-shows, understanding English was key to better access mainstream entertainment at an early age. I came to think of this as an example of perceived hierarchy of languages, in regard to your question on alternative perspectives. I have no experience of growing up speaking a language that is frowned upon or forbidden by law - other than being made fun of in a friendly like manner, as part of the Scandinavian siblinghood. I can only imagine how one’s sense of self and identity risks being compromised, when you experience your native language as being undesirable on a systematic level. This isn’t necessarily in opposition to your thesis, but I wonder if there is a need for a strong sense of self in speaking both languages and in expressing cultural identities that when compromised will take away some of the psychosomatic benefits of being bilingual. OR if it rather enhances the benefits you pose (intelligence and openness to diversity) because one has also learned of and lived with the chance and consequences of naming something in the wrong language. What do you think? I do hope that the benefits are the same no-matter how socially accepted someone's bilingualism is though, so we don’t see parents starting to fake-condemn one language to make their kids better people! (joke)

Does your growing passion for acting manage to coexist with your studies, the desire to learn, your interest in politics? Or do you think that – even if now you are trying with more possibilities - one day you will have to pick one? I don't mean in terms of time, but of meaning.

I’ve noticed that my capacity for and ability to do more than one thing at a time has been limited and I don’t know if it's due to my choices or just aging, finding a footing and slowing down naturally. When I’m engaged in a longer project, and especially when on location, I tend to be immersed in the project, the place and the people there as well as my own little world rather than in touch with my sense of the bigger world. I still reflect on, and make decisions regarding my contribution to the world in terms of political stands, charity and such but in a much more passive way than I previously have been. I like to think (and say!) that I’m just a stupid little actor and that statement gives me both a chuckle and a sense of freedom. Especially when I’m on a big set and the crew has hundreds of people and equipment to look after and logistics beyond what I can comprehend: what a strange and arrogant and comfortable situation to be a stupid little actor with a very specific and focused task at hand! I spend my days trying to be the best co-worker I can be to other cast and crew, minimizing the burden I add to the collective while trying to enhance my contribution.The parts of me engaged and enraged with politics get to “rest” when I act as I think the world of emotions and human relations in a scene is much easier to understand and get immersed in. It is a crazy privilege to do acting for a living and I am still trying to convince myself that it is a morally defensible profession and contribution to the world. When I dwell on those thoughts I tend to end up in how bringing joy to the world can be an honorable task and that the beauty of art and its ability to spark a thought in someone’s mind is doing good. The answer to your question is still under internal investigation and I guess, time will tell. It still doesn't make sense to me that one’s path can be as fulfilling and joyful as acting and storytelling is to me.

You once said: “...We are talking about a universe where you’re not queer because there’s no norm to be queer about.” I immediately thought that - if this wonderful statement of yours it was true for all kinds of diversity for example, the norm that want us all abled and not disabled, all white, all performing, all parents, all fashionable... discrimination would no longer be such a serious problem in the world. What do you think?

I think this all comes down to how anyone being part of a majority norm must take energy and time to reflect on the fact that they cannot easily understand the perspective of the minority. I don't think norms can cease to exist, but I think they can be less toxic and hostile towards non-conformists, if the majority holds themselves accountable to the power of the many. In Motherland Fort Salem, I do think the hetero norm is less prominent in the witch community than in the civilian world. I don’t know enough about Eliot Laurence’s thoughts behind it, but my take is that this is mainly because sexual pleasure is a direct mean for increasing power in the world of the show. So the more potential partners you are willing to have sex with, the more power to the witches and the army. I don’t know the specifics of witch-anatomy but I don’t recall any mentioning of contraceptives, so I assume it isn't needed. This means that both sex and family politics can be formed very differently from our world and I think that plays a part in the witches’ view on sexuality. This is juxtapositioned with the civilian world on the show, which seems to be rather hetero oriented. I wonder if the subject would have been more explored had the series gotten renewed for more seasons!

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