The Nose

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "I came across a short story of Gogol's—The Nose—which struck me, astonishingly, as an amazing story. I was talking to a friend about it who said, 'You know there's a Shostakovich opera?' When The Metropolitan Opera wanted me to do an opera, I spent a long time trying to find one that seemed appropriate. They suggested Shostakovich. I said yes to Shostakovich, but that the first prize for me would be his opera, The Nose." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "The short story and the opera are similar in that they have within them a wildness, an openness, a sense of play, a sense of collage...of constructing the world as they go through it." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "The opera has to do with the idea of making a huge drawing. And people move in it and sing in it. And the video projections sometimes have to completely envelope and swallow everyone on stage. Sometimes within the huge projections a small room is picked out, lit, or highlighted...so that you also are aware that there are humans performing and singing and acting their hearts out onstage in front of you." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "In The Nose, you're very aware of it being about a hierarchy in Russian society—a hierarchy of bureaucrats. But also a hierarchy of the world: the czar, the patriarchs, the aristocracy, peasants, Jews and Muslims, animals, plants, and stones. And there's a kind of absurdity in that." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "That rings a bell with anyone from South Africa where we had a kind of crazy hierarchy also—our own great chain of being until apartheid ended—with whites first, below that honorary whites such as Japanese, then other Asians, then there would have been Indians, then mixed race people who were classified as Coloreds, and then below that Africans. But then sometimes you had Africans from other parts of Africa that were allowed two rungs up the ladder." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "The extraordinary nonsense hierarchy of apartheid in South Africa made one understand the absurd not as a peripheral mistake at the edge of a society, but at the central point of construction. So the absurd always, for me, is a species of realism rather than a species of joke or fun. And that's why one can take the joke of The Nose very seriously." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "The principle of a world awry is the basis of all comedy: you think something's going to be one thing but it's something else. You think you're a good German citizen, but you're ready to go off to the gas chamber. You think you're a good party member in Russia—you've given your life to it—and you're going to get shot the next week. It's not to say that these things are comic at all, but the sense of a joke, of the world being turned on its head...comedy is the only artistic form that gets close to that kind of dislocation in the world itself." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "I don't see The Nose as a parable for our time, except in its form or its principles, which have to do with learning from the absurd. It's a story about the terrors of hierarchy. That's not a specifically South African phenomenon. At the moment I think it applies everywhere." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "So...why should we be interested in a clearly impossible story? Because, as Gogol says, in fact the impossible is what happens all the time." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "I suppose the problem is this: that one has a sense that communism—the great social experiment and project of the 20th century—failed calamitously, both morally and practically. One has to accept that it had fundamental flaws. But then the alternative of neoliberalism doesn't seem to be such a good solution either. So the opera is kind of putting back on the table a lot of the questions that were being asked at the beginning of the 20th century." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "For me, it's not as if what happened in Russia in the 1930s is an historical oddity and there's a nostalgic interest in that as a quaint yet terrible history. Rather, it's that those questions are still very present in trying to work out who we are and how we operate in the world today. Not that I have any answers in the production of The Nose, but it's certainly put back on the table as a set of questions. What is the political place of hope in world, hope as opposed to certainty?" —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "In The Nose, the body is in conflict with itself. That's a way of understanding the world and our selves as not schizophrenically divided, but fundamentally divided. That every self is a series of contradictory impulses held together and given a sense of coherence." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "What does fragmentation mean in relation to the Soviet Union, or to Gogol's The Nose, or to the idea of equestrian statues and the nobility of horses? Horses are both the noble animals on equestrian statues, but they're also turned into soap and glue and go to the knackers yard. So the horse-as-victim, he's also there as the horse-as-hero." —William Kentridge

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    Production still from the film William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible. © Art21, Inc. and The Metropolitan Opera, 2010.

    "The belief in the opera...the preparedness to spend the number of months and years on it that I have, has to do strongly with the belief that the absurd, with its ruptured rationality, of conventional ways of saying the world, is in fact an accurate and a productive way of understanding the world." —William Kentridge