Last weekend, the Lincoln Center Festival presented Selma Jezková, Poul Ruders's operatic adaptation of the Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark. I concur with Zachary Woolfe in thinking that Ruders, in spite of his usual orchestral brilliance, didn't succeed in bringing this material to dramatic life, nor did he measure up to the suite of songs and instrumental music that Björk, the star of von Trier's film, created for the occasion. Notwithstanding her "pop" status, Björk has the stronger artistic personality, the more original musical mind. That she gave an extraordinary performance in the film is beside the point: the songs themselves have a powerful aura, simply as compositions.
Revisting the topic of Dancer in the Dark reminded me of a conversation I'd had with Björk when I profiled her for The New Yorker in 2004. She strongly disliked working with von Trier, as she made very clear at the time. But what came to mind were some remarks she made on the topic of fame and originality. I had proposed to her that it takes a peculiar sort of person to appear “normal” in the lens of the modern media. Normality requires, in a way, a strenuous, round-the-clock performance. If you don’t observe its conventions — if you act in a natural, impulsive, human way — you will be labeled “crazy.” Björk didn't respond directly. Instead, she pointed to her computer, where, on the front page of a news site, the face of Michael Jackson appeared, and said the following:
OK, so he’s not "normal." But these terms are beside the point with him. He’s original. That’s the real problem. Modern times has a fear of, a hatred of, the original. I read an interview with Rem Koolhaas which got me very riled up, in a way, because of what he said about originality. He said something about being a gatherer, going to India or someplace and coming back with a lot of ideas. He resents those who show up full of their own ideas. He uses this phrase, "tyranny of the oblivious." He feels oppressed by these oblivious people who are not part of the smart, sophisticated game where everything becomes a quotation from something else. Lars von Trier has the same problem, by the way. This is where the rage against Michael Jackson really comes from — the hatred of eccentricity. I don’t think it’s crazy that he should want to live like that — have a giraffe, redo his face — if that’s what it means to be himself. He made his own world, and that was a threat. Now they are going to destroy it.
I included this passage in the original draft of the article, and then cut it, because it was something of a digression. Björk's most striking point, I think, is that creativity in its highest form does require a kind of obliviousness — and in the digital age the effort needed to tune out all those teeming echoes and quotations is practically heroic.