I have arrived to the church in which a play the whole town has waited for is taking place. The same thing happens every year. The police officers have already entered and found their places near the stage and throughout the room. Their families are the happiest because they can only see them a few times a year and never without cuffs. We all leave the first rows empty for them. The team enters and starts their act.
During the half-time break, I think about this word ‘act’ and how it is more relevant now than ever. And that quote comes to mind, Victor Hugo’s quote ‘He who opens a school door closes a prison’. And the theoreticians Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Isaac Newton and Hugo himself start coexisting in my mind in order to help me grasp why my mind is nurturing some kind of a connection between the play and the quote.
I choose to see the play in this metaphorical way: We, individuals who have made mistakes, have also made the decision to not take for granted the chance to be alive and in a place where education is for free and so the only option is to not go back to not doing anything for our destinies. And I choose to read the quote in this way: The difference from success and failure is action and its reverse, inaction. By doing, by opening doors, by learning, you can repair any mistake made by not doing, which transformed your inner-self in a prison for the better version of yourself.
The first ones to help me in the construction of my hypothesis are Deleuze and Guattari. They have created a concept which perfectly emphasizes the meaning given to education by Hugo and its materialization in the performance of the actors who are stories which could be mine or yours. By projecting their concept, ‘the line of flight’ onto humans, it is to say that an individual can be perceived as a sum of multiplicities which, at some point, reaches its maximum number. Here comes the line of flight, which leaks from the flow of multiplicities and departures from all that has been set for the individual. It is an escape from all that is being thought by others and by yourself to be specific to you. It is the chance to start fresh, it is the necessary leak that lets you travel to the unknown parts of yourself and not be defined by your mistakes. That is education. For an inmate who is held in a cell or for one who is held back by mistakes or by a manifestation of the status-quo.
Also, Newton’s laws come in handy when trying to comprehend the complexity of the act itself as a concept, which I believe the given quote is all about and the mentioned play is honorably picturing. And I have come to think in this manner by simply looking at the words chosen by Hugo to summarize education. The most powerful words in the statement are verbs, to be more specific ‘opens’ and ‘closes’. The first one is an act, one of the essential acts in life and also a choice. The other one is a consequence of the first and can be perceived as a positive one, depending on what it is being closed. So the whole quote describes an action and a reaction, exactly as the third law of motion does: ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. This principle states that the forces which cause the action and the reaction are equal in magnitude but different in direction. By definition, ‘to open’ and ‘to close’ follow the same pattern. As I said, the vital information is what is being opened and what is being closed. The door has always represented freedom and light in which you decide to walk in. This action is clear in its intention. But the innovation Hugo does is that he also projects light on the reaction, on closing. That is because the closure he makes reference to is the closure within the self, a look inside and the return to your knowing yourself, which is possible only through education. Only after knowing yourself are you capable of standing in front of a mirror or an audience or your cell mates, no matter what type of cell, and unveil your power to be you, with all the mistakes of the past and all of the hopes for the future.
A major contribution in correctly reading through the words and through the plays was dine by Victor Hugo himself, with one of the most characteristic works of his: the preface to ‘Cromwell’. There, he creates the doctrine, the programme for one of the most significant movements of literature and of culture: Romanticism. Innovation, vision, a remarkable capacity of synthesis and of knowing what the art in his time needs in order to be enriched and saved and to become the foundation for all the following directions of arts. Inside all of his works but mostly inside this one, it is visible that this colossal man of words builds new ways of thinking and focuses on evolution. Moreover, it is not possible for this kind of person to use words by chance. So when I see ‘prison’, I look deeper and put it next to ‘school’ and to ‘closes’ and see another example of Hugo’s understanding of the world and his visionary self. The fact that he states in this quote that opening a school door means closing a prison puts light on the reality that the prison already exists and that a theory such as the avoidance of prison by attending school is superficial. Of course, there is a majority of cases where prison is not even a thought, but Hugo speaks to all people and I dare to say that he addresses here the individual in whose destiny prison, in its literal meaning or in its metaphorical one, is almost certainly imminent. He talks to people who are not surrounded by culture and education and who make mistakes and are ignorant because that is how their world functions. But through his words, he gives hope to this kind of people, the prison already existing and the mistakes already being made, but the door to education, to the possibility of a future still opening to them. If they act. This is innovation in a society where all the ones who are mistaken because of their nature and their context are simply denied and forgotten. They are not at the beginning of life, such as the innocent children whose teachers and parents tell them ‘Be nice or you will end up like that loser who has no education and not a chance in the world’.
So, people who have made mistakes or who have been ignorant or who simply have not done are the bad example. They are or they have been uneducated. But they can be educated. They have a chance to find that ‘line of flight’. They have a chance to be the ones who change perspectives and start movements. They have a chance to act. They have the right to have a chance to act. And this, as it is summarized in few well-chosen words which seem like a puzzle that you can make however you feel like, is the greatness of Victor Hugo.
I am currently applauding the members of the theatre group called ‘Anonimus’. You may think this was used just as a context for presenting my view on the quote, but they are as real as it gets. Standing ovations for over five minutes. There is the van outside waiting for them, with that red light on top of it, to get them back to their temporary home up the hill. Like always, we give them books.