The Cynicism Industry

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography

“Sincerity is the beginning
and end of existence; without it, nothing endures.
Therefore the mature man values sincerity above all things.”
Zisi (Tzu Ssu)子思子

“One day the man demands of the beast: “Why do you not talk to me about your happiness and only gaze at me?” The beast wants to answer, too, and say: “That comes about because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say.” But by then the beast has already forgotten this reply and remains silent, so that the man keeps on wondering about it.”
Use and Abuse of History

“Much of education and journalism has been captured and superseded by entertainment. Even public discussions have to be entertaining and are judged by how skilfully the protagonists attacked and how courageously they hid their weaknesses, and not by the contents of what they had to contribute with to solutions for a serious public issue.”
Heinz Steinert

The ascension of irony has coincided with a rise in cynicism, and with a reluctance or refusal to engage with society. But today, I suggest that new terms are needed to denote the post modern ironic and post modern cynical. For cynicism as it is traditionally understood would include a set of select values, however nihilistic. Today’s cynic does not harbor select or elite values, and whose cynicism is not a rejection so much as an ignoring of social issues. Timothy Bewes suggests it is now in the service of political rhetoric. It is used by reactionary commentators to denote apathy, meaning as a cover for the material corruption of political institutions.

The retreat from politics, or rejection of political concerns is linked to postmodernism as a rhetorical mechanism. And it’s true that the post modern rejection of meta-narratives quickly morphed into the excuse for accepting the status quo. Engagement is regarded with disdain, and accused of naivete. Cynicism once contained a form of melancholy, but that has morphed into simply disengagement (albeit anxiety laden), and hostility toward Utopian ideals. Cynical is often used as a synonym for dishonesty as well. But the post modern rejection of meta-narratives became soon, simply a disregard for any narrative, and replacing these with simple coded fragments in use for career decoration. How much of the erosion of narrative is linked to the inherent qualities of electronic media is an open question, but I suspect its not entirely the telecom industry structuring things a certain way, but at least partly if not largely the imprint of pixels and the speed and the fragmenting and re-fragmenting of information. It is perhaps hard not to be cynical in the post modern sense.

Alesso Baldovinetti. Annunciation 1447, tempura on wood.

Alesso Baldovinetti. Annunciation 1447, tempura on wood.

I was thinking this week of the Axial Age; of Confucian China, and of Zoraster in Persia and the rise of Judaic prophecy. In Greece the development of tragic drama. From the 7th century B.C. to the late fourth century B.C. was an age of enormous change in cognitive patterning. Scientists recently discovered in Indonesia, paintings on cave walls that are even older than those at Chauvet in France. The world was very dark and empty forty thousand years ago. In Confucian China I suspect it was still dark and empty, but not nearly the same. But in both there was nothing remotely similar to life today. But I digress…

“Politics, governed increasingly by an ethos of supply and demand, has become a realm of consumer sovereignty in which the concepts of leadership and inspiration are important polemical commodities, but are maintained only in this mediated way. Cynicism appears in the space left empty from mass cultural retreat from politics itself.”
Timothy Bewes

The role of post modern thought in Academia has been to further distance the grammar of the upper and educated class from the working class and the non working poor. Of course *educated* is a pretty nebulous term. Educated for many at expensive Universities means knowing the right kinds of discourse, the acceptable cynicism to display. Discourse today is saturated with irony and sarcasm. It is not even really specific. It is gestalt irony. There is no subject often, or often just a vague one. There is also an implied belief in the person of the ironist that his or her position is superior. But superior to what? Superior how? Irony today avoids answering such questions. It avoids answering anything.

Darren Almond, photography.

Darren Almond, photography.

One of the problems with ironic stances is that they dissolve the subject even when there is no subject. The ironic mustache, or ironic golf shirt, worn in Palm Springs ironically, creates the hall of mirrors effect, and thereby introduces itself as a potential object of irony as well. *My* ironic mustache ironically comments on *HIS* ironic mustache, and I’m an ironic hipster that parodies the other ironic hipster etc. But beyond such tedious subjective leisure time mental games, there is the fact that very few people have time or money to be ironic. Politics is ironic as well, just another platform for ironic performance. Obama is ironic. Bush was more parody, but Obama is clearly, as part of his marketed persona, a cool urbane cynic — and contains a blank distancing from actual events, actual politics. Its fascinating that US media wants to demonize other world leaders as cartoons and demons, but in fact Putin, as an example, even with his bare chested horseback rides, is simply not ironic material. Russians in general are not a particularly ironic people or culture. The role of careerist *left* writers of mainstream publications .. Laurie Penny or Molly Crabapple, or star academics like Zizek, are all of them simply print versions of stand-up comedy. Jon Stewart is the TV comic now looked to for guidance by the liberal class. Penny, and Natasha Lennard, and Crabapple are all just vaudeville acts. And often, or usually, these acts are performing in a gentlemen’s club straight out Chinese Gordon.

The affluent white population of the U.S. today is so deeply mired in irony and snark that they cannot take a breath without it being ironic.

Invincible (2001). Werner Herzog dr.

Invincible (2001). Werner Herzog dr.

But there is something else here, too. And that is that in American culture the ‘idea’ of the individual is preserved no matter the conditions of the material world. There is, obviously, a whole complex of factors at work here. The Puritan history, and the Protestant work ethic, the business minded culture that worships the “self made man”. The only marker for worth is economic. Nobody who is poor is valued existentially. There is though, a dialectical process that needs to be observed in this. The individual of consumer America is really he or she who identifies with the culture. It is an individuality in the form of a brand. And the destruction of language, its degraded state in marketing and advertising and popular culture overall has contributed to this leveling of culture and discourse. The new rise in branded journalists, especially, actually, on the *left*, even when some of the writing is useful, has created a deeper attachment to the status quo. Language as it’s used in popular culture feels as if it no longer is even attached to the world around us. The late writings of Adorno expressed his despair at the possibility of intellectual integrity in mass culture. And this is where it is important, as I continue to say, that aesthetic awareness be cultivated. And it is clear today that almost always the missing ingredient in cultural discussions is a class analysis. The ironic and cynical processing of the world must be resisted exactly because it further petrifies class distinctions. But this is a topic resisted acutely by the educated class, even those who are out of work.

Benozzo Gozzoli, 'Journey of the Magi' detail 1459

Benozzo Gozzoli, ‘Journey of the Magi’ detail 1459

My experience with students over the last few years has been, even in classes with very bright enthusiastic students (rare), that there is an inability or at least reluctance to examine work and narrative in ways other than than an imaginary neutrality. By this I mean that the forces of production are rarely considered, and even when they are, the role of class antagonism is ignored. It is invisible almost. This lack of class is replaced by a belief in, or subscription to, an ideal state of the purity of truth. Truth is also never processed in relation to memory or history, to suffering, or political violence. There is a tacit acceptance of the surface (or top text), and simultaneously a sort of new age inwardness that is bathetic and puerile. The political violence of the world is redacted from narratives that are even ABOUT political violence. I screened Herzog’s underrated 2001 film Invincible to a class recently, and surprisingly the students were deeply attentive, but the specifics of what this fable implied were at best very murky to them. Still, exposure to the halting rhythms and strange visual grammar of the film seems to disturb the audience, which was mostly third year high school students. And this has always been my experience; complex and difficult artworks destabilize, and that in itself is the start of awakening. Such work, because it cannot easily be processed in conventional ways (as surface, as advertisements work) lingers in the memory.

Now this particular small group of students were Norwegian. I cannot image such openness in the U.S. And here lies another problem; in the United States cynicism has bled into other beliefs and theories. It participates in other forms of distancing. A culture that parades its liberal virtues through the most fascistic representations, where multiculturalism means the exclusionary practices of individual defensivness, is one in which culture itself is colonized, and by several different colonizers, all of them at bottom the same.

“The faults indispensable to this operation of accountancy consist in
the morality of the terms used. According to an old terrorist device
(one cannot escape terrorism at will), one judges at the same time
as one names, and the word, ballasted by a prior culpability, quite
naturally comes to weigh down one of the scales. For instance,
culture will be opposed to ideologies. Culture is a noble, universal
thing, placed outside social choices: culture has no weight.
Ideologies, on the other hand, are partisan inventions: so, onto the
scales, and out with them! Both sides are dismissed under the stern
gaze of culture (without realizing that culture itself is, in the last
analysis, an ideology).”


Mosque library, Cairo, 1950.

Mosque library, Cairo, 1950.

Class analysis disappears in a variety of ways. It is subsumed by various identity themes, as well as by a general logic of catering to the mass public. Under cover of this populism is an eradication of critical thinking, and in most artforms there is a sentimentalizing and simplification of message. But there is also the creation of platforms and contexts; platforms for entertainment, and contexts that favor this false notion of the individual. White gay men and women have tended to disporportionatly imprint theatre and the perfomative avant garde, for example, in the United States. But where once there was Charles Ludlum, or Jack Smith, today there are bland bloodless academics, self branded as gay or lesbian, and enclosing within that an absolute reduction of what is acceptable *theatre*. The once marginalized now perform the role of marginalizer. Radical voices have been domesticated. This is the calculation of a lost avant garde. Ludlum was really a tragic theatre artist, because his theatre could not exist except as oppositional. Now its not this simple of course, for both the civil rights movement and gay rights, there were hard fought struggles. However, the proprietor class has worked at a control of the assimilation, managing what was visible and what was not. In the arts self identified “-fill in blank- artist” has tended toward compromise to the prevailing system over the last twenty five years. The writer or artist is not grouped according to content or movement, but according to self created identity (brand).
Dan Christensen

Dan Christensen

MFA programs create brands. They are apprenticeships in ideological shaping. If anyone, ANYONE, can name a single radical piece of theatre to come out of U.S. Universities I would be happy to listen. So again, class disappears. Sexuality has replaced it. Where black and brown writers emerge, they must emerge homogenized. Sentimentalized and sanitized. I rarely see young black or brown or even Asian playwrights who don’t write other than as bourgeois voices for the establishment. Now of course there are exceptions, but again, in theatre there has been almost nothing of note to come out of University programs for several decades. In fine arts the tally is better, slightly. Film schools are an entire other topic. I taught at the Polish National Film School for five years full time, and eight if I include my workshops the first three years. I was the lone instructor to lecture in English. I consider the school, on balance, far from the worst such institution. There were virtues, first among them that this was an international school. Students coming all over the world created a great cross pollinating of ideas. There were also absurd deficiencies, a sclerotic bureaucracy and backward looking administrators — often reaching the level of irrationality. And there was a deep cultural defensiveness among many of the Polish instructors. Still, the memory of communist discipline lingered, and there were many truly exceptional teachers, in editing, and in the cinematography departments.

I asked once at a faculty meeting what we were trying to do at the school. Nobody even tried to answer. For there is no answer. The relationship of such schools, in film, in theatre, in music even, in writing, is blurred and contradictory.

Charles Ludlum, in 'Camille'. 1973

Charles Ludlum, in ‘Camille’. 1973

The neutral reception of culture denies the real concrete reality of the culture industry. Heinz Steinert wrote:
“It (culture industry)is a form of domination that reaches deep into what people know about society and world. It is domination not by fear and repression in the first place but by subtly determining what and how we know about the world. Its center is the cult of the factual.”It is a cultural production of commodified knowledge, whose appeal is always to the authority of statistical or measured proofs. Popularity is often taken as if it occurs in a vacuum. If a film is hard to see because distribution is limited, it already is marked as underground or difficult. The entire structure of *entertainment* is involved in creating audience attitude. As technology now increasingly allows a mastery of access … one can view a film whenever one likes on his computer or even cell phone, the audience is provided with a sense of specialness. Of ownership. I’ve written before about the sense of being an insider. A peak behind the scenes of the making of a popular film or TV show invites the audience to feel unique and privileged. Steinert calls this a “false privilege”. The rise of *reality TV shows* is another form of this insider construct. The specialness is linked, in an oddly contradictory way, to identification with other privileged shoppers of cultural product. There is the manufacture of a sense of ‘belonging’.
Cynthia Daignault

Cynthia Daignault

The audience today is encouraged to perceive their attention as empowerment. The advertisers and network and studio want them to view their product. Neilsen ratings are published throughout the season, box office figures are published, and marketing targets the public by appealing to their wisdom, by critiquing their profile, their particular market niche. All of this shapes how the individual sees the narrative, or artwork. It is not all that different from the appeal of astrology columns or click bait polls that posit if YOU were a Western movie, which one would you be?

Last posting I touched on the ways certain works avoid homogenization. In the comments Molly Klein made an astute observation, as is her want, in relation to watching an Ionesco play. And it struck me that the question of space is significant, and that Adorno and Horkheimer mention architecture right at the start of Dialectic of Enlightenment. Public housing has always, with a few marked exceptions, valorized the Capital put into them. Not only is today’s city a fortified militarized battlefield, it is also a monument to Capital. Architecture is increasingly meant to be viewed from the perspective of a movie screen. One must gaze from a distance, or view the shifting panals and walls as in a film reel. The streaming effect is pronounced in architects like Hadid. And this perpsective, in a sense, resists place. Buildings are seen as if they could be anywhere. Even when landscapes are included, for they seem to absorb the landscape and turn it into a film set. This perspective is how everything is viewed today. And it closes off space rather than opening it up.

Korean man, early 19th century.

Korean map, early 19th century.

In the 15th century, the public viewing a painting, even the illiterate, would recognize certain figures; John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, Christ, but even less obvious figures such as Ishmael and Croesus, or St Jerome, and St Paul the Hermit. They certainly recognized certain scenes as representations from stories; The Visitation, the Expulsion from Eden, the Annunciation, and so forth. Gesture, eye color even, and placement on the canvas all contributed to this ‘reading’ of the painting, and how it fit into a narrative. Memory was triggered, and this memory was both personal, but also societal. The viewer was not manipulated. And I could well make an argument that manipulation is one of the, if not *thee* most significant aspect of mass culture today. Manipulation is marketing. And alongside manipulation is the focus on innovation. For innovation is a form of trickery, a sleight of hand that is in the service of producing effects of *newness* and novelty. These effects tend to wear off rather quickly.

I post here a couple pieces by Toba Khedoori. Jerry Saltz called her a “an artist of metaphysical refinement and restraint.” Khedoori’s work is silent. If Tirelli is quiet, Khedoori is absolutely silent. Saltz ended his review of her recent show this way:

“Strangely, I found myself thinking, “If I were in prison, I’d like to have one of these drawings on my wall.” Then I remembered a story by Herman Hesse: a prisoner paints a landscape on the wall of his cell, showing a miniature train entering a tunnel. He makes himself very tiny, enters into his picture, climbs into the little train, which starts moving, then disappears into the tunnel, leaving his cell empty.”

Toba Khedoori

Toba Khedoori

This is work that does not manipulate. The mute space is not exactly disturbing, but an accusatory quality exists. But there is another aspect and that is where the viewer is situated. This is not a film screen, it an architecture of dreams.

And it reminded me of what Rita Valencia wrote about The Mandala of Compassion Project, at the Hammer in Los Angeles.

“The project entails four accomplished meditation masters, fully ordained Tibetan Buddhist monks, constructing a sand mandala of intricate design which represents the enlightened mind of Chenrezig, a Buddha who is the embodiment of compassion. The design is like a very elaborate blueprint of a sacred architecture…it is common to use sacred architecture in Vajrayana meditations as representation of mind and metaphor for body, which is itself to be seen as a metaphor.”

but at the end makes the very cogent observation regarding the staff at the museum itself.

“The staff seemed generally very conscientious about the limits on break time afforded them, and never seemed to tarry. I heard guard talking about their work, worried about people they had found on the third floor of the museum with backpacks or beverages (a no-no), commenting on the constant influx of newcomers. The newcomers were students from UCLA with little to no training and widely variant work ethics. Conversations of the staff were generally casually personal. But there were quit a few anxiety-laced “work” conversations, which centered on concerns about staffing and personnel trends, particularly shrinking staff, replacement of full-time with part-time workers(students), dissatisfaction with supervisory staff. Others spoke of long hours and long commute times:12 hour shifts, huge amounts of overtime, which supports the ‘shrinking staff’ comments. Plus, the pants they are issued to wear at special events are scratchy. One got the feeling that on the whole it wasn’t such a bad gig, especially given the options, but the break room with its low ceiling and sallow light was not a particularly cheerful place and was more than it appeared…
Through the heady scent of lilies being clipped and groomed wafted the pungency of the all too predictable discontent…workers placed in a distinctly different class of beings than the educated museum staff, having fewer privileges and perks, and held in much lower esteem, signified mainly by the bleak little break room. A diagram of the museum emerges, a kind of mandala of museum life. At the center top are the Great Museum Benefactors surrounded by their retinues, without-whom-none-of-this-would-be-possible. In the next circle reside the curatorial staff. The antechambers below are occupied by a transient population of artists and their management. Next, at the base and on the perimeter, are the support staff of guards, janitors, attendants. The ruling principle of this mandala is ignorance that values ‘this’ over ‘that’ as though such valuations are real, manifest through exclusivity and enforcement of status. Perhaps it is empty of meaning or concrete reality, and the suffering it creates, as the benefit, is also transient and empty; but the karma it is generating, for those who enforce and control and administer this edifice of public culture, is inexorable.”

Toba Khedoori

Toba Khedoori

The work of Khedoori is one that opens space, and it is work that expresses a practice, and a commitment. There is a correlation between the repetition of rehearsal in theatre, and Khedoori’s practice. She creates a context, a ritual space, through her meticulous attention and focus. One does not draw such work without practice of a very particular and focused kind. The value of Khedoori’s work, like a majority of great painters and artists is in the embedding of this practice. Nothing even approaching irony or sentimentalism is present. The austerity is beautiful, not because it is minimal, but because it is imagines something we cant normally experience. The memory of practice is felt, and this is in part what constitutes allegory and the presence of an unconscious that is conjured and appears beside the viewer. We are looking at thousands of hours of repetitive work, at process. In another sense this is what mimesis really is. Theatre like that of Peter Handke, or Harold Pinter is the work of practice, of whittling away the inessential, the message and the ‘effect’, the novelty, the gimmick. There are no invitations, nothing to chat about. Only memory and something destabilizing that comes out of the time spent, the life’s work that is unapologetic.

Now, Adorno warned of dangers in the retreat from popular mass think and commodity culture. That one’s search for authenticity could lead one to resemble that which was being retreated from. It’s worth noting that Zizek confuses Adorno’s position on reification because Zizek actually has suggested that authenticity resides in one’s role as consumer. The revolutionary shopper I guess. In fact Robert Hullot-Kentor, an admirable translator of Adorno, is oddly also much like Zizek is his essays *on* Adorno. My suspicion is that the problem is again Marx, and class analysis. This is the regressive side of leftist thought. Faux leftist thought. The left (that term itself is a symptom) without Marx. The left also called *progressive*. This is very evident in Hullot-Kentor’s notions on the culture industry, which he claims is an obsolete concept, and then explains this by describing “how we hear this term” — but who does he mean by *we*? Honestly, this is a very American sort of stance. Hullot-Kentor’s insistance that barbarism is an outmoded concept again speaks to the reactionary lurking within. For the tenured American professor, ideology is also outmoded, by and large. Fascism is just too ‘too’ a word. Hullot-Kentor’s animosity toward Adorno smacks of career anxiety, actually. But it’s also a startlingly shallow (intentionally I suspect) reading of Adorno, but one that will appeal the affluent white post grad student at NYU. But I digress.

Claudia Wieser

Claudia Wieser

The space I refer to in theatre, the opening to an allegorical space, a mental breathing in a sense, is — I am convinced — the crucial and single most consequential factor in all artworks. It is just that in theatre the experience is most immediate. As much as I value film, there is something about the screen, the great wall on which shadows are thrown, and then followed in a way similar to reading, but subtly different, that stops the opening of space at a certain point. And it’s a difference of enormous importance. I suspect film is closer to the novel than it is to theatre. For the narrative in film is engaged with mimetically much as one does in a novel. The novel of course usually means many hours reading, and hardly even in one sitting. The limited duration of film and TV, enforced by economic concerns, is one of the difficulties in the film form. In theatre, the narrative follows on the creation of this architecture of thought, in the ritualistic repetition — which is the re-creation of the same text, anew, night after night — the narrative is revealed rather than read. Watching a film, one narrates alongside the film narration. Mimetic adjustment, or memory. In theatre, the memory is activated, not reflected upon. This is not exactly a huge gulf opening up between the mediums, but only that the activation of space, as it occurs in theatre, is expansive, not contractive. Novels, finally, contract as well. But this entire discussion is mediated by the manufacturing of *the real*.

One aspect of this constant creating and re-creating of an illusory *real* is the cynical, but also the supervising of emotions. Mestrovic wrote: “…contemporary emotions are dead, in the analogous sense that one speaks of a dead current versus a live wire, or a dead nerve in a tooth or limb.” Emotions are blurred by constant bombardment from advertising. Deep emotion is limited. One is chastised for being too ’emotional’. The rise of emoticons are obviously a sort of symbol of all this. But going back to Reich, the ever shallower feelings of people was noted. The real, that *real* that mass media enforces, is the bland flavorless shine, a sort of indistinct quality of business and (per Adorno) affability. It is non determinant science, and technology. Most of all it is ‘progress’.

The Department of Energy's Human System Simulation Laboratory (Idaho National Laboratory ).

The Department of Energy’s Human System Simulation Laboratory (Idaho National Laboratory ).

Today’s sense of inwardness is as indistinct as the ‘outside’ real. I’ve sensed a huge resurgence of new age platitudes of late. They are the corrective to the too authoritarian 12 step process. Both can co-exist, of course. There is cynicism in this, too. Those mouthing platitudes don’t believe them, they just use them. Their use value is social cohesion. Careerism. One mustn’t pledge fidelity to some Guru, but its perfectly ok, desired even, to utter meaningless bromides about banal psychological traits. This is the emotional plague Reich wrote of. It is a version of false consciousness, and today the cynical affluent educated class must constantly reiterate their contentment, and deny the suffering of not just others, but of themselves. Minor boredom is OK, that’s what therapy is for. Boredom can be appropriated as style, too. It’s fine to have a shrink or therapist, just be clear you don’t really believe in them. The therapeutic culture accepts this manufactured real. It teaches its clients to adapt. Life is something that one must *succeed* at. Therapy is just a career choice. Death would seem to question any idea of success, but then death is a taboo subject. Death doesn’t go away however.

Molly Klein wrote:
“The meticulous illusion of the irreducible individual, the non-type (post-type), is not (only) the (technical, philosophical, ‘psychological’) enrichment advertised by the schools and traditions producing it but a hollowing out of the function of reference, so that the more elaborate the portraiture of ‘individuals’ grows, the more entirely empty each unique and eccentric exemplar becomes with regard to meaning generation.”

This all works at closing down ‘space’. Film without space (digital mush), architecture without space (Hadid, Foster, Meier et al), and theatre without space — pretty much everything on stage in the U.S. The loss of mimesis has meant new psychic mechanisms for processing. The post modern cynical is one of them. It demands everything be fungible. Everything is already dated, and obsolete. The cynic insists on the ‘new’, in order to have something to label already dated. Anything emotional is rejected. Anything demanding attention is rejected.

Memory is overrated, don’t you think?

Sibylle Bergemann, photography.

Sibylle Bergemann, photography.

A final quote from William Blum this week. In a very direct way this is related to the *real*. Which of course is the pathological unreal.

“You can’t believe a word the United States or its mainstream media say about the current conflict involving The Islamic State (ISIS).
You can’t believe a word France or the United Kingdom say about ISIS.
You can’t believe a word Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, or the United Arab Emirates say about ISIS. Can you say for sure which side of the conflict any of these mideast countries actually finances, arms, or trains, if in fact it’s only one side? Why do they allow their angry young men to join Islamic extremists? Why has NATO-member Turkey allowed so many Islamic extremists to cross into Syria? Is Turkey more concerned with wiping out the Islamic State or the Kurds under siege by ISIS? Are these countries, or the Western powers, more concerned with overthrowing ISIS or overthrowing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad?
You can’t believe the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. You can’t even believe that they are moderate. They have their hands in everything, and everyone has their hands in them.
Iran, Hezbollah and Syria have been fighting ISIS or its precursors for years, but the United States refuses to join forces with any of these entities in the struggle. Nor does Washington impose sanctions on any country for supporting ISIS as it quickly did against Russia for its alleged role in Ukraine.
The groundwork for this awful mess of political and religious horrors sweeping through the Middle East was laid – laid deeply – by the United States during 35 years (1979-2014) of overthrowing the secular governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. (Adding to the mess in the same period we should not forget the US endlessly bombing Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.) You cannot destroy modern, relatively developed and educated societies, ripping apart the social, political, economic and legal fabric, torturing thousands, killing millions, and expect civilization and human decency to survive.”


  1. John, this is so good, so thoughtful, so refreshing! Catharsis. Thank you.

  2. Great (and thanks for quoting)

    So what think you of this sequence:

    Rhinoceros—>Little Murders—->HouseofBlueLeaves/SixDegreesOfSeparation—->cablesexrompdramedyshit

    To illustrate this –don’t want to say decadence, you avoid that term and all the bad myths that go with it — but collapse of this theatrical space.

    I loved little murders also, but there is something curious in the way it rewrites rhinoceros and the sort if closing of the gap between the levels in the allegorical/symbolic architecture. A literal rhinoceros is not to resemble a Nazi and no thesis about “backsliding” to some supposed animal essenve of humanity is at work — rather the strangeness of the rhinoceros, its distance from the referent, is exploited, opening a space for thought and theory. In Little Murders the animalistic transformation is repeated but has collapsed into the realism while the real symbolic referent (Vietnam, instead of Nazism) is very deeply buried — even repressed — instead of dramatized/allegorized. So the American liberal reworking of antifash absurdism requires a sociological solution to an invented problem that takes the place of the buried social horror (Vietnam inverted, an imperial core plagued with mystetious violence); the wild animal that performs so enlighteningly as Nazism figured (not analogized) returns as the basis of a social theory, .staged to illustrate, literally not allegorically, a basically Freudian anthropology ( the very Freudianism mocked in the play through Arthur’s UWS parents) revealed as the men’s regression to id/child/ape. Its still a terrific play but the space is collapsing.

  3. John Steppling says:

    YES…………thats a perfect progression.
    Yes.,.. see, something changed with that first step…thats the one that matters. The rest is just the inevitable slide to the right. What those playwrights in the fifties did….all of those associated later as theatre of the absurd…..was to turn back instinctively to theatre as space. Rhinoceros is about the deforming of collaboration — its a very sad scene when only daisy and berenger are left as non rhinos. Its interesting….because this play is often now called an anti communist play. Or generic Orwell or something. Anti totalitarian. Its not, its about fascism and about, more, the Vichy collaboration. But… can feel the difference between that and Feiffer. And later shanley et al. Id say Albee almost reaches the level of genuine theatre, and probably does finally. He’s rather neglected actually. But anyway….to your point: the rhinoceros is not a literally nazi…..the rhino is a distance, as you say, between nazi and non nazi….and the rhino is also the distance, the space, in which collaboration takes place. Thats the beauty of it. But that heavy suffocating literal quality of american theatre. Even arthur miller, and a great individual, but not a great writer. His plays are heavy with literal-ity in a sense….and its why the message doesnt matter. Rhinoceros to my mind is far more radical and revolutionary in its experience than death of a salesman. So…im glad you mentioned the sociological solution that is required. Thats right. And see, the background social trauma…war, famine, plague….whatever it is, is absorbed by great art I think, thats what creates it. We do not yet have a great play about 21st century electronic mass domination by way of mass culture. I should try to write one 🙂 But see the way the Feiffer operates, and yes its still an ok play, but its not taking place in the same way, and the truth of the play is not on stage, its not a theatre truth. Its a sociological or essayist truth. By Shanley we have lost the thread of truth. Look at what is produced as prestige drama on TV and in film in hollywood. I mean its all ALL ALL ALL of it just sentimental trite mush. Its hackneyed and shallow……but thats the problem today, for its also increasingly WHITER….. which is amazing. But HBOs The Affair is breathtakingly bad. Cosmically bad. Awful. It is so so so so far from Ionesco or Genet. And what is intriguing is that sarah kane was a sort of last gasp of something …on the heels of pinter. Pinter was the last playwright who placed thought on stage. Theatre-think…..after that was just dime novel junk tricked out in high brow conceits. Even stuff one wants to like…august wilson, is really caught in this horrible suffocating literalism. DeGhelderode is a name i keep returning to…..a precursor of Ionesco and those fifties writers. Woyzeck was another. Herzog’s film of that is brilliant by the way. It captures the magical part ….its sort of a wonder in fact. And Blau was right when he wrote about the sixties, too. The Living Theatre was terrific….but it lead nowhere. It couldnt. Peter Brook …oddly….has led nowhere. Once i thought he would. There are amusing writers today….good ones… their way, but much as I like some….howard brenton or david hare, and Hare at his best is remarkable, but truth is, none of them are not slipping backward in terms of collapsing space. Caryl Churchill or brien friel…….i think are very minor writers finally. The generation after Hare….mark ravenhill…..or crimp, are awful. Its not just suffocating, but its reactionary. On top of it all. In the US….Shepard writes real plays. He does. Still. He cant help it. Mednick too.

  4. God yes the establishment is trying to rewrite antifascism as anticommunism…the US_intro to the translation of Yugo writer Borislav Pekic’ How To Quiet A Vampire ( which you’d love) is an almost comical example. …

  5. Churchill and Shanley, yeah different handling of “absurdity” in “quirky” realism but also show that same step as Guare. Churchill is not quite as trivializing as the other two, I think, but she goes even more wrong in the sociology because she’s such a natural fabian sort of racist. (Her Romanian play has to have Commies as Vampires) The absurd becomes a burlesque in Cloud 9 (which ostentatiously discoursing on race and gender as abstractions leaves out women of color just as antidiscrimination law did in US inspiring Crenshaw to initiate “the intersectional analysis”), sociology but failure as sociology. Top Girls returns uncritically to melodrama (whose conventions become excuses) to rescue its sociology. I don’t know DeGhelderode.

    A novel much praise, fictionalizing life of Mead and Bateson, is being made into a film. It begins with the couple going aboard an Aussie yacht after a year among ” cannibals” . the kitsch colonial entertainment is returning without shame or alibi. White subjectivity offered like refined white sugar, poison appealing to infantile tastes.

  6. Another thought…the Ionesco is specific hiastoricalpy– it becomes more specific through its figurative transformations, whereas the feiffer becomes general and abstract (historically) even while its illusion of particularity intensifies. This is what I was trying to get at with the discussion of the realist ruse. Ultimately this realist ruse is the means by which white innocence and boyrgepous innocence is repeatedly reestab
    Wished. To put it crudely, Ionesco indicts fascists. He indicts concrete class in a concrete period. There is BLAME and opposition. Feiffer buries the crime and confuses the history to plead innocent for his class. “human nature” is like this (he satirizes the plays own move in the minister, Sutherland in the movie), there is a shrug and misanthropy but no indictment. The real history slips out the back door as the General Human Condition distracts you. Ionesco’s play is as you say emphatically antifascist. Feiffers constructs a flattened plane of collapsed metaphor that would allow one to see the FLN in the family of snipers as easily as empire — its all dissolved into this Freudian myth time instead of human history. The very “contemporary” trappings even ironically serve this den historic is king effect

  7. This dehistoricizing effect that should say

  8. john steppling says:

    Yes this is a very necessary conversation actually. Handke is the last great living playwright….truly great theatre artist. Heiner Muller, Shepard, Mednick, and then maybe a couple others………but Handke is special, and really of huge importance. His novels, too, which are interesting to compare to his theatre.

    But yes, what you say about the realist ruse. This is simply not discussed at all today. I mean Athol Fugard is now gradually being taught as if there were not a specific social trauma behind the plays. The Island becomes a mythic island, not Robbin Island. Fugard is a curious case because his genius was expressed, perhaps exclusively, with that first group of actors he worked with; Kani, and Ntshona and Zakes Mokae…..but because of the immediate….the immanent in a sense, there was something very unique going on. And as for colonial nostalgia….oh fuck, yes. I see it over and over and over and over. The british empire, the Raj, treated absolutely uncritically.

    But then, see, the aaron sorkin effect is always going on. The new Madame Secretary…..has already demonized serbs and Iranians in only three or so episodes. The same propaganda spewed out over and over and over.

    anyway……the more germane topic is how this realist ruse works. What happens and how does it happen. Why is Feiffer’s piece so much less than Ionesco? Well, all that you say exactly. But additionally I think there is this sense of theatre — that this is on a stage. Fugard always knew he was on a stage. Handke does, and Feiffer does not. He is in a novel or short story and this was my beef with one person plays……they could not, with only a single voice, make use of this unique ritual that is theatre and the stage. Its always surprising how radical shakespeare is in that sense. All the Elizabethans. There is ONLY the stage. And then on that stage a text is said aloud. The rest is incidental in one way. The work of these playwrights who refuse the stage….who write *plays* that are half movie or TV and half lecture ….they access this generalized realistic setting…..on which in reality has no meaning. Its nothing, its disneyland….but it provides a comfort zone in which the performance then whittles down the metaphors and meta-meaning and soon its psychological …only psychological. The reliance on psychology is total in theatre today…english speaking anyway. So this psychological is really about adjustment…..about problems, aberrant behavior etc……..and correction, adaptation, adjustment….. this corrected problem means that the fabric of existence is reknitted…. and white power is granted a pass. And this is what you see……*issue* plays….the poor black individual, or brown or gay….against a backdrop of the real. And this problem allows this bourgeois audience to wring their hands…..applaud after….and pat themselves on the back. And all the while the space of radical vision is shut down.

  9. John, Molly, hello. I logged in to say something else entirely but I was dumbfounded to hear, first of all, John pigeonholing Caryl Churchill alongside Brian Friel – of all people! what on earth do they have in common? – and then to hear Molly say (of CC): “she’s such a natural fabian sort of racist”. I mean, christ – really? That’s quite an accusation. Really, what justifies it? Also: “She has to have Commies [plural-sic] as vampires” – really? Is that a fair summary of what she does with one (1) vampire in Mad Forest? Is that vampire Commies? I find it very very very hard to believe, though I haven’t read or seen that particular play. You make her sound like Ronald Reagan or someone. What production did you see, Molly? One that really did feature “Commies as Vampires”? (Directors are people too, I know, I know.)

    Have either of you seen or read Churchill’s ‘A Number’? I’ve had that extraordinary play in mind the whole time while reading John’s discussions of the stage, “the offstage” and the unconscious.

    Btw John, I was pleased to see you agree that The Caretaker is Pinter’s masterpiece – it has none of the fake willed mystery of The Birthday Party (McCann & Goldberg) or The Dumb Waiter. It is perfectly transparent as a narrative yet it opens up an endlessly resonant “space”. A Number has that quality too.

  10. Molly Klein says:

    Well it’s from a British supremacist viewpoint that Romania requires vampires. It’s a play that very simply exploits the frisson of Oriental borderland in the racist Brit imagination about Romania (besides adding to the anticommie propaganda0. Serious Money shows the destruction of wholesome white world by Oriental infiltration through finance. Seven Jewish Children, though its heart is in the right place to a point, is a play supposedly for Gazans where Gazans mean nothing and are nothing but the accidental anonymous casualties of the neurosis of an eternal Jewishness, serving as a moral stain whose own suffering is shrouded so that some archetypal racial predecessor of their victimizers can be staged suffering. Her British chauvinism is powerfully present in all the plays, even, I would argue, the Skriker.

  11. Molly Klein says:

    I saw it off broadway in the 90s. I saw Skriker at the Public I think. Top Girls is the 80s in NY and in London. Serious Money in both NY and London as well. Never saw Cloud 9 but read it. Watched two videos of 7 Jewish Children. All the productions I saw were very satisfying dramatically…why would you not be troubled by the obvious racism of Cloud 9, the British imagination which places a vampire in a play about Romanian politics, the Oriental intruders corrupting AngloAmerican finance, in the same kind of racial vision as _Network_ or _Roll Over_, in Serious Money? Do you sympathize with these visions or you just feel the politics of the work none of your business?

  12. Molly Klein says:

    Romania, Ceaucescu, Blood…

    remember this?

    What a picture.

    What do YOU, Patrick, make of vampire and dog in that play, whose title is, no kidding, Mad Forest? In light of the reality of this early color revolution: there should be much to say say about it by admirers who are fully persuaded as well as by critics of its political manoeuvrings.

  13. Molly Klein says:

    oops is that Patrick L? Hello!…sorry for tone, withdrawn. I’m being defensive.

  14. john steppling says:

    But see……..this is the problem when discussing theatre, and theme starts to replace this idea of form and ….well, theatrical ontology almost. Friel and churchill are thematically different, and from within this sort of tier on which they operate, they operate differently. But I lump them in a basket that includes almost everyone not named Handke or Muller these days. Sarah kane. Do you not see a qualitative difference between Friel and Kane for example? And i like some of these playwrights……I like simon gray a good deal. I mean there really are no hard and fast rules. I remember seeing Butley and thinking, fuck, this is brilliant. And it is. Im not sure where it falls in all this and its why I distrust lists — but in an effort to illustrate the points in question; yeah I think Churchill is very much an establishment writer. And quite different in kind from Fugard or Kane or Pinter or Handke.

    On another note….agree about The Caretaker. Its his most perfect play. A Homecoming is sort of amazing, but flawed…..i sort of forgive it its flaws though. The later Pinter im not sure what to do with. Im not sure anyone is.

    Edward Bond is another writer who is somewhere interstitial in all this. *Saved* remains a kind of compelling bit of theatre. Lear too. Finally, Bond fails as a theatre artist, but he was a socialist and he did sort of strive for something meaningful. I would hesitate to criticize him too much. But i mean….look at german language theatre. Franz X Kroetz and Bernhard…..THATS a totally other realm almost. Bernhard’s stuff is of a different register. Its like handke. And quite earlier Von Horvath and mariluise fleisser….even earlier still. And Botho Strauss…..i saw richard foreman’s production of big and little….at the Public, which was unusual for foreman, with richard jordan. As amazing an evening of theatre as Ive ever experienced.

  15. Molly Klein says:

    I love Bond and would argue for the importance and richness of The Sea and several other plays. But this is the real political postmodernism, not a washed out modernism.

  16. John Steppling says:

    So i guess I dont see pigeonholing. Im trying to tweeze apart something I think is crucial — and its just not related to theme.

    Theme intersects at some point, as everything does. But this question of representation looms over all of this. And that needs , i think, a more extensive discussion. Just in and of itself.

  17. PatrickL. says:

    molly: “Serious Money shows the destruction of wholesome white world by Oriental infiltration through finance”

    How do you come up with this stuff, Molly? I re-read the play yesterday and what you present here as a summary of it is – well, it’s delusional. You might as well say Coriolanus shows the Romans playing cricket on the moon. Where is this “Oriental infiltration” you claim to detect? Who or what embodies it in the play? Ditto for “wholesome white world “. (christ…) I literally have not the faintest idea to what or to whom you are referring.

    FROSBY: My lovely city’s sadly changed,
    Sic transit Gloria! Glory passes!
    Any wonder I’m deranged,
    Surrounded by the criminal classes


    We’re only doing just the same
    All you bastards always done.
    New faces in your old square mile,
    Making money with a smile,
    Just as clever, just as vile.

    “remember this?”

    What? That Granta edition? I don’t think I ever saw it. 1989? Yes, I remember that. I was in Berlin at the time. Saw some blood there, the night the wall came down (an elderly bespectacled border guard punched to the ground by a drunk shouting “You
    stole my youth!”) And I wasn’t jubilant, if that’s what you’re wondering.

    “What do YOU, Patrick, make of vampire and dog in that play,”

    I already told you I have neither read nor seen it. (For the record: I own the text of six of her plays and I have acted in one of them.) And I can’t access the text of Mad Forest here quickly. In the meantime you tell me: Is the dog also Commies? What about the angel, is it Commies too? Or is it Capitalists or Freedom-Fighters or what. I will then read the play Caryl Churchill actually wrote and decide whether your summary of it is a travesty or not. Maybe she was possessed by the Devil that year. Maybe not.

    “whose title is, no kidding, Mad Forest?”

    So what?

    Btw, Marx and Engels were Spiritualists. You need evidence? “Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa…” (First line of the Manifesto). I rest my case..

  18. John Steppling says:

    I ordered A Number./////which Ive not read.

    But see…..this is not to be taken as quite what it might sound like. But here is the Amazon blurb for A Number.

    “Caryl Churchill, hailed by Tony -Kushner as “the greatest living English language playwright,” has turned her extraordinary dramatic gifts to the subject of human cloning—how might a man feel to discover that he is only one in a number of identical copies. And which one of him is the original. . . ? A Number opens in London’s Royal Court Theatre in October, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot).

    Caryl Churchill is the author of some twenty plays including Cloud Nine, Top Girls, The Skriker, Blue Heart and Far Away.:”

    ok….this is establishment theatre. Stephen fucking Daldry. The royal court…tony kushner. Here is what amazon pimps about a collection (the only one in english sadly) of Bernhards…

    “Although he is best known in the United States as a novelist, Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard has been hailed in Europe as one of the most significant and controversial of contemporary playwrights. George Steiner has predicted that the current era in German-language literature will be recognized as the “Bernhard period”; John Updike compares Bernhard with Kafka, Grass, Handke, and Weiss. His dark, absurdist plays can be likened to those of Beckett and Pinter, but their cultural and political concerns are distinctly Bernhard’s. While Austria’s recent political history lends particular credibility to Bernhard’s satire, his criticisms are directed at the modern world generally; his plays grapple with questions of totalitarianism and the subjection of the individual and with notions of reality and appearance.”

    its interesting I think. Perhaps it means fuckallnothing. I dont know. Im very suspicious of popularity that reaches a certain level. Or work that doesnt offend more people. I directed…well i co-directed as a favor, a workshop production of Top Girls. Was tedious…..but again, this proves nothing I suppose.

    I do think there is a yawning gap though…….that one can qualitatively separate the churchill register from the Krotez handke level. And…..for all his faults, I think shepard is more interesting as a theatre writer than churchill or stoppard or the like. I think there is space and a sense of that ineffable something, that fleeting uncanny in sam’s work that I cant see in the admittedly clever and literate churchill.

  19. “Im very suspicious of popularity that reaches a certain level. Or work that doesnt offend more people.”

    I agree completely, but I also feel some great art will seem more offensive than other great art largely due to exposure. There’s a lot of great art out there that doesn’t seem to offend, for the sole reason or largely due to the fact that it has such limited exposure. A filmmaker like Jacques Rivette instantly comes to mind. In order for a figure to cultivate a reputation as a radical or a revolutionary, they need to gain a certain level of exposure, which someone like Rivette has never had to begin with. Out 1 was intended as a mini series but was rejected by French state television and has only been screened seven times since its conception. So how can it possibly offend viewers if only people like Claire Denis have even seen it. This is just one example, and certainly in the case of a Franzen or a Linlater, one should always be suspicious, and I think this is also why I’ve always been reluctant to read any of Rushdie’s work to begin with, because of the establishment people i come across in both blogs and in my personal life who readily embrace him.

    I mention Rivette since he seems a prime example of a fringe figure who nonetheless hasn’t developed the image or reputation of a “radical” figure. If his films were more widely seen, he’d probably offend a lot more people in my view.

  20. Molly Klein says:

    Serious Money is about a company called Albion

    it is being preyed on by a jew Zack Zackerman representing foreign finance “Senora” Jacinta Condor and Nigel Ajibala

    Its openly a vision of what the end of capital control means – not the British conquest of the world but the foreign conquest of Albion

    This is painfully obvious

  21. Molly Klein says:

    I mean she goes through it in the play as a disavowal — the sweet english maiden Albion, the foreign predator, the white knight , its offered as a pr spin but its also precisely what she shows, except with the concession that English capitalism isn’t really benevolent either. It is still being preyed on by furriners and their ruthlessness is the engine of the play

  22. John Steppling says:

    Im sure that’s true about Rivette.

  23. Molly Klein says:

    “The empire’s gone but the City of London keeps on running like a cartoon cat off a cliff”

    What are Condor and Ajibala here? They are these figures of impropriety, they mimic their imperial overlords. Their presence embodies the degradation, the loss of probity. It’s plainly icky, as in Cloud 9.

  24. Molly Klein says:

    FROSBY: My lovely city’s sadly changed,
    Sic transit Gloria! Glory passes!
    Any wonder I’m deranged,
    Surrounded by the criminal classes


    We’re only doing just the same
    All you bastards always done.
    New faces in your old square mile,
    Making money with a smile,
    Just as clever, just as vile.

    This is a character speaking. He’s not actually the fountain of truth. We the audience are invited to “know” that the presence of Condor and Ajibala are signs of imperial decadence (there is something wrong with their staying at the Savoy, right?), while in the real world in Britain under Thatcher the City was undertaking an aggression to reverse the trend of decolonization, to exploit 3rd world debt. Now this is encapsulated in the play, iirr, by Abijala borrowing but it’s turned upside down propagandistically.

  25. Something that bothers me on a more general scale is the way people who indulge in identity politics, which is often interchangeable with white guilt, present themselves as if they’re the “true radicals” while the ones who bring aesthetics into the conversation are accused of being “Euro-centric” dandies. Sort of like ‘how dare you criticize the writings of this man who was a Chinese political prisoner’. Like ‘Oh, let’s give the Palme d’Or to a “Turkish filmmaker” or to a “Thai filmmaker”‘ or let’s award the Nobel Prize in literature to an again ‘Chinese political prisoner’ or to a Peruvian. I feel so many of these decisions are guided by ‘white guilt’. It was Tim Burton by the way who awarded the Palme d’Or to a “Thai filmmaker”. I say this because Cannes and the Nobel committee are essentially establishment institutions patting themselves on the back for recognizing work “from other parts of the world” largely because they’re “obscure” and “from other parts of the world”. It’s essentially “National Geographic” syndrome, and so many people on the left fall for it.

  26. Molly Klein says:

    “Where is this “Oriental infiltration” you claim to detect?”

    Well let’s see Albion, which is run by gentile Brits, is preyed upon by Zackerman (Jew who is teaching everyone to be more ruthless than finance has ever been before), in league with “Senora” Condor (Peruvian narcotrafficker) and Abijala (Nigerian, living in London because he is so rich from cocoa and has joined the imperial exploiter class).

  27. Now Mario Vargas LLosa is by no means obscure, but it seems like a very bourgeois choice posturing as ‘tolerant’.

  28. Molly Klein says:

    The presentation of Senora Jacinta Condor…”Condor” because she is an anthropomorphization of “capital flight”. But why is capital flight from Peru represented as Peruvian woman narcotrafficker and not British or American rentiers? She was a mineowner but converted to coca (which is also uncritically presented as signal of decadence and depravity)- she is a traitor to her nation. The “:instability” of Peru is thus portrayed as a kind of Peruvian nature and Peruvian product, the Condor is native fauna, the “instability” the Condor flees is not caused by empire and the capital flight is figured as this rootless cosmopolitan. This is especially creepy given “Operation Condor” which this imperial apology is erasing and overwriting

    The play is overtly and loudly about this attempted hostile takeover or Albion, and how it is defended. The pr spin is a major element of the play. The pr spin has a certain character; its nationalistic and it derives ideas of benevolent capitalism from an English ideological tradiition (Undershaf). Churchill deploys this as a pr programme within the play but also makes use of it as a blueprint of ideology with which the play and its story of takeover of Albion (the foreign finance imperialism in which England is portrayed as victim rather than aggressor in the Thatcher years) is fashioned.

  29. PatrickL. says:

    I see. “Oriental” now means Occidental too, in your book. It includes the USA. It also includes Peru and West Africa. Any unflattering depiction of any individual from any of these countries is to be avoided by any British playwright, for this would be evidence of her Othering an Oriental (which would not be cricket). Keep me posted on these language-drifts. And let me know how anyone can write a play about the City of London in the mid-80s without including any greedy or unscrupulous “furriners” (sic) in it.

    “This is a character speaking. ”

    Yes, I noticed, that. (There are no flies on me.) That’s why I included his name. Their names, in fact. It’s two characters speaking, but let’s not be pedantic.

    “We the audience are invited to “know” that the presence of Condor and Ajibala are signs of imperial decadence”

    You imagine this, for some reason. So please spare me the royal We. If the audience is “invited to ‘know'” anything, it is invited to know that what was euphemistically called “deregulation” by the Thatcherites (and Reaganites) meant a ferocious drive to ensure even less democratic control than hitherto, by any population of any nation, over wealth generated in, or parked in, the UK or anywhere else in the world.

    ” imperial decadence””

    Nope. Not a trace of it. Again you fantasise this, ex nihilo, absurdly. You may be confusing Caryl with Winston. That the rot is very ancient (imperial and indeed pre-imperial too) is never in any doubt. Caryl Churchill suggests that the thoroughly rotten UK has not become any less rotten under Thatcher — on the contrary (after a 30-year social-democratic semi-hiatus). You may of course disagree, but please say so if you do.

    “(there is something wrong with their staying at the Savoy, right?)”

    Says who? Says you, and no one else. It is your fantasy, exclusively. Anyway: Do they stay at the Savoy? All of them? I believe Nigel stays in ” a small room” somewhere, but let me check. (If he does, no doubt you’ll find a reason to find this too All Wrong or Orientalist or Fabian Racist or something. Where there’s a will there’s a way.)

    ” in the real world in Britain under Thatcher the City was undertaking an aggression to reverse the trend of decolonization, to exploit 3rd world debt.”


    “Now this is encapsulated in the play, iirr, by Abijala borrowing but it’s turned upside down propagandistically.”

    No it isn’t. Nigel Abijala is just one new small shark is what was already a tankful of big old sharks. His figure “encapsulates”, if anything, the lack of democratic control over Nigeria’s wealth by the Nigerian people who generate that wealth. He can steal it and park it in the City of London, where it will generate even more wealth (for him).

    Nigel Abijala is of course not Nigeria, and Jacinta Condor is of course not Peru, any more than Salter is England in A Number or (presumably) “Vampires are Commies” in Mad Forest. Nor does Caryl Churchill even begin to suggest that they are, or that the West African and Peruvian capitalists depicted are in any way any more rotten than the respectable British capitalists they team up with, exploit, exploit with, and are exploited by, in a system newly “deregulated” to ease their efforts, increase their personal wealth, and dismantle democratic advances worldwide.

  30. PatrickL. says:

    I don’t find it hard to believe that Edward Bond’s English is better in French.

  31. PatrickL. says:

    My time online in the next few days is going to be very limited, btw. It may be tomorrow evening before I can get back to this.

    John, you do know the RSC and the National have done Büchner too, right? And you do know the authors the Royal Court has introduced, and defended? (Where was Sarah Kane first shown?) And you know where Thomas Bernhard premiered most of his plays, right?

    There’s nitty-gritty for ya.

    (I can’t believe you’re quoting some blurb from Amazon to pooh-pooh CC’s play before you’ve even looked at it.)

  32. John Steppling says:

    ok hold on./ I do know the Royal Court, i had a play read there in fact and did a workshop there.

    Im not sure your point about Bernhard and where his plays were done/ . He was done in Vienna up to the point where he forbid his plays being performed or published in austria. He and Jelinik were produced there…….and trust me vienna bears scant resemblance to london in the cultural politics of each city. Both bernhard and jelinik were controversial choices……but Austria’s relationship with the former communist east is far closer and also more conflicted than London. Its also a country whose population is less than that of London alone (actually about a third of london i think). So im not sure of your point.

    But since you clearly MISSED my point, I will take the time to spell it out in crayon. The ******MARKETING******* of certain authors tends to reflect the target audience for them as it is perceived by the publishers. This includes blurbs and so forth. But also the kitsch bios listed. I also said, it might really mean nothing, but was interesting. Its marketing….its not meaningless. Bernhard….since we’re using him……is hardly produced with anywhere near the frequency of churchill. Or with anywhere near the budget. Thats simply a fact. You can interpret that as you wish. But thats a fact. Churchill is a middle brow aesthete for bourgeois british audiences at places like the royal court today. Or New Vic or Donmar Wharehouse. Im not saying they dont at times produce good work…….but infrequently. Also…lets look at the evolution of artistic directors at the Royal Court.
    2013 to the present….Vickie Featherstone..former BBC executive who worked for a while at the national in scotland doing middle brow stuff of no real consequence.
    2007 -2013………Dominic Cooke. He, the great champion of caryl churchill. And also the popularizer of mark ravenhill. Yes he also did a lot of RSC stuff, and some good work while there……so Ive heard. But he is credited with great marketing success at the Court.
    1998 to 2006 Ian Rickson. Another supporter of churchill. Also the great popularize of jez Butterworth…….and a case could be made that the current RC is the product of rickson’s vision. A tad twee, but multi culti……..but in 8 years Im not sure anything of real lasting importance was done.
    1992 to 1998…..Stephen Daldry. he of billy elliot the musical fame. Another fan of churchill. He did ron hutchinson…..who i know….and who i think decent. He did one david hare…….but focused on marketing out reach. Fair enough. I think he actually has good taste but forgoes his taste (he did do an oden von horvath which i heard was bad…but whatever)………he also was tirelessly careerist and film oriented.
    AND that was the cut off…
    1979 to 93 was max stafford clark. I guess he is considered THEE royal court A. D. He did ravenhill first i believe……but again churchill, and hare and wertenbaker……..i mean the same stuff. Stafford Clark gave off the vibe of seriousness though…so i think he is preceived as more substantive, even if he wasnt really.
    There were others…but youd have to go back to the 70s and oscar lewenstein to find a different sensibility at work. More brecht, more shakespeare, more weirdness….Duras and peter brook and strange adaptations of cornell woolrich etc. Before that is another era……..but…..but….anthony page was there doing Pinter and osborne….and before him Lindsay anderson doing joe orton and max frisch………and before anderson even was george devine, doing beckett (late 1950s) and shakespeare.
    Now……..i take the time to list all this because its hard not to see the difference between lindsay anderson and devine and lewenstein………..and daldry and featherstone. This is a shift in sensibility. Its impossible to deny this.

    So………..what you have in Churchill………caryl not winston…….is a writer who fits well with daldry and featherstone and cooke……….where bond and osborne and brecht and beckett and frisch do far less — of course beckett is a brand now in a sense….but lets look at the new work being done.
    From max frisch to mark ravenhill. Thats the arc. its not meaningless. Its not pooh pooh………..and what do you mean Ive not even looked at Churchill? I directed a churchill. What do you mean? ???? I havent read A Number…but thats about all I havent read.

    Now as for sarah kane. Blasted was done upstairs at the court. But i think i need to do a full analysis of Kane. I admire her a great deal…..even if her politics sort of sucked, ….but she had an innate sort of vision……of madness. I wonder how well in the end Kane will hold up. I dont know. I know 4 48 Psychosis is remarkable. its brilliant…….but but but…….i also admit a lingering sort of discomfort I have with Kane. And it extends beyond her remarks about bosnian rape camps. She was nuts. Fine. And her work is idiot savant powerful and theatrically….most importantly….as theatre its very strong and if Pinter became a pal, i guess he must have helped educate her. But thats neither here nor there. And i dont want a litany of productions as proof of anything. I was produced on the second stage at the taper, as kane was on the second and third stage at the royal court. My point was purely that marketing of writers is reflective of a sensibility at work in that writer….usually, and more, its about the audience for that writer. Usually. Usually…………we all make use of favors when we can on the blurb front (cough)………….so whether you can believe it or not, my point is perfectly clear and perfectly valid. The Amazon ads are indicative of both audience and writer.\ There is the *coded* acceptability in play,

    Now the main point has to do with theatre…….less with theme. In the end its not what interests me here….not directly…..because Churchill is the theatre of representation, and of cheap metaphor and shallow allegory…..much like stoppard in fact. Actually i might rather have stoppard oddly. It is the world of collapsed, or closed off stage space. There is a significant difference between bernhard and churchill. And bernhard is produced very little……..on occasion….but very little. Is there a reason for that? is it that Caryl Churchill is just so much better>? No…..because some work just is never going to sit well on main stages for the subscriber base.

    and again, the austrian state theatre is not in anyway the equivalent of big theatre in england or the US or even france…….and its distressing you dont know this patrick. Do you really want to cast aspersion at bernard as a bourgeois favorite on the stages of austria? Its a silly remark.

  33. Molly Klein says:

    “I see. “Oriental” now means Occidental”

    “Oriental” in this ideology means the other of the West: as the white supremacists and Anglo chauvinists imagine it. The ideology of supremacy changes with regard to what concretely is moved into this category. In this case she is running an ancient fable about OPEC as the origin of this disturbance in the old order; this is a tradition she is deriving her story from. It is not like there was a Peruvian capitalist woman worried in magic realist style about ghosts who physically arrived in London to help raid Albion. This is metaphoric. She explains being driven there by petrodollars which become national debt etc. It’s not like its coming out the blue; its her way of fictionalizing the Financial Times

  34. Molly Klein says:

    “Jacinta Condor is of course not Peru, ”

    her name is Condor which is a bird one finds in Peru. She is from Peru. She owned the copper mines of Peru and now she owns the coca. She believes in ghosts. She is introduced on a plane literally in flight. She is allegorizing capital flight, the crisis of the Garcia presidency, and her monologue is nothing but the financial times’ explanation of that crisis spoken from the point of view of capital in flight to London.

    It’s not liek there is a character here, or supposed to be one. She is associated with Ajibala a prince and she marries Zackerman the milken figure.

  35. I could be wrong, and this may just be my impression, but rather than produce plays of contemporary establishment voices, theater in Paris tends to revolve largely around on putting on performances of the ‘classics’ like Moliere, Beaumarchais, Racine, and even Shakespeare, and I guess Beckett too, but largely for the purpose of regurgitation, sort of as if one must be able to namedrop X,Y,Z to be an enlightened citizen and member of the bourgeoisie. Along with that of course, one must be able to brag they attended a performance of Racine at La Comedie Francaise, etc., etc.. Naturally, it’s just as reactionary as what goes on in London, but a different kind of reactionary. I’m not saying don’t read Beaumarchais, but there are right reasons and wrong reasons for doing so. Although there is this one tiny theater near Saint Michelle that puts on a lot of Ionesco, but even there, they seem to be doing it in the name of living out an old mythology, as if it were still the “1920s Paris”.

  36. Molly Klein says:

    I think its clear that Zackerman, Condor and Ajibala embody the corruption into which Scilla descends, that thats the Orientalist brit chauvism at work …she doesnt corrupt them, she’s not the obviously foul and wrong thing in the world, they are.

  37. Molly Klein says:

    and again as in Cloud 9, the black man is a burlesque imitation of :”his white master”

  38. Molly Klein says:

    I brought up the Granta as a reminder of the (now seemingly absurd) media context in which Mad Forest, which was a highbrow type of headline exploitation, was introduced. It was a play that milked, for effects, all the eerie/gory imagery of ancient evils that was everywhere regarding Ceacescu and Romania, this imagery from the antisemitic and protestant chauvinist tradition (like Stoker) that was being put to use in the propaganda cover for US destabilization and death squads (to make the “revolutions” stick) in the last years of the cold war. The vampire in Churchill’s play about the fall of the communist government is a supernatural bloodthirst – that is, a bloodthirst strongly dissociated from the United States empire – evoked as familiar, to her audience, as native to Romania, as expressing an ancient Romanian essence – a vampire as native to Romania as the Condor to the Andes — staged as a pseudo explanation for the running of a gladio/color revolution, and its need for blood, in 1989.

  39. Molly Klein says:

    Ajibala went to Eton. He’s a prince. He is associated with Africa – “Ghana and Zambia, Zaire and Gambia”. He says explicitly “One thing one learned from one’s colonial masters, one makes money from other people’s disasters.” He’s there for no other reason than to say this and to be the object of a loan — this is clearly Churchill’s staging of her conception of the City’s relation to “3rd world debt” and her notion of the corrupted compradors although iirr its actually a forward buy of commodity cocoa. This is very schematic — she wants “OPEC” to mean the Gulf, so Nigeria, actually dependent on oil export in this period, is figured as a big cocoa plantation controlled by a prince in London; this is a way of not seeing 1980s Nigeria, and African/City-WallSt relations, but seeing instead a kind of imaginary alternative universe where the British empire appears as dazzling core and rural periphery of fable with power relations menacingly turned upside down due to financialization. This vision is a political choice; the handling of the staging of “Nigerian debt to the City” — is not insignificant.

  40. John Steppling says:

    I am going to dig into a lot of this debate on my next blog post. I hope everyone will comment then….as well as continuing here. Ive been thinking hard on Churchill. And the problem is…she is like placebo art (per guy zimmerman)……she writes *topical* plays…..a play for Gaza, a feminist perspective on career, etc. But somehow these plays serve as fodder for bourgeois aesthetes…..and its just nags at me, and I never end up feeling her plays the way I do a Handke or Bernhard, or Pinter. And its worth, i think, digging more into the reasons for this. There is something facile and calculated about Churchill. A formula for cool postmodern non representational theatre……and yet I think it IS representational. There is a sleight of hand going on — and perhaps it has to do with the emphasis on *theme*. The message of her plays…..and the debate here has largely been on the ostensive meaning of her texts. So she is very tricky to talk about. But this is why her popularity nags at me. Everyone does churchill. I cant think of an english language playwright more produced than Churchill. I have no final assessment yet — except I find I always distrust her work. It never feels radical and it never feels deeply theatrical to me in terms of this thing I keep going on about regarding space. In one hundred years will Churchill be an important voice in theatre? What will she mean….as Adorno would say, what will the truth content be as her work (as all work) disintigrates via history.

  41. PatrickL. says:

    This entire “discussion” started off profoundly daft and has since become surreal.

    John: “and what do you mean Ive not even looked at Churchill? I directed a churchill. What do you mean? ???? I havent read A Number…but thats about all I havent read.”

    What I actually wrote:

    “(I can’t believe you’re quoting some blurb from Amazon to pooh-pooh CC’s play</b) [i.e., the one you just ordered] before you’ve even looked at it.)"

    – which is precisely what you did – to wit:

    John: "I ordered A Number./////which Ive not read.

    But see…..this is not to be taken as quite what it might sound like. [???- PatrickL.] But here is the Amazon blurb for A Number.

    “Caryl Churchill, hailed by Tony -Kushner as “the greatest living English language playwright,” has turned her extraordinary dramatic gifts to the subject of human cloning—how might a man feel to discover that he is only one in a number of identical copies. And which one of him is the original. . . ? A Number opens in London’s Royal Court Theatre in October, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot).

    Caryl Churchill is the author of some twenty plays including Cloud Nine, Top Girls, The Skriker, Blue Heart and Far Away.:”

    ok….this is establishment theatre. Stephen fucking Daldry. The royal court…tony kushner.

    i.e., you blamed Caryl Churchill a) for having been praised by Tony Kushner on a blurb and b) for having been directed (once) by someone else again (in a production you haven’t seen of a play you haven’t read, but this just by the way).

    The Royal Court is “Establishment theatre” in your book (I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong) and the Burgtheater Wien apparently isn’t. Or something. But what has any of this to do with the quality of anyone’s work? I haven’t checked out the “marketing” of Sarah Kane’s works yet, or Sam Shepard’s. You might perform that little experiment yourself, if you feel like it. I’m busy right now.

    “Do you really want to cast aspersion at bernard as a bourgeois favorite on the stages of austria? Its a silly remark.”

    I agree. Not just silly, demented. It’s your remark, though, and most decidedly ***not mine***. I am no more responsible for your fantasies (on any theme) than I am for Molly’s. Just as no author is responsible for who praises her.

    John: “and again, the austrian state theatre is not in anyway the equivalent of big theatre in england or the US or even france…….and its distressing you dont know this patrick.”

    I do know it. First-Hand too. It is not so much distressing as deeply fucking annoying that you presume so much and patronise me so casually. I have performed in a Burgtheater production in Vienna. I speak and read German fluently and have done so for decades now. What do you want, a complete cv? I could easily drop names here, including German names. But why should I? And exactly what would be the point?

    “Im not sure your point about Bernhard and where his plays were done/ . He was done in Vienna up to the point where he forbid his plays being performed or published in austria.”

    That “point” was when he died. He forbade the staging of his works in Austria in his last will and testament. Posthumously.

  42. “Just as no author is responsible for who praises her.”

    I don’t think it’s that simple. In one sense, yes it’s true, they’re not responsible, but I think John just feels it’s nevertheless worth interrogating why a Kushner may embrace X but not Y, even if X in certain cases happens to have merit. If an artist of merit is nonetheless often embraced for the wrong reasons, it’s an issue worth exploring. But that brings up another issue. How does one contend, for instance, with Beckett, Sartre, and Faulkner being Nobel Laureates or with Godard, Antonioni, S. Ray, and Hitchcock, among others having won Honorary Oscars?

  43. john steppling says:

    Patrick, sadly, you are now not even making sense………and not making sense with attitude. A sort of fatal combination. So…… are saying to disregard all churchills but A Number? that is it somehow outside her other work? I wasnt pooh poohing anything, firstly, but secondly I was making a point about her reputation, which should be obvious to anyone reading that comment. I already said I hadnt read that one play, and those blurbs could have been (and are) for any of her plays. Thats actually how marketing works. In any event the point has now been made twice, and if you fail to grasp that, fine. Then you do.

    Nobody is blaming Churchill for Kushner………for fuck sake, wake up patrick. What is the difficulty is understanding what I wrote? Again this has been explained twice already.

    the rest of your comment is incoherent. Honestly, literally, incoherent. You were the one brought up Bernhard in Vienna. For what reason I dont know. The point being made….(again twice) was that marketing reveals something about an author, same as do productions (in the case of playwrights)…… fact its probably exaggerated in playwrights because its less corporatized. And Ive continued to make the point that Churchill is a different sort of theatre than …say Handke or Bernhard…….or a number of others. She is conceptual. I mean, this has been an ongoing theme on this blog in terms of writing for the theatre. Churchill is the perfect sort of model of ersatz controversy……..totally appropriate for the royal court. Its neither here nor there that they have done some good work, just as its not really relevant that Bernhard was done at the state theatre in Vienna. (and apparently I was wrong, because i thought he had announced his withdrawl of rights in Austria six months before his death. But it was in his will and testament). But Ive not really understood why where he was done was mentioned……other than as some sort of proof that Churchill’s promotion and popularizing by the royal court wasnt relevant. — The point Patrick, is not to try to *win* discussions, but to understand the point the interlocutor is making. You seem to be willfully and bizarrely refusing to do that. And hey, if your too busy, dont let me keep from whatever it is.

    Here is what I wrote “The ******MARKETING******* of certain authors tends to reflect the target audience for them as it is perceived by the publishers. This includes blurbs and so forth. But also the kitsch bios listed. I also said, it might really mean nothing, but was interesting. Its marketing….its not meaningless. ”

    see? Ok, thats three times Ive explained this. Marketing……why does Churchill get done with such disproportionate frequency on international, but especially english speaking stages? Thats a rather important question.

    The *quality* of one’s work includes, finally, its reception. And who produces it. And who publishes it. Might not be the largest factor in how we evaluate work, but yeah, its part of it. I already discussed Kane. As for Shepard…….he became a movie star. Thats simple. And his output has dwindled. Sadly. But since I know him enough to suggest explanations, Id say he simply genuinely lost the thread after he did the Cimino.

    Bernhard is a very different subject, and his work is considerably less audience friendly — as marketing might put it. I dont recall ever saying anything about where he was being done. That was your comment……….which i tried to make sense of (mistake on my part). All i said, in fact said twice now, was that he is far less frequently produced. AND… response to you, that there is no parallel in the US or UK with how German productions are financed. (or with audience). And yes, I too have spent time in germany. And in fact throughout that part of europe. So? Is that statement incorrect? Is german theatre operating as it does in the UK? I d say not, but……….if you think so, then make that clear. But Bernhard was never done with the same enthusiasm or financing in the US or Uk. Neither has Handke.

    @remy………..well, yeah, this is that question……..popularity, and later enshrinement. Work…as I said, reveals itself more deeply as it, on the surface (so to speak) deteriorates (historically speaking). Hullot Kentor has a short short piece on beckett…..somewhere…..that touches on this. Kushner isnt going to wax enthusiastic about the wrong people. Such careers are carefully tracked. And i get it. i do. But that hardly means that the analysis of career arcs isnt worth examining.

    Now………..i spent all day reading Churchill. And now I like her even less. There is a concept driving her plays. They feel self enclosed……and im not sure if thats bad, but they seem not to relate to her other plays ……….and I cant think of another writer about whom I can say that. Not even stoppard. (sort of but not to this extent). And ….there is some sort of music lacking in Churchill. (ive yet to get my copy of A Number……). But the point…again again again……was with the marketing and how that shapes preception…..who buys her work, who sees her work, etc. She oddly make me think of susan sontag as i read her today. Her Gaza play……….why was it, if not offensive, at least exploitive? Or was it? Im not sure honestly.

    a final note on the Royal Court. It is not the theatre it was in the 70s or even 80s. It became the acceptable authentic or something. Funny that Churchill was part of that…….she was the dramatist in residence. For quite a while I believe.

    So…to summarize. How books of plays are advertised tells us something about who buys them. Where plays are produced tells us something about who buys tickets to see them. The history of the Royal Court is revealing of a trend toward mass marketing. And finally, Handke and Bernhard write work that lacks that conceptual familiarity that Churchill provides. Sarah Kane I just dont know how to evaluate finally., Not totally.

  44. john steppling says:


    I couldnt find a single article criticizing her work. Some criticisms of productions, but not one of her plays. Im sure they exist, but I couldnt find them.

    footntoe 2.
    There are far worse successful playwrights than Churchill. But…..few as successful. Short of neil simon.

    footnote 3
    wasnt patronizing you patrick.

  45. All from one post:

    “Patrick, sadly, you are now not even making sense………and not making sense with attitude. A sort of fatal combination

    Nobody is blaming Churchill for Kushner………for fuck sake, wake up patrick.

    and again, the austrian state theatre is not in anyway the equivalent of big theatre in england or the US or even france…….and its distressing you dont know this patrick.

    Do you really want to cast aspersion at bernard as a bourgeois favorite on the stages of austria? Its a silly remark

    The point Patrick, is not to try to *win* discussions, but to understand the point the interlocutor is making.

    I also said, it might really mean nothing, but was interesting. Its marketing….its not meaningless. see? Ok, thats three times Ive explained this.

    [This after being lectured by you on my alleged “incoherence”.]


    But here’s the punchline, in response to my objecting to being patronised:

    “footnote 3
    wasnt patronizing you patrick”

    Verbatum, in full.

    I will refrain from comment, because the only comment possible is sarcastic invective.

    PS “Attitude”? I believe the word you are looking for is “uppitiness”: HTH.

  46. Amazon blurb:

    Brilliant, prolific, uniquely American, Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Sam Separd is a major voice in contemporary theatre. And here are seven of his very best.

    “One of the most original, prolific and gifted dramatists at work today.”—The New Yorker

    “The greatest American playwright of his generation…the most inventive in language and revolutionary in craft, [he] is the writer whose work most accurately maps the interior and exterior landscapes of his society.”—New York Magazine

    “If plays were put in time capsules, future generations would get a sharp-toothed profile of life in the U.S. in the past decade and a half from the works of Sam Shepard.”—Time

    “Sam Shepard is the most exciting presence in the movie world and one of the most gifted writers ever to work on the American stage.”—Marsha Norman, Pulitzer prizewinning author of ‘Night, Mother.

    “One of our best and most challenging playwrights…his plays are a form of exorcism: magical, sometimes surreal rituals that grapple with the demonic forces in the American landscape.”—Newsweek

    “His plays are stunning in thier originality, defiant and inscrutable.”—Esquire

    “Sam Shepard is phenomenal..the best practicing American playwright.”—The New Republic

  47. Molly, two days ago: “(there is something wrong with their staying at the Savoy, right?)”

    Me, two days ago: “Says who? Says you, and no one else. It is your fantasy, exclusively. Anyway: Do they stay at the Savoy? All of them? I believe Nigel stays in ” a small room” somewhere, but let me check. (If he does, no doubt you’ll find a reason to find this too All Wrong or Orientalist or Fabian Racist or something. Where there’s a will there’s a way.)”

    From Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, Act Two:


    That went very well.
    They can’t possibly tell
    You live in one room in a rundown Hotel.
    I’ll buy you a silk Shirt in Jermyn Street.

    So: 1) They don’t stay at the Savoy. 2) Why shouldn’t they, if other capitalists do, when they can afford it? 3) Nowhere is it said, hinted or in any way insinuated, by anyone, that it would be “not right” if they did. (The Savoy, a very successful old capitalist Enterprise, would quickly go bust if foreign capitalists ever stayed away.)

    As I said, Molly, this stuff is entirely your fantasy, yours and yours alone. Completely made up, by you alone. And I am wondering why you make it up. Really, I’m not trying to score debating-points here. Why do you imagine this stuff?

    “I mean she goes through it in the play as a disavowal — the sweet english maiden Albion, the foreign predator, the white knight , its offered as a pr spin but its also precisely what she shows, except with the concession that English capitalism isn’t really benevolent either. It is still being preyed on by furriners and their ruthlessness is the engine of the play

    The play you describe is not Caryl Churchill’s play. It is your play. You might entitle it “Not Right In The Savoy: Fantasia On A Theme Suggested By The Presence Of “Furriners” In A Caryl Churchill Play.” (That’ll bring in the punters.) Or maybe “Icky! The American Investment Banker as Othered Oriental”. (The exclamation mark worked for Evita! Maybe a musical?) If anyone quotes any of CC’s actual play to you in an effort to contest your misreading, you can (always) merely assert, with your trusty decoder ring, that its actual (magical, esoterical, available only to you) meaning is somehow in fact always the opposite of what the author actually plainly wrote, except whenever it suits you to assert that it isn’t. But your fantasies of Quaint Olde Englande and icky new furrin corruption are yours and yours alone. Not for no reason does Serious Money begin with a fairly lengthy excerpt from Shadwell’s The Stockjobbers, (1692), a play set in London (in what you and you alone call “the wholesome white world “).

    Btw, Corman (whom you take care not to mention) is by far the most powerful and predatory character in the whole play, and he is impeccably English. That’s why and how he can end up being Lord Corman*.

    *Corman: horror, murder, bloodsucking, corvis corax, crow-man, tough, predatory, sinister, inhuman, raptor, carrion-hungry, capable of flight. (Good fun, this game.)

  48. John Steppling says:

    Actually Patrick, I don’t know to begin. But its deeply frustrating to have to engage with someone who seems intent on just being combative. Do you have a point in all this? And those blurbs from Shepard are meant to illustrate what?? Seriously……..again, do you have a point?

    As for not patronizing you, yeah, I just trying to be nice. (another mistake of mine, note to self…..).

    I explained at length the blurbs. Ive also explained a bit of how I view Shepard. His fame is a contested area in how one views his writing. In fact, even before his fame, in retrospect. And its certainly relevant. But then this was already established above. So if you have a point……..make it. All I can say is you’ve become very tiresome. And its sort of pathetic, frankly.

  49. Molly Klein says:

    Sorry but I saw the play and may not remember it precisely about the Savoy; some of it took place there. But what do you make of this play if its not about a company called Albion being raided by Zackerman in league with Condor and Ajibala and defending against this hostile takeover bid? And if Condor’s character and everthing she says is of no significance, what’s good about this play? You say her coming from Peru is not significant. Her being introduced on a plane in flight is not significant. The content of the monologue she delivers on the plain is of no significance. It’s just random stuff she could be from Kent instead and talking about gumballs, it would make no difference. You’re kjust insisting nothing in the play means anything. Not Peru or Nigeria, not Ghana and Zambia Zaire and Gambia. Not the loan. Not that he makes off with the money. Not the company. Not its name or its situation or the actions take by [people against it and on its behalf. Nothing means anything. The “Nigeria” from which Akibala comes is no reference to the Nigeria on our planet. The copper of which Condor speaks is unrelated to the copper in the mines of Peru, the hyperinflation she mentions is only coin cidentally a word freferring to a phenomenon on Peru in the last years before the play was written. It’s all sheer nonsense and means nothing, refers to nothing. It ca’nt be interpreted as having any politics or any other type of content since the words don’t have any connection to the words they sound and are written just like in our language.

    Obviously nothing can prove such a posture, fingers in ears humming, wrong, but I don’t see why you imagine this some kind of defense of the play, just to say its gibberish seems a weak case for its value.

  50. Molly Klein says:

    What kind of playwright writes a play with a character from “Nigeria” who says he learned from “his colonial masters” but doesn’t want the audience to make any connection to the concrete Nigeria in our world? It’s just ludicrous to assume that the play is not referring to Nigeria the country on earth, which was in fact colonized, liberated itself and was being recolonized by means PLAINLY FIGURED in the expedient “loan” made to the Nigerian cocoa prince in the play.

  51. Molly Klein says:

    I mean you’re defending the play saying its a vacuous, stupid play which is only superficially mentioning all these major headlines of Thatcherism. only accidentally evoking the Peruvian crisis, corporate raiding, the whole “neoloberal” revolution of thatcherism, when it really has nothing to say about the reality, does not refer to it, takes no notice of “3rd world debt” but just meaninglessly identified two characters from former colonized world in crises that were front page of the financial press day after day so that her audience oculdnt miss it…its all just ruse. These trappings, this apparent subject matters, Thatcherism, finance, the play has nothing whatsoever to say about any of this. It’s just a kind of mirage of substance, carrying platitudes like ‘people can be so greedy” and “wealth is sexy”?

  52. John Steppling says:

    You know, one of the things Ive learned doing this blog, is that at some point one will offend everyone about something. Usually its a favorite writer or movie or play …..because thats all that people engage with. Nobody comes on and argues about photography or painting. And maybe that’s also to do with narrative.

    But patrick got in a snit because he likes Caryl Churchill. I find it depressing to have idiotic non debates like this, but its the road rage of comments threads. So it ends up being about nothing. This seems to have been a snit fueled by trying to make a point vis a vis amazon blurbs. Seemed amusing at the time. I still think its interesting. But no….no no……it has to be read as a fucking insult because people are too invested in their favorites. I guess. No amount of explanatory commentary can help. SO…..then it becomes nasty and eventually personal. I dont like or trust churchill. I explained all the particulars……..and its not like Im a caryl churchill expert. Nor can I fully believe this one play is significantly different ….but maybe it is. I await its arrival. But this is the society of snark and rage. And I find my own anger more exhausting than anyone elses. People form opinions that conflict with one’s own. And sadly in this culture people dont deal with that very fucking well.

  53. I wonder if with painting it’s simply a matter of fewer people feeling qualified to make value judgments, since for many people a Cezanne or a Vermeer is seen as a “museum piece beyond reproach”, since they feel there’s nothing to talk about. In short, often times I think people may be afraid to come off as “whippersnappers who don’t want to do their homework” and regurgitate what’s been “enshrined within the pantheon of high culture”. Just a thought. That’s all.

  54. Molly Klein says:

    I like Caryl Churchill too; I’ve seen everything I’ve had the opportunity to see. I just can’t pretend not to see this chauvinism and orientalism that she mines for its power of signification and dramatic energy. The Gaza play is a good miniature of what’s almost always going on — an existing topos is exploited and put through its paces, to make a point that’s not true, in this case that genocidal Israelis are expressing the trauma of the history of Jewish oppression in their sadistic exterminationist slaughter. It’s very effective as theatre; she knows how to convey how the tribe talks for sure, but the play is a lie because it is too attached to racial Jewishness=persecution and neurosis, blinded to history by this Type she so easily replicates, that her play is complicit in the appropriation of that history of suffering by a bunch of fascists who are basically an American establishment with no real connection to the exterminated European Jews.

  55. i’m compulerless right now (dammit) & v. busy, have not left in any huff or high dudgeon, will try to ge back to this thread tomorow.

  56. John Steppling says:

    patrick………I may post again before that……….but the next post is certainly related…………and comments on old posts often get neglected. So just comment on the new is my thinking…

  57. John, thanks for a civil reply. I don’t want to clog up the comments box of your next post with a continuation of this (already unexpectedly lengthy) discussion of a single play by Caryl Churchill. So I think it’s better to conclude that discussion with Molly here, if possible, since here is where it started.

  58. Molly: “But what do you make of this play if its not about a company called Albion being raided by Zackerman in league with Condor and Ajibala and defending against this hostile takeover bid?”

    Again (!) you simply leave out Billy Corman, the unmentionable trueborn Englishman. Abracadabra! he doesn’t exist! (Lalala fingers in ears!) Mister Billy Corman is unmentionable and must be magicked away by you because he simply won’t fit in your fragile house of cards — your play (which is not Caryl Churchill’s and nothing like it).

    It is of course Mister Billy Corman, the English and soon-to-be-Lord (“I’m a lifelong Conservative”) who masterminds and engineers the attempted takeover of Albion, and who is foiled by a representative of Her Majesty’s Government because that takeover happens not to be politically expedient for them at the time. The peerage is Billy’s very considerable consolation prize for not being allowed to swallow Albion (yet).

    I.e.: Mister soon-to-be-Lord Billy Corman is not some minor figure in the world of the play, some extra or spear-carrier or progress-sweller. In the London premiere he was played by Gary Oldman, already a hot property and a rising star. Corman’s the predator-in-chief, the big cheese, star of the show, fast-talking prime mover of the hostile takeover; nemesis of Albion.

    Also: Where’s Ms. Marylou Baines in all this? She too is unmentionable (by you). You have never once mentioned the WASPish Ms. Marylou. Why not? For the usual reason. Your house of cards — your play — cannot accommodate her. So, simsalabim, she’s gone! (Ms. Marylou who? Doesn’t exist, never did, can’t!) That she too plays a major role in the attempted hostile takeover of Albion

    Molly: “And if Condor’s character and everthing she says is of no significance, what’s good about this play? You say her coming from Peru is not significant. Her being introduced on a plane in flight is not significant.”

    I never said anything of the sort, Molly. Nothing even remotely like it. I really wish you would stop doing that, ie, just making things up as you please. (This is why I make a point of quoting what I’m replying to verbatim. Beating up straw men is too easy to be any fun at all. Like scolding teddy bears, or playing air guitar in front of the mirror).

    Jacinta Condor is the inheritor of great wealth and herself the owner of several mines. Is she not? Like Corman, she is a predator on those who generate her wealth. Is she not? Capital and capitalism were operating globally and near-instantaneously even 30 years ago, were they not?

    “Her being introduced on a plane in flight is not significant.”

    How else can she get from Peru (in the Oriental far-Occident) to the UK? Should she have rowed the Atlantic? Swum? Stowed away on an oil- tanker? She has certain standards. She also has no time to lose. She is a highpowered capitalist on her way to the City of London to invest and increase her already massive wealth. That is why she is flying.

    What is your argument here, Molly? That there are no capitalists in Latin America? That there are no rich and ruthless owners of valuable resources? (That’ll be news to Latin American leftists.) That they do not cut international deals? That they never fly first-class to London? That they should not be *shown* flying first-class to London? Why not? What on earth is “Fabian racist” about showing a capitalist of any nationality investing money in the City and chasing valuable assets wherever they can be found?

    Also: What on earth makes you so sure that Jacinta Condor is not at least as pearly.white and European as you or I?

    PS Re: “Señora” – I don’t know why you are so obsessed with this. Señora, as you know, is a polite form of address, the Spanish equivalent of Mrs. (If there were a German male in this play then people would call him Herr. If French, then Monsieur or Madame.) Of course “Senora” is also a touch patronising and distancing and cheesily pseudo-gentlemanly as used in the play, but look at who (i.e. which character) uses it and why and when. As one might say, “Ah yes, the fragant Ms. Baines…” Tones and registers as indicators of character and attitude. Depending on the state of play, she is desired, feared, respected, patronised, wooed, crawled to, and kept at a distance by the various men she meets at LIFFE. Addressing her as “Señora”– or much more frequently, referring to her as such in her absence — is just one element in that spectrum. (Caryl Churchill does understand a bit about men’s use of language around women.)

    It also indicates that she is a woman of a certain age. Never once is she called Señorita, not even by the raging misognyists who who populate the trading floor, humiliate the women there (“Ask for MIke Hunt.”), trade brutal jokes, and frequently use the c-word.

  59. ^^Typos (sorry): “Mister Billy Corman, the English and soon-to-be-Lord” should read: “English gent”. “That she too plays a major role in the attempted hostile takeover of Albion… ” should conclude with: “cannot be admitted by you”. “fragant” = “fragrant”. “Mlke” = “Mike”

  60. From way back (but this continues to be a big but extremely shaky prop in your argument):

    Molly: “the Jew Zack Zackerman”

    Is he? What makes you so sure, Molly? I don’t think he’s ever referred to as Jewish, or refers to himself as such, and I see nothing whatsoever in the play to indicate that he is. Correct me if I’m wrong. I may have missed something

    I had never in my life heard the name before. In fact it is so extremely unusual that I thought it might be completely made up. But no, googling it shows there are about 6 or 7 people of that name in North America.

    Zackermann Surname : 19th Century Germanic Immigrants to USA

    – Josef, Bertha, Samuel. Tells us nothing.

    I found a German etymological website saying Zackermann is an archaic local variant of the much more common “Ackermann”, literally “field-man”, or (by extension) ploughman/ peasant/farmer. That’s a common German name. Josef Ackermann, for instance, is a contemporary obnoxious German Captain of Industry and he is not Jewish. Ackermann is not known as a typically Jewish name. And I already knew that there are several local dialect variants of the very common name Ackermann — e.g. Determann (in north Germany) or Feldmann.

    To anticipate a possible objection: You may say, impatiently: “Oh she’s just too sly to say “Zuckermann”, cos that would make it too obvious!” But I think you will actually agree that that’s simply not the way Caryl Churchill works, ever. When she wants to indicate that a character is Jewish (e.g. the minor character Durkfeld in the opening scenes) then she has no hesitation whatsoever in doing so openly.

    I believe it’s just another of these “speaking”* names, like Condor or Corman. Zap Zapperman, superhero. Zac Zackermann. Zac Zac! It’s onomatopoeia. “Zack-zack!” is everyday German for “Get a move on!” or “Avanti, avanti!” Zac’s quick, Zac’s impatient, Zac’s a man in a hurry. Zac’s a speedy guy, and very likely a coke-y one too. (“Peruvian marching powder”, notoriously popular in the 80s and an essential tool in the City even today. Brainfood, innit.) Zack-zack! That is all.

    *Of course the names don’t “speak” like Bunyan’s (Mr. Feeble Mind, Mr. Ready-To-Halt), much less like Disney’s (Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Snow White.)

  61. Apparently you want a spokesperson for the poor (or for the Global South, or for the Left or something) in a play where there is simply no place for such spokespersons. Literally no place available. The poor, the Left, the favela dwellers, simply do not (because they cannot) appear in bubbles of wealth and privilege such as these: The trading floor and offices of LIFFE, the champagne bars of the City, the foyer of the National Theatre, the first-class compartnent of an airliner. (I think that exhausts the locations.) If they ever did they would be speedily ejected.

  62. The Importance of Being Earnest, likewise, has no place for immiserated prisoners or the starving poor. The Ballad of Reading Gaol does, though, as does The Soul of Man under Socialism — although neither of them can possibly contain the line “A handbag?”

    Plain fact: not everything can be fitted in properly everywhere.

  63. Argh. Bill the Conqueror is hostikely taken over by a US vomoany. He becomes a Lord ironically for selling England to furriners. He enables the furriners buying Albion and his company I’d taken over by furriners.

  64. Company….

  65. ^^ can’t decipher that post, molly.

    Meanwhile: it ain’t only Peruvians who see ghosts, not even in Caryl Churchill plays: it’s also trueborn English East Anglians (i.e., Others from the actual orient of England):


    We are starving, we will not stand this no longer. Rather than starve we are torment to set you on fire. You bloody farmers could not live if it was not for the poor, tis them that keep you bloody rascals alive, but there will be a slaughter made amongst you very soon. I should very well like to hang you the way I hanged your beasts. You bloody rogue, I will light up a little fire for you the first opportunity I can make. I been working in this field a hundred and fifty years. There ain’t twenty in this parish but what hates you, bullhead. I live in your house. I watch television with you. I stand beside your chair and watch the killings. I watch the food and I watch what makes people laugh. My baby died starving.

    – from Fen.

    Shocking. Is there no end to her Fabian Racism? (That’s what I take away from that.)

    Btw, I personally know two people who saw a ghost (or whatever you want to call it). One is Scottish, my best friend’s older brother – atheist, union rep, amusing sociable bloke, Londoner by choice. It wasn’t an amusing experience and he was in hurry to relate it, but he did because I asked. – But god forbid I should orientalise either him or my Irish grandfather by repeating their stories here or even granting them the slightest credence myself. Science knows better.

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