Prolegomena to a Podcast

Christopher Pratt

“Maybe there really wasn’t an America. Maybe it was only Frank Capra.”
John Cassevetes (Prologue to Frank Capra’s American Dream)

“I knew a wise guy who used to make fun of my painting, but he didn’t like the Abstract-Expressionists either. He said they would be good painters if they could only keep the paint as good as it is in the can. And that’s what I tried to do. I tried to keep the paint as good as it was in the can.”
Frank Stella (Interview with Lucy Lippard, 1966)

“And yet the digital river is tediously familiar.”
Dominic Pettman (Infinite Distraction).

Kirk Douglas died this week. I was in Los Angeles for the previous two weeks. When I heard Douglas had died, at the age of 103, I was already back in Norway — I thought of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. I thought mostly of the opening scene. When I went and watched that scene again, it was even better than I remembered. I’d seen the film a half dozen times I’m sure. But what struck me, after two weeks on the left coast, was both the wit (of course) of Wilder, but also how he never condescended to any character. If Douglas’ newspaper hustler Chuck Tatum is brash, and condescending, the people (the local small town inhabitants, the workers and the paper’s editor) are shown as surprisingly (to Chuck Tatum) intelligent and even more surprisingly, perhaps, to us, as patient and good natured. A very sort of wise good nature. It’s Wilder doing his version of Capra in a sense.

And the Douglas performance is one you would be hard pressed to find today. For all his flaws, Chuck Tatum is not a bad person, not like, say Mitch McConnell or Joe Biden or the Queen of England is bad. That is the brilliance of Wilder — he always took everyone seriously. You can see a later incarnation of this in Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, or The Apartment, or One Two Three. But Douglas is both vulnerable and petty, both smart, arrogant, and manipulative — and stunningly blind to his own flaws. One of Douglas’ great gifts as a film actor was an ability to instinctively find that vulnerability (see Lonely Are the Brave, or Paths of Glory or Town Without Pity). But he is also a man with a deep emotional life. (And watch the reaction from Douglas when the newsboy repeats the ‘cagey’ line, as a kind of table turning come back. The kid holds for a second but Douglas doesn’t miss a beat, the reaction is entirely in his eyes. It’s there, and it can’t be missed, its not even subtle per se, but it is remarkably restrained, and something one saw throughout his career, and its something one would be hard pressed to find today even among actors I think of as superior).

François de Nomé

“In his classic short work “The Ecstasy of Communication,” Baudrillard argues that subjectivity itself has lost its “scene,” the traditional site of its genesis and drama, and has instead been replaced by the “obscene”: a nowhere-land of screens and informatics.”
Dominic Pettman (ibid)

This is a somewhat awkward segue into the roundtable I conducted (for a podcast upcoming) with several L.A. writers and directors (Chris Rossi, Guy Zimmerman, Wes Walker, John Bower). For that idea of a scene is directly related to theatre. This is what I have come to call the ur-space, or the psychic stage in which our earliest (pre lingual?) trauma (mostly) is reenacted. I will return to this but it is something that has been approached from other directions by Benjamin and Adorno (especially when discussing Kafka) and Lacan and Winnicott, and André Leroi-Gourhan in the context of ancient cave painting. And Baudrillard’s observation is really rather obvious and perhaps not even quite correct. For that ‘scene’ (stage) in our mental development is not so much replaced as appropriated. It is repurposed.

Paths of Glory, 1957. Stanley Kubrick, dr. With Kirk Douglas.

The rise of social media, of the attention economy, has been dissected and theorized about almost compulsively, and this fascination/repulsion renders what Baudrillard described as a kind of psychic inertia. The narcissist doesn’t reflect back at ourself but outward into some indefinite sphere of non identity. Theatre is that which defies inertia, at least sometimes. Which is why there is such a volume of inertia like theatre. The bad theatre of solipsism and representation. The representation of a coerced consensus on reality.

If I am right that theatre began (preceding religion) from a desire to narrate — a need to create or invent narrative (or rather to resolve trauma, to mediate suffering, which in turn meant finding a way to express that which meant to make it exterior to ourselves)– then it began with an audience that was (like social media) not really listening (or listening with an intensity that is now lost), then the parameters of the creative impulse lie in our most personal terrors. And perhaps that desire to string together in time the forces that impacted our emotions was tied to this idea of a scene, a space. So the stage, the empty stage is that most primal expression of time and feeling. I often return to Leroi Gourhan when considering this process and evolution.

“The mural art of Eurasia and Africa is filled with scenes of hunting, fishing, and gathering and of various domestic activities. Herds have their shepherds or their hunters, men are engaged in doing. Religious activities are less often represented figuratively; metaphysical concepts are represented abstractly. But our living arts do not include a single example where the attributes of narrative appear without its form; concentrations of actors without action or stage never occur. “
Andre Leroi-Gourhan (Gesture and Speech)

Patricia Satterlee

Another way to express what Gourhan is saying in that paragraph is that once there is a stage, there is a narrative. But what creates a stage? Not a collection of actors because what does that even mean? It is more about groupings of people who are listening. Listening with purpose, even. But Gourhan is also saying that narrative is performed, even if only in our head. Is the text, the silent isolated reading of a text different than sitting and listening to someone else? When clergy deliver sermons, is the audience creating a play out of it? I think the answer is often yes. And this suggests that the introduction of an institutional element, a priest class, and a hierarchical structure stops thought (and/or the spiritual or mystical) and the often economically captive audience has already been or is being trained to re-narrate from a subject position of alienation. It may also signal the beginnings of distraction.

But the hardest thing to fully grasp is the nature of acting itself. Performance…is defined in the dictionary as performing a play or concert. Which sort of just kicks the can down the road a bit further. The second meaning in the dictionary is “the action or process of performing a task or function.” Now this gets one closer to the something meaningful. Acting is the task at hand. Reciting a memorized text (in most societies) is a long standing convention. Acting is then the work required to make thought materialize.

“What moves me in theatre is precisely that, the power of theatre as thought, which thought without theatre cannot approach.”
Herbert Blau (Blooded Thought).

Ion Grigorescu (Self-portrait with Tutankhamen)

Jan Kott suggested as much in Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Blau also was concerned with technological reproduction. That the constant image streams in media were diluting the ability to see. And one of Blau’s beliefs was that only strategy for theatre was to make less theatre. Which I believe was very close in his mind to make theatre less.

Theatre is now removed from career. Unless of course you are writing Broadway musicals or such. The MFA virus, that bureaucratised banality that is tied to the death throws of the Academy is not creating theatre…not if theatre is thought. The irresistible rise of Marina Abramovic (my favorite example and someone on whom I am happy to blame cancer and bleeding gums) is partly because the ruling class senses she is a cultural assassin. That is her gig, even if she doesn’t know it. And even if she does. But this is an era of cultural and art assassins.

“Strangely, the most effective way to discourage the precious and enriching resource of attention is not, as one might suppose, by distracting via an all-purpose decoy. It is not by ensuring we are all preoccupied with the same ultimately meaningless “water cooler” pseudo-event (effective as this may be on its own terms). Rather, those with a vested interest in minimizing critical, deep, and/ or long-lasting attention have figured out carefully crafted ways to do so. Indeed, these same people are paid astronomical sums in order to keep us “looking at the bunny” with ever more ingenious click bait. ”
Dominic Pettman (ibid)

Jon Rafman

In his Philosophy of Money, Simmel argues for the formal connectivity between money and intellectuality — that they develop at the same time (in the sense Simmel means) but that money is tied at its origin to logic itself. And this Marc Shell notes, too, money talks through discourse itself. And I would perhaps only say that money is discourse since the advent of Capitalism. And again here note Moretti’s article in New Left Review on the prose of the World Bank.

Making theatre less, and making less theatre are therefor the counter logic to money (and capitalism and to the brutal inflexible hierarchies of all social relationships in such a system). Watching the documentary Where is My Roy Cohn, one is hardly startled to see that he actually really did like Donald Trump. But Cohn is a near Shakespearian character (certainly more than a Tony Kushner character). He was the Iago without a clear stake in specific events. He is also Richard III. But this reminds me of William Empson in Seven Types of Ambiguity (a book one should probably read regularly if one wants to be a writer) and his analysis of Macbeth. It is a startling exercise in critical thinking, of a close reading of a text. As Michael Wood noted, its finally not really criticism exactly.

“What is happening here? Empson would say, too modestly, that this is descriptive criticism – as distinct from the analytic kind. But he is not describing anything. It is not impressionistic criticism either, an attempt to evoke the feelings the work arouses in the reader, although this is closer to the mark. Empson is tracing a pattern of thought, and finding metaphors for the behaviour of a piece of language.”
Michael Wood (On Empson)

Michael Joseph, photography (Brillo the Clown, from Lost & Found)


Now Wood adds….“Empson’s writing reminds us (we do forget such things) that characters in plays are made of words, they are what they say, or more precisely they are what we make of what they say, and his metaphors bring the life of these words incredibly close to us.” Theatre is a form of thought but it is also a text being spoken in this unique space, this scene (of the crime) that is tied to our primal experiences.

As for what Empson is doing, the answer is that he is not a consumer advocate leaving Yelp reviews. Michael Wood branched into similar terrain in a chapter on Kakfa (from Literature and the Taste of Knowledge)…

“There is a political thought on Kafka’s part: that a tyrant founds his right in his person. There is an analogy: the father’s brutal capriciousness, his ‘mysteriousness’ is like that of the tyrannical ruler, the family is like the despotically run state, and the children, especially the son, are like the bewildered people of such a state. And there is an attitude to tyranny, the ‘bemused, suicidal passivity’. The investigation of this last condition is certainly Kafka’s special domain, but the sense of foreknowledge rests on something else, something still missing from this equation: Kafka’s fiction itself. What Kafka appears to have foreseen, what he shows in extraordinary ingenious detail in his stories and parables and novels, is not only tyranny and arbitrary rule, but the precise movements of the mind by which people seek to make such a state intelligible to themselves – the brilliant, desperate ways in which they try to think intelligibly about the completely unintelligible”.

William Empson

As a sort of side bar here, the topic of tyrannical fathers and their sons was a topic Guy Zimmerman brought up and analyzed in the podcast. That we can trace Endgame to The Homecoming to Til’ Death do us Part to Archie Bunker. What might be worth discussing is the role of class and its shifting perspectives in this sequence. But back to Wood; and that note on the precise movements of the mind by which people make such a state intelligible to themselves. For that is what theatre always does. And again, for me, Kafka is honorary theatre (as is the sculpture of Donatello and the painting of Rembrandt). When one watches Where is My Roy Cohn the question of multiple fathers emerges, and the strange position of Cohn’s gayness and of his mother. But Cohn is a contemporary Shakespearian character, only non fictive. And to understand the Imperialist project of the U.S. requires, in part, a close reading of character. And this is why Aesthetics matter.

Now allow me to jump around a bit here. When I suggested that at his best Kirk Douglas was a remarkable actor, I was thinking mostly of that preternatural restraint (something I think few would associate with the movie star Douglas) that is a form of taste. Stefan Collini, writing (in The Guardian 2017) of Michael Wood’s book on William Empson, describes something parallel.

“So much of the art of criticism lies not in “judgment”, in the sense of sticking evaluative labels on pieces of literature, but the more ramifying forms of judgment involved in sustaining an engrossing conversation – judgment about what tone to adopt, how much intimacy to presume, how explicit to be, and so on. Decisions about such matters are decisions about who to be and who to assume your interlocutor is. It is more a form of tact than of passing sentence. Part of the dexterity of Wood’s own critical idiom lies in using the resources of the colloquial register to say just enough, leaving us to complete and digest the thought. His stylish brevity avoids the dogmatising implicit in all attempts to turn an observation into a theory.”

And this in turn reminds me of this. https://putthison.com/on-the-ways-we-judge-fashion-and-taste-after/

Beth Letain


One of the effects of neo liberalism and, more, of the attention economy (of screens) is that not even the ruling class has any interest in taste. The endless efforts at cultural appropriation (of the lower classes) has played itself out and ended in cultural exhaustion. The thematic template that sees tyranny in the father (in his wheelchair or lounger) was played out so that it actually ended in Homer Simpson. This is also the story of the growing infantilization of American society.

Michael Wood, again from his book on Empson…“…the idea of performance is, the creation of a self in words.” A footnote here is that Empson wrote Seven Types of Ambiguity when he was just twenty four.

So, performance, suggests Wood, is the creation of self in words. Theatre is then the self in that ‘scene’, that empty space of *the* stage, or our stage creating a narrative of the self. And the actor is then is the ventriloquists’ dummy. All of that is true, but it is very incomplete. For cutting across this is the compulsive repetitions of the ritual. It seems the stage can only exist in repetition.

Today repetition itself has been, in a sense, de-ritualized through the habituation to social media.

Ignacio Iturrioz, photography.

“ Social media may seem to be the space that constantly synchronizes a billion smooth discussions, unfolding “in real time.” But such interactions are in fact stuttering, like a streaming movie in which the moving lips don’t quite match the sound. The things we “share” online do not arrive “in time,” in one piece, or in the manner they were intended. The promise embedded in the name Instagram, that différance can be abolished, can never be kept. But of course, this just motivates us to share more and more “content,” in the rather manic hope it will one day arrive at its destination. (Lacan might well have said, “There is no social [media] relationship.”)”
Dominic Pettman (ibid)

Social media is then siphoning off the activities, the repetitions that once upon a time happened in that self created space, the scene, a primal scene, a scene of the crime — which was made exterior on the theatre stage and today is merely click bait, an algorithm driven machine to regulate dopamine hits and both manufacture alienation and capture a sort of passive attention. If theatre is the most demanding form of attention, then social media has passed TV as the most passive form.

“Instrumentarian power cultivates an unusual “way of knowing” that combines the “formal indifference” of the neoliberal worldview with the observational perspective of radical behaviorism . Thanks to Big Other’s capabilities, instrumentarian power reduces human experience to measurable observable behavior while remaining steadfastly indifferent to the meaning of that experience.”
Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism).

Piero Manzoni

The kernel of this discussion is really what is touched upon in the Empson material. And this paragraph from a 2016 article by Michael Wood (on Empson) is both extraordinarily perceptive, but also very funny.

“It is his loyalty​ to language as a subject that connects Empson to so many consecutive schools of criticism, including the ones he detested. He would have thought Heidegger’s claim that language itself speaks (‘die Sprache spricht’) was worse than the Wimsatt Law, but of course Empson wasn’t saying that it didn’t speak, only that we need to pay attention to the speaker behind the speaking, the one Heidegger has eliminated.
The centrality of language, what some would think of as its unavoidability, is what connects most of the critical approaches that came to be called theoretical in the 20th century. Russian formalism haunted French structuralism, and not only because Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss worked together; Walter Benjamin’s thinking was often, perhaps always, inseparable from the turns his language took. Even the austere Adorno said that one could ‘hardly speak of aesthetic matters unaesthetically, devoid of resemblance to the subject matter’. I don’t think Adorno meant criticism had to imitate art, only that it needed to find a form that remembers what it is.”

Michael Wood (London Review of Books, 2016)

John Simmons, photography.


Aesthetics is the self you create in the text. And one thing I have noticed happening over the last twenty years or so is that the conventional (manufactured) idea of identity (the consumer based one) is created for your perusal and perhaps purchase while at the same time it is being strip mined of aesthetic import. Even if this is not a conscious decision by the owners of marketing and propaganda the effect is to normalize ugliness (for lack of a better word). The realization that came to marketers (I believe anyway) was that aesthetic seriousness was bad for business. The so called cult of beauty and youth is not exactly that at all. It is a cult of youth up to a point — and it also the encouraged stretching of adolescence — but it is the construction of an idea of beauty and youth that is actually stripped of taste and discernment — its emphasis is on exaggerated body parts or deformity, and not on grace or balance or contemplation. Fashion recognized this a long time ago.

The perception of beauty becomes linked with sales, with commodification. If it sells, why then I must want it. I desire that which is most popular. Bataille interestingly suggested that what makes a woman attractive was the absence of animal or primate like elements — but with the promise of animality being revealed in intimacy. The reverse is not quite the same I don’t think, and its peculiar, lets say, that Bataille never examined it. But without digressing too far with this, the commodification of beauty has usurped the role of profanation.

“Degradation, which turns eroticism into something foul and horrible, is better than the neutrality of reasonable and non-destructive sexual behaviour. If the taboo loses its force, if it is no longer believed in, transgression is impossible; but the feeling of transgression persists if only through sexual aberrations. That feeling has no comprehensible objective basis.”
George Bataille

Uta Barth, photography.


And to push that idea further, the transgressive in the attention economy, under late stage capitalism, has been neutralized to a large extent. But the connections between desire and eroticism, and between desire and death has also been disrupted. And I do wonder at the rise of radical Pentecostalism, of charismatic Christian movements, and that this is the deforming of traditional Christianity by electronic media and the internet, as well as degraded attention. And intersecting here would be the vast amounts of pornography accessible in cyber space.

I will return to this again, but first I wanted to bring Kafka back because its important to look at the Kafka the way both Adorno and Benjamin did —

“Kafka’s works protected themselves against the deadly aesthetic error of equating the philosophy that an author pumps into a work with its metaphysical substance. Were this so, the work of art would be stillborn; it would exhaust itself in what it says and would not unfold itself in time.”
Adorno ( Notes On Kafka)

Adorno thought (and wrote) that the key to decoding Kafka had been lost. But then he didn’t really think that was much of problem, either. For like Benjamin he saw Kafka was expressing something through the form, the formal properties of his writing, that reflected or provided an expression of the domination and estrangement of contemporary life.

“The expression that art achieves cannot be translated into purely theoretical terms.”
Brian O’Connor (On the Mimesis of Reification)

Michiel Coxie (Annunciation, 1580s. Flemish)


What Adorno wrote of Kafka, and Brian O’ Connor is a keen reader of Adorno and Benjamin both, which is capsulized in the above quote, is largely what I am saying about theatre. The expression art achieves…especially if one is speaking of theatre … is always enigmatic and gnomic to some degree, but such surface uncanniness will upon reflection (renarration) yield very deep experiences. This does not mean there are not ideas or meanings, but that without that form, which in theatre is always intimately tied to the stage, the theories are just the stuff you find in Cliff Notes. Or rather, that the ideas are sedimented in the experience of the artwork and the engagement with it, and sedimented in memory and in the body. And perhaps in a collective memory trace and certainly in gesture and text.

“The complexity of Adorno’s thesis consists in its claim for a very specific relationship of art to society: art is autonomous from the processes of reification that, according to the critical tradition to which he belongs, disfigures the social world. A corollary of a work’s autonomy is, for Adorno, its authenticity. An autonomous work is authentic because it has been formed without regard to the requirements of society: the social norms of communication or of purpose and usefulness. “The more authentic the works, the more they follow what is objectively required, the object’s consistency, and this is always universal,” Adorno writes. They are guided by an aesthetic necessity – “objectivity” – rather than by the purposes imposed on social production generally.”
Brian O’Connor (ibid)

Adorno wrote that Kafka provided “a cryptogram of a decaying capitalist social order”. Under capitalism the rules of exchange have come to shape consciousness itself. For the playwright the relationship to the producer or terms of his or her production is always going to impose the laws of exchange, even down to the choices made in editing and rewrites, and certainly to casting and directing. A theatre artist who cannot retain control will inevitably lose site of his play and will see his or her work shaped to fit the demands of exchange…what Adorno called *equivalence.* And society is a society at all by virtue of shared values and under capitalism the first value is one of exchange. And in this value is the comparison of dissimilar items in order to render them somehow similar.

Mario Cravo Neto, photography.


Art then, for Adorno and Benjamin, has the potential to replace the empty bureaucratic demands of capitalism — and to hear the difference in the language of, oh, World Bank jargon, or the kitsch infantile speech coming out of Hollywood, with a Brecht or a Pinter, a Handke, or a Kafka. That is one of the primary projects: refusal.

The paradox (or seeming paradox) is for Adorno, art must be autonomous. And without getting into what is a complex topic in Adorno, the first impulse is to see art’s autonomy coming from outside everything in society. The opposite is in fact the case. Autonomy, or authenticity (another Adorno concept) come from as acutely or deeply within society as possible. Only be absorbing and negating the exchange form — not by pretending it doesn’t exist — does one overcome that form.

“Concepts are not causally constituted by a particular structure of histori- cal experience. Rather, Adorno’s claim is that they express that experience. Adorno puts this point about the cognitive-expressive potential of concepts in terms of the need to bring back concepts “into the spiritual experience that motivates them”. This is why, for Adorno, philosophical truth exceeds authorial intention. The way to understand this claim is as asserting that what concepts express in language exceeds what they say when they are put to use as concepts that synthesize experience.”
Roger Foster (The Recovery of Experience)

Ed Ruscha, photography. (Oklahoma City 1963)

One way of saying this is that autonomous artworks describe or express a reality that is hidden or disguised by the system of disinformation and domination. The non autonomous artwork reproduces the world as giant telecoms and social media and world governments see it — or want YOU to see it. But of course the very language and much of the imagery of the manufactured reality of late capitalism is already encoded with multiple meanings that work against discovering the secret world. What is hidden can be brought to light, in a sense, but on an even deeper (and necessarily metaphysical level…that of art) the secret world can be revealed. And this is interestingly how Benjamin saw Tragedy .. as an act, a temporal act in space that was ‘a revealing’.

And this leads into discussions of our individual psychic construction. The personal is shaped by the material world, but it translates that world according to circumstance, largely. The infant whose mother is absent, or who hides her face from the infant (maybe she is texting) creates a cognitive deficit of some sort. The children of the screen today are impaired in terms of individual translation of experience and more, from expressing that trauma in ways that are autonomous.

Kafka, Bernhard, Handke, Beckett, Pinter, Genet — these are writers of theatre who sought the autonomy of a dialectical negation. In one sense such artists are all realists. It is no accident that fantasy has become such a staple of Hollywood and of big publishing houses. From Harry Potter to Star Trek to The Hobbit and The Walking Dead and Joker, there are only fantasies designed to avoid reality.

The term *naturalism* is now to be associated with bourgeois melodrama. Noah Baumbach is the poster boy for this white self flattery. But it is also the style code for much of *indie* (sic) Hollywood film. Atom Egoyen’s The Sweet Hereafter might serve as the template here. And Sarah Polly is the perfect practitioner of *indie naturalism* in acting. These films are more over-coded, actually, than even DC comix franchise junk. There is increasingly a shrill desperation to the mise-en-scene as well.

Bertoldo di Giovanni (Bellerophon taming Pegasus)

Films such as Marriage Story are written in a sentimental mushy anodyne speech that retains no special edges and is meant to be disposable and quickly forgotten. And through decades of applause and critical support for such pablum the contemporary American ear associates this fungible blandness with quality. And conversely the speech from something like, well, Shakespeare, might as well be Swahili or Hungarian. But even a scene from Sara Kane or Pinter feels accusatory. The acting in Marriage Story is so bad that one feels it must be intentional. But when I say it is *bad* I am in a severe minority. It will reap many awards and much acclaim. And this is because the new subjectivity is predicated upon entertainment. The faux realism of this film is set up with innumerable cues that are trickle downed from the ruling 1%. Literally. Vaguely neurotic white people, affluent and narcissistic, are given mild conditions of alienation the better to reinforce the virtues of the system that can so quickly course correct and fix the problem. Theirs are not real problems, only exaggerated normal social discomforts. The system is invisible and absolved. Naturalism lends itself to the consensus.

The validation of narcissism.

” In much the same way, Duke Prospero of Milan is victimized by his usurping brother Antonio and is exiled on the nameless island where the action of The Tempest takes place. For such exilic representations, the Globe’s stage architecture was excellent. Whereas the architecture for earlier English dramatists had often been an “island stage”—that is, surrounded by the audience on all sides like a modern theater-in the-round —Shakespeare’s stage was “peninsular,” or thrust—that is, surrounded by the audience on three sides and usefully connected to the backstage.”
Marc Shell (Islandology)

The young Peter Handke

It is worth a final side bar here on the idea of the backstage. I have said before (for years actually) that the stage is, in one sense, the conscious mind and the off-stage is the unconscious (children always wander up to look at the off stage area during intermission). But there are registers of reality at play here.

“…we begin this argument by defining islands and isolating certain definitions, including the definition of definition. After pinpointing the meaning of what logician John Venn calls an “island of meaning,” we explore ways of speaking about actual islands and consider how human imagination of islandness has variably informed cultures. Islandness, we discover, resides in a shifting tension between the definition of island as “land as opposed to water” and the countervailing definition as “land as identical with water.” This tension is linked with notions of “social space,” both positive and negative { } Islandness, in this sense of identity confronting difference, informs primordial issues of philosophy: how, conceptually, we connect and disconnect parts and wholes, for example, and how we connect and disconnect one thing and another. “
Marc Shell (ibid)

Ideas come to percolate through a culture. Ideas of space (Heartland for example) are often invisible to most discourses, unless there is a specialist in sociology present. But the shaping of where and how a population lives is often disguised to a large degree. In Los Angeles, the city I am still most familiar with, the freeways are the class markers, protective barriers (to keep the unclean from the clean), the silent checkpoints, and they create the performance of class in a sense through the incorporation of their brutalist aesthetic in the daily life of various immigrant communities. The poorest live the closest to freeway intersections. And today the homeless are beneath nearly every single freeway overpass in LA county. These are scenes from a DeMille production of Waiting for Godot. A stage design with a heavy usage of polyurethane blue tarps.

I will end here with a quote from Brian O’Connor…in his monograph on Adorno and Kafka (ibid).

As Adorno says of Kafka’s work: “Kafka sins against an ancient rule of the game by constructing art out of nothing but the refuse of reality”. His work expresses only experiences given by the social totality. When these experiences or materials are taken up by conventional forms of expression – mass entertainment, political art, social realism – they are simply reproduced. They are mirrored, not illuminated. When they are the materials of authentic works of art,however, they are expressed in ways in which the truth of what they are is no longer occluded by the vehicle of their expressions. In this respect Kafka’s work, Adorno claims, stands against “an age when sound common sense only reinforces universal blindness”.

Prabhavathi Meppayil

This is an introduction to what will be an ongoing series of podcasts and articles and workshops. The first podcast will be available soon, as soon as Apple finishing moderating it (sic). Check the Aesthetic Resistance instagram account for updates.

Making theatre less and making less theatre. Like the monks who kept the teachings of history, and this happened in several places and at several times, in caves or remote monasteries — theatre artists are now left out in zones of absolute indifference, and worse, in places of genuine hostility. The transference of wealth is all but complete now, globally. The planet is being purchased by billionaires and this is justified by various propagandas.

Theatre retains the potential to disrupt a frozen and atrophying form of non thinking. I wanted to link, too, to an old interview with me conducted by Molly Klein. It is from 2012. It might serve as a backdrop to some of this, but for those interested in these upcoming podcasts and workshops, it just helps provide info.

Interview , Molly Klein talks to John Steppling/ Theatre, part 1

Interview on Theatre/ with Molly Klein, Part 2: Space and Spectacle

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Comments

  1. Extremely good piece here John, some extremely interesting writings mentioned I was unaware of and very much looking forward to reading, along with listening to the podcast.

  2. ParanoiaAgent says:

    I’m not plugged into the academic literary world, have scholars figured out that Kafka was always writing about his autism, or are they still putting that puzzle together?

  3. Regino Robainas says:

    Hi John,
    Another home-run, as Carpentier might iremembering
    baseball in La Habana, petrified in uncanniness in Paris.

    I do avoid social media and regard cinema as suspect, because
    it is a kind of alienated, machine theatre. But, I will defend
    my ur-ancestral brother Franz against any therateupic
    technobabble about “mental disease”. Creative impairment may
    be a fluid source of greatness of character, hence fate. The
    delightful and uncanny paths of The Castle or Amerika with their
    infinite tiredness and vigor cannot be labeled with static automating
    concepts.

    Your piece was much more than brilliant.
    Regino

  4. Wonderful both post and podcast; still digesting both. I’ve been trying to relate this discussion of theater, and how it’s changed since the 70s, to dance (my world). Very different because obviously dance has a less straightforward history than theater (I think) , and, concert dance at least has pretty much always been about catering to ruling class tastes. but I do think the question of “seriousness” is the same–in dance it manifests now as an obsession with improvisation and identity politics. That was really overgeneralized, but whatever. Dance is a more limited world than theater. But I think this whole discussion of the empty stage, etc is food for thought there too.

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