Theatrical Forensics

I lived in Poland for almost eight years, so thats possibly why I find this such an intelligent look at the space and architecture of “oldtown” Warsaw:

I also link this because its germane to several other topics I intend to discuss. All of them related, in the broad sense, to theatre and writing. I realized today, after adding several links to the blog roll at the right, that I dont have a single blog pertaining to theatre linked over there. I can’t say for sure this isn’t just my negligence, but I have a suspicion whatever good ones are out there, are not in English. But I digress…

Something stopped happening in US theatre, if not western European theatre as well, and I don’t know when it stopped but my guess would be about a hundred years ago. Consider this post a hodge podge of thoughts on related topics. So, what stopped? Well, it seems to me, is a sense, the space of theatre. By which I mean, the transcendent, because space is the pathway to a theatrical practice (writing, performance, physical plant, whatever)that contains a element that reaches outside its own closed system. This all corresponds to the rise of the commodity form, and of marketing. If I had to, and maybe I’m thinking of younger writers, or new writers, with this post, but if I had to suggest a few names to start reading, they would include Jacques Ranciere (Emacipated Spectator), Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality in the Age of Diderot, and probably books on bio-politics, and things like Brook and Dunn’s Urban Maps. I might also suggest Jonathan Beller, and then any number of great blogs on architecture. I’d suggest Bachelard and Iverson, and Hall and Ames books of ancient Chinese thought (in particular Confucius). I say this because you cannot escape the marketed form of performance in commercial theatre without going back and starting to ask yourself questions about space and narrative. How narrative is imposed on space. A number of blogs talk about urban landscapes, and the ruins of industrial culture. There are countless new photography books on abandoned auto-works, chemical works, mines and even on decaying movie theatres. There is a reason for this, and its linked to allegory — but thats a future topic. I would suggest tracing back how prisons and schools and hospitals came to be designed and built. How definitions of sickness and health, or of transgression, arrived where they are today. Lyotard, Barthes, Lacan, Adorno and Marcuse, Debord, Girard and Calasso, and older critics such as Kermode and even Leavis…. read Hughes on Shakespeare, and read Pounds ABC of Reading… and then poets … but only the very best, and thats a loaded topic….so I will beg off for now (but for now read Lorca and Vallejo, and Roethke and Gary Snyder and Celan and Olson). These are what should be taught in writing programs. In theatre departments. And maybe some are, I don’t know all of them, to be certain.

I would make students read Vedantic philosophy and study Pharaonic temple building, learn of mummification, and I would ask they study gardening and at least preliminary biology. Buy a dog. If you cant, buy a cat. Live with an animal. Turn off your TV. Limit news on the internet. Now, you are getting close to be able to start writing a play.

Now, there is a lot of new writing out there on space, and narrative. Much of it found on design and architecture blogs like this

and it seems to me, if one is interested in theatre, that these sites can be mined for relevance. The photo above is from a terrific site called Opacity

The point about space and its relation to narrative is that we *are* narrative. I mean by that, that our own dream space, our traumatic real, our language, our Id … all of it is in a space on which we imprint narrative. Plot is not narrative. Plot is that which a commodity can contain. Narrative cannot be controlled that way. For narrative interacts dialectically with *space*. I dislike the word ritual, but for the moment, we can call it ritual space. Our dream narrative does not take place in an organized world of rational discourse. It takes place among ruins, I think anyway, almost always. The portal to our unconscious terrain is opened with artworks. It can be an image, or a text, or a fragment of each. They all interconnect. Part of the problem with a Speilbergian world is that it is basically a lie. Robert Bly once said if Reagan could lie about his parent’s drinking problems, it was then very easy to lie about Iran Contra. The political landscape is always a theatrical landscape, too. I remember how Shakespearean I found Benazir Bhutto’s saga. How Rick Perry wanders, lost, amid a Cormac McCarthy landscape…muttering, resentful, angry, and wound so tight he will never unwind but only, finally, implode, and drift alone, a white dwarf in his own brain. The age of market mediation in our daily lives, via Facebook and social media, through television and through marketing, and via official Orwellian news corporations, has reached fail safe. A psychic tipping point.

As a society loses all curiosity, its imagination shrivels and blows away, it will by default embrace the crudest sort of crayon drawing of reality — if it promises salvation and a world that will not change. In other words fascism. The fascist narrative is always simplified, a reduced world of folk image and simple one dimensional codes of understanding. Years ago, in the late 70s. Jerry Mander (and what were his parents thinking?) wrote a terrific little book called Four Reasons for the Elimination of Televsion. Mander had been in advertising, and what he gleaned from that was that TV was inherently a medium that presented image in stark simplified visual terms….perfect for selling. Now, this was forty some years ago and since then a good deal of very smart theory has been directed at electronic media…but I often think back to Mander, and that one insight. If true, TV is inherently fascistic. However true or not, there seems little question that the tidal swell of marketing via electronic media, has shaped our view of the world — but its shaped by reconfiguring our dream narratives. The dream dreams us. This is a theme I find difficult to escape these days. We are laborers in our own dream.

“I saw in the dream, the ocean dry up, the moon fall on the ground, the earth molested as if covered by darkness, a tusk of an elephant (on which the monarch rode) broken to pieces, a blazing fire suddenly extinguished, the earth riven, the various trees dry up, and the mountains whirl up into a mist.”I saw my father in the dream, wearing black clothes, sitting on a stool made of iron and women with black and reddish brown complexion deriding the king.””I saw an ugly faced female demon, wearing red colored clothes, laughingly dragging away the king.”…The Arthavaveda, the fourth Veda. (Bloomfield trans.)

This the space of theatre. It is Oedipal space, as well. It *is* the trauma of the missed encounter. It’s clear, I suppose, why institutional theatres and institutional education, would avoid what is the essence of the theatrical experience — whether Brecht, or Euripides, or Webster or Artaud or Bernhard or Valle Inclan, or Von Kleist or Pinter, it is the uncanny illusive sense of space we have entered into.

It is what is *off stage*. It is the impending sickness or violence, it is what this culture, more than any in history, wants to deny. Never has a society so debased the word *tragedy*. Once emptied of meaning, anything can be tragic or heroic, and anyone can be either, or both, at the same time even…who cares.

The ever accelerating repetition of image code, of the same, the simulacrum, the dupe of a dupe or a dupe … this seems so familiar now, the walking dead, the cop, the politician, the religious leader, they are all max headroom. But they are FAMILIAR….and if one looks at the face of the Nuremberg defendants, looks the faces of corporate CEOs, or at the faces of hedge fund managers…..what do you see? Do you see life? No, you see that stage between life and death. The not yet zombie. And there is always an absence of space. Of real space. The hedge fund geek lives without oxygen, without space.

I remember one reviewer said of the first Spiderman film, that it lacked a sense of air. And of course he was right. The CGI ate up the space. No air, no oxygen, no life. Still, this provides its own sense of familiarity.

Most commercial product has no *off stage*. It is the incessant noise, and visual flotsam of a dying commodity culture. When I taught at the Polish Film School, perhaps the most difficult director to talk about was Carl Dreyer.

For Dreyer is perhaps the purest of filmakers. He is the Zapata of filmmaking, or Zapata the Dreyer of revolutionaries. In any event, Dreyer is about this space of which I speak. Watch Ordet, or Wrath of God or Gertude, even. The Passion of Joan of Arc is almost too easy. Ordet is the one that seperates the men from the boys…girls from women. Nothing is familar. Everything haunts our mimetic interaction … and if we are sensitive enough, something of this sticks to our brain like beach tar.

Art must awaken something of which we know, because it *is* us, but something we try to forget. What is it? Ah, well, thats a topic for endless analysis. It is tragic, and it is navigated via narrative, but only a narrative that lives in theatrical space. For I would argue, even the best fiction exists in this space as well. Moby Dick, Death of Virgil, The Lime Works, Red Harvest, and on and on. One of the things that makes McCarthy so profound is that he intuits the modern sense of allegorical space. No Country for Old Men….is a landscape provided by the demon Chigur. Sarah Kane’s Blasted, Pinter’s The Homecoming, Genet’s The Screens … this is modern theatre that embodies these most illusive of truths. It invites us into the space that nullifies amnesia, that reminds us that capital *is* alienation, that its very spirit is violence, sadism, and brutality. And such artworks ask us to examine our own collusion in this. For even the anti-capitalist dreams. And its one of the roles art plays, that of an anti-virus software for post industrial capitalist reality. And it is why the system continues to peddle kitsch, the better to keep us forgetting, faster and more completely.


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