Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Young (Disciple) and the Restless (Kind)

Better do this first, before I forget. The kindly and estimable Nate Dorward, the Colonel Kurtz of Canadian letters*, has linked to this blog from his own. This will increase traffic hereabouts twenty-fold and, I can only suppose, will lead eventually to exposure, gaol, and, finally, a tattoo that never completely heals. Nonetheless, I must return the favour: not least because ND (catchphrase: "Hm.") keeps an exemplarily orderly blog, with some useful pointers out into the world; and the wider site has many of his fabulously astute and snappily-written music reviews and remains the home page of The Gig, certainly the most consistently switched-on international poetry magazine I know. We can, for the generosity of these delights, forgive his desperately disappointing fixation on hyperadvanced ("Killer", if you please -- like the whales!) Sudoku, and of course his curious and ignoble peccadillo of passing off some of his own more experimental fictions as the work of his young daughter.

(Nate, btw, describes these posts here at Thompson's as 'massive' -- I kind of think of them as more gaseous than that, but I know what he means. Sorry if I go on a bit. I'm just talking to myself here.)

So I'm back home and (right now) a bit woozy on a buffalo-toppling dose of Solpadeine Industrial Strength, on account of certain, uh, toothache issues, probably exacerbated by the plane journey yesterday, though the problem is fundamental enough, this wisdoom tooth that for the last four or five years has been (slowly, intransigently) coming in sideways. That aside, I feel great. Tired but kinda happy. Cork was really a lovely week; I feel like my shoulders have dropped about six inches. The weather pretty much held, the performances I did were mostly fine, and I spent very happy times pottering around the town or hanging out at the flat watching the World Cup on RTE (drizzly picture but no Motty) and eating head-rotating Irish cheese and hardcore chilli-laced chocolate from the English Market. Almost everyone in Cork is beautiful. (This research was carried out in the Spiegeltent but I'm sure it applies across the entire city.) They're all young and bright-eyed like a lost tribe of woodland folk, but they're also engaging and cosmopolitan. -- I suppose what I really mean is that the whole week went by without anyone trying to kick my head in for wearing Muppet sneakers. In fact, o best beloved, there was even some quiet acclaim. And Ali, the festival director, knew someone else who has a pair, which helps the swelling of anomaly in my so-called life to go down.

Spending the week with J -- actually probably a total of about 45 minutes with him, but spread across the week -- was a giddy joy and though I think he eventually felt a little contrite for pushing back so hard and vigorously against many of my ideas and opinions about theatre, it was a treat to have more extended and candid conversations than are normally possible in the dreary hustle of home. He's a much more agile and penetrating thinker than he knows. (Nor will he believe that if he reads it.) Of course, now, 'agile and penetrating' is snagging my attention, but the reverberations are not inimical. The way some people think is, in itself, sexy, and he's one of them -- he thinks in the same shapes that he dances... Fortunately the arousing edge of all this is taken off partly by his continuing devotion to the ukulele and partly by his perky new gingham-trimmed hat, which places him (rather accurately, really) somewhere between the gondolas of Venice and the biscuit factory of Chigley.

Didn't get to see much more in the festival itself since my previous post -- had an after-show drink with J and a couple of the fellas from Nofit State in their big pod, which was very cool, but most other things clashed with the evening Quirkafleegs. Highlight of the week, artistically, for me, was the Stan's Cafe piece, Of All The People In All The World (which is on till July 1st at Triskel, if you're within a thousand miles of Cork). It's a quite overwhelming installation in which various statistics, historical and current, local and global, mostly geopolitical, are illustrated through piles of rice, with each grain of rice representing one person. A brilliantly simple and lucid idea, superbly executed: the narratives, the implicit timing, are so expertly performed by the layout within the gallery space, and yet everything is (almost eerily) still, these heaps of rice sitting impassively on white paper. I laughed out loud more than once; and I cried, too. I can't think of a more impressive piece of political theatre that I've ever seen. (Certainly when some of Stan's came to Quirkafleeg on Saturday I felt a bit abashed at requiring their attention for something so ornate and silly.) -- J and I talked quite a bit about the effectiveness of performance works that locate their concerns in one single idea or concept and then execute it brilliantly, so that the work opens out compellingly onto the world. (Thinking of other recent examples, I'd include Things Not Worth Keeping's Rime of the Ancient Mariner in that category, and also -- by the sound of it -- Leibniz's The Book of Blood at the PSI Conference a couple of weekends ago.) Worth keeping in mind.

Actually, I've come home with a couple of ideas for new projects, or renewed interest in abandoned ideas. In particular, I'm thinking again about Paul Goodman's play The Young Disciple, which has alternated with The Witch of Edmonton as the most urgent and impossible project in my head for a few years now. There's lots in Goodman I don't agree with, and lots more that I don't like, but the surfaces of his work are now so eccentric (by which I mean that the characteristic qualities of his more avant garde tendencies have aged much less well than his more reigned-in stuff, creating an interesting kind of warping effect) that there's lots to attach to; and his basic commitments -- to anarchism, to pacifism, to work, art and education as ends in themselves, to a scepticism about dislocating technologies and fake communities, to a genial sexual libertarianism -- are attractive and often, in his discussion of them, strikingly prescient. Everybody should be reading his Growing Up Absurd, but I suspect if I mentioned it among even my most politically and artistically engaged friends and colleagues I'd get blank looks. Or pitying stares. (Some of them are very good at pitying stares.)

The Young Disciple -- which seems to have no (documented) performance history beyond its premiere by the Living Theater -- is frequently preposterous and desperately uncomfortable. But for some reason I can't yet understand, let alone articulate, it speaks to me. So maybe that, rather than The Witch of Edmonton -- which is hopelessly out of range, for all that I love it and keep getting drawn back to it -- should be the big piece I hurl myself into next. Apart from anything else, I think it would demand updating erotically -- you can see in several places what he wanted to do that he couldn't do on stage fifty years ago, even with a group like the Living Theater -- and that interests me as a development of the thinking I've been doing, in or near my research work with Exit Strategy especially, around a sort of queered reconfiguring of Marcusian charisma as a descriptive or progressive response to the post-liminal impulse in theatre; as well as being an ethically vivacious brand of affinity that could, I'm convinced, be made to annul the horrible bogus anti-theatrical contract of fourth-wall social realism. Which is all a bit of a mouthful but I think it might unzip into quite a fun set of experiments. (You know how I mean unzip there, right?)

Right, I'm off to top up the analgesics before bed. Night all.

*I'm teasing, of course. Actually you have to imagine a cross between Garrison Keillor and Raymond Babbitt, drawn by Robert Crumb. And then you have to imagine him sticking pins in a tiny little bread effigy of Ken Vandermark. & let's be clear: when I say you have to imagine these things, I'm not kidding. There will be spot checks.

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