Just recently, I’ve been thinking about cynicism. While it ranks at the forefront of every good person’s bad faith today, and is the medium through which we believe and are sincere, and in which we sincerely believe, I’ve been wondering about the exceptions to the cynical rule and the rule of cynicism, of what current artistic manifestations exist that do interesting and surprising things with cynicism. I’m especially interested in cinema, but I would welcome any examples that occurred. Help? Don’t say Von Trier or Haneke.
(1) Lutz’s language institutes the estrangement of modern life at a linguistic level. In doing so his prose has a curiously paradoxical quality. Oddly embodied and physical in their syntax and grammar Lutz’s sentences are also simultaneously removed and abstracted from their affect. Lutz’s style creates odd shifting channels, each sentence following its own set of gears and mechanisms. The emotional affect of the writing comes from the seepage of these forces acting upon one another. By the end of certain stories it even comes to oil them.
(2) Lutz is a very strange kind of realist-minimalist, the writing is so present, so gripping that the act of reading becomes oddly pressured, your mind gets worked into uncomfortable forms. I remember writing in an essay once that David Foster Wallace’s work was intellectually chiropractic, that it was rigorous and at times painful but that you always got the sense it wanted to make you better, leave you feeling refreshed and limbered up. Lutz’s writing has no such concerns. Lutz’s writing is crippling in affect, he demands our language honestly reflect something both abstract and real. This feels terrible but occasionally I’m reminded of Francis Bacon if one removed the overt ‘drama’ from the paintings, drained the colour and showed them only under the pale fluorescence of office light. His characters while always held at a stylistic distance are incredibly raw, appear always to have been pruned too far back. These disfigurements work because they are rooted in our received language, notions, expectations etc and it is once again a display of the paradoxical tensions at work in his writing. Lutz’s work, I think, serves a particular critique of a society warping under the pressure of its own compulsive mundanity. Often in his writing a cliché is obliquely referenced only for it to be turned on its head because its generic literalism, its acceptedness in the world, requires it to be hammer-locked, turned to honestly confront the audience it had forgotten.
(3) Lutz writing is so disorientating because it reverts the already reflected world back into position and what we see is nightmarish and recognizable.
(4) Lutz’s work belongs to that very special canon of realists that show us a legitimate and real version of hell, a hell all the more hellish and demeaning because we can and do tolerate it. The tax of it is so very stealthy after all. Traditional realist novels accept the representation of the world they are given and make critiques within it. Lutz is like Kafka but divested of his mythmaking narratives (we are not even allowed that now).
After her elder sister had gone upstairs and the bass twanging talk with her brother in law ebbed away step by step, she did what she thought was appropriate. She went flat down on the mat and composed herself for sleep. Next to the corpse it smelled of incense and oranges. One ear on the ear of the mother, she heard the rain like something outside of both, the living or the dead. For a while fears and doubts stuck around where her body touched the ground. She performed little jerks forward and backward, trying not to move too much. Then she came to a rest.
Parents trust reject-magic. Especially. Maybe. When their children are hurt by something unfair and completely out of their control. They look for messages and bent reason and talk about bonds and clarifying connections. Purity. Love that is tangible. Electric. It has to be. And the superstitious shrimp that don’t grab for something pathetic like god and nature are the sicknesses that sink back into themselves only to ask you later to excuse their repulsive frailty.
Since the start of the year I’ve been on attachment at the National Theatre Studio, taking some time out to think about my practice in theatre and trying to get my assumptions shaken and my habituations disturbed by people who are smarter than me. The most unexpected turn in this incredibly valuable process has been a complete reframing of my anxiety and discomfort around scripts. Often I’ve worked without scripts, except as a record of what’s already happened in the making of a piece — for all sorts of reasons, the model of writing a script in advance which is then handed on to a director, a bunch of actors, a creative team to “interpret” really bothers me. But an early intervention in this reflective process made me wonder if, when I turned my back (mostly) on scripted work a few years ago, I could instead have asked myself a more liberating question. If I don’t like how scripts are and what they do, what else might they be instead? What other models could we turn to, to make a different kind of script that could allay all those political / ethical / aesthetic / methodological concerns by which I’ve been constrained?
I’ve just spent the last week of my attachment working with some of the actors currently resident at the National on this constellation of questions, and in particular, looking at a bunch of possible examples from other areas of artistic practice. It’s really instructive to note the incredibly rudimentary technology of the play-script/text (great at indicating words to be spoken, but tending from lousy downwards at anything else) when compared with some of what’s happened in poetry, music and visual art over the past fifty or more years.
Below is a selection of some of the ’scores’ (a loose word, but serviceable in the circumstances) that we’ve worked with this week. Some of these are intended as works to be performed, one way or another, and some are not; none of them are intended to be realized as theatre pieces, but we found that many of them could successfully be ’staged’ (especially given more time than we had). A whole bunch of other questions about authorship, interpretation and fidelity immediately open up, but that’s fine. There will be other weeks, other attachments.
Asking “what else could scripts look like?” is not specifically or necessarily about breaking conventions or destroying theatre as we now know it, but simply about enlarging currently meagre resources — not only for the writer, but for everyone involved in theatre practice. To ask what else a script can be is of course to ask what more theatre can do, what more can be done with it: and how we describe our ideas in sharing them, how we notate our work, radically changes what we are able to imagine it’s possible for our work to do.
As part of a workshop at the National Theatre Studio on Friday 29th January I asked the participants to write down four questions, one each for any four of the following possible interviewees: someone you love or loved romantically and is no longer around; an extra-terrestrial; a teddybear or plushy toy you’ve ever had; a dead film star; a cat or dog or goldfish; someone you used to sit next to in class and haven’t seen since; your doctor or dentist; anyone whose picture you had on your wall as a teenager; anyone else in this room. The sixteen questions above were taken from the 32 that the workshop participants wrote. This writing exercise was part of making a short theatre work, and at that stage had nothing to do with the idea of this post.
UK residents reported as missing persons since the start of January 2010.
“The next day I lunched in a carrel. I read how Caligula annexed parts of Rome for his palace. City blocks became hallways, tenements became suites. In one suite he opened a brothel. Men could go and sleep with the boys and married women who worked there.” — Derek McCormack, Dark Rides, 1996.
1. Joseph Cornell: Setting for a Fairy Tale (1942)
2. Stalin in his Kremlin office: propaganda poster:
3. Standard Internet Image of a Black Hole:
4. Novelty Lung Ashtray:
5. Anal interior, captured via camera probe: a still from a gay bareback porn film:
6. Chest-burster from Ridley Scott’s Alien: official promotional still:
7. Marco Dente: Ornamental Engraving (1525)
8. The Fuji Zeppelin Colouring-In Page
9. Amfora: a computer-generated model of a proposed underground parking network for the city of Amsterdam
10. The Braille Alphabet in English:
11. Marcel Duchamp: Objet-Dard (1951)
12. Autopsy photo of the guillotined criminal, Canute Vromant (1909)
13. A fossilized wasp, not to scale
14. Jim Shaw: Dream Object (I Dreamt I was putting together this piece of abstract drawings) (2002)
“Nothing leads nowhere,
The centuries also live underground, says the Master of Ho.”
– Henri Michaux, ‘Labyrinth’, Épreueves, Exorcismes, 1944.