Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Method Madness

Hamlet is not a very Danish name. Maurits, King or Prince of Denmark, would be more like it.

Anyway with Claudius, Polonius, Ophelia, and Horatio Shakespeare really fucked up his linguistic geography. This is Denmark, old boy! Not Verona!

And a guy named after a tiny village, doesn’t make much sense either.

Might as well have called him Boardwalk. Bo, for short.

Shakespeare borrowed a lot from the Greeks Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and their treatment of the Oresteia, but Hamlet was no Orestes. Just like in a different context the Wizard’s Dorothy is no Alice in Wonderland, any more than Dan Quayle was John F. Kennedy by Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s stern yardstick.

And I know this is blasphemy but as story lines go Hamlet is a terrible play, neither head nor tail, for a normal spectator at least to follow, or else an endlessly convoluted plot with the dark Danish Prince stricken with grief, going mad, suicidal or simply cunningly paranoid. If not clarity, beauty only in its exquisite language. But even something that is said beautifully must make sense to someone like me.

Here’s the thing as Directors go, it’s dramatically very hard to demonstrate someone apparently normal, slowly going potty. It’s easier to show someone normal conniving his revenge, by faking he’s going potty. But what then is totally incongruous is his doubt about what he should do, commit suicide or not, murder or not, how and when, staging one thing, then the other, with whose help etc etc. For if there’s one thing true in this world or any other, highly motivated and morally ‘just’ counter-conspirators by temperament cannot and will never be pussy-footers or procrastinators. And that’s exactly what Hamlet’s made out to be.

And even Laurence Olivier’s steeply abbreviated cinematic version unable to cut all the fat or for that matter pass any muster. A terrible movie that refuses to fascinate and hypnotise, delivered around a dozen classic one-liners everyone knows by now. But no number of grave diggers, hip friends and ghosts, ooh, aah, woe, the fleet, the fleet…ah yes the completely redundant fleet, making this thing work.

A psychological play avant-la-lettre, dealing with moral and mental illness at the same time? Don’t you believe it, this is theatre for theatricality’s sake, sustained by overly reverent Shakespeare worship.

Growing prematurely bald himself, Hamlet could easily have looked up at the sky, sunk on one knee, stroke an even balder skull, and sigh: Toupée or no Toupée, that is the question! And be just as credible.

  1. And what’s this Laurence bit, Larry? It’s Laurent old boy, if you want to go French all the way, and with your Norman Olivier, instead of Oliver. Laurence’s a girl’s name, so be a good sod and from eternity…  change it back to Lawrence, old man. I mean, we did win at Agincourt, didn’t we? And don’t you remember the Hank Cinq you did?  (Henry V)

 

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OZ

So these two friends of Dorothy’s came across one Caitlyn Jenner, and one said to the other ” Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

What If

What if… the brain is like a face, pretty, ugly, elongated or puffed, skin marked or not, loose or tight, of colour indistinct, wrinkles deep, nose pointed, dull, long, short, chin double or tight, lips large, thin, ears flat, wide, eyes oblique, dark, myopic, below brows bushy, frown sudden, smile furtive, muscles of laughter relaxed, uncertain or fake, cheeks hollow, teeth not stained, but uneven,  gums pink, jaw sunk, suddenly jutted in ways undefined, hair patched, black, brown, blond on grey turf, memory inscribed long ago, opinions caked with acts to match, whether it is night or day, dry or wet, hot or cold?

 

Or more like a landscape, a voyage in it, through it, on it, in which case desert, forest, marsh, plain, mountain range, ocean, beach, ice field, a river, a lake?

 

Would it help any navigating our fellow, our selves, circumventing calamity,

 

heartbreak?

 

Only on Earth

 

We shouldn’t cry

when someone dear and near

passes away,

if we believe in heaven

and eternal sanctity

 

 

 

We should cry

when losing the lot,

our crust, our roof, our breath,

in the process

gaining cruel pain and terror,

 ‘heaven’, despite its hopeful beckoning,

deciding to come crashing down on us

 

 

We shouldn’t cry

when a total stranger

extends a  sudden, loving act

of helpfulness

to us

 

 

 

But we do!

Don’t we?

Not only because of its extreme beauty,

but because of its ridiculous,

its utter

 

 

rarity

 

 

 

Extreme Culture

 

A friend of mine is thinking of opening a seafood literary café/restaurant and calling it The Well Read Lobster

 

He’s the same brilliant mind who opened a Chinese restaurant in the South of Spain and called it The Wok of Gibraltar

 

Trolley Car Line Greed

                              

 Don’t get me wrong, A Streetcar Named Desire’s a great rhythmic title and what Tennessee Williams was truly terrific at: serving up seductive labels that stir our imagination well before we take in his plays. Titles the way a second-hand car dealer deploys banners and flags, or someone like Eugene O’Neill strings out Moon for the Misbegotten or Long Day’s Journey into Night, making one wonder if a playwright hits upon a grand tag first, only then writing a play around it, bait before the catch. Until he gets stuck, struck by the great American disease of self-parody of the sort that so pathetically afflicted musical talents like Liberace and Elvis. But what the hell, the marquee’s everything, isn’t it? And all the contrived applause leading to artistic death, small doses at the time, authors as salesmen, sometimes putting on offer very little else. Still, rewarded with lauding by the hour, flattery by the line, and also doing Mr. Williams in, which is a shame. Yes, all of it starting with titles just being titles, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has nothing to with cats on tin roofs, and as far as I know Night of the Iguana never sported a lizard on stage. As for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More, well, all right, perhaps a half symbolism there, but you do get my point.

Thus with A Streetcar Named Desire, in fact having little or nothing to do with streetcars. A work containing no more panting or slow-burning desire and emotionally crippled characters unable to unconditionally acknowledge and accept one another and what this leads to, than stage creations by other dramatists, tall and short. Of course everything can be made to fit, including the Elysian Field neighborhood of New Orleans, suddenly a Purgatory rather than the vaunted mythical Valhalla full of frolicking heroes, but convenient poetic license aside, shouldn’t metaphors apart from being beautiful, make some unexpected sense?

Unless, of course… they’re nothing of the kind.

 Beside the ‘Tennessee’ business, the slickness of the State nick-name (Imagine Sir Normandy Halliday?), plus Mr Williams’ imaginative, baroque southern language and much name-dallying rather than tight, contemporary plots, and speaking a handful of languages myself, it always amazed me how European theatre folks took his titles so literally and his work in such vapid awe. For on another level, would anybody in his right mind ever announce Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as Below Lactic Forest? Yet that sort of mechanical stuff gets paraded around by civil-servant run, state funded continental European theatre. I mean, a look at the Welsh map quickly reveals there in fact exists the remnant of a forest quaintly called Milk Wood. And certainly, it’s rather difficult figuring out what milk and woods have in common, but that’s the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the one part Mr. Thomas didn’t make up. So once there existed a milky white forest, one more commonly associated with Siberia than with Wales. So what! Perhaps already then an obscure metaphor, though certainly not one now. Either way Milk Wood, being a ‘nom propre‘, to be left alone in the way that Montenegro never gets translated as Blackmountain or Carlsberg and Monte Carlo as Charlie’s Mountain. What gets translated is the ‘Under’ part, the preposition, leading to something like

                                En dessous Milk Wood

                                Sotto Milk Wood

                                Onder Milk Wood

                                Unter Milk Wood

                                Debajo Milk Wood

or whatever, in a given idiom. But what at this particular time provokes my brief outburst is the ridiculous translation of A Streetcar Named Desire by those same state perpetrators. For ‘Desire’ shouldn’t be translated into something that despite Tennessee Williams’ naughty insistence never was. A Streetcar Named Desire’s a clever take all right, it has the makings of such a magnificent metaphor, except that this streetcar rides for real, in New Orleans, and an old rickety affair it is. With as end of the line the Desire neighborhood where Desire Street and Desire Parkway reign. In fact End Line Desire or A Streetcar To Oblivion would have been a far more apt title for the play, given its dramatic surge. Still, it does ring so much better than, say, A Subway Direction Idlewild Airport, if, all the way back, in the late forties, the plot had been set in Queens, N.Y.

The problem then with the Europeans is never taking the trouble to travel to New Orleans, and in translation augmenting William’s little title fraud to a degree bordering lunacy. Coming up, and translating it all straight back for you, with titles like Trolley Car Line Greed, producing an image of someone compulsively absconding with public transport units. (Damn, there comes another one. I’m getting mighty tired of this! Do I get anything else done today?)

 

So that what this is all about is not so much Mr. Williams but the dutiful, industrial productions of his work in Amsterdam, Prague, Antwerp and like cities: all that lazy European hero-worship. Or better still, the living off international name-tags, the going along blindly of it, the lacking of all pride of it, the sad absence of critical judgment of it, the seeking to be looked up to as an important cog in the theatre trade without having a grain of creative judgment or ability oneself. Serving up and getting away with risk-free, pre-approved works: the frequency with which these and other ‘known’ plays are repeated, staggering. This no longer about stage art, but about attempting to obtain stature by association. This about robbing great talent, playwrights nearer by, of oxygen and opportunity. Those who wait and wait and who are often shut out until they die, as production budgets, inevitably limited, get squandered on ‘recognition’ pieces, produced like cultural pabulum, bad translations mostly adding insult to injury.

Did you like it?

– Oh, darling, It gave me the shivers. It was so dutiful…

– Pardon me?

Anyway, when traveling around Europe, should you notice the staging of yet another Tennessee Williams play, advertised for the 100th time in Zurich, Zagreb or Modena, try not to be impressed. And if you haven’t got a clue which particular play’s up except for the author’s name below it simply because you don’t understand the local language, don’t worry. Neither likely do the comfortable, don’t-rock-the boat, hip-on-the-surface-but-tragically-conventional chaps behind such stage fluff. All of it art by committee, with predictable results.

Shocks, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think these ego-tripping, falsely anointed fonctionnaires should ever mount another Trolley Car Line Greed. Anymore than they would A Highway Job Called Robbery, by the superb Oxfordshire Smith.

 

 Download Anthony Steyning’s terrific new E-Novel: A Kiss by the Clowns

Lofty Labels

Rococo was Baroque’s Dadaism, Postmodernism nothing but Neo-Retro, then again everything’s Neo-Retro!

 

Download Anthony Steyning’s delicious new E-Novel: A Kiss by the Clowns

Conquest!

Look at the lion and his magnificent manes, his wives plain Janes and nothing to lose sleep over. Look at the male peacock and his fantastic crop, plumes and dancing feet, his lovers ugly as sin. Look at the buck and his enormous antlers, his amours only differentiated by the variety of white targets painted around their ass.  

 

Now look at humans and a different scenario. She doing all the action, forever dolled up, painted, rinsed, pedicured, manicured or worse. Seducing, wiggling, smiling, out to conquer mainly ugly ‘hims’ endowed with attitude and cash.

 

And then there’s me, no plumes, no manes, no antlers, no moolah.

 

Who am I going to get except if I’m lucky, a blind nymphomaniac who hopefully owns a liquor store?

 

Download Anthony Steyning’s epic new Enovel: A Kiss by the Clowns

 

 

Kafka Is Dorothy

Kafka’s is the art of comic exasperation deploying absurd even paranoid pseudo logic, labyrinthine insurance company and regulatory double-thought and dead-end speak, at one point probably convincing Derrida and the rest of deconstructionists, to become plumbers.

 

Of course, calling officials, their projects and indirectly the Government itself the Arrangement, says a lot about Kafka’s own state of mind. (Personally, I think the Deranged is more like it!), but he still created world literature out of the texts that as an insurance lawyer and later a Workman’s Compensation Board verifier, engulfed him. He imitated the structures of treacherously simplistic but circular language so prevalent in his daily work. Additionally, the endless incompetence and deliberate deception on the part of both the authorities and the public constantly placed him smack in the middle of one contention or another. This triggered his Walter Mitty-like imagination out of self-defence, his day-dreaming both escape and a distancing from recurrent nightmares, off-setting them and other health problems while preserving his sanity.

 

The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy heaven. This is beyond a doubt, but doesn’t prove anything against heaven, since heaven means, precisely, the impossibility of crows!’ is a famous example of a statement of breath-taking incongruity. It only makes one laugh, and even saying the absence of crows wouldn’t make it much clearer, only a dyslexic atheist perhaps debating the impossibility… of dogs instead of gods, but in the case at hand there could merely be a problem of translation. Anyway, the whole thing a bit like saying a statement by a person doesn’t make sense, because the man is mute. Also a non sequitur, what?

 

Yes, Kafka was a great tragicomic figure, one for whom in the end even a fire hydrant represented some sort of totalitarian threat. His humour all part of that self-defence, as was exaggeration. For I visited the castle in Prague; it’s an innocent enough structure, housing contemporary government offices, but as it’s located on a hill overlooking the Moldau, in his dreamy eyes exercising an authority far beyond its real scope. Yes, the Prague Castle is as innocent as one on a medieval Spanish hill top, in particular those high coastal fortifications and watch towers in Andalusia, constructed to keep exactly who (?) out, as the invaders were and had been… the Moors themselves!? Part of a paranoiac ‘arrangement’, in other words, the Moors ultimately getting defeated in the interior of the Iberian peninsula, as was to be expected, and by the Christian Kings, not by wily Barbary Coast pirates or some other imaginary naval force. So that these castles were not what they were cracked up to be, more part of someone’s fantasy, as in the case of Kafka.

 

Shades of combatting windmills then, and Don Quijote. Taken in mostly by the symbolism of the Prague Castle, Kafka did set out to unmask that menacing old fool behind the curtain, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at the end of the day both lodging victory. For Kafka is not only Don Quijote, Kafka is Dorothy, but a much better writer than she!

Download Anthony Steyning’s splendid, new E-novel: A Kiss by the Clowns

 

           

La Concha

I live below a cubistic looking mountain, about the size of Mont Sainte-Victoire, Cézanne’s redoubt.

 

It wasn’t painted by Braque or Picasso, but in the ever changing light of day appears that way, delineated against the endless sky, an anchor, seemingly altering its appearance every hour, its sharp yet subtle angles stacked upon each other, reaching up towards its own Matterhorn-shaped top.

 

Flat planets are dead planets. There would be no life on earth without constant volcanic action added to solar heat: humanity following flora and fauna in their footsteps, the last one to join the biological fray, and why I cannot live without my mountain, my life, itself child of tectonic might, tenderly watching over me.

 

Download Anthony Steyning’s superb new E-Novel: A Kiss by the Clowns

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