It Has to be Invented
As part of my research for Freud Skating on Thin Ice, I decided to reread Helene Cixous' Portrait of Dora. A personality quirk my wife has kindly accepted, I am largely incapable of not researching anything and everything about what I'm working on. Even when producing an entire festival, I can't stop myself from thoroughly dramaturg-ing a script. I get intrigued by something and the mental hamster starts turning the wheel. It is easier, and usually takes less time to follow through with it, than trying to force my head to shift gears.
I was especially intrigued to look at parallels between Helene's attraction to the case of Dora and Sabina's attraction to it. Their plays are quite different, as are the writers. But with two of the worlds smartest, greatest writers creating a deeply personal work based on the same series of events, trying to figure out why is deeply interesting to me. As I went to reread Portrait of Dora, a section of Cixious' essay Enter The Theatre* caught my eye, and I decided to reread it. She begins by recalling her native city, Oran, Algeria in the 1940's.
From everywhere there loomed the forms of exclusion, exile or massacre. I also saw Fortinbras de Gaulle and the Allies enter the Placedarme. We were liberated but the Algerians were more enslaved than ever.
Democracy showed itself to be a dream, a word. There was no justice, no equality, no respect. Almost no courage. I was on the verge of despair. The world is tragic. If I did not give up hope, it was because my family was without sin and my father was a young doctor, true-spirited and incorruptible. But then he died at thirty-nine. What are the gods doing meanwhile? And we who are small and threatened, what can we do?
"If there is a somewhere else," I would say to myself, "which can escape the infernal practice of repetition, then it is where new worlds are written, dreamed, invented."
Such was my obsession and my need. Is there a somewhere else? Where? It has to be invented. This is the mission of poets. Assuming that there are any. And that they are not cast into the triturator of history before they have even created.
Decades later I am attending the performance of my plays, and what do I see? That they had begun before I wrote, in Oran, Algeria.
In the meantime I have not stopped asking myself with growing astonishment what evil is, experiencing it in increasingly stupefying and painful ways, trying to understand it’s structure, machine, ineluctability. And feeling myself cast as the keeper of after-lives (I do not say lives – after-lives) or Night Watchwoman. The mission entrusted to me by my father I would define as follows: I must do everything to ensure the people around me are not swept away by oblivion, indifference. I must keep the qui vivre and preserve the dead, the murdered, the captive, the excluded, from the jaws of death. This is my mission. I do not claim to fulfill it: there would no longer be any problem. I live the tragic, I live myself tragically, I am totally occupied by the question of the tragic. Which in no way excludes happiness and the comic, on the contrary. But I live and breathe the sense of threat, imminence and betrayal within the very midst of happiness and the love of peace.
A heady mission for playwrights. To dream of and invent a new world. To ensure the people around us aren't swept away into nothingness.
I read that so far in 2012, more Americans have been shot in Chicago, than soldiers have been wounded in combat in Afghanistan. I can't help but think we collectively need to do more to answer that call.
What do you think? Is that asking too much from our theatres? Or not enough?
*Enter the Theatre is in Selected Plays of Helene Cixous. I couldn't find it living anywhere on the web to link to it, but the whole volume is pretty kickass. You should definitely check it out.;