THE PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION OF THE SHOW VIS-À-VIS HUMAN MONSTROSITY

So we got to talking at one point about how there are really two distinct schools of thought on the subject of primitive origins – let’s call school number one the ‘we’re savage beasts under a thin veneer of civilization which barely keeps us from calling each other names and murdering each other’ school, with adherents like William Golding, Joseph Conrad, et cetera, or the ‘once we were innocent and happy and one-with-the-world and we have been corrupted so that now we call each other names and murder each other’ school, with adherents like, well, the Bible, and Rousseau, and Terence Malick or whatever his name is, and so on.  These two schools are the start of of the conversation, anyway.  People will also say things like ‘civilization is a terrible system for keeping us from murdering each other for each other’s sandwiches, but it’s the only system we’ve got’ (Freud, as I read him) or ‘the process of civilizing our animal natures just isn’t done, and there’s a whole new dimension of consciousness around the corner’ (Rama the Ancient Egyptian Pharoah-Wizard reincarnated as Linda Kowalchuk (buy his book!)) or ‘we were just as confused and frightened then as we are now’ (my own view).  However: these two schools of thought are emotionally very vivid when they are represented in art, as in, say, The Lord of the Flies or, well, Avatar.  And many posts on this page take positions on the issue as well – I think of, for instance, Urvater’s description of the edenic happiness he had during jungle training, versus his own desire to have shocking & visceral & bloody things happening onstage.  Do we want cave-people killing and eating each other, so that when we come out of the theatre we feel like we’re murderous things at bottom, and when push comes to shove we’ll be in the cannibalistic motorcycle gang when the apocalypse comes?  Or maybe we want to show cave-people loving each other and cooperating and stuff, so that when we come out we feel a warm conviviality, a sense that all of us in the theatre would join together in the event of nuclear winter and form a utopic commune that preserved the values of good will and democracy for future generations who will re-emerge when the radiation dies down?

After our trial-by-ice, I personally felt very warmly towards my comrades, and did indeed feel like a tribe would have been a very happy place to be, despite paleolithic physical hardships.  We didn’t fight over the last piece of chicken.  Maybe that was because we were all really full of chicken already, and there was still the havarti to have for a snack later on.  Maybe if there wasn’t enough chicken we would have resorted to cannibalism.  And maybe my warm sense of conviviality would have made me slow to realize the others were secretly sharpening their teeth in the corner.  But!  I do, as I get older, like the idea of trying to make people feel good more than to make them feel bad/confused/epaté-ed.  And I think people in the audience like to feel good more than they like to feel bad.  I like what our friend David Rhymer told us once (I think it was something Ray Bradbury said to him): ‘it’s not a story unless the good guys win.’

About Judd Trout

Judd Palmer is one of the Old Trouts.

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18 Responses to THE PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION OF THE SHOW VIS-À-VIS HUMAN MONSTROSITY

  1. Urvater says:

    Please refer to the very intelligent comments left by Urvater in the section on Thoughts on Structure, I think it is.

  2. Urvater says:

    OK. If as discussed in “Thoughts on Structure”, we decide that the value thrust, the philosophical goal, of the play, is the generosity of Life, capable of overcoming all human strife and frailty, then, that goal can be tested. Has to be tested by the play, to come out valid in the end. So, how it is tested? We select three problems, dilemmas typical of the human condition. Examples: power struggle; revenge; love conflict. The two solutions offered to the audience in each case overshadow the lack of this faith in Life. The choice offered the audience in each case is typically human and cynical and small. In power: who do we kill? Him, or him? In revenge: OK. Kill him, or just torture him to teach him a lesson? In conflicted love: kill him, or kill her, or what? But, in each case, the audience, forced to choose, is also, simultaneously, forced to feel a third option, that is morally superior to the two choices offered. The audience is forced to overcome their own human smallness, and reach for something larger. So they have this recognition. Hey, I don’t have to kill ANYBODY, or torture ANYBODY, or hurt ANYBODY! They are forced to be “human” in the play, to do the human thing, which is not good. But in doing that bad thing, they realize an alternative within themselves. There is something within us that is above this. We are bigger. Is there any way something like this could work? Might be practical to produce, because the action is not so much on the stage as in the air. In the minds. A mental, spiritual kind of quest. Maybe done even with bare suggestions on the stage. Maybe kind of minimal theatre.

  3. libidoless says:

    …. we need a hungarian dinner burps and farts an’all (no offense pityu) I worked and lunched with Hungarians/Romanians very refreshing,, my point being that, there were far more intimate moments shared by all, the manners came later.

  4. libidoless says:

    … not while seated on the toilet but rather while they are seated in the theatre before first intermission,, toilet paper stealing might be a tad harsh but think about the harsh reality of our cavebuds

    • Terminator E says:

      I think the no toilet paper thing is hilarious. Whenever I end up in a stall without toilet paper, I imagine i’m like that dad in “The Road”. Desperate circumstances, time for quick thinking, ‘what now?”….maybe that’s why the trout bathroom is often without toilet paper, to sharpen the instincts.

  5. libidoless says:

    did you notice during the Kruschev scene that the Alexandrov Russian anthem was being played very quickly? I gotta go rent that film again. In Shostokovitchs symphony #5 (could be 3) but anyhoo, the 4th movement has a military march that comes off as pure buffonery,,, apparently dimitri gave the Stalin boys a thesis contrary to what the main theme was about, war is dumb as are our exploits,,, I’ll drop the CD off with the trouts and they can pass it onto you, the dissolve from the 4th to 5th movement is weep worthy yet not naive, truly brutal. Ok, I’ll stop having a conversation here,, we’ll save that for in person.

    Yes the tooth experience was something else, the countdown to the initial penetration of the screw into my jaw was of the kind of anticipation where failure could bring greater misery.

    GG Allin performances would entail being locked in the theatre with him and might include getting shit on (literally) or pummeled by him,, the more you hid the more he hunted you,,, maybe, we shouldn’t pander to the shy viewer/participant and force a scene upon them, get in their face, smash down the inhibition,, they must participate or the play will fail for everybody,, let people know that they are part of the play, it’s as much on their shoulders as the puppeteers,, failure will not be tolerated,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, AND within 2 hours, plus intermission and a plastic glass of vino,,,,,,,,,,,,, hey maybe steal all the toilet paper and towelttes from the bathrooms while the audience is seated.

    • libidoless says:

      … remove all comfort for the audience, make them want to use a prop blanket (make it draughty and cold, warmer near the firetheatre),,,, what did you trouts do at the cabin after the bucket of KFC? you made a better fort/yurt/triple sleeper bag,, you cuddled or sardined I guess….

  6. Urvater says:

    I’ve met them. Fear them. Very, very intelligent! And they will blow our little socks off with this play. Libidoless, about the tooth you extracted: very to the point. Kindness to yourself was not the issue. The stakes were bigger. You didn’t need a namby-pamby lie-around-and-suffer Self. You needed a leader Self who didn’t really give a shit whether you got hurt or not. Your leader Self knew what had to be done and bloody well did it. You emerged very strong, I would say. You may not look forward to another tooth wreck in a snowstorm, but, by god, you don’t really fear it. You know you can do it. I would be very happy if a play did that to an audience. Jarred them into a higher strength, more power. In the movie, Enemy at the Gates, Krushchev certainly got the attention of the meeting when the guy he had just talked with shot himself. What are we aiming at? Tough. Hard. New. Accurate. Sudden. Very brief. Tight. Like a jerked tooth. People staggering out stunned at the end.

  7. libidoless says:

    I’ve met them,,,, we’ve nothing to fear,,,,,, except beards with crumbs, BEARDS WITH CRUMBS!

  8. Urvater says:

    Only to say that the line between friendly and leaderly can be very subtle. Leaderly doesn’t mean harsh or cruel or superior. Some great leaders have been passive. I’ve had one or two in the military. General Kutuzov, who led the Russians against Napoleon, is a famous one. They listen, then decide. Queen Elizabeth I was apparently like that on many issues. What does not work is when “the men” feel that you need their affection. They do not want friendship from you, not in the least. You’re not like them. You’re not one of them. They don’t need you in their personal lives. They need you above them, in charge, aware of all the stuff you’re supposed to be aware of to lead them through whatever happens. If they like you, it’s because they like the clear-headed, aloof job you do as an officer, not because you’re a “regular guy”. They prefer you to be cool toward them, and just do your damn job, and do it well, because their lives — daily and eternally — depend upon the decisions you make. Sure, a good Sergeant is right there with “the men”, like a good Chief Petty Officer. In many outfits, the person in charge looks and lives just like everybody else. (Fidel Castro, and Che, in the Sierra Madre). But, chummy friend with the soldiers, they were not. You can’t be friends with a man or woman, and order en to es death, which you may well have to do, and that, quickly. But, this is not really for this blog, is it? We’ve got to watch out, Libidoless. They’ll throw us out! We may not like them, but we must respect them. :o)

  9. libidoless says:

    Please don’t shut up, or I will look like the guy posting too much,, besides you get the creative triggers going, the point of this blog.

    When Tigers and Lions attack villages, it’s because we’re easy targets to the old and infirmed,, one Tiger on a hunt for human wasd shot and the autopsy showed that it had suffered a massive jaw kick. It’s relevant…

    I was reaccounting a story the other day where I was living in a small town and there was what seemed an endless, whiteout blizzard going on. I watched in pain and struggle as I had an absessed molar that was pushing me to the brink of a 911 call, but they wouldn’t find my house if the tried coming to my rescue,, no amount of whiskey or clove compress could fix me,, I then became primal -but with tools-. Off to the workroom I went and modified a woodscrew, sharpening and serrating the thread, after which I proceeded to the washroom mirror -great invention-, exposed the molar and infected jaw and performed a rudimentary root canal, twisting and crunching happy pain into the overwhelming pain. Much blood, much puss, much bits of bone and gum ran salivated off my chin into the sink. A few days later, I ventured off to the dentist who informed me that, as far as he could see, I fixed the problem and there was nothing left to do. I’ve never had a problem with the tooth since. Tom Hanks in Castaway has a similar scene where he uses a figure skate.
    Most slipped discs are hereditary, we still have wisdom teeth,,,,
    but I’m not sure that the ill’s were collective but rather there was a sorry soul who was of frequent ill and created the soothing tools, gathered the berries that took the edge off. Have you ever made an arrowhead? It was likely factored out to a few,, how long has the whetstone been around?
    i’m not sure about the feared leader thing,,, I’ve recently taken a fancy to warfare/history from the mid 18th century to WWII and the most effectual leaders were -of course strong in determination and organisation and logic- but even grumpy Patton was exceedingly on the same level as his infantry, never a boaster. Captain Cooks ship was without pomp heirachy, everybody knew their function but officers and ship mate alike messed together on the same gruel. Bullying was unacceptable. The rest of the British Navy was essentially a paupers floating jailhouse and mutiny was often discussed and executed.

    Hey Urv? you ever find that the fawcet seems to be stripped and you can’t stop the flow? I tried pressing my finger against the outflow but then it compresses and goes all over the place.

  10. Urvater says:

    This guy, “Urvater”: is there some way to shut him up?

  11. Urvater says:

    Just a touch, for effect: Primitives probably had cuts and scratches all the time, infections, like that. Maybe pretty serious injuries. They considered them normal, lived with them. (We know that Neanderthals lived with major amputations, as well as big concussions, shattered bones and joints, etc.) Kind of adds a certain tone to life. A certain tension. (Again, I’m not for violence. Just feelings.) In an old Yul Brenner film called The Journey, a busload of refugees is trying to get across a wartime border in Eastern Europe. There are problems. Only the audience knows that one of the refugees, a journalist in a heavy overcoat, hunched in the back of the bus, is hiding a gunshot wound, trying to stay alive. It adds tension.

  12. Urvater says:

    How’s this? Present the audience with two cruel choices, each offering salvation. They vote for something horrible to happen right on the stage. The betrayal of something that will save the day. The sacrifice that must be made, axe held over the neck. Throw ugly ugly decisions right to the audience. They have to shout or wave hands to vote. Louder! And, wham! The act is accomplished. The consequence of the act hits every heart in the theatre. It’s done. (I think, “done” is the meaning of the Greek word “drama”.) They had the choice, they chose, it happened. Rite of passage. Maybe we don’t make the decision as easy as a vote. Maybe the characters argue with them. (Might need a couple of planted stooges here.) Anyway, the thing happens. The audience have lived through it. Marriages will break up over dinner afterwards, because of who voted what and why. Maybe arguments, even fights, will break out in the street in front of the the theatre. People feeling stuff, intensely, anxious about their own commitments. I’m not after violence, I’m after intense feeling, however it gets expressed. Examining some unexamineds. Good God! This is what theatre is for! Especially puppets!

  13. Urvater says:

    Hold it, Guys! We’re confusing gentle with happy. But we know they’re not the same thing. We know we have to go beyond that, to allow our art to find the “terrible beauty”. In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he threw in all the uglies he knew and could think of, the then, struggled to show us that “Life” is the surmounting Good Guy we can all count on. He said something to the effect that Life is Love, Love is God. So no matter how terrible, we are still part of something wonderful and beautiful and loveable. You don’t always want a good guy. Tolstoy or not, or, maybe along with Tolstoy, “love” can be a terrible thing. A banal example: a leader who wants to be loved is fucked right from the word go. Followers want to respect and fear a leader. They don’t want es love and friendship. They want en to fucking LEAD. Likewise, we don’t want our theme to be sweet and comfortable. We want it to fucking LEAD. We want message tough enough and deep enough and honest enough and new and original enough to take us where we need to go. To get us away from, no, to BEAT, the enemies that now have us in stranglehold. We need horsepower. People walking out of a happy ending aren’t any better prepared to handle life than when they came in. We have failed them. Naw, we need to show them something, to teach them something, to put them through something. Some kind of boot camp. Transformation. Make soldiers out of them. Make them grow up. God knows, our little civilization needs THAT, in spades! Turn off their fucking TV’s for once.

  14. libidoless says:

    I like it when the good guy wins but it’s those plays/films where the “bad” lurks that keep me thinking, where the “good” is so righteous it leaves me queasy. Polanskis’ “The Tenant” is a tad extreme but I know you get where I’m going.

    This should be in another thread, but, oh well,,,,, the narator could occur in the strange interlude manner,,, here is a brilliant bit by Groucho Marx,, talk about pushing the boundaries of Hollywood (pre-Hays), historically, people who went to the flicks also went to a lot of live theatre, vaudville and such and they were up on their knowledge of the more loftier writers,, they weren’t all Norman Rockwell americana. The Marx Bros not only knew this but incorporated it successfully into their films. Groucho pokes fun at Eugene Oneil in this clip.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNkUtBa3_RI

  15. Neandertaler says:

    But I agree. I too am getting older and I too prefer it when the good guy wins. Though I also think that good stories with bad endings have always had a good ending hidden in them somewhere. Fortinbras saunters onto the stage littered with the corpses of Hamlet’s family to show that, at least for this boy who has also lost his daddy, life does go on. Perhaps he is there to represent us, the audience: Hamlet, by sacrificing his life in a most tragic manner, redeems us all.

  16. Neandertaler says:

    I think the truth has always been paradoxical, and great art (read: creations that have spoken to people time and again) has managed to walk the tightrope between the extremes, or perhaps BEEN the tightrope, for its audience to walk…

    In daily life, and given the circumstances, we either bask in the sunlight of peace and harmony, or abandon ourselves to the intoxicating seduction of our shadow side, as a person or even as a whole society. Jung says that alchemical gold is to be won by holding, and keeping, the “tension of opposites” in consciousness.