Thursday, June 21, 2007

Instincts towards the Round

Common sense and experience should tell us that we grow outwards, from a darkness that is both collective and individual, a darkness that is not a void, but already patterned by the shift of ages, eras and aeons, cosmically and infinitesimally altered each limitless second. We come into this light armed with a plethora of instinctual truths that we can barely struggle to contain within our brief conscious span. At the same time we are battered increasingly by expressions, assaults and implications of the not-me that the hurling world indiscriminately surprises us by.

Out of these interminable collisions, we strive to create an emblemic set of cards, a box of myths that we can pertinently live our lives by. We come from a clashing point of a seed and an egg, both already seeped in their own complex origins ( a penetration of the collective by the individual) and, try and wish as we may to break clear of those two effects within us, we are incapable of ditching them, whatever the momentous consequences of that union.

The world we meet though (at its rawest) is indifferent to that conjunction and insistently inflicts upon us its own state, battered by both the rushed dramas of space, and the weird fashions of human history. We are conceived from a seed into an egg; we are born as another seed into the world's egg, and spend our lives struggling to survive, struggling to fertilise the planet with our own unique vision, to the furtherance of an intended wiser and wiser condition. Every conceived child has that innate drive; but at all stages the living impetus is a wasteful one. The human tragedy is immeasurable.

Yet not a living presence on this earth does not sense the delectable tantalising harmonies that a single breath cannot fail to invoke. The mess of existence, which is never more than a scratch above obscenity, tempts us, torments us to partake of its dreamed perfections, to draw into our tangible reach its ineffable proportions.

We are our egg, host to our seed; we come into the world in search of our most fitting house. All we do "alive" is a search towards that house, through which our innate rhythms seek outward form in an architecture of our own designing. The myths we live by tell of that journey, if the indifferent cruelties we bump into, or bump into us, allow us that ounce of breath. We are doomed to fail, however long we live: that is not the criterion. In the wasteful nature of survival, where "the fittest" is not a consideration, "luck" not "faith" has the most say. Geniuses are murdered daily in their hundreds. It is simply that being here until we are not, we are the consequences of the myths we follow, or others dictate we should follow; in turn we are all material for myths that those after us absorb into their own stories for living. On such a vast ocean, fact, which, in the scale of things, lasts no longer than its saying, is a kind of jetsam or flotsam.

Age is shaped by its myths; it creates an architecture to reflect them, and to impose its shape upon the discourse that grows out of them. Within that discourse, "facts" that suit the fashions the discourse unleashes express the mores of the day and the limits to its intellectual curiosity. Briefly the day's facts are true. Step back from them, though; see the contradictory facts before and after, that, in their own terms, were and will be also true - and a need cannot afford not to be present that absorbs them into another personal reality, and that reality too, with contradictions all around at its own level, needs its own underlying pattern. Deeper the game goes, and there is no bottom! In this maelstrom, what can possibly hold us together?

Nothing logistic; but a sense of poetry, and an awareness of pattern. In this personal outfolding, infolding, we learn that we are congenitally both separate and conjoined. We may strive to make our own architecture, but the architecture is there before us: it is the maker, controller, facilitator, limiter, encourager of all we do, however uniquely we do it. The architecture too is not sacrosanct. The pressures upon it, from its progenitors, as well as its progeny, from the historical scheme it is a part of, to the future it is aching to shape, will do for it in the end. A new architecture will follow from, or arise to deny it. Each minute living form carries that threat (or promise) upon its back.

In the twenty-first century (as the fashion is, in this part of the globe) we live at the immense moment of a change of architecture. We can pretend that we can go on living in the house that no longer is, but the habits that living has demanded have little more breathing space. The foundations have long ago shaken and admitted to being reshaped. The roots of the house of spirit have rotted, and a new spirit, slower than any cosmic snail, is dragging its own convictions into place. The abyss they may tumble into is all too real. The calamity has gone so far, maybe luck not faith (or its intellectual substitute) is what we have to wish for to see us through. Maybe the earth itself is worn out, and the Gaian optimists have put their belief in a decrepit ball of rock, no more capable of self-righting than a single one of its living components. We are being visited by a monumental Sodom and Gomorrah: destruction is both imminent and deserved. Such is the neo-con view of existence.

I am on the side of luck, and maybe a different kind of faith. The greed of the world is top-heavy, and concentrated into mightily-insatiable pockets. In the ordinary heart there is confusion, and an overload of sickness; but much more than is consciously apparent, milling around in the scree that the collapse of the old architecture is causing, fingers, thoughts, intuitions, incipient songs and other unexpected sounds, brain-waves, words of all languages, the dreams of birds, the cheekiness of fleas, sketches and longings in the blood, are reaching into and across the void, through the mists, in the hope and expectation of a fresh architecture, the first inlets and crags , maybe only the deepest valleys of a new mountain, which itself is but the start of a mighty range, the first glimpses of a soaring sierra for the next body of millennia to explore. It depends upon the quality of the spiritual assumption that is crying its way, edging its convictions into definition, towards a new architectural shape.

It is no longer that difficult to imagine. It is already there, in the symbolism of the round.

it gnaws through people from the inside
towards a sky the world's afraid to see
its nature's yet unsure (the flesh it sifts
may tell) but in its driving to be free
dynastic habits have already died

no one's safe from the sowing of its seeds
hope and chaos it blends disturbingly
asking its own victims to be its guide
into a light not one can guarantee
the pains are deep the terror barely shifts

yet (blindly aware) all of us bestride
torrents of torment (murder misery
gladly) to be there when the gravestone lifts

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Stepping into the Round

In The Observer today, there is an article deploring the descent into the "Denaissance". For forty years or more I have been pointing out (with the roar of a mouse, I sense, given that I have never had much of a public voice) that the Renaissance has been on its last legs since the start of the twentieth century. No matter whether a good or a bad thing, it has been an inevitability. Ideas are exhaustible; great movements wear out as efficiently as weak ones. The Renaissance rediscovered classical proportions and reworked them to its own yearnings. It gave us, among other things, colonialism, capitalism, another version of democracy and the proscenium stage. All these powerful forces are in their last spasms, though they like to behave as though they own the best of civilisations and are the nearest thing to eternity we can get.

The Renaissance is the last age in a chain of ages contained within the era that started with Mesopotamia. The rape of Mesopotamia is now on, being dragged apart by a destructive greed that characterises the dying stages of all mega-ideas. The end of the world seems nigh - or will be if the human race cannot break out from the chains of its own contradictions. From political malfeasance to cosmic collision, the pattern in all its holograms is doomladen. The ups and downs of a vast mountain range have exhausted the human imagination. A skull encrusted with £40,000,000's worth of unflawed diamonds glitters in a black hole of worthlessness. Capitalism and the Proscenium Stage could not be more futilely illustrated. The lit space has become the phantom of all operas.

Actors-all, trained to the fine tips of their own egos, wrapped up in excellent tin-foil, have swallowed their Adam's-apple. (Even the women who don't have one.) The back-wall, the God-wall they have trusted their reputations on, is collapsing on them from above and behind, even as they desperately try to convince those in the dark well in front that they are still to be trusted. All is not lost however, even at this second-to-midnight. There is no way back; the only way forward is to step into the circle that the dark ones will readily make. and stay there. Not a circle though that has been so dolled up that an enclave has been created that, in a world without meaning, still keeps at bay the non-actors, gawping in, still, to another rendering of the lit-space. What a travesty this has become - the buggeration of the symbol itself!

The step forward has to be ecological, environmental, self-dispossessive as well as raw, imperfect, rough, bare (these words have all been said before), empty of accoutrement and special lighting. Actors must go it alone, stripping away the hierarchy of forces that have nobbled them for a sake of a share in the kudos. Directors, enablers, may have to take their hands in the first place, but the space they are entering has no need of figures that the proscenium had to have for its own unnatural functioning. One step into the genuinely unencumbered middle and the word is freed to become poetic, spiritual, again; in touch with the de-falsification of myth, the yearning of the soul (stripped of its religiose demeanours).
Above all, the word, and the actors who give it their bodies, stop being the passageways of the authoritarian command, a one-directional thrusting power, and render themselves to become the voice-and-blood ritualists of the ordinary dream, expressed from all directions in all its paradoxes. Freedom is equality and equality is freedom: diversity is the natural offspring of their union. The God-wall no longer faces and deters the hoi-polloi; instead the wall has transfered itself to behind the people, supporting its backs, encouraging its use of a power beyond present day imagining. Maybe a god-within; maybe an entity that will have to be born out of these totally new dimensions of thought and feeling, this released imagination. All will be affected, in the deepest possible (temporal) ways.

If the human race survives the present immense chasm, created in part from its own pollution, but also from much vaster forces of ideas and energies no temporality has control over, then, as nothing else , the symbolic round is there, the seed for an uncontainable exploration of the inner side of the human psyche. And it will be no panacea. The unanswerable questions of today will have to find answers, and there may be a dark age or two to be grimly hung on to. But, in my view, survival depends on this slight, immeasurable shift, which will turn reasoning inside out, re-energise the blood, shake the imagination out of its present sorry games, and eventually, maybe, allow co-operative human enterprise to speak and act for the good of all peoples, equally free in their widespread disparity.
And if this is all not possible, dare to believe in it nonetheless, roughly, imperfectly, rawly, even naively! And may it be many many lifetimes before it too wears itself out and a fresh unimaginable symbol rises to take its corrupted place.


it has a sudden way of choosing itself
feet may think they have the map sussed out
with all the striding possibilities resolved
(a great deal of walking goes unconsciously)

so why of a moment does the landscape
not accord with what the map suggests
and feet begin to find a nervous turning off
from what had confidently been intended

maybe the brambles here have gone askew
or the marker tree a lightning strike has bent
this field was tares before and now is oats
the look of everything has bred a light

that never was and every trodden stone
has shifted seismically away from a past
that knew itself too well to be disturbed
nothing’s in place a second-gone once trusted

so a pathway says hello the map discovers
(not meaning to but freshly finding right)
and feet congratulate themselves to learn
from the start they had this walking in them

the pathway chosen is an ordinary one
once revealed the map has always shown it
who walks it does so with contented eyes
it’s where it goes to no one’s been before

the break-up time

such a storm raging beyond
the senses we try to track it with
mountains crumble inside our words
gravity becomes a lead weight

no time for greatness (vast conceits)
fashions unfold like stick umbrellas
in a cocktail glass (gaudy and smart)
intellect gags upon the question

for fear of stricken answers (today
can’t stretch its yester-legs
for all its striving to be new)
we metamorphose into scree

take a deep breath and think
a good bad-time to be alive in
disintegration gives carte blanche
to future hope (the fool is crass)

fools say the earth is singing
its crannies sucking in old seeds
poems (long since scorned) re-stock
them with nutrients unguessed

these goings-on are deeply painful
nature (bewildered) arse-about-face
seas can’t keep their tides in order
vague talk of reshuffling the stars

so damaging the gossip it’s best
to say nothing – have hiccups (hold
breath and count to four thousand)
imagine a seed’s inside – and listen

where we could be now – choking
in scree and willing a seed to tick
(nothing much else to hang on to
but to dice for the first green shoot)

we exist in the break-up time
annihilation’s sirens are cooing
more seeds though in the earth
than any worn god can credit

keep fingers crossed against murder
(the sprays of iniquity) even
when the mists are lethal some-
thing good goads the nerve to grow

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Actors - and Professors of Power!

Once the "Word is God" (the Eternal supposition) is translated to "I -we - stand for, am - are - representative of, the Word of God" (the Temporal betrayal) the authority-actor takes comfort from the God-wall at his back (wraps its cloak-of-power around his shoulders) and faces those to-be-authorised, daring to believe in his own God-granted invincibility. The divine position may be an open sky, fronted by pillars, raised by steps, cut off and made more mysterious by curtains. Those to-be-authorised may have their own raised viewpoints, according to rank, or be flattened to the dark ground. The essential demand is that they face each other. Those in authority open their mouths and the voice of God comes out; those-to-be authorised are there to listen, to be told what to do, to be led into the conclusions they must draw. They have no real say in the proceedings; but they have a certain power over the authority-actors. That of judgment. They can look to the God behind authority and see authority itself in God's shadow. Authority pouts divinely, but can never quite get its act right.
By its nature, and its profoundly accepted conditions, that part of the world that operates by profession, in allegiance, understood or not, to the powers-that-be, has to work by regulations at odds with those demanded of the being-breed, whose sacrifice is of a totally different kind. Its profession is to accept the higher wisdom of the properly appointed (and approved)professors. The more willing it is to do this, the more benign the professors can be in the treatment and advice they dole out. It has to assume, for its own good, that the act of profession it meets with every public moment of its life has been designed solely for its own benefit. (The confusion of that assumption exactly states the everyday condition of life!)

Actors beget actors, as the need over the eras and ages requires dramas on a larger numerical scale. Royalty (the first rank of actor in the name of God) needs its court, its inner ministry; these actors need their commanders and political and social structure-bearers out in the field. As Authority sucks in more to its needs, so word of mouth no longer suffices. Lesser authority has to be trained and institutions have to be set up. All actors, all professors of power.

As one gets drawn into the power-structure, the more one has to profess rather than be. A separation has to grow between inner truth and the truth necessary to play the role authority is prepared to pay for. Eventually the two truths may appear to merge, as the being convinces itself, for its own ability to survive in the controlled world, that there never really has been any difference between the truth experienced and the truth professed. The God-wall, from which all power derives, becomes both surrogate parent and dictator, however benign.

In theatre terms, then, all stage structures that retain the back wall (proscenium, end-stage, side-stage, semi arena) come from the same stock. Each offers a variation in degree of authority, and in the nature of its benignity; but all accept that the voice of God comes from behind, whether as encourager, goad or whip. Where the audience receives from, and the degree of its spread, it remains in front of authority's actors; however much the arc of its "spray" says something about the nature of the exercise of authority (on a thrust stage, it may appear that the actor is chancing his power as he moves out from the touch of his all-powerful boss) the defendable position that is occasionally sallied from is never unclear in the performer's assessment of his own safety. "God's in his heaven - and all's right with the world - provided I can nip back quickly enough!" (I use "he" and "his" uneasily; replace them with "she" and "her", if you like, or "they" and "their", or "he/she" and "his/her" to the tune of your own ear!)

Every citizen faces ranks of actors, each rank increasing the impenetrability of power. In the theatre, the most immediate rank stands in the lit-space, and seems to absorb all the glory and charisma. From this front rank come the celebrities the present is plagued with. But, of course, as elsewhere, there are ranks of more powerful "actors" behind them, who get their power from their hiddenness. Nothing symbolically shows that more than the proscenium set-up. Behind the curtain is the "real" world of the professors, served faithfully (so we are led to believe) by the slaves who ensure that the performance is able to function technically; but much more effectively defined by the ranks of decision-makers who increasingly turn on the word of God the further away they are from the stage itself.

The crisis though is essentially stuck fast in the folds of the curtain. The system has created the professional as the front-runner. There are sufficient professionals on tenterhooks about the role they play. Their reasons for operating from the lit space may be a thousandfold. Many look to spark the revolution from within, by a way of pushing the process to a more honourable world during the blinks of their superiors' eyes. (Some of their superiors think they are doing that too.) Stage actors particularly (but not uniquely) think the contents of their programme, the scripts that blaspheme against the very symbolic structures they pay their lip-service to, somehow overcome the insistent authoritarianism of the form. By doing so, they actually conduce a greater homage. To turn a form you have to break it. Revolutions that think they can take the form over for their better ends succeed only in becoming the better tyrants.

To shift out from the curtain, even getting rid of it; to play to two or three sides and not one: this may daringly dabble with evolution (the contemporary position) but the back wall stays inviolate - and whilst that is the case, the King keeps his crown, in one guise or another, the professing class still has the hand of authority urging it on. God (allowed to be there or not) - monarch - court - civil service - institution - professional class remain in control of the various contours of the hill. The doers say what's what. And in the valley (also with its created rifts) the receivers, the hoi-polloi, the ordinary-made-mediocre, the strivers-to-better-themselves, the scapegoats, the rejected, the unfortunates and the mavericks are fed messages over and over advising them how best to cope with their inadequacies.

Professionals have to step out of the lit (raised) space - and what then? The symbols are in place; shifting them into practice is what today's life on a hair's-breadth is all about.

roundels in honour of the round

when energy was born it asked this question
which way dear parents do i go from here
mum fluttered indifferently (i blame exhaustion)
dad pointed with his sexual gear

so energy thrust straight ahead and fostered fear
at once its dreaded source became a bastion
too holy to be doubted - mum flipped a gear

she sought revenge on dad for his lewd suggestion
taking too long of course - things went nuclear
the scale of the damage was too much to ingest when
dad pointed with his sexual gear

she sat with her flowing skirt spread out on the earth
and tore the garment into strips from toe to waist
laying them to point around the wide world's girth
my way the truth flows best

dad laughed his head off at the pointless waste
and energy itself was seized by powerful mirth
perhaps mum's petalled skirt was not well placed

in time mishandled plenty breeds its dearth
dad's roisterous one-way-ism was disgraced
energy began to sense what mum was worth
her way the truth flows best


since the essence of wisdom
is that wealth is the source
of great suffering surely
the under-developed countries
should honour the western bankers
for forcing them to enjoy
the fruits of such dire poverty

Which is enough (enough is too much did Blake say?) for now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Brief post for a brief possibility

We live in the most dangerous of times, when an aeon, with its eras and ages, is coming to an end. The macrocosm and the microcosm are in accord. Not coincidentally, the new God of science has put the means into the human hand to destroy itself and its environment. We are on a knife-edge to oblivion. Massive cosmic changes seem to be lined up for our solar system to pass through. The delicate balance of natural forces that enables Earth to sustain life, and human existence, may be in acute jeopardy. And in the day-to-day dilemmas of all of us, without exception, we act out the effects of those vast pressures through a collection of behaviours we pretend to be inspired by cock-ups inevitable to the human condition.

Slowly though, if painfully, we realise that if the macrocosm lays down its heavy patterns on the microcosm, the microcosm may, by the alteration of its day-to-day procedures, have some power to change the overwhelming template. We are scree in the foothills of the authoritarian (authority from above) mountain. Its only alternative is the egalitarian (authority-from-below) uprising. This is the simple, but immense proposition locked up in the shift from the symbolic proscenium to the symbolic round. We cannot deny the aeon or its eras their power; we cannot undo the ages our forebears have gone through, in consequence of these larger, untouchable structures, to bring us to this sorry (maybe) but crucial point in time. We can though, even if we are doomed through tardiness to fail, grasp the significance of those patterns working themselves through in our lifetimes, and attempt to rejig them at the point of possibility - now, and all the nows to follow if we are allowed them - if we allow ourselves that common-sensical privilege.
In order to understand it, I have reduced it, for my own benefit and limited ability to grasp, to the story of theatre structure. Of course, the problem is vaster, more awkward and frighteningly more complex than where and how plays are performed. But for a pin-head brain, maybe a pin-hole camera is a good way to begin to understand the changing nature of light.
This is a brief post - for a brief possibility. But, for all my obfuscation so far, I am now at the stage of this argument where something may become clear. I have to go on holiday for a week. I'll be back!

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Wrestling with the Idea

The underlying (core) idea of an age (its spiritual assumption) represents a new (or revised) view of the relationship between the Temporal and the Eternal. Out of this assumption arises the structures (mental and physical) through which it can be translated eventually into daily living.

The idea, symbolically assembled at a deep subconscious level, comes into the perception of seers (oracles) who first formulate it into language through codes (and maybe the speaking of tongues) until its significance, never completely understood, shifts upwards and outwards into philosophic and more practical spheres, and begins to be interpreted in terms of available building materials, enclosing shaped assembly places that reflect that first ideal spurt. As the idea breaks the surface and grows, so the enclosing buildings modify themselves in tune to the spreading complexity of interpretations arising from a variety of experiences. All the time though, for as long as the first assumption can hold on to its essential truth, the structure remains at heart faithful to the impulse that brought it into being. When the truth loses its resilience, and has to yield to a fresh assumption, the structure finds itself increasingly under attack. The sum of ideas blanches, and the structure becomes a dead one, awkwardly containing the hostile new, debilitating its development, until it is forced to collapse under the relentless strain.

Norman architecture gave way to Gothic, not because the spiritual assumption was in a state of collapse, far from it, but because important changes were inwardly demanded of the older structure that could no longer sustain the old forms of divination. Architecture and idea changed their form together. Medieval gave way to Renaissance with its "rebirth of learning" and the old theatres became increasingly untenable.

The Proscenium Theatre was no accident. It was unremittingly fashioned by the Renaissance idea. The Renaissance threw over the Medieval fixed idea of Heaven to the right and Hell to the left with a static world in between, re-admitted the Classical, forged a middle-class link between High Society and the Serfs and coalesced around Descartes' "I think therefore I am" - Head over body/ reason above all - and the emergence of the individual. Perspective, mechanical and technical ability, the enchantment of scene making (the growing dominance of eye over ear) and the ability to light a scene) brought about the proscenium arch and its curtain, so that changes in the performance-space could be achieved without the audience looking on: but all these changes came about in the practical world because the deepdown assumption about the relationship between the Temporal and the Eternal was shifting. God was being brought nearer betraying the mutability of his face. He was having to talk through the landscape rather than superciliously from above it.

To perform is to asssume a form per which the communication is made. The form, whether consciously or not, affects the nature of everything fed through it. It is the controlling factor that goes without saying. We are so imbued with form that mostly we forget that it is there. In an age where content (behaviour) is rated above all other conveyances of meaning, form is taken for granted and then sworn not to be involved.
Spiritual - symbolic - philosophic - practical: these four aspects of the form share their values with each other. Start with one, the other three can be induced.

The Proscenium Theatre consists of a box-like structure with one of its sides replaced by an opening with a movable curtain. The stage is a raised platform, with the curtain (and arch in front), backed by a "wall" or backdrop, with two "wings" - spaces, masked from view, where stage-hands operate, and the various mechanical, electrical devices are operated from. Before the curtain, when a performance is in operation, sits the audience, anonymously and in the dark, ready to receive the offerings from the important lit space.
This theatre is part of a building, to the front of which is the box-office and, buried somewhere in its recesses, the supporting functions of theatre, where the administration and various strata of staff reside (in their working hours).

The box-office is a filtering agent, allowing in those who pay and keeping out those who don't, or can't. The audience, then, is not so much the people, but its representatives (chosen or selected in some way). The box-office also filters further those who are able to buy their way in: according to the price paid, so the seats are graded, the "better" ones going to those who pay more. The established hierarchies of society outside the building are carefully copied within. In a capitalist world, this is the way it should be. The more important a person you are judged to be, the closer to the action you are entitled to be. However, in the performance, you are still one of those who sit in the dark, receiving the message that is in the process of being conveyed. The nature of the performance, and its rank in terms of class or quality, determines the nature of those who turn up to experience it. The status of a performance can be judged both by those who turn up to witness it and by those who stay away.

The performance area consists of a raised lit space, from which the creative (or otherwise) pronouncement is transmitted forwards into the dark, against a "fixed" back wall, and with masked lightless spaces around. Those who cavort in the lit space are the chosen message conveyors - chosen for their skills at getting the message right. Their job is to inveigle the darkened "receivers" in front of them into a suspension of disbelief, so that the potency of the message can be swallowed whole. These lit-space performers spend years learning the techniques by which this "inveigling" can be best achieved, even if their messages are more relevant to the world of the lit space than to that of those sitting gawping (and responding) in the dark.

However the lit-space figures, with their charades, are themselves not their own bosses. They depend on three other forces: the slaves in the wings, who have been trained also, but to do the menial jobs that enable the lit-space presentation to run smoothly; their professional masters who have brought them to the pitch of being able to deliver the message properly - director, stage manager,designers of lights, sets, sound effects , costumes etc; and the management structure in which all else is cocooned, the administrative overlords who exercise the final judgment about what kind of message can be handled in the first place. And all these levels, emanating from the need for a lit-space, are held in the grip of, and mimic the controlling structures of the social mores of the surrounding macrocosmic society.
And then there is God, whom this structure simply cannot allow not to exist, even if, with the advent of machinery and increasingly complex scientific posturing, the nature of that God can be played with in all sorts of surrealistic ways.

God, and the implications of what I think I'm saying and why, as a result, the proscenium stage and all that it stands for has to be on its last legs - I'll leave to my next post.


(written in 1978)

if you want a revolution attack
symbols not systems - the simple forms
that (blithely) give the truth away
tying down millions to their terms
quietly with no one answering back

where the stage is makes the play
keeps actors (meanings) to those norms
stability requires - change tack
(remove the stage) violent storms
will sweep the old regime away

eventually there'll be no going back
once new symbols breed new germs
and strange hopes redesign the day

the world's in a bad state
leaders who cannot grasp
the immensities of living
people caught in the clasp
of ignorance (stuffed with hate)

essential substances giving
off poisons (the nuclear asp
already biting) too late
planet earth at its last gasp
maybe by chance surviving

just one crude hope as bait
for a fresh world - a loud rasp
of chaos (dreamed-sense reviving)

nothing happens most days to suggest
urgent forces are surging from the earth
changing the vital measures of our lives
most people plod through states of little worth
it's hard to point to a hope that has progressed

but once your head's been turned a vision thrives
in every aching cell - once more a birth
has found a savage time to be expressed
tawdry signs squeeze richness out of dearth
a different way of feeling thinly strives

a sick worm gnaws the fabric of the west
yet out of sickness something close to mirth
takes to flying - soars and wheels and dives

apologies - i keep on (i know) too much
about a new world breaking through the drab
when common sense demands the world is doomed
i share with most rank horror of the slab
laid out for all of us at the nuclear touch

but yet i feel the doom too much assumed
the death-wish is a kind of power-blab
to nobble the life-force (the wizard's clutch
freezing our parts) denying our right to stab
upwards from our own earths into a bloomed

array of truths no god would grant as such
gifts (long decried) of the common gab
furnished with joys old-fangled and new-broomed

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Genesis of the Proscenium

the actor

acting is not the true self's dissipation

but not its preening either - outside the role
it honours it best fights shy of reputation -
being what prometheus stole

it is a distant spark of that first live coal
a conscious glimpse of human desperation
rekindled as a longing to console

the waning spirit or the shattered dedication
actors are allies of the delphic hole
for good or ill they echo human expectation

being what prometheus stole

After sixty years of commitment to theatre, I still find it difficult to present the multi-aspects of ideas that determine theatre shape. Stephen Joseph saw that shape in theatre, the creative experience most in touch with the presence of people, derived not by accident, nor by the needs of theatre practitioners, but from the pressure of the spiritual assumptions at the core of the ideas that allowed a society to function. That is, for example, in Western history, Greek, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance, theatre architecture symbolically represented, and was an expression of, the assumptions deeply rooted in the inlaid practices of the time.

The key relationship in all theatre is that of the actor to the audience; but that is qualified by several other factors, all combining to make a symbolic portrait of the flows of power, spiritual, philosophical, social and practical, that make up the conglomerate (contemporary) modus vivendi.

Scientists claim they are getting close to reaching back to the start of the Universe - but as to what was before that, what sensible guesses can be made? Eternity (The Eternal) is unknowable and inchoate, even though it must be the sum of every possible form of time.

There are three kinds of time that can fall easily into the grasp of the human mind: the aeon, the era and the age. They constitute the Temporal. The aeon is a stretch of time indifferent to all planetary life. It works to its own harmonies and rhythms and mighty upheavals. Somewhen, in some aeon, life began on earth, either from some fluke within its own composition, or by intervention from outside masses or forces, or by supernatural connivance.

Whatever, by the time the light of reason or the dark of instinct manifested into human consciousness, the fundamentals of the origin of the life we know were already beyond human exposition. The Eternal could be experienced only as a metaphor: it could not be attained. None of us could do more than gawp outwards (inwards) or backwards, creating theories, imagining, dreaming about the consequences of forever.

An era is a fragment of an aeon, an imaginable cycle within an almost unimaginable one. The sum of eras is the sum of human perception: it is that unit of time that marks the complete cycle of the movement of ideas. An era is both governed by the aeonic rhythm it is a part of, and a container of a spiritual assumption, so overriding that it colours every sub-assumption that grows from it.

An era is defined by, and stretches from, the coming into consciousness of a spiritual assumption to its wearing out and settling discarded into the folds of old time. An age is a section of an era; it modifies a spiritual assumption, carries it on into its next stage of development; but it works always within the limits of that assumption, wrestling with its ongoing implications. An age wears out when the implications of the spiritual assumption want to move beyond what the age is capable of resolving.

An era carries the whole idea; succeeding ages carry the development of the idea through its stages, as it rises from concept to climax and then falls away.

As an age is to its era, so an era is to its aeon. In beyond-human terms, the aeon too is a natural conception, concocted by the shift of vast cosmic forces being played out upon the planetary system. It too works by its own logic, causing rising and falling cycles of natural behaviour. Aeonic patterns wear out, and a fresh aeonic rhythm conjures itself out of the void to preserve the infinitely complex balances that stop the whole system blowing itself to pieces. (Even the language in this is a guess, even as the theory is: at best, it is a mataphor.)

Or put it this way: an aeon begets eras, and spans several of them; an era begats ages and spans several of them. Some ages may be sub-ages: changing the idea, but not shifting the weight of it sufficiently to claim proper age-dom.

So what has this to do with the proscenium? Everything, in the long scale of things!

In "The Masks of God", Joseph Campbell suggests that all we are now can be traced back to Mesopotamia, six (?) millennia ago. Let's say the modern era began then. Out of Gilgamesh, shifting westward, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Norman, Medieval and Renaissance ages grew, maybe give or take a few, and to see things through an Euro-centric eye.

Each of these civilisations grew around a changed assumption about the relationship between the Temporal and the Infinite. Essentially a spiritual assumption, since the sacred stories (myths) that accrued to each change of idea, expressed themselves through a changing definition of the godhead. However, although each idea "moved on", and pretended that it did so by rejecting what had been believed before, it nevertheless retained more of the old supposition than it liked to admit, and more honestly was an added-to interpretation of the previous sacrality, rather than a total renovation.
A spiritual assumption, symbolically conveyed through myths, needs to accrue a structure, architecturally-symbolic, a form within which ideas and actions can be conveyed, reflective of the assumption but also exploring, probing its validity and relevance to the changing times; a form faithful to the assumption, enabling the ongoing contextual debate, but itself affected by the nature of the conclusions being reached, until such times as the form finds itself to be inadequate, and is forced to alter, in some particular in order to enable the debate to reach out into newly discovered territories.

Such a change of form also reflects back on the validity of the assumption that begat it; and in minute ways the assumption has to adjust too, which again adjusts the form which again enables the range of the debate. There is then, within the era, a constant flux of change and adjustment, until the form is no longer capable of further adjustment, and the assumption itself either has to adapt in a major way or collapse in favour of a fresh spiritual dogma. When the form gives way, a new age comes into being. When the spiritual assumption is worn out, a fresh era begins. Meanwhile the aeon, bustling and puffing its way through its own massive contents, will itself (say every 26,000 years) reach the end of its own convulsions (each one of which has directly, if unrecognisably, affected each flick of the age's debate) and a fresh aeon, stirred up with a very different sense of itself, will start its own lonely climb towards "harmonising"
the cosmos. I suspect, by these reckonings, when aeon and era and age find themselves exhausted at the same time, then the whole existence of the planetary system (if not the universe) becomes fraught. (And this may exactly be the point of existence we are at now.)

Assume though that we're not, despite the closing-down antics presently being indulged in by statesmen: we are certainly at the end of an age, where western domination, the so-called Renaissance (a bit of word-play I gather of the 19th century) are being left stranded out of water with the ability only to gasp irresolutely at the world that is turning in on them. Plenty of people, such as Nietsche, Oswald Spengler, Thomas Mann, Henrik Ibsen, have been putting the markers out for well over a century.

What has this to do with the proscenium? We're getting to it.

Out of the relationship between Temporal and Etaernal - the spiritual assumption.

Out of the spiritual assumption - the symbolic form.

Out of the symbolic form (architecturally translated) - the practical form.

The practical form determines the permissible dialogue, and the relationships through which that dialogue must pass and with what social constrictions.

Theatre shape becomes the template, the form pressurised by the state of ideas the spiritual assumption has expressly come to.

Each age's theatre-form therefore can be de-constructed to reveal the workings of its contemporaneous "civilisation" - that is, its controlling channels.

The proscenium (ah!) stage came into being as the product of the change in the spiritual assumption (the one that probably started out in Mesopotamia millennia-ago, but forced to modify itself through several ages and sub-ages since) that brought about the Renaissance, and, for all sorts of interlocking reasons, gave the "Western world" a leash of power it has exploited, so far, ever since.

In Medieval times, a much more static social organism, the divine right of Kings began giving way to barons; with the Renaissance, with the rise of the middle classes, and its greater grasp of technology, fluidity entered the system and Authority was forced off its high horse and expected to be more accountable to the (important) people. Theatres moved indoors, seeing became increasingly as important as hearing, perspective was rumbled. Opera, in Italy; ballet, in France
became the rage. The spoken word began to lose its need to be everything in performance. Machinery made illusion much easier. The world of the "imagination" (scenically-interpreted) became a world apart from that of everyday patter. Myth was lessening its hold on ordinary perception. Business and entrepreneurial individualism took over. Scepticism and distance paradoxically grew as the key bodies of the enfranchised expected the powerful to act on their behalf. The somewhat arenal structure of the old theatres (heightened stages, but audiences able to be on three sides) gave way to end-on structures.

In Medieval Theatre, exit stage R was to heaven; stage L was to hell. Man was torn between the two. The backcloth (background) was static. The Proscenium Stage became an embodiment of the Renaissance, though the Arch took some time to come. Machinery intruded into the performance; sets were devised to show off perspective; the backcloth became more fluid. The need for historical accuracy crept in. The basic spiritual assumption undewent a considerable modification. Elizabethan theatre turned into the darker Jacobean variety. Masques became the fashion. With Protestantism (in its Puritannical phase), theatres were banned for a while. Charles came back from the continent stuffed with the growing fashions of a renewed Catholicism. Tennis courts were taken over and converted into performance spaces - audiences became long and thin. With the ability to light, actors, for their own safety retreated up into the lit space; the unruly audiences very gradually (over two centuries) had to be tamed. Professionalisation was the rage: The creation of trained institutionalised "experts", trying to be serious about their jobs, needed protection from the representatives of the "hoi-polloi" who increasingly were not the hoi-polloi at all: except at some point the theatre split into two: the old native tradition survived as music-hall and pantomime; the new theatre, picking up on its revived classical roots, went for the more high-blown stuff; but, for both, the stage became entrenched as a mysterious, cut-off, magical place of spectacle where the lit experts cavorted, and the unlit gawpers-in increasingly shut up (except to laugh and applaud). The Proscenium Stage, replete with its arch, found the form that still dominates theatre today in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. It mutated, over time, into landscape and fourth-wall theatre (among others) as the major ideas of the day wrestled with the difficulties of handling the underlying spiritual assumption, that the Renaissance was both struggling to be loyal to, but growing increasingly critical of.

(I'm getting there! The next blog will look at what the Proscenium is really saying - and why we need to dump it from the way we look at things. )
a roundel for ptolemy

the earth is not the system's centre- so ok
heliocentric - well our sun's a midget
spawning galaxies blow our minds away
space then equal to a digit

the mightiest telescope's a widget
science at best hard guessing gone astray
no genius stretch beyond a second's fidget

ptolemy discarded yet may have his say
infinity takes a hologram to bridge it
each shard of us contains the cosmos -
space then equal to a digit

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Deconstructing the Proscenium - early stages

When I retreated from London to Southampton, I started with the thought that the proper alternative to the Proscenium would be the open stage - not sure when I read Richard Southern's book of that title, but its arguments impressed me greatly - so went about setting up a small company The Rostrum Theatre that gave no doubt what I was about. Swollen-mindedly, I jumped into a production (one performance only) of Othello, using a cast of friends and acquaintances, plus one apparently highly-regarded ex-professional who had come to teach in the town (now city). The venue was a downtown equivalent of The Albert Hall. It failed in most aspects, aided spectacularly by the ex-professional, playing Othello, who had quit the stage, I then learned, because he had to get drugged up in order to perform. After which, those in the company still willing to admit being part of it would stay members only if performance was confined to behind the proscenium arch. From 1953 to 1957, then, I did such plays as Ibsen's Ghosts, Strindberg's Easter and Priestley's An Inspector Calls, deconstructing the Proscenium set-up from within, discarding lighting, scenery, costume and stage furniture, one item after another, until the company performed Chekov's The Bear with two chairs only, both of whiich had to be broken by the end.

When the curtain rose on such a bleak vision, the audience (part of a Drama Festival) froze into dismay and found it hard to titter once at all the on-stage slapstick. Finally, before throwing in the Rostrum's towel, I wrote a one-acter for another Drama Festival, which started with an open curtain looking on to three chairs set out as a triangle on the stage's edges. The play was called Triangle; actors sat in the chairs when they were "off-stage". It was actually praised by the adjudicator.

Meanwhile, I had started teaching, and from 1955 to 1957 had written and directed three Christmas plays for large casts in the all-age Hampshire school I was appointed to. I hadn't the courage there to insist on working outside the proscenium - partly because there was already a tradition there for a stage to be built for some kind of seasonal show. My innovation was to write the plays.

Ron James turned up as Hampshire Drama Adviser during that period, was very much into the new ideas of school drama, and already an advocate of open-staging. So, at last I met someone moving along the same lines as myself (indeed rather further ahead) and I was boosted by a relationship that still continues today.

In 1958 the Senior Section of the all-age school I was at shifted temporarily into Eastleigh; I was offered the post of Head of English and found myself in an old Grammar School building with two large halls and no stage. In that year, I met Stephen Joseph, who was touring his Studio Theatre from Scarborough in Southampton, and booked Brian Way to bring his Children's Theatre Group to perform in what was now my drama hall. Both were the major advocates of theatre-in-the-round. That then was the year of my conversion from open-stage theatre to the Round, though in Ron James's Children's Theatre Groups set up by him in a number of Hampshire's districts performances stayed within the semi-arena. Since that year I have only once performed on the proscenium stage - and then to help out a neighbour working with her own amateur company in Southampton who found herself short of someone for the main part.

Much of my awareness of the value and significance of the Round started from conversations with Stephen Joseph, whom I last spoke to a week or two before his death in 1967 at the age of 46. He started, I think, as a theatre designer after his war service in the navy, and came to the Round through contacts in the United States but also with drama practitioners in the UK. Theatre shape to him had symbolic significances well beyond theatre itself; he looked at its development through Greek, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance periods in the light of its relationship with the philosophical and political structures of those civilisations. This touched several nerve ends in my own inchoate searches into significant form, nudged into being by the writings of Clive Bell and others; and since those conversations I have followed the implications of the Round at every level of my creative and social endeavours.