Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Dead Language Introduction


I wanted to share the introduction I wrote for John Harrigan's Dead Language. It's available as hardback (linked) or eBook at Weaponized...
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    When I first saw the Foolish People put on a production, it was at the Esozone event in Portland, 2007. The venue wasn't especially conducive to the performance. The audience had been hypnotized into a sort of stasis from hours of panel discussions and lectures, not to mention half-drunk from the bar, if my personal state was any indicator. Despite all of these things, it was a magical experience: sometimes slightly uncomfortable, sometimes hilarious. Most importantly, it passed beyond the realm of passive entertainment and managed to ask a very old, tired question in a new way: what is art, and what is the role of the artist in society? 
    Anymore, it seems generally facile to ask question like “what is art?” Within the context of the art world, art has spent the past couple decades talking about itself, deconstructing itself, removing itself from the sphere of people's lives and actual concerns that it seems even more of a futile or masturbatory exercise than ever. This might be the only reason why it is worth re-approaching this question, precisely because it has been asked so much that the answers all become a cacophony of white noise. We don't need answers, we need demonstrations. Or perhaps, we need to actually be pulled into the process ourselves. We need to see for ourselves. To feel, to touch, to have personal experiences that cannot be reproduced. 
    Having worked with John Harrigan in writing projects since, I think I can safely say that this is one of the reoccurring themes in his work- not, as many artists attempt, to make you look at the artist or the artistic process from the outside, but rather to grab you by the head and drag you inside it. For those without any experience of this terrain, I imagine the experience can be quite off-putting, and I also imagine that there might be some glee on the creator's part in that. But maybe I'm projecting. 
    Joseph Campbell once said that if an artist wants to insult you, he'll explain what his work “means.” We shouldn't need to ask, we just need experience. So I don't want to go any further into that for fear of inadvertently insulting you. Instead, I'd just like to share some more thoughts on the artistic process, before letting you get to what you came here for: the blueprint of an experience. (What is a script but the blueprint of an experience?)
    At its most basic level, art is a form of self psychotherapy. The real challenge for the artist comes in with you, the audience. Should an artist focus entirely on this imaginary audience — and forgive me for calling you imaginary, but during the process of creating something, it is the artist's idea of an audience that comes into play — they become something other than an artist. It becomes about demographics, about desire, homogenization and consumption. In other words, it becomes industrialized. On the other hand, should an artist focus entirely on themselves, using only the language of their internal mythology, what they produce might have no place in the world. It is the detritus of a therapeutic process, shed skin, a discarded membrane. 
    So, we have to ask, how is any of this relevant to any of us? I'd like to quote a little section from One Half of Robertson Davies, where he poses his theory that all writing comes from dreams: 
The dream world is the arena of human experience in which the Conscious Mind and the Unconscious Mind meet and the elements of the dream come from both realms in varying proportions. Literature — poetry, novel, and drama — is a product of its creator that draws upon the conscious experience and reflection, but important elements in it come from the Unconscious realm.
The reader, or the playgoer, is powerfully affected by the elements of the poem, the novel, or the play that arise from the writer's Unconscious, and anyone who is sensitive to literature is sensitive to this dream-like aspect which speaks to the dreamer in himself, and the more powerful this dream-like aspect the more powerfully it will affect him. 
The application of this way of looking at literature to drama is special, because in the theatre an audience, large or small, encounters the play at one time, and in so far as they play they encounter is a dream, they may be said to dream it together. ... in the theatre we dream together, and the sense of community gives special power to our dream. 

    The binding thread between the dream of the artist and your own dream lies in something that the psychologist Carl Jung recognized, that dreams are the root of myth as well; that some dreams are, in other words, the seeds of our common experience. Artists cannibalize themselves, fuck their dead past selves for your entertainment and edification, so that you might also have an encounter with these root experiences, these elementary ideas, if you dare go there. 
    This transformation can only happen within you, resurrecting the dead words on the page into something new and living. Otherwise they remain little corpses, stamped on dead trees. Resurrect them, or don't. The choice is entirely up to you.

-James Curcio, 2010

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