Logical Loops With Georges Perec

In delightful translation by David Bellos (he uses the word circumperambulate a lot), The Art of Asking Your Boss For A Raise by French experimental author Georges Perec is best read aloud. It’s a theatrical piece with dazzling, recursive language that evokes laughter and pity at “your” plight as you tackle the practical and emotional burden of asking for a much needed (if not deserved) pay increase while in the employ of. one of France’s largest companies.

Avec Perec!

The entirety of the books 80 pages are one sentence, without punctuation, capitalization or spatial breaks. Reading the text aloud pulls you right through and makes you wonder how much we need the adornments of commas, periods or paragraph breaks. Perec wrote this short book, which also factors into the full-length novel, Life: A User’s Manual as one of its later chapters, specifically to resemble a computer algorithm. Algorithms have become a larger part of our lives since Perec wrote this in the 1970s, so it’s partially a survival guide to live in the 2020s.

The piece would make a fine one man show and also reminds me very much of Mac Wellman‘s Terminal Hip which, if you have forty minutes, you can watch:

Terminal Hip was one of the last live shows we saw in New York City, pre-COVID, at the legendary Dixon Place. We learned that Panda are bears and NOT raccoons, in a revival produced by Jeffrey M. Jones, curator of the Little Theatre series.

I digress, but thats part of the fun of Perec’s short book. Digressions and regressions are progress. Give it a read and you’ll see.

Trump as Pa Ubu

I know, I know, I said less politics. But, today’s the day that Joe Biden’s election as president has been certified by Congress and Donald Trump told his most fervent supporters to gather in Washington, D.C. to protest. Some breached the capitol, I saw reports of one person having been shot, Senators were evacuated and Trump… fled to the White House and seemingly went into hiding?

It’s amazing cowardice. Nobody is chasing Trump. Nobody is looking to arrest or harm him. What is he hiding from? It all reminds me of some of my favorite surrealist plays, the Ubu Trilogy by Alfred Jarry.

He even looks like Trump!

Pa Ubu, the main character, is the undeserved King of Poland. He’s a parody of Macbeth and Jarry’s math teacher. He has nothing but appetite for food and comfort. He murders only when he has ther advantage. He flees from any other foe. In the second play of the trilogy, he and his family decide that the work of ruling is too hard and that the prisoners, who never have to go outside and are fed daily, have it easy. So they storm the prison, kick out the inmates, and barricade themselves inside.

It leaps from the puppet stage of 1896 and right onto CNN, if you ask me.

Huge Anniversary for Theatre, Film and Literature

Much thanks to LitHub for celebrating this today:

A major step forward for storytelling in any form.

A Czech refugee working in theater in England, Stoppard had been playing with language and writing metatexts for years, but without intellectual pretense — he came up in a theater full of demanding audiences who needed to be entertained, not lectured to. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead realized the best of this, with a fun riff on Hamlet and Waiting for Godot and mathematics and probability that’s genuinely touching and funny. It’s a rare achievement in art.

A low budget film version, starring Tim Roth and Gary Oldman helped usher in a vital 90s independent film movement and put Stoppard in a good position to write Shakespeare in Love another classic from the time.

Meanwhile, Stoppard became ever more ambitious in theater, perhaps topping R&G with the expansive Coast of Utopia trilogy and the fantastic Rock’n’Roll.

Happy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern day to you all!

Happy Birthday, Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein lived the very best of literary lives because she was both an artist and an appreciator. The writers, painters, sculptors and musicians that she nurtured made the world a better place, as did her own writing, particularly The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Everybody’s Autobiography.

I do wonder what she’d make of our own lost literary generation.

Happy Birthday, Anton Chekhov!

I remember reading The Seagull in college, around the time when I’d delved head first into Sartre, Camus and Nietzsche and began nibbling around the edges of Dostoevsky. This is also when I’d begun studying playwriting and new professors exposed me to unfamiliar ideas. I entered the dramatic writing program at the University of New Mexico with Stephen Sondheim in my head as the master experimental writer. Soon, I was surrounded by Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, David Mamet and Tom Stoppard and then Bertolt Brecht and Max Frisch and Heiner Müller — just giving you a sense of where my head was at when I first cracked The Seagull. This was a huge period of awakening for a guy who really loved his Neil Simon and A.R. Gurney (and I still do!)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sovfoto/Universal Images Group/REX/Shutterstock (3827651a) Portrait of anton chekhov, Russian author and playwright, 1900. VARIOUS

I was so enamored of Konstantin’s passionate attempts to create new forms of theatre and storytelling and very much identified with his disappointment and despair at being ignored by the literary establishment, personified Boris Trigorin, who doesn’t even bother to cut the pages of the journals that publish Konstantin’s work. Also, I found Masha’s lovesick nihilism to be… quite profound.

So then I called a friend of mine, who was performing in a production of The Seagull at a college in the pacific northwest and talked about my take on the play and she had been cast as Masha in a production that, as was fashionable in the 90s, presented Konstantin as a sort of Kurt Cobain figure and she said to me, after listening patiently to my explication — “Don’t you think all of that is meant to be funny?”

Of course, she was right and I had to reread and reconsider The Seagull in that light and I also had to reread and reconsider everything that had led me to read so much earnest intent into the script in the first place.

It was a valuable lesson about how where I am in life so greatly affects my reading.

Happy birthday, Anton!

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