Monday, January 19, 2009

A different approach to fiction

While some may find this piece a bit tedious, I think it is an absolute laugh riot. My perspective may be an indication of a need for more intensive and frequent sessions of psychoanalysis; the reader can form an opinion. A writer must find an authentic voice, and, and even though mine is admittedly a bit askew, it is steeped in precedence (You'll have to take my word for it. ), and is, if nothing else, a response to that more staid intellect.

King Pissy

If I had my choice, I'd be laying on a hillside, the sun warming my forehead and a slight cooling breeze upon my balls. It can be either appropriate season spring or fall, but it would probably be autumn, all because I would be thinking about where motivation fits with humility and futility, perhaps laying comfortably between the two, like that hillside, big and sloping and then there's me, any fire smothered in the damp grass I feel slowly wetting my clothes, so slowly it never feels cold. No further reduction needed.

See how this goes? For a short while there I could have written a short story. There'd be dialogue as when life becomes a pile of sacks and neatly stacked on the floor in lieu of paying bills. Bags of accumulation don't/Accumulation of bags doesn't mean anything without bags accumulating.

See how this goes? I encourage others all day to be a shadow box. Always interesting speculations, which is supposed to be stressed: the objects on the shelves or their shadows? Or the shadows thrown by the box? Just avoid using them in a motif. And I realize I have written this before and it just doesn't qualify for insight even though it begins to say a lot, as repetition goes.

A few years back I had the lead in this play about a writer who writes mundanely about the mundane. For years the main character had been able to convince himself that this was a virtuous pursuit because, discussions about skill forced aside, it nonetheless guaranteed a certain level of integrity and challenge. One day, and without any explanation within the body of the play itself, he decides that the most meaningful thing he can do is eat a paperback book, one page at a time in a single sitting. The glue has already been consumed by cockroaches, so the pages come out easily. To eat the book, the title of which the play’s author had no compulsion to divulge, takes up the last one and a half hours of the two hour play. Although I had practiced with little scraps of paper, opening night was the first time that I actually had to eat a whole book. Halfway through I could not eat another bite, and to save myself further discomfort I took it upon myself to improvise by wondering aloud about the toxicity of the ink, knowing that even woodworms avoid type when boring through old books, and further speculated about poisoining oneself, even if unintentionally, let alone taking the bother to eat a book, was sufficiently mundane. For this departure from the script, I was dismissed. The playwright took my place for the remainder of a roundly-panned three-day run. He did not make it through a complete volume either, vomiting on night two, nearly asphixiating himself closing night.

I remained constipated for three days, understandably more miserable than when at the end of the play I (he), my character comes to terms with his lack of talent. On the fourth day the book passed without an audience, yet with incidence as it was the consistency and texture of adobe dried in the hot sun. At that moment, or rather within that hour or so, I determined I would take up sculpting.

This scatalogically fortuitous (self-determining) change in modes of expression, reminds me of when cultural life in the most undeserving city, Attica, began to blossom by following the credo of the Athenian tyrant and despot, Pisistratus (or Peisistratus) (546-527 B.C.). For such a young fellow, Pisistratus had some interesting things to say:

1. Distinguish between hatred of people and the need
to be alone. The former as attitude with cause, the
latter with little effect.

2. Beware the enthusiastic member of one’s audience at the amphitheater, flailing a spastic command of three seats.

3. She is well-dressed and waiting. Wait to see if who
she is meeting shows. If that person does not, approach
only when it is clear she is about to depart.

4. Always money.

The scholar and poet Alfonzo Rem touches on Pisistratus in his book, "Thermos: Temperaments of the Early Alchemists" (Southern Illinois University Press, 1972). It seems much of contemporary philosophical thought can be traced back as a reaction to or an elaboration of this dicta.

Apparently, Pisistratus suffered from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, among a variety of other ills (he also suffered from kidney stones), and before Pissy (a nickname given him by citizens in bad standing with their ruler), there was no knowledge of gold therapy for rheumatoid conditions. Pissy’s discovery came about quite by accident, yet was based on the symbolic notion that gold was power, demanding that he be administered a teaspoon of gold with his first meal each day to dominate over and therefore stay his symptoms. Quite to his delight, the gold gave relief to his aching joints.

So that none of his passed precious metal go wasted, he had a slave do nothing else but separate the gold from feces each day. Understandably, not wanting to re-ingest this gold, Pisistratus relegated it back to use in financial transactions. When word of this procedure was eventually leaked, merchants became reluctant to do business with their government. When torture failed to remedy his growing financial problems, P hired magicians to concoct a substitute for the gold with which he could medicate himself. They were, of course, unable to do so and Pisistratus eventually found himself with a sagging economy and a wealth of gold deemed worthless, even to himself, unless he could bring himself to continue his gold therapy. For the remainder of his short life, he lived with indescribable pain. He died of a bowel obstruction (unrelated to his ingestion of gold), in effect choking on his own shit.

According to Rem, this story is what inspired Shakespeare to write Timon of Athens. Though there is no mention of the P's condition or attitudes in the play, Timon's gregarious, overextended and over-expended hospitality eventually was his undoing. In Act IV, Scene III, Timon sits outside of the cave he has banished himself to, and while digging through the dirt, he finds gold. This, too, he gives away after remarking that he cannot eat it. This was P's over-consumption stood on its head.

It is thought by Rem, privy (while on a Fulbright) to texts Shakespeare is thought to have used in preparation of the play, that the cave stood in as an oblique reference to Pisistratus' anus, and speculates that Timon may have early on been a slave forced to sift his master's fecal matter, all the while wisely putting some aside for himself. Further evidence of Timon's familiarity with P's afflictions may be drawn from the ease at which Timon flings curses, several hoping for disease, upon the citizens of Athens.

Although Rem does not recall any such inferences in the texts he read or in Shakespeare's play regarding homosexuality, he further speculates about Timon’s sexual habits by admitting that in the back of his mind he has always wondered if Timon might be gay or (Rem does not suggest there is a connection between the two) bisexual or of a nature to prefer the company of animals. Rem suggests, based on Pisistratus' first of four dicta that Timon may have been a bit dandyish but further evidence can not be found in either the play or his research. Rem’s speculation comes more from the indication that the companions Timon kept were entirely ingratiating and their own intentions no more than opportunistic.

Rem also notes that Timon, while still in residence at his house, received gifts of live animals; and while in a rage he states that he would prefer to kiss a dog rather than Phrynia, a woman Alcibades (a traitorous general and politician of the next generation of politicians) brought with him to the cave. Even though Timon spurns the female, Rem cautions against reading Timon as a misogynist, for in Scene III of Act IV, he declares himself "misanthropos", thereby including both genders as targets for his contempt. However, this still leaves the door open concerning desires aroused by a canine.

As to the second rule, at least in the play, Athens was in civil war over the man, Timon. Number three could be read as chauvinistic but can be expanded to advise opportunistic bases for cautious observation of events (at which Timon failed). Four is self-evident and ironic for both father and son.

As to how Pisistratus' world-view becomes the genesis of modern philosophy, Rem explains that several alchemists, while in the employment of Pisastratus wrote tracts correlating the state of a healthy economy and physical body. Over the next several centuries came further analyses of the relationship between social and physiological systems. Furthermore, taken by the irony of Pisistratus' political power and physical ailments, these same alchemists wrote farces which were staged soon after Pissy’s demise, and these too brought forth considerable stylistic developments for the theatre, and from which Shakespeare would benefit.

While Rem’s reading is speculative, it does encourage a closer inspection of Shakespeare’s Timon to determine if there is any support to be given Rem’s positions. I would encourage someone else to follow up on this suggestion, as I have neither the scholarly aptitude, time or interest. I am content to let the thesis remain based on the anecdotal.

In 1972 I happened upon an off-off Broadway production of "Timon of Athens." At the time the play had a certain resonance in the anti-war/anti-government community. In Act V, Scene I, a poet and a painter come to Timon. Timon refers to the poet specifically and calls on him as an alchemist, to "Make gold of this!" at which point Timon throws dog feces at the two artists. The actors playing the artists retrieved the fecal matter, and while the one playing the artist made a small head that resembled Richard Nixon in profile, the poet recited a verse in which he rhymed “piles of shit,” “thousands of deaths,” and the “offensive on Tet.” The crowd went wild. Up until that point in the play, the audience had remained unengaged. Afterwards, and for the rest of the final act, the energy level in the audience and on stage noticeably changed. The critics who bothered to review the play said nothing adverse about the performance and made sure to include the poem in their description, insuring a month-long run for a packed theatre.

And this is how we return to the mundane as a subject for artmaking. It perpetuates itself with encouragement from the audience. Perhaps it is more convenient to exclaim that all that is left is shit, and if that is what we have to work with, then so be it. Regardless, the need to create has the stronger precedence, just as it is maintained that the best art is made from adversity. The shit may be of our own making, or the by-product of those living in our proximity. Shit is criticality, the aftermath of a system fed that which sustains it.


Anonymous said...

lily allen is fun


James said...

You have made my computer produce strange noises with that one. And my head hurts as if you and I were playing poker together.

The last sentence reminds me of the woman's comment just after the guy kissed her!