Do (real) writers lack a marketing gene?

Scott Adams on 'hidden persuaders'

Scott Adams on 'hidden persuaders'

O comrades, dear comrades, thank you for keeping this meeting-place alive in my absence – with special thanks to gentle @Suzan Abrams for her encouragement, and for the reappearance of two of you I’d given up for lost, @Captain Ned and @Hazlitt, with wonderfully thoughtful posts that set my head skipping.

I found those comments on my way to saying this: . . . that I’d bet anything on a hunch that only a smidgen of a fraction of a minority of you know who it was who said, ‘The more underdeveloped the country, the more overdeveloped the women,’ — and that ‘Being Ambassador to India is the nearest thing yet devised to a male chastity belt. But one can still gaze wistfully.’

That’s because members of our group share a love of language used well, and have far too much sense to look to an economist for proof of any such talent. But John Kenneth Galbraith — who served as the US ambassador in Delhi under Kennedy in the 1960s — was that rare economist who refused to take the secret vow I long ago guessed as the price of admission to the profession: to churn out only the flattest, most mind-bendingly dull and jargon-infested prose.

What reminded me of his existence was a scrap of paper that fell out of an old clippings file of mine last week. It said:

Artists who would once have sought patrons, writers who would once have sought readers, managers who were once primarily concerned with the production of goods and services, are now dedicated to shaping market response.

J.K.Galbraith in The Economics of Innocent Fraud

I marvelled, as I re-read that sentence, at how consistently a capacity for any form of high aesthetic accomplishment seems to go with contempt for the unbridled pursuit of mammon, and for setting this chase as the highest goal.

An economist, you might suppose, would be among those least likely to disagree with the ‘Marketing über alles’ creed of the MBA degree-holders who have rudely shoved literature-lovers out of the corridors of power in corporate publishing. But Galbraith, a fierce critic of corporate gigantism and capitalist excess, was an economist with the soul of an artist. Time rightly praised his Indian diary, when it was published in 1969, for its ‘first-rate prose’ – though when I was at university, it was for his complex, playfully verbose and quirky sentences on economics that I could have kissed his feet in gratitude.

The cartoonist and deadly critic of managerial obtuseness, Scott Adams, is someone else I’d put in Galbraith’s class: another illustration of how enslavement to mercantilist calculation — known as marketing — and true artistry appear to be mutually exclusive. Never mind if his talent has made him a kazillionaire. It’s clear from his work that that’s a lucky side-effect of his dedication to relentless mockery of corporate serfdom.

But why are artists so consistently disgusted with manipulation? Well, you might say, the work of ‘hidden persuaders’ – as Vance Packard labelled the media-manipulators known as advertisers – obviously conflicts with the highest aim implicit in all great art, which is revelation. Or, as the crotchety old – ‘famous but reclusive’ — painter in the 1991 Jacques Rivette film, La Belle Noiseuse, puts it, ‘We want the truth in painting. It’s cruel.’

With that question rattling around upstairs, I wondered about the possibility that neuroscience might supply the answer some day. That led to wondering whether true vocations will be found to correlate with particular brain structures, in the future – and, looking backwards, whether there might have been at least partially genetic components to occupational caste specialisations in very old civilisations like India’s and China’s. I jotted down on the back of an envelope, ‘Would caste divisions by profession map to brain structure – above the level of outcastes, who were simply people who happened to be powerless, therefore bullied?’ Then I looked at the note and scoffed, ‘What tripe!’

But in a break in the mindless and exhausting physical chores that have kept me from this site lately, there came a jaw-dropping coincidence. I stumbled on a headline from last Tuesday’s New York Times: ‘Single Gene Shapes the Toil of Ants’ Fighter and Forager Castes‘, which said in part’:

The new study is important because it shows how ants have developed a new use for the PKG gene, that of shaping the characteristic behavior of their different castes, said Gene Robinson, an expert on insect behavior at the University of Illinois. In fruit flies, a DNA difference in the gene changes behavior, but in ants it is a difference in the gene’s activity that makes the soldier caste fight and the foraging caste forage.

Now, no one should get too excited by that, since – far from being mutually exclusive — the ants’ caste specialisations are flexible . . .

because the foragers can recruit the soldiers to food gathering duties when they need extra help. When presented with a live meal worm, within a few minutes the foraging ants can induce the soldiers to help them cut the worm up and take it home.

Then, of course, not even the experts know the extent to which ant behaviour is useful as a guide to human beings. The article mentions medical research that has been inspired by findings in the ant kingdom, but that only amounts to legitimised speculation.

So all we’ve got is a train of woolgathering that some might find as interesting as I do and others will dismiss as undiluted bunk. Still, I’d be fascinated to learn what genetics and neuroscience could have to tell us about the biological differences between Ray Kroc, who made MacDonald’s the mega-monster it is, and the magnificent Jean Cocteau, who wrote:

Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work that the critics don’t like – then cultivate it. That’s the part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.

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33 Comments

Filed under Book publishing, Insight from neuroscience, Psychology

33 responses to “Do (real) writers lack a marketing gene?

  1. I don’t know about a writer’s gene (I think the sabre-toothed tigers would have weeded out most of our more introspective ancestors) but I was talking with friends this weekend about ‘ancestral memory’. I forget exactly what was said; that our actions towards our children can actually – over time – alter certain genetic or inherited characteristics. It’s been an obsession of mine for a long time. Where do our obsessions, our conditions, originate from? Can we trace a piece of body language, a quality of fear or pattern of behaviour, back to the actions of a particular ancestor? We know what we get from our parents, they from their parents, etc. It seems to slide back, past known genealogy and into myth. Imagine travelling back.

    No one in my family, that I know of, has attempted fiction. A book on church silver, yes, and one biography about 130 years or so ago.

    Most of the writers I know would make terrible marketers, even the copywriters. But the successful writer, like most successful self-employed people, seems often to have a facility for both.

    I like the advice from Cocteau. That said, the first advice I received was along the line of ‘write a plot that actually resolves in some way that makes some kind of sense’. It was good advice.

  2. wordnerd7

    @BaronC/Exit

    Would you agree that @Des demonstrates better than any other comrade someone who does exactly what Cocteau suggests — by unerring instinct?

    It accounts for the extreme distinctiveness of his style, which apparently grates on feeble nerves in some ultra-conventional minds, … but it’s the reason why the rest of us cheer whenever he turns up… I wonder whether his complete reinstatement at GU mightn’t be partly a result of reposting his censored comments here, making the Stasi among the mods look like the twits they truly are … and just incidentally, stealing chunks of that site’s traffic? ……………………..They finally caught on 🙂 !

    === But the successful writer, like most successful self-employed people, seems often to have a facility for both. ===

    … depends on what you call successful and what that would mean in literary quality, and how you’d define marketing, yes? Remember that Scott Adams, Galbraith and Cocteau are/were all famous and widely admired by the exceptionally discerning — which is why their opinions on success by manipulation and/or pandering are so interesting.

    On how memories are laid down and retrieved, … I read this a couple of hours ago:

    === Dr. Sacktor is one of hundreds of researchers trying to answer a question that has dumbfounded thinkers since the beginning of modern inquiry: How on earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything — poems, emotional reactions, locations of favorite bars, distant childhood scenes? The idea that experience leaves some trace in the brain goes back at least to Plato’s Theaetetus metaphor of a stamp on wax, and in 1904 the German scholar Richard Semon gave that ghostly trace a name: the engram.

    What could that engram actually be?

    The answer, previous research suggests, is that brain cells activated by an experience keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people joined in common witness of some striking event. Call on one and word quickly goes out to the larger network of cells, each apparently adding some detail, sight, sound, smell. The brain appears to retain a memory by growing thicker, or more efficient, communication lines between these cells.

    The billion-dollar question is how? ===

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/health/research/06brain.html?_r=2&sq=pkmzeta&st=cse&scp=1&pagewanted=all

  3. ‘Would you agree that @Des demonstrates better than any other comrade someone who does exactly what Cocteau suggests — by unerring instinct?’

    That depends. I agree that Des unerringly does whatever he wants. I don’t agree that this always results in effective or generous communication (prose, anyway, I’m not qualified to comment on verse). And I think he’d agree; at least at the ‘mea culpa’ stage of his cycle. He experiments in public, which is very brave. But I much prefer cosmic-love and gently provocative Des to the manifestation that expends energy trying to expose doubtful conspiracies. Des as a model for an artist? As I’ve said to Des before, many of our views on those particular definitions are almost entirely antithetical. And that’s good and as it should be.

    ————

    ‘depends on what you call successful and what that would mean in literary quality, and how you’d define marketing, yes?’

    By ‘successful’ I mean making a living doing something one loves whilst meeting one’s own creative standards. There will always be those who praise and those who detract: mainstream fiction for being commercial and empty, literary fiction for being pretentious or irrelevant. As the mighty Mos Def said: “All the doubters and believers are just your perceivers.”

    Didn’t the Dilbert chap used to write out 100 times a day ‘I am going to be the world’s most successful cartoonist’ or something? Like Jim Carrey writing himself a cheque for $10,000,000 before he was famous. I don’t believe commercial ambition and creative talent/standards/courage are mutually exclusive. Sometimes commercial success can distract from stodgy, bad writing; sometimes a claim to experimentalism or literature (especially in the unpublished) can be a fig-leaf for not wanting to learn the boring bits of writing – storytelling, structure, clarity – and an excuse for not listening to criticism, however wise or well-intentioned. One of the main reasons for not responding to criticism (and I’m guilty of this as anyone), I feel, is the fear that one is not up to the challenge of improving or adapting. Does a refusal to compromise always come from pure integrity or can it also be motivated by the fear of stepping outside a safe, if isolated, zone? You seem to have unshakeable faith in the sanctity and value of the lone artist and his/her vision. I just don’t share that.

    On the memory stuff, I’ll have to have another look when I’ve finished work…

  4. I’m interested in what makes an artist successful – is it because he/she achieves what he/she set out to achieve regardless or is it because his/her work has been recognised by others? Difficult – one of my heroes Henry Darger drew and wrote in isolation and his work only came to light after his lonely death when someone cleaning out his flat discovered a room full of drawings and diaries which illuminated an authentically disturbing intelligence.

    On the other hand Royal de Luxe who created the elephant and giant girl in London are loved by millions. Their work ought to be populist drivel, it’s not thematically complex but there’s something really visceral there which elevates it. Their work costs a fortune yet people are willing to spend years raising the budget to put it on.

    Two extremes but both equally valid I think.

    re: Des ( since you ask ) I like the energy of his warts and all comments but was very dissappointed in the vidclips of his readings. They might have caught him on a bad night ( it happens ) but I couldn’t believe it was the same person.

  5. wordnerd7

    ===Does a refusal to compromise always come from pure integrity or can it also be motivated by the fear of stepping outside a safe, if isolated, zone? You seem to have unshakeable faith in the sanctity and value of the lone artist and his/her vision. I just don’t share that. ===

    A lovely chewy post, @BaronC, but ‘seem to’ is right. … As I said earlier, context is everything.

    Fiction — if referring to the classic, modernist, po-mo etc. novel — _must_ express an individual vision to have any claim to excellence. Otherwise, what’s the point? … Other kinds of writing — eg., for the theatre, a primarily social form — _can_ certainly be collaborative … and can involve lots of compromise to maximise people-pleasing. …

    But would you say that if someone told Sam Beckett that he’d get more bottoms in seats by adding a female character or two to Waiting for Godot and he rejected that advice, he’d be afraid of ‘stepping outside a safe, isolated zone‘?

    Of course not. And he was the 20th c’s greatest dramatist.

    … @Alarming’s work, done collaboratively and expressly community-oriented, clearly entails lots of creative compromises. I’m sure that that’s only right and fitting.
    \
    See — horses for courses?

  6. wordnerd7

    Sorry I can’t write any more replies here or in the Editors … and Infant Mortality thread at the moment … your posts deserve more … much more … than superficial and distracted answers. . . and I have wildly temperamental internet connection.

  7. wordnerd7

    @Hazlitt’s latest post in the Editors and Editing thread about Hypatia,@BaronC, reminds us that there are different roles for artists and writers — eg., (i) as entertainers or (ii) as visionaries …Some have been lucky enough to span those categories. But see what Raphael did here:

    === Unlike almost all of the other characters in the fresco, Hypatia is depicted, not engaged in philosophic inquiry with her peers, but instead directing her gaze out of the painting, towards the viewer standing in front of the fresco. The only other figures so depicted are those of the historian, Diogenes of Laertius, and the artist himself. Raphael thereby symbolizes the roles of the chronicler, the curator, and the artist in projecting, into the future, the intellectual and spiritual thrust of the School of Athens. ===

    . . . I wasn’t going to come back today, but walking away from the computer, suddenly saw the connection between your post and his …

  8. === Didn’t the Dilbert chap used to write out 100 times a day ‘I am going to be the world’s most successful cartoonist’ or something? ===

    I went looking for this story I’d never heard … and for confirmation of my impression that he’s a programmer nerd turned cartoonist. Didn’t find the story; did find that he’s something like a voluntarily defrocked nerd. . . and then this delectable wiki scrap:

    === In 1997, at the invitation of Logitech CEO Pierluigi Zappacosta, Adams, wearing a wig and false mustache, successfully impersonated a management consultant and tricked Logitech managers into adopting a mission statement that Adams described as “so impossibly complicated that it has no real context whatsoever.” ===

    . . . sigh … what wouldn’t I give to pull off something like that myself.

  9. wordnerd7

    About @Des (where _are_ you OY?) . . . it’s just possible, @BaronC and @Alarming, that you’ve exceeded your brief … [clears throat] A most serious matter, I may say … I was proposing that he perfectly exemplifies the artist who does what he feels he must, and instinctively understands that ‘what it is about your work that the critics don’t like’ _can_ be the ‘part of your work that’s [most] individual and worth keeping,’ …. just as Cocteau said. Your – or my, or anyone’s – opinion of the results is incidental – non?

    About what constitutes success for a writer …

    @BC’s opinion: === ‘By ‘successful’ I mean making a living doing something one loves whilst meeting one’s own creative standards.’===

    Mon dieu, mon cher Charlus! some serious over-reaching, there. . . We had any number of blogs at the old place making the point that only a tiny minority of literary writers in the UK – or US – can afford to live on their earnings from literature (less than 5 per cent, I think, and wish that @Unpub – our old statistics guru – were here to be more precise). . . So I’d have to dismiss that as a criterion instantly.

    But these parts of your standard perfectly fit my own: ‘doing something one loves whilst meeting one’s own creative standards.’ … The truth is, most of us have – as I put it to someone recently – had to spend long stretches of our lives doing day jobs best described as undiluted ordure for the privilege.

    @Alarming – I do agree that the readings as they appear on YouTube don’t do @Des justice – but then does any performer come off all that well, there?

  10. wordnerd7

    . . . . . . and @Alarming asked

    === I’m interested in what makes an artist successful – is it because he/she achieves what he/she set out to achieve regardless or is it because his/her work has been recognised by others? ===

    I think that the only realistic criterion is what the artist himself, …herself … considers success. There is no other possible gauge, since some rich artists and writers are miserable about not** being taken seriously by critics and experts in their fields, while others are delighted to just have the lucre – or the reverse, in each case.

    About the tragic and fascinating Darger . . .Anyone with ‘an authentically disturbing intelligence’ who has lived for long enough is well aware of that effect on other people and that without the showmanship and extroversion of eg., a Dali or Picasso, the result is liable to be commercial failure. . . Even if Darger die died depressed, if we could reach him now to ask, do you suppose that he’d say he wished he could have painted and written any other way? Or, that if he knew in advance that his art wasn’t going to make him rich-and-famous, he’d have laid down his brushes pen and taken up … say, needlepoint? .. Certainly in his case, the creative work appears to have kept him from quite literally going mad – as anyone else with his childhood might have done. . .

    So _I_ would actually call his life a triumph. . . what if there hadn’t been art – in copious quantities — to offset its hellishness?

    wiki: === He mourned life itself. In the last entry in his diary, before his April 1973 death, he wrote:
    “January 1, 1971. I had a very poor nothing like Christmas. Never had a good Christmas all my life, nor a good new year, and now…. I am very bitter but fortunately not revengeful, though I feel should be how I am. …” ===

    . . . Thanks for the reminder of him and his oeuvre. Don’t know about Royal de Luxe: will look up as soon as I can.

    [ ** word inadvertently dropped in writing this post — sorry! ]

  11. @Wordn

    Maybe we did outstep our brief on Des, and I certainly wouldn’t want to offend, but surely if the question of outcome – the quality or otherwise of the work produced by a particular creative approach – is ignored, then what are conversations such as these about? And this judgement on quality can only be – unless (like atf) you trust the experts – subjective. Your headline mentions ‘real’ writers. So you have an opinion about ‘real’ and ‘not real’ but do you evaluate an artist’s work by the result or the process? By holding Des up as the paragon of a particular value of process, you were – as I (mis?)understood – stating your opinion of his work.

    Otherwise – and I do_not_intend this to relate to Des in any way, criticism would be of this kind: “Did you see the new ****** exhibit at the Sepentine?’ ‘Yes, wonderful, quite enchanting. Of course the work’s awful but…the way he makes it, divine!’

    Unless…you do think the integrity of process in art is more important than the finished artefact. That would be interesting. I was at Tate Britain a few years ago with a very old friend. I’d dragged him around the National, trying to explain why this or that piece of medieval church propaganda was beautiful, heart-stopping, sexy, miraculous, whatever. He was appreciative of my efforts but, I think, unmoved. At Tate Britain we then saw an exhibit of very modern, very abstract pieces of the type I struggle to see. One of them – to me a brown, lumpy, ill-constructed mess of sand, wood and paint – absolutely captivated him. He seemed transported. I asked him what it was that moved him and he described what he imagined as the process of making it, imagining himself creating something similar. It was a very active involvement, which I admired. The final result seemed almost incidental.

    Lovely Dilbert story, btw. I think he must have visited my old office, too.

    Re the chances of making a living. 5% is still five in a hundred. There are worse odds.

  12. wordnerd7

    Ah @BaronC, . . . you’re a gift to lively debate . . .

    Yes, I can — and do sometimes — react exactly like your friend to certain works. There’s often more pain than pleasure in going to the ballet — so intense is the urge to join the dancers and move with them. No use telling myself that I can only do any sort of dancing exactly as you’d expect of a nerd, or that I never had five seconds’ training in ballet. The urge is overwhelming and makes sitting still excruciating.

    === but surely if the question of outcome – the quality or otherwise of the work produced by a particular creative approach – is ignored, then what are conversations such as these about? And this judgement on quality can only be – unless (like atf) you trust the experts – subjective. Your headline mentions ‘real’ writers. So you have an opinion about ‘real’ and ‘not real’ but do you evaluate an artist’s work by the result or the process? By holding Des up as the paragon of a particular value of process, you were – as I (mis?)understood – stating your opinion of his work. ===

    Of course we judge the outcome for our personal or professional evaluations of any artist’s worth. That has to do with an artist’s connection to the outside world.

    Cocteau was giving advice in an entirely different realm — writers’ conversations with themselves. I doubt that it’s meant to be taken absolutely literally. The extent to which the writer chooses to pay attention to criticism — or not — is, after all, part of his or her artistic judgement, or what makes the person a writer in the first place.

    Yes I am indeed holding @Des up as a paragon — but again, for the kind of conversation he’s capable of having with _himself_ …. in which he gives himself permission to simply let the words flow out of him.

    In what many of us think of as the brief golden age of the GU books blog, … when some of us were fighting yet another battle to save his posts from the witless mods, … I said that his sprawling, often eloquent, wild and spontaneous comments — set beside the safe, conformist, journalistic and predictable posts above the line, read like a magnificent Dionysian opposition to their Apollonian orderliness. I said — not in exactly these words — that the contrast was one of the greatest joys of my visits to the site. . . And I stand by that.

    So you’d be right if you said I’m making an aesthetic judgment of the results of his ‘process’ there … but it is the letting go, the ‘dance like there’s no one looking’ about the way he was writing then that I found captivating on his best days. . . . It took me back to the part of my own life when everything I painted or wrote was powered by a great blazing furnace on the inside. Because other people’s opinions of the results had virtually no visceral effect on what I did, the work had a power all its own that tended to silence critics …

    I don’t think that any of us oldtimers, if we had a choice about reliving the experience of blogging together, could conceive of doing it without him. He creates his own atmosphere, and it leaked into ours — and I’ve found it more enriching than not. . . No, that doesn’t — by a long way — mean that I like or agree with everything he’s ever posted. But that again is a characteristic of someone genuinely creative. He’s not in the business of writing to please or pander or rack up high post counts or get published and give cash registers jingling fits.

  13. I think it’s a mixture of the two . I’m currently in the middle of creating a new show ( to be ready in 3 weeks ). At the moment 3 of us are rehearsing and making it in a workshop well away from the people who will see it. You go on instinct, what you know, what you want to do, what you don’t want to do but at the moment I fluctuate wildly between thinking it’s very good and thinking it’s appalling crap.

    The judges will be the audience in the end. If we can’t keep their interest then it’s failed no matter how beautiful certain constituent parts are. That doesn’t mean we have to present everything on a crash,bang,wallop level but it does mean that if we want the audience to be drawn into the poetry of what we do then we have to consider the form that poetry takes so they get it on some level. By form I usually mean the framing rather than the content.

    But audiences are also bad judges too. An audience in London is far slower to react than an audience in Liverpool, Spanish audiences have a warmth to them that us Brits just can’t match, at certain festivals the French watch outdoor theatre as if it’s an indoor show. So you can’t trust their reactions either otherwise you’d be completely over-hauling a show every time. But they do give a valuable clue as to how your work is being received .

    If the show doesn’t work then we lick our wounds, look at what we liked and try again.

    I mentioned Darger and Royal de Luxe because their ways of creating art are not just world’s but universes apart in every department and what they create is also completely different but both have that something which affects me very strongly.

    So I guess all this is saying is that it depends on the work – I love Hitchcock and find some of his films a more convincing exposition of surrealism than Luis Bunuel ( who I also love ) but he was completely commercially motivated.

    Incidentally no offense at all intended against Des just a surprise that his live readings on the evidence seemed more of someone else’s idea of how you read poetry in public. At odds with his comments on the GU blogs which illustrate a distinctive personality.

  14. wordnerd7

    @Alarming, I’m fascinated by those differences in audience reactions … hope you’re keeping notes for a book … would love to know how the Taiwanese received the P-I-G and … how do you mean the French react to an outdoor show like an indoor one? What’s the difference? … Do you mean, eg., that they refuse to climb into the four-poster bed and expect to watch the WRAS doing that for them?

    At any concert I’ve ever been to in the US I’ve been maddened by the audience clapping every time a performer walks onstage — before they’ve done a thing. . . no change in my reaction to this after >20 years.

    About

    === Incidentally no offense at all intended against Des just a surprise that his live readings on the evidence seemed more of someone else’s idea of how you read poetry in public. At odds with his comments on the GU blogs which illustrate a distinctive personality. ===

    Yes I know what you mean, there. I was so shaken by the difference that I’ve never been able to watch any of the readings for more than a few seconds … but @Sean once told us, in the old place, that @Des is _fabulous_ to watch — and once ejected him from one of his audiences, he didn’t explain why, …. but it made no difference to his fondness for him.

    Also, people clearly strangers have posted salivating reviews of DS’s readings, from time to time .. . Anyway, I suspect that for most of us, the shock of comparing our embodied selves with the people we are on these sites would be simply colossal. I, for instance am well over six feet tall (sorry I can’t do that in metres) with a loping gait and far less timid than I am as a blogger. . . Did anyone go to the Cif meeting in a Soho pub that someone suggested, about a year and a half ago? What was it like? …. @ISA, why do I think that you went to it?

    I do wish @Des would make one of his rare appearances here. But perhaps @Suzan has spirited him away to the wilds of Canada, where I know he’s always wanted to go.

  15. WN There are actually no essential differences between audiences. They tend to laugh at the same kinds of things and get offended by the same sorts of things. But in outdoor work where you’re very much playing to the unconverted it often depends on if the audience has previous experiences of seeing such work. In Bracknell they need a lot of coaxing in to see work whereas in Aurillac or Chalon sur Saone where they have a 20 year tradition of street theatre festivals presenting a huge variety of performances the audience comes especially to see the work and will queue hours beforehand if there is limited seating.

    Very different to distracting someone from their daily routine which is often the case in UK towns and cities.

  16. wordnerd7

    @Alarming:

    In Bracknell they need a lot of coaxing in to see work whereas in Aurillac or Chalon sur Saone where they have a 20 year tradition of street theatre festivals presenting a huge variety of performances the audience comes especially to see the work and will queue hours beforehand if there is limited seating.

    But perhaps Bracknell is a tough gig for any sort of show or performance, considering that there’s never anyone about:

    … is a modern corruption of the Saxon word ‘Bracknhale’ meaning ‘Bracken-covered Hiding Place’,

    … I wonder if the explanation for the difference could be that the Industrial Revolution interrupted British traditions to a degree that it never did in France? . . . a common enough explanation for the French retaining their good ‘peasant’ foods and culinary traditions, whereas too many of ours were displaced by mass-manufactured pap?

    . . . On the subject of @Des again (his ears must be on fire) – I must take back what I said about his readings. Having cancelled plans to go away later today, I had my first chance at surfing for pleasure a few hours ago and discovered that he posted a lovely one yesterday — http://irishpoetry.blogspot.com/2009/04/interview-with-andrew-motion.html … audio-only, and I think that works far better than video, because less distracting – and good in itself. . . And on the subject of him and our collective blogging history, I’ve found that @Suzan posted this rather dear report on, and tribute to, him a few days ago:
    http://suzanabrams3.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/desmond-swords/

    … And for another reminder of the golden age mentioned a post or so ago, did you see this rare – and most welcome — proof that @ldg is still among the living …

    liberaldogooder
    08 Apr 09, 3:55pm

    agents are benevolent prophylactics preventing the diseased thoughtspunk of banal madmen from impregnating Richard and Judy’s mindhive and, through that, our island nation.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/apr/08/literary-agents-use

    . . . to think that we once had posts like that to look forward to, every day. . . very big sigh …

  17. How dare you bastards not like me live on youtube, you traitors speaking honestly have upset me gravely, to the extent I can no longer consider us as blog buddies..

    ~

    A ha ! very enlightening to get the straight view. Thanks very much.

    I haven’t been about wordy because i have been working on a new computer i got several months back and it didn’t have your blog bookmarked, so it was a (pleasant) surprise to see myself a focus of the thread, and one which allowed me to see myself at a remove i have so far been unable to.

    i have just got a recorder which records in very good quality and now my dreams of five years ago when i first came, can be realised. To record do’s and post them up.

    I can’t comment on the substantive of your post, though yesterday did pick up and flick through a book at the temple sqaure bookstall whose stock forms the basis of my small library, which linked animal and human behaviour. Apparently 25% of gulls split up over the argy bargy of who will sit on the eggs in their nest, but I would be wary of going down the road of seeking genetic proof for emotional/spiritual/human behaviour qualities, as what is fact today often turns our provisional as our understanding deepens. Like physics.

    The elementary stuff you learn at 14, turns out to be a very broad set of principles which the quantum stuff contradicts, so maybe this genetic stuff will be the same if/when the scientists discover their results are not quite so cut and dried as the early proofs suggest.

    I dunno about artsits marketing themselves. I have always viewed my writing in a romantic light, which nontheless cloaks a truth about how i fell into it.

    I was working in an office environment, reading and writing voluminous amounts of documents in my role as a paralegal in London, and one night at a neighbour’s house who was twenty years senior, watching telly and gassing – he said out of the blue:

    “You should be a writer.”

    It stopped me in my tracks, because he went on to explain that he had been an avid painter who abandoned it ten years previously. I had known him for three years and he had never mentioned this side of his life before.

    He told me the tale, of how he attended art school and could have moved from Liverpool to London in the late sixties, but was too busy enjoying himself at the back end of the Beatle’s explosion in the source-city of the new era. He met Yoko Ono before Lennon, in a party in Toxteth and in the time honoured tradition, even showed me his sketch book.

    He said he had stopped painting after it being the center of his life for twenty five years, and said he had known a lot of writers and just the way i was, a gasser, that i was a natural.

    It got me thinking. There i was, reading and writing all day, essentially stories, compiling a precis of the evidence, which in large fraud cases, amounted to sifting through hundreds of thousands of documents created to mislead and confuse, which was the perfect training for a poet.

    I was a writer anyway, i had the discipline of sitting at a desk all day (and often long into the night) and my whole rationale in the work, was to make sure what i did was spot on, in apple pie order, making sure i knew what the evidence was and having it all in my head. It could be that only three pieces of paper in the hundreds of thousands were incriminating, but you had to trawl though the lot to grasp the workings of the whole. This sense that drove me to making sure all was perfect, all boiled down to being uneducated and feeling that even though i wasn’t in the same orbit as the high powered pros who benifited from my hard work, i could do the job just as well.

    I had never stuck at anything all my life because of being unreliable though booze, and at the time my neighbour suggested becoming a writer, i had been on the dry for three months.

    It resonated with me because my secret desire had always been to be an artist, an actor, ever since playing Malvolio at 14 and getting a taste for being in the spotlight creatively.

    In a way i had doen the hard work of acquiring a writer’s discipline, and was in the perfect environment to write, but nothing came. OK, I can be a writer, what can I write?

    I thought OK, write a story, but couldn’t even get a sentence out, and so my writing was confined to dry facts in which the room for creativity was nil.

    Then, on 31 December 2000, I had one of the best nights of my life, after one of the worst the previous new years eve when, although it wasn’t officially the new millenium, everyone acted as if it was.

    That night had started with a young and beautiful Brazilian woman i briefly knew, coming round to my flat after i hadn’t seen her for several months, after blowing any chance of going beyond a chaste peck on the cheek in a story to long to detail here – and asking to come in. When she came in, she then asked:

    “Do you think i’ve put on weight”

    And i jokingly replied i couldn’t tell because she had her clothes on. She then, replied:

    “Do you want me to take them off?”

    Without warning or expectation on my part, she then stripped naked and sat on my lap, asking to view a part of my anatomy i need not detail here.

    However, due to the unexpected natire of it all, she ended up leaving a few minutes later and i sat down, reviewing my life, which had just reached one of its lowest ebbs. That i managed to cack-handedly blow out by appearing indifferent, what was offerred to me on a plate, said it all I thought. And from there on in, the night went down hill and i ended up at the back of the house at seven seconds past midnight, looking at my g-shock watch, even that sad desire the night’s events had slumped into, of wanting only to claim i witnessed the exact second the new millenium was ushered in – i managed to cock up.

    ~

    The next year, the real millenium which everyone had already prematurely celebrated in 2000, i made no plans due to the bad experence the year before. By now i had been dry for over a year and my life was a lot more calm and settled. I thought i would go to a really crap pub i frequented and that was the limit of my ambition, just to forget about having the time of a thousand years and just quietly get over the fuss, alone, low key and not get caught up in the madness everyone else was preparing themselves for.

    Then a series of accidents resulted in me going to a bit of a better pub and finding two ecstacy tablets to celebrate and get artifically happy, on the floor in the toilets. Now I am a druggie of alcohol and nicotine and have had ecstacy tern times in my life, but have to admit that whenever i had taken it, it did the trick and i usually ended up in bed with a beautiful woman who approached me. The effects of mdma are such that you could be in an old mans pub watching dominoes and the night would still feel fantastic, as it removes the need to look outside yourself for a good time, which translates at some very fundamental level, of a removeal of all the usual body language signs displayed by us when in social settings, on the pull as they say.

    I do not know what it is, and even though it generates a synthetic happiness, for some reason, the few times i had taken it, i always had a brilliant night out. One which all plans were redundant and you sirf the moment. Shallow, wrong, immoral, but perfectly brilliant.

    So, my low key night, accident had led to a place where everything felt better than i could have hoped, measuring it as i was, against the previous years debacle.

    At midnight, auld lang sayne was sung, and i will never forget, there i was, synthetically happy, sober and even though it was soulsess London, an artificially engineered sense of goodwill to my fellow humankind was there, and i went overto join in with some small group in a ring enacting a rite of hew year cheer. And the gits wouldn’t let me join in, typical; London behaviour, which even that could not dispel the warm glow the two tablets i had taken an hour previously, was nicley bringing up in me.

    The pub closed at 12.30 and i was perfectly happy and grateful for the nights events. I had to walk through Alexandra Palace to go home and in the palace, was a big new years do, 100 pounds a ticket, 5000 punters, an all night do with live bands and many different spaces and entertainments.

    The thought had occured to try and chance my arm at bluffing a way in, but as i was passing i thought, no, be thankful for my lot and go home after a better night than expected.

    As i was passing the huge palace, i heard a Cornish accent say:

    “Alright mate, d’yer wanna come in?”

    It was a secuirty guard, up for the night from Cornwall and so his head wasn’t in London mode. An adventure for him.
    Naturally i said yes and the chap said

    “Give us twenty quid and you can come in.”

    Having 3.50 to my name, i said i was unable to pay, and the bloke, said;

    “Ah, sod it, I’ll get you in anyway.”

    His whole gig was buzzing of doing a good turn, just to see the look on my face, pretty much as I used to when stewarding art Lansdwone Road for the rugby and soccer internationals, that power you have as a petty official to make people happy.

    He got me in, just at the point the drugs were kicking in, and as I was entering the place, a rising wave of synthetic euphoria, aided by events, i will never forget the look on the faces of those already there, just as it started getting into high gear. Most looked miserable, half heartedly clutching their day-glo sticks, dressed to the nines, all their effort and planning put into the pursuit of a grat night, wasted as their expectations and the reality of the night, failed to macth one another.

    But for me, it was totally different, no expectations, chancing in, and as i checked my coat in at the huge marquee cloak room, a woman who i had had a very brief relationship with several months earlier, checking hers out, just me and her in the huge space and spotting her and thinking, she will be surprised to see me and if she’s checking out already, she can’t be having a great night.

    Karen, was a psychic who had a very modern idea about relationships, and when i met her, was keen that we both be free to do as we plaesed and not feel that just because we were physically intimate, that meant we should not pursue other avenues and opportunites to express the act opf physical love with other partners. Many a man’s dream come true, and in its own way, slightly creepy, not a little seedy and ultimately, a doomed affair.

    I was foolish enough one night after Karen had picked up on the psychic vibes, and prompted me to speak candidly, to tell her that I had taken her advice and was due to go on a date with a woman i had met on the bus, to which she said, as we lay in bed:

    “That’s great, really great, I’m really pleased for you.”

    But there was something in her eyes which didn’t add up, s tyhough she was saying the exact opposite of what she really felt.

    I went on a date with the woman i had met on the bus, and it went disastorously and we did not arrange to meet again. But at least Karen was there I though, but sure enough the next time I went round to carry on our no strings open relationship, Karen informed me that something incredible had happened, that had never happened before. She had met someone who had such an effect on her, that she wanted to remain monogomous and in a closed relationship, exclusively with her her lover.

    Twenty four hours earlier I had been a man on the verge of acquiring the start of a harem, and now. alone, foolishily believing the post-fem rhetoric of free and open love.

    And there she was, checking her coat out as I spent the last of my money on a ticket to stow mine away. She came over in complete surpise and decided to stay for a while, and so the night just got better. Drugs, a free party and Karen, seemingly available if i wanted to turn things in that direction.

    But i didn’t as this was a me-night, and all the north west stars were out. Ian Brown, the Gallaghers, the whole of rock royalty smoking pot in the chill out room, ushering in the new millenium, and i remember lyin down amidst all the trippers, just at one with the world and thinking, there is a God and s/he loves me.

    ~

    That night i hit on a brainwave of how i might find a way into writing, which had been on my mind since the year before when my neighbour had first alerted me to the possibility of it. I would keep a smoking diary, detailing when i smoked. Unable to write a word, i thought, strat out wityh this and kill two birds with one stone, stop smoking and start writing.

    Sure enough, on the fourth day, after three days of one line entries, a two page anecdote came pouring out and then the gates opened. Within weeks i had decided to quit my job and go to Ireland, reasoning that i could spend my time reading and writing for others and remain poor, with just enough to rent a bedsit in London, or be poor reading and writing what i wanted to.

    ~

    So for me, the old cliche is true, that writing was something i turned to because i was fit for nothing else, a last chance saloon of a man facing down the barrel of approaching middle with nothing to show ro an inner world to guide me. My biggest fear would be i was fooling myself and that the writing would be just another short lived event. I hit the bottom and at 34, finally found what i had wanted to be doing, and the way i view the whole affair, is that i am lucky to have found it before i die, so all the questions of promotion and marekting, stem from a sense that i have the rest of my life to do whatever it is wherever i am led to leads me to doing. The important thing is to be happy, find it through your art, and finding sue, writing brought that and so how can we measure success when art leads to love coming in the door?

  18. wordnerd7

    How dare you bastards not like me live on youtube, you traitors speaking honestly have upset me gravely, to the extent I can no longer consider us as blog buddies..

    Oh, @Des …. mmwah-mmwah! … 😉 . . . Honestly, it was just that @BaronC and @Alarming up to no good . . .you know what they’re like . . . _I_, anyway, did say how much I enjoyed your all-audio reading – and meant it. Would need no persuasion to listen to a lot more. . . Mysterious lines – for such is poetry — beautifully enunciated, with great gentleness; great depth of feeling.

    Apparently 25% of gulls split up over the argy bargy of who will sit on the eggs in their nest, but I would be wary of going down the road of seeking genetic proof for emotional/spiritual/human behaviour qualities.

    Yes I see what you mean. . . But I view what the scientists say as suggestive rather than conclusive. . . Must say I don’t understand why people get so huffy about the idea that our emotions have physical correlates _and_ sometimes physical causes (eg., low blood sugar leading to low moods) OR effects (eg., higher levels of the up-hormone, oxytocin, when in love).

    I dunno about artsits marketing themselves. I have always viewed my writing in a romantic light, which nontheless cloaks a truth about how i fell into it. […]
    I was working in an office environment, reading and writing voluminous amounts of documents in my role as a paralegal in London, and one night at a neighbour’s house who was twenty years senior, watching telly and gassing – he said out of the blue:

    “You should be a writer.”

    […] said he had known a lot of writers and just the way i was, a gasser, that i was a natural.

    This all rings wonderfully true – but if you’re teasing — having us on — I’m happy to be your dupe. . . Writers as _wind_bags, though, how could you have let that man even THINK such a thing ………(*&^%_+)#@(() …………….!

    He met Yoko Ono before Lennon, in a party in Toxteth and in the time honoured tradition, even showed me his sketch book.

    The showing you the sketchbook part is interesting. Not sure why the rest should be .. .hmmmph.

    i had the discipline of sitting at a desk all day (and often long into the night)

    Well that’s the key, innit . . . them Germans call it sitzfleish

    It could be that only three pieces of paper in the hundreds of thousands were incriminating, but you had to trawl though the lot to grasp the workings of the whole. This sense that drove me to making sure all was perfect, all boiled down to being uneducated and feeling that even though i wasn’t in the same orbit as the high powered pros who benifited from my hard work, i could do the job just as well.

    If you’re teasing, that’s a brilliant tease . . . if you’re not, this blog is privileged to have such a critical fragment of your autobiography. . . Would enjoy reading your descriptions of your workmates, the work environment, etc., etc.., here or at Irish Poetry or Sue’s place.

    my secret desire had always been to be an artist, an actor, ever since playing Malvolio at 14 and getting a taste for being in the spotlight creatively.

    You said something about that before at the Gulag. . . Yes indeed, . . . speaking for myself, amateur dramatics at school has a _lot_ to answer for, even if it didn’t cure the shyness.

    And from there on in, the night went down hill and i ended up at the back of the house at seven seconds past midnight, looking at my g-shock watch, even that sad desire the night’s events had slumped into, of wanting only to claim i witnessed the exact second the new millenium was ushered in – i managed to cock up.

    Speechless for laughing……………..

    The effects of mdma are such that you could be in an old mans pub watching dominoes and the night would still feel fantastic,

    This substance was once recommended to me by a grande dame – a pillar of society older even than my parents – as a way to get someone double-bolted into a snail-shell to open up. . . No, sadly I didn’t attempt the experiment – or could compare notes. . .

    But for me, it was totally different, no expectations, chancing in,

    . . . all the best things come down this road, in my experience.

    Many a man’s dream come true, and in its own way, slightly creepy, not a little seedy and ultimately, a doomed affair.

    It always seem to turn out like that — _and_ no one ever learns. . . ugh …

    and finding sue, writing brought that and so how can we measure success when art leads to love coming in the door?

    Ach, Des [ a nerd mops at a wholly uncharacteristic, sentimental tear ] … : )

  19. Des do you like you on YouTube? Personally I cringe when I see my own work on video – but it’s useful and instructive to see what I’m trying to do through the cold unforgiving eye of a camera lens.

    Not having seen you in the flesh I have no idea whether the clips give a fair picture – I would say and hope not judging by what you write here and there – and I have no idea whether you want to read your work or perform it. For me it’s a pity that all the mood swings and flights of fancy that characterise your comments don’t make it onto the clips that are posted up. But maybe that goes on elsewhere?????

    Your writing reminds me of Ian Hinchliffe, a veteran British performance artist of the 70’s and 80’s who mixed personal error, tenderness, confession and anti-social performing to create a compelling experience. His penchant for fucking up did for him and in the end he became impossible to book as the promoters never knew if he’d go on for ours or damage the venue, the audience and himself. I can still remember shows he did where you couldn’t seperate the artistic fiction from what was actually happening at that moment. He was brilliant and awful at the same time.

    Worth a google but I can’t imagine him being on YouTube.

  20. Captain Ned

    I was never lost, wordnerd, it’s just that for a while I stopped having a home internet connection. However, everything is up and running again now. I haven’t had time to read through everything here in anything more than a cursory fashion; however, the remark about Beckett caught my eye. Despite hugely admiring his work as a dramatist, I do have problem with it, which may be related to the current topic in a slightly off-kilter way. My problem has nothing to do with the literary/theatrical achievement per se, but with the restrictions put on productions of his work by his estate, which seek to limit the range of interpretation to the strict letter of his stage directions; any director with thoughts of deviation is liable to be denied a license to mount a performance.

    As you say, theatre, unlike fiction (in most cases), is a collaborative art, but the keepers of the Beckettian flame don’t want to accept this. What they seem to want is for all productions to be essentially no more than reproductions – successive, reverently faithful re-enactments of the dead man’s vision. For it is only his vision that matters; any idea of the collaboration that should take place between writer, director and performer (and stage, costume and lighting designers) is rejected because it opens up the possibility of that vision being muddied, contaminated by someone else’s vision. The cult of artistic individuality has been misapplied, with the effect that artistic freedom is compromised. Those involved in putting on productions of Beckett are reduced to the level of worker ants humbly serving the Great Queen Sam’s reputation; they’d best keep to their station, or else. It’s almost enough to make me think that there should be Beckett boycott until his estate stops acting with such mod-like boneheadedness, just out of principle – but then, that would deprive theatregoers of something special.

  21. wordnerd7

    @Cap’n, glad to hear that you’re properly wired, now, as I hope I will also be before too long – since a magician with the requisite bag of tricks is due here in about thirteen hours.

    === Those involved in putting on productions of Beckett are reduced to the level of worker ants humbly serving the Great Queen Sam’s reputation; they’d best keep to their station, or else. ===

    Funny how blogging on some of the same sites, over time, seems to bias one in favour of any comrade fighting battles with Other People. So of course I’m sympathetic – not least because this seems to mean so much to you. But I can’t help being curious about why you’d want to do Beckett differently when you could so easily write your own play …??? … Don’t worry, even as I wonder, I’m telling myself that only a fossil would ask such a question since no-holds-barred interpretations called mashups are the marvel du jour. . . I mean, what could be more brilliant than this updating of the most famous opening line in literature:

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

    No, I don’t honestly imagine that you have anything as silly as that in mind for Sam – since you haven’t checked your head in for reprogramming by marketing gurus, … as the author of this hideous hybrid clearly has, … the only possible conclusion from a NYT commentary:

    Editorial Observer

    Mr. Darcy Woos Elizabeth Bennet While Zombies Attack

    “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” — which bills itself as “The Classic Regency Romance, Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!” — has rocketed to the Top 10 on Amazon’s best-seller list by grabbing on to two hot trends.

    The first, obviously, is zombies, which have been on the rise in recent years, and — perhaps as a result of the anxious times we are living in — seem to be more popular than ever. . .

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/opinion/14tue4.html?_r=1&em

    . . . Out of curiosity that you don’t have to satisfy, which play of Sam’s were you applying to put on and what was so unusual about your approach?

  22. This must be the Age of Hybrids … someone, or perhaps just a blogyentebot just linked this site to acciaccature . . . see the wonderful illustrations for a post called Instrumental Animals whose theme is apparently beastly musical mashups. A fur-raising extract:

    “The A-Corgi-On” from Will Spartalis:

    One end of a simple accordion/concertina is strapped to the rear end of a male Welsh Corgi in heat. The musician merely stands next to the Corgi, presents his/her leg, and waits for the inevitable hump. The repeated vertical movement of said Corgi suspends and compresses said accordion, creating a monotonous hee-haw of passionate musical beauty.

    http://pradeclassified.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/instrumental-animals/

  23. Capn Ned – Aren’t Beckett’s stage instructions as rigorous as his text? I remember seeing a film of him at work on Rockabye where he went over the rhythm of the rocking chair again and again and again and….you get the picture.

    Unlike most dramatists who are more interested in the words and character interactions than the stage images Beckett was into both, which is why he’s as important for visual theatre as he is for text-based work. I can quite understand why his estate had problems with the Fiona Shaw production. From what I read that production was more about acting, characterisation and trying to make the play applicable to a particular time in history whereas Beckett is, I feel, about all the elements having an equal footing and the creation of a hermetic universe made up of the collision between text and gesture.

    Of course they are probably being too stringent but I like the fact they are resisting the cult of the actor.

  24. wordnerd7

    @Alarming, have you noticed that — certainly on this site, they may be different in other places — you and I appear to have been talking to certified, charming pookas? .. . One of them even claimed that he wasn’t lost but found. Did you see that you spoke to the good cap’n and then ….. whoooosh! ……. he instantly disapparated! … and he’s done this to me, too, in the past. [sniff] … And as for that @Des pooka ….. @)*&%$+))(& ………. !!!

    When the internet installers hadn’t arrived three hours after their appointment yesterday I telephoned and learnt that Someone had cancelled the appointment. No, said my informant, there was no name attached to the putative cancellation order . . . more pookas abroad … The next appointment offered was on the 25th, and I had to turn it down . . . So??? Don’t ask . . .

    I was mulling over that exercise in futitlity when I came upon this even worse one — … Where is my blind spot in my communications saga, I’ve been wondering — the equivalent of these women’s staggering incomprehension of what a dog is:

    === recently introduced two products to its line of Good Dog home fragrances: the Good Dog Reed Diffuser ($43) and Good Dog Soy Candle ($24.50 for the seven-ounce size). Tracy Sullivan, who is 34 and created the scent with her mother, Peggy Batts, explains.

    Q – Let’s talk about the dog that inspired this line — he must have really smelled bad.

    A – That’s Henry, the dog on our package. He was a stray. He actually stays at our warehouse. He smelled really bad and he looked really bad when we got him. He was very malnourished and he was losing a lot of hair.

    Q – The product information says the scent is amber, vanilla and lavender. Why those fragrances for a dog?

    A- These are natural soothing and calming and odor-neutralizing fragrances. I didn’t want to do a dog collection that smelled like piña colada or a fruit, I wanted something that had a little more depth to it. I’m not a big fan of your dog smelling like kiwi or strawberries.

    Q – Isn’t it just as silly for a dog to smell like lavender?

    A – I guess it is, but with amber and vanilla it smells more clean and soft.

    Q – You say that the scents are calming to dogs. How do you know?

    A – I don’t know, because the dogs cannot tell me. But I’m sure it has the same abilities for pets as for humans. Lavender is naturally a very soothing product.

    Q – How does Henry smell now?

    A – Henry smells very good when we bathe him.

    We’re out in the country. We sit in the middle of 200 acres of fields. Henry actually has a deer that he got. He’s been rolling in it. They get hit on the road. He dragged him back to the warehouse.

    Q – He hauled back an entire deer?

    A – Just part of the leg. He smells really bad.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/16/garden/16qa.html?_r=1&ref=garden

    ===

    … no, dimwit, I want to be able to tell this interviewee, it’s the subtle scent of decomposing venison that soothes dear Henry … So I ask again, what am _I_ missing when I expect communications with communications companies to make any sense ???????

  25. wordnerd7

    Part of @elcal’s addition to Marginalia . . . really belongs here:

    And to tie this into the writer/marketer topic, the agents further complain that MFA programs are teaching writers how to better market themselves, or at least write for or to agents. A bad thing, they say! Apparently the air of mystery and slush piles is important for publishing good art? (not that MFA means good art)

    No, it just proves my point. . . these agents know about the missing gene, and their point is, ‘So why bother?’ … : )

    . . . Now, marinating dogs in lavender . . . there’s a useless idea with many marketing genes behind it.

  26. WN And now I’ve gorn and done the same to you – been away working and now it’s heads down to finish a new show for early May so internettery is put on the backfoot for a while.

  27. Captain Ned

    Sorry about the delayed reply, but I’ve been away. Firstly, I seem to have given you the wrong impression, wordnerd. Despite a youthful dalliance in the theatre, I’ve not done anything of a remotely thespian nature for several years, and so my quarrel (if it can be called that) doesn’t stem from personal frustrations. It’s a point of principle, and that principle is that the role of the playwright is fundamentally different from that of the novelist or poet.

    It seems to me that the Beckett estate takes a view of actors and directors which is not dissimilar to the way principled novelists might view agents or publishers: as potential dilutors/mutilators/wreckers of the work. This, to me, is a negation of what the theatre is about – which is a collaboration between all its creative participants, all of whom should contribute something to the making of the whole. If overall artistic control must lie with anyone, then it should be with the director (assuming there is one), but this control should not be absolute, but rather flexible, forever open to suggestion, negotiation, always able to change tack if need be, or not be (practical considerations permitting).

    alarming’s point about Beckett’s stage directions doesn’t really affect this, because I’m not arguing for them to be distinguished from dialogue, that the former are expendable whereas the latter is sacrosanct. In most modern plays, where stage directions are unambiguously authorial (as opposed to those found in some editions of Shakespeare, for example, where many are the interventions of modern editors), then they should be considered every bit as integral to the text as what the characters are made to say – but this the TEXT. I studied Beckett at university; in my reading of him, I stuck to what he wrote. That was my object of study. I don’t see why those who might wish to put on a production should feel similarly bound. It’s not about a division between dialogue and stage directions: both should be on an equal footing, which means that both should be equally able to be messed round with.

    Of course, this might mean that many outlandish or even disastrous productions are mounted, but this has been happening with Shakespeare for years, and his critical stock hasn’t declined as a result. Theatre companies should be allowed to do what they want with plays, and that freedom includes the freedom to fail. In Beckett’s case, I doubt very much that there could ever be such a range of interpretation that we’ve seen displayed in productions of Renaissance or Greek drama, even in the absence of the estate’s hyper-vigilance, but that’s not the point. If playwrights feel so protective of their work that they feel they have to limit its range of interpretive possibilities, then they should give serious consideration to finding another form of expression for their literary aspirations. That’s my view, anyway.

  28. wordnerd7

    === If playwrights feel so protective of their work that they feel they have to limit its range of interpretive possibilities, then they should give serious consideration to finding another form of expression for their literary aspirations. ===

    @CaptainNed, . . about interactive creativity, what about the kinds of problems Alexander McCall Smith ran into, that I’ve mentioned in my latest (April 20) post. . . And how do you protect artistic vision of exceptional depth and originality — such as Beckett’s — when the expression of that vision is watered down by shared decision-making? . . . And I still don’t understand why someone who wants a radically different interpretation of a script shouldn’t just go off and write something of his or her own.

  29. Captain Ned

    ===And how do you protect artistic vision of exceptional depth and originality — such as Beckett’s — when the expression of that vision is watered down by shared decision-making?===

    But that’s my point… it shouldn’t be protected. The theatre isn’t about the expression of one artist’s vision – or shouldn’t be, at any rate. If you want the playwright’s vision, and nothing else, then stick to reading the script: it will always be there for you. I don’t accept that what’s involved here is a ‘watering down’; that might be what happens when a publisher demands that changes be made to a novel in order to make it a more commercially attractive proposition, but it’s a different matter in the theatre, where the ideas/ideals/lunatic flights of fancy of several people should come into contact, and then fuse harmoniously, or clash horribly, or emit discordant but intriguing notes of contrast, or fizzle out in a whimper, or whatever. Anything goes, within reason – and if people have different ideas about what ‘reasonable’ means, then the failures, no matter how many of them, don’t negate the principle.

    ===And I still don’t understand why someone who wants a radically different interpretation of a script shouldn’t just go off and write something of his or her own.===

    Well, not everyone can write; some of those who can’t, however, might be able to direct, or act, or design sets, etc.

  30. wordnerd7

    Then @CaptainNed, surely one conclusion from what you’ve said here is that you’re wishing Sam out of existence — I mean, want to see the work of the 20th c’s most profound encapsulator of the human condition . . . certainly on the stage … undone?

    === But that’s my point… it shouldn’t be protected. The theatre isn’t about the expression of one artist’s vision – or shouldn’t be, at any rate. ===

    Why do we have a tradition of performing theatrical works bearing the name of a single creator if we don’t consider those individual visions valuable and worth respecting?

  31. Captain Ned

    ===surely one conclusion from what you’ve said here is that you’re wishing Sam out of existence===

    I don’t see that that follows. It’s not my contention that EVERY production of Beckett’s work (or the work of any other playwright, for that matter) should be mounted in the most outré fashion conceivable, only that IF theatre companies wish to depart from the author’s own stated understanding of his/her work, or what is taken to be the author’s understanding, then they shouldn’t be constrained from doing so. There will be bad productions, and there will be good ones; ‘faithfulness’ to the author is not a criterion for theatrical effectiveness. Beckett will survive dud shows, whether they’re done straightforwardly or otherwise.

    ===But that’s my point… it shouldn’t be protected. ===
    ===Why do we have a tradition of performing theatrical works bearing the name of a single creator if we don’t consider those individual visions valuable and worth respecting?===

    ‘Respecting’ isn’t quite the same thing as ‘protecting’, is it? Are modern-dress or mixed-race productions of Shakespeare, for example, disrespectful? Or is the difference only that one writer has been dead for several centuries, rather than two decades?

    In 1991, the Beckett estate tried to prevent an all-female staging of ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Avignon festival; the judge allowed the production to go ahead, but only if a note by the estate’s legal representative was read out at the beginning of each performance. The note, of course, decried the very idea of female actors performing ‘Godot’ – which would have added a delicious extra element of absurdity to the proceedings; I wish I’d been there (although I’d have been 7 or 8).

    This kind of contentious, wrong-headed over-protectiveness was exhibited by Beckett himself as well, not just by his estate. When the great man’s objections to a Dutch all-female production of ‘Godot’ were overruled, he responded by banning all performances of his plays in Holland. The judge in that case argued that since the import of the play was about the human condition, and not about the male condition, there was no reason women couldn’t take on the roles. There’s the rub, isn’t it? If the play’s application is universal, then it can bear any number of interpretations. Some may be more rigorously thought through or successfully realized than others; some may be downright foolish. But that’s the potential for success or failure that is inherent in any theatrical venture.

    You can read about some of the more controversial productions of Godot here:

    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mA7ujVOEWu0C&pg=PR3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=0_1#PPP1,M1

    It’s a preview of a published book; only some pages can be viewed, but it’s a generous selection.

  32. Captain Ned

    It’s just occurred to me that I should have been a bit clearer in my wording. When I write that a play can ‘bear any number of interpretations’, I don’t mean that it can successfully accommodate any interpretative fancy – I can’t imagine being convinced by an attempt to stage ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ as a cheery celebration of the contented wisdom that comes with old age, for example, or a production of ‘Endgame’ that tried bring out a hidden Marxist analysis of mid-twentieth-century class structures – but were such unlikely ideas ever to be realised, it would be no big deal.

    One of the worst theatrical ordeals I have ever had to undergo was a student production of ‘Volpone’, which tried to load on to Jonson’s work all sorts of half-baked notions involving modern mass communication and the AIDS epidemic. It was, from start to finish, unspeakably dreadful. But then, when the curtain fell, I was left to remark on its awfulness to the friends who saw it with me, and went home. It was one bad show, nothing more; on the rare occasions I think of it now, it’s with a chuckle.

    The last piece of acting that I’ve done to date was in another student production, this time of ‘The Winter’s Tale’. The text was chopped about, there were a few additions here and there, two roles were converged into one, there were some novel bits of staging; I know I’m biased, but it was pretty well done, on the whole. Tickets went fast, the audience seemed to love it. The changes weren’t especially radical, but this in itself wasn’t the reason for its relative success compared to the ‘Volpone’ debacle; it’s just that the directors, having considered their strategies carefully, ensured that they worked. That’s all you can ask for, really.

  33. wordnerd7

    Your posts certainly deserved prompt replies, @Cap’n, and I do apologise for my sluggishness. Too much buzzing about, I’m afraid, over a few hundred miles, since Friday. But I’ve very much enjoyed being forced by you to decide exactly what I think on a few questions.

    I realise, for instance, that I lean strongly to the deepest respect for writers’ and artists’ wishes for the treatment of their work. I can think of few among the greatest of the great who haven’t paid a high price for their achievements — voluntarily or not, and that’s almost reason enough, for me.

    I suspect that not having the faintest idea of who Shakespeare really was, or about what his particular bargain with the gods might have been for his talent and accomplishments, explains why even the wildest interpretations of his work don’t bother me – as long as the RSC exists to demonstrate what a more or less classic performance of each play is.

    Also, I seem to remember @BaronC reminding us early last winter that even in Will’s lifetime, there were loose and very free interpretations of his directions — and that the scripts weren’t given any definite form until set down on paper, some time after the earliest productions. I’d be grateful if someone would correct me, if I’ve mis-remembered any of that.

    But we are still so close to Beckett and his story. Extracts from the collection of his letters published recently were powerful reminders of the wonderfully bizarre and tortured man behind the plays; of the unenviable — to me, anyway — life from which the work was wrung.

    For that alone, I’d vote for protecting the terms and conditions he laid down for performances. . . But something else that needs considering is that the extraordinarily precise stage directions @Alarming mentioned were consistent with scripts in which every word seems chosen with astonishing exactitude, the literary equivalent of the impeccable positioning and angles in the marvellous cutout compositions (collages?) of Matisse, near the end of his life. . . The extreme deliberateness, the monumental perfectionism, were essential to the Beckettness of Beckett.

    Could that have had something to do with his being the son of a quantity surveyor, I wonder? The control freak son of a professional control freak? … The wiki for this occupation says,

    Their preferred title, in countries where the QS profession is less known, is “Contracts engineer”.

    […] The QS is central to the decision-making process throughout the management of a [construction] project from initial inception to final completion.

    [ . . ] Quantity surveyors control construction costs by accurate measurement of the work required, the application of expert knowledge of costs and prices of work, labour, materials and plant required, an understanding of the implications of design decisions at an early stage to ensure that good value is obtained for the money to be expended. . .

    [ By contrast, even ]

    an accountant does not have the technical knowledge to accurately allocate costs to specific items of work performed.

    And then, Sam’s mum was apparently a profoundly religious woman — so perhaps partly responsible for his preoccupation with the great questions? . . . one parent possibly influencing a belief that no detail was too small to be unworthy of his attention; and the other turning his head firmly in the other direction, to reflect on the sublime . . .?

    On the fight over the all-female Godot, you said,

    === The judge in that case argued that since the import of the play was about the human condition, and not about the male condition, there was no reason women couldn’t take on the roles. ===

    I did look at the book you linked to — thank you — and couldn’t have agreed more with Beckett’s defence of his position; that those particular characters in that particular cponversation could only be men . . . .Anyway, it’s not clear what the judge’s real reasons were. In accelerated surfing somewhere on the road, I think I saw some mention of his fear that the theatre company would go bankrupt if denied permission to stage the play exactly as they wished. Perhaps I’d have ruled exactly as he did, had the job of deciding been mine. Since it wasn’t, I can only say with my nose in the air that I don’t think that _that_ should have had any bearing on the question.

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