One of my all-time favorite passages
by J.A. Myerson
From Howard Barker’s 1986 work “Arguments for a Theatre.”
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Fortynine asides for a tragic theatre
We are living the extinction of official socialism. When the opposition loses its politics, it must root in art.
The time for Satire is ended. Nothing can be satirized in the authoritarian state. It is culture reduced to playing the spoons. The stockbroker laughs, and the satirist plays the spoons.
The authoritarian art form is the musical.
The accountant is the new censor. The accountant claps his hands at the full theatre. The official socialist also hankers for the full theatre. But full of what?
In an age of populism, the progressive artist is the artist who is not afraid of silence.
The baying of an audience in pursuit of unity is a sound of despair.
In a bad time laughter is a rattle of fear.
How hard it is to sit in a silent theatre.
There is silence and silence. Like the colour black, there are colours within silence.
The silence of compulsion is the greatest achievement of the actor and the dramatist.
We must overcome the urge to do all things in unison. To chant together, to hum banal tunes together, is not collectivity.
A carnival is not a revolution.
After the carnival, after the removal of the masks, you are precisely who you were before. After the tragedy, you are not certain who you are.
Ideology is the outcome of pain.
Some people want to know pain. There is no truth on the cheap.
There are more people in pursuit of knowledge than accountants will admit.
There is always the possibility of an avalanche of truth-seekers.
Art is a problem. The man or woman who exposes himself to art exposes himself to another problem.
It is an error typical of the accountant to think there is no audience for the problem.
Some people want to grow in their souls.
But not all people. Consequently, tragedy is elitist.
Because you cannot address everybody, you may as well address the impatient.
The opposition in art has nothing but the quality of its imagination.
The only possible resistance to a culture of banality is quality.
Because they try to debase language, the voice of the actor becomes and instrument of revolt.
The actor is both the greatest resource of freedom and the subtlest instrument of repression.
If language is restored to the actor he ruptures the imaginative blockade of the culture. If he speaks banality he piles up servitude.
Tragedy liberates language from banality. It returns poetry to speech.
Tragedy is not about reconciliation. Consequently, it is the art form for our time.
Tragedy resists the trivialization of experience, which is the project of the authoritarian regime.
People will endure anything for a grain of truth.
But not all people. Therefore a tragic theatre will be elitist.
Tragedy was impossible as long as hope was confused with comfort. Suddenly tragedy is possible again.
When a child fell under a bus they called it a tragedy. On the contrary, it was an accident. We have had a drama of accidents masquerading as tragedy.
The tragedies of the 1960s were not tragedies but failures of the social services.
The theatre must start to take its audience seriously. It must stop telling them stories they can understand.
It is not to insult an audience to offer it ambiguity.
The narrative form is dying in our hands.
In tragedy, the audience is disunited. It sits alone. It suffers alone.
In the endless drizzle of false collectivity, tragedy restores pain to the individual.
You emerge from tragedy equipped against lies. After the musical, you are anyone’s fool.
Tragedy offends the sensibilities. It drags the unconscious into the public place. It therefore silences the banging of the tambourine which characterizes the authoritarian and the labourist culture alike.
It dares to be beautiful. Who talks of beauty I the theatre any more? They think it is to do with the costumes.
Beauty, which is possible only in tragedy, subverts the lie of human squalor which lies at the heart of the new authoritarianism.
When society is officially philistine, the complexity of tragedy becomes a source of resistance.
Because they have bled life out of the word freedom, the word justice attains a new significance. Only tragedy makes justice its preoccupation.
Since no art form generates action, the most appropriate art for a culture on the edge of extinction is one that stimulates pain.
The issues are never too complex for expression.
It is never too late to forestall the death of Europe.