Friday, January 6, 2012

performance and premier background

 An  OUT-TAKE from "Experiences with Handke plays and texts" that may answer any questions you still have about RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE.
The effect of the 1970 RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE is very different. The play presents itself as that of actors assuming the roles of older actors, a kind of KASPAR en masse on first blush, everyone wants to be “someone who was somebody once upon a time,” and they act as if; they are young and are trying out roles and they are grandiose! But RIDE is chiefly a language game where sentences are handed off and queried, a kind of wild ride of associations, the danger being that you cannot hand off a sentence, will be left without a repartee, drop the baton and that the ice of language on which you ride shatters and you will drown. Your mind will freeze up. As compared to the other early Handke plays I had not the faintest how it would play or what my experience of it would be: Handke's other early texts I knew what they would do to an audience not only because I had translated their serial procedures but because I had directed them and had seen Herbert Berghof direct them. Nor had I participated in rehearsals of Ride at the Vivian Beaumont – I was more interested in a woman and spending time with her in Woodstock. It happens. I took Max and Marianne Frisch to the premiere as well as my woman. Max did not care for the play at all. It seemed to make him angry. Was it the plays implicit promiscuity, the aggressive and sinister undertone? I forgot what Marianne’s and Cathy’s reactions were. Me, however, the performance transported into a state of pure stasis. The 90 minute juggling act, the various, sometimes sinister games that the half dozen actors playing actors had played – “The drawer is stuck”, “Let the drawer be stuck.” – had the effect of cleaning all the crap in my mind out of it. It was not a sublime experience, it was one of pure stasis, of pure being you might say, as some of Handke’s texts, too, have effected, a benign form of dissociation, as compared to several other painful ones I experienced as the after effect of marijuana

That is why I am trying to formulate this particular RIDE experience, which Handke achieves once more in the summa of his early happenings - for that is what THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER is of all the former, what genius it takes to find that solution [!]. There, in Hour, using nothing but images, a succession of them, to discombobulate the inured mind into experiencing it as something fabulous. There is something very positivistic about that kind of experience, and it might be an instance where Adorno and Popper would find rare agreement. Adorno prior to his death in 1969 expressed his admiration of Handke’s work, at least to me.
    I saw that Lincoln Center production of RIDE a few more times full length, and then only needed to go for a ten minute "hit" as it were, homeopathic, to feel liberated during its five week run. I couldn't account for the experience, as I might for a drug hit, and did not experience anything like it until what is called "a good hour" in analysis. The experience of stasis was produced by the sheer playfulness of the illogicality, or new, inverted kind of logic, of what transpired on stage, that might also be called an utter anti-boulevard boulevard play. Richard Gilman pointing out that Handke in RIDE used Wittgensteinian querying of language does not really help, and Dick wrote his piece without having seen the performance. Handke might have used inverted legal procedures, the resulting absurdity does the trick of being utterly liberating, of wiping the slate clean. Is it the liberation from the querying that existentially is always with us? Of the inured logic of our daily lives? Perhaps so, if we take Handke’s great The Art of Asking as the answer to that questions as to “when and wherefore and why” not being the questions to posed.

 »In uns die Fragezeichen sind heutzutage krank. Können keine richtigen Fragen mehr bilden. Sind deshalb in unseren Köpfen ausgebrochen als die Pein des Geredes. Welches jede Frage erstickt. Welches die Herzen auffrisst. Welches mit uns aufräumen wird, wenn wir, statt von der Wunde abzulenken, ihr nicht auf den Grund zu gehen versuchen.«

At the first performance of
 at the Vivian Beaumont
at Lincoln Center,
 the chiefly subscription audience,
beneficiaries of premieres, revolted
at being involved in a piece without a story,
confronted with pure
action, with a verbal game

"George: And have you ever heard of a "fiery Eskimo"

Jannings: Not that I know
George: If you don't know it, then you haven't heard of it either. But the expression "a flying ship" - that you have heard?
Jannings: At most in a fairy tale.
George: But scurrying snakes exist?
Jannings: Of course not.
George: But fiery Eskimos - they exist?
Jannings: I can't imagine it.
George: But flying ships exist?
Jannings: At most in a dream.
George: Not in reality?
Jannings: Not in reality.
George: But born losers?
Jannings: Consequently they exist.
George: And born trouble makers?
Jannings: They exist.
George: And therefore there are born criminals.
Jannings: It's only logical.
George: As I wanted to say at the time...
Jannings: [interrupts him] "At the time"? Has it been that long already?
George [hesitates, astonished] Yes, that's odd! [Then continues rapidly] Just as there are born losers, born troublemakers, and born criminals, there are [he spreads is fingers.] born owners. Most people as soon as they own something are not themselves any more.[Those who are familiar with the subsequent, what I call "the transitional play", THEY ARE DYING OUT [1973]will note the similarity between RIDE and DYING in an instance like this one.] “They lose their balance and become ridiculous. Estranged from themselves they begin to squint. Bed wetters who stand next to their bed in the morning. [The bed signifies possession. Or perhaps their shame?] [brief moment of confusion, then he continues at once]. I, on the other hand, am a born loser: only when I possess something do I become myself...
Jannings: [interrupts him] "Born owner" I've never heard that expression.
George: [suddenly] "Life is a game..." You must have heard people say that?
P. 77
George: Only one thing I don't understand. Of what significance is the winter evening to the story? There was no need to mention it, was there? [Jannings closes his eyes and thinks] Are you asleep?
Jannings: [opens his eyes] Yes, that was it! You asked me whether I was dreaming and I told you how long I sleep during the winter nights and that I then begin to dream toward morning and as an example I wanted to tell you a dream that might occur during a winter night.
George: Might occur?
Jannings: I invented a dream. As I said, it was only an example. the sort of thing that goes through one's head... As I said - a story?
George: But the kidneys flambe?
Jannings: Have you ever had kidneys flambe?
George: Not that i know.
Jannings: If you don't know, then you haven't had them....
Von Stroheim: Did you dream about it?
Porten: Someone mentioned it in a dream [she hands the pin to Bergner] When I saw the pin just now, I membered it again. And I had thought about it as also just another word.
George: Once someone told me about a corpse with a pinhead-sized wound on his neck [pause] [to Jannings] did you tell me about that?
The above might also be regarded as a children's language game except that the language routines they employ are Wittgensteinian in nature. Moreover, RIDE plays right on the threshold between dream and waking as is evident from these quotes and is announced at the very beginning of the play, right after the Woman in Blackface has vacuumed up the "old theater"; and this dream quality/ possibility/ switching back and forth further disrupts whatever firm orientation the audience may have about the trip on to which this play takes them.

lacking a strap
 to hang their minds on to!

Stories, diverters from writing, from reading closely!
Thomas Bernhard, famously, fled a story as soon as he’d got its mere whiff!

During my 1957 Junior Year semester in Berlin I attended theater each and every night and saw all the performances at the Ensemble, but never experienced a catharsis of any kind, Aristotelean or non.(It was a threesome of Fred James, Ralph Langbacka who became a famous Finnish director and I).
 However, each performance, done in the Brechtian style, no matter whether of a Brecht play or, say, Synge, even Johannes R. Becher’s STALINSCHLACHT, was exquisitely aesthetic, beautiful to the point of being painful!
   About ten years later I became the translator of all of Peter Handke’s early plays up until the early 80s WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES, and directed the earliest performances of them in New York, and worked with some excellent people on these texts, Herbert Berghof at his HB Studio and E.G. Marshall, and Peter Brook, and thus knew how all these plays worked, what effect they had on an audience: these plays were all what might best be termed happenings, formalized, musically formed, experience pieces, but for RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE. I had translated it but hadn’t the faintest what its effect might be, or even what it was, the piece has no story of any kind, though it made you seek to find one in the arc of its events – a lack of story that the premiere audience, used to securely strap hang on to a story, found most upsetting; it’s highpoint is when the actors celebrate “that the drawer is stuck. Let it be stuck.” (Handke’s way of singing the Beatle’s LET IT BLEED)
 In the early 70s there was its premiere at the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center under direction of Carl Weber, Jules Irving head of theater. I briefly had a full time – and I mean full time with Suhrkamp’s output - job as agent for Handke’s publisher Suhrkamp Verlag & weekends was out of town, so did not attend a single rehearsal, and thus was virgin at the premiere. With what is occurring on stage – actors pretending to be famous film actors from the thirties, waking up from dreams, constantly quibbling over verbal distinctions, sinister matters such as a pair of twins grabbing at genitals -  superficially LAKE CONSTANCE might remind you of an absurdist Ionesco piece. Subsequent to the performance I felt absolutely marvelous. I don’t recall what my bright and beautiful date felt or said, but Max Frisch, the Suhrkamp author whom and his wife Marianne I had taken along, and who had pronounced Handke’s KASPAR the play of his (fatherless) generation was extremely angry and upset, and I regret that I failed to inquire why (perhaps there is a diary entre?).

Subsequently I attended it might be just ten minute of just about every performance, like an addict to get jut a brief “hit” of what was more than the ordinary magic of theatricality of the opium of LAKE CONSTANCE. The experience was filed away as unique.      About ten years later I did a psychoanalysis. Occasionally there would be a session subsequent to which during my five mile walk downtown in Manhattan and for the rest of the day I felt equally marvelous as I had ten years prior after the performance of LAKE CONSTANCE. In both instances the processing, the cleansing of unpleasant matters, had been subliminal, the sum of the experience, the relief, and you could only point to the sum. (No doubt a neurologist could point out the activity in a brain.)
What the two experiences had in common was something that Richard Gilman, author of THE MAKNIG OF MODERN THEATER, and first serious American theater person to write about Handke’s stage pieces, felt had something to do with Wittgenstein’s PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS, the constant distinctions being made, the reiteration of them. However, Dick, who became a good friend over Handke, had not EXPERIENCED the piece! To be subjected to a subtle onslaught of distinctions of that kind, in the most playful of manners, BREAKS DOWN the logicalness of the world – it DOES NOT say anything about the world, whether it is logical or not, but your defenses disappear, and when your defenses disappear you are no longer in a state of fear. Sublime. That is how Handke achieves CATHARSIS in LAKE CONSTANCE & in HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER, where the the SUCCESSSION of one magical image after the other breaks down the customary defenses and which Steve Pearson directed at the UW drama school in the later 90s.

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