Looking For Some Absurdity – Part 2

As previously stated, I enjoy reading plays. The tiny, very dark yet alert place in my head is the perfect venue for my own personal theatrical showcase. I’d even go as far as to say that reading a play is my idea of fun, a good time, perhaps even comparable to paying for sex. For those who don’t/can’t understand the pleasure of paying for sex, then you can also compare my pleasure to taking care of your/a Schrebergärten. Of course, reading a play isn’t as easy as hoping in your car and driving to the theatre to see it. Yes, being able to go see a play is the only result I can come up from all the wasted welfare funds channelled into Germany’s support of “culture”.

Whoopee.

You might be asking the question: why do I pick on subsidies and culture? The federal corporate government of Germany has the right to piss away tax Euros as well as any nation. But, beyond the fact that I believe A L L authority must be questioned, there is the simple premise that “culture” should be a dynamic constant and not a static one. That’s why today, after living in Europe for almost twenty years, I laugh at all the corporate Americans visiting Europe and saying things to me like: Wow, there’s so much culture here. I usually ungracefully correct them by stating: Sorry, dude, but that old shit you’re gawking at is dead history; it’s a bunch of dusty stuff at a standstill; culture is something that (should be) alive and well.

Which brings me back to the question alluded to in Part 1: with all the subsidy money dumped into German theatre, what’s come of it?

Keep in mind that there are basically three pillars on which theatre stands. This is pretty basic stuff so you don’t need a compulsive college degree (or Abitur?) to understand it. The three pillars are: acting, directing and writing. That’s it. I mean, come on, one should ask: why is it that western culture began writing stories in the form of dialogue and not in the form of narrative? I don’t really know what the answer to that question is. But I’ll bet it has something to do with simplicity. Another simplistic thought is this: in order to make three a crowd, two have to become a horde.

The biggest hurdle I had when it came to writing for the stage – beyond being (worst)writer – was the fact that the directors (and theatre management) and actors have, over time, delegated the writer to being the weakest link in the triad. The two have horded together because, by default, they are the ones that occupy the stage. This, my worst-reading friends, is one of the reasons that Peer Fucking Gynt and Woycek and King Lear eat up so much subsidy money each year and Germany produces no new playwrights.

Hell, I’d go even further. The triad mentioned above applies to a lot more. Lo & behold, there’s even a current example. The anticipated film The Baader Meinhof Complex is about to be released. My reaction to the movie is the same as my reaction to so many other movies released under the German flag: Oh boy, the same producer, the same director and the same fucking (made for TV) actors. The German film/theatre scene is so monotonous that I feel like cutting off one of my ears – or stabbing out one of my eyes? Add to that the repetitiveness of writing/producing a movie ABOUT a part of West Germany’s recent history instead of using that history as a springboard to something creative…

Well, I’ve already mentioned how creativity has been stifled by the wealth of welfare. There’s no need for Bernd Eichinger to produce movies like Name of the Rose or The House of the Spirits (Geisterhaus) anymore, right? He’s made enough money and position in Hollywood to be his own judge, jury and audience when it comes to creative work.

Right?

The good news is: in a welfare state all failed playwrights and writers like me are able to find some vindication. It is in the form of a simple question. Where are the writers that didn’t make all the errors that I/we made? Where are the writers that wooed all the thinking-actors out there – you know, the actors that could probably write “it” better? And the directors, born out of the waste that is/was Heiner Müller’s inability to write something original and instead regurgitate the work of others in the name of populism (and not creativity)?

Have I mentioned fuck you yet in this post?

Well, I guess, if I can’t be the/a playwright created out of the nurturing of creativity via taxed Euros, then who should it be? I suppose I might have answered that question in Part 1. Or at least I provided some fodder from which an answer could be derived. Yet I still stand by my hugely rude and pretentious assumption that Germany is unable to produce a playwright for the world stage even though it spends more tax money on theatre (movies?) than any other country in the entire galaxy – because it is indigenously lacking in creativity.

Enter stage left a 20th century dead communist writer. Should he be granted status as the new German playwright deserving of all the subsidy praise – even though he doesn’t breathe anymore? My selfish answer is yes. Peter Hacks is dead; but long live Peter Hacks the playwright. At the least, he is one of the first writers to prove that subsidies can actually produce a good writer.

Isn’t Peter Hacks, in affect, a new German playwright? For one, I find it astonishing that someone could write so much and do it almost solely in the name of politics – and yet still not bore me to death – as is the case with Heiner Müller, Bertold Brecht and, goodness forbid, Botho Strauß. (You’re off the hook this time M. Rinke!) I mean – what a waste of writing talent those guys are! I can’t help but ask: who the hell did they write for? Was it for an audience? Was it for the critics? What about writing for the next guy that can spell or formulate a complex sentence? OK. Maybe they all wrote for themselves. Yeah. That must be it. All German writers writing for themselves and they are the cream of the crop…?

Of course, Hacks was a student of Bertolt Brecht. Dare I complain about Brecht’s work being idealistic krapp and boring! After reading Hacks’ and, perhaps, seeing through his ideological façade, I have come to this (for me) misconstrued but standard question about playwriting:

– Is there room anymore for theatrical effectiveness vs. literary value?

Now, I’m no student of theatre science. In fact, I’m no student of nothin’. What I am is a failed playwright that, according to my bookshelves, has read a play or two. One thing I can say as a failed, well-read playwright is that theatrical effectiveness and literary value are not necessarily what determines if a play is actually good. To me the thing that makes a play good is simple: creativity. Hacks writes with impeccable skill underneath which might be a hidden creative agenda the likes of which Brecht only dreamt of. Unfortunately, Hacks’ creative prowess might have been hindered by the politburo. Still, compared to the various aforementioned German playwrights, Hacks is in every way as good. The simple fact is, compared to Botho Strauß, Hacks’ work is readable to someone that does not want to become German to understand it. That’s also an indication that his work transcends. That is, you could actually produce any of Hacks’ classic plays outside of Germany. I think that’s neat!

I may be wrong. Or, at the least, I’m just confused. Reading Hacks has taken me back to the days when I battled with reading plays written between ancient Greece and the end of the 19th century. For the longest time I could never understand why no one challenged why all of that krapp is required “study”? Then I started reading authors like Ionesco and Beckett. Not only did “study” turn fun, but theatrical naturalism, reality and most importantly, absurdity was fruit to my soul. In fact, it was so good that I began to emulate it. Yes, absurdity became a way of life for me. I loved it even more as long as I could properly get it down on paper. Obviously, I failed.

Yet the hope/dream lived on. And suddenly I’m thrown in to a situation that I have to read a communist writer. I hate communism. What a bunch of nothingness! And then, all of the sudden, I’m thinking, how does one come up with the idea of writing about one of Goethe’s chicks as though she were a woman scantily admitting to the fact that women aren’t the de facto harbourers of love? The only way a man can come up something like that is if he writes with his hands tied behind his back. Or?

And with the play I just finished, Die Fische (The Fish), I kept yelling as I read through it: man eats himself, man eats himself! Yes. There is a beauty to writing when an author sets the scene in the middle of kings and noblemen fighting for land rights and in the middle of the battle is a whacked out scientist trying to discover a hybrid human that may bridge the gap to man’s current state of mind and the lost thoughts of evolution.

Will Hacks eventually get the recognition he deserves? To me he is one of the only writers I’ve ever encountered that has bridged the gap between the classic and the absurd. What a great thought, eh? I know, due to his political position, that such recognition will be a hard pill for western publishers/critics/theatre managers to swallow. But who knows? I’m sure the world will do much better if it stops the compulsive learning of classic literature and starts impulsively learning … something else.

I’ll be the first to admit that what killed off playwriting were the writers themselves. I mean, as previously mentioned, they don’t really write for an audience. I’ll even go as far as to say that while audiences were advancing, playwrights were heeding the calls of their pocket books and/or the whims of the pocket books of their producers, publishers and theatre managers – to no avail. Sure, so much practice gave us perfectly skilled writers like Brecht, Botho Strauß but who has ever heard of a perfectly skilled creator?

I actually tried to explain this whacky pseudo-theory about the death of playwriting to someone once after we drank too much Italian red wine. It’s come back to me now since discovering again the pleasure of reading plays. Obviously I didn’t get very far with my theory – which is the case for many thinking non-academics. But that’s neither here nor there.

Really Helpful Person: Tom, you’ve written so many plays and none of them have had any success. Why don’t you take a course or something?
Me: A course?
Really Helpful Person: Yeah, you know, in creative writing.
Me: Sounds like a contradiction.
Really Helpful Person: You see, Tom, that’s part of your problem. You don’t understand that you can actually learn to write.
Me: Oh yeah.
Really Helpful Person: Yeah. Maybe then you can write some plays that people want to see.
Me: Oh, right….
Really Helpful Person: And then all that writing you do won’t go to waste.
Me: Will they teach me how to be creative, too?
Really Helpful Person: Huh? Tom, you are so difficult and you’re a snob.
Me: Oh, that’s the best thing you’ve said to me all night.
(Gulp, gulp, gulp.)

So who stood up one morning in a bad mood and declared that playwriting had to be… I don’t know… thorough? Was it those that subsidize culture? Perhaps it has something to do with compulsion that we call life these days. Nothing is done on a whim anymore because anything worth doing cost too much, right? Yeah. Everything costs too much except reading – and maybe even writing – a play.

At this point I can only assume that Peter Hacks wrote his classics because, well, the/his politburo, in one way or the other, told him or allowed him to do so. He didn’t only write some great plays but I think he also outsmarted the censors. One can’t even get close to saying the same thing about other German playwrights whose names are bigger and supposedly faced no politburo.

It’s not enough for me that Hacks’ plays have literary value. And at this point in my own failed attempt at becoming a playwright, I don’t actually care if Hacks’ work is theatrically effective either. The only thing I do care about when reading a play is if the author can take me to that perfect place that is between his imagination and mine. It looks like I have found a communist with that ability.

Yes. Indeed. I have reached a new low in trying to understand the art of playwriting. But I suppose that doesn’t matter: playwriting is dead.

Rant on.

-tgs-