Sunday, 10 May 2009

Heavy Breathing

I love words. I am a writer, now an author, so I would do. I love their history, their origins, how their meaning has developed over the centuries, sometimes to come to represent the very opposite of that which was their original intention. Wicked!

Henry Miller, whose works I swallowed in huge indigestible lumps, hungry for their flavour, envious of their energy, prior to my entry to Sussex University, famously used to visit his local library in New York on a daily basis (I forget which, it is probably the equivalent of the British Museum) to look through a dictionary to find a word unknown to him at the time that he would then employ the next time he set pen to paper. He lived on words.

I love Miller; he helped me get my pass into Sussex. His works are full of bombast, lies and, occasionally, truth but, as earlier stated, spark and sizzle with energy. He must have been an exhausting individual to have been associated with, one that sucked all the oxygen from the room.

I met his equivalent when living in Paris. Not his equivalent, but an American disciple. He had been a director of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago, world-renowned, cutting edge and stuff like that, who was doing his Henry Miller thing in Paris.

He directed an am/dram version of Pinter’s The Homecoming. It was staged in a tiny, ancient and venerable lecture room of a Parisian university, I forget which, with a minute balcony. You could well have been back in the days of tricorn hats and Madame Guillotine. The lighting consisted of one naked bulb shaded with a piece of greaseproof paper. The actors were on stage when sitting down, off stage when standing behind their chairs.

I had never seen a staging of or read The Homecoming and, essentially, this was a glorified reading, but I remember to this day the power of that dramatisation.

This quote is lifted from Wikipedia:

Considering the play while surveying Pinter's career on the occasion of its 40-anniversary production at the Cort Theatre, in The New Yorker, the critic John Lahr writes: "'The Homecoming' changed my life. Before the play, I thought words were just vessels of meaning; after it, I saw them as weapons of defense. Before, I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realized, could convey volumes.” [sic]

I love words. But I am wary of their power. We are strange creatures insofar as we are unique in our ability to employ abstract sounds to convey meaning. I accept every creature uses sound to declare a territory or invitation to breed – a terrorcity, a fuck-off-out-of-here-you-are-on-my-land-unless-you-can-have-babies declaration – yet are we so different? Isn’t that what The Homecoming is about?

Words are circumcised, they land in our ear gentle and pleasing, disguised of the outrage of the act of circumcision. Words are brutal as an act of rape, overreactions to the act of circumcision. And what do I mean by this concept of circumcision other than circumscription. It may strike you merely as a play on words, but one function of words is to play one on the other.

Out of a misguided politesse, we employ words to disguise what we mean though we will, with tone and tenor, do our utmost to insinuate our venom.

[I can hear the tut-tuts of those who believe themselves to be totally altruistic in their every utterance. Or, those who forgive themselves for wilful thoughts because they believe they are absolutely justified. Hey-ho.]

No utterance is innocent. Every one is fully laden with e-numbers. It is for this reason we find the written and spoken word so fascinating. Words betray us. Words allow us to peer through the physical presence to the insecurities of the person we believe we identify with. I can hear tuts. My interpretation of others’ words is moulded by my own psyche. But that is the truth of words. We, we alone, listen to what we hear; we alone interpret what the words mean. Our interpretations are pebbles in a pond of our own making, ripples that disrupt, or are disrupted by, the surface of our own consciousness.

My understanding is a dangerous view of this most fundamental intercourse; yet history, in a collective sense, bears me out.

It is not so much words, their classification, categorisation, annexation, seclusion, and exclusion of true communication that I love, but their failure in what they, or we believe, they achieve.

We tell stories – all of the time. Truth, as Geoffrey Bennington locuted in his inaugural professorial lecture, is the sight of a fish flashing in the water: to capture is to kill: to glimpse is sufficient.

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