Monday, October 31, 2005

More on Truth

George Hunka writes:

I don't know about that "truth," Scott, as something that we as artists are the sole bearers of, or whether that's even the way in which "truth" inheres in our experience. Is it not in the process itself rather than in anything we can tape up on the wall next to our computers? And isn't the theatrical communion a process of experience, by its very nature ephemeral--something that can't be written down?If our theater does not do BOTH--adhere and explore traditions, as well as adhere and explore ourselves, to go places where we haven't been experientially, to think thoughts we've been afraid to think or express (and in this is the risk)--it will be dead and remain so. Our technique forms the discipline we need to communicate these otherwise formless, and therefore sloppy and self-serving, messages. Truth? I don't think so. A new way of thinking about ourselves, a new process with which our consciousness can contemplate the world? Much better.My recent play was the most successful of my career so far, and a large part of that was that I revealed far more of myself than I had in my previous work--a risk, and it paid off (not that I can expect that every time).

I would agree that artists are not the "sole bearer" of truth, and I don't think that Edmundson would say that there is a single Truth that all artists should be trying to convey. Rather, we put forward a truth, our truth, and find out whether it has any resonance with others around us. Milan Kundera speaks about novels being populated by "experimental selves." Edmundson writes: "These selves are persons whom we might be or become, or who signify aspects of the self. The novelist -- with our assistant -- sends them forth into the world, to see what the world will make of them, and they of it. The are the fictive human embodiments of what Nietzsche would call thought experiments. These selves are not after a long-lasting truth. Rather, they engage in an inquiry...[P]art of what these characters learn is that no way of seeing things is final. They don't look, and cannot look, for a final resting place sanctioned by a larger authority than themselves. As Kundera puts it, 'The world of one single Truth and the relative, ambiguous world of the novel are molded of entirely different substances. Totalitarian Truth excludes relativity, doubt, duestioning; it can never accomodate what I would call the spirit of the novel.'"

But to say that there is not a single truth is not the same as abandoning the search for truth entirely -- even if it is a temporary truth. Plays encourage the audience to reflect on their lives, on the way they live them, and on the values they hold. A play needs to give them a solid enough viewpoint that they can bounce against it, and work with it. When Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi, after performing a particularly heinous act, says "Look you, the stars still shine," he is making a moral proposition: no matter how awful human beings act, the world continues as before and God doesn't care. As an audience, we must weigh that viewpoint, try it on for size, see how such an idea would affect us and our behavior. We ask ourselves whether such a statement is true, and (as importantly) whether it is true for us (cf Goethe).

The "new way of thinking about ourselves" that you propose as a subject is a truth -- a proposed truth. We put an idea out into the world and find out whether it has any traction. And while your latest play may have been more successful because you risked putting more of yourself into it, if what you put into it didn't speak to anyone else, if it had not "truth" within it, then it would have been less successful. Your personal risk is important because from it you created a better play, but from the viewpoint of the audience your personal risk is irrelevant -- what they care about (it seems to me) is whether your play says anything to them, or says anything about them, or helps them see life from a different perspective.

When I wrote about Truth, I was encouraging artists to raise their sights higher than craftsmanship and appeal, and aim toward creating a work of art that bangs on the Big Drum in our soul and makes it resonate deeply.


George Hunka said...

Well said. And I'll leave it at that, except to add that if I hadn't gone out on that limb myself, there wouldn't have been that play for the audience to see, even if the reasons for my writing it are ultimately irrelevant to them. It's not the only valid way of doing theater at all, and it doesn't work for everybody, but the reward (when it works) can be extraordinary.

P'tit Boo said...

I would add to what George said by saying that "it's not the only vaide way of doing theatre ..." and when people involved with a production are hiding the truth or scared of it, it always shows in some way or other and it does hinder the work.
Just like a therapist better know himself and his own patterns pretty well before he consults, a theatre artist better be aware of his bullshit factor.

Freeman said...

My bullshit factor makes up about 50% of my waking life.

What is a writer to do?