a propos of nothing, style


Last night LaCona and Cisco and I went for shabu shabu on Castro St. Incredible. I talked to her about if I need to take time off from the chorus. She thinks that there’s no reason to stop working on one thing while I try to elaborate on another. She’s probably right. The need for more realism doesn’t necessitate the end of abstract expressionism. And it would be a shame to stop now, just when I feel like I’m at the point of another breakthrough around jazz and improv and structure. But that breakthrough is going to be a lot of work. Sometimes I wonder if it really is easier to do film…

Mere & I watched Golda’s Balcony this afternoon, and I took maintenance notes – and we’re now at 2319 doing laundry. We’re going to an 80’s night in the city somewhere tonight. About two weeks till this period of sojourning in the Bay Area ends.



So, I watched a bunch of episodes of lonelygirl15 last night, in an effort to better understand the conversation Cisco and I have been having about reality television.

If you, like me, are one of the two people on the planet who didn’t already know about this, the series was a Youtube video blog which pretended to be “real” but was actually a cast of actors following a script. It used no improvisation. The discovery of the scripted nature of the series did nothing to dampen its popularity – although a bunch of people were offended, or pretended to be.

Part of the popularity, and the appeal, must have come from the idea of the hoax – like with War Of The Worlds. I think there’s an interesting article in this somewhere about the spectrum of (sus)pension of (dis)belief:

1) entertainment which pretends to be completely unscripted, even though it is completely scripted, and which actually wants to convince people that it isn’t (lonelygirl15, War of the Worlds, Blair Witch)

2) entertainment which pretends to be scripted, even though it’s not. (Improv comedy.)

3) entertainment which is proudly scripted (Shakespeare, Shaw, things explicitly stylized)

4) entertainment which is proudly UNscripted (does anything really fall into this category? The nature of recording something for other people’s consumption implies some kind of forethought – even just turning on the camera means you’re going to think about it…I suppose hidden camera series do. Punk’d. Or wildlife shows where the animals really don’t know they’re being filmed. )

5) And then, here’s the issue: (that Cisco and I were debating) things like Survivor, Kid Nation, etc., entertainment which straddles these categories, which finds itself somewhere between 1 and 4.

I have a lot more thinking to do about this. But the thinking isn’t ethical, although I find myself resorting to ethics sometimes to explain why I don’t like Category 5. I think that in order to be in accordance with the train of thought I can actually defend, I have to explain the problem with Category 5 on purely formal grounds.

Of course, my argument about form is, and always has been, that all forms are valid and that the only way to argue against anything is formally.

Meredith just walked in and we are brainstorming on “reality theater.” More to come.

criticism, quotes, style

“a justification for their pitiable and base existence”

From a fellow formalist. I really like the way that Wolfe, using language, blames the language itself for the use it’s being put to. This is out of a description of a graduate class in theater criticism, at Harvard:

“…He gave them a language they could use with a feeling of authority and knowledge, even when authority and knowledge were lacking to them. It was a dangerous and often very trivial language – a kind of jargonese of art that was coming into use in the world of those days….

But although this jargon was perhaps innocuous enough when rattled off the rattling tongue of some ignorant boy or rattle-pated girl, it could be a very dangerous thing when uttered seriously by men who were trying to achieve the best, the rarest, and the highest life on earth – the life which may be won only by bitter toil and knowledge and stern living – the life of the artist.

And the great danger of this glib and easy jargon of the arts was this: that instead of knowledge, the experience of hard work and patient living, they were given a formula for knowledge; a language that sounded very knowing, expert and assured, and yet that knew nothing, was experienced in nothing, was sure of nothing.

It gave to people without talent and without sincerity of soul or integrity of purpose, with nothing, in fact, except a feeble incapacity for the shock and agony of life, and the desire to escape into a glamorous and unreal world of make believe – a justification for their pitiable and base existence.

It gave to people who had no power in themselves to create anything of merit or of beauty- people who were the true Philistines and enemies of art and of the artist’s living spirit – the language to talk with glib knowingness of things they knew nothing of…”


directing, self-blogerential, style

MOH&H audience member writes

I found a very long post online from a friend of Ezra’s, Bob Toombs, who saw MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL and really hated it.

I decided to respond to him and hope he would take up some dialogue with me.

It’s exciting to have audience members who are this engaged. I just wish I’d gotten to have the conversation with him in person.

I don’t think I would have ever thought of writing back to a post like this before I worked with Bill, but I learned a lot from seeing how he responds to feedback and criticism. He really believes in dialogue with other people. And after two years working for him, I want to hold those values in the same way he does.

books, quotes, style

I do not wish to appear smug

“Then we were kissing – just like, I suppose, a couple on the cinema screen. It was almost exactly as I had always imagined it would be, except there was something oddly inelegant about our embrace, and I tried more than once to adjust my posture; but my right foot was hard against a heavy box and I could not quite negotiate the necessary turn without risking my balance.”

– from When We Were Orphans. One of the reviews on there called Ishiguro “emotionally strangulated” – for heaven’s sake- his precision, and especially his modifiers upon descriptions (“oddly inelegant”) have much emotion as anyone could want. There’s nothing minimalist about his adjectives. His characters feel more than any ten others.

“My feeling is that she is thinking of herself as much as of me when she talks of a sense of mission, and the futility of attempting to evade it. Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns. For those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents. There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.”

Golda, style

And the war

Bringing in a projection of an image of fences before you say the words “fenced in” makes the words feel foreshadowed.

Bringing it in after makes the words feel like they’re coming from a teacher in art class with slides.

directing, Golda, style


I was thinking about what the inherently Jewish styles are, especially of language and performance. And this popped into my head, round about the Dimona section.


Commentary is a scholarly art, a religious one, a Jewish one – and I need to do a play with more commentary in it. Like the “Footnote” character I interpolated into LYSISTRATA. It just seemed natural to do. But only natural to the brain of someone brought up on the arguing rabbis in the Seder. It’d be great to have commentary characters in the Passover project.

I did so many things right in LYSISTRATA, and I still don’t know how I did most of them. I need to do that show again. It’ll have been ten years in two.

a propos of nothing, style

Kissinger! (“Rigorous Intellectual Digression…”)

So I started out trying to write a note, in a word document, about blocking on Morris crushing the lampshade. 5 steps later – lampshades – Holocaust – the Investigation – German theater – Toby – email Toby – Syzygy eblast – Goblin Market – email Aaron about Syzygy – I should write a chamber musical –

Linking and following is Herodotean ring composition except you never get back to the beginning.

books, quotes, style

Mailer? I Hardly Even…

It’s been a Maileresque couple of days. I bought the PARIS REVIEW with Andrew O’Hagan’s interview of him in it. I was so happy that there was a discussion of style in it:

One of my basic notions for a long, long time is that there is this mysterious mountain out there called reality. We novelists are always trying to climb it. We are mountaineers, and the question is, Which face do you attack? Different faces call for different approaches, and some demand a knotty and convoluted interior style. Others demand great simplicity. The point is that style is an attack on the nature of reality. [my italics]

That’s a great summation of my theory about styles of directing, too. We are mountaineers. Which face do you attack? All styles are legitimate – the only danger is to eschew or denounce style, or to fail to understand that style is a choice with value, or to only be capable of writing (performing, directing) in one style…
I guess that’s a lot of dangers.
Style is a minefield full of cherry trees.

Mailer wasn’t always so aesthetic in the interview – he managed to get in some weird race references and bash Vaclav Havel, not to mention refer to his wives as cities he had gotten tired of living in (femininity as geography, anyone?) but I liked so much of his notions about writing, and I liked his bluntness.

The interview also had my favorite interviewer line in it ever:

That won’t do, Norman. No way.

I was having breakfast with Kate McConnell at Brother’s the next morning, and as we left our table, a family playing the Trivial Pursuit cards which are on all the tables read this question aloud:

Dad: Which Pulitzer-Prize-winning author’s first novel was THE NAKED AND THE DEAD?

A silence followed it, but I gasped, “Norman Mailer!” and went straight to Bloomsbury to order a copy of that novel.

(The Paris Review archives all their extensive interviews here, by the way.

Here’s another great quote:

Our understanding of good and evil begins with our parents. Down the road one is altered by one’s relationships with one’s children.

If one is so minded – or so inclined – is it a good idea for a novelist to have children?

I don’t prescribe for novelists. I mean, if Henry James followed my prescription, where would he have been?