Writers In Troubled Waters

Those writers obsessed by the form, which they do not hesitate to convert into a norm, are too well familiar with the pain that accompanies the process of completing a page in a duly controlled, stylish, manner. Ultimately, one writes on waters, since all messages are, from the eternity's point of view, ephemeral. The writers who have a painful awareness of style write on clear-crystal waters, so transparent as to let all the ramifications of their meanings to be seen. The playwrights, however, prefer the troubled waters, laden with the residuals of naturalness. Their texts do live if and only if they are incorporated: into the actor's body, into the misleading reality of the scenery, into the compressed time of the performance. A playwright focused only on style takes the risks to remain just read, that is unfulfilled. Flaubert, who has known les affres du style kept himself at arm's length from the theatre, being well aware that, were it lively, it could not be pure. Stendhal, who believed that wit transgresses form, realized that theatre draws more energy from hazy mixtures, than from pure essences. Shakespeare used the first, Racine favored the second. Mateiu I. Caragiale, a writer that carefully controlled his style, was by no means a theatre-addict. It seems he seldom attended a performance and had practically no memorable theatrical experiences. His diary mentions casually that on April 9, 1926 he attended "the sad opening of an even sadder play" by Maniu-Pillat. A few days later, on April 18, he mentions the performance, at the National Theatre in Bucharest, of Eternal Youth by Sofia and Irina Aslan. His colorful correspondence never refers to any theatrical event that would have moved him. Among the cultural spaces, Mateiu favors the museums, not on account of the aesthetic experiences related to them, but because of the erotic opportunities they could provide: "One has to go often to the museums, because one can find there plenty of English and American women. I can assure you that I have not had elsewhere as many opportunities and even received as many advances as in the Insel-Museum in Berlin. In great cities, the museums are simply state-owned brothels." The shrinks believe that Mateiu's disinterest in the theatre is a form of opposition against his father, the famous playwrightI. L. Caragiale. It seems more meaningful to interpret his indifference as the mistrust of a stylist towards a medium that takes the style lightly. Moreover, Mateiu is more of a player than of an observer. He assumes various imaginary identities, dresses up fancifully, is always performing, either as a distant aristocrat, or as a playful lover. He is not a contemplative, but an exhibitionist. The characters of Mateiu's consummate novel, Old-Court Philanderers, never go to the theatre, but they adore to disguise and to imagine themselves in the most diverse and awkward postures. Their favorite game is to project their selves into time and space, as fake, exotic and fascinating characters, although made credible by details of scenery and action: "We would be, as it were, three descendents from illustrious dynasties; all three of us monk-cavaliers of St. John of Jerusalem, so-called of Malta, proudly wearing on the chest the well-known, white-enameled cross. [...] High-rank noblemen, we would wander through Europe from one end to the other, so that there wouldn't be a Court left unvisited, our red, high heels clinking on its marble stairs. [...] Politics would tempt us, so that we would often use love-beds as bridges and, in order to achieve our goals, we would live by the Few Chosen and would serve the High and Mighty." The fantasy of the Courtiers moves forward to the role-playing games that would become popular much later, in our times, the times of computers and IT. The actor-player, at his desk-top, is immersed in a virtual environment, he assumes various roles – a Roman governor, a Middle-Age cavalier, a debonair fortune-seeker – endorses such projects as become these characters and strives to complete them, by solving the riddles and overcoming the obstacles that the computer program raises. B. Fundoianu was another stylist who realized that the theatre is a medium which rejects purity. As many an avant-garde artist obsessed with rigor, he attempted to reform it. As a playwright, he wrote plays, which, by their refined and sapless poetry, remind one of Maeterlinck's. As a theoretician, he attempted to transpose into the Romanian culture the theatre of poetic suggestions, promoted by Jacques Copeau at the Vieux Colombier. As a project manager, he developed the tiny theatre The Island, where he could give his options a try. The principle of this theatre was: "Instead of reality, the fiction. Instead of the action, the poem." Moreover, such a theatre would not need to attract an audience, but to create it. The impact of the manifestos exceeded the performances." By stating that "our aim is not exactly the theatre, but its integration into Art," Fundoianu revealed his wish to purify the stylistics of the performance. Any touch of realism disgusted him: "Once, the actor was not an ordinary man. He talked to the Gods and opposed them. The ancient Greeks, upon attending a performance did not see themselves on the stage. Nowadays, Mr. Smith, whose wife has an affair with Mr. Jones, comes to the theatre to see a plot with another Mr. Smith whose wife has an affair with a Mr. Jones." This objection is appealing. However, once the metaphysical dimension of the theatre was lost in favor of the "mirroring" of modern life, there is not much to be done. Fundoianu overlooks the fact that to reinvest symbols in a theatre that has long been de-sacred is akin to adding makeup to a bloodless face. "Emotion conveyed through images," which he claims as the ultimate goal of the theatre, cannot be a convincing ars dramatica, because it lacks the corporeal touch. Fundoianu was under the influence of Gordon Craig, when he exacted from the players to act as "mechanical marionettes, grotesquely idyllic." This requirement unveils the refinement of a superior taste, but also betrays the reluctance to accept the fundamentals of a theatrical performance. Theatre, according to Fundoianu's principles, could be performed just as well on a computer screen, since its stuff is only transparent intelligence. The 'real' theatre, however, resists any attempt at virtualization, because it involves the mystery of the living body. It has to be written on the muddy and troubled waters where the actor's body emerges from. The surrealist poet Gellu Naum has also been confronted to the fuzzy mystery of the theatre. He chose not to reform it, but to subvert it. When his three plays were first published in 1979, they were perceived as belonging to Ionesco's vein. This misleading judgment stems from the confusion between the 'surrealist' and the 'absurd' theatre. Ionesco's method lies in the logical deconstruction of the theatrical language and, as such, it amounts to a 'critique of pure communication.' Gellu Naum is also intent on the communication process, but he does not see the language as an obstacle or an adversary. Although corrupt and blunt, the language can be restored to its original freshness by an appropriate method of rejuvenation. Gellu Naum employs the surrealist method of free association, which involves liberating the mechanisms of the subconscious, daylight dreaming and making good use of randomness, provided it is a well-tempered one. Unlike the romantics, the surrealists do not consider the dream as a means of evasion. Moreover, they keep carefully under control the channels that connect the unconscious and the real. Unrealistic, but extremely lucid, they believe that the dream and the real are somehow correlated, but not causally related to one another. An impenitent surrealist, Gellu Naum systematically experiments with the language of theatre, which involves movements, lighting, actions, as well as words. Thus, he manages to find keywords, key-images, key-situations. He pursues the quest for the all-encompassing Sign, the secret name of God, which, according to the title of one of his plays, is Maybe Eleonora. This inspired manipulation of theatrical signs is akin to the esoteric techniques of the cabbalist Abraham Abulafia. It attempts to come to the heart of things, by patient and methodic elimination. Compressing "the prism into a cube" is a means to reach the state wherein one contemplates the splendor brought home from exile, the embodiment of Chekhina, whose secret name may be Eleonora. Gellu Naum subverts the theatre because he rejects its old clichés, without trying to impose other ones. He rebels against realism, but does not replace it with poetical nonsense. He plunges into the muddy waters that carry, at odds, meanings and signs and picks up, by a careful selection, those that are worth being embodied.

by Adrian Mihalache