Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bitter Lemons on The Black Rider

(See the two previous posts for more context.)

Actually, the more I work on these posts the more I sense a contradiction in what's being valued and expressed here.

Colin at Bitter Lemons tries to illuminate the importance of a compelling story; here's how he puts it in his post on the Avant-Garde--
One of the most essential – if not THE most essential – elements to emotionally engaging, cathartic storytelling is MEANING. If your art is simply titilation, simply experimentation, simply “art for art’s sake”, I’m not going to feel shit. I may THINK about it a little bit, and that’s not bad. But the stories that truly stay with us, that stay with me, that literally get into my bones, are those that make me FEEL something. That MOVE me. Those are the ones I’m still thinking about today. And those are the stories that have PURPOSE. That are attempting to SAY something. To TEACH us something. THAT MEAN SOMETHING.

Look, I enjoyed that Ginsberg [sic, as it's Burroughs' text, which is important to the show's meaning]-Waits-Wilson production of Dark Rider at the Ahmanson a few years back just like the rest of ya, but it didn’t affect me on any emotional level whatsoever. I almost left at halftime. I’m glad I didn’t. Because a lot of it stayed with me, the images, the music, the effort, but who gives a shit?
I mean this with all due respect, but the more I read and think about Colin's essay, the more I wonder how much he's actually talking about story.

Story is formal, structural, skeletal. It's action, complication, rising action, climax, resolution. What he talks about when he talks about story is actually meaning, intention, didacticism, emotionalism; those are in my experience (with the possible exception of didacticism) the most potent components of experimental theater. And I'm not convinced that well-made stories need contain any of those elements.

Perhaps what Colin values is all of those things in the context of a well-told story. All of that sounds like a great night at the theater to me.

But I also find it difficult to accept that The Black Rider is meaningless merely because it didn't affect him emotionally. The Black Rider is rich with meaning, enhanced by the autobiography just barely below the surface in William S. Burroughs' text. It's about death and addiction, but also about storytelling (and specifically allegory) itself, as an antique German folktale becomes intertwined with a very modern voice's narration about drug abuse.

Of course, none of this requires Colin to be moved on an emotional level. I just wonder if the real question is how does an author or performer (or audience member) learn to balance or distill the more demanding performative or innovative aspects of a work in order to better engage with its story or its meaning. That's hard to generalize about, and it'll always be hit and miss, I think. Whether or not the critics tell us what we're supposed to be doing first.

UPDATE: Bitter Lemons writes a little more here.

1 comment:

Violet Vixen said...

Thanks for posting this series of responses. I love what you have to say.