Thursday, January 29, 2009


Naomi Wallace - On Writing as Transgression

Read it. I had no idea I would read something so compelling to me in the pages of American Theatre.

We have spoken about the value of theater, I think Ms. Wallace does a incredibly precise dissection of how theater's value erodes in certain circumstance.

When speaking about computer technology and communication, Sam Fuller (One of my favorites) stated that the only value history will assign the use of such communication is in how it contributes to democracy. Now, when he said this he was showing his skirt just a bit, but his sentiment about how what we say, why we say it should be used for the betterment of humanity, the preservation of our bodies and the dignification of our spirit... I think is echoed in Naomi Wallace's words here.

Here is my question... was there anyone else out there stirred by these words? If not why not? What is missing? What did she leave out? Or if there is a valid counterpoint to her manifesto... then can you point me in that direction?


RebeccaZ said...

This was rousing to the rabble floating around my recently quiet sensibilities and I thought it was great. I think she hit the nail on the head and by en-couraging students, peers, audiences, etc., we'll all be on the right road. But we should always remember that, even though we're all moving in the right path, we should accept those who would transgress and trespass upon the new order as that's the only way to keep the creative wheel turning with fresh innovation.

Thanks for posting the link to the article, Bob! Naomi Wallace is one of my favorite playwrights and has such a refreshing and clear point of view.


Nick Keenan said...

To pick up where Twitter left me, I also love Naomi Wallace's work (One Flea Spare and Trestle at Pope Lick Creek are both gorgeous plays), and I think that the central thesis here is correct: that teachers must first and foremost teach their student writers (and all artists, I'd add) to grow up to challenge them specifically and society's assumptions at large. That's brilliant.

However, as someone who grew up in a liberal college town, who was so disenchanted with this life-is-a-hellscape-and-distractions-must-be-destroyed reading of our society that I fancied myself a republican in opposition for a while, I think her conclusions about what this society needs are pueruile and reactive.

Bradgelina is a distraction from the real problems of the world? No kidding. The problem with her response to this state of affairs is that it doesn't succeed in creating change. To me, as a student of this kind of teacher, my challenge was that: Cynicism will never work as a cure for society's ills. Engagement requires blood, and it also requires constructive criticism of a society. That means that you need to first work together to create the possibility of positive change before the existing structures of greed, empire, racism, etc, can be deconstructed.

That challenging constructiveness needs to be represented in writing, or writing for the theater will become - ta da! - irrelevant and sidelined in the society.

We have a president who understands this now... Do we simply now act as opposition to his political movement, or do we guide and help shape it?

Nick Keenan said...

You know what we *also* need to teach? The ability to challenge our own personal assumptions through our writing and artistic work. That's a very, very tricky thing to do, but it is possible.

Anonymous said...

I dont read this as mere cynicism. I agree that it doesn't change anything but it a call for change and for focus that appeared in American Theatre in Jan 2008.

I'm sort of surprised by your reaction Nick. And, I'm not totally sure I understand it. I went to a liberal school in a republican state but everyone there was being geared to make sure they had the tools for selling rather than expressing. Expressing was a component to being more marketable.

I can agree that tabloid criticism is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I think she goes beyond that with her points about teaching and encouraging awareness and yes dissent, not for the mere sake of dissention but because governments are corrupt and even though we all love our new Pres he will need educated dissentors in order to enact change.

But, maybe I'm not getting your point about Obama and opposition.

Let us not forget that the country did elect him, but that Prop 8 happened, we don't seem to have a firm direction on stimulus, we may end up getting alot of nice things like stem cell research etc... but there are lots of things to still feel, express dissention about...