Behind Every Curtain


The Actor Artaud in "The Passion of Joan of Arc" in 1928

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribed to my blogs, you’ve likely been bombarded by my gushing about the fact that I’m writing a memoir, which I post weekly on The Road to Promise to coincide with #WriterWednesday on Twitter! Wednesday has come around yet again and I put my 60th post online today, one that finds me reading an article by Bruce Weber about Richard Ford’s ability to create unique characters.

It was 1988 and the novelist was one of the hottest rising stars in American literature at the time. Weber quotes Raymond Carver in the piece. He was a close friend of Ford’s, and he says about his work, “Sentence for sentence…Richard is the best writer at work in this country today.” I have a love/hate relationship with Ford’s fiction, but I’m a solid fan of Carver’s work, especially his poetry. If I’m ever stymied in my own work, I often pull Carver’s A New Path to the Waterfall off my bookshelf and read a few poems. There’s something about his voice that has a way of kick-starting me when I need a good push.

Today, I thought I’d share this poem from his book because its subject figures significantly in my history as a writer, a history that is being plotted on The Road to Promise as I continue to follow the material along.

Artaud

Among the hieroglyphs, the masks, the unfinished poems,

the spectacle unfolds: Antonin et son double.

They are at work now, calling up the old demons.

The enchantments, etc. The tall, scarred-looking

one at the desk, the one with the cigarette and

no teeth to speak of, is prone to

boldness, to a certain excess

in speech, in gesture. The other is cautious,

watches carefully his opportunity, is effacing even. But

at certain moments still hints broadly, impatiently

of his necessarily arrogant existence.

 

Antonin, sure enough, there are no more masterpieces.

But your hands trembled as you said it,

and behind every curtain there is always, as you

knew, a rustling.

Raymond Carver (from A New Path to the Waterfall)

Carver’s poem references the theories put forth in Antonin Artaud’s book The Theater and Its Double, one that I read during graduate studies at NYU when I had the great fortune of having William Packard lead me through a semester devoted to the aesthetics of writing. In Artaud’s chapter “No More Masterpieces,” he writes, “Masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us. We have the right to say what has been said and even what has not been said in a way that belongs to us, a way that is immediate and direct, corresponding to present modes of feeling, and understandable to everyone.”

I’m heading to Paris next week so France is on my mind. I’m going to have more time to explore my deeper creative work during this trip as I hang out in the cafes where some of the greatest writers of all time have sat and scribbled their ideas, Artaud among them. I’ll be working on a book of poems and a play, and I hope my work will be infused with the level of immediacy and directness that he champions. I also hope to achieve something akin to Artaud’s brand of revitalization, even if it’s in the tiniest way.

He proposes that literature and the dramatic arts induce a trance just as the dances of Dervishes induce trance: “There is a risk involved, but in the present circumstances I believe it is a risk worth running. I do not believe we have managed to revitalize the world we live in, and I do not believe it is worth the trouble of clinging to; but I do propose something to get us out of our marasmus, instead of continuing to complain about it, and about the boredom, inertia, and stupidity of everything.”

I will feel him looking over my shoulder as I write (say) what has been written (said) in a way that belongs to me, ever hopeful that some aspect of my work might someday have an impact even while I realize that it will by then be “of the past” and therefore only good for the past. As to whether I’ll ever produce masterpieces, that’s for a future generation to decide, I suppose. I’ll be long gone but may the work live on! Happy roaming everyone! I’ll be posting from the City of Lights next week: stay tuned!

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