Friday, November 16, 2012

En plein air and a little élan

Perhaps the best writing I've come across this year has been in John Strehlow's book, The Tale of Frieda Keysser, which I wrote about at length in my second last blog (5 Nov 2012). It has such energy. It almost comes off the page. I put this down to the fact that John is a dramatist at heart - he has been a theatrical director for years.

There is something to be learnt from this, I figure. More and more I feel the urge to write drama; more and more to make action visible; to create a springboard for actors or singers. "Dramatise, dramatise!" said Henry James, and I think that's good advice. When I bridge the gulf between acting and written prose, I feel I will have created a real electrical circuit.

I hope there's no reverse snobbery in this but I remember some years ago when I went into a well-known Australian bookshop to buy a non-fiction book, I happened to mention to the guy behind the counter that someone was making it into a film. He let out a bad-tempered sigh, "Why don't they f#$%#ing leave it alone? Why do they always have to interfere with good books?" I should have pointed out that he was railing against human creativity, the obviously irresistible urge to keep building on what's gone before, recasting originals in new media. Why would you want to stop this when new angles, new meanings show up? It's why Berio kept re-composing his music; why Liszt made transcriptions of Beethoven; why there's a performance tradition in Shakespeare and sometimes you can leave out whole characters, as Olivier did when he left out Fortinbras and therefore highlighted a Freudian rather than political dimension to Hamlet. (In adapting Journey to Horsehoe Bend, Andrew Schultz and I thinned out the symbolism and therefore what was left became sharper.) But I bit my tongue. I noticed that the guy - hunched over and with a billiard room tan - had a 'got out of bed on the wrong side' kind of look on his face.

Some weeks ago, I went back into that bookshop and saw the same guy again. I couldn't help thinking about the millions of words under his guard compelled to sit on their arses within their various bindings. I reflected that the best bookshop I've come across in the past year was this one, Bart's in Ojai California. Why? I love that it's outdoors. You can read a book without hiding yourself away from the southern Californian sunshine. It celebrates outdoors and indoors at the same time. It's the beginning of stepping off the shelf and into the flow of life.

Bart's Bookshop in Ojai, CA
But I'll admit southern California has a problem balancing the indoors art of our European tradition and the traditions that arise from an outdoors culture. The Getty Center's buildings and views of LA almost dwarf the artworks inside, even though most of them are masterworks! They seem to depend for their power on their frames and interiors. But I'd sure like to see the power in letting words come off the page.

The San Diego Freeway beside the Getty Center, LA

No comments:

Post a Comment