I want to go to France

I have been reading quite heavily about French politics and art, particularly in the time between the wars, and after world war 2. This is solidifying my desire to visit France. I have wanted to go since I was a small child, but the desire waned slightly in my older years, after visiting amazing German cities such as Berlin, and falling in love with London. Maybe it is time for another new love.

Some 20th century French poems that are speaking to me in reference to Genet's work:

French surrealist Robert Desnos (1900-1945) - I've dreamed such dreams of you

I've dreamed such dreams of you that you're losing
your reality.
Do I still have time to reach your vital body, to kiss
into life that voice I love so much?
I've dreamed such dreams of you that my arms,
across my chest, might not yield to your body's shape.
Faced with the real presence of what's haunted and
guided me all these days and years, doubtless I'd become
a shadow.
Fine balance of feelings!
I've dreamed such dreams of you that the time for
waking must have come and gone. I'm asleep on my feet,
exposed to every image of life and love, and you, the only
thing which counts forme now, any lips, any forehead
will be easier for me to touch than your forehead, your
I've dreamed such dreams of you, I've walked so
much, talked so much, lain so much with your shadow,
that perhaps now all I can be is a ghost among ghosts, a
hundred times more shadow than the moving shadow
cast and lightly cast again across your life measured by
the sun.

Swiss-born French poet Philippe Jaccottet (1925-) - Serenity

The shadow within the light
like light blue smoke

Belgian-born poet Jean Daive (1941-) I rise from the depths

I rise from the depths of my resemblance
at the very edge of enigma

evening after evening
I have vanished I vanish

blinded resemblance
falls back into cold's fabric

All taken from:
Sorrell, Martin. Modern French Poetry. London: Forest Books, 1992. P. 63, 105, 227.


I went by the National Portrait Gallery yesterday, while out for Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar Square; we thought we'd have a warm up and take in some paintings. One of my favourite periods of English history is the Tudor (and thereabouts) largely because I have studied it in some detail. Meandering through the second floor, we encountered busts of Queen Victoria, large paintings of period families, etc, and then came upon the room of Tudors. It was really startling to be confronted with the actual paintings that make up the images that have become so familiar in books and other media. One that really stood out was the painting of King Henry VIII - it is toward the end of his life. We see the layers of identity; the clothing and jewels of kingship, the regal, lush fabrics and gold necklaces. This is what he wants us to see, what he presents to the world. Next, we see his skin; only the face, fleshy from rich diet, another symbol of his wealth and power, and by extension that of his nation. But when we look at the eyes, we see something else. This unknown painter has succeeded in capturing a clarity, a vulnerability in his eyes, which seems to imply a falsity of the preceeding layers. Having read my history, I know of the paranoia from which Henry suffered - worries about contracting The Plague, not having an heir, losing his kingdom. . . each of these seem to glimmer behind the facade of the exterior.

Of course, looking back, knowing what happened (or at least what has been recorded) we can see this. But I wonder what was perceived at the time? Could his subjects see the vulnerability? Clearly the painter was able to pierce through the exterior and see this, so that we can have it today.


Apparently didn't blog at all for the latter half of last week. It included continuations in Playwriting and Laban approaches classes, which have been great.

Also did some initial rehearsals and voiceover recordings for this week's scene study, another scene from Genet's The Blacks. In this, we learned that apparently I can do a Nigerian accent. Still can't do German, though!

Outside all this, I've been reading Genet's book 'Prisoner of Love' which was (I believe) his last publication. It reflects on his encounters with Palestinian rebels and the oh-so-confusing politics of Northern Africa in the 1970s (Heck, even now). What I am really finding fascinating is his ability to draw historical parralels to the French Revolution, The Black Panthers, The Nazi regime, and yet nothing seems put on. The beautifully poetic lens he applies to the people and space of the conflict is wonderful; at once it makes you feel completely aligned with the individuals, and yet completely separated from them. Some enjoyable moments for me...

"The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them. . . all the images of wars have been created after the battles themselves thanks to looting or the energy of artists, and left standing thanks to oversight on the part of rain or rebellion. But what survives is the evidence, rarely accurate but always stirring, vouchsafed to the future by the victors." - (p7-8)

"Everything happens in the dark. At the point of death, however insubstantial those words and however unimportant the event itself, the condemned man still wants to determine for himself the meaning of his life, lived in a darkness he tried not to lighten but to make more black." (p54)

"What was to become of you after the storms of fire and steel? What were you to do? Burn, shriek, turn into a brand, blacken, turn to ashes, let yourself be slowly covered first with dust and then with earth, seeds, moss, leaving behind nothing but your jawbone and teeth, and finally becoming a little funeral mound with flowers growing on it and nothing inside." (p102)

"When someone leaned out of the window of a departing train it used to be the custom, apparently, for his friends to run alongside waving their handkerchiefs. But the custom has probably died out, just as the piece of cloth has been replaced by a neat square of paper. You used to know the train would take good care of the traveller, and you expected him to send you a postcard. If someone set out on a journey on foot, his friends would wait until he or even his shadow disappeared. But even in his absence he was still with them, and if they heard he'd died or was in danger or trouble, they felt for him." (p240)

"When a man invents an image that he wants to propagate, that he may even want to substitute for himself, he starts by experimenting, making mistakes, sketching out freaks and other non-viable monsters that he has to tear up unless they disintegrate of their own accord. But the operative image is the one that's left after the person dies or withdraws from the world, as in the case of Socrates, Christ, Saladin, Saint-Just and so on. They succeeded in projecting an image around themselves and into the future. It doesn't matter whether or not the image corresponds to what they were really like: they managed to wrest a powerful image from that reality." (p302)

Photo: Portrait of Jean Genet by Anthony Weir


Today's Scene Study class raised some interesting questions surrounding identity and art. . . specifically to do with what identities we (as artists) create, challenge or reinforce through presentation of plays. In particular, this was raised in relation to staging old plays, the baggage of literary and performance history that comes along with them. The main focus on the discussion was Othello, looking at a 1960s version with Laurence Olivier in black face, while another was with South African actors in Johannesberg in the 1980s. Looking at some critical texts on the idea of gender or race in performance, we discussed the implications of staging decisions, and the results these can have for informing stereotype.

This raised a few things for me. . .
- part of me wants to say that art is for art's sake, so what the hell are we worrying about this other stuff for.
- The rational part of me replies, knowing that there is always responsibility of the artist in representing anything, and particularly in representing something that has gained certain significance for a community or group.

So then how do we merge these? I think that the main focus needs to be artistic integrity, but that merged with this needs to be a conscious acknowledgement of what the stage images are doing to the audience, and how they will be received. Audiences at different times and places will bring context that must be acknowledged in the production. A failure to do this is a failure as an artist. Our main role is to interact with and respond to the world as we see it; this can take many forms, but must necessarily account for audience response.

Anton Chekov - The Three Sisters

I have always felt an affinity to Masha in this play in previous readings; her struggle, stuck with the old, wanting the new, but unable to really know what she wants, always made me feel that this was the depth of Chekov's argument. Reading it again (double whammy...prep for Acting Space and also reading for Theorizing in a few weeks) I really felt that Andrei's position in the play rang out to me. This man of words and knowledge is forced to give that up for the more menial, in order to survive. His horrible, social-climbing wife Natasha has subjugated not only his body, but his soul.

The images of cutting down trees, people trampling through the garden, everyone leaving this grand old home, brought the sense of former grandeur, lost to the pursuit of the future.

What a lovely, sad, play.