A Certain Confusion

Thoughts of a writer of sorts

Month: October, 2013

Mooc week one

I am doing a Mooc (massive open online course) called the Future of Storytelling. Each week some ideas and concepts discussed in videos made by the course tutors, additional reading, and a creative task. Not quite sure what form the tasks will take but the chances are I will put my responses up here – the first one is to retell a memorable story and explain why it has stayed with me.

Programme image for my production of Invitation to a Beheading (2002)

Programme image for my production of Invitation to a Beheading (2002)

One of my favourite books is Invitation to a Beheading, by Vladimir Nabokov, which I liked so much I decided to use it as the inspiration for a theatre piece in 2002. I don’t think I have read it since (my copy has disappeared from my bookshelf – if you have it, please return it!), so what of the story remains in my memory? It is about a man called Cincinnatus C., who has been condemned for the crime of being opaque, not fitting in. He is in prison, overseen by a gaoler and the director of the prison, neither of whom has much competence. There is a lawyer, also not blessed with competence. Cincinnatus receives visits from his wife and the rest of his family, who come not to sympathise or campaign for his release but perhaps to witness and display their tacit (or not) approval of his imprisonment and impending execution. The prison director’s young daughter lives in the prison too, and Cincinnatus sees her toy ball rolling past his cell door. Cincinnatus also has a pencil, with which he measures his remaining time on the earth.

At some point, he discovers a fellow prisoner, M’sieur Pierre, but M’sieur Pierre turns out actually to be his executioner who has introduced himself as a fellow prisoner only to put Cincinnatus at ease and prevent him forming a bad initial opinion of his executioner. He coaches Cincinnatus through the protocol for execution. But as the deadline date approaches, the prison disintegrates – the director and gaoler become harder to tell apart, characters degrade, events become ever more surreal. Cincinnatus is taken to the execution place as crowds of townsfolk cheer but as he looks at their faces, they become just painted hoardings that themselves fall away.

I can’t remember if that is how it ends. Read the rest of this entry »

Being | Human

The Prometheus Experiment

A flyer for ‘The Prometheus Experiment’ (London, 2005)

I saw two events in this series at King’s College London. Both had some stimulating elements though both were also flawed – but I like flawed work: it is interesting. These are my notes made either during or shortly after each event. The first I went to see because I have a long-standing interest in the myth of Prometheus (I wrote a play called The Prometheus Experiment in 2005 – it is my last play to date); the second because I have a long-standing interest in Utopia, by Thomas More, and would like to produce something to mark its 500th anniversary in 2016.

prometheus-empedocles fragments

Martin, a convivial host, honest about the running time (shorter than billed), inviting us to inspect the elements of the show (the ‘props’), explaining the provenance of the technologies on show – a 1960s slide projector, a cathode ray TV set, an iSurface. All from home, his home, his family’s home (his wife and son were assisting; the latter in school uniform) – a flat in the Barbican.

A performance in two parts – 7 minutes plus 23 minutes.

7min film: a nice idea. A blob of red. Some viscous clear liquid dribbled on top, pushing the red beyond its edge, spreading it out until this film caught up with the adjacent film of this same admixture being stirred with a paintbrush. That is all.

23min films: three screens now. Excerpts from a performance of Empedocles. Martin’s 1991 performance, I assume. Then a shifting pattern of white and black seeming dots but strangely organic like a fingertip maze. The second screen: seven lines appearing and disappearing, a domestic symbol, from Prometheus. The third screen – the only non-dom technology, a projector, showed titles, texts and finally a hearth fire. Read the rest of this entry »

French tries

I have very little confidence in my capabilities but one of the benefits of having children is that you reassess what’s important. If I took how impressed Edie is by what I can do as a benchmark, my most highly prized skill would be putting the milk back in the fridge and closing the door without looking, closely followed by speaking rudimentary French. Why Edie should be impressed by my GCSE-level French when she speaks English and Swedish fluently (and has just started learning Spanish at school to boot) is beyond me but there we are.

I read French much better than I speak it. I have a number of French novels on my bookshelves and I have tried translating a few things: some 15th/16th century farces, a play by Marguerite Duras, the odd poem, and a phenomenology of fire by Gaston Bachelard. Contemporary French writing is harder to keep up with but there are a couple of people I follow on Twitter who seem to be carrying on the good work, or at least the spirit, of the Oulipo. On such a person’s site a couple of weeks ago, I came across a really lovely piece of writing, which I translated one lunchtime. The translation is nothing special, I’m sure. In fact, I know it because I ran it through Google Translate as a check and much of the text came out the same as mine, apart from those little things that the computerised translator is apt to miss or misinterpret.

It was a bit of dilemma whether to ‘publish’ my translation here. As I say, it is nothing special and my French is not good enough that I trust it to not be a travesty. But in the end, I thought it worth sharing and so there it is below, with a link to the original, of course. Read the rest of this entry »