Where did the day go? Where do the days go? It’s 1am. The day is gone and I’m never going to get it back. I haven’t gotten anything done since I came home (more about that later.) Soon I will go to bed, and tomorrow will be brand new. Reset. Start-over. (The cycle of days and nights is amazing and I don’t think we would be alive without it. The existence of Eskimos astounds me.)
I started writing a letter to you two weeks ago, Christophe: I had gone to see a play, or rather an opera, called No Hotel. It’s an opera that actually has a TRAILER.
The New York Times reports
The multidisciplinary group Object Collection presents “No Hotel,” an innovative 70-minute opera about films, bad behavior and hotels, influenced by Warhol’s “Chelsea Girls.”
Robert Ashley said, “I hope this is the future.” I’m not sure what that would mean for bel canto teachers, since most of the dialogue was spoken. I’m also not sure what that would mean for stories. If there was a story to No Hotel, I don’t remember it. While Ashley’s operas are speech-works and don’t permit an overarching narrative, there are still stories throughout. In No Hotel, the structure of the “opera” was more important than any content. It was playing forwards and backwards simultaneously. Reminiscent of all those superimposed forwards-backwards screenings of The Shining,
But No Hotel didn’t actually run in reverse nor were the stories superimposed. Rather, the stage was bisected. A film of a hotel room was projected onto a screen on the left side of the stage. On the right side, three players stood in costumes staring at the audience. Eventually the actors in the film would appear as the live players on the right, and vice versa, trading places. Speech and action flowed forward on both sides, but the sequence of scenes approached the axis of reflection — a phone call from the theater to the hotel. The other players left the stage and the hotel room, leaving Fulya Peker alone with Fulya Peker, to have a conversation with herself on the telephone, after which the other players reappeared, wearing costumes from “the other side.” This structure of double-symmetry was more important than the words themselves, their delivery, or the music that punctuated the scenes. Most the words could have been interchangeable with any other words, and the costumes could have been changed with any other costumes, so long as the symmetry was preserved.
The one exception was the telephone call — the axis of the reflections where the two sides touched each other. This was the one dramatically necessary moment (Further proof that 2013 is The Year of The Telephone!) that connected the two sides of the stage, had them literally and meaningfully speaking with each other.
After this telephone call, the action shifted. Costumes we had seen in the film were now donned in the stage, and vice versa. The stage crew, who had been hotel staff in the film, began dismanting the hotel room in the film and erecting the hotel room on the stage. After the mirror switched, I had an urge to press “fast forward,” to “skip the the good part” feeling that I had already seen this part before and wasn’t interested in seeing it again.
I left the theater that night wondering about that urge to fast forward, what video has done to our eyes, why the unfolding of the expected made me antsy, and what it means to “waste time.”
The next morning I flipped through the Friday’s (September 6, 2013) New York Times. There was a subliminal message running through the paper:
WE ARE NEVER GOING TO GET IT BACK
It is still unclear if the recent decline in births will be made up by a surge in fertility over the next few years, as happened during the baby boom after World War II.
“A big question is what will happen to the 1.3 million forgone births?” Professor Johnson said. “Will women start to have these babies, or will the births never be made up?”
The failure of policy these past five years has, in fact, been immense. Some of that immensity can be measured in dollars and cents. Reasonable measures of the “output gap” over the past five years — the difference between the value of goods and services America could and should have produced and what it actually produced — run well over $2 trillion. That’s trillions of dollars of pure waste, which we will never get back.
And the New York Times reported the horror of the California Prisoner Hunger Strike (hidden on page 13) — the machinery of human waste running into a gesture of refusal, now officially “over”:
At its peak in July, 30,000 inmates across two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons were refusing meals. That number had dwindled to about 100 this week, according to prison officials.
Everywhere between the lines of the paper, something was lost. And the same cry:
WE ARE NEVER GOING TO GET IT BACK
It isn’t going to get better. We just have to endure it. To see if it is what we expect. Or something different.
Because who said it will be like we expect? Why did the second half of No Hotel actually unfold just like the first half of it in reverse? If there had been a departure, of course, that would have been a structure too. Like the mistake in a Persian rug. The difference that makes the difference.
Who is the theater for? Is it for the audience? For the writer? Who wants the second half to unfold like the first-half in reverse? I think it is for all of us who are getting old now or have been old for a long time, we who remember telephones and Gorbachev, who remember meeting people at such-and-such place and time and just going there and waiting for them, without any expectation that one should know where everyone was located at all times. Other people — our frends and families included — were going about their lives and were on their way. We would see them sometime, kiss and trade some bacteria and chemicals, learn where they had been, where they were going, and go off again into the mix.
Since in the second-half of No Hotel, they are replaying the first-half in reverse, my urge to “fast forward” is also an urge to undo, to ctrl-z, to put the genie back in the bottle. Maybe the play is trying to defy the message that
WE ARE NEVER GOING TO GET IT BACK.
Last month in the London Review of Books, Rebecca Solnit wrote:
Nearly everyone I know feels that some quality of concentration they once possessed has been destroyed. Reading books has become hard; the mind keeps wanting to shift from whatever it is paying attention to to pay attention to something else. A restlessness has seized hold of many of us, a sense that we should be doing something else, no matter what we are doing, or doing at least two things at once, or going to check some other medium. It’s an anxiety about keeping up, about not being left out or getting behind
Fast forward. It’s the result of this anxiety–but in a symmetrical series of events would also be the undoing of this anxiety! In the play, at least, the simulation of it… But can new forms of symmetry also fast-forward us into rediscovering what we have been told we WILL NEVER GET BACK?
Solnit hopes (saying like a Buddhist or an ex-Obamer, that she “wonders” because “hope” is a dirty word)
I wonder sometimes if there will be a revolt against the quality of time the new technologies have brought us, as well as the corporations in charge of those technologies. Or perhaps there already has been, in a small, quiet way. The real point about the slow food movement was often missed. It wasn’t food. It was about doing something from scratch, with pleasure, all the way through, in the old methodical way we used to do things. That didn’t merely produce better food; it produced a better relationship to materials, processes and labour, notably your own, before the spoon reached your mouth. It produced pleasure in production as well as consumption. It made whole what is broken
All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men will never put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. But, what about in reverse? (Are you following me Christophe? I can see it in my mind… but there is a noise that is drowning the metaphor. The noise is feedback. The concept of repetition is thundering, shattering these fragile symmetries.)
Put the genie back in the bottle. So, like I said, I started this letter to you two weeks ago, and didn’t finish. I became distracted in the dictionary definition of “waste” which is one of those wonderful English words where the German root and the Latin root enmesh in one sound. Waste. Vast. Empty. Destroyed. Ruined. Squandered. (Americans, you may recall from your time here, don’t like to think about the consequences of squandering… except as schadenfruede.)
Do you remember that novel, Irreverence, that I buried in the forest at Bree’s house? No Hotel and “putting genies back into bottles” reminds me one character, a yogi named Mark Time, who mastered the technique of making the river flow backwards?
I don’t know why I did the things I did I don’t know why I said the things I said / Pride’s like a knife it can cut deep inside / Words are like weapons they wound sometimes.
It’s a basic human fantasy, isn’t it?
I can’t wrap this up, Christophe. I can’ t think right now. There are police and newstrucks everywhere, and a helicopter overhead. It has been a strange day… but I am thankful that the confusion of this distraction has let me return to this unfinished letter. Please write back and help me to figure it all out.
PS: FOR THOSE IN NEW YORK INTERESTED IN NO HOTEL, it is running until the 22nd of September. Tix here