On Staging Lies

  1. We are living now in a peculiar time, though all times may perhaps
  2. have had their own timely peculiarities. Indeed, this time of
  3. ours strikes me as highly, highly peculiar, especially when—as I am
  4. doing just now—I place one finger alongside my nose so as to reflect
  5. upon the actual nature of this life that we are now forcefully thrusting
  6. and squeezing onto the stage. We give the stage life to eat, and it
  7. appears to be well fed. Even the most obscure, sequestered dramatist
  8. presents the theater with his scraps of obscure, sequestered life. If
  9. things continue at such a clip, life will soon be lying on its back
  10. like a consumption-wracked crone, sucked and pumped dry to the
  11. ribs, while the theater will be as plump, portly, and stuffed full as,
  12. say, an engineer who’s struck gold with his patented enterprises and
  13. is now in a position to allow himself all the pleasures the world affords.
  14.        The stage needs life! True enough, but plague and pox confound
  15. it, where is all this good, wholesome, veritable life supposed to come
  16. from? From life, no? But then is life really so inexhaustible? In my
  17. view it is inexhaustible only insofar as we let it keep on following its
  18. natural course—tranquil, fluid, and broad—like an untamed, beautiful
  19. river. But it may soon appear incontrovertible that we erudite
  20. numskulls are merely exploiting and pummeling life, no longer its
  21. natural children. It’s as if life were a large, dusty carpet that now, in
  22. this age of ours, is to be hung out and given a good whacking. Even
  23. dentists who’ve gone to see Lulu have begun to study the features
  24. and muscles of life as though it were necessary to cut open an old
  25. cadaver and hurl pieces of it onto the stage.
  26.        Here’s the thing: the more vivid and natural things look at the
  27. theater, the more anxious, guarded, vexed, and upholstered things
  28. will appear in everyday life. When the stage bangs out its truths, it
  29. exerts an intimidating influence; when, however, it spins out golden,
  30. idealized falsehoods in an oversize, unnaturally beautiful form—as
  31. it used to do at least a little in former eras—the effect of this is
  32. provocative and heartening, it fosters the beautiful, crass vulgarities
  33. of life. Then we can say we’ve been to the theater and luxuriated in a
  34. foreign, noble, beautiful, gentle world. Watch out with those
  35. unbridled nature plays of yours, lest life trickle away unawares. I’m all
  36. for a theater of lies, Lord help me.