Thomas McKechnie: Let’s Dissect The Bunny

Let’s dissect the bunny.

We have been dissecting frogs and fetal pigs for so long now we forgot why we’re dissecting them. We dissect frogs and fetal pigs specifically because they have mostly the same organs as humans in mostly the same configurations. So by opening them up you can see what we would look like open up. But why are we doing that? Maybe we were dissecting them to make them real. Instead of a picture of their insides/our insides we have their insides their, tiny and sticky and grey in your hands. To collapse the images of the interior and exterior of the frog and by extension collapsing the images of the interior and exterior of us. But that begs the question, does it work? Do you leave your pig dissection with a clearer idea of it’s body and your body and the great wholeness of the natural world? Or do you just leave it with a passing grade on the assignment? And is the assignment dissect a frog or is the assignment “Gain a new, quietly profound, sense of the wholeness of the natural world and our place in it?” In which case, did you get a good mark on quiet profundity?

You get the feeling of collapsing images when you go to a landmark. “There it is. The Riechstag. That’s the Reichstag. Right there.” Suddenly the idea of the Reichstag and the concrete reality of it come crashing together. The night it was burned, the witch hunt after that the burning allowed. Kristallnacht. The Holocaust. Then the image of victory. The soldier flying the flag of the USSR over the broken city. All of this and every other association suddenly collapsing into the imposing building with its beautiful glass dome there in front of you in a half-drunk Berlin afternoon. It becomes real. I’ve heard this doesn’t work with the Eiffel Tower. I’ve never been to Paris. I have no imminent plans or great desire to do so. I have this gut feeling that I already know the Eiffel Tower too well. That all the images I have of it would cloud my brain as I approached. Like a person you’ve been thinking about and dreaming about, pupil-dilating, breath-shortening, tiny-involuntary-yelp-of-joy-and-fear-everytime-they-text-you CRUSHING on. When you’ve kept at a distance by time and distance and timidity and you FINALLY get close to them and they’re nothing like you’ve made in your head. They might be equally wonderful–or even better–but they aren’t the your carefully constructed ideation. They’re something else and I’m so in love with this fake person that I’ve created that this other person is a stranger and, if I’m being small and petty and solipsistic, the actual person is a betrayal. I don’t know if I can love Paris because I already know too well that I should love Paris. That Paris is there to be loved. I think there exists three-ish types of relationships to Paris:

  • Over thinkers (c’est moi!) who can always think their way out of being happy. (Minority)
  • The people who know that Paris is Paris but still, like long suffering Hollywood spouses, work to love the person underneath the idea. (Minority)
  • Daydreamers. (Majority)

Daydreamers aren’t interested in spiritual intoxication. They cannot open their hearts to the possibility of wretched, beautiful, broken Bucharest: the same Bucharest that still has my heart a little bit. They hear about taxi-kidnappings and the heavy souls of Ceausescu’s children. They don’t want to see “The Little Paris”. They want Paris. Daydreamers want Paris because Paris can’t possibly be everything Paris has promised to be. So Paris is a blank slate. We imagined Paris to death. Paris ate every fantasy we fed it and Paris ate and ate and ate and ate until it couldn’t lift it’s head or open it’s mouth and stir it’s vocal cords and it’s certainly couldn’t swat away the thousands of gnat-like tourists swarming all over its body sucking on the fetid soon-to-be corpse. THANK GOD FOR THAT because that means we can pose in front of its glorious corpulence. Paris is everything we need it to be because Paris has no will of its own. Paris couldn’t get us to leave if it tried. Daydreamers are quite happy with this. Daydreams aren’t interested in being in love. Love is messy and hard and involves a give and a take. But they paid for their flights and they paid for the hotels and they paid for the meal and their wine and their tour of Versaille. Paris OWES the daydreamers something. Paris owes the daydreamers everything. This is why daydreamers can’t/won’t/DON’T WANNA fall in love. If you fall in love you would be back at home spending half an hour tugging out your hair out trying to explain “it wasn’t the steps of the cathedral per se it was the way the light had landed just so through the trees and I was so tired and still getting over jet lag and I had gotten this coffee and it was literally the best coffee I’d ever had and I was in the middle of really savouring it and then this police officer came over and told me I couldn’t sit there or I think that’s what he was saying because I don’t speak French and–” but by this time someone has cut in and said, “I found the police so friendly. I asked to go the Eiffel Tower and Lesley has a bit of French and so she said, ‘Which way to the Eiffel–’–say it, Lesley, say it, I love the way you say it.” And there’s this horrible, prissy, thickly accented, overly enunciated: “Ce Qui A La TOUR EIFFEL Monsieur Gendarme?

There is no play in that for the daydreamers. Because the only reason that daydreamers are in a conversation about Paris is so they can say, “OH, the architecture, the history, the romance, the food, the wine, the food, the wine, the food, the food, the food, the food, the food, the food”. None of the Daydreamers are interested in how you fell in love. Because they didn’t fall in love. They’re interested in the list. The List of Cathedrals and Paintings and A-DORABLE cafes that you all went to. All of you did. You all went to that A-DORABLE CAFE and it was SO FRENCH. If you didn’t have those experiences you are not valuable in that conversation because you having not done those things means that either A) You missed the good stuff or B) They missed the good stuff.

So it’s better for everyone if Paris is dead. If it was living, shifting, surprising occurrence then they wouldn’t be getting their money’s worth. You hear the same conversation if you get a group of Daydreaming theatre makers sitting together at a bar after a show. “I didn’t feel connected to the main character” “But what did it mean?” “Oh, wasn’t that irreverent?”. These Daydreamers refused to fall in love with the play. Refused to allow it to be a living, shifting, capricious, unique moment. They hold it up to the list. They want it to be dead so they can either gleefully check the boxes–“clear direction”, “stirring performances”, “vaguely connected to a current event.” Or tsk tsk because it had failed to do so.

Paris wasn’t always dead. I know this because it is dead now. There’s only one way things die and that is by trying not to die. Have you watched the Simpsons recently? No? Good. Keep it that way. Either Paris fell in love with itself or the world fell in love with Paris or both back and forth eternally. And because people fell in love with it they wanted to hold onto a piece of it, to keep it, forever, frozen in stasis. They wanted that bench where you sat and realized that this trip wasn’t going to save your marriage and you cried. You cried, uncontrolled, on that little bench in Paris because you had worked as hard as you could work and that wasn’t good enough and you started to question your father and all the grease-stained lessons he had taught you. It would be impossible for that bench not to be there when you came back because that bench was everything: the love, the marriage, the previously-infinite belief in your own ability to hold things together by force of will, the shattering absence it left, all these things live wrapped up in that bench. That bench that can only be in Paris. Can only be three blocks from the Eiffel Tower where you realized that even the most romantic place in the world couldn’t make you ever want their lips to touch lips ever again. That bench could only be in Paris. That love and pain and loss was all wrapped up in that little bench so Paris wasn’t allowed to ever ever ever get rid of that bench. That bench where years from that day you’d be able to sit down and look at the Seine and have the pain wash over you again as you looked the very same Seine that has never flowed out to the Atlantic. So you claimed that bench. Just like someone else claimed the stairwell where a kind German man, just before the war, said “I vant to spend ze rescht of my leif wiz you”; and that kind German man did spend the rest of their kind, German life with that someone else because they were both killed, eight days later, in a car accident. And Robespierre claimed the square and Napoleon claimed the cannons and the people claimed the Bastille and it was all claimed. Bit by bit. Exported in postcards and Lost Generation novels. It was claimed though because it was loved. These children with newfangled film cameras, Americans who had no business lounging in cafes, except by dint of GI pensions and daddy’s money. They loved it though. They loved it while it lived. Paris was obliging. Paris kept the Seine from running to the sea. Paris kept the light from that one glorious summer you spent sketching and resketching the Mona Lisa rolled up in a cupboard and brings it out and dusts it off and lines the sky with it every year, every year more worn, every year more patched.

Their was a reason once, to dissect frogs, I assume. Although we’re not sure what it was, we’re certain there was a very good reason for cutting through rubbery formaldehyde flesh. We’ve lost it though. There is a Carl Sagan quote that has been ringing in my ears lately, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.” We don’t want to admit that we don’t know why we dissect frogs, we don’t want to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing in Paris, I don’t want to admit that I don’t understand theatre. Why I feel like despite beautiful performances and a topic that interests me and beautiful design that I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t want to admit that I’ve committed the majority of my (albeit brief) adult life to something which can’t grind half as hard as Summer Cannibals. I don’t know what we’re doing anymore. All I know is that, with rare exceptions, what we’re doing feels bloodless, toothless, harmless. We know our entrances and our exits, we know our lines and we say them. We’re going through the motions. Our whole theatre feels like a show that’s been running for too long, everyone too settled into the patterns. We’ve settled into patterns for so long that we no longer even recognize them as patterns. We think they’re objective facts. Theatre: has characters, has a story, has one single articulated, “point” that emerges from a single point of view, it happens in theatres, the audience is quiet, it starts on time, it is funded by grants and funnelled through festivals into established theatre seasons, it’s created through an infinite number of pointless readings that no one’s quite sure why they’re happening and lead, by and large no where, it’s maintained by gatekeepers who are only appeased with unflinching supplication and unpaid internships, it’s political but in a facile way that gestures towards politics in a way that floods Small L Liberals basements, it is laughable to most of the world and, in our shittiest moments, to ourselves. Cut it open, do mystic rites, auger the old gods, throw offal at officials.

Our theatre feels like a corpulent Paris. I want a theatre that feels like the way I love Bucharest. Bucharest where I was genuinely afraid I was going to die one night, Bucharest where when I told an old Roma woman I was from Canada, that I was on vacation and she said, truly shocked, “Why did you come here?”, Bucharest with its towering Art Nouveau hotel, abandoned from decades with a sixty foot advertisement for a cell company on it because no could afford to use it and no one could afford to tear it down. Bucharest, beautiful, brutal, broken. I love you. I don’t understand you but I promise to never try to kill you so I can. I will love you as you change, I will love you and hope you live forever and hope that I love you forever.

 

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