A memorable day: two wonderful texts to speak about- David Malouf’s The Conversations At Curlow Creek and Margaret Edson’s play Wit.
Both texts are concerned with stripping away the last illusions about ourselves. The protective images we hold up to the world (and to ourselves) that protect our full humanity from really emerging. William Blake would have seen both these works as extraordinary dramatizations of the protective ego at work…. holding fast to its comfort zone, its securities.
In the case of Adair, the dissolving of the ego, of the externally tough personality of the policeman, the lawmaker is more sudden and thorough than in the case of Vivian Bearing in Wit. Adair softens to Daniel Carney’s plight almost immediately… but remember this is like the end point of Adair’s story. This is time present – after a long history of being one of the “authorities” – on the side of the British law. Now this veneer is about to crumble as he discovers – miraculously enough- that the man he is about to hang might have been the last man to see his long-last childhood companion – Fergus…. Is it possible? At all events a powerful bond grows between Adair and Carney during the night in the hut…. and what is the outcome in the morning as Adair has to supervise the HANGING (!!!) of the one man who might be a link to his (Adair’s) meaningful childhood past. Wow… what an incredibly well woven narrative… so much more to say…
But in the case of Vivian Bearing in Wit…. while she has been a highly successful, brilliantly respected, world-class (the list can go on!) literary academic, she now has to face the ignominious lot of every one of us… Ashes to Ashes in fact…. (the Pinter play lurks in the background… just as much as Harold Pinter himself playing a brilliantly detached, Pinteresque, humanly indifferent father to Vivian as a child (Soporific!!!))…. DEATH!
And how does she cope? Is her death as painful, as agonized as that of Ivan Illych, or Mister Kurtz…. does she go gracefully? does she gain understanding? does she recognize her failures? Or is this play a reflection on the tragedy of one who, clinging too obsessively to her position in life (as a way of self-protection)… has protected herself from life itself….
The tragedy of being visited near death by the only woman who showed some feeling for her as a young student….
This play is so much about how the omission of feeling in life is a crucial omission… one that can lead to a real mechanization, dehumanization: Carlyle’s words still resound: Man is grown mechanical in Head and Heart as well as in Hand…. and of course it was the medical profession itself which is thoroughly exposed in this play as being – maybe- symbolic of the lack of true feeling in so much of our society.
And I couldn’t help thinking about New Orleans when watching the nurse Suzie… here, one of the less advantaged members of the US of A… demonstrating real feeling and humanity… This throws so much of what we value in our society into a critical perspective.
And what an incredible film production it was: minimalist and yet realist… the REAL hospital ward…. the UNREAL hospital ward… What is REAL/ UNREAL…. where, what, when, how, is REALITY…. for Margart Edson, primary school teacher…. it clearly is in the heart…. Charles Dickens showing through here again as well.
Over and out!