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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Essays by Wallace Shawn

Pam picked up a copy of Essays by Wallace Shawn for me last week, and I've been reading it with interest. I certainly suggest that if you haven't picked up a copy, you do so.

There's lots of wonderful writing in it about class and the war in Iraq and theater. Reading this book causes the now obligatory pangs of class confusion in me, much like when I read Paul Auster's Hand to Mouth. They're almost opposing approaches to class (Auster seems almost unaware of his own privilege as he chooses to struggle; Wallace Shawn confronts his privilege head on) but both come from a place of relative wealth and ease.

Is it also a privilege to be cavalier about class and art? Wallace Shawn seems to view his privilege the way a neuroscientist must view his own emotions - he is fascinated, aware of all the little intricacies, but is still entirely a slave to it. His view of art is almost too amused - he enjoys it, he finds it pleasurable, he accepts entirely that it's got a small audience, and that he needs to make his living elsewhere. Auster, on the other hand, viewed making a living this way as a badge of honor. They're both kicking or embracing their own upper class...jealousy? Of those that can legitimately claim to have fought or are still fighting just for minor comforts?

Am I wrong in assuming that someone who is actually middle class, or from the working class, would never shrug so loudly at making a living or the legitimacy of his or her own output? I don't believe that people in the working class are immune to Auster's invention of his own struggles. We all want to live a very good story of personal triumph. We don't want it to be too easy. I've known plenty of people who view working as a sort of admission of defeat. Even people who really do need the money.

Worth some consideration. And, you're welcome, Wallace Shawn, for the free advertisement. Here is a carving from his essay "Myself And How I Got Into The Theatre". I'm interested to hear how you respond to it.

"Is theatre an 'art form?' Is drama an 'art?' Poetry is an art. Painting is an art. But can a play seriously be compared to a poem or a painting? Can you seriously claim that a play can be compared to a string quartet? [...] doesn't the essence of theatre really lie not in it aesthetic possibilities but instead its special ability to reflect the real world, its special ability to serve as a mirror?"

3 comments:

Aaron Riccio said...

If you're interested by class struggle (especially in that most austere Austerian way), I might also recommend some of William T. Vollman's maximalist travelogues/exposes, like the one about poor people, or immigration.

macrogers said...

I bow to no one in my Shawn-dolatry, but that quote is preposterous. It's just an idle musing that shouldn't have been committed to paper. A casual read of any one of his plays would prove that he doesn't believe a word of this, and that he never attempts to create a non-aestheticized mirror of the world. I have no idea what a play like that would even look like.

Freeman said...

He certainly goes on to wrestle with the quote a bit.