28 February 2014

Four Gardens

Four Gardens

My grandmothers were
Gardeners. Gardens
As different from each
Other as they
Were. Be
Cause of my
Parents they
Were friends. My
Parents are gardeners
Too. I am only
One. Of their
Four gardens.

L. Steve Schmersal, Four Gardens, February 2014.

22 February 2014

On The Law, Marriageability, and The Supreme Court

This begins with a very long sentence, inclusive of serial digressions on the topic:

While I have never had any significant personal interest in getting married and--less topical but still significant--I am critical of the prized, exemplary status accorded marriage culturally, and even more so of the economic and legal advantages awarded by the State to any two adult individuals--formerly white, formerly of the same skin color, and now formerly of differently sexed bodies (is it not interesting how discriminatory animus, as the Law itself, shows its sad obsession with excluding specific bodies from its irregular protections and its unearned patronage in this neat, capsule history?)--who, whether foolish or wise, whether loaded and living it up and leaving it in Las Vegas or sober at St Patrick's, decide, for any reason or no reason, for love or money or loneliness or status or spite, to claim their right to this contract that we call an institution, I nonetheless have never found the curiously overwrought desire in The Law to segregate same-sex adults from this contract (without entertaining even the condescending lip-service of "separate but equal") to be credulous or even intelligible.

I am less perplexed by the impulse two people may have to enunciate a ritual declaration of union between them than I am by the State's longstanding preoccupation with singling out this dual relation for its imprimatur, while other relationships and other adults, paired but unmarried or--Heaven forfend!--single--nearly all by dint of birth not among the 1% that enjoys the wealth of the nation--are effectively punished for their willful failure, or their legal ineligibility, to submit to this contract. And thus this structure makes a demand of the institution, a demand whose call is heard no less by those able to heed it under The Law's latest grudging concession of whom it will accept as a person (even then only under certain conditions and in specific locations) and those still shunned by its embrace and ridiculed by its exceptional promise--a promise it guards jealously in its bosom, as a child does with a secret or rather an old toy, carefully withheld from play by the merest interest from another child.

The value of the Other Body does not derive from the ban placed on its marriageability, rather the Body in question--though unmarked by any outward sign of its intrinsic, alien difference, except, of course, the same difference displayed by nearly everyone: the supposedly unified, immutable sex of the body itself, now cleverly redeployed as the mark of difference, of Cain, by its proximity to another body displaying the same mark--is the very reason for its exclusion from the contract. The spatial dimension, and the arena of the social, are thus conscripted to render the familiar strange, and theorize the discovery of essential difference, of identity, in an otherwise undifferentiatable body. It is through this guilt by association, this conspiracy theory, that the Law discerns the identity that marks this unmarked body. And this is how, as Foucault memorably demonstrated, the action, the crime, the trajectory of the act defines the past and future of the body, becomes an identity, the crime becomes the body itself--becomes the Other Body--or as the Bible clarified so much earlier in the King James, the Strength of Sin is the Law. And in these latter days the struggle for civil rights has effectively removed much of the need for policing, because now we nominate ourselves for the State. The act is eclipsed by the name. And the Law is still catching up to what this means in regard to its strictures, prejudices, and punishments.

But the weakness of the Law in this case is that it is based on the notion of Sin. It is not Sin that determines the Law, and despite the important genealogical relationship between Commandments and Religious Laws and the field of American Law, they in fact are not coextensive, rather they take a very different interest in a series of similar topics and dilemmas. And though under Religion these topics do not represent dilemmas, under the Law, they must.

But let us return to the question of the problematic, intractable, ungovernable Other Body that even though the Law has spent centuries trying to define, detect, dissect, and force into submission, this Other Body keeps slipping away, as the Law realizes and re-realizes that it has never had ethical ground to stand upon in the first place in this matter. The Law of Desire is not subject to the Law of Man. And despite the paucity of reference in history books it is surely as old as the oldest profession, which is not prostitution as the romantics would have us believe, but the profession of love.

21 February 2014

Much Obliged

Much Obliged
for p

They meet in the mornings,
Or whenever they can
Get away with it -- The
Hours between jobs, after
Work, before: within the
Tender margins of their

Respective days. They meet
As though performing a
Duty or punishment,
One without reason. They
Do not know why this is
Happening to them, they

Do not know why this is
Happening to them. They're
Secret agents: watch words
And violence binding
Silence to silence. The
Pact is a kind of a

Hatred perhaps; not kind-
Red, but kindling, for when it's
Over, they blow away
Like ashes. After, when
The after comes, when they're
Done with one another;

Later, after, after
That long hungering gaze
(Eyes are worlds, gravity
Pulls them near) then, contract
Executed, they look,
Look away, retreat, lurk

Off, blinking, their vision
Cleared -- who are you? -- faces
Composed now for other
Faces; they veer away
Back in familiar
Orbits. Estranged. Strangers.

© L. Steve Schmersal
spring 2000

14 February 2014

A 2014 St. Valiumtime's Day Manifesto

1. Kindness is for chumps.

2. Compassion is out of fashion and just makes you a mark for sharks.
It's like dumping blood into the ocean. It's like suicide.

3. Don't tell people you love them, it will only make them want to destroy you.

4. Nothing about this life is a meritocracy. If you're doing your best or trying your hardest, stop. The needed skill set is deceit; misdirection, as in blaming problems on others; pettiness; pathetic social skills, except for flattery; ruthlessness; venality; jealousy; friendlessness; insecurity; insensitivity to the pain, thoughts, or needs of others; oversensitivity about any perceived slight; and terror that someone will discover you're a fraud.

5. The ends will always justify the means. In fact if you're not overdoing something so that it causes harm to someone else, you're obviously doing something wrong.

6. The only things anyone will ever admire about you is how much money you make or how nice your apartment is.

7. People aren't people. Corporations are people.

8. Any real thought, argumentation, or nuance is perceived as an attack.

9. Science is nonsense. Especially when its data proves that harm, destruction, the seasons, and/or cancer are obstructing profit.

10. Religion, which is supposed to reveal the divine in the world and each other, which is supposed to make us better people, far from being the opiate of the masses, is the first resort of intolerance, hatred, fear of the unfamiliar, and war. It is the crystal meth of the masses.

Have a great day! :o)

13 February 2014

Happy Bertolt Brecht's Birthday

Happy (Late) Bertolt Brecht's Birthday, everyone. (It was February 10th.)

It is entirely arguable that, although Bertolt Brecht was considered one of the most important German poets, playwrights, and theater directors of the first half of the Twentieth Century, in the second half he became the most influential dramatist and theater practitioner in the world. 

Meine Damen und Herren, Madames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen, he died. All people die. Mortality is part of what defines our precarious humanity. It keeps us from being gods. Except, not always. He became a god after he died, but because gods are ideas, he had no way of ever enjoying it. And the idea that he became was a diluted idea of his work and thought, a less nuanced, demanding, and radical Brecht that was the result of a dialectical encounter with the mainstream via incomplete and compromised translations into English. This was the god that became so popular.

Yes, for all of his posthumous success, exposure, influence, and adoption--everything from Oh, What a Lovely War! and Cabaret to Peter Brook's famous 1970 RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream to Hair, Marat/Sade, Godspell, Company, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, Chicago, Little Shop of HorrorsEvita, and Sweeney Todd, to Angels in America, All That Jazz, many of the films of Sirk, Godard, Fassbinder, Pasolini, and Todd Haynes to the plays of Tennessee Williams and Harold Pinter to Dogville, and the Atlantic Theater Company's enormously successful musical adaptation of Wedekind's Spring Awakening (the list is, for all practical purposes, endless)--Brecht remains deeply misunderstood in the international theatrical landscape, despite the monumental wake cast by his work, misrepresented by longstanding, received accounts--oversimplified, incomplete, humorless, and doctrinaire accounts--of, and prejudices against, his dramaturgy.

He is the troubling, insoluble, and almost completely forgotten conundrum of Twentieth Century theater. An unruly, mischievously critical, complicated, subversive, and often contradictory-seeming figure from the start; a rebellious enfant terrible/Wunderkind/eminence grise, simultaneously considered a rejuvenating pioneer of contemporary theater as well as its most reviled, bloodless, and overly-intellectual sidetrack; a Marxian revolutionary and a survivor who is often cast by his detractors, and many of his champions, as an apolitical opportunist, sellout, and plagiarist; an admirer of such varied cultural forces as Marx, the Marx Brothers, Japanese Noh theater, Shakespeare, Goethe, Marlowe, Kaiser, Kipling, Gay, Büchner, and Chaplin; a constantly evolving and unsentimental thinker and theorist on the place and function of theater in society; a practitioner who deplored the denigration of entertainment, humor, and slapstick in any art form as superficial and useless instead of essential and central; a cultural giant whom it should not be difficult for the critically open-minded and persistent investigator to admit that Brecht--and perhaps he alone--offers the most sustained, supple, sophisticated, useful, and nuanced engagement with the question of the political in art and the question of art in the political and social spheres.

Brecht's example, far from being a barbaric, anarchic, naïve, slapdash attack on popular or bourgeois culture, employs juxtaposition, tension, resonance, reversal, contradiction, comedy, irony, expectation, surprise, and sympathy to articulate the barbaric, anarchic, naïve, slapdash attack of culture on the individual, the gendered body, the couple, the family, the community, and the very idea of the just and the possible. But. And this is the most important, and challenging, ingredient missing from almost any production you've ever seen of any piece by Brecht or from any piece you've ever seen presented in what is referred to as a "Brechtian" mode or style: you must find a way to make the piece an entertainment--theater must be entertaining--or you've wasted the audience's time and everyone else's.