02 July 2009

On Conversation: A Beginning

Nothing so evident more in Old Times than the Pinter pause. There is so much silence in that play that I wondered how remarkably difficult to construct a stage performance with so much silence at its center. And in the performance I saw at the American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin, there wasn’t even a great deal of movement. Hence, a stage play with long moments of silence—very long moments—and little action.

And yet . . . this play seems to me to be about nothing but conversation. The characters all talk in a way to avoid saying anything, and whenever they get too close to honesty, they cease to talk. Their silences result from having happened upon a dangerous situation: one false move will set off the explosion that might destroy the delicate balance (ah, the Albee play) which maintains civility and social existence itself. Thus, I suspect, social existence is all founded on fear. Not falseness; the truth of our situation is always available to us, but we would not confront it.

Or perhaps it is that the silences in Old Times result from the incapacity of the characters to articulate their feelings and thoughts. We arrive at some place in our conversation and are stalled by an incapacity to find the words to speak further. Perhaps there is no way to speak honestly—no words which can finally express our thoughts.

Of course, I am reminded of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. There, Vladimir and Estragon keep talking to have something to do and to keep from having to confront the void. The problem with Vladimir and Estragon is that the more they talk the more they keep approaching the void in their conversation. Hence, the significance right now the first words of the play, “Nothing to be done.” If they do not talk, they are confronted by absolute emptiness, but if they talk they arrive always at that emptiness.

This is not an academic paper here. But I am starting to come round to that opinion myself. It is all about talk and conversation. All.


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