Since our last Dispatches, The Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar had a queue snaking from the first floor landing all the way down the stairs into the foyer and out the cumbersome, automatic front door onto the pavement of East Essex Street. On that Tuesday evening artist and actor Olwen Fouéré (TheEmergencyRoom) was performing Samuel Beckett’s prose piece Lessness (1969) in the Space Upstairs. There was a buzz palpable even with it only being a preview.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Project board members gathered for a meeting and they must have been pleased with the full house that started to arrive as they filtered out.
The play was a performance of Beckett’s sixty sentence experimental prose piece in which he interrogates the brain’s way of deciphering and sequencing received information, read Lessness in full here.
This intense 45 minute meditation makes you engage with the work. Fouéré was seated upright at a desk with a reading lamp. She had a headset on and behind her a screen flickered. What F. Scott Fitzgerald describes as, ‘the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye,’ in The Great Gatsby (pg 57, Penguin). Afterwards it was overheard that this onscreen flickering was in tune with the blinking of her eyes.
Near impossible to focus for the full performance, inevitably one drifts in and out of this piece picking up on snippets while allowing the experience to seep in.
What was interesting to me was that of the nearly two hundred or so present each audience member would’ve had their own different distractions occupying them throughout, and I impossibly wondered about what these were.
Mine was whether Bob Dylan was up to his usual lyrical love & theft with the opening line, “Ruins true refuge long last towards which so many false time out of mind.” Time Out of Mind was the title of Dylan’s 1997 album. I daydreamed on this as the hum of the white noise and Fouéré’s sonorous reciting continued.
When we all streamed out of the auditorium I found a friend switching his phone on to check the score in the Stoke v Liverpool FA Cup match. They’d won on penalties.
What were the rest of those present distracted by? Inside the auditorium our collective consciousnesses had ticked over, Lessness indeed. 45 minutes spent with your mind was perhaps what Beckett intended, and it was certainly eerily evoked by Fouéré.
This play runs for two more nights in the Mermaid Theatre in Bray on Friday the 5th and Saturday the 6th, tickets here.
What to watch?
Olwen Fouéré is an intense and uncompromising artist whose career as a performer has burned like a silver flame on the margins of contemporary Irish theatre. She has been a conduit for the work of 20th century modernists James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, taking on their more challenging prose and performing it for theatre audiences around the country.
In this interview we get an insight into her Breton nationalist father who fled Brittany and France after the war and ended up as an exile in Connemara with his wife. This is where Olwen was born and grew up as a French speaking outsider before she moved to Dublin to pursue her career in theatre.
Here, with John Kelly, she discusses her innately physical art and the dreamlike realities she is accesses through her visceral performances.
What to read?
Infinite Jest Turns 20
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s opus, was published twenty years ago on February 1st 1996, and to mark it we rounded up the best pieces we could find on this angsty, Generation-X classic that was possibly the last tome of a novel that reverberated at the forefront of popular culture while also taking its place on the shelf marked ‘The great unread novels’: Don Quixote, Ulysses, War & Peace, Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest…
This week The New York Times published an essay, ‘Everything about Everything: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest at 20’ by Tom Bissell, which is the forward for the 20th anniversary edition of the novel. It talks of how Wallace displays an empathetic quality in the creation of his characters making him the equivalent of the method actor in American literature.
Wallace’s utter devotion to words include his having sat on a dictionary’s usage panel and the result can be read in his essay Authority and American Usage which demonstrates his insatiable passion for language. It contains the infamous and endlessly informative footnotes that were like lifting the hood on his brain to the most idiosyncratic part of his writing.
Like anything that’s really successful in the internet age, the novel engendered vitriol too; to give you some idea of the range here Mashable put together a collection one star reviews slamming it. This other more favourable review from The Atlantic came out in the same year the book was published.
Perhaps you are resigned to never reading the whole thing and only want the spark notes, if so here’s a selection of highlights. But if you do intend reading it why not follow the ‘Infinite Winter‘ schedule which has broken down the novel to a digestible 75 pages per week read-athon over the next 13 weeks.
This David Foster Wallace letter to his publisher before Infinite Jest was launched shows his mid-Western normality that happened to sit in the same vessel as his genius, and Jason Segel managed to capture this duality in last year’s movie The End of the Tour:
The book’s original publisher Little Brown allowed fans to submit possible cover designs and this below by graphic designer Joe Walsh was selected for the anniversary edition:
Recently Sean Penn was in the headlines, off the red carpet, as the Mexican drug lord El Chapo was captured by authorities only months after an interview Penn did with him for Rolling Stone Magazine; the first El Chapo had granted outside of an interrogation room. Once caught, Rolling Stone rushed the piece out to keep their exclusive.
For some context, El Chapo’s drug cartel is bigger than Pablo Escobar’s Columbian one ever became and Penn estimates that El Chapo ships more than half of all the cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into the United States.
Read the piece in full via the title link or here. Penn met El Chapo once and then submitted questions for him to answer via video as a second meeting proved impossible.
While Penn exploited his Hollywood connections and set out to do his distinctive brand of long-form “experiential journalism” others saw the piece as a misfiring polemic which gave a platform to a mass murderer without any interrogation of his crimes.
One mention of the death toll his subject is responsible for comes while talking about salsa… “Carne Asada, an oft-used cartel term describing the decimated bodies in cities like Juarez after mass narco executions.” When El Chapo puts on his body armour and weapons Penn calls the process a “Clark-Kent into Superman extravaganza.” Bizarre fawning like this is commonplace throughout.
At another stage, just before he meets El Chapo, Penn fears for his safety and in case we’re uncertain of his macho credentials he takes a “fond last look” at his dick while peeing. For the reader all this does is make us re-member that he’s no Hemingway.
Penn’s ink seems only interested in flexing his writing muscles through purple prose and not in doing any real investigative work while he was among the purple plantations of opium poppies that have caused US-funded rivers of blood to flow through Mexico.
This journalism role was made for a Pulitzer, but in terms of prizes Penn will have to be resigned to Oscars in the future.
Clearly CBS’s 60 minutes host Charlie Rose couldn’t pinpoint a motive for the piece either in this follow-up interview. Penn’s submitted Q&A questions were answered via video recording which you can see in full here:
What to go to?
This Is The Ritual by Rob Doyle – Lilliput Launch, Thursday Feb 4th 6:30pm, Stoneybatter
Rob Doyle launched his latest collection entitled This is the Ritual in Hodges Figges last Wednesday evening and Lilliput Press, his Irish publisher, will do the same with their striking limited edition in Stoneybatter this evening, Thursday the 4th, at 6:30pm.
Here is Rob’s Guardian piece on the rise of the Stoneybatter area, have a read of it and go along and experience the literary scene in Lilliput while picking up a limited (only 500) edition of the book, just look at that cover above!
In this interview with Dave Lordan, of The Bogman’s Cannon, Rob Doyle talks about what drives him fictionally as a reader and writer and his want to articulate his certain disaffection. He quotes Public Enemy when quizzed on plagiarism, “Can I get a witness and say this is a sampling sport…”
Bob Dylan, NYC 1961-64 Photographs by Ted Russell – Gallery of Photography, Free
It’s the early 60s and Greenwich Village is the last stop for vagabonds arriving off the folk freight trains equipped with guitars, wanderlust and a keen sense of injustice. One of them was Bob Dylan. Ted Russell was there with his lens to capture it as these photos display Dylan’s sharp features and puppy fat while he exudes an infectious enthusiasm to create.
These snaps were only recently dug up and are an exquisite keyhole look into the youth of someone who was on the brink of releasing some of the 20th century’s finest music.
One picture in particular – which is curator Chris Murray’s (Murray also did a lot of work with Andy Warhol) favourite piece – sees Dylan hovering over a record player in a motion shot. The simple record player was Dylan’s musical education, where he learned by osmosis, and these few photos are a way for us to see him at his most receptive.
Runs until February 21st.
What to listen to?
Brian Friel’s story The Saucer of Larks was published in The New Yorker in 1960. In this podcast Kevin Barry, author of the novel Beatlebone, points to Friel as playwright in embryo as evidenced in this short story. He describes how “the story is running on the engine of its talk” and is crying out to be peopled and acted:
Tarantino’s movie soundtracks are must haves in any record collection, especially Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Here you hear Tarantino select some of his favourite songs from his movies and discuss the process of making a film soundtrack in this hour long special with Edith Bowman which coincides with the release of The Hateful 8, which is scored by Ennio Morricone:
Thomas Morris IT Book Club Podcast
Thomas Morris’s short story collection We Don’t Know What We’re Doing has featured heavily on the blog recently and the interview we did with him was picked up by The Irish Times last week, read the piece here if you missed it.
Last Thursday this podcast was recorded in front of a live audience in the Irish Writers Centre, Morris once again demonstrates his humour and gives sound advice for anyone fumbling around with fiction either professionally or in their spare time:
We’ll finish with a portrait of the writer who gave us the masterpiece of the internet age at a time when dial-up seemed advanced, DFW…