A great difficulty a reviewer can face in reviewing an experience is that the mind is perhaps even more efficient than one should like it to be. By which I mean that in the first instance it is experiencing many confusing conflicting sensations difficult to tame into a single impression, and that once it has done this the fragments are melded together and the join lines difficult to find. The trick is perhaps to grab hold of the still forming impression in the last moments as the joins set, or still better, to track the very process as it occurs. In this instance I fear to have failed on both counts, but I preface.
Last month I sat in on a talk by a composer about the process he had been through in setting some of Brecht’s poetry to music, as well as talking about some other people who had also done this. It was hosted by the Southbank Centre as part of their The Rest Is Noise festival.
The talk was a droning massaging sort of affair, making frequent nods to opinions we can all agree to, being as inane as they are inoffensive as they are well established. What does it mean to be Brechtian? That word gets thrown around a lot around the National Theatre, eh? Was Brecht Brechtian? Of course
he was! Some other people have also been Brechtian. Perhaps even more Brechtian than the man himself but who’s to say? The word sometimes gets misinterpreted. But in a way isn’t that also kind of Brechtian? And so on and so forth.
The Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre was also sitting in on the talk, and it struck me then what a peculiar place the whole enterprise was: an arts centre. It’s not really a centre for making arts; it’s mostly a centre for administrating them, putting them on show for people, packaging them up. Its punters are not called customers but patrons. The people who work there barking orders and following procedures, dressed all in black. Like an awful lot of places of course but still how strange.
People love the arts. They love touching the arts, they love grabbing hold of the arts and giving them a good feel and going ‘ooh the arts! The arts!’ Why is this? I don’t know really. I think maybe it’s because as much as people love the arts they also love controlling and containing the arts. They love putting the arts in a box and going ‘look at the arts! The arts!’ They love mastering the arts, if you will. That’s probably why there’s a degree called that. Something to put on the shelf.
What is creativity? It’s like when you change something a bit isn’t it? Slip in something a bit new or move things around a bit. People like that because it’s exciting, but it’s also kind of scary. We’re drawn to the aberration. That’s probably why the arts need mastering. Stops them getting out of hand. That’s probably also why we spend so much time hosting and attending talks about tiny little changes that happened ages ago. And by ‘we’ I mean the people in that room last month. I wouldn’t dare to include you unless you want to come!
How different it is: Brecht in his little room making something new, and us in our big room talking about how he changed the course of history. Lovely dead history with all its pieces that fit together, that you can go over over and over again. Celebrating his tiny aberration because its miraculousness is undimmed. To say: well no, I will not do as you say; I have something quite different in mind. I quite like Brecht.
All going well, this is the first regular end-of-week slot from blogger The Gilt Press