Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Character II

I should probably mention, after my brother thought that I was both a girl who sees animals everywhere and an insanely finnicky aesthete who has no real friends, that these characters are not me... I just wrote them for some background to a short film Im doing. Ill post that on HandBin when its done.


Having lived on his own since leaving the home of his parents as a teenager he had become somewhat fastidious in his habits, a tendency only exacerbated over the past few years as the orbit encompassing his daily environment had been intentionally reduced, flat by flat, job by job, supermarket by supermarket, until the range of all potentially unexpected inconveniences was contained within a comfortably restricted radius of ten walking minutes from his place. He had trimmed the frayed edges of his activities in a similar manner, controlling their number by excluding those whose content involved a high proportion of unpredictability; whether that be the innumerable and often unavoidable encounters that occur in nightclubs, or the too often inadequate, and quite randomly bestowed attentions paid to hygiene in the hotels and bed and breakfasts of this world; it was these moments which saw the volatility of chance scratch violent marks on the pristine surface of a life he had been busily polishing, perfecting and preening down to its smallest details, down to the meticulous pairing of complementary shades of gray and their fabric’s subtly contrasting weaves, down to the diaphanous aroma of Polianthes Tuberosa scent and Bergamotte oil that filled the space immediately around him, down even to the pruning of his friends and colleagues into a small but vigorous collection, which neither cared too much to be any imposition on his privacy, nor was entrepreneurial enough to seek out and search for more interesting and rewarding relationships. This scrupulous and highly developed aesthetic sensibility with which he diligently governed his life had also taken the form of a system of ethics based on the precedents of his own experience, a moral code of unquestioned value against which he would mercilessly judge his own every action and decision; he never spared himself the harshest of self imposed verdicts and their punishments of ever increasing habitual and aesthetic sedulousness, punishments which sunk him further and further into the tyranny of a regimen so uniquely structured that he soon reached a point where everybody else, every other person he came across -no matter how clean or polite or well turned-out- was nothing but a seething hoard of flagrantly ill-considered mistakes, a living manufacturer of repulsive flaws. His entire method of judgment meant that when spending time in the theatre, the cinema, a lecture, or any other intimate environment with other people, the upturning of a collar, the odour of cheap fabric softener, the uncontrolled wispiness of a haircut, the unwieldy handling of a gaudy shade of mascara, the continuous twitching of an errant lip, the maker’s label flipping out the neckline at the back of a t-shirt, the red and dripping nose of someone with a cold, all shocked him as fully as would someone masturbating in the auditorium for anyone else: he rarely managed to pay attention to what was happening on screen or on stage as his agitated gaze was inevitably pulled through the crowd’s flagrant rudeness, its total lack of decorum, and while he would have instantaneously purged himself of any such deviant ugliness as that which surrounded him, deep inside, under a sharp line of righteous indignation, lay the fascination of a voyeur, the unthought envy of the man who sees that other person masturbating in the aisles, and although full of horror, nonetheless wishes at his very core to be able to cast aside his values and be in that person’s place. Without his realizing it, in the flawless excellence of his routine, it was the appended and entirely un-excellent anomalies of the stuffy and jumbled atmospheres of West-End theatres and the closeness of underground Odeons that maintained a tether attaching him unconsciously, vicariously, voyeuristically, but surely, to the rest of humanity.

Character I

She has long since stopped spending entire weekends at what were once called squat raves, but she has nevertheless retained from these events a slight perspectival obliquity, an instinctive way of seeing things, in this case animals, that are not inherent in the people she is looking at and talking to, as if they were actually innate within them somehow. A precocious consumer of amazingly human-looking animal cartoon characters from an early age, even completely falling for the lusciously maned and youthful Simba (of Lion King fame) at one point, she had always been used to seeing human characteristics in animals, whether it be the sensitive soul expressed in the sad eyes of her dog or the gormless credulity so obviously expressed in the rolling eyes of a drooling cow; but it took a particular mix of specific narcotics on one particular night in a rave for her to have this tendency inadvertently reversed. Apart from the air around her being apparently filled with small, crawling black creatures, she noticed, or rather couldn’t help but be utterly taken aback by everyone around her being animals, or maybe not quite animals, but at least as having such strong characteristics of certain creatures that they were somewhere between the two –beautiful animals with human form and language, and they were beautiful, as beautiful and beguiling as all those animals which had been transformed by human characteristics in all the Disney films she had cherished so long before, but there, in that room full of crawling black things, her mind had inadvertently reapplied the magic of analogy back into her world, back into her almost-adult, increasingly magic-less existence. Whether stimulated by narcotics or not, and increasingly not as time moved on, the appreciation of her human surroundings was enriched and partly guided by the resemblances she found between every combination of jaw line, eyes and nose -or any other mix of body parts- and her exotic index of animals and their characters; the two bringing separate qualities which together forge for her evocative wholes which would have been impossible through bare observation.

Friday, 20 February 2009

People Watching

The night before last I was sitting somewhere in the middle of the orchestra stalls –the lowest area of seating- in the Royal Opera House, reading the cast-list and listening to the struggled breathing of a large man next to me when the lights dimmed and the entire audience began to clap. The clapping began slowly like a breeze running through the crowd, making the throngs of elegant individuals rustle with a sound somewhere between the wind in a forest and a distantly falling cascade, not as sharp as it usually sounds because the space was so large and because nobody was clapping to any precise cue, there was nothing happening on stage, the applause had emerged from within the audience while the hall was in semi-darkness, with nothing to see but itself and as I looked up at this moving blanket of sound I saw innumerable people rising up, away from me in every direction, stacked on top of each other until they disappeared behind the glistening ceiling, but below it they were as decorative in their clapping as the gilding was in its shimmer, and everybody was facing me; in the quasi-light before the opera, this encrusted waterfall of people seemed to be clapping for me and I couldn’t help but let myself go for a second and be filled with the expansive glamour of attention, be irradiated with the elating energy of a thousand pairs of eyes: for a brief moment, because of the combination of the extrusion of an elongated horse-shoe plan and my position in its pits, I felt a touch of the basic form of celebrity in all its seductiveness, I felt how the simple accumulation of individual attentions on one person can have the sublime force of standing frozen in joyous, exultant terror in front of a vertiginous Andean precipice.

Boxes in operas and the theatre rarely have the best view, and often have severely obstructed views, but this was irrelevant since their primary role was not to provide a perfect place from which to see the performance -the optimal place to see the stage- rather they were meant to be the perfect place from which to be seen, to be stages in their own right, and also from where to have the perfect view of the audience. The event being performed on stage was often just the funnel through which a kaleidoscopic display of dress, decorum, judgemental observation, social critique and good old people-watching would be brought together in one place and time; it was the packaging in four dimensions which contained the sparkling bitchiness within its two or three hour limits, and it was this coruscating display of interchanging glances and asides within the audience which was for what the architecture was designed, both to be its container in three dimensions and its catalyst in form: from the over-articulation of every protruding element within the auditorium which framed the miniscule and multiple exchanges within the audience more elaborately than any exchange between them and the stage, to the overall layout with its considerable care for sightlines leading in any other direction than the stage. The space of the audience as a self-observing and self-celebrating social spectacle was codified within the architecture and layout of many of our older performance spaces, and while most of them are no longer loci of any kind of social relevance, like archaeological sites they retain pungent remains which can be picked for clues: their architectures worked for, and with, more material than the performances they hosted and while the endless iterations of Carmen and Rigoletto, the silences of abandonment or the thumping of a nightclub surround the crumbling or pristinely renovated stucco and gilding, there are whole milieus of strange and distant fashions, hairstyles, predilections, conversations, hatreds, jealousies and allegiances whose existences tenuously cling to the present with every unnecessary chandelier that has survived their abandonment, with every pointlessly plush surface populated with irreverent putti that has been left uncovered.

I am embarrassed and thrilled every time that I go to the Queen Elizabeth Hall when during the performance I turn around in my seat to look behind me at the encyclopaedic grid of faces rising away in its huge, dark space; embarrassed because I am standing out like an incorrect calculation in a vast spreadsheet, denuded and alone, and thrilled because there are so many people, and they are endlessly interesting and I want to see them, exchange glances with them, study them furtively but in full sight, experience the performance differently depending on their reaction, hate some of them because they are elated and I am frowning and the show is just stupid… I once saw a tutor from my old university when doing this, sitting with his arms around a student of his from whom, the moment he saw me, he withdrew his arms and enacted a comical attempt to hide his face from view. He immediately ran out as the lights came on.

My Synagogue is large and split into two levels, the upper level rising steeply away from its banisters in tiers, and curving around the floor below to create an unusually accentuated Edwardian amphitheatre full of women and girls with large bobbing hats populating the brightly lit second floor, and suited men with small white shawls crammed in rows beneath, talking to each other with furrowed brows and serious glances which place the atmosphere there somewhere between the boardroom and the Gentleman’s club. The men are arrayed in subterranean solemnity in full sight of the women who look down on them, pointing and talking to each other and about the level beneath in such a way that the boys and men can tell not only who they are talking about amongst the huddles suits –the seating is bought by subscription and only rarely alters, meaning everybody knows who is being talked about- but also what they are thinking and feeling, since the women are all set in full view and relief by the progressively raised tiers of seating which isolates them into gesticulating tableaux. Everybody is seen by everybody else at every moment, and very soon after each sermon the observations made within the amphitheatre are shared, tested, confirmed or disputed when overall opinion assembles in the Synagogue’s lobby to noisily conclude its cultural verdicts on the evening’s “horrors”, “he should be ashamed”s and “she is really taking it very well”s, before spilling out into the street to go back to their respective dining rooms, armed with more than enough material for a good meal’s hearty and denunciatory conversation.