part of a stage play
The last two segments of the published play ‘Guide Dogs’ that, in part, explores time at Occupy LA in 2011 and includes a character Old Hi-Fi. Thanks to Geoffrey Gatza’s BlazeVox [books], Buffalo that published this as Three Plays, 2015.
Professor A: Philosophy major who became a part-time professor, late 40s to early 50s. She has precise economic evaluation of situation but limited way to earn a living, has sizable student following from local university.
Kurt: Perpetual Day laborer, early 20s, highly educated, sweetly grunge in affect. He is former student of A, does cement work, has lime-dried hands.
Old Hi-Fi: A convincing version of a seeing-eye dog, yet when only Professor A and Kurt are present moves and speaks as a human, comments ironically on various scenes. Called ‘Old Hi-Fi’ or ‘High Fidelity.’ He’s looking for the blind person to whom he was assigned. Skeptic.
Ecology of Fear
Part One [scene of City Hall]
Professor A: Self-canceling nature has been a consistent theme in urban-disaster fiction according to Mike Davis in the Ecology of Fear.
Kurt: A parallel to the post-war boom.
Professor A: In cow-country, we look for grass.
Kurt: They had left a Bostonian city-on-a-hill long behind. Not in Kansas anymore.
Professor A: But is the disaster theme such a thorough going insight into the so-called psyche of the city? Isn’t that psyche a tad more agile and complex than a rubber monster oozing slime from tentacles unrelated to railroad tentacles, and old time critiques of monopoly capitalism?
Kurt: They can take many shapes. They can, for example, suggest racialized anxiety, worry about declining economic futures and unemployed nuclear physicists.
Old Hi-Fi: But the epistemic moment of knowing pits the scientist against the ‘man of faith’ in assisting survivors with their vision of the remaining world.
Kurt: You would think the literary critic could be pitted against the poet.
Professor A: And wouldn’t that get lively?
Kurt: Similar to this conversation here … The movie treatment could include background references to the old planetarium collapsed by the new cathedral in a combination earthquake-tsunami.
Professor A: Or a ‘close reading’ in a combination earthquake- tsunami-wildfire.
Old Hi-Fi: Or a reader-centered interaction with an earthquake-tsunami-wildfire-race riot.
Professor A: Or an anarcho-materialist-hybrid ‘writing-through’ of an earthquake-tsunami-wildfire-race riot-tectonic subduction-jihad-blizzard-comet-volcanic spew from which emerge enormous biting bugs that pester the ranging tribes of survivors.
Kurt: Now, that would be the Moby-Dick of literary disasters.
Old Hi-Fi: Or a ‘conceptual’ re-typing of the seismologist’s report interleaved with reports from the oceanographic institute, interplanetary society, Hoover Commission, police tactical-alert manual and the ACLU.
Kurt: I thought poetry was supposed to be the last refuge from bureaucratic language?
Old Hi-Fi: Refuge? All I know is that it’s an important approach to literature. You might think of it as a sort of ‘artisanal scrapbooking’ supported by top critics and publicity stunts.
Professor A: Ah, Hollywood. Or how about the thought that a poem using strategies of ‘writing through’ could possibly cause a revolution? Are you kidding that people need the lines of power exposed? As my mother said: you have to know which side of the bread is buttered …
Kurt: Did you leave out whales? Are we just speaking past each other here?
Professor A: Whales can enter here, and all of it would suggest the fractionated nature of literary topography, or could even reference the film’s claim to a newly discovered molecular structure that threatens our planet imported from another galaxy.
Kurt: Either way, it would be hard on the freeway overpasses, crumbling into dust.
Old Hi-Fi: Like angels.
Kurt: Like angels. Or we can even add reactionaries on radio programs.
Old Hi-Fi: We have a lot to say about doomsday.
Kurt: It should hurry up and get here so we can go on to something else.
Professor A: Like restoration drama.
Kurt: Like dusted-off finds that reference our distinguished past.
Old Hi-Fi: Girdles and gas lamps.
Kurt: Or those images from space of the disaster zone.
Professor A: [says ponderously] ‘From the silence of a vacuum is sent forth images of the disaster area—red indicating fire, and blue, the cooler zones under water.’
Kurt: Yes, in a ponderous tone of voice.
Professor A: Where’s the Lightning Field?
Old Hi-Fi: Where’s my Marjorie?
Kurt: Where’s our City of Quartz?
A Little Parable dealt
[scene of screens and windows]
Kurt: [through puppet] There once was a little parable, a good parable in a world of competing parables.
Professor A: [not through puppet, to audience] And this parable thought she might be able to transmit something important, something revolutionary, liberationist, radical.
Old Hi-Fi: [through puppet] But, you know, it was tough going for a parable in a world crowded with big-time parables. Not to say how I can’t seem to find my blind person.
Well, you know there was the parable of the mustard seed that has been so important to Christians. And you could see the impact such a parable might have.
Professor A: [through puppet] After all, parables often instructed by indirection, offering counter-intuitive moves that suddenly seem eternal as insights or practices.
Kurt: [not through puppet] The trouble, thought our little parable, is involved with how the parable of the mustard seed was used, and for what ends, and all this could escape the very intentions of the parable-teller.
Old Hi-Fi: [through puppet] So, for example, early Christians about to be thrown to the lions could make good use of the parable of the mustard seed, yet so, too, could twentieth century Nazis about to throw Jews and gypsies to the ovens. Big things have small beginnings: kingdom of God, a pure race, a hapless plant.
Professor A: [through puppet] Odd thing about parables, she thought, was despite their seemingly democratic availability for all, Christian parables appealed to people to think of themselves as part of the elite, the elite of those-who-can-understand the inner meaning of parables.
[Continues through puppet] The Buddhists thought this sort of parable know-how established one as an arahant. And as for the existentialists like Kierkegaard and Kafka, well, did all that fear and loathing, that anxiety and trembling level it out?
Kurt: [through puppet] Seems unlikely.
Old Hi-Fi: [through puppet] There could still be a select group of the anxious.
Kurt: [through puppet] So, our little parable worried what people would make of her, of her meaning.
Professor A: [through puppet] Of course, Buddhists look to the parable of the poison arrow. A questioner is very disturbed that the Buddha is not answering the fourteen unanswerable metaphysical questions about the nature of life after death, and on nature itself and so forth, so the Buddha’s parable gives us a man wounded by a poison arrow.
Kurt: [through puppet, mimics questioner’s voice.] Shall he ask dozens of questions on how the arrow was made, with what materials, who shot it, and so forth, or does he do better to remove the blasted arrow and save his life?
Old Hi-Fi: [not through puppet to audience] Of course, the parable really lays it on thick with the absurd number and type of question a person could possibly ask of the poison arrow, so we’re laughing at the extent of it all. Common sense and the will to live prevail.
Kurt: [not through puppet, toward Old Hi-Fi.] This seems good, but our little parable saw that many of those Buddhist parables instructed how not to over-think and not to over-act.
Professor A: [through puppet] Be cool is a big part of the message in Buddhist parables.
And Kafka’s The Trial has its conundrum of a parable: the man waits by the castle door, held back by the guard. Ages arise and decline as does the passage of time itself, what does it all mean? [Makes gesture to include A herself and both Kurt and Old Hi-Fi in similar consideration.]
Kurt: [through puppet] That obedience goes unrewarded?
Old Hi-Fi: [through puppet] Or, that not being deft enough at understanding a cue damns one for eternity?
Kurt: [not through puppet] Our little parable thought her linguistic complexity should hinge on something useful, provide entrance.
Professor A: [through puppet] For Kafka’s world, was time itself a sort of joke conducted by rarified authority misusing power?
Old Hi-Fi: [through puppet] Is being a functionary as sorry a lot as being a petitioner? A rank-and-file police and protester? After all, it’s those occupying kids in sleeping bags who will protect the retirements of teachers and other public servants.
Professor A: [not through puppet] Our little parable wanted people to know when enough is enough, basta already, no fooling around with ambiguity here. Kick the door down. Get in.
[At this point A, Kurt, and Old Hi-Fi lower their puppets and speak as themselves.]
Kurt: What our little parable sees: that law itself cannot be the sole mediating structure between humans and, what? Divinity? Or is mediation itself a low-grade middle manager we foolishly believe we can cut a better deal with, a Godot, a local wizard, a McDonald’s manager—that prick in a paper hat?
Old Hi-Fi: Somehow she had to show those types for what they are, so then any audience for her parable would not fall into that same subservient trap.
[Professor A, Kurt, and Old Hi-Fi return their puppets to their original places in a synchronized ritual manner, and as they complete the concluding lines, they resolve into a Medieval tapestry.]
Professor A: Or at least see it as a game to survive in the most constraining circumstances by playing along but simultaneously keeping one’s mind clear of what it means.
Old Hi-Fi: Its implications.
Kurt: Yes, what it all implies.
Professor A: As a guidance system.
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