Last night I was reading for pleasure Richard Foreman’s 1975 play Rhoda in Potatoland (Her Fall-Starts). This is how I do most of my reading these days, for pleasure; there’s much to be said for recreation. Not that most people would consider the reading of Foreman’s densely-layered dramas to be much fun, though I do; certainly they’d celebrate the entertainment value of the plays he directs in the theater. But to me, Foreman’s dramatic texts have their own special pleasures, and Foreman himself has never insisted on the indivisibility of his own texts and the way he treats them for the stage. Indeed, he has encouraged other directors to take on his work. And of course, most of the plays he produced for his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre were published, inviting a readerly approach.
I suppose it’s a peculiar kind of pleasure. I wouldn’t call it intellectual; it’s more of a response one would have to a poem, operating on many levels simultaneously. In a 2008 interview with Julia Lee Barclay, Foreman said, “I think [my work is] very emotional. The thing I think about is feeling. Feeling can be emotional and it can also be intellectual. But it’s feeling, colors, sadness. There’s a lot of sadness in my work. It’s elegaic, realizing death is coming. You know, death is coming to me soon and that is certainly informing my work.”
Death always has informed Foreman’s work, but that’s not all that’s informed it. Life is there too, often delightfully. The conclusion of Rhoda in Potatoland, especially, celebrates the joys of the protean consciousness that he encourages (reflecting, too, his magpie approach to theater as well as experience itself). The same text reflects Foreman’s charmingly humble approach to experience, as well as a characteristic play on the words “body of knowledge.” I find it very comforting and cheerful this morning, and just about right:
But is it nonsense? You see, when I call upon my own knowledge, when I do that, it only shows me (my knowledge) the very tip of its wing. Is it therefore, as I had assumed, my knowledge?
I do not possess it. In what sense, then, do I call it my knowledge?
It is a body of information to which I have occasional, peripheral access. As opposed to other bodies of knowledge. But are there bodies of knowledge? Of course not. There are a composite of partial accesses (other people, myself at different times) and the overlapping of these gives the illusion of a body. Knowledge.
But what is it that is overlapping?
A certain … joie de vivre.