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2006.11.03

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Huh?

Cool.

And great idea for a blog, btw.

sharkskin girl

Huh?,

I adore crankiness, really.

Thanks so much for your comments -- I absolutely agree with your thoughts re the "notion of 'communities,'" and with your most recent post re the issue of visibility in matters of influence and collaboration. And thanks also for noting the Wilson/Anderson collaboration. I'll check it out.

I look forward to future debates.

Best,
sharkskin

Huh?

It wouldn't have occured to me prior to your suggestion, but Wilson apparently did collaborate with performance artist Laurie Anderson on his adaptation of Euripides's Alcestis (1986).

Another reason why his female collaborators might be overlooked in the film is that women are somehow "less visible" to people as influential figures than men. But your post does raise some really interesting questions about what gets remembered and what gets left out when someone starts to piece together an artist's "major" projects, or lifework.

Huh?

Hey Sharkskin Girl,

Sorry if I sounded cranky with you earlier.

I was initially under the impression that you were lamenting Wilson's "lack of collaborations with women" but at the same time avoiding the question of how one's same-sex (or opposite-sex) desires bear upon one's work.

I'm glad to learn that you are not interested in filling p.c. quotas, or in the obligatory calls for "diversity" that seems so pervasive in today's academy. While I do think these calls have a very important place *within* the academy, I think they also impose a kind of normalizing grid on artistic creation.

I think that we might find interesting insights into the question of why Wilson collaborated with certain artists but not others in the notion of "communities." There is a sense in which gay men (and straight men, and black rappers, and lesbians, and bisexuals, etc...) seek out communities who will understand their subjective experiences, and perhaps share their aesthetic visions (aesthetics are strongly linked to 'structures of feeling,' I think, and perhaps communities offer a way of making those shared structures more visible or palpable)? I don't know.

It would be interesting if the filmmaker did ask Wilson about whether or not his homosexuality shaped his relationships to collaborators, and whether being gay had an impact on the people he sought out as creative partners.

I believe that Wilson collaborated with more women than may be apparent on the surface of things. EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH was actually a collaboration between Wilson, Philip Glass, and Lucinda Childs. While Childs is not credits as a major collaborator, she did compose "short texts" for that piece, performed a central role in it, and seems to have been an influential figure in the development of the piece.
http://www.glasspages.org/eins93.html

Wilson also "befriended" (not sure what this means) Martha Graham in the 1960s, and later commissioned the Martha Graham Dance company to perform SNOW ON THE MESA. So it seems that *some* women choreographers did leave a strong imprint on his work. Perhaps not insiginificantly, Graham was known for her own same-sex attractions. And, despite the secrecy that long surrounded Sontag's sexuality, it eventually became known that she and Lucinda Childs had a long-term lesbian relationship. Coincidence? :)

In short, I think issues of sexuality are in fact critical (though perhaps not "essential") to who people work with, and the kinds of works that turn them on, so to speak. And if the filmmaker did not explore those issues and questions, then it is, indeed, a shame. thanks for piquing my interest in this film--I will go see it.

sharkskin girl

Huh?,

I understood what you meant by Wilson's "monolithic" statement, and I was actually offering the same reading of academia that you do, that standards within it are not, nor should be, overarching. I'm sorry that you read my opinions as "heteronormative," though I'm not quite sure how asking "a straight white woman why she does't collaborate with lesbians or black people more often" is heteronormative. [And if there were a documentary about a straight white woman who only worked with straight white women, I would probably wish that the documentarian had addressed similar issues as I wish Absoloute Wilson had.] While I don't expect anyone to fill some sort of politically correct quota, I am simply curious about why Wilson has collaborated with some artists and not with others. Frankly, I think a Wilson/Laurie Anderson or Wilson/Sophia Gubaidulina, for example, collaboration would be stunning.

Perhaps I should have included somewhere in my original post that Wilson is gay. However, my post was not necessarily about the documentary outing Wilson; within the avant-garde community, and I, perhaps mistakenly, assume amongst Obscene Jester readers, this fact is rather "obvious." That Wilson is gay was neither revelatory to the documentary nor to my disappointment in it. Had Otto-Bernstein not mentioned Wilson's sexuality, nor included the interviews with a "former boyfriend" in the documentary, then I would have felt that this was a much larger gap than the ones I did address. But this didn't happen, and Wilson's own rather abrupt dismissal of the need for a romantic relationship in his life suggested, to me--and please do keep in mind that these are my opinions only about the documentary and not about Wilson's work--that this was not a topic the director wanted to take up in great detail.

I hope you do have the opportunity to interview Wilson someday and ask him the questions you mention re music. And please let me know if you do -- I would love to read it.

Best,
sharkskin

Huh?

A final thing. I wasn't clear in making this remark, "You can't fault someone for having their own responses to a cultural phenomenon, even if they are not p.c. or sort of monolithic by our academic standards."

I didn't mean that "our academic standards" are monolithic. I meant to suggest that Wilson's statements about Black music are likely to be interpreted as "monolithic" by today's academic standards.

While academic standards may not be overarching or shared by all members of a group, one basic tenet of today's post-modern academy is precisely to avoid "truth statements" or generalizing hypotheses such as the one you claim Wilson puts forth about Black music.

One way to deal with statements such as the one about black music and its upbeat status in Wilson's mind is simply to ask him, "Why do you feel this way? Why do you think that an impulse towards hope is present in black music?" That actually does seem like an interesting question to ask, so maybe if you or I interview him, that can be on the top of our lists.

That it wasn't on Otto-Bernstein's list does not strike me as "lamentable," however. Although I do agree that it's an important question, since Wilson's relationship to music is at the heart of his directing practices.

Huh?

While you're busy asking the documentary to answer for your concerns with women and race, you might answer why you didn't mention "the obvious" in your original blog entry: that Wilson is gay.

It seems that the filmmaker is not the only one skirting the issues that impact Wilson's life, working methods, and reception.

Huh?

No, it sounds like you are doing something different. It sounds like you are expecting the film to answer for your heteronormative expectations. It's like asking a straight white woman why she does't collaborate with lesbians or black people more often.

It is not the documentary's job to deal with your assumptions that everyone should obey your mandatory calls for political correctness.

sharkskin girl

Yes, Huh?, I agree. One "might get a clearer answer to this by asking the obvious." Which is exactly what I wish the documentary had done. And, to be clear, I was not "complaining that [Wilson] didn't seem to work with women all that often," nor was I faulting Wilson for anything. I was lamenting the fact that the documentary did not address these issues.

Re "'our' academic standards," I also would not be so quick to assume that academic standards themselves are monolithic and so easily shared.

Best,
sharkskin

Huh?

Oh yeah: I guess if Wilson is convinced that every song from Black culture is all about hope, then he clearly hasn't listened to rap lately.

But again, this "affirmative" assessment of a culture's musical output does not seem like a major axe one would want to grind with the guy. It's most likely a generational thing, or perhaps a matter of perception on his part. Maybe Wilson finds hope in unlikely places, in places that more "normative" readers/listeners would imbue with grief, anger, dismay, etc...

You can't fault someone for having their own responses to a cultural phenomenon, even if they are not p.c. or sort of monolithic by our academic standards.

Huh?

I don't think there's anything inherently "essentialist" about suggesting that a gay male director might prefer to collaborate with other men than with women.

That's the problem with a lot of critical thinking about identity these days: it makes no real-world sense. People complain about "lack of women collaborators" when there are clearly women collaborators talking about their collaborations with Wilson throughout the film.

People say they are afraid of perpetuating essentialist stereotypes without actually considering why they are afraid of them: you might consider that asking a gay man about why they prefer to do theatre with other gay men will produce some interesting methodological responses. In short, you might get a clearer answer to this by asking the obvious than by beating around the bush and complaining that he didn't seem to work with women all that often.

sharkskin girl

Huh?, I'm not saying that the film ignores Wilson's gayness. Wilson brings it up very early on, and I appreciated that Otto-Bernstein didn't push an overdetermined psychoanalytic reading of his work based on his childhood or his sexuality. [There are some fabulous images of women in his productions juxtaposed with photographs of Wilson's mother that are striking in the similarity of pose and stature, but these are very clearly stated and handled in the film, as is Wilson's discussion of his relationship with his parents.]

As far as making the assumption that Wilson hasn't worked "more with the chicks" because of his sexuality, I would not be comfortable reading that on to anyone, professionally or personally, for fear of perpetuating essentialist stereotypes and reducing one's work and life to qualifiers. What I thought the film missed was the chance to delve more deeply into Wilson's work and methodology, and who he has chosen to collaborate with is part of this.

Further, there is, for me at least, the issue of a white male canon, gay or straight, that lurks in the edges of this film. While I'm not necessarily suggesting that Wilson is part of this kind of avant-garde theatre canon--or that there is one, though the recent history of BAM's Next Wave Festival might be a place to start research if one were to look for such a thing--I do think Wilson's questionable statements around Black culture and the lack of women collaborators in his work offer a point of inquiry that the documentary explicitly avoided.

Thank you for your comment,
sharkskin

Huh?

And what about the fact that Wilson has never collaborated, at least to my knowledge, with a woman the way he has with Philip Glass, David Byrne, or Tom Waits?

Uh... what about it? The man is gay, which may perhaps explain his natural attraction to collaborations involving other men.

Are you saying the film ignores his gayness, or do you want the filmmaker/biographer to say, "Bad Robert Wilson, why didn't you work more with the chicks?"

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