There Are NO Giants Of History
This is the title I would give to my next play if I had enough energy and time left (I turned 80 in 2013) to write it. If you too believe that there are no giants of History do not hesitate to beat me in writing it and you are welcome to use my notes hereunder. For a topic as crucial as this one what matters is not “who” wrote the play; what matters is the influence that it might have on our contemporaries and their posterity. In this connection, I do not think that I would be the very best choice to write this comedy because I do not have any thespian training. In order to meet all the prerequisites I describe below I think that one would need a dramatist with many years of treading the boards. Maybe the writer should be one of the three actors or the stage manager.
Clearly it is a quixotic undertaking to try to make it clear to people that the History they learnt at school is a gigantic refuse of prejudices which (like patriotic poetry) sound good but, in reality, are completely misled. It is because “Education” glorifies so much the western conquerors (Alexander the Great, Napoleon etc.), the Great Men (who get people killed to indulge their own delusions) and all the philosophical or religious illuminati, that it is so easy to force the sensible people not to get ideas above their station and to remain forever blindly obedient. Let us also mention in passing that the “other” conquerors like Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan, on the contrary, are considered as some kind of monsters. What fascinates me too is how easily we have forgotten that the invasions of Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan were not 100% different to what the USA did to the Indians or what Australia (my country of choice) did to the Aborigines.
Any for-profit theatre (whether subsidized or not) cannot indulge in a quixotic undertaking, and therefore the play must be written for the fringe theatre. This is how I imagine this play :
1. A very simple script using everyday English
2. A bare stage: props set up and carried away by the actors
3. Only three actors : one man, one woman and one leader (female or male)
4. Only one stage manager using only light and sound to structure the performance. If needed the stage-manager can also use any portable media (computer, mobiles, TV, screening on the back of the stage, music). The stage manager will have two screens (TV or Projectors) over the stage. One for the dates and one for the caricatures (e.g. for the commode of Louis XIV of France), maps or whatever.
5. If needed the third actor (the leader) could also be the “audience animator” mingling with the spectators to bring them into the play
6. A large number of pegs surrounding the back and sides of the stage like a horseshoe
7. On each peg will be a piece of clothing, or a hat, or any symbol (for instance a royal attribute) representing a particular historical character
8. The purpose of these items will be to ridicule to the maximum the would-be giant of History, or “saintly” character which they symbolize
9. The three actors and the stage manager should endeavour to blend enough insolence to shock the right-minded people and, as well, enough balance to make the “ordinary people” become aware of how much indoctrination they went through at school
10. The long-term aim is evidently to encourage the spectators to keep pondering over what they have seen and heard even after they have left your show. Isn’t this the goal of the theatre to make people think ?
I have accidentally ended with ten prescriptions, as with “God’s commands”, too bad! Or, maybe, it was a good thing because it reminded me that all the misfortunes of the human race have started with revealed religion and/or other “divine” absurdities in order to prevent people from THINKING. How can it be that so many people still believe that it is wrong to want to understand, and to question and requestion everything ?
Where is “the PLOT” in all what I have just said ? That is the question ? And, I guess, this is also why I have given up writing this play myself as my own plot would have taken me too much time to write its script. Here it is, as I had vaguely planned it, should it be any use to you. ACT 1 : History as it was taught when I was at school (= crude use of the past for patriotic purpose, but at least memorizing of the chronology). ACT 2 : History in the age of film and television, could it have become still worse as these new media have intensified the cult of the famous (and as rote learning is now obsolete) ?
History is nothing but the rejigged tale of each new generation’s perception of the past. Nonetheless, even if this narrative has been twisted in order to indoctrinate the country, History remains an important subject in education for at least two reasons.
Firstly History encourages us to relativize everything, secondly its vicissitudes make us think.
In this play (which I no longer have the courage, nor the time, to write myself) one ought to dig up, as exhaustively as feasible, the most precious nuggets of History : laughter, ridicule and absurdity. Besides our brain’s evolution the ability to laugh puts us at the top of the pyramid.
To paraphrase a quote from Alfred de Vigny, in this play the laughter ought to be “so sad and so deep” that it would force intelligent spectators to reflect.
And there is a lot of reflecting to do about our own century too ! What the Western countries used to call “the White Man’s burden” (i.e. colonising the world) has become proselytising for democracy. Plus ça change … ! How ridiculous too that the American mercantile hegemony sees itself as the new Roman Empire.
I have been called an anti-American but I think that this accusation is only a half-truth. On the one hand I have enjoyed all my visits to the USA and I am a devoted reader of “Scientific American” and of “The New-York Review of Books”. On the other hand I could not live in America, not even in New-York which I love. I do not like the American culture and more particularly its hegemonic aspirations. I feel about the Americans as the intellectuals of Ancient Greece did about their Roman masters.
France, my country of birth, seems to be more conscious than Australia (my country of refuge) of the iniquity and of the danger for world-peace of the American mercantile hegemony. For instance De Gaulle had had the political courage to withdraw from NATO and, more recently, France had no part in invading Irak.
On the contrary Australia, a former British colony, still hasn’t learnt to be a truly independant country. The Australian government is still at the beck and call of Washington. How naive, particularly now when America is in decline ! Anyway, in Melbourne or Canberra and whether Labour or Liberal voters, the citizens of Australia cannot imagine the possibility of an armed neutrality of the kind which had made Sweden and Switzerland prosperous during the fratricide wars of Europe in the XIXth and XXth centuries. What a shame !
For me a major source of laughter for this play should be War, this subject so awkwardly handled by our teachers at any level. As well as I believe that all miserabilism is vulgar since it can only produce bleeding-heart affectation, I also strongly believe that thespian jesting on war is but another aspect of what Alfred de Vigny (talking about Molière) once called a “virile buffoonery so sad and so profound” («mâle gaieté si triste et si profonde») because, after the initial impact, this virile buffoonery encourages THINKING.
“How does it start a war ?”
The question was asked one day, at one of our family dinners, by the youngest of the grand-daughters who is still at primary school. The conversations immediately exploded into conflicting answers with everybody talking over everybody else. Fortunately I was pushed out of that conversation as I did not bother to force my own views into it. This gave me a chance to think about the silliness (or should I say the criminal stupidity?) of this question, particularly when asked in a primary school. I also pondered on how little things have changed since, just before WWII, I was myself in a primary school of the Maginot Line. The only difference was that my own primary teacher, instead of all the mentally-deficient answers of all education-systems, was peddling to us (probably under instructions) the even weirder answer that the Maginot Line, so close to us, was there to stop Hitler.
In Science when a question seems to be scientifically-unanswerable it is simply discarded as a “wrong” question which has been badly put. This cannot be done in “human affairs” because, stupid or not, the question remains. However this peculiarity of human life (mentally-deficient questions that won’t go away) is one of the richest loads of comic material for the theatre.
Indeed, as shown by the tragedy of the “War Against Terror” (this ridiculously anachronistic war of religion) of the beginning of the twenty-first century, these periods where the whole human race seems to have lost its mind are the times where the contributions of writers can be most useful.
I also think that these writers’ contributions should aim at two goals : (i) to bring voters to their senses and (ii) to denounce the government’s perverse use of tragic events to boost its rating in the polls.