Richard Foreman’s Negative Capability

Richard Foreman’s Negative Capability

What I remember most about the Soho loft where I interviewed Richard Foreman was its vast library. Racks upon racks of books dominate the living space. I cannot think of another contemporary playwright who better exemplifies what it means to live “a life of the mind,” so his living loft library seemed the perfect complement to Foreman’s work home at his theatre space in the East Village.

foreman headshot

In this 2003 interview he was despondent over the value of his theatre work in America.

I feel as alienated from America as I ever have. And I find it very difficult now… I feel very adrift. I feel that the arena, the context in which I do my work had dissolved, is meaningless. I really don’t know anymore for whom I’m doing this work. I used to sustain the illusion that I was participating in a dialogue with the whole tradition of Western culture — serious, modernist, Western hard avant garde culture. I deeply sense that that possibility does not exist. We live in a corporate world of the bottom line, and I think that deeply affects everybody’s psychology, everyone’s mentality. I do these plays and I don’t know why I’m doing them. But I’m very unhappy about being here and doing them in the context that I’m doing them. But I can’t figure out what else to do.

He also felt alienated from all the media and technology, feeling that it was not really speaking to the complexities of the human soul.

I think we’re producing a race of people who are paper-thin – almost pancake people – who cover a lot of territory. Like the Internet. And our psyches cover a lot of territory, but to me it’s sort of pancake-thin.

Now that Richard Foreman is expanding his own psyche into the Internet with his Wake up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! blog (thanks superfluities for the heads-up), don’t expect any paper-thin thought. His theatre in its heart of hearts is his dialogue with the whole tradition of Western Culture. Foreman is as much theatre theorist as playwright. He writes that his first blog entries are the pre-production notes for his current play but the entry reads easily as a manifesto. He pits his Ontological-Hysteric productions against status quo theatre:

Most theater depicts people navigating the currents of every-day life. I admit I find this suffocating and non-revelatory.

He is again talking about “most theatre” when he proposes that there are two kinds of theatre.

One kind ‘talks about’ things and suggests at least a possible ‘resolution’ to the issues raised.

The second kind EMBODIES in its style and structure the often agitated ebb and flow that consciousness experiences in its collisions with life– understanding that nothing is ever ‘resolved’, but rather that all things change into other things before there is any possible ‘resolution’.

So this second—which is my theater, of course—is about “nothing” that can be discussed, but deeply about the moment to moment experience of the flux of the real—i.e. impulse giving way to new impulse giving way to new impulse.

Compare these notes by Foreman with a letter by the poet John Keats in 1817 where he explains the quality Shakespeare possessed that defined him as a Man of Achievement in Literature.

I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Prior to my interview I assumed my own point of departure from Foreman on how the actor’s talent can best be utilized in productions, so I pushed a few questions in that direction. His responses were interesting.

I always hated actors basically, in the sense that most actors, understandably, want to be loved…. I don’t want that kind of desire for puppy love which I think is at the root of the actor’s craft. I also don’t want, like Grotowski, a release into a kind of organic body of orgasm that suggests a sensory, sensual way that the audience can identify with that kind of release.

When all is said and done, the text is the beginning and end authority for Foreman’s work “operating specifically in the tradition of Moliere.” Through his blog it will be interesting to follow the process of this text as it manifests into theatre by one of the masters of the art form.

2 thoughts on “Richard Foreman’s Negative Capability

  1. That was a good 2003 interview. It really is time to sweep Richard Foreman (and some others eg. Mr.Bernstein) under the carpet. This force of the fragmentary, the unspecified or incomplete perception, this ‘proximity to experience’ in composition and dramaturgy in which they are in constant dialogue with the modernists … I might add Valery or Merleau-Ponty to Beckett … drop it, fuck it. Who cares any more? Why keep on with it? Of course he feels out of touch with the lived experience of today – technology and economy change us, we are different creatures than we were 30 or 40 years ago. I get so sick of this constant bitching on the part of older artists about their scope of relevance, or the uniqueness of their inability to relate to differences in culture over time – its because they are, like foreman, just intellectually lazy creeps who mistake any aesthetic consolidation of their creativity from yes men writers or critics for actual thought. Foreman, the world of art is different today – its not thinner or more superficial, of course not, young artists are not more ‘spread out’ than you – its just radically different… Hell the world Matthew Barney created seems dated now … deal with the pace of the world or drop out … if you can’t stand the heat of the kitchen … maybe you should just move to the Grande Canaries. Or return to the 17th century as you, like so many others, connect to Moliere – but forget Moliere, Emmanuele Tesauro “Il Cannochiale Aristotelico” (1654) is closer to 21st century cyber – mannerist experience.

  2. Is there a chance you might be able to forward my email address to Richard Foreman? Obviously not the email where I’m critical if it will piss him off, this was just a bit deliberately polemical, I actually have been following his work for ages and am quite an admirer. I’m a PhD student in performance studies at a UK university and would like to speak to him about the plausibility of interpreting his work within certain theoretical frameworks.

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