Madness of the Day by Maurice Blanchot

Madness of the Day demands to be watched, but then, I would think that. I first came upon it at La Mama, a theatre I’m ashamed to say I’d never been to before the beginning of this year. Mystified too – how on earth could I have spent 15 years living in Melbourne going to the theatre with the fervour of a fanatic and be writing this now?

It was the experience of seeing it performed – soliloquies, one-man shows, how I love them – that made me come back to Geneva and buy the English translation. The haziness of the experience of reading it and recognising chunks of it, but not sure if it was all as in the show, not least because it was over 40C in the shade the night we saw it, made me write to La Mama and ask.

I received back a detailed reply from the director, Laurence Strangio:

“Thanks for asking about the adaptation. The theatre work was an extrapolation of the ideas within the original text by Maurice Blanchot. We kept the text itself entire within the piece but the situation – the man in the room, the room itself, the man’s behaviour and his various encounters within the space and with the text – were all our creation, inspired by the nature and themes of the text.

The text is written as a story – a ‘recit’ in the French – and not as a piece of theatre. We were inspired by the story and the combination of its narrative with the situation that we created. In essence, nothing of the written/recited text was changed (although we adjusted some of the translation slightly in consultation with our French-speaking cast member Lilas), even the interjections are implied there in the text, but the theatrical context around the text was completely fabricated by us, inspired by Blanchot’s story.

I am pleased that the text seemed familiar to you when you read it afterwards, an experience not unlike that of the character in our piece who is unfamiliar with the text at first but grows more familiar with it as he continues to read it…”

Indeed. Harder to notice when it is happening to oneself!

I greatly regret not being able to go back to see this production again – unfortunately we waited until the last night of its run – it was incredibly moving to see it placed in a context, given life by John Flaus, a virtuoso performance in unenviable conditions that make me call it a heroic one also. Forgive my recording the ending here, skip it if you might read this yourself:

I had been asked: Tell us “just exactly: what happened. A story? I began: I am not learned; I am not ignorant. I have known joys. That is saying too little. I told them the whole story and they listened, it seems to me, with interest, at least in the beginning. But the end was a surprise to all of us. “That was the beginning,” they said. “Now get down to the facts.” How so? The story was over!

I had to acknowledge that I was not capable of forming a story out of these events. I had lost the sense of the story; that happens in a good many illnesses. But this explanation only made them more insistent. Then I noticed for the first time that there were two of them and that this distortion of the traditional method, even though it was explained by the fact that one of them was an eye doctor, the other a specialist in mental illness, constantly gave our conversation the character of an authoritarian interrogation, overseen and controlled by a strict set of rules. Of course neither of them was the chief of police. But because there were two of them, there were three, and this third remained firmly convinced, I am sure, that a writer, a man who speaks and reasons with distinction, is always capable of recounting facts that he remembers.

A story? No. No stories, never again.

Fantastic.

There is more Blanchot waiting on the shelf for me, I will report. It was this, by the way, that led me to read Lydia Davis who translated my edition, so two valuable experiences from one speculative theatre outing in Melbourne. Melburnians, you don’t know how lucky you are – this written from my present outpost in middle Europe.

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