Is the internet making us all stupider? Are we cursed to a lifetime of intellectual paddling in the shallows? Are young people now culturally bereft and cursed with short attention spans? Is this the age of cultural amnesia? Is the book dead? Is everyone forgetting everything? Are we going to be cursed with total recall? Does no-one out there on the internet realise I’m a dog? Will people ever stop asking stupid questions? We know the answer to the last question, which is no, but in ways more complicated than might at first seem likely. Historicising current concerns about memory and technology (and politics and information) transforms questions like these into evidence of the very problem they think they’re addressing, which is a start of sorts.
Why do they need to know all this stuff?
One of the many strengths and pleasures of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, her quite unnervingly brilliant new play, is that it resists the very obvious temptations of the diagnostic mode. Information overload isn’t, in this play, the chance for another tedious and wearyingly laboured drawing in of breath about ‘modern society,’ but is instead a kind of dramatic method. There are over one-hundred roles (all played the night I saw it by sixteen actors), a great jumble of seemingly unconnected scenes and riffs, an almost-bare stage and a rapid succession of tones and situations. What to make of it all? There isn’t, as far as I can tell after having read the script several times now, anything much going on in the way of a story. Word patterns and not-quite-phrases recur instead, and the worries of each stand-alone scene – on the sharing of information, on disclosure, on the chances and dangers of intimacy involved in mediated memory – reflect in turn upon the scenes before. Much like a bus or subway journey through a metropolis, the sounds and random chatter of the play feel like they build towards some sinister, grander, meaning, only then to be cut away by a gibbering aside.
this is the funny bit watch
I’ve wanted to write this post for some weeks now, having seen the play at the Royal Court in September and pondered it since, but the desire for a ‘meaning’ kept holding my drafts back. I’m coming to realise, though, that it’s exactly in opposition to this kind of readerly nagging for meaning that the writerly energies of the play works.
Love and information: the joke isn’t that we’re living in an era of hyperreal, image-saturated, linguistically dense and sign-drenched disorientation. But of course. It’s that this set-up has been there from the start; there’s no immediate to hanker for, no moment of direct connection (love) that might, once, somewhere, have held out its promise. Nostalgia never was what it used to be. Better, then, Churchill’s hyperactive, late-modernist panache seems to indicate, to make our home within what we’ve got (Brechtian bad new days!) and fight there.
Because there is a quite clear political dissidence to this work, and it has a usefully discomforting venom and target. It’s still not uncommon to find people desperate to bore you with lies about theatre telling ‘our’ stories; Churchill sends up this particular kind of complacent multicultural racism very well. This scene, the night I saw it, played out between a middle-class customer and a waiter in a restaurant:
How many languages do you know?
To speak fluently
or a bit
well of course some languages I only know a few words, while others
take something like a table, take a table, how many languages can you
table table trapezi stol mesa meza tarang tabulka
That’s so fantastic. Tabulka. Meza. They all mean table.
They all mean the same thing as each other.
Table means the same thing.
Yes, they all mean table.
Or they all mean meza.
Oh if you mean Chinese.
Or in fact Swahili.
I can’t help feeling it actually is a table.
And then, quite out of nowhere and all of a sudden, an all-too-believable snatch of a sentence, and an image my training primes me to see as a symptom, a metaphor, that ‘which comes from the real,’ that ‘which doesn’t work’:
That black wave with the cars in it was awesome
All the lines in italics are quotes I’ve taken from the published script of Love and Information (Nick Hern Books 2012).