Excuse me, I do not know whether this is relevant anymore, it goes back to what you were asking earlier. The images of darkness and light are fundamental to us, most importantly at two levels: firstly the emergence from the womb, simply coming out of darkness into light, which is life; then perhaps even more deeply on a scientific level, we often think of the universe as being born from complete darkness, to use the trendy terms, “Dark Holes” and the “Big Bang”. I mean light was in a sense created there and I think these things have sunk very deeply into the self-consciousness of everyone and I think when we, in the theatre or wherever, experience a feeling of light, it is perhaps really best described as a feeling of revelation, I suppose it is a religious feeling, and therefore one cannot really talk very much more about it apart from saying that it is a feeling of revelation. And these shared artistic experiences are perhaps the best way to experience those feelings of revelation, I don’t know how revelation stands in psychoanalysis, I shouldn’t think very high up. I think that is probably why we refer to darkness and then into light. Those are the two very simple and very basic things that humans live with.
What you say is very interesting because, as I said, it makes me wonder if we need to go along with all that is current in thought today. One can see that Darwin. Neo-Darwin and Post-Darwin thinking leads us through to the Big Bang and the most sophisticated Big Bang thinking gives us a view of the universe which is very different from the vision which is given by theatrical experience. Because a theatrical experience at its best is a revelation of the totality of the instant, we can say that the whole of creation is not following the Big Bang process, the whole creation is not following the process of evolution, the arrow of time is not going the way it is considered to be going. This is not on an argumentative level; nothing would be more ridiculous than to settle down with a mathematician or physicist to argue these questions. I think that the most brilliant thinkers are beginning to wonder whether anything can be taken as an absolute, and into this apparent, progressive field of more and more complex knowledge comes — quite simply — direct experiences which point in a different direction and they, I think, need to be received, not discussed but received. For when one speaks of experience nobody can define it. When one speaks of experience of a certain quality, no one can define it, but it can be brought about in such a way that anyone actually living it cannot deny the quality of the moment, the moment of quality. In a way that has no logical connection with all the conclusions drawn from what is within the arrow of time; it is a direct experience outside time, in which the time-honored labels “subjective” or “objective” ring hollow.
Can I just make a point? Just to come back to a much more, I think possibly mundane, but certainly clinical level, I was really thinking of an analogy, that in a sense you do not have light without darkness and you always start in a theatre with darkness. So one has the experience of the light always coming out of the darkness and I was just thinking of this question of awe. I think the experiences that I have clinically are that one meets a patient and indeed these experiences, I think, happen in a kind of little theatre of two people and they always start with a feeling of darkness, which is accompanied with fear usually. One does have a kind of fear of what one is going to discover and maybe it is a bit like the sense that nobody knows whether it will work tonight or something like that. It seems to me that it has something to do with an act of courage and has to be shared, it can’t be just an analyst’s courage, perhaps can’t be just a patient’s courage, and somehow when both can face something, then very often something which was viewed earlier and seemed very dark suddenly becomes illuminated and there is a really quite electric sort of difference in atmosphere which may then go or whatever, but I think that seems to me to be very similar to the “moment” that you speak about in the theatre.
I think that is very true. It is interesting to see how we can come together on this. I could recognize what you say through your image. Years and years ago, when I worked in London I did plays, which started in darkness, then the lights would slowly come up and often would remain murky and mysterious for a long time. Later, I began to have experiences, which showed me that this sort of theatre is just a relatively minor excrescence in the great, world-wide tradition of theatre making. I saw performances in sunlight; I saw Greek theatre under the sun; we played in temples in Iran in the light of the sun. I suddenly realized that this was a stronger experience.
Today, I spend all my time trying to make the lights brighter. I am sure that the experience of the healing force of tragedy was related to that painful movement out of the underworld being met by a life-giving charge. I say “met” because it was a two-way movement: both poles had equal reality. And I found this quite simply in seeing the power of theatre performed directly under the sun.
I would like to talk about darkness in relationship to sleep, where most of us travel at night. What I would suggest, in the theatrical sense, is that when there is a unified field of energy, where the performers take the audience into a state of trance, into an almost deep-sleep trance, it is like taking people beyond the mind, because in that state there is no thought and it is that direct experience. And that direct experience in that deep, sleep trance state is of emptiness and of stillness. And that’s what I feel that we talk about darkness.
About the light, I would talk about the color spectrum, and I remember looking at a Monet painting The Cliffs of Deauville, and he had obviously painted the light up from the rain at the cliffs of Deauville, so what you looked at was rain in an impressionistic way falling over the cliffs, which took you right through the color spectrum. I looked at the painting and I saw a white flash. So the light is to go through the color spectrum to the white flash and the darkness is to penetrate into that mystery of sleep, death and leaving the body, and I think both of those experiences happen in theatrical productions.
Well, let’s make what you say quite concrete because there is always a danger when one touches something too high. If one stays too long up there you lose your body! One knows that in the theatre that if the audience no longer believes in the bodies that are there in front of them, they get bored very quickly.
Let us just see what Shakespeare does. Shakespeare uses every conceivable device — his situations, his plots, his characters, the inner life of the characters, the way he writes -so that everyone in the audience can be gripped and interested on a recognizable level. And within this he leads the audience up to more acute moments of perception and then lets them come down again. He doesn’t hold them up there. But the quality of light envelops everything — the high and the low from beginning to end.
An actor is by his very nature intuitive, as we talked about earlier, and therefore very sensitive. Through his sensitivity an actor can at once detect that in Shakespeare’s writing there is more than meets the eye. I can’t say anything more precise than “more than meets the eye”. There is an apparent level and then if you dig more deeply, as Ernest Jones did into Hamlet, there is another level and behind there is still another level.
And then behind all that if you can listen carefully there is a music, and this music can’t be codified. The l9th century nearly destroyed Shakespeare by trying to codify the music of the verse according to set rules, in order to make a certain “noble sound”. Of course, later generations couldn’t bear to hear actors speaking “that” music. If one recognizes that music is a word that goes far beyond definitions, you can see that behind the word through the image, there is a certain, constant rhythmic life. Once one sees that there is this current underneath it, one sees the plays themselves are enveloped in a fundamental harmony that doesn’t change and enables the most horrifying actions, the eyes being put out in King Lear for instance, not to be just brutal, just disgusting, just sordid, but brutal, disgusting and sordid within an all-embracing quality of truth.
Peter, I am very impressed by the two different faces that you have given us tonight. The face of intensity and the face. if I may say so, of comedy. You warmed us up at the beginning like any good, front-cloth act and then you drew us in. The question I would like you to address is, is there a healing process of comedy? If there is a path through comedy that leads to the illumination and the light that you talk about. My own experience is that there is. Some of my most memorable experiences in the theatre have been when one comes out feeling light but also having seen into something. So I would really like to ask you about that. Of course, Freud dug deep or high — into Oedipus — but before he did so he wrote a book about jokes and their relation to the unconscious, which was not exactly high art. So can you talk about that other path and whether it is lesser than the path of tragedy or involved inside it or is it something quite different?
Many, many years ago, just after the war I had a very good friend in London, who wrote light comedies. The King of Greece or Albania, I don’t remember which was living in the Ritz Hotel, surrounded by his entire entourage in a sort of glamorous exile. One day, my friend was invited to go to meet the King of Greece, so, very impressed and rather terrified, he was taken to the Ritz Hotel and shown into a great suite where this exiled King was sitting. The friend that brought him said, “Ah, Your Majesty, I want you to meet Mr So-and So, he’s the funniest man in London.” The King looked at him expectantly and my poor friend was unable to say a single word. I think of that because in relation to your question I now feel terribly guilty — we all laughed at the beginning of the evening and we haven’t continued to laugh. Now I feel this absolute impossibility of finding anything that could make you laugh.
All the same, I agree with the implication, it is quite necessary. Certainly laughter is brainwashing. Laughter is an enormous brainwasher. The great ideal is to find a coexistence, to find how it is possible for one moment to be in laughter and the next moment serious and back again and I have only seen this happen once.
This was in Africa. I went into a little village, near Ifé in Nigeria, because I was invited by an African director to see his new production. He said, “I’ve done an adaptation of Oedipus”, taking exactly the same structure as in the play, but I’ve just changed the location, it’s taking place here, outside Ifé, at the crossroads. The King is killed at the crossroads on the road to Oshogbo, just a mile up the road there. Otherwise it’s exactly as Sophocles wrote it, but it has never ever been seen here until today.
So I went into a courtyard crammed with people. There was a tremendous excitement because there was going to be a play and word had gone around that there was a very interesting, exciting, marvelous play. The whole courtyard was crammed. There were children. In African performances when the children come too far forward there is a man with a sort of whip who comes and bangs on the ground and pretends to be fierce, it is part of the performance, he doesn’t mean any harm to anyone, but he does that so that the children all retreat like a tide and then gradually creep forward again. On all the walls there were kids sitting, there were people in the trees and there was a tremendous buzz of excitement.
The performance started, and on came Oedipus. The director had cast for Oedipus the person he had wanted to play it, a small, jovial, fat little man who was the local store keeper. He was known to everybody as being a sort of rather wily, quick-witted and amusing character, and clearly well-loved. When he came on I was a bit surprised, is this Oedipus? Having in mind all the sort of great, noble people we have seen attempt to play this part, it was very unexpected when this jovial man came in and the play started.
The audience at once got the situation. This funny little man is going to ask too many questions and he is going to land himself in a lot of trouble. So they sat back and enjoyed it and it was the funniest thing they had ever seen. I suddenly realized that Oedipus is constructed like a brilliant comedy and when Tiresias came on, the audience knew in advance that he shouldn’t spill the beans, but nothing could prevent Oedipus asking awkward questions and so the comedy grew and grew.
I went along with the audience seeing a brand-new Oedipus and thinking it marvelously comic, but after a while I began to have doubts. I remember all the performances I’d seen where the director tries to make a play modern just by sending it up and making it funny. But I thought yes, if you do this with Oedipus, you pay an enormous price because in making it funny, which is in a way easy, you pay the price that you miss what has made the play so much more than that — that has given it its immortality. So I began to separate myself a bit from this laughing audience. Suddenly, the old shepherd spoke and Oedipus recognised that it is his father that he has killed. Now the whole of that laughter evaporated. The audience was confronted by the most terrible crime in Africa. A man has killed his father. This is the most horrifying crime that anyone can commit and here is this jovial man, and a jovial man can kill his father as much as a noble man; the small jovial, wily man suddenly stops in his tracks, he has killed his father and the audience… there was one of those silences, the audience couldn’t breath. This can’t go further, I thought, but it could. He had also slept with his mother. This was the silence of amazement, of horror, of awe. As I speak of this, now, tonight, we can all together feel the silence that was there. When the audience left at the end of the play, thanks to the laughter and to this moment of simple, absolute recognition, they most likely had the most powerful experience of Oedipus that any audience can have today. You too are silent. That reality is here. For a moment. This is how in the theatre we understand the healing process.
Ernest Jones Lecture given by Peter Brook on 13th June 1994 at The Edward Lewis Theatre, UCL, London. Published in The British Psycho-Analytical Society Bulletin, Vol. 34, No 1, London, 1998.