Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Defense of Edward Albee

Whether Edward Albee considers himself a gay author does not interest me in the slightest. It might, if I wanted to sleep with him. I don’t. I already have a boyfriend. And so, I think, does he.

Albee’s plays are what interest me: are they any good, what do they have to teach me as a writer? These are the only things which concern me. He could sleep with goats for all I care, as long as he didn’t eat them afterwards for breakfast: that would be mean. But if we wish to bring everything that goes on in an artist’s bedroom into his books—including his dampest, darkest, most degrading dreams—if we persist in making every play, poem or musical score quasi-political—I am prepared to go the imaginative distance.

Permit me to preface my next performance with a rhetorical question:

“Do artists have any responsibilities outside of their own artistic practice—say, to the community?”

I believe the short answer here is, “No.” The artist’s only loyalty is to the integrity of the work he or she has in hand. But if the artist is creating self-consciously political art, what we used to call “propaganda,” he should at least be aware of what he is doing.

I shall demonstrate.

I have nothing against propaganda as art, per se. Some of it is quite nice. I am always prepared to accept propaganda on its own terms and evaluate it accordingly. For instance, J.L. David’s portrait of Marat stabbed in his bath by Charolotte Corday is one of the most beautiful and successful works of agitprop of all time. It was painted in Paris during The Reign of Terror. Marat was an imported revolutionary, the Che Guevara of his day. David was an artist sympathetic to THE CAUSE. As an act of artistic piety, David turns the deceased Marat, a pock-marked mental enforcer, a hack journalist, into a secular saint.

It is pure magic what the painter does with a few carefully chosen brushstrokes—he gives us a sort of reverse Dorian Gray: the more Marat rots, the prettier his picture must become. The modern viewer almost forgets to look for Mme. Guillotine behind the frame—David’s invisible Muse—the gory little girl enforcing the intellectual and artistic orthodoxies of 1793, the same sadistic monster screaming for Edward Albee now.

Now, I don’t for a moment wish to imply that Edward Albee’s critics are revolutionaries or that they are calling for his head. Unfortunately, yesterday’s randy revolutionaries always seem ready to dissolve into today’s dissolute aristocrats, as Albert Camus observes in his insightful 1951 book, The Rebel. Thus The Wheel of Fortune turns. To me, Albee’s critics represent the doddering dowagers of an ancien regime—eternally powdered and, politically speaking, impeccably prim.

I am not sure if these porcelain court ladies realize what they are doing on the scaffold with us. They move around on their knees, from force of habit, from soldier to soldier, from crotch to crotch, sniffing for sin in a perpetually purple fog. Maybe our midget Madonnas are blinded by vanity, memories of what they once were, how the pornographic poses they struck before the camera once held the Earth in awe. I guess the dramatic irony for these sad creatures is that they serve no useful purpose to the revolution anymore, whatever temporary amusement they supply to the soldiers. Or to the curious crowd of onlookers gathering below.

I am afraid that what we see assembled on stage at this juncture in time—if we turn this whole goofy scene around and peer behind the picture I have just painted—are dozens of wind-up dentures turned loose on the world, clacking and clucking, calling for Edward Albee’s dick. They might as well call for Kafka’s dick for all of the satisfaction they can expect to receive from me. I won’t give it to them. It would be a waste of a perfectly good penis. You almost feel sorry for the demented things. They are so used to diddling themselves with their own ideological dildos that they wouldn’t know what to do with a genuine dick if it slapped them in the face. If they had faces. Beneath all of that rouge and crumbling foundation, it is hard to tell if their syphilitic minds haven’t nibbled away a lot more than their missing noses.

Anyway, whatever these fragile figures are, whatever fantastic wigs they wore in their day, whether their shrunken heads soared toward the sky at an angle cuntily queer or deliriously gay, they are no longer necessary to what I have to say. They have served their purpose as people. They will exist in the future only as symbols—to be dissected by better scholars of the human condition. So, let us dispose of our critics now—quickly, mercifully, anonymously—using their own rhetorical devices. Call it “Poetic Justice.”


Now, look at who’s Queen.

I am.

I am the guillotine.

I am not loyal to love, but Art.

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