Monday 28 May 2012

Presenting a life theatrically

A month ago I went to The Queen of the North at the Bolton Octagon: a play about the life of Pat Phoenix, the actor who played a long running central character in Coronation Street. Although it was done well, I was struck by a difficulty of the theatrical presentation of a life.

There is a natural tendency to present the linear structure of a life in the linear structure of an evening at the theatre: thus heading towards the end of both as the telos and climax of the evening. The result is thus to think of death as somehow what a life is about.

Now I know this might seem quite right to those who read Heidegger when young, but I am not sure it is the right structure for the rest of us.

In the case of The Queen of the North, this was explicitly embraced. There was more than an intimation of where it would end by the constant presence on the stage of the hospital bed (the play having an episodic flashback structure). And in fact the death was a kind of climax as Pat Phoenix had a last minute deathbed wedding. But still it was odd that I left the theatre focused on her death -which comes to us all - rather than her rather more unusual life as a famous TV star.

This worry came back to me seeing the new Crucible production of Pinter's Betrayal. If I had to say I had a favourite play it would be that, though on reflection I am not sure I have ever seen a theatrical production (rather than the stagey film) before. Much of the dialogue is utterly familiar. But its reverse structure addresses the question of how to place emphasis on something other than the end. Odd that the structure remains so disorientating.

Monday 21 May 2012

However,... / But... / ..., however,...

I have just had a chapter back from copy editing to find it littered with sentences that begin: ‘However, ...’. Looking at what I submitted this seems to be the result of two editing decisions.

First, I have a habit of using ‘But’ to start a sentence that contrasts or contradicts the one before, or, perhaps better, the expectations that that sentence raised. ‘But’ does the job wonderfully and makes the resulting paragraph much easier to read aloud fluently. On this occasion, all such ‘But’s became ‘However,’s.

(There seems to be no very plausible story about why using ‘But’in this way is so widely spurned. I am not at all surprised but a good reason would make it less weird.)

Second, when I do use ‘however’, I move it to a point in the sentence after an initial clause and where a breath might actually be called for. Given that such a sentence-starting ‘However’ needs a comma to flag that it doesn’t mean, eg., ‘however hard she ran she could not finish’ it produces a clumsy staccato effect.

The two together produced a text which, absurdly, couldn’t make up its mind. (Odd that whatever faith the editor had in his or her own rules in each occasion he or she did not think that the result of their joint application suggested anything was wrong.) But in repairing the damage, I felt a little bad about simply returning every case to my original formulation. (I am not that proud of my writing.) Instead, I returned a generous third of cases, left a mean third as corrected by the editor and simply deleted the connective in the rest. I suspect, in other words, two things are the case. Either, I over flag changes of direction which the reader would be perfectly able to grasp. Or, my sensibility has now been utterly corrupted by reading my own text for more than an hour.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Delusional atmosphere, the everyday uncanny and the limits of secondary sense

My paper:

Thornton, T. (2012) ‘Delusional atmosphere, the everyday uncanny and the limits of secondary sense’ Emotion Review 4: 192-6

has just been published in a special issue of Emotion Review on emotions in psychopathology. It is one of the outcomes of Matthew Ratcliffe’s project on this topic at Durham combining philosophical and empirical. The issue has a range of articles including papers by Shaun Gallagher, Peter Hobson, Lisa Bortolloti and Matt Broome and the late Peter Goldie who dies suddenly last year.

My own paper expresses my combined fascination with and scepticism about Louis Sass’ attempt to use Wittgenstein to articulate a phenomenological accout of schizophrenia in his rightly respected book Paradoxes of Delusion. Since Sass himself reviewed my paper, it was a somewhat bumpy ride.

Sass, L. A. (1994) The paradoxes of delusion New York, NY: Cornell.