What you have to do is this: you have to get out of your way.
I’m talking about creative work in general.
Learning to get out of your own way and let the poem, the play, or the story write you, rather than the other way around, is a lifetime’s work. In my case it was 50 years this summer since I wrote and directed my first play, at a boarding school in Britain. Since then I’ve plied my trade as dramatist and novelist in as many arenas as would have me. To my name I have close to two hundred plays for television (17 hours of it for Masterpiece Theater), radio, film, and theater; and sixteen novels. I’ve won a dozen literary prizes and grants. None of this, however, qualifies me to advise you, dear reader, or anyone else, on how to write, or how to improve as a writer. Knowing how to do it isn’t the same as knowing how to help others. But I’m going to do this anyway, because what I have to tell you isn’t a list of short-cuts, but rather the very opposite. I’m going to tell you how you can, and why you must, avoid all short-cuts, all methodical approaches, all advice, and all creative writing classes. I’m going to talk about the maker in the head.
I say no-one is qualified, whether by experience, by success, or by the acclaim of worthy judges, to give advice; but institutions have deemed me qualified (what other criteria are they likely to use?), and I’ve taken their money as a teacher of fiction-writing and playwriting at every level from grade school to directing Masters programs. At each of these levels I have tried to de-construct, dismantle and defeat my students’ desire to acquire greater skills by formal instruction. (This has not always made me popular with teaching institutions, although in the end my students usually got the message. In any case students learn more from a teacher’s passion than his or her wisdom, if any.)
I have tried to make my students understand that a gift for fiction is not acquired or improved incrementally, that is to say, by a series of steps. (How Americans love series of steps! I have only to say, in a classroom, Now, there are seven.… or, There are five… or, Three…and the entire class comes to attention, sits up, eyes wide and writing implement poised. Americans, of course, believe that you can acquire anything that you can pay for. Their relationship to learning is algebraic: it’s a matter of bolting the pieces into place, as in engineering.)
Inspiration is acquired — or let us rather say ‘accessed,’ an ugly word, at least to me, which for once fits the bill nicely — in quanta, not increments. In quantum leaps. In pockets of unanticipated alteration. The trigger is usually subject matter. And here too you have to get out of your own way, in order to be ambushed by the subject matter which will unleash the passion which in turn will release the capacity for formal advance that lies dormant in all of us, with respect to all and any art — provided we have been exposed to it during our lifetime. Three books will usually be enough. In the case of some masters of fiction, only one was needed: usually the King James Bible. Since this book, like the work of its contemporary, William Shakespeare, derives from the genius of an earlier master, William Tyndale, the supreme creator who gave birth to the English language as we know it, it contains all you need. The rest is icing.
Laying traps to catch the triggering material which will turbo-charge your creative process, and your progress, is not only a mistake. It’s counter-productive, as are all attempts to learn how to write better. Like education itself, it leaves lingering and often enduring stains which require a lifetime to wash out, before you can begin to learn. I.e. to receive.
Every work of fiction starts somewhere: with an image, a character, an event, a memory, a newspaper article, an anecdote, or simply a word or two. Any one of these is a key to the great treasury in the soul. Let’s say, ‘in the head,’ because although any art that comes purely from the head is barely worth the name of art, if I were to speak of the maker in the soul; or in the spirit; or in the heart, precision would be lost in favor of a nice woolly concept. As the immortal Welsh poet R S Thomas says,
Poetry is that
which arrives at the intellect
by way of the heart
In the end it all has to come through the head (a head as vacant as humanly possible, during the act of creation), so let us speak of the maker in the head. To domesticate this term and make it comfortable, to give it a fit habitation, let’s say that during an act of fertile creation the maker in the head is what replaces all the other garbage that fills our head the rest of the time, allowing us to live purposefully in the world, or foolishly in the world, or however it is we want to be in the world, paying the bills (or not) and making our way around.
When a story takes me over, and the maker in the head has been set loose, sentences come inexorably forth, and I remember sitting on the ground (it’s one of a thousand such memories but it’s always the first in line) beside a road on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina. I’m half in the gutter and half on that ghastly plastic-seeming grass — Astroturf in all but name — that carpets the front and back yards of the South, and I’m scribbling all over a local newspaper and then all over a brown paper bag that had a held a can of beer, words that found their way unaltered into a novel called Richard’s Feet, once expensively available at a Barnes and Noble near you, and now inexpensively available from abebooks.
This, as romantically squalid (buses thundered by, inches from my feet, unheeded) as it sounds, is of course what we are all after, those of us who write. It is no guarantee at all of good writing; but it is necessary; necessary, if you will, but not sufficient. No-one can help another writer towards sufficiency, where quality is concerned. So what I am concerned with today — and in coming weeks in forms both meditative and anecdotal — is an understanding of what is necessary to write better or at least as well as you can.
Here is the bad news:
No writer can help another writer. No-one can help a writer. Until you understand this you will be filling your mental pockets with gravel from someone else’s driveway. It will not, nor it cannot (as Hamlet’s syntax runs) come to good – or fit your need. That’s right: it cannot. Not the best and wisest advice in the world, collected devotedly by all the would-be writers of the world, is any use. Except possibly Hemingway’s (documented) advice to a young writer to shoot himself if he couldn’t write and, failing this, to come over to Hem’s place where he, Hem, would shoot the young man himself.
No need to shoot yourself. The mulch in which creative work grows consists of the following:
Shame. Embarrassment, Boredom. Despair. Self-disgust.
(See how easy this is? Why, these things grow right next to you and you don’t even need to move, to pick them.)
These are the five (yes, dear reader, count ‘em, five! — at last we have the makings of a list) pillars of truth, in the writer’s world.
They are necessary (yes, they are); but not, of course, sufficient. Any fool can embrace the five pillars without producing good work. But if you are not steeped, profoundly steeped, in their nourishing mud, you will never produce anything of value to yourself or others.
And this is one reason why no-one can help another writer — unless you can plunge the would-be writer’s head and their soul in the five-fold mulch. And there’s no need to do such a cruel thing. We all do it to ourselves, quite without help.
(Footnote: if you are someone whose creative efforts inspire none of the five elements mentioned above, I can promise you that you lack even the faintest spark of talent and should take up the accordion at once. Something you can practice and on which you can achieve pleasant mediocrity.)
More bad news:
Nothing of any value to creative work was ever discovered or communicated in a classroom. The delusions connected with creative writing classes (it’ll give me deadlines; I’ll get feedback and can sort the useful from the rest; I’ll make contacts, maybe, and find out how to pursue a career in writing; I might get to meet some famous writers) are uniformly useless. If you can’t create your own deadlines, you’re not a writer. Take up the accordion at once; don’t wait. Contacts you can make when you actually are a writer, which lies years of grief (I don’t mean grieving, but healthy, painful experience) ahead of you. Meeting famous writers, like advice on finding an agent, are pleasant goals which only obscure the necessary:
Solitude. Frustration. Feelings of uselessness and lack of talent. Life in all its blisses, degradations and tedium.
Oh dear. Now the list is up to nine, or maybe ten, or a dozen.
Don’t just tolerate them. Don’t just accept them, embrace them. Drink them to the lees. They are your training. If you can’t stand their heat, then out of the kitchen of art you must go. Many are called, but few are chosen, and that’s the fact of it. Not enough appetite; not enough desperate need. Half the most gifted musicians, painters and writers I’ve known gave up. Some, discouraged; others, encouraged but bored by their own facility. Making art is making yourself a skin. (A skin so you can meet the world, be in the world at all, however briefly.) You have to need it so badly that no other costume will do.
As for talking about a piece of writing: the only useful commentary on your work will come from someone who can see how the work is working you, rather than you the work. It’s not hard to see, if you’re looking at someone else’s work: you can see where the work is happening behind the author’s back, making connections the author is unaware of. By pointing these out you help him or her not one bit — except in one respect: you will have reminded the often astonished author that the Maker is at work in his or her efforts. If the author understands what this means, it will be simply a reminder, like a chapel bell or a distant muezzin calling us to prayer, that we can trust the Maker, since the Maker still trusts us. (It means we’re not making dross.)
Other commentaries about what is or might be good or bad in a writer’s work are a complete waste of time. No creator learns from his or her own virtues or vices, except unconsciously. (The only halfway good advice I know: cultivate your vices, as a truly wise man once said, and let your virtues spring up modestly around them.) There is no language in a creative-writing classroom, or any other classroom, for the one thing a writer must do: go further, make it worse, push it to the limit. Every creative writing class creates — without necessarily intending to — a culture of congruence and safety: do less of this; trim your wildnesses; make everything fit; I didn’t believe in the character of the sister; I’d like to hear more about the mother.
No-one knows, except the Maker (in this case God, if you will, or Destiny, if you prefer) whether the character of the sister needs to be believable for the story to be at its best; or whether we really need to know more about the mother. Maybe we need to know less. Creative work is the expression of mystery itself, which withers every time somebody tries to crack wise about it. There is no wisdom of mystery; there is only mystery. There is no knowledge of mystery: what is known is without mystery.
Congruence, the god of creative writing classes (congruence being an idea of what fits), has no meaning in the realm of art. Only in the realm of criticism, where thinking people bend over a dead rabbit and dissect it, unable to perceive that only life in the rabbit is interesting and is rabbitude. Every worthwhile work of art makes things fit in its own way: that is what shows it to be a work of art. If it fits in a pre-ordained way, the kind of way that commentators can see, it’s a dead rabbit.
You have to get out of your own way: surrender the wheel to the Maker. It’s hard! It’s scary. What if what comes out is even more embarrassing dross than what you produce when you’re trying to drive the thing?
Then good. You’re learning, at last.
In time you’ll discover, if you have the appetite to endure all five or nine or twelve or however many steps of degradation I posited earlier, that making poetry – or her bastard offspring, drama and fiction – is something that poetry is trying to make of you. Making, itself, is struggling to tell you how it wants to create, all on its own and without your help: anticipation, development, misdirection, complication, climax, and closure, while populating this panorama with recurrent motifs and profound underlying connections. Making is trying to do this; you alone are in its way. It can be quite a shock when you finally let go of the wheel with which you’ve been wrestling as though it were a recalcitrant animal, to discover that the car knows exactly where to go, without your instructions, on a journey more subtle, more surprising and more fulfilling than you ever thought you had in your head.
You never did have it, of course, but at last you allowed it to have you.
The head wants to do this. It’s not about quantity of talent; it’s only about a capacity for surrender. We’re talking about how a writer might proceed. For a writer to help another writer is far harder: you have to get out of his or her way, and this is not as easy as it sounds. There are no secrets involved. You just have to learn how to disappear, leaving only your smile.
Let me talk to you a little about one of my recent efforts. For years I had been telling my students not to plan their work but let the work plan them. Trust everything to the maker in the head. And when the story appears to have died, crumbled, fallen apart, turned out to be complete rubbish (which you know cannot be true because you did once think it was worth something, on grounds as certain, or uncertain, as your newfound conviction that it is bad), remember that you, or your friend or your student if you’re trying to advise one, stand at the threshold of the work’s best writing: here, where the whirlpool has opened up, will finally appear, IF, firstly, you sit patiently through the despair and misery and shame, and, secondly, suggest to the maker a series as long as is needed of suggestions for how to throw a narrative bridge across the whirlpool to a continuation of the story, here, right here, a bridge will form which in retrospect you will observe to be the best and strongest writing in the story: the super glue, if you will, stronger that the items it connects. Why did the whirlpool occur? Why did the story seem to have turned to shit? I will tell you, because there is only one reason, ever. One reason, over and over again: the meaning of the story has threatened to make its face plain, emerging from the waters of the tale. Such a moment, when meaning breaks the waves of mystery, is the death of narrative. Writing is like unconsciously working a plumb line, where the marking on the twain registers correct depth or too much or too little depth — the depth beneath the keel of narrative, which must never scrape against the reef of determinate meaning. (Let’s make it a reef, and leave the whirlpool behind.) Meaning is there, of course. Everything means something; everything means many things; but narrative is the place where meaning is suspended, and if the story threatens to resolve itself too soon, too early, like a hand of solitaire complete yet with cards still unturned, then what the maker experiences is horror, and nausea, translating themselves in the conscious mind of the poor author as failure. But in narrative there need never be failure. Blue water always lies ahead. Be patient, work quietly to invite the tide (you are allowed to be mechanical, and suggest a hundred lifting operations to the maker) which will refloat your story. It will come. Trust me. It must come. Every time you abandon a story you only oblige yourself to retrace your steps, go back, begin again and come to the very same vortex, the same whirlpool or quagmire, the same reef. It awaits you in the next story (as J.J.Cale sings to his treacherous lover, I’ll come back and haunt you as a…nother guy); it is an inner cross, a psychic crossroads you have made for yourself — for who else made this particular story that has seemingly failed you? — and you have to learn to slay the demon on the bridge. You do so by surrendering; by faith in the maker.
It took me 50 years to cross my bridge in the way I dreamed of crossing it. I’d given up hope, although I’d got across the bridge as best I could, several hundred times. But to own the bridge – this is what we all dream of. It happened just last year. And all the stories I had ever told took me by the hand and brought me to a place where I was given a story that, in turn, took me to a place I alone, I think, have been allowed to go.
Here’s how it happened.
In the course of a lengthy (six, seven years now) attempt to find a home for a musical for which I’d written book and lyrics but had no music – despite two separate, unsuccessful attempts by successive composers – I met a director who asked me to contribute to the Jewish Theater Festival, a peripatetic festival which was held in New York two years ago and which the director’s own company was hosting. I’d begun my professional life writing for the stage, but many years ago I’d migrated to scriptwriting to make money, and subsequently to fiction-writing, my true calling. So this was my first shot at playwriting in decades; it came out well enough to bring enthusiastic feedback. Enthused, I promptly started on another, intended as a companion piece for the first one. Henry, my director, responded warily to the second play, declaring that he wasn’t sure how to direct a love story (I hadn’t realized it was one, and in any case, how can you not know how to direct a love story?), but that if, instead, I had written him “a play featuring a midget in a catsuit reciting Spinoza,” he’d have known just where to begin. Which is probably true; he’s that kind of director, loves things edgy and highbrow and not too sappy. In the end he mounted a good staged reading of the ‘love story,’ but my mind was already distracted by his words, and I sat down to fulfill his jesting request, and write him a further play, called Midget In a Catsuit Reciting Spinoza.
It gave me the perfect, terrifying premise. How on earth to proceed? Six strangely assorted words were all I had as a starting point, the thread that might, if I held it with an angler’s canny gentleness, lead me into the labyrinth and perhaps – if by a miracle the thread never snagged on a rock and broke — all the way to meet the Minotaur.
The words sounded a little like the Salvador Dali titles for paintings that I’d fallen in love with – the titles no less than the paintings — as a teenager: ‘Debris Of An Automobile Giving Birth To A Blind Horse Biting A Telephone’. Midget In A Catsuit Reciting Spinoza. So Salvador Dali had already appeared, out of the fog of the labyrinth. What should I do with him?
And Spinoza? I had shamefully little knowledge of the writings of the great 17th century philosopher, the father – in spite of all hostility – of modern liberalism. He had been put under a curse, a cherem, by the Jewish Fathers of his native Amsterdam, for heretical beliefs. He had proclaimed (among other things) the continuity of worldly existence and non-existence: life and death, he maintained, were not opposed but made of the same substance. I began to dream of a Spinoza cursed to pursue such a belief to its logical end: no death but life without end. I imagined a Spinoza cursed to live forever, as the Eternal Jew.
All well and good. But what about the midget in the cat suit?
Catsuit suggested one thing to me: neither Disney nor superheroine nor Halloween nor football team mascot but the grand old British pantomime and folk tale, Dick Whittington And His Marvellous Cat, in which an actor in a catsuit plays the creature who rid rat-infested Mediaeval London of its rats, and won his owner, Dick Whittington, three terms as Lord Mayor of the city.
Now, a pantomime is not a mime; in Britain it’s a longstanding Christmas entertainment whose roots go back to Commedia Dell’ Arte and beyond this to Roman and Greek farce. Virtually all British theaters stage a pantomime at Christmastime, choosing from a host of folk tales and fairy stories – Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk are among the most popular – and staging them with songs and dialog full of topical references and jokes, revised or coined anew each year. The theater company’s actors are joined by celebrities from film, television, news programming, sports and politics, adding to the attraction of the show.
A few ancient elements remain, in all the different stories dramatized as pantomime: the young hero, known as the Principal Boy, is always played by a girl; one of the older ladies in the story (in Cinderella it might be the wicked stepmother or the fairy godmother) will always be played by a man, known as the Pantomime Dame. To this antique thread of fool-feast travesti is added much-treasured banter between actors and audience, in the form of a ritualized exchanges: ‘Yes I will!’ cries the actor. ‘No you won’t!’ the audience immediately respond. ‘Yes I will!’ ‘No you won’t!’ ‘Yes I will’ ‘No you won’t’… until events disperse this routine. ‘Look behind you!’ the audience will cry to any actor with a villain creeping up on him or her, and the victim will continue to ignore these warnings until assaulted by the villain.
It’s a tradition dear to British children, and as a result to adults too; it’s never traveled outside Britain – but it served my turn here.
‘Midget In a Catsuit…’ the political incorrectness of the term ‘midget’ had been bequeathed me by my director, but it occurred to me to dodge the bullet by drawing on the name of a friend of mine, Alan Midgette. (The name is French and old, from the Limousin district.) I would make the actor in the catsuit a Midget by name rather than by physical attributes.
And why on earth would he be ‘reciting Spinoza’? Suppose he was one of the celebrities who every year reappeared in pantomime in the role of Dick Whittington’s Marvellous Cat – so marvellous that he not only rid London of rats but, since the actor in the catsuit would be Sir Arthur Midget, distinguished popular philosopher, television pundit and Spinoza expert, he would answer questions on the meaning of life, from the audience. The audience would try to stump the philosopher-cat with the deepest questions we know: what is truth, how did the Cosmos begin, and would Manchester United win the Premier League again?
Sir Arthur’s true professional passion would be Spinoza’s philosophy, and the play would open with our catsuited sage reciting and debating with himself some of Spinoza’s most famous pronouncements, until the cast of Dick Whittington And His Marvellous Cat sweeps him up and onto the stage.
Was there a way to get from there to Salvador Dali? And from him to Spinoza, still alive after 300 years?
The Maker in the Head had the answer. To be a writer is to stroll barefoot on the sands that attend the sea of inspiration, to stroll and bend to pick up shells and driftwood, hoping for treasure. Much of this driftwood, brought home to notebooks or left to join the jumble in the head, never fits into any story, or so it seems – and life isn’t long enough to turn every stick of wood into a building. But when you need a piece to fit between two oddly warped boards, then’s the time to go hunting in the lumber room of narrative driftwood, some of which begs to be rescued as if it had been waiting for just this moment.
I’d once written a series of monologue-plays for the BBC, in honor of various long-ago worthies whose centenary, or bi– or tri-, was due. I’d done Tennyson, Pope, Newton. In each case the plot came out exactly the same. The only possible plot for a monologue-play, the only plot with enough ooomph and drama to hold up for an hour or so, is the nervous breakdown, into which the character, be it Newton, Pope, or Tennyson, descends and from which, by the end of the play, he recovers. No-one seemed to notice that it was the same story every time, so dissimilar were the characters. Every January I would go to the library and see whose centenary it was this year. But one year there was no-one of the slightest dramatic interest, except for one notable personage: Hermann Goering. I was thrilled with the prospect of dramatizing Hitler’s second-in-command, the boastful, art-loving, pleasure-loving fatty – I pictured him in the white uniform he designed for himself… then I pictured him bereft of medals, in the Nuremberg prison cell where he somehow acquired a cyanide pill and cheated the hangman. That was where he would be monologuing… and who got him the cyanide pill? There was a nice mystery I would ‘solve’ in the play.
The BBC were appalled by the idea of ‘celebrating’ Goering’s centenary. No dice. Back went Goering at Nuremberg into the lumber room of discarded figments. Nor was I ever asked to write another monologue-play again (clearly I was a loose cannon and not to be trusted). Goering! Of all people!
So now, as I stared in the lumber room, wondering as ever how any of the strange fragments it held could ever fit into the jigsaw puzzle currently looking for a jagged piece to fit a jagged coastline, my inner eye fell on Hermann Goering – Hermann, that strange contradictory soul, an architect of the Holocaust who had adored his Jewish godfather (Jewish by extraction, at any rate) and preferred him to his own father.
In my mind’s eye, I now had a cast to match the characters in the pantomime of Dick Whittington And His Marvellous Cat, with which Midget In A Catsuit Reciting Spinoza, my barely-out-of-the-egg play opens. Dick Whittington needed: a Principal Boy (a beautiful girl) to play Dick himself – well, I’d surely find her in the story, whatever it would be. A story that linked Salvador Dali, Spinoza and Hermann Goering (I already had an inkling about where Hemann fitted); Dick Whittington needed a villain –‘King Rat’! – and I saw him at once as Salvador Dali, with his sublime, absurd whisker-mustaches; the Pantomime Dame in Dick Whittington was always the cook, beset in her kitchen by rats – and it was Hermann Goering who popped into my head in a cook’s outfit, apron and bonnet, a hulking male to fit the female impersonation and make it fun, as… how about Mrs Sausagemacher, a German cook in rat-infested London? Dick Whittington traditionally deployed a lazy servant, Idle Jack, for the cook, and here I saw my Spinoza, trying to get away to doze and dream, the philosopher forever being asked to do unsuitable manual work. And Sir Arthur Midget, in the catsuit? I had a feeling he could play a great variety of characters, each time unzipping the pantomime catsuit to reveal a new character.
And the rats, the rats… something about Goering’s presence in the story permitted me to see them both as rats and as Nazis (how easily the grey-green uniforms could turn into rat outfits when the insignias and belt were gone, to be replaced by pantomime rat-noses and whiskers!) This meant that King Rat, Salvador Dali, could also, perhaps, be Adolf Hitler…
I was growing dizzy with the connections; best now to follow my rat-nose and take it scene by scene.
In my mind’s eye I saw a series of Salvador Dali paintings projected hugely at the back of the stage above the actors, a different painting every scene, at first in black-and-white…
And in the middle of my pantomime beginning – in the middle of the opening scene of Dick Whittington And His Marvellous Cat — I let the cook morph into Goering (white cook’s outfit into white Goering-uniform). At the same time, the cat-suited Sir Arthur Midget, whom we’ve heard reciting Spinoza in a British voice, but not seen yet except as a Cat, strips off his catsuit to reveal one Arnie Schwartz from the 1st Infantry Division, guarding Hermann Goering in the Nuremberg jail in l946….
MIDGET-AS-ARNIE laughs, reading the comic, a raucous ARNIE laugh.
No reaction from a gloomily pensive GOERING.
ARNIE laughs again.
GOERING: It’s good today? What is it?
ARNIE: Katzenjammer Kids.
ARNIE chuckles again.
ARNIE: Yes, Hermann.
GOERING: I don’t want to interrupt you.
ARNIE: That’s okay.
GOERING: What are you reading?
ARNIE: I told you, didn’t I? Just the funny papers.
GOERING: How are they today?
ARNIE: I seen worse. Whaddaya need?
GOERING: You’ve been good to me, Arnie.
GOERING: You’ve brought me delicacies.
ARNIE: No big deal.
GOERING: I need from you one last delicacy.
ARNIE (pulls out a pack): Cigarette?
GOERING shakes his head.
ARNIE: Sure? Okay.
ARNIE puts cigarettes away.
GOERING: This is not the delicacy I mean.
Pause as Arnie turns back to his comics.
ARNIE: You can ask me. C’mon. Shoot.
GOERING: I need some cyanide
ARNIE: Cyanide. (Still reading) You serious?
ARNIE looks up at last, sees that GOERING is serious.
ARNIE: Can’t help you there, buddy.
GOERING: I should have taken the tooth.
ARNIE: What tooth?
GOERING: Himmler had a tooth put in, with cyanide in it. When the Americans caught him he bit into it. I was offered one too. I was too proud. I should have taken it.
ARNIE: Look at it this way. After Tuesday you won’t have to worry about it.
Pause. GOERING is fighting tears.
GOERING: Arnie, hanging is a common criminal’s death, not a soldier’s death. I would prefer to cheat the hangman – wouldn’t you, if you had the choice?
ARNIE: Where you think I’m going to find cyanide in Nuremberg? You know anywhere?
GOERING: You go to a chemist…
ARNIE: I don’t speak German, Hermann. How ’bout some rope?
GOERING: Yes, rope will do. But they will suspect you of helping me, my friend. With cyanide they will think it was a Himmler-tooth.
ARNIE: Either way I’d be risking my job.
GOERING: You could sell your story. The Hermann Goering I Knew. By His Accomplice.
ARNIE: (yeah right) Sounds like a bestseller.
GOERING: You don’t think so? What can I offer you, Arnie my good friend?
ARNIE: How about some of that Nazi gold?
GOERING: If it exists I never knew where it was. Maybe Hitler knew. But not me.
GOERING: I have a few things hidden.
ARNIE: Figured you did.
GOERING: I know you like paintings.
ARNIE: Sure. You got a Picasso I can have?
GOERING: You like Picasso?
ARNIE: Not really.
GOERING: You like Impressionism?
ARNIE: I can live without.
GOERING: How about Salvador Dalí? You like Dalí?
GOERING: He’s big on the market now.
ARNIE: He knows how to draw.
GOERING: He is a great draughtsman.
ARNIE: You’ve got a Dalí?
GOERING: He painted it for me. A personal gift.
ARNIE: No kidding. I like his stuff.
GOERING: It’s called Midget In A Catsuit Reading Spinoza.
ARNIE: Wacky title. How do I get my hands on it, Hermann?
GOERING: When I get my hands on some cyanide. We got a deal?
MIDGET-as-ARNIE exits LEFT taking the stool.
… So now it was surely time to introduce Salvador Dali himself…..
SCENE 3. The Painter Meets His Muse
We are in 1935. HERMANN GOERING’S personal BODYGUARD enters STAGE RIGHT with GOERING’s medals and Nazi armband, helps GOERING get dressed for a public appearance. First of all: gives him his cigarette (fake, lit) and cigarette holder. Prison lighting remains on GOERING until he is dressed and ready.
As they accomplish this, SALVADOR DALÍ has entered a single spot, centre stage.
DALÍ: That was 1946. The 13th of October. On the 15th, Hermann Goering, celebrated fighter pilot and Hitler’s designated successor, died of cyanide poisoning. Nobody knows how he managed this. Except Arnie. And me.
Dwarfed by it, DALÍ turns to glance proudly at his painting. With his back to the audience:
DALÍ: My name… but you know it, of course. (Turning back) No? There are some of you who do not? Shame on you. Does this mustache say nothing to you? It is the most expressive mustache in human history. Yes, now you remember. I am Salvador Dalí, the celebrated artist and exhibitionist. Dalí the outrageous.
BODYGUARD has removed the bench, MID-STAGE RIGHT, and returns to accompany GOERING to the art opening.
During DALÍ’s self-introduction, the party scene now assembles behind him, and downstage LEFT. Blue light, centre stage, into which GOERING now walks, puffing on his cigarette, followed by BODYGUARD. GOERING is met by a WAITER (STEINER), entering from UPSTAGE LEFT with a tray of drinks. GOERING takes one. BODYGUARD would like one but is quelled by a look from GOERING. The WAITER moves on towards downstage LEFT where he takes a tray of cocktail sausages, and his small waiter’s towel, from 2ND WAITER (SCHULZ), freeing 2ND WAITER to bring on the balustrade.
KATYA (KNOBLOCH), DALÍ’s bodyguard, enters from UPSTAGE LEFT, gravitates towards GOERING in the central blue light. She too has a cigarette in a holder. GOERING orders BODYGUARD to light it for her. KATYA flirts briefly, then drifts on down to the balustrade, downstage left, where she takes a drink from the 1ST WAITER’s drinks tray, and stands at the STAGE LEFT end of the balustrade, calmly smoking.
TWO GUESTS (MIDGET, from LEFT, and SPINOZA, from RIGHT) have joined GOERING and BODYGUARD in the central blue light. Both wants to meet GOERING but are discreetly kept at bay by BODYGUARD. The two WAITERS join the central group and ply GOERING, GUESTS and BODYGUARD with food and drink.
During the above DALÍ has been addressing us :
DALÍ: I’m sure you remember: I painted graffiti on the Pyramids of Egypt, and I once danced naked in the Colosseum in Rome, on Christmas Day, surrounded by a hundred crucified heifers – cows – we borrowed them from local slaughter-houses, and painted them blue, using a Maxim gun adapted to fire paint instead of bullets – a magnificent sight and a tribute to suffering creatures everywhere, as well as a commentary on the history of Christianity, and a celebration of Christ’s official anniversary. Anniversaries are so important, aren’t they? I doubt if Hermann Goering was aware of it, but he killed himself on the 11th anniversary of my encounter with my beloved – an event at which he had himself been present. Yes, eleven years before: it was the 15th of October, 1935, in Munich, where my exhibition had just opened to, ah, well let us say a mixed reception? It was a bad time and place for great art to thrive.
MARY-JANE hurries on from STAGE LEFT in an anxious stumble, fishing her compact out of her bag. She crosses the stage, ignoring DALÍ entirely.
DALÍ watches her, immediately fascinated by her disarray.
DALÍ: But for me it was a rebirth…
MARY-JANE reaches the balustrade and exchanges a glance with KATYA, hoping KATYA will be sympathetic to MARY-JANE’s haste and confusion. KATYA isn’t. MARY-JANE swiftly checks her hair and make-up, as:
DALÍ : the unforgettable rebirth… of love.
With an expression of contempt, KATYA steps to the easel and peels up the page, revealing: 3. THE PAINTER MEETS HIS MUSE.
As she does so, the Dalí-painting image on the screen at the back changes, with a sharp click. The click draws MJ’s attention, and she turns to look up at the new painting. It says nothing to her. Instead, her attention is drawn to GOERING in the group around him. Still ignoring DALÍ, MJ moves stealthily, fascinated, into the group around GOERING.
DALÍ, watching MJ, moves into the group’s DOWNSTAGE RIGHT corner, making his way towards MARY-JANE.
The cast are all now crammed up against each other, guests and waiters, in the smallest possible space, trying to drink and eat and talk at the same time – and slowly and stealthily trying to get closer to GOERING, who is at the center of the squirming and rotating human Rubik’s cube (an image we shall revisit in grisly circumstances). Their voices rise until they are gossiping so loudly, as they gaze round at the paintings, that DALÍ and MARY-JANE have to shout to make themselves heard to each other.
Behind them, the rising hubbub consists of one sentence, repeated not in unison, but as a fugue or round, gradually becoming indistinguishable as the words overlap, and change slightly, in the manner of gossip being repeated:
OMNES: I saw Hermann Goering at the art opening last night, he was right next to me, as close as you are…
MARY-JANE is gazing at GOERING raptly, openly, from the edge of the huddle, at STAGE LEFT. She is trying to see whether there is some way that she can reach him. There isn’t.
DALÍ is perfectly placed, outside the huddle at RIGHT OF CENTER, for a view of MARY-JANE’s striking face. Strong features. Remarkable red-gold hair (curly or straight – either), spilling onto her shoulders.
DALÍ shouts over the hubbub:
DALÍ: Elizabeth Siddal! But greatly restored! Your phthisis is cured? You look wonderful.
MJ: Thank you. Who did you call me?
MJ: What did you say?
DALÍ: You look wonderful!
MJ: Not that. The earlier part.
DALÍ: Your phthisis is evidently gone!
MJ: My physics?
DALÍ: Your phthisis. The disease that killed you, Elizabeth dear.
MJ: You’re confusing me with someone else.
DALÍ: Not really.
MJ: I’m Mary-Jane.
DALÍ: Hello, Mary-Jane. I am Salvador Dalí.
MJ: That’s one hell of a mustache, Mr Lee.
DALÍ: Thank you. It charms the ladies.
MJ: Does it really?
DALÍ: Always. With the ladies you have to get their attention.
MJ: Well, you did that.
DALÍ: You see? Nothing else matters.
MJ: You think? Who’s this Elizabeth you’ve got me mixed up with?
DALÍ: You are the image of Elizabeth Siddal, the famous model who sat for Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and died of phthisis, tuberculosis and malnutrition.
MJ: No wonder you thought I looked better.
They have worked their way through the huddle until they are quite close now. The noise of talk from the huddle grows softer as they get closer. Still murmuring the fugue, the assembled guests freeze in position.
MJ: Say your name again.
DALÍ: Salvador Dalí.
MJ: I have a friend called Salvatore. We call him Sal.
DALÍ: And you are Mary-Jane…
MJ: …Hammond. From Ohio.
DALÍ: What brings Mary-Jane Hammond from Ohio to Munich?
MJ: A man.
DALÍ: Of course. You are in love.
DALÍ: With a German?
DALÍ: Is he here?
MJ: I was hoping he might be.
DALÍ: He is an art-lover?
MJ: (shy but proud) An artist.
DALÍ: You like artists?
DALÍ: You like art?
MJ: (teasing) I know what I like.
DALÍ: You like this painting?
MJ gives it her full attention, for the first time.
MJ: Possibly. I don’t know. No.
DALÍ: You know who the artist is?
DALÍ: I thought not. You are speaking with him.
MJ: Why, Mr Lee!
DALÍ: Dalí. You’ve never heard of Salvador Dalí?
MJ: I’m afraid not, Sal.
She glances round at the painting again.
MJ: (sweetly) But now that you mention it… that one is pretty nice.
DALÍ: What kind of paintings does he do, your beloved?
MJ: I don’t know.
DALÍ: You don’t know?
MJ: I haven’t seen his paintings.
DALÍ: But you’ve seen him.
MJ: Oh yes.
DALÍ: And that’s enough.
MJ: It sure is.
She nudges DALÍ.
MJ: Say, that is Hermann Goering, isn’t it?
DALÍ: As you say, Miss Mary-Jane, it sure is.
MJ: I need to meet him.
DALÍ: You do? I can arrange that.
MJ: Oh my God you can? You know Hermann Goering?
DALÍ: As a matter of fact we are on first-name terms. Why would Mary-Jane Hammond from Ohio want to meet Hermann Goering?
MJ: He knows my… my beloved, to use your word.
DALÍ: Really? And who is your beloved, this mysterious artist?
MJ: Adolf Hitler.
As MJ utters the Führer’s name, it falls into a sudden pit of silence, and rings out so loudly that everyone unfreezes and cries:
All turn to DALÍ and MARY-JANE, accusingly.
A FEW VOICES: Heil Hitler!
DALÍ and MARY-JANE are staring at each other. A moment.
Then the guests turn back to each other and refreeze in position, as the gossip-fugue resumes, first one voice, then the rest joining in, in turn, with a new (though related) topic:
OMNES: He liked the sausages, took six of them and wolfed them down, he was right next to me, as close as you are…
When the fugue is well launched (with its variations, “took four of them,” “took eight of them,” “took twelve of them,” etc.) and begins to subside in volume:
DALÍ: You are in love with Adolf Hitler?
MJ: Do you know him? I mean, personally?
DALÍ shakes his head.
MJ: You haven’t met him?
MJ: I haven’t either.
DALÍ: But you’re in love with him.
MJ: Ever since I saw him here in the beer hall. Here in Munich. I didn’t know there would be a political meeting. I don’t go much for politics. But he was so masterful. I fell for him at once.
DALÍ: (almost speechless) This is… quite incredible.
DALÍ: You prefer his mustache to mine?
MJ: I’m sorry, Sal.
DALÍ: To have Hitler as a rival! I can’t believe it. It is a duel of mustaches, one which I will surely win. Hitler! Mary-Jane, you’re crazy.
MJ: You don’t know the half of it. My name isn’t really Hammond. Daddy changed it when he came to America. It’s Hartmann.
DALÍ: You’re Jewish?
DALÍ: I think we need a little air.
MJ: But, Sal –
He pulls her downstage towards the balustrade. KATYA breaks away from the group and follows, at a small distance.
MJ: If Hermann Goering is here, why not Adolf?
DALÍ: My dear, my work is not the kind of work Herr Hitler likes. Now listen to me. (He has one hand under her elbow, guides her downstage) In the first place. Do not advertise so loudly that you are a Jew.
MJ (no sweat) Okay.
They reach the balustrade. Blueish moonlight falls on their shoulders. The huddle behind them are a very soft hubbub now.
DALÍ brings out a cigarette, offers MJ one. She declines. He inserts one into his cigarette holder, and lights it.
DALÍ: (quietly) Adolf Hitler is not the right man for you, Mary-Jane.
MJ: You can call me MJ.
DALÍ: Are you listening to me, MJ?
MJ’s attention has been drawn by KATYA, who is smoking, downstage.
DALÍ: That is Katya, my bodyguard. Katya — you may join the others.
KATYA withdraws sulkily to join the party throng, upstage.
MJ: It’s because he doesn’t like Jews. Right? Herr Hitler. You think he’s wrong for me because -
DALÍ: (interrupts) It’s not so much that he doesn’t like them, Mary-Jane –
MJ: (interrupts) That’s just the point, honey. When I’m through with Adolf, he’s going to love them. I’m going to be his first Jew.
DALÍ: But… what on earth attracted you to the man in the first place?
MJ: (simply) He reminded me of my father.
For once DALÍ can think of nothing to say.
DALÍ: Please don’t do this.
MJ: Why you sweet thing you, you’re concerned for my safety.
DALÍ: Mary-Jane, from the first moment I saw you I knew we could have a future together
MJ: (sighs, then) From the moment I laid eyes on you, I knew we could not.
She gives him a parting kiss on the cheek.
MJ: My heart is another’s, Sal. And now, if you don’t mind -
DALÍ: Don’t go. My dear, you don’t seem to get it. These people are the sworn mortal enemies of your people. Hitler is now the Head of State, and if he puts his beliefs into practice, there’s no knowing –
MJ: (Interrupts) You’re the one who doesn’t get it, Sal. He’s like people back home who think they hate black people and they’ve never even met a black person. People like my father. They’re afraid of the unknown. Do you think Adolf knows any Jews?
DALÍ: Yes, I think he does.
MJ: I mean, does he know them intimately?
DALÍ: Mary-Jane, for God’s sake… what do you see in this man?
MJ: (straight at DALÍ) There’s a gentleness there. I know there is.
DALÍ: (sighs, then) Do you even speak German?
MJ: A little.
DALÍ: You went to a political meeting where you don’t know half of what the guy said, and you think you’re in love with him?
MJ: Sal, didn’t you say it yourself? You knew at first sight that we could have a future together? That’s what you said. And you don’t know me either.
DALÍ: I know you’re not a dictator with a plan to eliminate all Spanish people with unusual mustaches.
MJ: I wrote him a fan letter. With my photograph. I told him I wanted to meet him. And he wrote back and said he -
DALÍ: He wrote back? — No -
MJ: …Said he would like very much to meet a nice American girl -
DALÍ: Hitler wrote this?
MJ: Signed it himself. Why shouldn’t he want to meet a nice American girl?
DALÍ:. Did you mention you were Jewish?
MJ: You think I’m nuts? That comes later.
DALÍ: Mary Jane, any of his flunkies making fun of you could have signed Hitler’s name. And then laughed till he cried.
MJ: You’re unkind.
DALÍ: Of course I am. I’m jealous. But I’m also being realistic. To get to see Hitler I think it’s not enough to be a nice American girl who sent him her photograph, I think you need a recommendation or an invitation from someone whom he knows well.
MJ: Like Mr Goering. That’s why I came here.
DALÍ: Ah. It was not for art.
MJ: I’m sorry, Sal. I’m going to go grab fatso there before he splits, okay? It was good meeting you – and if you get a chance, put in a word for me with big Hermann, there’s a doll.
DALÍ watches her go. When she reaches the throng, MJ fearlessly jostles a guest out of the way and takes advantage of the confusion caused by the drink she has made the guest spill, to button-hole GOERING.
We can’t hear their conversation, but it’s clearly animated on MJ’s part. After watching for a moment, DALÍ turns back to us.
DALÍ: Crazy woman. Must be why I liked her. Look, I am not just crazy impulsive Latin lover with a funny mustache. I am Salvador Dalí. I am the greatest artist in the world. I am the greatest artist the world has ever seen. This girl, believe me, has duende. She is the bull that passes so close you can hear your own death whisper to you. She is an old soul. Full of death and craziness and passion. Why else would she fall in love with Hitler? An old soul from Ohio? Is it possible? I did not think they made them there, but it must be possible.
Behind him, GOERING is detaching himself from MJ, and then moves downstage towards DALÍ at the balustrade, while MJ watches from the huddle, hoping that DALÍ will intercede on her behalf.
DALÍ: How can I help her? How can I save this crazy woman from herself? She is made for me. What do I do? Do I tell Goering at once that she is Jewish? Or does this send her from the frying pan… into the fire?
GOERING: Herr Dalí.
DALÍ: Herr Reichsminister – should I say deputy Führer? (He gives a little bow) My congratulations.
GOERING: It’s not yet official. Besides, we are here in the empire of art, where titles are irrelevant, nicht?
DALÍ bows again, this time in graceful recognition.
GOERING: So. I have escaped from the American girl. You must look as if you are telling me something of the utmost importance, Salvador. Then perhaps she will not interrupt.
DALÍ: I doubt if this would stop her. But she thinks that I am talking to you about her passion for the Führer.
GOERING: There are many like this, you know, I don’t mean Americans but good German girls who want to make a child with him.
DALÍ: Really? And does he ever… meet them?
GOERING: No. (A moment) He passes them on to me.
DALÍ: Aha. I knew you held a highly responsible and sensitive role.
GOERING: You said it. But, you know, the Führer is interested to meet actresses. So perhaps…
DALÍ: Herr Reichsminister, I have to warn you of something.
GOERING: Oh yes?
DALÍ: The American girl. She’s Jewish.
GOERING: Oh, that’s quite okay.
DALÍ: It’s okay?
GOERING: Of course. My godfather is Jewish.
DALÍ: I didn’t know that.
GOERING: Between you and me, I liked him better than my father.
DALÍ: I see. But… the Führer… as I say, the girl is Jewish.
GOERING: Herr Dalí. The Führer is Jewish.
DALÍ: Wait a minute.
GOERING: On his father’s side. This doesn’t prevent him from seeing the Jewish conspiracies that threaten our civilization. In fact it gives him an added insight. And it certainly doesn’t prevent him from enjoying the charms of Jewish company – of the female persuasion.
DALÍ: Good God. Hermann…you have been a good friend to me. You have been the best patron a man could ask. You have brought me here into the lion’s den, so to speak, where happily there are still so many great art-lovers like yourself. I need your help in a different arena. The arena of love.
GOERING: Of love?
DALÍ: Mary-Jane Hammond would not get to see the Führer in person without your recommendation — without your introduction — surely –
GOERING: (at last) Probably not.
DALÍ: I must declare an interest. I am smitten with the girl.
GOERING: With that creature? Um Gottes Willen.
DALÍ: I am asking you to be so kind as to steer her away from the Führer, and if possible out of Germany altogether.
GOERING: And in exchange…
DALÍ: In exchange…I offer you exclusive rights to the proceeds of my sales in Germany, shall we say ten percent?
DALÍ: Very well, fifteen.
DALÍ: Fifteen and I will do a painting specially for you. A present from a grateful artist.
GOERING: And the subject?
GOERING straightens his uniform, smiling.
GOERING: I leave it up to you.
LIGHTS FADE on the scene, and as the guests disperse, talking and laughing.
A WAITER moves to the easel, peels up the page, revealing: 4. SPINOZA ON THE BENCH.
As he does so, at the back of the stage the Dalí-painting image changes, with a sharp click.
DALÍ steps into a spotlight DOWNSTAGE RIGHT.
4. Spinoza On The Bench
DALÍ: It took me a year or two to get round to that painting I had promised Goering. A painting for Hermann Goering? Like promising the devil a child. But the promise haunted me. What should I paint for a monster? Something monstrous. Monstrous…yet instructive. It wasn’t till I came to London and met a man obsessed with the philosopher Spinoza that I had an idea for the painting. Do you know Spinoza? Wonderful man, believe me. Wonderful philosopher too, of course. The God-haunted thinker. God-saturated, you might say. Spinoza is sustained by the belief that God is everywhere at all times and in all things, present in grass and in concrete, in sugar and in vinegar, in cats and in midgets, present at all events human or otherwise. But present in an impartial kind of way. A God uninterested in morality.
SIR ARTHUR MIDGET as ALBERT EINSTEIN, with bushy mustache, enters, walks towards DALÍ
DALÍ: (continuing to explain to the audience) It’s no good asking Him for help…
EINSTEIN: May I?
DALÍ: (looks at him, stares at audience) Why is it that when a man cultivates his mustache, everyone else feels obliged to compete? (Introducing him) Professor Albert Einstein.
EINSTEIN: A God uninterested in morality: exactly. (EINSTEIN’s gaze and gestures address the audience, while remaining aware of DALÍ.) A God no more interested in a man’s fate than the stars are interested in you and me. A God sustaining and sustained by the workings of Creation. Those wonderfully balanced workings. In other words, a reasoning and reasonable God.
DALÍ: Who does not play dice.
EINSTEIN: Precisely. You’ve been reading my lectures. We are God’s plan. All this is God’s plan.
DALÍ: He controls everything?
EINSTEIN: No, he doesn’t control anything. He has set it in motion, that’s all. Everything unfolds, and he is present in all of it.
DALÍ: You’re a deist.
EINSTEIN: Of a kind.
DALÍ: So He is present in cruelty too? In barbarity? In pain?
DALÍ: Is he a sadist, then?
EINSTEIN: Of course not.
DALÍ: He likes to watch? He’s unconcerned? Unmoved?
EINSTEIN: God doesn’t feel, my friend. Or ‘care’. He’s not Papa. He allows it. He delights in the universe, but not in each separate human experience.
DALÍ: Yet he is present in each moment.
DALÍ: Even cruelty.
EINSTEIN: Even cruelty.
DALÍ: Delighting in it all.
DALÍ: But not in cruelty as such.
EINSTEIN: As such, no.
DALÍ: A subtle distinction.
EINSTEIN: God is subtle. Yes. But not malicious.
DALÍ: I wonder about your serene uncaring God. Spinoza tells me that God abandoned him only once. (Briefest moment.) In Auschwitz.
EINSTEIN: God did not abandon Spinoza. (A moment.) Spinoza ceased to believe. (A moment while EINSTEIN gazes at DALÍ, smiles) We all want a God in our image. Yours probably has a mustache.
DALÍ: And yours?
EINSTEIN: (grins, checks his watch; to audience:) Thank you for your time. I must run.
DALÍ: I thought time was relative.
EINSTEIN: For you. But not for me. That’s relativity.
DALÍ watches him go. Just before passing out of the light, EINSTEIN stops. Slyly:
EINSTEIN: See you around.
DALÍ: See you around, Professor.
As EINSTEIN leaves. DALÍ turns back to the audience:
DALÍ: You know, when I say that Spinoza tells me something, like for instance that God abandoned him, in Auschwitz, I mean it literally. Spinoza is a pal. It came about in a curious way, in 1935. I was in New York, visiting the Public Library, which has a fine collection of original Spinoza texts. I had discovered Spinoza thanks to a man called Sir Arthur Midget. And I had discovered Sir Arthur because, of course, I was chasing the beautiful Mary-Jane — and she was appearing at the London Hippodrome with Sir Arthur.
Behind DALÍ, as he continues speaking, Sturmbannführer STEINER, with Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler soldiers WILHELM, KNOBLOCH, and SCHULZ enter as four PANTOMIME RATS dressed in grey, with DALÍ mustaches, and creep furtively onto the stage, glancing round and hoping to remain unnoticed. They assemble UPSTAGE LEFT and curl around each other, seemingly for protection. But when they settle onto the ground and achieve stillness, we see that they form a single slab of grey, odd-shaped yet distinctive Central Park granite.
DALÍ: Alas, she would not see me. I dreamed of kidnapping her, just as King Rat, the villain in the pantomime of Dick Whittington and his cat, kidnaps Dick Whittington, so that his cat, Tommy, scourge of rats, will come to rescue Dick and be ambushed by my rat army. I dreamed of holding Mary-Jane captive, while I buried my head in the Ethics of Spinoza.
From OFFSTAGE RIGHT, two men enter, unnoticed by DALÍ. They pass behind him, carrying a park bench which they set down CENTER STAGE. Both men are shabbily dressed: one in sneakers, threadbare pants and a hoodie with the hood up, entirely hiding his face; the other in 17th century Dutch artisan’s costume. This is SPINOZA. Both men sit on the bench, fairly close together, with resignation, as if no longer interested in establishing distance between one another. SPINOZA takes a reflective pose, face upwards towards the sun. According to the wishes of the play’s director, he could be young or old or in between.
DALÍ: And so it was that one day I emerged from the Public Library, a little stunned, hoping to catch some sunlight and forget about philosophy for a hour, and walked up to Central Park with my head full of Spinoza, and I saw him sitting there on a bench in the park. He was right there in front of me. Baruch Spinoza.
In his narration, DALÍ has mimed for us walking past the bench, abstracted, glancing at the two men, then after a moment stopping, astounded, and turning round from STAGE LEFT to gaze at the sunbathing man.
DALÍ: I thought it was a hallucination caused by reading too much of his work. Or at least, a coincidence — a similarity of face which my deluded mind turned into an exact resemblance. But the more I looked… (to SPINOZA) Excuse me. Forgive me for interrupting.
SPINOZA (pleasantly surprised) Salvador Dalí.
DALÍ: You know me?
SPINOZA: By the mustache. Who doesn’t know you? Unless of course you’re a Dalí impersonator.
DALÍ: I was about to ask you the same question.
SPINOZA: You thought I was impersonating you?
DALÍ: Somebody else. You know who I mean.
SPINOZA: I might do. Who did you think I was?
DALÍ: Spinoza. (A moment) The great philosopher. Founder of modern thought. Do you often dress as Spinoza?
SPINOZA: I do not dress as Spinoza. You think I’m some fellow playing a part.
SPINOZA: Or a mad fellow, perhaps, that’s what everybody thinks. In some ways that’s the worst part of immortality. No-one believes you. Even people I get to know when they’re quite young, and with whom I remain friends, they remain in denial. When they’re old I look the same — but these days they just think I’ve had cosmetic surgery.
DALÍ: You make an excellent Spinoza. Do you make money out of it?
DALÍ: Then it must be a bore that people say you look just like -
SPINOZA: (interrupts) Few do, Señor Dalí.
DALÍ: But it gratifies you?
SPINOZA: Yes. Because I am Baruch Spinoza.
DALÍ: I see. Well, Mr Spinoza, you look uncommonly well for a 300-year-old.
SPINOZA: Three hundred and three. Thank you. Pity you don’t believe me.
DALÍ: How could anyone believe you?
SPINOZA: Because it’s true. (With a nod at the HOODED MAN.) He’ll tell you.
DALÍ: Who is he?
SPINOZA: He can tell you, believe me.
SPINOZA nudges the HOODED MAN.
SPINOZA: (to the HOODED MAN) Tell him.
No reaction from the HOODED MAN.
DALÍ: Who is that?
SPINOZA: It’s God.
DALÍ: It’s God? Okay. I’m Dalí, you’re Spinoza and that’s God. And God’s asleep.
SPINOZA: Sometimes He gets bored. Believe me, after only 300 years of this I get bored too. Imagine after 13 billion.
DALÍ: What’s He doing here?
SPINOZA: He goes everywhere with me.
DALÍ: Really? That must be inconvenient, sometimes.
SPINOZA: He’s no trouble. You’re no trouble, are you?
The HOODED MAN gives a faint groan.
DALÍ: Let him sleep, poor guy, whoever he is.
SPINOZA: It’s okay. God never sleeps. Sometimes he dozes. He’s awake. Watch this.
SPINOZA nudges the HOODED MAN, who stretches slowly, with a roaring yawn like a lion. His face is still hidden. At the roar, DALÍ steps back.
SPINOZA: Don’t worry. He’s not malicious. (Taps Him. As to a child.) Would you like to meet somebody famous and interesting?
The HOODED MAN pulls back the hood. It is SIR ARTHUR MIDGET-as-EINSTEIN, as GOD. (The sneakers? GOD’s ahead of his time. Or they could be Keds, first made in 1917.) He sees DALÍ.
EINSTEIN: Oh it’s you.
GOD goes back into his hood and dozing position.
DALÍ: Einstein is your God?
SPINOZA: No. He just thinks he is.
DALÍ: Einstein thinks he’s God?
SPINOZA: God thinks he’s Einstein. Some days he thinks he’s Michelangelo. Other days, Christ, the Buddha, Gandhi, Shakespeare…
DALÍ: Not Dalí?
SPINOZA: When you die, maybe.
DALÍ: You can bet on it, my friend. Why are you here, if I may ask? You have some fondness for New York?
SPINOZA (sighs, patiently, rises, begins stretching exercises, press-ups, as he speaks) In the first place, I’m here because the Jewish Elders of my native city of Amsterdam put me under a cherem, a curse, the worst cherem they ever issued, for maintaining, they said, that good and evil were not fundamentally different and that life and death were not fundamentally different either. For this I was sentenced to live in such a world, where evil was to be understood as an aspect of goodness, and goodness an aspect of evil… life an aspect of death, and death… no death, only life eternal, for me. I was given the role of the Eternal Jew.
DALÍ: That’s tough.
SPINOZA You said it.
DALÍ: And you say God is always with you?
SPINOZA: I think so.
DALÍ: Keeping an eye on you.
DALÍ: And sometimes he sleeps.
SPINOZA: Dozes. I’m the same. I don’t get much sleep either. Shall I tell you what it’s like to live three hundred and three years? First of all, being famous doesn’t help. My Ethics? I wrote the Ethics so long ago I can barely remember who I was when I wrote it. It’s as patchy a memory as yours is of being three years old - a few things sharp, the rest a blur. The New York Public Library has the only autograph copies of my work. I don’t even recognize the handwriting, let alone the ideas. I’m here in the hope that I wrote something I can show God — something that contradicts the rest, something that admits there really is a difference between life and death.
EINSTEIN: (puts his head out of the hood) If you’re going to talk philosophy I’m leaving.
SPINOZA: So leave.
EINSTEIN: You think you have it bad – (mimicking) — three hundred and three years….
SPINOZA: We know. Go back to sleep.
EINSTEIN: I can’t sleep, you know that.
SPINOZA: Pretend to sleep, then. But don’t always interrupt.
EINSTEIN sits back, closes his eyes.
DALÍ: You can talk to God like that?
SPINOZA: That’s one of the few good things about being this old and not afraid to die, you can talk to God any way you like. He was with me when I had a cave in Southern Africa, on the Eastern Cape. Beautiful spot. Hundred and fifty years, we stayed there. We lived in New Mexico, in an abandoned trailer. Sixty, seventy years. I tried the jungle. Too many people. I tried Florida. Too many insects. Maybe the other way around, I don’t remember. Finally I faced the fact that it was life I hated, not people. So I came back to try and address this question of life. How to end it.
DALÍ: D’you think you’re any closer?
SPINOZA: Not really. If I’m the Eternal Jew, which seems probable — I keep trying to trick God into admitting it, but he’s too canny — then I’m around as long as the Jews are around. If you ever cook up a plan to get rid of the Jews, let me know, because I’m in. I’ll be your first disciple.
DALÍ: There’s a guy called Hitler -
SPINOZA: No, he doesn’t want me.
DALÍ: Why not?
SPINOZA: I’m a Jew.
GOD (emerging from his hoodie) The Jews, the Jews. That’s enough for one day. (He stands up) You want ice cream?
SPINOZA: No thanks.
GOD: Not you. Him.
DALÍ: No thank you.
GOD exits, STAGE RIGHT. DALÍ stares at SPINOZA.
SPINOZA: (shrugs) Everyone likes ice cream. Not me. I didn’t grow up with it.
DALÍ: (starts to laugh) This is crazy. You really think you’re Spinoza. Where do you sleep?
SPINOZA: (Nods) the police are used to me.
DALÍ: And in winter?
SPINOZA: At Saint Mark’s, in the crypt. They know me there.
DALÍ: All right. Let’s suppose you really are Baruch Spinoza.
SPINOZA: Why not?
DALÍ: Looking for a loophole in the curse. Evidence that you believed in death. Couldn’t you just decide to believe in death now?
SPINOZA: It’s not a matter of what I think, my friend. A man can think whatever he wants. For Jews it’s always about the word — the written word.
DALÍ: So write a refutation of your own work. Lie a little.
SPINOZA What is written now, three hundred years later, interests nobody. It’s what young Spinoza wrote that counts. That is still for so many people a Bible. For the Jewish Elders, a bible of heresy.
DALÍ: But they’re dead, Mynheer Spinoza.
SPINOZA: The curse is alive — look at me. They’re watching, Señor Dalí. The dead know everything. If I could find, somewhere in my writings, a refutation, a hint even, a doubt, even a tiny splinter in the body of my faith that mind and body and this world are one continuous system, on that raft I could perhaps set sail… oh my friend!… and be done with life. But I don’t remember my own works very well. They seem to me to have been written by someone else. And it’s so long ago. (Close to tears) I know I defended myself, before the Elders. I can see myself, and them. And if only I could remember… what I said to them. If I could just remember what I said in my defense!
DALÍ: I have an idea. You must come with me to London to meet a great expert on your works, Sir Arthur Midget.
SPINOZA: Who is this?
DALÍ: A British philosopher.
SPINOZA: You say he is a midget?
DALÍ: No. He is small. But a Midget by name before being a midget by nature. The name is French, Migeot [mee-joe, soft ‘j’]. He is a baronet, a ‘Sir’, by right of birth, and every year he is famous for answering philosophical questions while dressed as a cat.
SPINOZA: As a cat? Is there some reason why he dresses as a cat?
DALÍ: You have heard of pantomime?
DALÍ: Well, there is a pantomime called –
SPINOZA: (remembering, surprised) Dick Whittington and His Remarkable Cat.
At this the rat-pile of rocks, upstage center, begins to stir.
DALÍ: You know it?
SPINOZA: And this Midget person -
DALÍ: Precisely -
SPINOZA: Plays the cat?
DALÍ: He plays the cat.
SPINOZA: And talks philosophy… while he catches the rats of London?
The RATS disguised as rocks now raise their heads, whiskers twitching. And behind SPINOZA, GOERING-as-MRS SAUSAGEMACHER tiptoes on STAGE RIGHT with her rubber rolling pin, while behind DALÍ – who can see MRS SAUSAGEMACHER approaching – ARTHUR MIDGET-as-TOMMY THE CAT tiptoes on, STAGE LEFT, closing in on DALÍ.
SPINOZA: That is remarkable. (Breaks off) Excuse me, but behind you –
DALÍ: No — behind you -
SPINOZA: An enormous -
DALÍ: Quick, prince of philosophers — behind you -
SPINOZA: Cat! Behind you!
DALÍ: Behind you! Run!
TOMMY lunges at DALÍ, who eludes him and exits, pursued by MIDGET-AS-TOMMY.
MRS SAUSAGEMACHER: There you are, you idle boy!
SPINOZA: I beg your pardon!
MRS S: You idle, idle boy!
SPINOZA: And who on earth are you, pray?
MRS S: Get to work at once!
She swings mightily at SPINOZA with the rolling pin, which SPINOZA ducks, and jumps off the bench.
SPINOZA: She’s crazy!
SPINOZA runs round the bench with MRS SAUSAGEMACHER chasing.
MRS S: Come back here, idle Jack! If I catch you…
As they come back to where they began, SPINOZA halts and surprises MRS S by spinning round to face her and holding up a hand.
MRS S stops, rolling pin raised.
SPINOZA: Woman! Do your worst! I am invulnerable!
MRS S: I give you invulnerable, you Katzenjammer Kid!
She beats SPINOZA about the head with her rubber rolling pin –
MRS S: You with your long words –
… until he reels and flees with MRS S in pursuit.
MRS S: Invulnerable, ja? You lazybones!
SPINOZA exits, pursued by MRS SAUSAGEMACHER, OFFSTAGE RIGHT.
Now the PANTOMIME RATS uncurl, as RATS.
DALÍ scurries back on, as KING RAT, from STAGE LEFT.
KING RAT sniffs the air.
DALÍ: They’re coming. At my signal, distract the cat, and run, as fast as you can.
The RATS quickly curl back up together, their grey pelt forming a different rock-like shape.
DALÍ moves swiftly to the easel, peels up the old page, revealing on the new one: 5. KING RAT KIDNAPS DICK. As he does so, Dalí-painting image changes, with a sharp click. DALÍ twirls his whiskers, but his delight is cut short as he hears, from offstage:
MIDGET: (off) Miaow!
DALÍ-as-KING RAT hurries to his rock of rats and hides behind them.
5. King Rat Kidnaps Dick.
MJ, as DICK, enters LEFT, with his Dick Whittington cap on his head and his worldly belongings in a handkerchief on the end of a stick over his shoulder, as in the opening scene, and MIDGET-as-TOMMY, following.
MIDGET (urgently): Miaow!
MJ: What is it, Tommy?
MIDGET: (as before): Miaow!
MJ: But why should I, Tommy? We’ll never defeat King Rat, and as long as he and his rats make life hell for the people of London, I’d rather be back in my little village in the West.
MJ: (fondly) Oh, Tommy. (To audience) He’s saying, turn again.…
MIDGET: Miaow! Miaow!
MJ: (amused) You don’t say! Turn again Dick Whittington — mayor of London?!
MIDGET nods furiously, and miaows thrice, counting off three on his fingers.
MJ: Thrice Mayor of London?! Oh, Tommy, you’re a very sweet cat — but I’ll never be Mayor of London.
SPINOZA-as-IDLE-JACK hurries on, STAGE LEFT, with a bundle on a stick similar to MJ’s, but still dressed as SPINOZA.
SPINOZA: Dick! Dick! Don’t leave without me!
MJ: But, Jack, you belong here, in London. Why would you want to leave?
SPINOZA: I can’t stand it any more, getting beaten in the kitchen every day by Mrs Sausagemacher! I want to join you in your little village in the West!
MJ: There’s no work in my village, Jack. Everyone’s starving. Don’t you see? That’s why I came to London in the first place.
SPINOZA: You won’t take me with you? (He sits disconsolately on the bench) Then I want to die!
MIDGET: (sagely) Miaow! Miaow!
MJ: You’re right, Tommy.
SPINOZA: What’s he saying?
MJ: He says you need to go home.
SPINOZA: (shakes head sadly) My home is in the hands of the Nazis.
MJ: Mrs Sausagemacher means well, I’m sure she does.
MIDGET: (as before) Miaow!
MJ: You must go home.
SPINOZA: To Amsterdam? Alone?
MJ and SPINOZA turn to him, amazed.
MJ: What did you say, Tommy?
MIDGET: Miaow! Miaow!
MJ: He says, No, not alone. With your companion.
MIDGET: (nodding) Miaow!
MJ: (to SPINOZA) Who’s your companion?
SPINOZA: He’s with me. Always.
MJ: Then he must be here.
SPINOZA: Yes, but where?
MIDGET takes off his cat-head. It is EINSTEIN.
MJ: Oh my goodness.
SPINOZA: (rising) Shall we go?
MIDGET: Yes, Baruch. It’s time.
They exit, STAGE LEFT, SPINOZA taking his bundle of possessions..
MJ: Heavens — what shall I do now without my Tommy?
Behind her, the RATS uncurl. At a gesture of command from DALÍ, they follow MIDGET and SPINOZA offstage LEFT.
MJ sits disconsolately on the bench. DALÍ, as KING RAT, comes up behind her, and sits.
A moment. She looks closer at him. Pulls off his pointy rat-nose mask.
MJ: Oh, for goodness sakes, it’s you, Sal. What’s going on? Are you stalking me? (Loud whisper) We’re onstage.
DALÍ: Are you still in love with Hitler?
MJ looks away.
DALÍ: You’re telling me you can’t forget this awful man? Whom you’ve never even met.
MJ: I did meet him.
DALÍ: When? You’re lying.
MJ: I met him, Sal.
DALÍ: You’d better be lying. If you’re not lying I’ll kill myself.
MJ: Stop it, please. I had tea with him.
DALÍ: (absolute horror) You had tea with Hitler? I’ll kill myself.
MJ: Sal, I forbid you to do any such thing, do you hear?
DALÍ: Then I’ll kill Goering! He promised to keep you away from Hitler – I even gave him a painting! And you had tea with Hitler?
MJ: Yes. It was… it was interesting.
DALÍ: I am going to kill myself. (Walking downstage) What a nightmare. Tea with Hitler!
MJ: It was so exciting when the invitation arrived at my hotel –
DALÍ: Don’t tell me –
MJ: A beautiful card in old-fashioned Gothic script –
MJ: The Chancellor of Germany invites Miss Mary-Jane Hammond…
As MJ continues, Sturmbannführer STEINER, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler soldiers WILHELM, KNOBLOCH and SCHULZ enter STAGE LEFT in solemn procession, their grey rat-clothes adapted to give them the look of grey-suited Nazi soldiers, with belts, epaulettes, swastika armbands and forage caps bearing death’s head insignia, bringing two chairs and a round tea-table with teapot, two cups and saucers, milk, sugar, and plates of canapés featuring a blob of red on round slices of pumpernickel bread. Also a plate of small cakes.
DALÍ turns upstage to watch them
MJ: …to visit him in a private room at the Vierjahr – Vierjahres-something-hotel, at 3:30 — this was written in ink — maybe in his own hand?
MJ rises, comes downstage, still talking.
The soldiers deposit the tea-table CENTER STAGE and dispose of the chairs.
STEINER: Halt! Table down. Move this way! Too much. Back! Now cups and plates! Careful, Schulz, you idiot. (Pointing to the bench and Dick Whittington’s bundle of belongings) Knobloch, Wilhelm…
While SCHULZ makes sure that the plates and cups are properly disposed, the other two fetch the bench and remove it offstage, along with MJ’s Dick Whittington bundle of belongings.
DALÍ moves upstage, comes to the table, as if inspecting the distribution of the tea things.
MJ: (during this) The signature was hand-written, I was sure he wrote it himself because it matched the signature in the letter he sent me. I was thrilled – and in a complete panic – what on earth do you wear to meet Adolf Hitler? Especially if you’re a Jew! I tried on all my dresses, in despair – and then –
KNOBLOCH and WILHELM, who removed the bench, return with an expensive box tied in a fancy ribbon, and bring this to MJ. As MJ speaks, she removes her Dick Whittington cap and unpins her hair.
WILHELM: From the Führer himself, Fräulein.
MJ: A package. For me. From the Führer.
KNOBLOCH and WILHELM open the box. Out of it they produce a dress. An Austrian peasant-style dirndl dress.
MJ: (overwhelmed) A dress! Chosen… by the Führer?
Sturmbannführer STEINER and soldier SCHULZ join MJ.
STEINER: Chosen by me, Fräulein Hammond.
MJ (tries to hide disappointment) Oh.
SCHULZ: Sturmbannführer Steiner knows what the Führer likes.
MJ (gazing uncertainly at STEINER) Oh.
STEINER and co. form a bodyguard around and DOWNSTAGE of MJ as she changes into the dress, still talking.
DALÍ remains beside the tea-table still facing upstage.
MJ’s own outfit comes flying out of the little downstage circle, to be caught by one of the NAZIs, and taken offstage.
MJ: (while changing, with appropriate noises) A funny dress with a flounce skirt and a kind of lace apron, I guess it’s what girls wear in Austria, maybe in Germany too, in the villages. Oops! Don’t look! That’s better. I didn’t know what to do with my hair, I figured he might like it in pig-tails, but in the end I left it down…
The SOLDIERS stand back admiringly, and STEINER gives her a small bow of approval.
STEINER: Perfect, Fräulein.
MJ: Why, thank you, you sweet thing.
The BODYGUARDS form an escort to lead her to the Führer, and the group advances UPSTAGE and halts.
STEINER: (click of heels and salute) Mein Führer! Fräulein Hammond.
DALÍ turns to us. While facing upstage during MJ’s onstage costume change he has swept his hair across, and replaced his moustache with a Hitler mustache. Perhaps a small but noticeable Nazi ribbon is now attached to his grey KING RAT outfit.
MJ curtsies deeply, spreading her flounce skirt. DALÍ-as-HITLER comes and takes her hand, admiringly,
DALÍ: Delightful. Just as my good friend Goering promised. Only better.
He leads her to the tea-table. The BODYGUARDS stand guard, at a discreet distance, but close enough to intervene if called on.
DALÍ pulls back a chair for her and MJ sits.
MJ: Thank you, mein Führer.
DALÍ: Shall I be mother?
MJ: Pardon me?
DALÍ: Shall I pour?
MJ: Oh yes of course. Please.
DALÍ: (pouring tea) I hope you have been made comfortable in our little world.
MJ: Oh certainly. Very comfortable. And the dress –
DALÍ: You like it.
MJ: I love it.
DALÍ: It looks charming on you. We will find many nice things for you.
MJ: This is more than enough, mein Führer.
DALÍ: Certainly not. What do you imagine? Now that you are here I shall not easily let you go.
MJ: Oh, that’s… that’s very kind…
DALÍ: Kind? No, it is not kind. You are my prisoner now.
MJ: (is he joking?) Oh. I’m your prisoner?
DALÍ: Yes, Dick.
MJ: (a moment) What did you call me?
DALÍ: But you will be well looked after. Rats know how to entertain an honored, precious guest.
DALÍ: But not mere rats, Dick. You are the guest of King Rat.
MJ stares in alarm, pushes back her chair, stands, as the BODYGUARDS close in on her.
MJ: Help! Tommy!
DALÍ: Oh, your British Tommy will be here in good time, my dear. In time to fall into our trap.
MJ: Oh no…
The BODYGUARDS lead MJ back to her chair. She stands for a moment, facing DALÍ. Then she sits, conceding.
DALÍ: You understand now. You are the bait, handsome Dick. Soon Tommy will rush bravely into our lair and we will finish him. Then London will be ours!
With a gesture, DALÍ sends the BODYGUARDS back to their previous perimeter. DALÍ raises the teapot.
DALÍ: So. More tea?
MJ: No. (A moment) Not for me.
DALÍ: You don’t like my tea, Miss Hammond? I will order something else for you.
MJ: (coldly) It’s ‘Miss Hammond’ now?
DALÍ: Then may I call you Mary-Jane? If not some tea, then perhaps some Kuchen. Or our specialité de la maison, which I shall shortly explain.
MJ is staring at him.
DALÍ: You look a little shocked. Is it because I mention our desire to be better friends with England? And with your native America. Because first, you see… we have to occupy ourselves with Russia. Are you interested in politics, Mary-Jane? No? But at least you are aware that in Moscow my good friend Comrade Stalin has been busy. He has made something called the Museum of the Brain? Did you know this?
MJ shakes her head, faintly.
DALÍ: It was created soon after Comrade Lenin’s death. It has in it many brains of famous people from all over the world, for comparison. But chiefly: Lenin himself. You thought Lenin’s brain was in the mausoleum, along with the rest of Lenin? But it is not. Only the cranium is in the mausoleum. Not the brain. They took it out. This is the reason for the Museum. The purpose was to examine Vladimir Ilyich’s brain, to determine why he was the greatest man in the history of the world. To that end, they extracted his brain and sliced it into 67,000 very thin pieces. Yes. 67,000 slices. To put under the microscope. And did they find out what was so special about Lenin’s brain? No. (Barely stifling amusement) No, it seems that Comrade Lenin had an… extremely average brain. So now what do they do, in the Museum of the Brain, with Comrade Lenin’s 67,000 slices of average brain? What do you think they do, Mary-Jane? Guess. Please. You don’t want to guess? Try.
MJ: I’ve no idea.
DALÍ: I will tell you the answer: Nothing. They do nothing with it. Because who wants all these slices of brain? But I had an idea of something we could do. We have many people there in Russia, Mary-Jane, our people, secret members of the Nazi Party –
MJ: (interrupts) Rats.
DALÍ: (startled) Rats? You would call them rats – because they rat on their Communist bosses? I call them heroes of the National Socialist movement. They are not rats. And with the help of one of these heroes, a technician in the Museum of the Brain, I have obtained a few hundred slices of Comrade Lenin’s brain. Will anyone notice? I don’t think so, do you? With 60,000 slices, who notices a hundred slices here or there?
DALÍ pushes towards her one of the plates of canapés featuring a blob of something red, on pumpernickel bread.
DALÍ: Eat, please. (A moment.) Yes. You are greatly privileged, Miss Mary-Jane Hammond. You are the only person aside from me who will have eaten from Lenin’s brain.
MJ: (horror) Oh no.
DALÍ: You would forgo such an opportunity? I assure you that Comrade Lenin’s brain is delicious.
MJ: I’m not really very hungry.
DALÍ: Just a little bit, Miss Hammond.
MJ: (declining) Thank you — that’s all right –
DALÍ: Ein Kuchen?
MJ: (not wanting to turn everything down) Oh — maybe -
DALÍ: But first some of the specialité de la maison! Nicht? A tiny piece? For me. For Adolf.
MJ: Herr Hitler. I just… I don’t feel like eating a piece of Lenin’s brain right now.
DALÍ: Oh please. You won’t reconsider? (A moment.) You’re wavering? You’re still not sure? Here’s my solution. We will leave it to the audience. (Rising) Dear audience. Should Mary-Jane eat a piece of Lenin’s brain — whether out of sheer curiosity or to please the Führer, I don’t care which. Should she eat? Vote, please. Those in favor? (He counts.) Those against? (He counts.) And the rest of you… neutral? Perhaps you are wondering what it will taste like, Lenin’s brain. You will be surprised at the answer. It tastes like… watermelon. You don’t believe me? Steiner!
DALÍ signals to his BODYGUARD of RAT-MINIONS, who come and remove plates of watermelon from the tea-table, bringing them to the audience.
DALÍ: Then I suggest we take a little break. Under the watchful eye of my own personal bodyguards, my guard of honor, you will stretch your legs — this is not a request, this is an order — and visit the facilities and perhaps take some drink along with your… shall we call it ‘watermelon’? And meanwhile — this too is not optional — you should consider what fate would await you if you were to turn down the food set before you by Adolf Hitler, as it seems that Miss Hammond is about to do.
DALÍ turns back to MJ. Pointedly:
DALÍ: Or is it… Miss Hartmann?
A moment. To audience:
DALÍ: Enjoy yourself please, but don’t be too long or you will miss the fun.
As HOUSE LIGHTS rise and LIGHTS FADE on the teatime scene, the Nazi RAT-SOLDIERS begin swiftly — and very politely — to encourage the audience to have some watermelon, asking them if there is anything they can bring them. Ad-lib, along the lines of:
SCHULZ: A cushion? — Ah, dear lady, we have just now run out of cushions.
KNOBLOCH: We have some nice flags you could fold to place beneath you.
WILHELM: And afterwards, hang them out of your windows.
SCHULZ: (to another audience member) Sturmbannführer Steiner will be happy to escort you…
KNOBLOCH: We have good German wine from the Rhineland.
DALÍ: (casually, to MJ) We will make of them little revolutionaries perhaps, at any rate little National Socialists, with this eucharist, I think.
Two of the GUARDS-OF-HONOR RATS fetch a tray each of water, to offer to the audience, along with the slices of watermelon
STEINER: This looks like watermelon, but you have heard the Führer declare what it is.
Meanwhile, a palm court orchestra strikes up, a string quartet of the kind that might perhaps have played at the Vierjahreszeiten Hotel in Berlin, where DALÍ-as-HITLER may be presumed to be treating MJ to tea.
WILHELM: You wish to visit the facilities, Madame? Sturmbannführer Steiner will accompany you.
6. Carl Schmitt Explains Spinoza
During the interval, HITLER, his MINIONS, the water-melon and the entire tea-table scene have disappeared like a bad dream.
As the audience filters back in, a figure is already waiting for them onstage, front and center. He is CARL SCHMITT (more precisely SIR ARTHUR MIDGET-as-CARL SCHMITT) and he is dressed in a neatly pressed dark suit, with a discreet Nazi pin. No other insignia. He is friendly, relaxed, but controlled. Above all charming. SCHMITT is a real historical figure; like the better-know and more infamous DRMengee of the death camps, SCHMITT was a as handsome as a film star. As tells us, he was the leading Nazi ideologue, and, as fate would have it, the leading expert on and critic of SPINOZA’s philosophy.
Behind him hang two Swastika-banners.
LIGHT gradually isolates SCHMITT on stage, spilling onto an area behind him, which will shortly be occupied by a second figure.
SCHMITT: Ready to begin? Yes?
SCHMITT goes to the easel, makes visible the new scene title: 6. CARL SCHMITT EXPLAINS SPINOZA. As he does so, the Dalí-painting image changes, with a sharp click.
SCHMITT: Everyone present, or shall we wait a little longer? No? Good. Then let’s begin. Enough of these pantomime Nazis, meine Damen und Herren, ladies and gentlemen, I am the real thing. My name is Carl Schmitt, my rank or title is Preussischer Staatsrat, adviser to the Prussian State you could call it. I am a jurist. I have been called the ‘crown jurist’ of the Third Reich, the jewel in its legal crown. Also perhaps in its intellectual crown. I am a Professor at Berlin University, lecturing on philosophy and on law. I am also an Obersturmbannführer in the SD, the State Security police. Sometimes I wear the uniform. Not today. Today I am here as an academic. But uniforms are nice, aren’t they? Imagine a world without uniforms. There would be no police. No army. No parades. How would we tell the bad guys, as you call them, from the good guys?
SCHMITT: And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what I want to speak to you about today. Telling the bad guys from the good guys. There are people, even perhaps some people here in the audience, who like to imagine that sometimes they are one and the same. Bad guy and good guy. In the same person. If this is you, if you are one who thinks this way, then you are a person who cannot tell an enemy from a friend. Such a person we call a ‘liberal’. Yes, you are amused. But it’s not funny at all. You are lying to yourself, wishing to believe that everybody loves you, even if they show otherwise. Deep down, they love you. Now, you are either a fool, or a coward, or you insist on lying to yourself. You know as well as I do that in your private life you have known people you believed were friends. They acted like friends, or so you thought. But you were not looking carefully, were you? You were not on your guard. And where did this lack of vigilance lead? One day this friend revealed himself as no friend at all. And, oh the pain. You had let this enemy inside the gates of your life, your home, your psyche. Only to be betrayed. Is it any difference in the public world? You liberals don’t want to believe that your country has enemies. We must talk to them, you say. We must negotiate. They are human beings, just like us. And yes, in fact they are. They are human beings just like you. Predatory, opportunistic, ambitious, greedy. As you know yourself to be. This is humanity.
SCHMITT: If the world were good, my dear liberals, I would be happy to be good along with you. But it isn’t. So wake up, or perish — sooner or later. You suffer from what historians call decadence, which attends every empire in decline. Rome, Britain… yes, Germany too, one day. I am not one of those who believes in the thousand-year-Reich, along with our leaders. I permit myself to disagree. And they permit me to disagree. You would be surprised to know how much freedom we allow our citizens. Those who do not wish to serve in a particular capacity, or those who dispute some point of party doctrine, they are not sent to the Russian front. We are not barbarians. I am regarded with a certain fond amusement as an intellectual, and my differences with National Socialism — for instance, I am not in favor of the annihilation of the Jews — are tolerated. I have no love of the Jews. I would be happy to see them gone from the borders of the Reich. But this fanatical hatred seems to me — and I think Reichsmarschall Goering shares my views on this, although he keeps it quiet — to be a pathological symptom. More to the point, it is a simply dreadful waste of money and manpower, this business of trying to kill them all. The slave labor at least repays the investment, to some degree. But where is the benefit in simply killing them? Even the slave labor fails to harness the true powers of the Jew, which are intellectual, not physical. They are thinkers, not doers. Thinkers — like Baruch Spinoza, for instance. Which is what brings me here to Auschwitz today.
A moment. Amused:
SCHMITT: There is a man, apparently of some likeness to the portrait we have of the great Spinoza, who surrendered to the Gestapo in Amsterdam, announcing that he was Spinoza himself. Obviously, if he believes it, he belongs in a lunatic asylum. And if he doesn’t believe it, what does he think to gain from this imposture? It would be of no interest, certainly not sufficient interest to bring me all the way from Berlin — into Poland, not my favorite spot in all the world — admittedly in a limousine most comfortably outfitted by Reichsmarschall Goering — and I wouldn’t be here if it were not for the Reichsmarschall’s personal invitation, which I rarely decline. He has summoned me — (chuckling) — as an expert on Spinoza — can you believe this? — to interrogate Spinoza himself, in order to find out if he is Spinoza. After three hundred years of life. Goering wants a little fun, to see how plausible the impostor is. Put him together with Schmitt, the Spinoza expert, Goering thinks, and we shall have some fun to see who knows his Spinoza better. It’s too stupid, and it would not happen, except for one thing. Goering puts great faith in a ridiculous man, the surrealistic painter Salvador Dalí, a creature of utmost decadence, who has somehow persuaded the Reichsmarschall — my friend Hermann has a secret weakness for such eccentric people — that this Spinoza impostor, whom he knew personally before the war, truly is Spinoza, the great Spinoza. And this man Dalí has begged the Reichsmarschall to save his life.
SCHMITT: Well, why not? Perhaps if he is a good enough Spinoza impersonator, as I shall swiftly discover, he would be an amusing person to keep for… I don’t know… if he looks so like Spinoza I could put him as a cleaner, what you call a janitor, in my philosophy department in Berlin, and bring him out, in costume, for debates. Well, that’s foolish. I am here at the behest of the Reichsmarschall, and that’s all there is to it.
SCHMITT: Yet not quite. You see, it is of the utmost importance that you, my liberal friends from America, should understand the poison that Spinoza’s thinking has brought into your life. This self-destructive impulse that is liberalism begins in the soul; in childhood; in fearfulness, in a thwarted hope for love without a struggle. And what sustains you, my poor friends, is a network of ideas: a philosophy. It begins… with the man Spinoza.
KNOBLOCH, WILHELM and SCHULZ shove SPINOZA roughly onto the stage behind SCHMITT, and retire. SPINOZA is in Auschwitz inmate clothing, with the dreadful clogs, to which his feet have not yet adjusted. Every step is an agony for his blistered toes and heels. He is exhausted, and the shove he receives is enough to send him tottering in the LIGHT spilling over from SCHMITT, who ignores him entirely. Gradually, as SCHMITT continues his lecture, SPINOZA manages to steady himself after wobbling a little loopily around, UPSTAGE, and come to a halt, where he stands staring offstage, in profile, motionless, as if switched off, like Beckett’s Lucky, but a Lucky attached to his master only by invisible strings.
SCHMITT: You see, Spinoza liked to see God in everything. God everywhere. God in you and me, regardless of our moral qualities. God in the grass, in the trees and the sky. God in life and God in death. How comforting! Isn’t it? God everywhere — Spinoza is what people call a pantheist. In the trade we call this an idiot. If only we could all live the life of a modest, happy lens-grinder in 17th century Amsterdam, laboring in our workshop, unthreatened by war or poverty. So of course for him God is everywhere. He was lucky; God loved him, or so it must have seemed to him. God loves a modest lens-grinder! If he can love humble Spinoza, then he must love everything, everywhere. And if God is everywhere, he must be in war and poverty too. God is nature. Nature is in everything. It all fits! So we must not hate, we must not fight, we must not protect ourselves, because what is there to protect when God is in our enemies no less than in us, when they are us, and even as they drive a pikestaff through your body, why, God is in the pikestaff too, so you can die with a smile on your face. A face that is averted, we may hope, from the fate being undergone by your wife and daughter in the next room.
Cries of ‘Heil Hitler!’ from OFFSTAGE. Boots heel-clicking.
SCHMITT turns upstage, expectantly.
7. Goering Interviews The Eternal Jew
GOERING enters, followed by STEINER, who takes up a position on the edge of the stage, unveiling the new scene title, at the easel. As he does so, the Dalí-painting image changes, with a sharp click.
GOERING: You may leave us, Unterscharführer.
GUARD: (protesting) Herr Reichsmarschall -
GOERING: You may leave us.
STEINER: Heil Hitler.
GOERING: Heil Hitler.
STEINER salutes and goes.
At STAGE RIGHT, SPINOZA has turned to face GOERING.
GOERING: (to SPINOZA, amused) Do they think you might have a weapon? Or that you will overpower me? Are you a dangerous man?
SPINOZA stands, silent. GOERING studies him, as does SCHMITT from downstage.
GOERING : So… (he glances, at SCHMITT, then back to SPINOZA, amused) you are Baruch Spinoza?
GOERING: You know who I am?
GOERING: Do you know why I’m here?
No reaction from SPINOZA .
GOERING: You think perhaps I’m visiting this place? No? You doubt that? You’re right. I have no business being here. I am not a policeman. I am a military man. A friend of yours wished me to help you. To have you released.
Still no reaction from SPINOZA.
GOERING: On certain conditions. Very stringent conditions.
GOERING: Wouldn’t you like to hear what they are, these conditions?
SPINOZA: I don’t wish to be released.
GOERING: (studies him) Oh? Really? You don’t wish to be released. But this is not a rest home, my friend. It’s not a refuge. Don’t you know what happens, in time, to those who remain here?
GOERING : (Sighs, then) Jew, I have come a long way, to do this in person. For your friend. Who is also my friend — but this is not why I came. Your friend says you are three hundred years old. A man three hundred years old you don’t meet every day. That’s old, even for a Jew. Your friend says he believes you are three hundred years old. He is a superstitious man. An artist. He believes you are the philosopher Spinoza. Is he correct?
GOERING: Interesting man, Spinoza. I was reading about him last night, so that I would be prepared. I imagine you do a remarkable impersonation of this thinker from the sixteen hundreds. I am looking forward to seeing it, but in these clothes you are wearing, how convincing can it be? All the same, give us a little show, as a reward for coming so far. I have a fine appreciation of good art, including theatre.
GOERING: Our aim, you see, is to discover how good is your performance. Perhaps it is a performance which should be taken on the road, instead of being sent into the gas chamber. (Nodding towards SCHMITT) This is Staatsrat Carl Schmitt. You know his work, I am sure, since he is the foremost commentator on Spinoza of our time. And the Reich’s principal critic of your oeuvre. He is also, I am proud to say, a good friend of mine.
GOERING: Where shall we begin?
SCHMITT: (moving into a better position to debate SPINOZA) If I might suggest…
SCHMITT: Since we are considering the commutation of a death sentence…let us discuss the paradox of toleration. (To SPINOZA) Would that suit you?
SPINOZA: (the what?) The paradox…
SCHMITT: Of toleration. Surely you remember. (A moment) As first expounded by Augustine.
SPINOZA looks blank. SCHMITT glances at GOERING, then back to SPINOZA.
SCHMITT: Let me give you a hint. The problem about toleration is that we can only seek to tolerate something which is prima facie intolerable. Otherwise we would not need to try to ‘tolerate’ it. I tolerate both blond and brown hair, yet this is not truly toleration because I find nothing intolerable in either hair color. So, if we can identify something intolerable to tolerate, it is already, by definition, not tolerable but rather intolerable. What is more, to tolerate is to acknowledge that the very thing we find sufficiently repugnant that we must ‘tolerate’ it is something we have already stigmatized by identifying it as a potential object of toleration. You are with me, I’m sure. Thus the question arises, why tolerate it, when all you are doing is isolating it and identifying it as intolerable? Why not simply eradicate the intolerable? Why ‘tolerate’ it, at all?
SPINOZA: This is a good question.
SCHMITT. Yes it is. (A moment.) So far we are in agreement, then. So tell me, what would have occurred in June of 1934, if the Führer had not confronted Roehm and purged the SA? You know perfectly well what would have happened, sooner or later. Civil war. Isn’t it so?
SPINOZA: Yes. Yes, that sounds right.
SCHMITT: So where would have been the virtue of your famous liberal principles of compromise and toleration? Hah? Bloodshed. Catastrophe.
SPINOZA: That’s true.
SCHMITT: You agree? You have no counter-argument? (A moment) Herr Spinoza, do you have nothing to say for yourself? No argument to make at all?
SPINOZA: I can’t think of one, no.
SCHMITT: Have you changed your mind on this issue? Murders were committed by the Führer’s supporters, crimes which had little or nothing to do with curbing the brownshirts, you would surely argue, would you not?
SPINOZA: Yes. I could.
SCHMITT: And you may recall that I challenged the Führer, on this very matter, to back up the rule of law especially when drastic extra-legal measures had had to be taken to preserve the state itself and ensure less bloodshed. Perhaps you haven’t been following my career. (A moment) Of course this Night of the so-called Long Knives was not only necessary but was in reality a timeless breach in history, a state of exception where the future is halted. Outside the framework of normality. (Studying SPINOZA) I seem to have lost you.
SPINOZA: (softly, in private) Are you God?
SCHMITT: What did you say?
SPINOZA: Are you God, in disguise?
SCHMITT: God, in disguise? Excuse me, have you been listening to me?
SPINOZA: Yes, of course.
SCHMITT: Then may we continue our conversation without bringing God into it? At least tell me how your ideals of toleration are standing up these days after three centuries of strife between nations. Do you still believe that toleration is worth the price a nation pays to lay itself open to insurrection or foreign conquest?
SPINOZA: Well… I’m not sure. Perhaps not.
SCHMITT: That’s it? You’re not sure? Are you not the great thinker and apostle of liberalism, Baruch Spinoza?
SPINOZA: I am Baruch Spinoza.
SCHMITT: You are a very sad apology for that resolute idealist, I think.
SCHMITT stares at GOERING in bafflement.
SCHMITT: (to SPINOZA, once more) Perhaps you have learnt wisdom from seeing the consequences of political toleration. What about worship? You turned Leviathan inside out in your Tractatus, my friend. Instead of the state prescribing worship, and the individual privately making accomodation with his own choice of deity, you made the individual’s choice the basis for civilized existence, and the state’s requirements only a secondary consideration. Did you not?
SPINOZA: If you say so. I don’t recall.
SCHMITT: You don’t recall? What does that mean? Do you dispute my analysis? This was the basis of your liberal accomodation with compromise, leading to a lack of supervision and even of vigilance regarding enemies within the state. Is that not true?
SPINOZA: It may be.
SCHMITT: For goodness’ sake, man, it is. From you comes the entertainment of devils, the undermining of the state’s integrity, the throwing open of the gates to the forces of subversion — all to please your passion to forgive. And the meaning of this — shall we face it directly, Herr Spinoza? A passion to forgive is simply the passion to be forgiven. In order to obtain forgiveness, you grant it to others in advance, hoping that this blank check will move the Almighty to grant you a free pass in return. Your politics, like all liberal politics, is nothing but the politics of guilt.
SPINOZA: I believe you are quite correct.
SCHMITT: This is too easy a victory. You’re mocking me.
SPINOZA: I am in no position to mock, sir.
SCHMITT: You’re in no position to do anything else. But I am not amused. By conceding every point you fail to show that as a Spinoza impersonator you have even bothered to familiarize yourself with his philosophy. You’re a joke, man, a bad joke.
SPINOZA: There I agree entirely.
A moment. They stare at SPINOZA.
SPINOZA: I’m sorry.
SCHMITT: (furious) You’re sorry. (A moment.) Herr Reichsmarschall, I cannot take this imposture seriously. I will no longer intrude upon your judgement in this matter, and since there is no intellectual debate to be had with this poor fish, I will see you outside. Heil Hitler.
SCHMITT exits. A pause.
GOERING: (at last, wearily) For God’s sake, man, as one Jew to another, save yourself.
SPINOZA: As one Jew to another? You are a Jew?
GOERING: Not by blood, but by sympathy, Herr Spinoza.
SPINOZA: Sympathy? You ordered the elimination of the Jews. You ordered Heydrich to make the plan…
GOERING: My godfather, whom I loved above all other men, was of Jewish descent. But he, like you, was a superior sort of Jew. Not like the rest. Whoever you really are, I assume you’re a Jew. Why do you call yourself Baruch Spinoza?
SPINOZA: I call myself that because I am Baruch Spinoza.
GOERING: You are Baruch Spinoza, but you have forgotten everything except your name. Why do you imagine you are still alive, after 300 years?
SPINOZA: It’s a mystery.
GOERING: It’s a foolish nonsense. I want to know why you came to Amsterdam and brought yourself to the attention of the Gestapo – you, whoever you are — until you were arrested and deported and brought here to die. Since you are a man of no interest to the world, a self-professed philosopher who cannot philosophize but who claims he is one of the great thinkers of human history, why choose to sentence yourself to death? If this is a gesture, who will care?
SPINOZA: I care. It is as a Jew that I am under a curse. It is the intention of your government to eliminate the Jewish race. I want… I hope… that by doing this you will give me rest at last.
GOERING: So… all we have here is a crazy person. A crazy Jew. Jew, I cannot have you released. You are too crazy, and we don’t need more crazy people in the world. You may have your wish. I will leave you in peace.
SPINOZA: Thank you. (Falls to his knees) Thank you!
GOERING: Get up.
SPINOZA: (weeps) Thank you.
SPINOZA: Wait. Please.
GOERING watches as SPINOZA is gradually transformed by inspiration – by memory — kneeling, and recalling:
SPINOZA: (Inspired; remaining on his knees) God and Creature are two things, you say, my masters. God, and Creature. Creature here, God there. But how do we know God, except as Creatures? His Creatures, as you yourselves say. And our God, as you yourselves say. How could we know God if we were not a part of Him, and He a part of us? We know Him as our God. With good reason we give him a human face. He is our God, and he is not the God of the grass. You say he is. You say he is the God of all. But have you heard this from the grass? I don’t think so. The God of the grass is some great green blade inscribed deep in the soul of grass. We too are grass, we are one thing with the grass, we are grass that dreams, and our Creaturely dream is a Creature God. Where then are the two things?
As SPINOZA speaks – he is speaking to his judges, the Jewish Elders of Amsterdam – light fades gradually on the scene and on GOERING, until the kneeling SPINOZA is alone in the light of the footlights, in memory.
SPINOZA: But you say: so, Spinoza… who created your one thing? Where did it start? What was before your one thing was? Whatever it is, it is a second thing. And I say, no, there is no ‘before’. Because: how can there have been one thing, waiting in nothingness to make another thing? Without the other thing — this thing within-and-all-around-us that is everything, that is forever now — how could there be anything in the nothingness? In nothingness there can only be nothing. There can, in fact, never be nothingness, much less nothingness with a patiently waiting God in it: it would not then be nothingness. How does it all start, then, you ask? My masters…I say: it doesn’t. It neither starts nor ends.
A pause. He is weeping.
SPINOZA: Then be that, you said to me. Be… that. Be forever now. Be without end. Be the Jew who cannot rest his head. See how you like your universe then.
As LIGHTS FADE, GOERING, with SPINOZA’s consent, helps SPINOZA to his feet and escorts him out.
8. The Love Song of Salvador Dalí.
Enter DALÍ and MARY-JANE from upstage right, MJ first with DALÍ following. DALÍ in a splendid grey trench coat, MJ in a sexy, boyish outfit. MJ halts, gazing downstage left but wide of the audience, with DALÍ five feet behind her, at the same angle, gazing at her, both of them standing calmly in the classic posture of Shakespearean lovers — or those in Antonioni movies.
While they are still in motion:
DALÍ: Mary Jane, Hitler is the question — and I am the answer.
They have come to a halt.
MJ: (without turning to him) Hitler’s no longer the question, Sal. He’s dead.
DALÍ: (turns to us and comes downstage, opening his arms to confide in us) Is 1946. Hitler is dead and we’ve survived. But the dead are the ones who give us the most trouble, are they not? This Freud understood. Mama and Papa — why won’t they go away? They’re dead, and they’re here, more than ever before. The past requires an an answer.
DALÍ steps over to the easel, reveals the new title: 8. THE LOVE SONG OF SALVADOR DALÍ. As he does so, Dalí-painting image changes, with a sharp click, to Dali’s painting, Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing A Grand Piano.
DALÍ: For me… America is the answer — the golden land, home of fixations, obsessions and unreality, where everybody loves me. Everybody except Mary-Jane.
MJ: That Hitler. I was nuts to think I could get him to like the Jews all by my little old self. Besides, he was a pervert.
DALÍ: That’s the first nice thing I’ve heard about him. How do you know he was a pervert?
MJ: First-hand experience, Sal.
DALÍ: I was afraid you’d say this.
MJ: I never told anyone else.
DALÍ: I don’t care to hear.
MJ: He wanted to draw me.
DALÍ: That’s all?
MJ: He asked me to open my legs.
DALÍ: That’s enough, please.
MJ: Sal, he just wanted to look.
DALÍ: And that’s it?
MJ: That’s it.
DALÍ: And that you call a pervert?
DALÍ: In Ohio, maybe, this would count as perversion.
MJ: In Ohio it’s a misdemeanor.
DALÍ: So you never discovered Adolf’s little secret?
MJ: What secret was that?
DALÍ: That he was a woman.
MJ: Hitler was a woman?
DALÍ: You didn’t notice the sweet plumpness of his flesh, how it strained against the leather cross-straps on his chest, how his breasts bulged under his tunic? He was a woman all the way through — and a masochist. Before it ever began I knew he would go to war in order to be defeated, so that he might achieve his pleasure — to be raped by the hammer and sickle, and sodomized by the stars and stripes!
MJ: You’re nuts, Sal.
DALÍ: (shakes his head) My dear, if you would only receive my advances, you would discover that there is one difference between a madman and myself — I am not mad.
MJ: Mad or not, you’re a pervert, just like Hitler was.
MJ: (as he advances on her) Keep away. You admit you’re a pervert!
DALÍ: (still pursuing her) In Hitler you loved it, but not in me? Why did you consent to come here to my studio? I am not just a pervert, Mary Jane, I am the world’s leading pervert.
MJ: They say you’re obsessed with masturbation.
DALÍ: Every man should have a hobby.
MJ: You and Hitler both.
DALÍ: (To the audience, while MJ watches, skeptical but amused) Let’s be honest, shall we? What every man needs is a fetish. Anything will do. Find one that suits you. A man needs this, not for his own but for the woman’s sake. A woman’s interest in sex is always secondary to her interest in power. This is why women love it so much when you reveal your fetish. She can be your partner in your fetish. Or your observer, if your fetish is solitary. No matter how solitary it is, she can still be your accomplice. And she wants to be. You need to set a fire to achieve erection? She’ll bring the matches. She has to wear the uniform of a parking attendant so that you can reach orgasm? She’ll buy the outfit. How often, in your experience, is a woman shocked and horrified at her partner’s perverse desires? How often does she run out of the door? Not often, isn’t it true? Is not only in the annals of crime, where men who kidnap and abuse women are frequently aided in this enterprise by a female partner, is no less true in the annals of the bedroom that the man who delights in being stripped and beaten and tied to the bedposts, with an orange stuck in his mouth, must have a woman who will minister to these needs, and does so willingly. Have you never wondered why? You thought you were the only one who was so lucky as to find a compliant, indeed complicit mate? No, dear gentlemen. To a woman, all fetishes are welcome. To a woman, in her wisdom, the fetish is the sign of the human being — the price, if you will, of being human. What twisted paths, in the cerebral cortex, have led us here, to be the strange upright creature who speaks, who builds cathedrals and concentration camps? Who could possibly imagine that when this creature takes his pleasure, he will be an angel of simplicity? Ridiculous. Women know this. For the sake of power over you, they are willing to assist you in the perversity natural to the human animal, to the male of the species whose erection requires a thrall, a spell, an incantation, a spirit journey into the labyrinthine psychic architecture of the modern Eros. Because, my God, what are we now, as a species? We who have tortured and killed our fellow humans and yet must find the will to make more in our own image? How may we somehow back into the presence of this Medusa? What rites of self-forgetfulness must we perform, in order to perform? Every man his own Minotaur, in the dripping darkness of the cave, putting on the bull’s head. All perversions are acceptable here, from the mildest upwards. Troilism, role play, exhibitionism, spanking, bondage, dominance, algolagnia, any and all forms of sado-masochism, transvestism, klismaphilia — I beg your pardon? No, no this is not the love of klesmer music but — yes? — (to another audience member) you know this? yes, a passion for enemas — and many other passions…
He turns to MJ, questioningly. She begins tentatively, grows more confident.
MJ: Peanut butter.
DALÍ: (mildly surprised) Peanut butter?
DALÍ: Ah now. Hitler as your father.
MJ: (ignores this) Amputees.
MJ: Water sports. Gerontophilia. Vampirism. Homosexuality. Leather fetish.
MJ: Religion is a sexual perversion?
DALÍ: What else?
MJ: (okay, fine) I see.
DALÍ: (no pause) Wax.
DALÍ: Is better than peanut butter, believe me.
MJ: (going for it, no holds barred) Okay: ropes, plugs, gags, whips, rough stuff. Rings through the penis. Asphyxiation.
MJ: You’re saying that asphyxiation is chicken?
DALÍ: No, I’m talking about a chicken.
MJ: We already covered bestiality.
DALÍ: Yes but this is chicken with the neck held firmly in the drawer of the bureau -
MJ: Oh…I don’t want to know -
DALÍ: And then you do it with the chicken -
MJ: I told you, I don’t want to know -
DALÍ: And just as you ejaculate -
MJ: Sal! -
DALÍ: You slam the drawer shut, decapitating chicken -
MJ: Oh for God’s sake.
DALÍ: Causing in the chicken exquisite convulsions — spasms which -
MJ: I did not wish to hear this. Are you deaf?
DALÍ: (waits her out) Increase the pleasure.
She stares at him, defeated.
DALÍ: (pleads innocence) It is said. Now, don’t forget trepanning.
MJ: There’s more?
DALÍ: What ‘more’? There’s a whole universe.
MJ: Trepanning? Like — drilling a hole in the skull?
DALÍ: Decrease the pressure. Let the brain out. Let the body in.
MJ: This isn’t sex.
DALÍ: Have you forgotten? (Taps his skull) Sex is here. (Continuing:) Atlanteanism.
MJ: Say what?
MJ: What’s that? Underwater sex?
DALÍ: Occult sex, Mary Jane. The hidden rites. The sexual dance of eels, whose congress no man has ever seen.
MJ: (not sure) Eels hunh.
DALÍ: Vegetarian sex
MJ: I know that one. Things you can do with a cucumber.
DALÍ: Dear me no. I mean the purification of the semen, through diet.
MJ: Got you.
DALÍ: Immemorialism. Sex with the blinds drawn and all clocks smashed, sex without light or time, without duration, without limits -
MJ: (a memory; taking Dalí’s hand) You can do that at the Holiday Inn.
DALÍ watches her stroke his hand, unmoved.
DALÍ: Frotticide. Death by masturbation. The prisoner’s last resort. Erotic excoriation, where you flay your partner alive. Sometimes you chew the skin. Necrophilia.
DALÍ raises MJ’s hand to his lips. She withdraws her hand first.
DALÍ: But necrophilia is not to be confused with cannibal sex, where flesh itself is the feast.
MJ: Well, you know a lot about sex, I’ll say that. Perversions anyway.
DALÍ: All are welcome -
MJ: (final thought) Obscene telephone calls?
DALÍ: — except the worst, the unacceptable perversion. Straight sex. No woman can respect a man who is a child, a man whose fetish is straight sex. Grow up! Discover history. Become a pervert and join the human race.
MJ: I think I’m in love with you.
DALÍ: Of course. But that’s just foreplay.
MJ: Leading to what?
MJ: I have to worship you?
DALÍ: As I you. Our love will be a four-buttock continuüm, the expression of perfection on earth. I will wash your body in the alchemical saliva of my passion. You will be super-gelatinous all over, thanks to my special co-efficient of angelic viscosity.
MJ: That’s a little excessive, Sal. I like a bit of saliva -
DALÍ: You see?
MJ: — but does it have to be all over?
DALÍ: It’s how an artist makes love. We shall create a passion equal to the writings of Proust, which is to say that our love will be like a shrimp bisque, impressionistic, super-sensitive and quasi-musical.
MJ: I don’t like shrimp.
DALÍ: We’ll hold the shrimp.
MJ: Sal.… what do you see in me? And who are you really, behind all this talk of how an artist makes love? Who are you, Sal, behind the mustache and the show-off bullshit? And why do you think you love me? You don’t know me, you just stalk me. You’re my celebrity stalker. Why? Why me?
DALÍ: You are Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s muse, reborn in America, waiting for me. You are America, the new-found-land, the body as illusion, delicious plastic. You are my filmy star. Marry me, Mary Jane.
MJ: I’m delicious plastic? You are crazy.
DALÍ: At our wedding the music will be the castration-torture of five hundred fifty-eight pigs against the sonorous background of three hundred motor-cycles with their motors revving, while live swans, filled with pomegranates, explode! -
MJ: (appalled) Oh please -
DALÍ: — registering stroboscopically the visceral lacerations of their half-alive physiology!
MJ: I guess you’re not an animal lover.
DALÍ: Picture, against this background of exploding swans, our mystical and ammoniacal union -
MJ: Our maniacal union?
DALÍ: Ammoniacal, dear Mary Jane. Ammoniac. That faint scent of ammonia in our sweat, like the fermenting of a heavenly cheese — the cheese of our love.
MJ: The cheese of our love. (Shaking her head) The things you come out with. And what’s with your art, Sal? Everyone tells me it’s great. (Turning to the pictures above and behind them) But to me it looks sick. Weird and sick.
DALÍ: That’s good. Because if you had to choose two adjectives to describe our world, the world of Auschwitz and Hollywood, plastic surgery and genocide, which two adjectives would you choose?
MJ: But who wants weird and sick on their wall?
DALÍ: Better than in their closet.
MJ: I don’t know, Sal, I just wish I understood what they were trying to tell me. What’s that one about?
DALÍ: Is called Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing A Grand Piano.
MJ: Well, I can see that. Kinda. But why is a skull sodomizing a piano?
DALÍ: Isn’t a piano where the dead live? Beethoven, Bach, still infiltrating the keys when no-one’s looking?
MJ: The skull looks… well, the shape of it -
DALÍ: (interrupts) Is not entirely human. No, is a rhinoceros skull. I prefer the rhinoceros to the human being, so it is my compliment to the great composers.
MJ: If you say so. But why ‘sodomizing’?
DALÍ: Today an artist must confess the worst about himself, Mary Jane. He must confess his worst fears and, harder still, his worst desires, whether it is to spit on the portrait of his mother, or to sodomize his sister, or to eat his lover’s excrement.
MJ: Those are some of your desires?
DALÍ: I have nicer ones too. I save them for you.
MJ: Sal, you’re cute. You are. I liked you right away.
DALÍ: You never showed it. Eleven years now…
MJ: I’m not a fool, Sal. Even in Ohio we know about not giving away your power. So yes, I like you, and life with you would not be dull, that’s for sure. I’ll be your Miss America. But all this stuff with sodomy and excrement … I mean, I don’t want some kind of simpering romance, and I know not everyone can be Romeo and Juliet -
DALÍ: But they can! Of course they can! MJ, we are Romeo and Juliet, don’t you see? This is romantic love in the age of Hiroshima.
It’s too much for her: MJ cracks up, laughing. With a click, the image on screen changes to Debris Of An Automobile Giving Birth To a Blind Horse Biting A Telephone.
MJ: You know, Sal, you’re a hoot. Are you really a genius, Sal? Or just a fraud with great technique and a hell of a lot of nerve? Because you want to know the truth, Sal? That’s pretty much what people say about you.
DALÍ: Yes — and I hope they continue to do it. Notice please that they say this about me, but not to me. To my face they treat me like a god. But to answer your question, my dear, I am certainly not a fraud. I began by calling myself a genius to impress people, and ended up being one. You’d be surprised how easy this is. We all become what we proclaim. (Slipping an arm around her) Even if takes a long time… As when I proclaim myself to be your lover…
He kisses her shoulder, attempts to embrace her.
MJ: Quit it, Sal.
DALÍ: (continues kissing her) Even if I have to kidnap you…
MJ: (amused) You’re going to kidnap me?
DALÍ: Why do you think you are here?
MJ: Just try it. (Studying him, sighs) Somehow I don’t see myself taking you home, Sal. Here’s this famous artist, he thinks I’m Miss America.
DALÍ: (nuzzling her) Not Miss America. America.
MJ: That tickles. (She pushes him away coltishly) Not now, Sal. Quit it. (Pointing to the shrouded canvas on the easel.) Aren’t you going to show me this painting? Is it a new one?
DALÍ: Is an old one, my angel. I painted it for you.
MJ: For me? You painted it for me?
DALÍ: You could say this. And now I bought it for you.
MJ: I don’t understand… you bought it back?
DALÍ: Exactly, yes. I bought it back. Was a man called Arnie Schwarz, from the Bronx, who had it. He got it from Hermann Goering. An interesting story. In exchange for a cyanide suicide pill, Goering gave this Arnie Schwarz my painting. If he was smart, Arnie would keep it. But he wants quick money now so he went to the auction houses, and when they told me, I bought it myself. To give to you. Originally I painted it for Goering and I gave it to him.
MJ: You said you painted it for me.
DALÍ: For both of you, my dear. I gave him the painting as a bribe. So he would keep you away from Hitler.
MJ: It was a bribe?
DALÍ: But he lied. He let you come to Hitler.
MJ: They were both douchebags, Sal. (Flirtatious) May I see my painting?
DALÍ: Now you like me again. Yes. You may see it.
He unveils the painting.
MJ: It’s Arthur — as my cat!
DALÍ: Yes, is called Midget In A Catsuit — can you see what he is doing?
MJ: — Reading Spinoza!
MJ: And this here — these — these lines -
DALÍ: What do they look like to you?
MJ: Like a waterfall. (Hesitant) Is that me?
DALÍ: Of course is you. My waterfall. You are mine now, Dick. My Niagara.
A moment, then, tenderly:
MJ: Oh, Sal.
DALÍ: Yes, Dick Whittington. You have fallen into my trap.
MJ: (laughing) Is this our little perversion, Sal? Our own folie à deux? To reconstruct a pre-war pantomime? Are you so nostalgic for our young love?
DALÍ whistles, calling on his minions. [Behind him the projected paintings turn to black and white cellar-wall images of rock]
MJ: (still unimpressed) You’re not… naked beneath that trench coat, Sal?
[Two RATS enter and remove the painting and the easel.]
DALÍ: Not quite, my dear.
He opens the trench coat, draws out a whip.
MJ: Ah, sado-masochism. Was that on our list?
DALÍ: (cracking the whip) Now – behave!
MJ: You’re so masterful, Sal.
She catches the whip and reels him in, spinning him until he is wrapped and roped, at her mercy.
MJ: (softly, to him) Now you’re mine.
DALÍ: (calling for help) Help me!
VOICES: (off) Dick! Dick! Are you all right?
MJ: (sweetly) You are my captive from now on. (Purring like a Shavian heroine) Mrauuu…
MRS SAUSAGEMACHER and IDLE JACK enter, STAGE LEFT with one of the RATS, STEINER, on a rope. From the other side of the stage, the CAT comes on, leading the remaining captive RATS.
ALL: Hail Dick Whittington, slayer of rats! Hail Tommy his cat, prince of ratters! Hail Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London! Hail! Hail! Hail!
The cast moves towards a portrait-grouping as for a final curtain-call tableau, with DALÍ/KING RAT and his minions tumbled into a defeated pile upon which TOMMY sits gloating.
MJ/DICK strikes a hunting-trophy pose with one foot on DALÍ/KING RAT’s head, and MRS SAUSAGEMACHER and IDLE JACK crowd in as for a team photograph.
As they move into these positions and just before they achieve the applause-begging tableau, the same voice as in the first scene comes clearly but tinnily from the public address system (or ‘tannoy’ as it would have been called, at the period), disbanding the actors and preventing audience applause. For an instant, after the voice comes, the cast creates the tableau nonetheless, briefly ignoring instructions.
VOICE: That’s okay, we’ll run the curtain calls tomorrow, thank you cast, well done, dress run two p.m. tomorrow don’t forget, keep the energy up please, but get some good rest, notes in the green room in twenty minutes, thank you everybody…
During this (and any appropriate ad libs from the VOICE… please everyone for the last time watch out for Tommy’s tail, you step on it and he walks off and rips the costume beyond repair your salary will pay for the replacement…) the cast break away from the very briefly held tableau, wearily yet at the same time energized by performance, and begin to take off their costumes. All except for MIDGET, who removes his cat’s head and goes around picking up the cast’s discarded costumes. He does not undress.
Now follows a further ad-lib passage – its tone and quality introduced by the ad-libbing VOICE on the ‘tannoy’ system – in which, as they undress, the cast exchange remarks about the performance and any close calls or humorous misadventures during the show, along with requests to play it differently or provide quicker or slower cues at the next performance.
As the cast approach nakedness – all except MIDGET, who remains clothed and continues to collect the costumes — the conversations morph from the seemingly harmless into the chillingly ominous.
WILHELM: They said to be sure to remember where we put our clothes
SCHULZ: Are there numbers? I don´t see numbers.
KNOBLOCH: Trust me, honey, I´m going to recognize my clothes.
GOERING: What about all the things in our pockets?
DALI: What things?
STEINER: You got valuables?
MIDGET: What kind of valuables?
GOERING: None of your business.
WILHELM: Everyone brought valuables. Didn’t they?
SCHULZ: Do you think they’ll be stolen while we’re in the showers?
GOERING: You´re going to trust the Germans?
WILHELM: Well, you know, there are Germans and Germans.
MARY-JANE: You think?
SCHULZ: They promised us coffee afterwards.
MIDGET: And you believed them?
STEINER: Man, I could do with coffee.
KNOBLOCH: Since when did the SS make coffee for Jews?
GOERING: Some coffee they’ll give us.
SCHULZ: I don’t care, I’m dying for a cup of something hot, no matter what it tastes like.
STEINER: The worst coffee in the world, I don´t care.
KNOBLOCH: What you need is a shower, I can tell you that.
STEINER: You think you don’t stink like a sewer rat after two days in the cattle trucks?
KNOBLOCH: Two days?
MARY-JANE: Two days?! You came two days? We came a week, from Galicia.
DALI: Ten days, from Crete.
GOERING: You’re from Crete?
DALI: There are Jews everywhere.
DALI: Hey — you know who you look like? Who does he look like, everybody?
GOERING: My Uncle Hymie.
KNOBLOCH: Hymie? That´s not Hymie.
GOERING: I´m saying he looks like Hymie. I know he´s not Hymie. Hymie´s dead ten years.
SCHULZ: Lucky Hymie.
DALI: Don´t you get it? Don´t they educate Jews any more, in your country. Look at him. He´s the picture of Baruch Spinoza.
WILHELM: Spinoza, like…
DALI: Like Spinoza. Our greatest philosopher.
MARY-JANE: It´s true. He looks like Spinoza.
DALI: Exactly. It´s Baruch Spinoza! Look everyone, the philosopher Spinoza has come to join us.
They stare at him, briefly.
GOERING: Welcome, philosopher!
During this, MIDGET, carrying the costumes, has moved over to the easel, and with his free arm peels up the old scene title to reveal: 9. IN THE GAS CHAMBER. With a click, the image on the screen changes to the final Dali-painting image: one of the ‘soft watch’ paintings.
MIDGET exits with the costumes.
9. In the Gas Chamber
No change of lighting from the previous scene.
Until a blueness slowly fills the air.
All– the whole cast — are now naked, shivering. Gazing up, waiting for the shower heads to send down water.
Music: Arvo Pårt’s Für Alina
All surround SPINOZA. Two of the cast lift him up a little way, perhaps a foot and a half, at most two feet, above the beseeching hands and arms of the remaining cast. The image hints at the pyramids of corpses found when the gas chambers were opened. SPINOZA is the tree they are trying to climb. The image also conveys something quite different: he is also their vision of survival, their image of hope.
SPINOZA: In the blue light of the gas
we fought to reach the last of the air,
brothers sisters strangers parents children
tearing each other down
brothers sisters strangers
before we died
they reduced us to the animals
they said we were
One by one the cast have fallen, to lie still.
SPINOZA: And the screaming oh the screaming
There have been no sounds from the actors. Only the music. Music ends.
SPINOZA stands alone among the naked dead.
SPINOZA: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
SPINOZA: (sings, as MJ did in Scene 1, but faintly and with numb despair and as if possessed by memory:)
Tommy the tomcat
Knows ‘is Spinozies
His rosies from his rosies from his rosies
’Cos when he lies his nose is
Redder than a rose is
And his Spinozies fall quite flat
His Spinozies fall quite flat
(Aside) And that’s bad for a cat
His Spinozies fall quite flat.
The doors open behind him. All we see is a blinding light. Through it comes a man in striped prisoner’s uniform. Behind him a woman, emaciated, similarly dressed, carrying strips of sacking. The man gazes at the corpses, then sees SPINOZA.
Comes slowly to him, speechless.
Long pause as they stare at each. Finally:
KAPO: You were in here?
KAPO: You survived?
SPINOZA: It seems that way.
KAPO: No-one survives.
SPINOZA: What about you?
KAPO: I’m a Kapo. I come in afterwards, to clean up. (He stares at SPINOZA). Sometimes there’s one still breathing. Half dead. (Incredulity, studing SPINOZA) But standing up… like this…
No reaction from SPINOZA. Abruptly, the KAPO starts to undress.
KAPO: Here, put on my clothes. They’ll think you’re a Kapo too.
Under his prisoner’s striped uniform, the KAPO has long, dirty winter underwear and a long-sleeved vest, equally dirty.
SPINOZA stands holding the KAPO’s uniform.
SPINOZA: Your clothes… how will you explain…
KAPO: I’ll think of something.
SPINOZA still standing, unable to move.
KAPO: Come on, man. D’you want to go through this again?
They gaze at each other.
SPINOZA: Are you God?
SPINOZA: Are you sure?
KAPO: I’m the chief Kapo. I’m God around here.
SPINOZA puts on the KAPO’s uniform pants and top.
SPINOZA: You were on the train with me.
KAPO: You’re mistaken. Now come on, help me drag the bodies out.
While the KAPO’s female assistant throws down the strips of sacking, and she and the KAPO roll the bodies onto the sacking and drag them out one by one, SPINOZA addresses the audience.
SPINOZA: That’s how I became a Kapo. It was a job that would turn your heart to stone, if it wasn’t stone already. I was sorry that God had to see it. To know that his plan included this. Of course, God takes the long view. You’d have to, if you were God.
SPINOZA: And, if you were God, after something like this you’d want to lie low, for a while. Many people wanted to put God on trial. For such people, the trial took place in their heart. God was found guilty of permitting the ultimate horror; or perhaps simply for permitting one horror too many he was sentenced to death. No more God. Witnesses were not called.
SPINOZA: And yet…we’re still here, among you. The witnesses.
SPINOZA: I could have told the court that, like me, God would survive. You see, there has to be a reason for this. God is that reason. The human race always needs someone to take the blame.
The last corpse awaits being dragged out. The KAPO returns. To SPINOZA:
KAPO: Give me a hand, please.
SPINOZA joins him and together they drag the last body offstage, as the lights slowly fade.
* * * * *
Dear reader – anyone out there who’s still with me and has persevered to the end: that’s how Midget In A Catsuit Reciting Spinoza came out. And the atrocious farce of the plot that fell into my lap like a golden key — the idea of a man trying, entirely plausibly, to get into the gas chamber — allowed me to take the play to the place that no play or book or film will go, because the obscenity is too great, and because there is no need to go there. We all know what the horror awaiting us there is. To go there, to go in, would be the ultimate in gratuitous and obscene bad taste – were it not for the fact that the blackest of macabre farces decrees, in the case of this particular story, that we must enter the gas chamber to see the Eternal Jew survive. Instead of agony, transcendence; instead of death, survival. The genocide fails, the ghastly project fails. Spinoza is forced to live on. The Jews live on.
I could never have thought up this plot, nor could I have thought up a plot that would allow me to stage a scene inside the gas chamber.
Patient devotion to narrative, by which I mean surrender to the Maker in the Head, led me to it by the hand, after 50 years. Not in ten lifetimes could I have hoped for this gift.
My family on my mother’s side all died in the camps except for my mother, her two sisters, her mother and one cousin. When the Gestapo came to fetch my great-aunt Cilly (the ‘C’ is a ‘ts’ in German, in this instance), who persisted in sending care parcels to our relatives in the camps, she saw them arrive at her house, from the window. She climbed to top of her building and jumped off. Someone in our family has to remember Cilly. Turns out it’s me.
Finally: if you enjoyed reading any or all of this, please don’t send or offer to send me samples of your work. It would mean you haven’t understood a single word of my remarks about how we help each other to write better fictions (we don’t; we can’t). Also, don’t ask me to shoot you. I love you, fellow writer. Isn’t that enough?
Carey Harrison is British-born, the son of the stage and screen actors Sir Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, and was raised in America. He has divided his life between the UK and the US, writing and teaching on both sides of the Atlantic. He is currently the artistic director of the Woodstock Players theater company, and is Professor of English at the City University of New York. Harrison is the author of close to two hundred plays for stage, radio, film and television, and 16 novels; his work has won numerous literary prizes and been translated into thirteen languages.