Don't Exaggerate

Narration by Alan Cox, Montage by Margaret Cox

Conversations in Catastrophe By Mark BrownHoward Barker Interviews 1980-2010:


P 48/49

HB: ... I believe the experience of history is an experience of pain; the words are interchangeable. Just as the individual, in the years following trauma, likes to recall the trauma, so does society insist on reproducing its dislocations, but always in a laundered way, which invokes necessity- ‘struggle’ is a word much beloved of the left. It has lost its meaning, become stripped of its pain, and cloaked in anodyne romanticism- and anaesthetizes memory. The individual is robbed of his experience of agony by being forced into a participation he could not at the time recognize; in other words he is re-individualized. This returns me to the emphasis I place on the individual as the centre of all resistance. Solzhenitsyn tells us that the most successful resisters in Stalin’s camps were the religious, when they must have been persistently battered by a conventional wisdom that told them religion was a comic characteristic of pre-civilisation.

CL: This is consistent with your focus on the individual. Perhaps extending out of that, there seems to be in your own work a curious but persistent loyalty to the dead....

HB:... The dead are the mute victims of this plundered agony. They receive nothing but the title of ‘the sacrificed’, to whom an entirely spurious effect is shown on specified occasions... They are of course wrongly perceived as innocent, or as victims, but whatever their reality, they are the most expropriated by the successor regimes, and much hatred and mischief are invoked on their behalf. In fact, an ugly struggle goes on over the dead. They beckon to the living, because their ‘sacrifice’ (which is never a sacrifice) is employed to justify further ‘sacrifice’. They are forever calling more people ‘over’.

CL: Linking this with what we have said about history, is it a question of giving the ultimate victims of history the voice which has been denied them?

H.B: The most significant revival of the dead occurs in my narrative poem Don’t Exaggerate. In that case it’s the voice fro someone who has suffered not only in his own life but also in being revived and given an intense level of articulacy, actually plays with the living. And so he plays the ahistoricity of his own existence to the audience


P 62

DIR: Don’t Exaggerate, a direct address to the audience, seems a crucial development in locating obligation in the theatre audience on the specific occasion of performance...

HB: The importance of Don’t Exaggerate in my theory of theatre lay in its employment of contradiction and digression as a means of returning the onus of moral decision to the audience. I now believe in the dethronement of the audience, the abolition of its judgmental character, and the assertion of the stage over the auditorium. By this I mean the restitution of power to the actor, not as a demonstrator of a given thesis, but as the figure who encourages the audience to abandon its moral and intellectual baggage and permit itself the greater freedom of an imaginative tour, essentially a destabilizing experience. The proposition of a moral posture, and its immediate demolition (“You exaggerate! You do exaggerate! You know you do”), has the effect of loosening ideology, implying the absence of objective truths, and forcing the audience to make its own decisions about the actions shown or described. What the audience is given, its reward for this dangerous exposure, is beauty (truth having been annexed by political or psychological theory)

... In all my work after Don’t Exaggerate the audience is unable to withdraw into the security of known moral postures. This alone serves to eliminate ‘entertainment’ from its experience, since entertainment is impossible without very firmly drawn demarcations.


P 86

HB: ...“Europe is Death’s Estate”, I once wrote in Don’t Exaggerate. It will always be so. Such a culture, so dazzling in its extremes, so absolute in beauty and horror, can’t simply convert to the Garden of Eden overnight. Look at the painting of Bosch and the prose of Celine. Four hundred years separates them, but their Europe is the same....

DH: I’ve heard you say that you don’t consider your art to have been influenced by any particular writer or school of thought. What contemporary playwrights/poets do you most respect?

HB: What influences any artist? Not necessarily those he might respect, for one can respect others for technical reasons whilst despising their ontology. I can no more easily identify painters, film-makers, philosophers than I can writers who have exerted profound influence on me. [In visual art]: Bosch; Cranach; Altdorfer; Goya; Watteau, Gericault; Hammershoi; Spencer; Bacon; Rothko; Beauys (perhaps the list is predictable). In film: Bresson; Bunuel; Pasolini; Tarkovsky. In poetry: Apollinaire; Rilke; Attila Jozsef; George Oppen. In theatre I have always sensed my solitude, certainly from the time I became myself, from the time I no longer desired to be part of anything, or to serve anything.


We screened at Portobello Film Festival 2015




3 Acklam Road, W10 5TY Time: 21:30 - 22:30