The hot and humid temperatures in America are making news around the world. Somehow it feels even hotter than sailing across the equator. It is too hot for Jelly Bean, my collie dog, to go for walks, too hot to garden and too hot to do just about anything. I decided to spend this week going to the cinema, the ideal spot for a hot evening. Going to see a film because it is hot outside leaves the mind open to the possibilities of interpretation. With no investment in meaning, outcomes, or expectations it almost feels like one of Rauschenberg’s ‘Happenings’.
Happenings have always been fun for me since those glorious art school days. This week while watching I Am at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Harris Theater it suddenly seemed like texts are happenings; many different things are going on at the same time and no two ‘performances’ are the same. At a ‘Happening’ two gatherings could never be the same since artists’ performances and audience participation are completely different each time. Each event is an utterly different experience. Texts are like this; the writer’s experience is different from the readers’. All of us readers engage with texts differently. I imagine all writers do too.
I enjoyed this utterly different kind of experience at a screening of I Am by Tom Shadyec. I came to this delightful little documentary film exercise with a fairly blank mind so I guess I was ready for the break down of all the barriers between art and audience, just like at a happening. At least that is what happened in the cool theatre on a hot night this week. In I Am Shadyec interviews some very interesting people, including Noam Chomsky, about nothing less than identity along with individuals’ and societies’ role in the world. Other than escaping the heat, Chomsky’s interview was my main reason for seeing the film. I do enjoy mid twentieth century philosophy generally and Chomsky’s work On Language particularly.
Those marvelous thinkers like Chomsky, Levi-Strauss, and Barthes give me an interesting perspective as an artist and student of literature since we all both create and interpret. While watching I Am I started to think about texts like Joseph Andrews and Epicone or The Wife of Bath. Out of intellectual curiosity, I decided to think over what effect these texts and characters would have on me if I was writing their stories instead of reading them. This was quite enlightening because it brought a great deal of emphasis to themes and detachment from characters. Suddenly I felt immersed in a world of syntax, semiotics, semantics, and pragmatics. This just might be how Shadyec felt when he was inspired to produce I AM.
Shadyec began questioning what he knew about the world during his recovery from a very serious head injury; for me that is very much what Fielding, Jonson and Chaucer do too although without the head injury. Artists question identity and experience; writers construct characters for nothing but effect on me as a reader. Today this all seems crystal clear; I feel like I finally ‘get’ texts. Shadyec’s I Am gave me the chance to see something in a totally different way. This is a wonderful gift on an evening when it is too hot to do anything but think.