'Paradise re-wired' Act Three by Tony Trembath Morwell Regional Art Gallery (1997)
ACT ONE: Dawn
The curtain rises on an idyllic setting. The sun pops up with its setting on bright, greeted by chorus of LED alarms, blinking audibly. They herald a world where human activities proceed like digital clockwork. The 3AW-news announcer informs the awakening menfolk of the new power plant to be opened by the State Premier this afternoon. Husbands gently pulls down their bedclothes, careful not to disturb their wives, turn off electric blankets and confidently stretch in their striped pyjamas.
Mechanical servants wait in the kitchen. Oranges to the juicer, bread to the toaster and water to the kettle. Once the breakfast is initialised, workers turn on their toothbrushes for a quick clean, hum an old ditty under the electric shower, take the towel from the warmer, mow their cheeks with the electric shaver, iron white shirts and return to the kitchens.
The dialogue between husbands and wives ranges through many topics. There is the tendency of crust to burn before other bread parts; a loose button; the progress of the daughters spelling and sons cricket; the wives tea companions for the day; and the excitement of a new power plant. They exchange declarations of care and love for each other before husbands take their sportsjackets. The men pad various parts of their bodies to check for keys, handkerchiefs, wallets, diaries, pens and wads of smart cards. Crosschecks complete, they are all ready to face the common day.
While husbands are driving their white Japanese cars to work, we listen to a brief monologue from the wives. They dwell on the beauty of the modern worldthe contrast between the laborious routines of traditional societies and the reliable electric servants that dwell in even the poorest of homes. By the time their monologues are finishing, daughters and sons come tumbling into their mothers beds inquiring the whereabouts of their fathers. Mothers tell them in hushed voices of the important day their fathers face.
All things remain bright and beautiful; all creatures remain great and small. After this dawn chorus, a snowy old gentleman appears stage left, under the glare of the spotlight. It is Plotinus, the ancient sage who revived Greek philosophy in the latter stages of the Roman Empire. The august philosopher is dressed in a flowing white gown and holds in his hand an aged parchment. The other hand is raised to still the shuffling audience. In a tremulous voice, he weaves his word magic from his classic text of enlightenment, The Enneads (New York: Pantheon, trans. Stephen McKenna, 1969, orig. 270):
When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantitywhen you perceive that your have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a stepyou need a guide no longerstrain, and see.
Thus is foretold the prophecy that now comes to light under the aegis of actinology, a noble science of inward radiation. Such is the culmination of the enlightenment project, through which the worlds creation is eventually brought under a common light.
It was not always thus. In the dark ages, citizens were fearful of venturing forth after sunset. Who knows what evil lurked in moonlightwhat lunatic notions invaded the minds of a sleepwalker? It was only with the advent of electric light that this gloomy era of brigandage was dispelled and citizens were free to move at night without fear of their lives.
To the accompaniment of trumpets, the school of actinology boldly pushes the boundaries of light, extending into the subterranean depths of the human psyche. First, it is a simple business of curing depression with daily doses of intense light. Then come x-rays, used to target emotional fractures for prosthetic attention. The possibilities seem endless. Eventually, being itself will be bathed in the kind of revelatory light only dreamt of by the ancient Greeks, struggling out of the cave of common sense. A new day begins.
ACT TWO: Night
3:53amblink-blink. He cant sleep. Its too light. The ceiling and bedside lights are off, but then theres the digital clock, the safety light on the power-point, the illuminated dial on his wristwatch, the glow of the answering machine or the occasional headlight on the ceiling. Theres nowhere to hide. He tries an eye mask, but wily photons still manage to sneak under his eyelids. At times, he thinks he can even hear the light. Look at me it says.
Look at me.
The light outside is not the real enemy. What pursues him most relentlessly is the light within. This light does not simply call to attentionit interrogates. Whats this, it asks. Whats this fear, is it cowardice? Whats this sleepiness, is it weakness? In vain, he searches for some corner of his soul, some shadowy nook where he can find refuge from this intense scrutiny. Searchlights scan his thoughts. He freezes before the headlights of awareness, unable to move.
To the right of the stage comes Louis A. Sass, a New York psychologist who has made a special study of cases such as these. His volume, Madness and Modernity (New York: Basic, 1992), catalogues cases in literature and art that profess the kinds of disturbance we have just witnessed. Clearing his throat and glancing at the audience, he reads a brief extract:
Madness... has nearly always been associated with images of primitivity and wildness, with peremptory urges emerging from some dark and subterranean place. The remorseless light of the Stimmung suggests the existence of other types of madness, Apollonian or even Socratic illnesses whose central features are hypertrophy of consciousness and a concomitant detachment from instinctual sources of vitality.
Sass closes his book, bows briefly to the audience, and exits stage right. There is a passage of thirty seconds for the audience to absorb this professional opinion.
Suddenly, the alarm rings. He bolts out of bed, eyes manic with insomnia, and attempts desperately to restore normal routine. But the juicer has clogged with orange pips, the bread toasts only on one side and the kettle boils dry. The toothbrush shorts in his mouth, burning his gums, the shower alternates between ice and steam, the towel is mouldy, the blunt shaver makes a rash on his cheek and rusty water in the iron stains his fresh white shirt.
He forgets his wifes name and is too ashamed to speak with her in case this is revealed. At this moment, she is comforting her daughter, who is showing the first signs of a cancer, not that her brother would care. He has lost all sense of human feeling after prolonged exposure to Nintendo action games.
Meanwhile, the car radio announces the latest news:
With the introduction of the newest re-engineering techniques, the electricity commission has announced a fifteen-percent reduction in charges, across the board. According to SEC chairman, Were streamlining staff structures, flattening the hierarchy, and rationalising our workplace procedures. As a result, we are able to save on 75% labour costs and still reduce energy charges. Its a wonderful day. There was some chance of showers late in the day, but otherwise remaining fine with a top of 18 degrees.
The lights have changed, but his car remains stationary at the intersection.
ACT THREE: Dusk
A single cello plays soulfully in from the rear of the stage. Its time to call an end to this madness. Heliocentrism fades away. What had once seemed the medium of consciousness itself, now appears to us as a ruthless ploy by one medium to control the others. Other senses can have their daytinkling, pungence, sourness and softness take centre stage. Time has come to hold a mirror up to the light.
Leader of the anti-enlightenment, Jacques Derrida, strides confidently to the right of stage. In mock revolutionary tones, he unfurls a scroll and reads from his manifesto, Violence and metaphysics (in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass, London: Routledge, 1978, orig. 1967)
Everything given to me within light appears as given to myself by myself. Henceforward, the heliological metaphor only turns away our glance, providing an alibi for the historical violence of light: a displacement of technico-political oppression in the direction of philosophical discourse.
The French deconstructionist straightens and points to his right at a vacant part of the stage currently under the spotlight. Another spotlight appears and makes its way to the same spot, intersecting the other. Derrida looks to the audience and announces emphatically, Jaccuse lumière. To the sound of a drum roll, he retreats from stage
The various crimes of light are paraded in front of the audience. Skin cancer suffered by those seekers of warm light parade their scars. Cult followers held captive by the light within march zombie-like across the stage. Al Jolson, the perpetrator of mammie, shamefully makes his way past the audience to the jeers of Black Nation. The audience reels at evidence of elephants needlessly sacrificed to a gluttonous voltage. Gasps are heard with the entry of the Hoover Dustette Vacuum Cleaner, the notorious scavenger of darkness. And a few tears are shed for the parade of intimate secrets, battle-weary from public exposure.
Once this infernal parade has finished, a blue glow appears from the top of the stage. This is the good lightnot the bright light of day, but the subtle declension of hues found around sunset. The rainbow is liberated from its bondage to the white hegemony. Dionysus triumphs over Apollo. Once the master of all things, electricity is now servant of households. Every home now has its electric ornaments. Open terminals that arc intermittently, spitting light and cracking sounds. Fluorescent tubes that flicker constantlya baroque celebration of light in its electro-chemical intensity. Light no longer represents the overarching scheme of things, it is just one of those things.
The celebration subsides, the audience gathers its personal accessories and exits down the aisles, and the caretaker shuffles up to the control box to turn off the lights. Good night.
Copyright held by author Kevin Murray