Tolerating Witches

The little blue light sits on my desk next to the computer screen. It’s a bit like playing with fire: trying to balance the ups and downs, the energetic bursts and the calm. Sleep was still elusive at nine – at ten p.m., the room being too warm then too cold. I’m surprised to hear the wind still gusting this morning. But Leonard has finished his breakfast and is where he should be now, curled up on the rug. And E. is still sleeping downstairs. I see a list of late-night messages from students that have collected on my phone. And there’s a photo of my daughter-in-law’s new puppy that slipped in overnight via messenger. So all is right with the world. A cup of coffee and a blanket draped over my legs. This is privilege: this quiet hour before the rush of the day begins.

I find myself living more and more in the spaces between things that have words to describe them. It’s not that I don’t want to write, but that I want to find a way to write without naming experiences. Without sorting my life into the labeled bins. This year I am teaching theater history a bit differently, having put the students into small seminar-style groups to discuss the curriculum rather than use a lecture/assignment model. I’m finding it helpful with ideas I struggle to understand myself: like Artaud’s ideas. I’ve been talking about how Artaud didn’t want the audience to experience a catharsis, but rather take the emotional disruption home with them. Invariably, the students describe it as Artaud wanting the audience to “reflect” on the theatrical experience. I guess it is due to an assumption that theater-as-therapy is theater-as-talk-therapy: the intellectualizing of experience as the route to understanding and processing/neutralizing. After all, what other kind of understanding is there?

There is poetry.

But so much of this kind of exploration is the antithesis of formal education. And even in a small group, an attempt to discuss this just frustrates and confuses the students, who want to/have to sort the information into the bins, to tuck the words away neatly into clear sentences that click like a tumbler lock to open the door to university. Which is what they are here for. What I am here for. There’s no room for negative capability when the exams are scored blindly from a central clearinghouse of random examiners. Sometimes I think there is no room for negative capability in the culture at all.

When the logic or science doesn’t exist, we “make it up” rather than rest in the beauty and in the ambiguity. We are so uncomfortable with inconsistency that we shut down opposing views, challenges, dissonance. We draw rings around what we will tolerate, using them to point out how tolerant we are. This, but not that. And those are the only two bins.

I know this isn’t new. It’s more like a flare-up of a common human disease in Western culture. Forget that last week you didn’t believe in witches. Today you pick one out. You choose a side.

Or maybe: you are one.

And just like that, I seem to have walked out of this little room and into my day.

I didn’t mean to do that.


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