Thursday, September 02, 2010

An Open Letter to the President of the Univerisity, Dr. Emmert, "Sarah Nash Gates"

Dear President Emmert,

I gather that you are leaving by the end of the month,so shall I thenabouts.
Prior to addressing the subject of this communication, I wanted to thank you,  in lieu of the library system as a whole,for my extensive use of them during these past 15 years.
I don't believe we have set eyes on each other, except possibly at the IMA, but if we had chanced a conversation I might have told you, as I am now, that if I were a grrist
of some kind who could be satisfied with virgins asuncracked books in the UW Libraries it would be several life times I think before I would blow anything up. And in my fields too, psychoanalysis,Peter Handke studies,literature in general and Critical Theory.

To give just three examples: as you no doubt know, an editor or editorial board is in a position to take special care with an annual.
The Pyschoanalytic Study of the Child, founded in 1947 by Anna Freudet al, is such a one, I came on it first in its scarcely read entirety at theMalibu Library, while getting trained at UCLA in the late 80s,and so did not need to borrow it from the marvelous UCLA Medical Library, one of the very best in the entire country. The UW Libary has it too, and when I came here in 1994 it had two subscriptions, and I noticed one reader who checked it out
 beside myself; as of some years ago, the subscription became one, for the social science library, the Health Science Library gave up
on it, as it had on The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 50+ years into its subscription [my Institute's Library in Madison Park it was then for that]  and for the past half dozen years I have had the marvelous annual all to myself, no matter your department of psychiatry and its various child mental health specialists.
 Ditto for one of the wonders in the field of Critical Theory [Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Horkheimer, and many others
 perhaps you have heard of these fine minds]: there exists an astonishing title by one Shierry Weber Nicholson, who also
had visiting scholar privileges at the German department,published by MIT Press, LATE WRITING, and it actually does what so many other theses merely pretend:
it shows and traces and represents the marriage of two minds; or rather, since Benjamin committed suicide in 1941, it shows the absorption of his ideas and in some ways
of his being by Theodor Adorno, who spent the WW II years in Southern California. A title by a member of the Department of Germanics, who understandably took early retirement,
his dissertation the influence that morality plays had on Brecht's development as a playwright, had gone uncracked... for 30rty  years, apparently even by his colleagues but also by the theater department, which teaches Brecht, and occasionally puts on a Brecht play; very occasionally. Even the then head of the Germanics departments terrific book on Kafka's epigrams seemed to have been read by only one other person beside myself who had once turned into a semblance of his subject during
 my sophomore year in college these many years ago and as I then became more so as the years progressed had been state of the art in Kafka scholarship back then... As a once publisher, and editor for decades on end, it appears I have a radar that can penetrate
a book whether eyes have grazed its type.

The first real major disappointment at the UW however proved a university lecture in Kane Hal by Mikkel Borch-Jacobson which I attended together with David Spain, then the head of the
anthropology department and my sponsor into SPSI [the Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society]. Here was a very little mind doing petty critiques of Freud, and many in the audience nodded sagely as though they had known all along.

Let me now sidle up to the chief subject of this missive, a leave-taking as it is. One of the first persons I contacted on coming here in the splendid summer of 1994 after checking in with descendants of a grand uncle who had emigrated to these parts at the turn of the 19th century, was a certain Roger Downey -
he had done the translation of Kroetz's Through the Leaves, which is the third version of K.'s Mens' Business, which I, and its second version, A Man a Dictionary,  both translated
[with two other Kroetz plays] and then published when I was co-publisher of a small firm in New York as Farmyard & Other Plays; and having seen Through the Leaves I wanted to get to know this person, I had suspicions
about the text, suspicions that turned out to be well founded and have never been allayed.

However, since Downey seemed to have a fine understanding of two other German dramatists, Heiner Mueller, the translation of the first volume of whose plays by old time collaborator Carl Weber, then a full professor and head of the directing program at Stanford, I had edited; and Peter Handke a dozen of whose plays I had translated myself, I decidedto put my suspicions on the back burner. Talking to Carl Weber I then found out that Downey had misrepresented himself to Verlag
der Autoren in Germany as having been granted exclusive rights by Heiner Mueller to translated Mueller's play Quartet, one of the very translation which I had edited for Carl Weber. Moreover, I had once represented Verlag der Autoren in this country. Indeed, Downey had had the chutzpah to make this claim on the basis of having shaken Mr. Mueller's hand
once at the Berliner Ensemble, and thinking that exclusivity for one of the great texts in German modern drama [which by the time I met Downey in 1994 had already been published by PAJ in Carl Weber's translation, Mueller's designated American translator], would prove at least a money bush. It appears Downey had done a translation of his own, perhaps, and it was done once here at Theater for the New City. He also, quite unnecessarily, prepared a translation of Handke's THE HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER, or so Steve Pearson thought, an equally great text
[as pure text performance] for Steve Pearson's Drama  School production here, it too had already been published, but Downey understood that that very great text and play was the
summa of everything Handke had done during his early  so-called 'avantgarde' period, and such understanding is already quite something. However, the text consists entirely of stage direction there are no spoken words;
and for that purpose Gitta Honegger's translation suffices.

On the occasion of Mueller's death in the late 90s I suggested to Carl Weber, to Steve Pearson, who is now head of a department in South Carolina, and to Downey to do a memorial for Mueller, Downey, Weber and I, and Ms. Sarah A Bryant-Bertail would do the honors.
Come the evening of the event no Downey, who had taken a powder of a claimed diabetes attack at the prospect of being on the  same panel with Carl Weber whose work he had tried to steal [and perhaps had], and Carl  Weber, whose wife fell ill, as she did whenever hubby might go somewhere without her also did not appear.
Ms. Sarah Bryant-Bertail proved uniquely incompetent in her presentation of who Mueller had been, nonetheless it was a fine evening,
I talked and read the one text that I had pretty much brought up to snuff entirely by myself, DESTROYED LANDSCAPE, Steve Pearson did a wonderful selection of excerpts from a variety of plays, the house was packed, there was a lively discussion. I was amazed to see that much interest in a playwright whose work had not been done except for Downey's translation [?] of QUARTET at New City... not that that evening then led to anything but a sweet kid who had only majored in Drama, and was not a grad student in directing,
doing HAMLET MACHINE a few years later way off in a venue in one of the old Navy buildings in Magnuson Park. Downey then I found out was regarded as evil in town, I could well
 see why and he became a figure of my derision, a joke, the big butch bear that shortly on meeting giggled gayly, but certainly
knew a  prize when he saw it, and of course he would be what we call "eine Petze" in German, a tattle tale as I am one now in doing detail work to give you one of the by ways of culture hereabouts [you have heard the expression the devil lives in the rat tails?] . Downey,
 a truly talented critic, eventually turned to his first love, writing about food and restaurants for The Seattle Weekly.
Artistic directors come and go and leave early hereabouts, theaudience applauds the sets, and giggles easily.

I now turn to the matter in the subject line, the head of your Drama School, Sarah Nash Gates.

It is not that I have made it a point, though I might have, to keep on the good side of the Austrian Cultural Service... but in the course of my travels I have met a few of the
delightful cultural attach
és and they were well disposed toward me as well as to the subject of my reflections, PeterHandke, one of their still living cultural treasures, not quite yet a postage stamp, a potential export article.
 Amusingly, Peter Handke initially studied law thinking that acquiring the sinecure of an cultural attach
é might provide security for his life asa writer, which, however, as of very early on proved sufficiently remunerative as to ever so fortunately spare that service, keep it free of his "idiot savant" behavior. And so when I came here and realized that a lot
 of early Handke had been done at the the already nearly and now entirely defunct M. Burke Walker-founded Empty Space Theater,
[which was then, in 1994,  in the hands of a clown of a Kentucky Colonel type, Eddie Levy Lee] I proposed to do a Handke fest.
 I had pulled this off a few times on the East Coast, at Bennington and Smith, in the 70 and fine people had come up to lecture... But what I envisioned here, with some real support from Kurt Beattie, Burke Walker, Roger Downey,  and some other theater folk, was something far more
ambitious. And it appeared that Sarah Nash Gates, too, was behind the project, at least she was every time the group met.
Kurt Beattie did yeoman's work in doing permutations of the numbers!
And the Austrians came through, not with the three million it would have cost to do the festival with all its bells and whistles and
inviting Klaus Peymann [now head of the Berliner Ensemble] and his troupe, and or
Luc Bondy,  or one or the other great
 German directors, to do one big Handke play in German and show off German/ Austrian theater, films, but $ 300,000... that, too, was  going to go some way toward making an impression -
until, on happening to call the then Chair of the German department,Richard Grey, I found out that he had had a call fromMs. Gates that "she was not interested." On making inquiries
I found out that anything not initiated by her does not see  the light of day in that department. She was not only false to me and all the others who were involved in this project, behind our backs she was working against something that to  our faces she was supporting. As far as I am concerned,
she could have called it the S.N. Gates Handke Festival, and I never needed to get paid in these affairs since my translator's share of the royalties for the performances
had always sufficed to cover my time and expenses. I wanted to be sure that the record permanently reflected this nefarious act on Ms. Gates part.

With nothing coming of that, there were promises by Kurt Beattie,a kind of permanent second fiddle to artistic directors, who by default -the near bankruptcy of ACT and the new director bowing out - inherited the then void of a first fiddle, but as little came
of that as his life long wish to finally, appr. 70 years after its premiere in Zurich in 1940, to finally do Brecht's Mother Courage in Seattle. He once asked me whether I wanted
to translate it, and as an old Brechtian whose first great theater experiences had been at the ensemble where I had seen Carl Weber in
Johannes R. Becher's Stalinschlacht, I jumped at the idea and familiarized myself with a lot of the other translations and the history of that play in English and I certainly have my ideas how to create an utterly American version; but Beattie then, too, pulled back - thus Seattle is not only a great place for terrorists to deflower unread books... but.... Richard White at Cornish was interested at one time in doing something with Handke's VOYAGE BY DUGOUT: THE PLAY ABOUT THE FILM ABOUT THE WAY, but he was then too busy giving away money from the arts fund... to matters that never leave Seattle. Something you notice after a while,
how little leaves Seattle, and how imports are treated as though they were native treasures if they happen to become famous.

M. Burke Walker, a first rate director, and as someone who has worked with Peter Brook, Carl Weber, Herbert Berghoff, I know a
little about that in the meanwhile,too was eased or whatever at the Drama School as the head of the directing program - a foolishness
since how many people of that caliber with real world experience are there. Thus the general nepotism, you might also call it the "daisy chain or bog of mediocrity", prevails and persists, processes.

During my decade as a visiting scholar at the German department I came to realize how right it had been during my graduate days at Stanford for me to go dead at the prospect of being the life-long member of such a one: not that the one here has not at least two stellar professors in Kurt Ammerlahn and Richard "Woyzeck" Grey, who seem to tolerate
the dead wood amongst them more so than I would have.

I gather that in your new job, you will not only insist on better headgear, but also that all college athletes have two languages,
one modern, the other ancient which might just do wonders not just for ancient Greek and Latin and Mandarin but for Swahili ...

I will make this letter public on my arts critic blog.
sincerely yours, michael roloff 

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MICHAEL ROLOFF Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website