Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Fear of Condemnation

Summing It Up

Anxiety at the Top , Public Life of Wales , October 23, 2020
Summing It Up by Anxiety at the Top The article of 19th September contained some stark adjectives. I did not feel good about writing them. But National Theatre Wales ten years back ran a programme of induction for critics. A long-standing writer, invited from London, said it: “Don't go in for this if you think it's a way to make friends.” As earlier, friendship is a value- the highest of values- in personal life but it is an element for corrosion in public affairs.

There was no particular animus intended against the committee in the Senedd. Banality of expression is not uncommon in documents in Wales' public life. It pertains for several principal reasons. The illustration is an example.

A theatre company says it is going to “Liverypool.” The announcement is not there any more but it happily stood for months. A national company projects itself- and Wales by extension- in this manner to the world. And incidentally to its own people. No other company does this. It is nothing new. The misspelling, the failure to proof-read, goes back to the company's first year.

It prevails for a reason that is simple. Because it is tolerated. On the one hand maybe no-one in authority notices. Or, alternatively, it is noticed but it does not matter; in effect no-one cares. But then care and attention are two sides of the same thing.

This quality of public discourse has different causes. I would interpret three that are primary. The values and rewards by which we live have been revealed in this year of disease. Our lives are lived out in civil society. The nation is old, deep and unshakable. Twenty years in the life of a state is a raindrop falling in the stream of time. The state of Wales is young and not deep. Its lack of depth can be evidenced in its lack of variation, variation being the prerequisite for vigour. See 29th March below for Matthew Syed on what diversiy really demands.

My interpretation of the state is seen through the eyes of a theologian. Paul Tillich (1886-1965) found himself with a best-seller in 1952. In “Courage to Be” Tillich “writes about the threats to what he terms human beings' “ontic self-affirmation.” The causes of anxiety he defines as threefold:
“The awareness of this threefold threat is anxiety appearing in three forms, that of fate and death (briefly, the anxiety of death), that of emptiness and loss of meaning (briefly, the anxiety of ,meaningless), that of guilt and condemnation (briefly the anxiety of condemnation.)”

The last runs like a seam through public discourse. See, for instance, below 12th March, the article on the ecological necessity of opposition. But, pace Tillich, the courage to be rises to embrace that condemnation which is a necessary part of the whole.

A more concrete reason for banality is represented in this site itself. The digital world, far from connecting in an ecologically robust manner, is the motor for diminution of the public sphere. In response to the fragmentation of outlets an article one year ago, below 25th October, was headed “A Plea for a Digital Commons.” It recorded the loss of the Green Room on this site. Keith Morris on his readership:

“They've all migrated”...The new National Theatre of Wales came with a forum attached to it. It had a flexibility way beyond his site. Keith viewed it as he viewed most things, with wryness and a smile. He left the sub-text unsaid. The developer in Cardiff was on the arts of Wales' public payroll. The developer in Aberystwyth was just a member of civil society, working in a voluntary capacity.

“….John McGrath had a genuine vision for theatre, that the forum mattered alongside the production. Over the years the site comprised much trivia and the everyday, but on occasion it ignited into something serious. But it had not been designed as a place of record, the architects having opted for an off-the-shelf platform. It ceased to be a forum of any substance with McGrath's departure.”

In place of a public forum discourse becomes “division into an infinity of private fragmentations. In place of the Agora the citizens of Cyberia gather in limited clusterings of the like-minded... the arts of Wales would be the better for a recreation of common space.”

Lastly, the view from Ceredigion has been reinforced by the months on end of no movement. I would interpret Cardiff life, a small city, as high in social value. But social values are for social life.

All writing presupposes a reader. The authors of public documents do not write for a public. They write for one other. It is implicit because they know that there is no public readership. Banality may flourish in the public sphere in a way that cannot occur in more robust, more inquisitive, more courageous states. The tradition of criticism of our culture varies from our European neighbours in being empirical not declarative. Declaration without example has no validity, so examples will feature in a follow-up article.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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