In a review, Simon Critchley used an interesting joke to set off his argument. The more I thought about this joke, the more I liked it and realized it’s message was applicable to the arts in general.
Here is the joke:
Two men, having had a drink or two, go to the theatre, where they become thoroughly bored with the play. One feels a pressing need to urinate, so he tells his friend to mind his seat while he goes to find a toilet. “I think I saw one down the corridor outside,” says his friend. The man wanders down the corridor, but finds no WC. Wandering further, he walks through a door and sees a plant pot. After copiously urinating into it, he returns to his seat. His friend says, “What a pity! You missed the best part. Some fellow just came on the stage and pissed in that plant pot.”
The first, obvious question is whether the man and the potted plant are reality impinging on the play or is reality being represented in the play? Where does reality stop and art begin? Take it another step: the man looking for the Men’s Room is experiencing a primal urge associated with all of nature, but the urge is not satisfied until he goes out on the stage and provides a new level of entertainment for the play goers in the audience.
Since the pot was presumably a prop on the stage and therefore a part of the play and the man was from the audience and therefore not a part of the play, what does the copious stream of urine represent? A golden bridge connecting Life with Art?
In graduate school I concentrated on English Restoration Drama and it was topics such as this that interested me. If you recall your 17th and 18th century drama, special audience members actually had their seats up on the stage so they could show off their finery, make comments on the play, and get first pick on the newest element in the playhouse, female performers. In some ways these fops on the edge of the play are like the peeing man. Most of my research and analysis went into digging through old plays, finding instances of the “aside” and using what I found to show the interaction between the stage and the audience. It was fascinating (to me).
But it was the sixties and I didn’t have a deferment from the little conflict over in Southest Asia so I never was able to make my mark on the world of literature and now I have to admit that I just read five Spenser novels in a row and I enjoyed them all!