Monday, 24 January 2011

The feel of ordinary life

Philip Pullman said something good about about the Chekhov story he’d read (Guardian short stories podcasts, ‘The Beauties’), about the plot not being the point but rather the often inconsequential texture of ordinary life. It’s true of Chekhov’s plays, too -- that’s one way he was a Modernist innovator. The story, says Pullman, is like the man said about Waiting for Godot, ‘In this play nothing happens -- twice.’

I recalled this when looking at a kids’ comic strip by Jim Medway, in which nothing happens five times, on successive days.

Now I've hit on another good quote from much earlier, as it happens in the introduction to Chekhov’s plays that I'm reading as preparation for seeing The Three Sisters tomorrow (by the Russian company again, so we’ll see what they do with something good). The author writes:

Chekhov surely must have read Gogol's famous 1836 denunciation of theatre in Russia during the early nineteenth century and beyond. After deploring the stage's corruption by 'the monster . . . melodrama', Gogol went on to ask 'where is our life, ourselves with our own idiosyncrasies and traits?'…. 'The melodrama is lying most impudently,' Gogol went on. 'Only a great, rare, deep genius can catch what surrounds us daily, what always accompanies us, what is ordinary — while mediocrity grabs with both hands all that is out of rule, what happens only seldom and catches the eye by its ugliness and disharmony . . . The strange has become the subject-matter of our drama. The whole point is to tell a new, strange, unheard-of incident: murder, fire, wild passions . . . poisons. Effects, eternal effects!'

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