Academic Paper: Alienating the Teutonosphere, or Avoiding History: Subversive Approaches to Postwar Progress in How German Is It and Heldenplatz
Artistic Project: Isaac’s Analysis
Public Event: Live staged reading of Isaac’s Analysis with Q&A
Saturday, May 16th 4:00pm (CST) — Zoom link here
G. Cyrus Pacht lives and studies in Chicago. He grew up in Houston, Texas and will likely make Chicago his home after graduating and continue writing for the theatre. A playwright with interests in dramaturgy, music, languages, fiction, and journalism, Cy is an English and Theater & Performance Studies double major. In quarantine, he has discovered a love of baking and a resentment for the growing screen-time notifications his phone and tablet ambush him with every week. Additionally, he is fond of cheese.
Imagine it’s the evening of November 4, 1988, outside the now 100-year-old Burgtheater in Vienna, and obscenity is in the air. A new play is about to premiere in celebration of the theater’s centennial, the latest work by the noted, cantankerous, chronically ill author and “insult to the Austrian people” Thomas Bernhard. Unbeknownst to Bernhard, selected extracts of the play have been leaked to the press. Thanks to one covert journalist who got hold of the script, everyone knows some of the nastiest lines in the play, before it even opens. They know by heart already such zingers as “Being Austrian is my greatest misfortune” and “Here in Vienna it’s worse now than fifty years ago”. In other words, word—of Bernhard and director Claus Peymann’s three-hours-and-fifteen-minutes-long middle finger to the Austrian people, Heldenplatz—has gotten out.
My thesis explores Bernhard’s scandal, and his subsequent reputation in the German-speaking world as a Nestbeschmutzer, a public figure who “dirties the nest.” I compare this with Walter Abish’s novel How German Is It, an exploration of an alternate 1970s and ‘80s West Germany that has repressed all—well, almost all—mention of the Holocaust. In Brumholdstein, the hippest, trendiest (not to mention completely made-up) community in Germany, a piece of pavement caves in near a school, and a mass grave for concentration camp victims is found right there beneath the thriving metropolis. Suddenly, Germany’s buried political unconscious is exhumed, laid out front and center, in much the same way that Bernhard airs Austria’s crimes and crises publicly in Heldenplatz.
What makes someone—namely, a writer—behave like a Nestbeschmutzer? Why would an Austrian-American like Abish behave this way toward a country that isn’t even his own? In my paper, I look at the dramatically different ways in which Abish and Bernhard look at history. As a Jewish former refugee from Vienna, Abish writes more from a place of trying to understand Germany, to make sense of how it has succeeded (and failed) to reform during the postwar years. In places, he certainly does ‘beschmutz’ Germany, not as an act of vengeance, but in order to make sense of what went wrong, and what remains unchanged. Bernhard writes in a far less subtle way, excoriating (and almost exorcising) his educated, upper-class Viennese audience, both for the atrocities of the Hitler years, and for the rampant anti-Semitism that persisted through the late 1980s. Both were willing to write in ways that risked scandal, and because of the moral underpinnings of their work—I argue—this risk has paid off.
I was extremely fortunate to have been working on a script-based project from the beginning, so recent circumstances haven’t changed things too much. I spent much of this winter quarter in workshops with Calamity West and Scott Elmegreen writing a one-act called Isaac’s Analysis, about a traumatized man whose father once tried to sacrifice him to a deity, so he resolves to go to a psychotherapist, only to discover that the therapist is, in fact, the same deity his father tried to sacrifice him to.
In the process, I discovered that this really needs to be a full-length play to breathe and go in the directions I want to take it, so I’m in the process of writing, rewriting, and restructuring it. But for the time being, I’m delighted to present Act I of Isaac’s Analysis via a staged reading on Zoom, which features the events that take place before Isaac begins his psychoanalysis. I will be reading the stage directions, and my wonderful cast consists of:
THE ANGEL: Jacob Spiegel
OLD JEW: Thomas Noriega
YOUNG JEW: Ruthie Dworin
ABRAHAM: Robert Carhuayo
HAGAR: Claire Schultz
ISHMAEL: Omar Almakki
SARAH: Rebecca Husk
ISAAC: Katie Bevil
REBECCA: Cameron Miller
SERMON JEWPREME: Noah Pacht
FIRST JEWROR: C. S. García Martínez
SECOND JEWROR: Cole Meldorf
THIRD JEWROR: Hope Gundlah
FOURTH JEWROR: Eli Winter
FIFTH JEWROR: Isaac Winter
My interest in writing a thesis about Bernhard and Abish came from their interest in history. They paid close attention to history without sanctifying it; they retold it in a way that never alienated it from present-day political and social realities. Most compellingly, they dealt with the Holocaust in a way that was respectful of its magnitude, yet dared to recognize that it was carried out by real people, kinds of people (obedient, xenophobic, nationalistic, etc.) who we have no reason to believe have stopped existing since then.
In my own dramatic writing, I was inspired to think about past and present in the same sort of fluid way. Isaac’s Analysis takes place in biblical times, but its characters speak in modern colloquial English, with smatterings of profanity, psychobabble, Yiddish, and Hebrew. They are preoccupied, as we are, with love and family, sex and shame, faith and meaning. It seemed fitting to me to recreate the familiar biblical story using the more contemporary symbolisms of kink and psychoanalysis. I wanted to create a “presentness” for the dynamics which are implied—but not fleshed out—in the biblical account of the lives of Abraham and Isaac. I find that when reading old texts, we often mentally excise elements which we associate only with the present-day—“dirty” kinds of eroticism, processes like talking through trauma (as if to a therapist)—universal aspects of the human experience which were no doubt present through all of history. My play sets out to dispense with this weird filtered lens. Isaac’s Analysis addresses one of the crucial moments in Western thought, the binding of Isaac, which marks Judaism’s near-inception. But on a less ambitious scale, I wanted to write black and blue comedy, and (if you will) a trauma-drama. I also sincerely hope it will be a lot of fun.