Monday, February 06, 2012


I weeded a box of things saved for decades.  I threw out about half of them.  It likely should have been more - I am little likely to spend much time on them, and few of them are the sort of preserved family history that grandchildren would be interested in, even grandchildren of Tracy's and mine, more likely than the average 21st C inhabitant to be fascinated by old things.

I have purged college material at each revisiting of the basement archives.*  Items I once thought important to any understanding of my history and development now seem standard, even banal. One unusual item is the syllabus from Theater 404, Seminar in Contemporary Drama. (1940-1973).  I wish I had saved 403 as well, which covered 1880-1940, under which I was assigned to report on Thornton Wilder and Sir James Barrie. Chekhov, Shaw, O'Neill, and Elmer Rice were presumably in that.  I don't recall, but I would like to see the list.  Because by 1974, those had already been weeded a bit.  Playwrights who seemed important at the time had already fallen beneath the waves. Some names, like Shaw, were considered such lions that it will be difficult for them to ever drop off.  But he's just not very good.  He said a lot of things intellectuals liked to hear at the time, and spoke in public a lot.  That elevated him more than he deserved, I think.  I would like to see who now is absolutely off.

Less so with the 404 list of playwrights.  The trick then would be to recognise with any accuracy who was going to be important. It's quite remarkable that Professor Bledsoe already had Tom Stoppard's first major play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" on the syllabus even though it was less that 8 years from first performance. This list, with the exception of Stoppard, would hardly be contemporary anymore.  Sam Shephard, Megan Terry, Terrence McNally, David Mamet, which are about as far forward as I can stretch would be newer, yet still not new.

I don't know who we would still be attending to now. Those whose politics are still in vogue will hold on through the end of boomer professors' careers, but beyond that, who knows? I have marked with as asterisk those I suspect may be less-mentioned now. (Some I note with regret, others with pleasure.)

Here is the list we had then.

Bertolt Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Giradoux*, Jean Anouilh*, Albert Camus, Eugene Ionesco, Ugo Betti*, TS Eliot, Jean Genet, Robinson Jeffers*, Christopher Fry*, John Osborne, Friedrich Durrenmatt*, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Brendan Behan*, Arnold*, Lorraine Hansberry*, Gunter Grass, Edward Albee, Leroi Jones* (already gone), Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard.  I think Albee, Genet, and Williams will go in time, and Eliot as a playwright, however long he hangs on as a poet.

*I may have saved this out of vanity, as it provides evidence that I really did too take theater classes and do shows with Glenn Close, who was Glennie Wade then.  There she is, right there, assigned to report on Anouilh, and I, further down, assigned Leroi Jones (who had already become Imamu Baraka by then). The association was more central to my self-esteem in the late 70's when I started putting stuff into boxes. As a nostalgic person, though, I looked lovingly at all the other students' names, wondering where they had gone and wishing them well.  There were only about a dozen graduates from the department every year, and I knew most of them well. (Not Glennie, though.  I knew her least of any of them.  In fact, only three or so of the others were close to her.  She had come to college at 21, already married, and inhabited a different world.)

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