Distorted History, Stolen Images and Faked Memory (An Excerpt)

Petr Koťátko, Distorted History, Stolen Images and Faked Memory (reading & performance)

V. VondráčekKotatkoActing:
Vojtěch Vondráček (Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts)
Petr Koťátko (Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences)

N (= Narrator) in an ordinary dress freely walks about the stage; C (= pretend Casanova) is in bed, preferably in pyjamas or a nightdress, embellished with some accessory from a Rococo cavalier’s wardrobe; with the exception of N’s introduction, both read their part aloud from the diary of the pretend Casanova.

N: (enters holding the diary) The following words were penned by a person in circumstances normally described as “desperate”, in a state captured precisely by this diary and, for the sake of greater visual impact, by this mannequin. (approaches the lying C) Yet let us leave in rest this body; as you’ll agree, one can hardly demand more than that it manages to hold together until our exposé is done. Our honorable countryman Franz Kafka has once noted in his diary: “The trouble stems from our incapacity to blend with the multifariousness of the world.” This person here had to face quite the opposite problem, namely, to stop his own melting and pervading the world, suppress his inordinate empathy, shape his recollections in spite of his memory, traitorous not due to its ineffectiveness but rather to its creativity, chaotic and unbridled so much that it was beyond him to even write his autobiography. The trouble was meant to be resolved by a doubtful experiment to which this diary testifies: by an attempt to appropriate the memoirs of someone else – to subject his own memory to the Histoire de ma vie of abbé Giacomo Casanova de Seingalt. The attempt, as we shall see, did not achieve the intended end, one cause of the failure being this very body, whose state then, after all, cannot be left completely to one side. The author comments this by saying: (as N intends to read out from the diary, he is interrupted by C, who – to the surprise of all present – suddenly comes to life)

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C: These memoirs shall not start with ramblings against memories. No attacks at my memory please! That I will not stand for.

N: I want to allow the past free flow.

C: Shake in front of me as it might, it can always rest assured of my consent and acquiescence; all will stay as it allegedly was; just as it appears right now, so it will remain until the general confusion of judgement day. All will mix and redistribute then, in a way impossible to predict now, but surely to my own profit.

N: My memory, however, does not work to my own profit.

C: Now that my sycophancy has attained its limit, I will give my complaints free pass. My memory, apparently, produces its fruits somewhere under an alien arch, and by saying that I mean that right now it shows off at my cost in another, just as servile head, adding ribald details, pathetically exaggerating. I do no complain about that, for this is the better part.

N: Let us move to the worse one. In lieu of my own memories I am being harrassed by a stranger‘s ones, clearly encouraged by my sensitivity. At first they do so as so-called imaginations and dreams, but in the very next moment they, with cheeky obviousness, appeal to my memory which, to be sure, is immediately ready for anything, and of course also to my feeling of guilt, which cannot deny anything at all.

C: Dogs abandoned by their masters come to me to recite their litanies, raising to me their eyes wet with reproaches – to me, who has never ever driven an animal away, pigeons and pestilent insects excepted. Beasts of slaughter pass round my bed and show me the instruments of their martyrs‘ deaths like some Catholic saints – me, who has suffered from insistent anorexy even long before the accident!

N: The question is, how could they have made such a blunder, especially the dogs with that excellent sense of smell of theirs?

C: The simple fact is, memories of strangers mob in my head, whereas my own memory excels somewhere else. It seems all scruples are down, promiscuity bare of all rules has taken rein. Indeed, these days even old photographs are proof of whatever you want. Neuroses, stomach ulcers, just the same. Tumescences, inflammations, cicatrices, fractures. Haemorhoids – of course. Baggy, puffy eyes, wrinkles. My whole so-called present state could make for an excellent period at the end of any memoir whatsoever.

N: Which must be the starting point. Build the composition of the memoirs upon this.

C: Assemble as many real data as possible on one huge heap until they start to multiply by self-generation, and it shall all turn into someone‘s memoirs. Remember quick before rival pretendents come up, and – this with emphasis – remember decisively and yet spontaneously, so that what others would drum up as the main thing, I will simply remark en passant; all weight must lay upon details – this is what makes for verisimilitude and the charm of memoirs. Excellent. Agreed. But let us relax. (waiting for Casanova’s reminiscences to arrive)

N: (hinting) I remember how once in the middle of the carnival…



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