Acting, Ethics and Being Human

An incredibly incisive comment on the moral obligations of acting by Eddie Marsan on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking show (available to listen here):

I was making a film with Ewan McGregor once and we had a couple of hours off; we was watching a film with this big American star, making a film and the performance was awful and Ewan said this great thing. He said, “He’s referencing other actors and what he’s doing is he’s playing a character based on other performances of other actors.” And we both realised that that’s morally a terrible thing for an actor to be, because as an actor you have to be a human being so that when people watch you they think “that’s me” and they don’t feel lonely any more, they don’t feel isolated, they feel that they could talk to the person sitting next to them; but if you portray characters referencing other actors, then you create a character of what we wish we could be, so those performances create more isolation. They create more detachment, more depression, more low self-esteem and so the job of an actor is to give an honest testimony of what it is to be a human being.

— Eddie Marsan

Rereading. Not Telling

It is rare I will reread favourite sections of a novel just after finishing it. Malina, Ingeborg Bachmann’s only finished novel is a disquieting and strange and engrossing exception. It repeats and evolves throughout in words, phrases, unattributed and unfinished telephone sentences, recurring dreams of the cemetery of murdered daughters, anonymous letters the protagonist writes… As I read, Ingeborg became a more and more obsessing figure. I found myself staring at the sky on Sunday while a friend went to charge his phone, just thinking thinking about Ingeborg and Malina. When I was tired of the novel (it is not light), I reached for the book of her poems I have. The picture of her on that book could be another woman. There is a photo of her on the cover of most of her books. Each could be another woman (here on the Piper Verlag website). She seems protean and chimeric. There is a book of her correspondence, Herzzeit: “For a long time their love was a great secret, now it is documented” according to the Suhrkamp Verlag. There is a biography of her relationship with Max Frisch. There are no photos of them together.

She seems protean and chimeric. I have no idea what she really looks like.

I do not tell stories, I will not tell stories, I cannot tell stories, it is more than an interference in my memory.

— Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina

“What use is all that I have read up until now”

Anyone would say that Ivan and I are not happy. Or that for a long time we have had no reason to call ourselves happy. But anyone is wrong. Anyone is nobody. I have forgotten to ask Ivan about the tax return on the telephone, Ivan has generously said he will do my tax return for next year, it is not about the tax and what this tax already wants from me for another year, for me it is only about Ivan talking about next year, and Ivan said to me today he had forgotten to tell me on the telephone that he has had enough of sandwiches and that he would like to know what I can cook, and then I promise more from just one evening that from next year. Because if Ivan wants me to cook, then that must mean something and he cannot then run off quickly, after one drink, and tonight I look around in my library among my books and there are no cookbooks among them, I must buy some right away, how absurd, then what use is all that I have read up until now, if it is of no use with Ivan. THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, read at 60 watts in the Beatrixgasse, Locke, Leibniz and Hume, under the small reading lamps in the half-light of the National Library from the pre-Socratics to BEING AND NOTHINGNESS infatuated with all the concepts from all of history, Kafka, Rimbaud and Blake read at 25 watts in a hotel in Paris, Freud, Adler and Jung read at 360 watts on a lonely Berlin street, to the muted turns of Chopin Études, studied a fiery discourse about the expropriation of literary property on a beach near Genoa, the paper specked with salt and warped by the sun, read LA COMÉDIE HUMAINE in three weeks in Klagenfurt with a mild fever, weakened by antibiotics, read Proust in Munich until the first light of morning and until the roofers broke into the garret flat, read the French moralists and Viennese logicians, with my stockings falling down, read everything with thirty French cigarettes a day, from DE RERUM NATURA to LE CULTE DE LA RAISON, gone through history and philosophy, medicine and psychology, worked through the medical histories of schizophrenics and manic-depressives in the asylum in Steinhof, written transcripts in the Auditorium Maximum at just six degrees Celsius and still made notes at 38 degrees in the shade about de mundo, de mente, de moto, read Marx and Engels after washing my hair and read V. I. Lenin completely drunk, and read newspapers and newspapers and newspapers racing though them distraught, and already read newspapers when I was a child, by the oven, while lighting the fire, and newspapers and magazines and paperbacks everywhere, at every station, in every train, in trams, in buses, aeroplanes, and read everything on top of everything in four languages, fortiter, fortiter, and understood everything there is to read, and freed from reading everything for an hour, I lie down next to Ivan and say: I will write this book, that does not even exist yet, write it for you if you really want. But you have to want it really, want it from me, and I will never make you read it.

Ivan says: Lets hope it will be a book where everything turns out fine.

Lets hope.

— Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina (my translation from the German)

Published in English by Holmes & Meier and in German by Suhrkamp.

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