PRINT Summer 2007

William Leavitt

ONE DAY GUY INVITED ME to visit his studio at Washington and Normandie—which turned out to be a sizable loft, spare of furnishings except for a table, a bed, and a wire carousel rack for paperbacks that contained, among others, books by Raymond Roussel and Alain Robbe-Grillet. I had first heard of Guy when someone who had seen my play The Silk, 1975, told me that he and I were doing something similar; we were subsequently introduced by Denise Domergue, one of his actresses, who was married to Bob Wilhite. But it was in Guy’s loft that I realized we did, in fact, share influences that brought us both to investigate a particular kind of theatrical work.

Roussel’s novel Impressions of Africa (1910) and his play La Poussière de soleil (1926) were uninflected chains of events, dispassionately described in a precise and neutral style. That Guy came from a family of cryptographers would explain the strong appeal he felt for the wordplay and language codes of these odd narratives. Where Guy and I connected, however, was that we saw the situations, actions, and manipulations of bizarre apparatuses, humans, and animals in books like Impressions of Africa not only to be delicious in the Surrealist sense but also liberating for Roussel’s disinterest in creating suspense or achieving resolution. But, whereas the codes in my work were more generic and about the day’s culture, Guy took a collection of objects and words and reduced them to his own code, then voiced them theatrically with actors and props. These pieces seemed like theater, but the theatrical meaning was missing.

In truth, my play, in its distanced description and voice-over narration, was probably closer to Robbe-Grillet than to Roussel. Yet I think that for both Guy and me, a play was a theatrical object or image: a series of events that occurred in time, one that unfolded without suspense or gratuitous emotion. We were also reacting against the pyrotechnics of avant-garde theater and the brutism of performance art. Our goal was not to break the bounds of theater but to stay within them in order to achieve the effect of the ordinary through actions and descriptions that were obvious. The words became the objects of desire.

William Leavitt is an artist who lives in Los Angeles.