Dear Sandra Bernhardby
Dear Ms. Bernhard,
Remember when Slavenka Drakulić’s Divine Hunger played in New York for a week, to near full houses at a theatre below 14th Street? The night I went, I was in the second row. After taking out my Times to cushion the blow of the wood seat I saw you walk up the aisle to wherever you were sitting. You were alone. I think it was you, anyway.
In the play, a couple makes love three times, chasing each other round the edges of the sand-strewn stage as foreplay, pushing themselves off walls and stepping on half-buried plates. The heat and strength and speed and danger of the play were equal to your own, as you displayed in attending the play by yourself: not talking to anyone about it during the performance; not laughing with anyone when, in a moment of strained back-arching, a dog outside the theatre cried out with love pangs; not taking hold of anyone’s hand in delight or disgust while the woman ate her murdered lover in the last act. All this you did with no one, and yet I could hear you cheering loudest at the end.
And then, I like Italo Calvino’s books but had always been afraid to try Why Read the Classics? I thought it would be long and boring, but it was the opposite: Calvino redefines a classic throughout his essay, eventually coming up with a book, any book, that you come back to, that you read again, that teaches you something new, and that brings something with it when you reread it, a wagonload of contextual shadows. He says that each person has his or her own classics, and he describes a man he knew who couldn’t stop relating things he saw to The Pickwick Papers, who couldn’t stop making Pickwickian remarks on the contemporary Italy around him, a man who could have alone carried Dickens into the 21st century.
I’m writing you these things because I don’t want you to be still frustrated about your cancelled series on A&E. I think we tend to find comfort in the great rotations of new car models and home-cinema extras; our daily rhythm of work, death, feeding and sex. While you were applauding I looked down and saw my flared jeans and Pumas, and you reminded me that true revolution can only spring from the single cataclysmic person, the single asteroid hurtling towards Earth, the last word on a page, a single person saving Dickens, or you attending the theatre alone.
All the best,