the peculiar spiritual impulse

Historically, I haven’t been much of a reader. Books that I have opened – whether it was to impress a stranger? in the morning by reading Derrida (sort of) on the R train or for high school AP English credits – usually didn’t get much further than the first few dog-eared, heavily notated, coffee stained in-the-wake-of-the-Roman-numeral-prefaced pages. On some level I can subconsciously defend myself by saying, Well, the writer probably took quite a long time mulling over the initiation of this, his or her, masterwork, and choosing the first few words, yadda yadda and etcetera so – soooooo – so shall I, probably.


But then I wouldn’t get quite that much pr any farther. Just the afterbirth of the preface or the baby’s first steps, and then I was done. And with a ten page paper.

Rachel Chavkin gets me reading books. Sometimes. In fact, the first full book I’ve read since I can solemnly remember is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with Wind (I almost mis-typed it as DONE with the Wind, which would also have been accurate. . . ) We read this book for Architecting and I figured if I was given the honor and the privilege of playing Margaret Mitchell then I should really know it. Needless to say, it is a long book. And it took me, the skimmer and verbal scavanger that I have been, quite a WEE bit of time to do the reading of it.

So I have only read it once.

So far.

Then there was the book: Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. By Henry Adams. This was the FIRST book Rachel Chavkin gave me to read, when I was initially going to play Henry Adams. But I jumped a bit and used my old tricks on the Editor’s Note (which comes even BEFORE the preface) and needless to say, I was not methodically playing Sir Henry.


There is a bit in Mr. Adams’ Editor’s Note that I have procrastinated for many months now in sharing (I could say it’s been deliberation but basically I’ve just been slow to blog.) Sadly and also for better if the other option we are given to choose comic strip wise is worse, there is no specified equipment – a kind of bluetoothian dictator – to take my thinking about blogging and make it into a blog post. So – hence the delayment – so.

The Editor, he speaks about Henry Adams’ analysis of the Middle Ages as an “epoch. . . that must be considered en bloc, as a period of consistent unity as highly emphasized as was its dynamic force.”

So now we’re quoting here, bear with me for the first sentence: “it is unnecessary to say that Mr. Adams deals with the art of the Middle Ages after this fashion: he is not of those who would determine every element in art from its material antecedents. He realizes very fully that its essential element, the thing that differentiates it from the art that preceded and that which followed, is its spiritual impulse; the manifestation may have been, and probably was, more or less accidental, but that which makes Chartres Cathedral (and some other art . . . paraphrasing here etc) . . great and unique is not their technical mastery nor their fidelity to the enduring laws of all great art, – though these are singular in their perfection – but rather the peculiar spiritual impulse which informed the time, and by its intensity, its penetrating power, and through its dynamic force wrought a rounded and complete civilization and manifested this through a thousand varied channels.

Thank you, Henry. [emphasis added]

The Civil War. Hurricane Katrina. Secession. Reconstruction. – Forces.

Audience members. – A thousand varied channels.

As we rowed this ship through 6 weeks in January, we met directors from England, families from New Orleans, students from Yale, professors from college, big minds from the New York theatre world and Polans, moms and dads, Southern belles relocated and now up north, businessmen, students. People seemed to hear something.

What is – why now – the particular spiritual impulse?

Maybe as our incarnation of Henry puts in our play, “From a revisionist historian’s perspective – ” – – looking back from here, at the top of March, what can I see that was happening? – –

Maybe we were looking at – How does an American place leave and can it ever come back?

The death of an Old South that the Civil War burned to shreds.

The death of a New Orleans that may or may not be reborn or want to be.

Can we reinstate to the South a sense of dignity here in the North as a kind of reparation for reputation tarnishing.

Can we imagine – through imagination and empathy if not through political alliances – a more whole country if we find love for the sever and are tender with the sutures?

The great movement of hope and change that came to the forefront of our poetic and political vocabularies with President Obama’s campaign emerged after Architecting’s racially rooted reading assignments were assigned. So to with the American Capitalism Project, proposed before Wall Street and Ponzi schemes hit the front pages.

I just relooked up peculiar. Relooked because it has been probably been since the 7th Grade, if I ever have. Of or pertaining to a specific group or odd, unique, distinct.

And an impulse – a motivation, incentive (that word is a hmmm for me for the next piece), inspiration. Usually to do something other than the rational.  A force so communicated as to produce motion suddenly.  The act of driving onward with sudden force. (I love those last two.)

Something I learn from building with the TEAM is that there is an exploitation of words – an explicit and a very large and concrete nature to inhabiting things that are stated, often very simply, but with consequential reverb. I try not to take those things for granted because the more I understand the word, the bigger the idea we can carry for the audiences .  .

When I contemplate where these plays come from or where the next play might go, I am so far – continue to be – and awesomely have been very much amazed at how we tap into some sort of emerging context totally by accident and by default on purpose, and get to be a part of an evolving series of ideas and small but severing fractures of American identification.

The peculiar spiritual impulse that grasps us.

We don’t manufacture the impulse.

I don’t think that is my job, to manufacture the impulse, as a human.

So I think that this is really pretty cool.

However you are given to defining for yourself the word “spiritual.

It could be – and been down – a thousand varied channels.

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