The following is excerpted from the play, “Besides, you lose your soul or the History of Western Civilization” by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. The play was first staged at Camden People’s Theatre in London by Apocryphal Theater in February-March 2009. Directed by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton; live art/design and photography by Birthe Jorgensen; lights by Boris Kahnert; assistant director and sound/light operator by Lucy Avery; performer-collaborators included Bill Aitchison, Fred Backus, Alison Blunt, Zoe Bouras, Rachel Ellis and Theron Schmidt. The full play can be purchased online here.
Where does the soul come from?
What is it? This thing you can lose?
This thing you can lose when you torture people you mean?
Right, yeah, that’s right, that’s what he was talking about I think.
But he said you couldn’t – remember? Just now…it’s immortal. How can it be lost?
The other guy, before, the famous one, who wrote a lot – English guy.
About torturing people?
No, well yeah, but no, not the same guy.
About Alexander stopping beer barrels?
Yeah, that guy.
Yeah, but I’m talking about the other guy – the ex-FBI guy – who was talking about torturing people. He was saying it wasn’t that efficient in the end, because people will say, you know, anything, if you torture them long enough.
So you might not get the right information?
Right, you might not get the right information.
And besides, as he says, you lose your soul.
Right, you lose your soul.
Aren’t we kind of, well, repeating ourselves a lot here?
Well, yeah. But some things, you know, well, they kinda, well, bear repeating don’t you think?
But the English guy, he was writing before America was even like something real – it had just been found by other English guys but no one was really you know sure of it, not really sure if it meant anything. Could that make a difference? With the idea of an immortal soul, I mean…one that you know, can’t get lost?
Not sure I follow you…
You know like maybe it was more secure then, that idea about souls…that they kind of couldn’t get you know lost…but then they were suddenly kind of well more you know less um well I don’t know, less like fixed or something?
Um, maybe…I guess…
Maybe that’s why he was so obsessed with stopping beer barrels?
Yeah, yeah, because he was beginning to sense it – that something wasn’t right…that something was about to get really, you know, lost.
So, you mean in finding something new something else gets lost?
Yeah, something like that…
[Maybe here everyone starts looking for something metaphorically or literally, and without any success…something important that can’t be found…like keys, a wallet, identification, a wedding ring, an idea that was great in the bathroom, a dream you just forgot…then below begins the interrogation of S/He Who Has Lost That Thing Which was Important.]
OK, then…so before we lose it
–if you haven’t already lost it …
Yes, right if you haven’t already Lost it!
How do you think Western Civilization started?
Well, how do you think it started?
How the fuck should I know?
I don’t know, I thought maybe you had, you know, like, a theory or something…
Yeah, you know, a theory as to how Western Civilization might have started. Doesn’t everybody?
I mean, everyone we know?
What do you mean everyone we know?
You know what I mean.
No I don’t. I haven’t a fucking CLUE what you mean!
Yes you do.
No I don’t.
Yes you do.
No we don’t!
Aha, there, caught you!
It was a joke for Christsakes….
The beginning, of Western Civilization.
Um, I don’t think so…I think we’d at least have to go back to the Greeks or-
SEE, I knew it, you DO have a theory!
It’s not a theory.
Yes it is.
No, it isn’t.
Yes, it is.
No, it’s just, you know, fact.
Fact? You’re joking, right…I mean we, the people we know, do you think we believe in simple ‘fact’ anymore?
Um, maybe? And who do you think I know that you know that makes us a ‘we’? Just out of curiosity, you know, Idle Speculation…
Well, I think you do, I mean we do…it’s all of us, those of us who find ourselves here. And those we already know. The people who count. The people who know things. Them, who of course are now we, or at least I hope so…I mean, I think, really, I’ve done enough work here by now to be counted one of we rather than them. Don’t you think? I mean, really?
and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?
I’m kind of lost.
That’s such a lie.
No it’s not.
Yes it is.
No it’s not.
Yes it is.
Yeah, make me.
This is a joke right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
How can you be so FUCKING childish?
I don’t know, how can YOU be so FUCKING childish?
Or how can we be so-
STOP, please DEAR GOD, STOP!
In the beginning was Oedipus, and God said, that is good, and in seven days, someone rested and we were all happy. The word was Aristophanes, and Aristophanes was the word. There were birds in the heavens and he said it was good. Sometimes there were women around, but they usually had a supporting role, unless of course they were fucking everything up, in which case they became crucial to the plot points…but I digress…
Who are you?
I am he who tells stuff that ye shall believe what I say because I said so….Amen
Do you really think that stuff works anymore? I mean aren’t we kind of like, well, beyond that?
This is the very word of Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool
What, the fair Ophelia?
Good night ladies, good night. Sweet ladies, good night, good night.
Is it all like that?
I’m afraid so, more or less, give or take, etc.
OK, let’s start again then.
We can’t do that.
Because we already started.
Who is they?
Them, you fool. Them.
Oh, come on, who cares about them???
Well, we should.
Do you think so, I mean really? Isn’t this one of those, you’re either on the bus or you’re not kind of things? Or shouldn’t it be? I mean aren’t they supposed to be part of we, I mean seeing as we’re in the same room and all? Like you said before?
I never said that.
Yes you did.
No I didn’t.
Yes you did.
No, I didn’t. I think you said that, if you want to be accurate with the facts.
But you said there were no facts!
I most certainly did not.
You are such a liar.
Yes. I am.
Finally, the truth.
[At this point there could be any number of responses, for instance: dancing, gesture-texts that come from inspirational moments in your own training/disciplines, some way of responding to this whole tiresome ‘truth-lie’ contradiction that resolves the paradox without recourse to linear narrative….by resolve I don’t mean ‘solves’ but resolves into action somehow…]
It can be.
Because it’s not moving anything forward, not getting us anywhere.
Where on earth do you want to GO?
I don’t know, somewhere.
Well, yeah, maybe somewhere better. Is that so bad?
Could be. Could be one of those horrible utopian type things that leads to fascism and world wars and god knows what else!
How do you know?
I don’t. I’m just saying, sometimes wanting to go somewhere better can be, you know, good. It’s not always bad. It could mean getting out of somewhere bad and going somewhere, you know, better.
But do you really think it’s a matter of going somewhere???
I’m not so sure. I think that usually makes things worse.
But maybe not.
So this early Dionysiac ritual was a cathartic that took man out of himself-
That’s what it says, right here, in this book on Myths.
It sounds like an enema.
Yes, it does. You’re right. Shall I go on?
Ok, for a bit…
and purged his irrational impulses, or directed them into a special channel…Yeah, I know, I know…but listen to this, it gets better: These were the times when the religious sanction had become guilt instead of shame (page 167)-
So what’s on page 167?
OK, here’s something: Clytemnestra, tormented by a snake-dream that is a gift to psychoanalysts-
Excuse me? Were there psychoanalysts in ancient Greece?
So what’s That all about?
I think the author is trying to be clever.
I mean, is there a SOUL yet or not? Is anyone talking about souls??? Isn’t that the point here???
Shall I go back to the original reading?
OK, let’s try again.
and some of the Greeks, their old clan solidarities weakened, were finding it difficult to bear their new burdens of individual responsibility…blah blah blah…. orgiastic rites… blah blah…snake handling… blah blah…Mediterranean fertility cults…oh but this is good, it all relates to the ecstatic rattlesnake cult of the Holiness Church in Kentucky!
Men will know that I am the LORD
when I execute judgment upon her
and thereby prove my holiness,
I will let loose pestilence upon her
and bloodshed in her streets;
the slain will fall in her streets,
beset on all sides by the sword;
then men will know that I am the LORD.
Lord is always in all caps, isn’t it?
So, is this it then? How they justify the torture and all, do you think? God’s will, that kind of thing?
Some believe this to be the case yes.
Some? Is ‘some’ different than ‘we’?
But of course.
So ‘we’ don’t believe this then, am I to presume?
Right. ‘We’ are smarter than that.
Oh, good, well, that’s a relief.
So, what is it that ‘we’ believe then? Just you know again, out of idle curiosity?
Oh, we! We don’t believe Anything!
We don’t believe in Anything?!
Right, we’re Smarter than that! I mean More Clever than that…in America they or we say ‘smart’, in England you or I say ‘clever’ depending on who is saying this line that is… I am trying to be culturally sensitive…
That I’m trying to be culturally sensitive?
No, that ‘we’ don’t believe anything!
Of course it’s possible!
No, it’s not.
If I say I don’t believe in anything then I don’t.
It’s not that simple.
Of course it is.
No, it’s not. Even the denial of belief is a statement of belief, and even if it weren’t, you certainly believe in Something.
OK, do you believe that we should discriminate against people based on race, for example?
No, of course not.
So, there you go.
What?! I just said I didn’t believe in something.
Right. But the opposite is a belief: I believe that we should not discriminate against people based on race.
Yes, but that’s just common sense, it’s something we all agree on! It’s not a belief. A belief is something unreal, unprovable, irrational… Wrong.
In other words, something you disagree with.
Right, I mean wrong, I mean it’s just because it’s just common sense.
I rest my case.
That’s just sophistry.
No, it’s not. Good try, but it’s not. And anyway, the sophists weren’t all bad, they got a bad name, but –
Please stop before I have to resort to violence.
Are you thinking of torture perhaps?
Julia Lee Barclay-Morton is an award-winning writer, director and teacher whose work has been published and produced internationally; she was inducted into the Indie Theater Hall of Fame in 2014. Artistic Director of Apocryphal Theatre in London from 2004-11, she was awarded a practice-as-research PhD in theater and philosophy in 2009 at University of Northampton. Now back in NYC, she is completing a book about her grandmothers, The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani.