An extract from
c, THE MYSTERIOUS AMBASSADOR
by Peter Cheevers
As LIGHTS come up we witness a skeletally furnished room of just a bed and two chairs. We see a man (HUGO) sitting on the bed as he scribbles on pad; intermittently he lifts his head and talks as if addressing someone in the room.
HUGO: Patient, so what is the Latin root for patient? ‘I suffer’. It is the relation between inner distress and the world’s cruelty that gets me. I am arguing with myself but is just the the noise the brain makes. Transgression that what attracts me,
I would tell you more about myself, I would, but then I know all biography is fiction. You say, ‘when patients decide to consult a psychiatrist they are in a way expressing a desire to create a new story for themselves,’ but then if you have a story like mine, can you change it. Can you change the story that is you? You claim you can change by revising your story. But all my life I have been altering in my favour, and even when I modify it to my own detriment, the humility I derive is a kind of personal bonus. So self love is subtle to the extent that all biography is ultimately fiction. Love thy neighbour as thyself, (he laughs) if I met someone in the street who treats me as I do myself I would call the constabulary and have him arrested for aggravated assault. I would like to ask you this? This is me a false self, and this (he picks up a mask and holds it in front oh his face, is what I wear to show how false all self representations are. This is the life I have led hiding mask and this is the life that has accompanied the life we lead the lure of transgression, happiness as a perversion. Do you sometimes argue with yourself; have inner disputes, hear voices, do you talk to yourself? Because I do...
VOICE OFF: Well, how else can one justify one’s existence except with a constant dialogue with yourself? Yes I do talk to myself and it’s ok having a running dialogue with yourself, providing you run the conversation silently in your head. And voices I hear all the time, Freud, Adler and all the neuro science kids on the block.
HUGO: But there has to be a constant reassurance that there is a little man or woman, a self, a mind inside your brain which is the essential you. Do you ever say I am not myself today?
VOICE OFF: All the time
HUGO: Ever thought of leaving yourself behind?
VOICE OFF: Every morning when I squeeze onto the Northern Line to come to this Hospital. Anyway what would you be leaving behind, for the self is not a physical object? I think we have agreed on that in past sessions.
Lights up and man in his thirties, EUGENE, appears from shadows, he is holding a notebook and is casually dressed.
HUGO: So here I am, a thing, and I am talking to myself another thing, is that right?
EUGENE: I would not get too anxious about not being a singularity.
HUGO: What is that supposed to mean.
EUGENE: All language use is riddled with multiple voices and meaning-making in general can be understood as the interplay of those voices. This means that everything you think or say is related to another utterance. In the ‘beginning’ it wasn’t the ‘word’ it was the conversation.
HUGO: So reality is random, reality is a farce?
EUGENE: Well, not in the day to day macro world of having your breakfast and getting on buses, but you know, it doesn’t do any harm to tinker with supposed certainties. Are you managing to write things down; thoughts, dreams?
HUGO: Not since I sent you those letters.
EUGENE: Well, they were very interesting you should write more. What else is going on with you?
HUGO: Well...a bit chary of telling you I hear voices; the possibility of schizophrenia terrifies me
EUGENE: Don’t worry about voices; mustn’t get drawn into the clichés about schizophrenia, we hear voices all the time. I hear the voices of Freud, Klein, Adler, plus all the modern guys. We are all bombarded by voices.
HUGO: Right, right, and the voices of commerce, how many a day is it? Three hundred per day. Or, is that a thousand?
EUGENE: Yes, I know what you mean; the Megaphone called culture is never turned off so in that sense it is fairly fascistic you could make the same claim about global capitalism, and language they too are fascistic as you can never get outside of them.
HUGO: Right no thinking outside the box because there is no outside...trapped in a world of our making; what did Rousseau say about us all being in chains. I don’t know...writing, power, author, priest, what’s the difference. Both in the pulpit, aren’t they? Both theological. (Throws pen aside)
EUGENE: Right, right, can you just manage to compose yourself please. Reality may be a farce as you put it, but why do you think you are incarcerated in here?
HUGO: Because I am one of those people who have been fucking running around yelling X is not X and X can be Y and people who do that usually land up in a hospital, a rehab centre; or here for all deviation from the dominant stream of thought can easily fit into the categories of the mentally ill.
EUGENE: It depends what you deem the ‘dominant stream of thought’ to be. I agree that our ideological positioning make us incapable of neutrality. But you Hugo are here, X is incarcerated in X... you in here for the violence you enacted.
HUGO: How many times do I have to tell you...it was self defence. (He jumps up and does a karate demonstration) I was going up the stairs the two of them, the brothers, pair of slags, tossers, were coming down the stairs they probably thought the ‘force’ was with them, and this (he makes a very forceful karate move) was my instinctive reaction to what I deemed was a threat. How many times do I have to tell you?
EUGENE: I am not sure the Court will accept that you imagined there was a threat from these brothers.
HUGO: You have even said so yourself that all our words and actions…are bound by the context in which the act takes place - so was my act of self defence.
EUGENE: Yes, of course, context is relevant,
HUGO: The meaning of a poem is in other poems, right?
EUGENE: OK, OK in any utterance you are compelled to appropriate the words of others
and only then can you populate them with your own intention, we accept that.
HUGO: So much for freedom of thought. Free will does not have a temperature 37.4. Celsius Does the weather have free will? does the blood coursing in my veins have understanding, does fuel understand that it has fire within it.
EUGENE: Interesting stuff, but if I may come back to the exchange…. back to that exchange with the brothers on the staircase; were there any conversational norms being followed here?
HUGO: Only with theri eyes, their abundance of tattoos, the hunched shoulders, the heavy tread of the Dr Martins boots on the concrete staircase descending towards me. That was conversation enough for me.
EUGENE: So no actual conversation took place?
HUGO: Yes there was a conversation of a kind in my estimation.
EUGENE: But the Court will view that in order for this conversation to have a cohesive flow in which individuals respond to one another. If my utterance does not pertain to your previous utterance then a conversation is not occurring. So the Court will take it as a given that no attempt at conversation took place and they will take a view of you on that basis.
HUGO: Let them, do their fucking worst. There was a conversation but it wasn’t verbal This trying to fix me, individuals people cannot be finalized, completely understood, known, or labelled. There is not one but many, I learnt that from you.
EUGENE: Yes, yes, we accept that it is the unfinalisability of interactions that creates true polyphony.
HUGO: Well, you talked about the importance of ...how people present themselves, say in a Court room. What if I stood up in Court and argued that there is such a thing as ‘self’, argue that on the staircase that day there was a different self.
EUGENE: The Court might counter respond, so who are we addressing our questions to if you start making claims that there is no essential self?
HUGO: Well obviously I am not going to shout this sort of thing from the rooftops. But for instance in this conversation now, you are talking to someone who is performing a self called ‘Hugo’. And I am talking to you, a psychiatrist performing a role called, ‘Eugene’. Isn’t the self an action, something that is performed?
EUGENE: Go on.
HUGO: We trot out, recite that we have a self, just like infants at school…and this citing we have a self, is a process in accord with a given norm or set or norms.
EUGENE: Oh yes, and what are these norms?
HUGO: Culture, language. Within this frame, through continued performance, the idea of self comes to stabilise itself.
HUGO (cntnd) Yeah. We are all duped by discourses All those appeals to the inner self, your conscience, your soul, your spirit, the character we call ourselves is just a continuing performance? Yes, we are appealing to a fiction. A fiction of a fixed, inner, essential mind. So there
EUGENE: We don’t have minds, is that what you are saying?
HUGO: Yes, we don’t have minds
We hear Church Bells
EUGENE: (Standing) Next Wednesday then, oh before I go…one of the nurses complained you were a little bit aggressive with him.
HUGO: I was practicing my Karate, I didn’t know he was creeping up behind me
EUGENE: That is not what he conveyed to me…you mustn’t undo all our work. Is that understood?
Lights up we see a room elegantly decorated, modernist type paintings, too knowing in their unknowingness adorn the walls. EUGENE lounges on a chair a sheaf of papers in his hand; a striking looking woman, BRON, in her 30s walks about the room, she adjusts a Francis Bacon, schizophrenic type painting of mouths agape, before walking to the window and peering out.
EUGENE: (He is looking at some papers and laughs) Oh God this job...
BRON: What are you laughing at now?
EUGENE: Well...well, do you remember...the toilet attendant I had to testify for?
BRON: No, pray tell remind me.
EUGENE: Remember, he was dismissed for practising his drums in his little room in the public conveniences. The people using the toilet...complained...voiced their grievance to the Council...that they felt...wait for this...they complained that they felt...’threatened’. Ah dear. I shouldn’t really but...
BRON: Laughter, eh. What did he call it? And keep your voice down. Sorcha is asleep,
EUGENE: What did who call it?
BRON: That patient of yours, Hugo, is that what he’s called?
BRON: That’s interesting, yes, pagan as opposed to Apollonian; laughter as a kind of madness, momentary madness. Are you listening?
EUGENE: Yes, I am listening. What are you looking at now?
BRON: Mr Martin our responsible neighbour doing his skips and hop to avoid the cracks in the pavement, how consoling ‘normalcy’ is.
EUGENE: Come away from there,
BRON: (Still standing by window and peering out) Hold on, there’s more theatre, there’s Mrs Engel, carrying her Basset Hound, poor thing, looks as if it’s dying from ennui.
EUGENE: Come away from there.
BRON: (Starting to laugh) Every time I see her she tells me she is going to take it to the vet. (Imitating Mrs Engel) ‘So lethargic, don’t you think?’
EUGENE: Aren’t Basset Hound’s meant to have a ‘Don’t talk to me about life’ look. Come away from there and stop messing around.
BRON: What do you think of his point?
EUGENE: Which point are you referring to now?
BRON: Oh reality, all that stuff about reality as perception?
EUGENE: I think he views reality as random, a kind of farce.
BRON: That seems to me to be a particularly male view point, a luxury. You should try to get across to him that his having a psychiatrist is a call to responsibility. It is like when I talk about politics to Mrs Engel, finding oneself face to face with someone of a diametrically opposing view, outside of one’s usual frame of reference, that is the true path to understanding. This Hugo patient, he is an autodidact isn’t he
EUGENE: No formal education but voraciously well read
BRON: Oh, they are the worst for over compensation in their views. You seem to be struggling with him are you on top of this case or not?
EUGENE: On top of it?… I m like a bloody hawk with him; the tones of voice, body movements, minor appearance of any symptoms, changes in musical tensions, breathing, color, gaze, you know he is, not measured, he likens his behaviour to the carnival, you know carnivalesque, pagan, his way of usurping cultural values. Here, this is what he wrote
Sorts among papers and picks up letter
‘ Language and culture have our minds, we don’t. The brain belongs to the individual, the mind does not. ….I know I am on my soap box here, but the mind does not lie inside the head. The mind is not private, for the human mind is produced by language and language is public. The problem is this… I just don’t feel there is an essential little Hugo inside my brain that I can refer to, because if there was, I think where would he have got his initial information from? Another little Hugo and so and so on ad infinitum. Think outside the box is the facile advocation, but there is no outside the box, we are in the box of fascistic language, there is no Archimedean point we can stand and objectively observe
BRON: Do you agree?
EUGENE: Well it is a bit fanciful, but in essence I do, (Sorting through sheaf of letters) Ah here...his soi disant identity problems
BRON: Not gory sex, no doubt he is enthusiastic about that.
HUGO: Enthusiastic? Well I don’t think he is going to start a binary defiance workshop at the Hospital. But his argument is interesting, he has an excellent brain he really does. Listen to this:
Here light change as we see HUGO cites the different identities he feels
Sometime I feel I am a girl a boy,
Lights change: And sometimes I feel I am a girl a boy,
Light change: Other times I feel I am a boy who is a girl,
Light change: Sometime I have felt I am a girl who is a boy….but dressed as a girl
Lights change: Other times I have I feel I am a girl who has to be a boy… to be a girl.
BRON: Oh dear, nothing like a heteroglossic outpouring of gender positions it is uncommonly boring. Glad to hear he is up to speed with the politically correct thought police and their entitlements. Is he schizophrenic?
EUGENE: Too early to diagnose that,
BRON: But he is still violent that incident with the nurse you told me about
We HEAR a noise like a clatter of bins; BRON jumps up in alarm
EUGENE: Alright ....it’s probably just cats
BRON: You shouldn’t have given him our address
EUGENE: It was an act of trust....
Bron looks through the spyhole of the door.
BRON: He’s wearing a mask.