You enjoy seeing people suffer under bright lighting
You enjoy hearing people in pain in rooms with good acoustics
The following interview of Will Eno by Patricia Mulgraw is part of the series “Ocean Conversations,” in which Patricia meets with artists, writers, and others from the Northeast and beyond. It took place at the Mulgraw home on Long Island, in December of last year. A bowl of fruit sat on the table in the sitting room in which the interview was conducted. The Atlantic Ocean was outside, down a long lawn.
PATRICIA MULGRAW: [Coughing]
WE: I’ve also always been interested in that magnetic refrigerator poetry. “RUN LOVELY TOWARD NORTH,” or something like that. “NAMES UNDERNEATH SNOW TOMORROW.” Whatever people put together, standing there thinking about eating. So, yeah, always, in general, things were pretty wordy, with me. Theater, in particular, was a less obvious choice. Probably born out of loneliness. A lot of things are born out of loneliness. Probably a lot of people, too. But, so, anyway, plays, theater. I like seeing people suffer under bright lighting. I like hearing people in pain in rooms with good acoustics. Everything gets so muffled and dim, in real life, normally, so you can never really tell what the problem is. I like watching curtain calls. It’s such a mortal moment. Julius Caesar, back to life, waving at his agent. People say theater is a dying art. Not the worst way to put it. Anyway, here I am. People say I was born with a gift for dialogue, but I never know what to say. I don’t know what I was born with. Big dumb eyes to stare out all the windows that life throws at a person. I don’t know. Other than that, you hear stuff, here and there, and you just learn how it goes. “Hi, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine, thanks.” You start to see how the world works, how it speaks. How it’s supposed to. People say I write women characters well.
WE: People say a lot of things.
WE: That’s quite a spoon collection you have. [Pause] OK, I see. Stop me when we have enough. So. I just try to write plays I think are good. Or, I don’t know. I try, I guess, to disable normative modes of perception, so as to try to allow for a revitalized way of seeing and feeling in the audience, hoping that’ll somehow translate itself, for them, into a reacquaintance with, and maybe even an affirmation of, regular earthly things, of consciousness itself, of suffering and joy themselves, rendering it all, for the audience, for all of us, for myself, into something more than a meaningless squeak beneath a meaningless and, by definition, heartless sky. I try to do that. I try to exalt normal stuff. I don’t know if I’ve ever succeeded. I try to make myself cry. Or stop. You have feelings, you know. You have feelings and gravity and time. That’s what you have. I don’t know, you have luck and bones and a heart.
WE: Obviously, the dark is important. I don’t think you go into the theater unless you have some feeling for the dark, for physical unmetaphorical darkness. This used to not be the case. In the early days, they did plays during the day, outside. Right in the bright day. Like back in the car with my mom. The days of ice cream and overalls. It was so quiet. We didn’t talk. We just drove, the world going by in the other direction, maybe the sound of a blinker. I’ve known some different quietnesses. Quietudes? We probably didn’t need to talk. What’s anyone supposed to say?