Charles Marowitz on "Company Sense"

In the mid- and late 1960’s, Charles Marowitz directed an interesting remix of Hamlet called “Collage Hamlet.” The technique, according to Marowitz, borrowed from Burrough’s cut-ups. It’s also eerily prescient of contemporary remix/mashup culture. I saw excerpts from his production in the A&E Biography episode on Hamlet. I wish I could see the whole thing.  (Digression: I’ve got a personally taped and now digitized copy of that A&E episode, but it seems otherwise unavailable. A&E appears to have bought the show’s content from the BBC–Melvyn Bragg narrates much of the material–and simply provided a Peter Graves “wrapper” consisting mostly of obvious remarks and bad puns. Perhaps A&E didn’t buy the retail video rights, thus accounting for the absence of this episode from their other offerings. A pity! I find it very useful in my intro. to lit. studies classes.) In any event, I was googling ’round today for information on “Collage Hamlet” as I was viewing Henry Jenkins’ closing keynote at the 2008 NMC summer conference. Jenkins was describing,  and showing footage from, a kind of remixed Moby Dick, and “Collage Hamlet” popped into my mind as an early analogous example of the technique.

Googling didn’t lead me to the footage itself–yet–but I did find an article Marowitz wrote that included his thoughts on the production. Here’s the citation:

If you have JStor, the links above should take you to the essay. If not, I hope your library has The Tulane Drama Review.

I’ve only dipped in to the essay so far, but Marowitz is marvelously articulate (another demonstration that media literacy must include verbal fluency as well!), and a section called “Contact” seemed especially rich to me as an evocation of the tight-knit, even telepathic sense that grows among members of a true community. Marowitz writes:

The building of company-sense demands the construction of those delicate vertebrae and interconnecting tissues that transform an aggregation of actors into an ensemble. A protracted period of togetherness (at a rep, for instance) creates an accidental union between people, but this isn’t the same thing as actors coiled and sprung in relation to one another-poised in such a way that a move from one creates a tremor from another; an impulse from a third, an immediate chain-reaction. Contact doesn’t mean staring in the eyes of your fellow actor for all you’re worth. It means being so well tuned in that you can see him without looking. It means, in rare cases being linked by a group rhythm which is regulated almost physiologically-by blood circulation or heart palpitation. It is the sort of thing that exists between certain kith and kin; certain husbands and wives; certain kinds of lovers or bitter enemies.

This idea of “ensemble” (perhaps sans “bitter enemies,” but who knows?) is at the heart of what I most value about communities of learning. It’s hard to get there, but some things I’m learning about priming and emotional contagion from Daniel Goleman’s Social Intelligence are convincing me that we can make a much nearer approach than we are currently doing. And I’m more convinced than ever that it is this kind of resonance (Goleman says the term of art is “empathic resonance”) we should be striving for, what our processes should foster, what our learning spaces should support, what our curricula should inspire. Cognitive diversity can actually serve this resonance, so long as that diversity is not simply about contention or sorting or anything but humility and gratitude for the humbling magnificence of the gifts we share.

Goleman’s book gives the lie to the idea that we are all locked away inside a cogito. Turns out there’s massive evidence that we can’t help sharing the feeling of our experience, as the feeling of our experience, our psychic responses to experience, are indeed written all over us.

Goleman thinks that online communication actually deprives us of social intelligence. I concede the dangers, but must also insist that online communication (blended, typically, with periodic face-to-face meetups) have provided for me an extraordinary growth of the “delicate vertebrae and interconnecting tissues” Marowitz says are essential to company-sense. No, online alone is not enough, just as books and painting and sculptures and movies and concerts are not enough. But vertebrae and interconnecting tissues are also not enough. No one’s saying they are. But they, like the artifacts and networks I hurriedly list above, are essential for support, for nourishment, for imagination.

Hi-tech vs. Hi-touch? Bah. A false dichotomy. Try “blood vs. bone” to see how silly such dichotomies can be.

There’s also something to juxtapose here with Bruner’s idea of “learning episodes,” but that will take even more mulling.

EDIT: I bet a few folks will see “company sense” and think “corporation sense.” But the word “company” need not simply be “what the man owns and operates,” whoever “the man” is. The company is the ensemble, the troupe, the dramatis personae, the group of companions. Companions, those who break bread together. What is it about taking nourishment together that knits those connections? We eat as individuals, but gathering together to feed ourselves we somehow also nourish the company.

Milton: Where full measure only bounds excess….

2 thoughts on “Charles Marowitz on "Company Sense"

  1. hi, i thought you might find interesting Goleman’s dialogue series ‘Wired to Connect’ , all of the conversations in it seem relevant, but especially the one with Clay Shirky which discusses the social structures of web communities. they’re all available from the publisher’s website

  2. If it’s Melvyn Bragg narrating, then “Biography” episode on Hamlet that you saw was probably an episode of “The South Bank Show” entitled “A History of Hamlet”. It used to air on Bravo back when Bravo was a fine arts channel.

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