By Stefan Schütz; translated by Harold Rhenisch
Ronsdale Press, 2001. ISBN: 0-921870-89-2 5.5 x 8.5, 89 pages. German and English. First World Edition. $14.95
In this darkly comic monologue by one of the masters of contemporary German theatre, a German tourist visiting Banff is forced to wait out a thunderstorm in the cabin of an old shaman. By the time the night is over he has been humiliated, mocked, and enlightened, has undergone a nightmare voyage through the worlds of the living and the dead, and has been initiated into ancient shamanistic mysteries and into the peyote cult. All is, however, not as it seems. Schütz turns long practice at rewriting Greek tragedies in the context of contemporary dictatorships into a contemporary tragedy of the confrontation of the western cult of the individual with the Native American world of myth. The tragedy follows the stages of a peyote vision. It is a shocking world of black comedy which deconstructs romantic verbal, visual, and cultural clichés, including those of deconstruction itself. The tragedy is inescapable, unexpected, and devastating, but is made even more human and generous for that. In the course of this play’s vision, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the guilt of patriarchy, the patronizing and colonializing qualities of contemporary tourism, and the seductions of technology merge with stories of Windigo and Coyote, with the scenery of Banff, with a playful use of language, in one writer’s uncompromising search for a world of humanity past seductions of Utopia. Peyote is a dual-language publication: English on one side of the page, German on the other.
Stefan Schütz was born in 1944 and started his career working for the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin. One of East Germany’s strongest dissident writers, he moved to the west in 1980, and now lives in Berlin. He has written over two dozen plays, as well as novels and other prose works. In 1985 he received Germany’s highest literary award, the Alfred Döblin Prize, for his prose work, Medusa. Peyote is the result of a two-year stay in Canada.
“This tale invites us to cross a surprising double bridge over two cultures. A German writer who has been compared to James Joyce in his own country has convincingly taken on the voice of a North American Native; his translator has rendered the luminous text into the Canadian/English idiom, thus bringing it, as it were, back to its intended spiritual habitat. That the publisher has provided us with both the German and the English text makes the book a small literary treasure.” Professor Marketa Goetz-Stankiewicz, German Dept., University of B.C.
“It is as if Carlos Castenada had met the Berlin Wall. The result: one of the greatest pieces of clowning in years.” Horst Martin, Victoria Bookseller
Doesn’t sound bad, you pig . . . Grunt a little now . . . move around a bit while you do it, try to dance . . . that’s how it’s done . . . that’s very good . . . How often does one get the chance to see a dancing pig . . . Scrape at the dirt like a chicken . . . You make me laugh so hard I have tears in my eyes . . . No, really, you are a chicken pig . . . Keep it up, keep it up, don’t stop . . . Too bad, it’s really too bad, you almost reached nirvana there . . . Not bad for a start, but not quite bizarre enough yet . . . You’re still missing an aggressive shamelessness, as the whites call it . . . I’m not making fun of you. You are receiving your first initiation right now . . . As Chicken Pig Clown . . . You are the pupil and I am the master . . . A clown is sacred. With comical dances he opens the deathly earnestness of the ceremonies. People think that the clown is nothing, he’s just there for a chuckle. That’s not so. People who know what’s what say that the clown is the strongest of all . . . He is the Negator . . . One who moves outside the solar plane . . . One who does many things that seem insane, like riding backwards on his horse, with his boots on backwards, too, so that he’s coming and going at the same time . . . If it’s hot, he wraps himself in blankets, and still shivers . . . He always says yes if he means no . . . Goes against all codes of behaviour and mocks the most sacred things, but in reality the clown embodies a spiritual ceremony . . . His contradictory action also opens people up . . . And while the clown sets people laughing, they are opened wide for the unmediated experience itself, and in that condition it is easier for the Power to visit them . . . It’s often important even to scare people to death, to overwhelm them with wild dances and tricks, to get them angry by spraying them with water or dropping glowing coals on their backs, throwing rocks at them and smashing at them with a club . . . In some cases, when the crazy dancer is completely possessed by supernatural force, he will stretch out his knife, jabbing it at people, and it’s not out of the question that he’ll kill someone . . . Where the truth of the vision comes to earth it falls like rain. After the terror of the storm the world is simply happier, that’s all . . . On heyoka . . . Play tricks . . . Sow panic . . . dispense laughter and fear . . . See, a new brother, let’s welcome our new friend with a name, The Chickenpig Clown . . . Look what he’s pulling off . . . Look and be amazed . . .