In a supreme gesture of marital solidarity I sat with my wife through a concert by a folk group. During about the fourth of the badly composed and badly played numbers that comprised the programme I was gripped by a craving for intellectual stimulation. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, to be reading some well-written innovative literature instead of listening to this mindless dirge. And then occurred one of those astonishing phenomena of subconscious creativity which have come to characterise my prodigious intellectual output- why, I thought, shouldn’t the production of literature become a performing art?
Historically it is plain that the scope for writing as a popular performance art was limited by the physical constraints of its most common medium- paper. Performance art implies some form of simultaneous experience by a sizeable audience, and it would hardly be possible for a more than a handful of spectators to be craning over the shoulder as an author put pen to paper. But today, with laptops and powerful high-resolution projectors there are no longer any barriers, bar prejudice and narrowness of imagination, to bringing the act of writing before a mass audience. Why, I thought, could I not be seated in some theatre, amongst ranks of like-minded enthusiasts, watching with avid appreciation as one of our favourite works is typed onto a huge screen….
Before even the end of the folk concert I had sketched out in my mind an entire paradigm for ‘live’ literature. Broadly, performances could fall into one of four schools, thus:
The Replicative School. Here the performer would type verbatim some established work of literature. To avoid simple errors of memory the performer could play from a ‘score’, a copy of the original work suitably marked-up to denote points at which the pace of the typing should be increased or reduced in sympathy with the sense of the words being produced. The description of a battle, for example, might be typed in staccato bursts, while a moment of maximum suspense in a thriller might be haltingly reproduced step by step.
The Impressionist. Here the performer would type variants on the work to convey its essence without perhaps slavishly mimicking its every detail.
The Elevational. Here the performer would take a typical trashy best-seller and reproduce its plot but with all traces of cliché, pleonasm, etc expunged, rendering it a still popular reproduction but one less offensive to the sensibilities of the concert-going aesthete.
The Improvisational. This would be the elite realm of only the most brilliant and gifted of writers, those of perfect technique and infinite creativity, writers who could be expected to type, from scratch, an entire evening’s reading matter to challenge, entertain and astound the most demanding of literary audiences. Doubters seeking proof that such an act of spontaneous literary creation is possible are directed to the forgoing text.