Monday, 3 December 2012

The Myth of the Author (7 Psychopaths)

In his later novels, William Burroughs posits the theory that, for a writer, immortality exists within their words. In the meantime, French philosophers were arguing that the writer died when the text was complete, the author died. Contemporary writers seems to be siding with Burroughs by explicitly including themselves in their art.

If Kate Bane shoved author Ella Hickson into her own play, Kieran Hurley retold his protest story in Hitch. The clue's in the title for Rob Drummond's Wrestling, and Seven Psychopaths, when it isn't busy making post-modern references to its subversion of structure, is based around a struggling screen-writer, Marty. He shares a name and nationality with author, co-producer and writer .

McDonagh was originally one of the neo-brutalist playwrights, alongside Saint Sarah Kane, who betrayed his ambitions to be the next Tarantino even in his tales of small-town rural life. But while his talent for the taut character study, and his awareness of theatrical history once shone, Seven Psychopaths is another clever attempt to have the violence and disavow it. There's plenty of blood splattered across walls and sharp banter: McDonagh then spends time pointing out how predictable and cliched this is.

Given that the plot revolves around Marty's attempt to write a screenplay, and that Marty's best pal seems to have sacrificed his humanity for a knowledge of genre conventions, Seven Psychopaths is a lazy script that coasts on the performances of Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken. Even the moments of self-aware critique are smug, an exercise in self-justification. 

If McDonagh is that conscious of his own weaknesses, such as when Walken accuses him of not being able to write a female character, he might have thought twice about whether eroticising female death can ever be ironic before having Marty's girlfriend shot to death in a revealing wet t-shirt.

For all the weakness of Kate Bane - the references to the writer's lovely life weakened her dissection of family conflict - it had, at least, well-written set of characters: Hurley and Drummond were essential to their shows. McDonagh is self-indulgent, bemoaning the writer's lot, giving the writer the appearance of being one step away from a gangster hard-man and even inserting references to his being the best voice of his generation. 

The battle for identity is one of the most exciting areas of post-modern thought, and the identity of the author is a fascinating tangle: in Seven Psychopaths McDonagh uses meta, ironic self-awareness and moral ambiguity to show off his intelligence. 


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