Media Diet: Richard Foreman

One avant-garde playwright has no interest in Bertolt Brecht


| March-April 1996



Described as a “practicing metaphysician in the experimental theater,” six-time Obie winner and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Richard Foreman is widely considered one of the foremost avant-garde playwrights in the world today. Since founding the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in 1968, Foreman has written, designed, and directed some thirty humorous explorations of the mind’s slippery territories—including Eddie Goes to Poetry City, The Mind King, and I’ve Got the Shakes—which have been presented in the United States and throughout Europe. We asked him about his media diet.

What magazines do you read? 

Everything, depending on the articles, but mostly I read art magazines and literary journals like Art in America, Flash Art, which I like because it features a lot of European artists whose work you might not otherwise see, and Artforum, Sulfur, Telos, and October. Although I’d like to read Wired and Mondo 2000, I hate having to peer through their overprinted graphics, and I only read newsmagazines at the doctor’s office.

What books are you enjoying now? 

I’m particularly fond of Heimito von Doderer, an Austrian writer who died in 1966. People are always surprised about that, because his style is so “old fashioned,” which is not at all what I’m doing in art, but I think Doderer’s huge, sweeping novels about Viennese society—like The Demons and Every Man a Murderer—are totally fascinating, seductive, and revelatory; in fact, I think he’s the greatest novelist of the 20th century. Doderer’s theory was that everyone is trapped in their own “second reality,” their own self-enclosed world, and there’s an interesting parallel between that and what thinkers like Sherry Turkle, whose book Life on the Screen I’ve been reading, are starting to say about people’s relationships to their computers, and how identity is being constructed in the online world. In some of the dialogue Turkle reprints, where someone is dealing with a virtual psychiatrist program, you get a kind of back-and-forth in which the program’s answers sort of miss the point but are extra stimulating for that reason, which sounds like dialogue from my plays.

What TV programs do you watch?