NOTE: This is part 2 of a 3-part interview, read part 1 here.
I had a chance to discuss this game-changing stage spectacle with both Christopher and Robert across the last week of June 2015.
GE: Christopher, what prompted you to write the novel, Somnivm Devs: The Satanic Dream?
CSD: I could probably write yet a whole other book on this question. The God I loved so much in my younger years let me down. And not only me -- He let down the whole world: poverty, war, filth, hunger, crime, corruption, genocide, destruction, death, suffering, torture--over five thousand genetic diseases at birth, and thousands of opposing religions and gods--these subjects are only a few I wanted to ask God about, if He were near. And so, one day it happened. He appeared in my book and justified His Being...asleep.
GE: You're referring to the cover art.
CSD: Yes. I asked a great artist, good friend of mine by the name of Rodan, to expose a "Sleeping God" on canvas. Ironically, Rodan immortalized God, if you will. His painting is on my book cover to suggest a story that continues in its awakening.
GE: What are some of your influences?
CSD: It's still hard to believe but I once had a promising handshake from author Christopher Hitchens during our, say, three-minute or so conversation in Georgetown, Washington D.C. back in the late '90s. When Hitchens learned about my novel, he had even offered to write the Introduction--if he liked it, once it was finished. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the book fast enough.... and now, Hitchens is part of the story.
GE: What's your background, Christopher?
CSD: I will tell you what you cannot mention about me since I am a modest fellow. I am: a novelist, a poet, a screenwriter, an essayist, a playwright, a musician, a composer, a film producer, a film director, a stage director, a philosopher, a visionary, a painter, a law expert, a philanthropist, a columnist, a journalist, a good-hearted businessman, an exaggerator--and other understatements. Make mention of what I don't like to be said of me, so everyone will know.
GE: Like Robert and myself, you are a philosopher. What role does philosophy play in both the novel and the adaptation?
CSD: I like to question everything...and "accept nothing," as Galileo would add in the footprint of Euripides, who wrote, "Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing." The so popular Epicurean paradox or "the riddle Epicurus," otherwise known as the "trilemma argument," had done just that for me: have me question the character of God,
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?"
GE: It seems as though your work is an attempt to bring to life what for many are still abstractions or invisible forces in the world.
CSD: One may argue that if God transcends our intellectual capabilities, we cannot understand God; He is unintelligible; and what is unintelligible cannot be talked about. Talking about God would be pure speculation. It follows that the God about whom we are speculating is a mere theory, a supposition, an assumption. But, we can talk about the God of the Book all we want. We can preach about the man-made deity who spoke only to a selected few. Once in that realm of boldness, how can I ignore the spot-on verse translated from Omar Khayyam by Le Gallienne? This alone would have you think twice when you'll see a missionary at your doorstep the next time around, belting the "Good Book." One may want to memorize it,
"And do you think that unto such as you
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew
God gave a secret, and denied it me?
Well, well--what matters it? Believe that, too!"
GE: How would you describe your relationship with God, Robert?
RCB: Oh boy. (laughing) It's incredibly complicated, but grounded in a very early love of nature and music. I think God is found in those moments where you are knocked off your feet by human generosity and cruelty, sometimes as expressed by the very same person. A parent, a friend, a stranger. When my father died, for example, I wasn't angry at God. I was thankful for His ability to mobilize my family (Catholic and Christians) and keep me alive. I loved Jesus, Mary, Pope John Paul II, my parish priest, and the Youth Group that was focused on serving the least among us. There is no way I would've survived 1984-85 without Christ. Fictional. Real. It just didn't matter to me then. Same for right now.
GE: Christopher--what is your relationship with God?
CSD: Before answering this question we must define God. If you refer to the God of Spinoza, I resonate with the Universe for I am part of it just as you are. If God is Nature, my relationship with Nature is no different than that of a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Atheist, or a newborn. I see no difference between myself and another being, so long we do not mention which "book" was given to us to compare our dogmas and kill each other over it. If I were to think about the "God of the Book," it would mean I'd enter a minefield: Religion. I was there once (once is more than enough) and happily got out before losing my self-respect. "Religion is an attempt to find an out where there is no door," claimed Einstein. "Men create gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form, but with regard to their mode of life," said Aristotle. How can one argue with those two? Two of the thousands of other thinkers, just as profound. Can one mention God today without looking down upon all other religions?
RCB: To be perfectly honest, I don't know the answer; I actually don't care anymore. Like Nietzsche, I believe there was only one Christian, and it was Jesus. And he died. Like my father. He died, too. The memory of both the Jesus I walked with and the father who no longer plays golf with me combine in the work I feel called to do.
GE: Let's pick up with the question of religious influences and your relationships with God. Robert had mentioned his father . . .
CSD: Mine was Christian Greek-Orthodox. My own relationship with the God of the Bible was hypnotic, then lackadaisical, and finally repugnant once I had read the Bible from cover to cover (because you reach God through your scriptures.) Well, it is a test in endurance to resist reading the Bible in its entirety. Imagine learning the whole thing word by word just as Muslims are learning the Qur'an and recite it even backwards, by the age of seven; or face the whip. Now, that's what I call fervor, devotion, fanaticism, relationship with an imaginary Being, no matter how delusional and dangerous it is.
RCB: I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic college, struggled with the faith especially during the '90s when the Vatican was working overtime to convince the world it was not harboring pedophiles. In my thirties, I just wanted to develop my own relationship with God. Try it again. But time and again, the same voice inside said: you have seen Oz himself, you've lifted Schopenhauer's veil of Maya, you've seen the truth that human beings, out of fear of their own capacity to do great good or evil, created at best a paternal sociopath, but more than likely an idea that is pure psychopathy. So, I moved on, even though I have retained my theological foundation and continue to ask deeply religious questions in everything I do.
CSD: If your question refers to the "God of the Book"--any book--count me out. If there were a real deity out there, religions would not exist. People would communicate directly with that deity, not through "brokers." "Religions are like fireflies, they require darkness in order to shine," said Schopenhauer. Disraeli cracks it open: "Where knowledge ends, religion begins." So, as for my relationship with God? It is implied that "power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. God is All-Powerful." Yet, the apologetics always seems to find an exit by twisting any logical vector, not realizing that the word "apologetic" is intrinsically self-impeaching; self-condemning. My relationship with Nature is Love. If God is Nature, you have my answer. So, we have to define God.
GE: Are you worried about the, let's say, extreme reactions to THE TRIAL?
RCB: No. I worry more about social media and fringe news media as well as bottom-feeder entertainment operations deliberately lying about the content and intent of a show like THE TRIAL.
GE: Why do you think now is the best time for THE TRIAL adaptation?
CSD: Sapere aude. Dare to be wise, or have the courage to know. Robert uses it all the time. I think that people, after reading the book, and especially after seeing the play, will say, what took you so long? Look! Religious wars have begun. Technology advances faster than civilization. Sophisticated weaponry, in the hands of the unrefined (primitive people you may say,) is fatal to progress, especially when used in the name of God. When the devout believe that God tells them to commit killings, they do it without compunction, suspending judgment, and arresting ethics, trashing feelings, avoiding conscience. THE TRIAL strives to unite all people, regardless of their conviction, to embrace reason and remove speculation. It condemns WAR and promotes PEACE and the love for NATURE and the Universe. At a time when religious debates fill the venues with people willing to find out the truth about "EXISTENCE" and the meaning of LIFE, Robert Craig Baum and I offer THE TRIAL, inviting audiences to act as Grand Jury, while attributing to humankind the Conscience of God.
GE: It seems the time is right, both in terms of the work itself and the audience you want to experience the spectacle.
RCB: It's absolutely the right time. When I first met Chris in 2012, I knew he was up to something gigantic, but I wasn't sure even where to begin. This time around, December 2014 or so, I could hear it, not just Christopher's voice but the sounds of the universe he witnesses and deconstructs across one of the most complicated and entertaining novels written this side of the millennium divide. Like my work on the ThoughtRave project with Lady Gaga and many of the forthcoming N1 Productions, SOMNIVM DEVS: The Satanic Dream triggered the aural registers. I found myself unable to stop thinking about the questions asked and religious, political, and very personal philosophical problems explored while reading the novel three, four, five times. Christopher's work inspired me to dream out loud, combine influences from across theater history and draw on my four-plus decades wandering the third mall from the sun (with a nod Bill Hicks).
GE: So. I arrive at the theatre or arena. Take me through the walk-up, the entrance, and the first moment I step into THE TRIAL.
RCB: Disney's "Space Mountain" is the model. Transitioning from one world into another world. The "horizon of expectations" (walk up), first encounters with posters, sounds, live historical enactments, side shows, all of it will lead the audience into a space that combines the Hayden Planetarium in New York's Museum of Natural History with a sports arena/political convention, the media circus taken to its most logical and spectacular conclusion. We will literally create, end, and recreate the universe as well as the history of life across the running time of this show. To think
Part 3: The final section of this amazing collaboration between Robert Craig Baum & Christopher S. Douglas....to be continue!
SOMNIVM DEVS: The Satanic Dream and ITSELF are both available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Bookstore
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