Jeremy Peyton Jones

Against Oblivion is the first part of an ongoing series of music/theatre works about the importance of memory and the legacy of the dead.


Using texts concerning the history of the 20th Century, its conflicts and its migrations the piece focuses on our increasing reliance on forgetfulness to engender oblivion as a mechanism for psychological defence in an age of atrocity and brutality. The history of the 20th Century is characterised by the constant repetition and recurrence of such brutality and atrocity. Each time, from the carnage of its many wars, the repression of its brutal dictatorships to the genocide perpetrated by the Third Reich or Rwanda, or the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia, and the misery of famine and dispossession, the cry goes up ‘never again’ and ‘we shall not forget’ but it seems that, despite the increasing number of anniversary memorials and acts of remembrance, forgetting is a mechanism we all use in order to proceed with our daily lives.

The impetus for the idea came from two sources, one a review by Timothy Harris of a photographic exhibition and book ‘In the South Bronx of America’ by Mel Rosenthal in which he states:

 ‘In an age of atrocity, a literature of witness must assert itself against forgetting. Modernity is in part a "reliance upon oblivion," one that depends upon wilful isolation and forgetfulness. The monstrous is normalized and our forgetfulness becomes a defense against remembering.’

and the other a news feature on the founder of Amnesty International Peter Benenson who at celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Amnesty, lit a candle at St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London saying

"I have lit this candle , in the words of Shakespeare, 'against oblivion' - so that the forgotten prisoners should always be remembered. We work in Amnesty against oblivion."

Using a variety of texts from the literature of the 20th century, not only about the events themselves but about the whole subject of memorial and what it is to remember, the piece explores the reasons for our propensity to forget through writings about the events and people from the past whether they are major and world shattering or minor and everyday. Extracts of texts such as Ida Fink’s The Tenth Man concerning Polish Jews returning to their villages and towns after the war, writings by Primo Levi’, and accounts of those who have survived atrocities in Rwanda, along with polemical writing such as Edward Said on the dispossession of the Palestinians, or Rosenthal’s passionate portrait of a dispossessed community in the South Bronx. The piece is not an attempt to chronicle the history of 20th century cataclysms, nor specifically to investigate political causes but to throw some light on the psychology which enables them to continue.

A Regular Music II production


Conceived and composed by Jeremy Peyton Jones
Directed by Emma Bernard
Lighting design by Anna Watson
Sound design by Jeremy Cox
Assistant sound engineer Asier Leatxe



First performances

Toynbee Studios Theatre, London

29/30 March 2007


Performers
Rebecca Askew
Jane Chapman
Calina de la Mare
Glyn Hill
Stephen Large
Kelly McCusker
Melanie Pappenheim
Ashley Slater

Against Oblivion, Part 1