Sunday, November 29, 2009


This afternoon I went to see the SpeakEasy Stage production of "Reckless." The Emmanuel Center had it's "talk back" at this Sunday's matinee. These are very worth attending and I give a link to the Emmanuel Center web site and suggest that you participate. The production was very good and very imaginative. I am all amaze at what they can do in that small theatre; the quality of the sets and the performances; but I am not a theater critic and so won't attempt a review. What I want to do is to share some thoughts on the themes of the play. Actually I'm "Talking Back" to the "Talk Back" with benefit of time and access to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The O.E.D. becomes a factor here because one of the things I started to puzzle about was the word that forms the title. This is one of those very interesting words that is used very generally and frequently, the meaning of which is fairly well understood, we assume, but whose meaning is really understood when examined with a kind of peripheral vision. When we look directly at it it starts to get sort of fuzzy. What does it really mean. And why is there no "W?"

Clearly the "Less" is a suffix, lets remove it, we have "reck." Reck; wreck; wreak; I deal only with verbs here, and my mind starts playing all sorts of games of association. She wreaked a wreck-full recklessness. That's what happens in the play, by the way. Wreck comes from the latin wrecare and means "to cast on shore": "a1440 Sir Eglam. 894 He say that lady whyte as flowre, Was wrekyd on the sonde."

Wreak: to drive, press, force to move, from Old English, also to banish or expel, as the characters tried to do to the past, whether their passive or their active past. I said that I was dealing only with the verbs, but the noun wreak is so interesting I can't pass it by "1. Pain or punishment inflicted in return for an injury, wrong, offence, etc.; hurt or harm done from vindictive motives; vengeance, revenge.
In frequent use from c 1540 to c 1620." By the way wreckful means, not full of wrecks but full of vengeance!

But it is "Reckless" that is the main concern here, less the less: what is Reck?

I make an aside to tell you, in case you aren't aware, that you can access the OED online with your Boston Public Library card. Log into your account, go to electronic resources and select the oxford English Dictionary Online. you will need to put your library card number in the log-in box, which is easy if you copied it onto your clip board when you logged in to the BPL, you now simply paste it. I assume many libraries and academic institutions offer this access.

The etymology of "Reck" is very long and interesting, at least to me. The meaning, in each variant is short and clear, but they are preceded with this:

From its earliest appearance in English, the verb is almost exclusively employed in negative or interrogative clauses. In the former the simple negative may be replaced by nought, nothing, little, not much, etc.; in the latter, the pronoun what is most usual. Now chiefly arch. and literary.
1.a To take care or thought for or notice of something, along with inclination, desire, or favour towards it, interest in it, etc.; to think (much, etc.) of.
b. To take notice of or be concerned about something, so as to be alarmed or troubled by it, or so as to modify one's behaviour or purposes on account of it.

Now add back the "Less," and we have "without the concern about something, so as to be alarmed or troubled by it, or so as to modify one's behavior or purposes on account of it," exactly what has been driving, wreaking, the action in the play.

But there is one more thing to say- that this lack of "recking"- oddly reconing is a different root so won't do here- this driving on reckless is one thing when it is Lloyd, who was the perpetrator of the actions that wreak him and make his past a nightmare that he wakes up too; whereas Rachel was a victim and what appears to be the equivalent to Lloyds, or Pooty's, impulse is actually a very stark and quite accurate representation of a very severe post traumatic stress disorder.

The children were mentioned in the "Talk Back" session- they are a troubling factor- why did she run from them, why were they abandoned? I think that the comic aspects of the show, and in particular the comic portrayal of Rachel's character, tended to trivialize the enormity of the emotional shock she experienced. It is one thing to be left unexpectedly by one's mate, it is another thing to have a ones murder attempted, but the mate being the murderer is a thing so devastating that we can't credit it, we take it as absurd and trivialize it and proceed to equate Rachel's running away with Lloyd's abandonment of his family. This distinction was inadequately made in the play and the result was a real confusion of reality and dream.

It can come sometimes that reality and dream can be confused, but the confusion is a first person confusion. When was Rachel dreaming? Ever? Never? The incident with Lloyd and Pooty, or Lloyd's drinking and death? Or was her brake down a dream, or her recovery and final meeting with her son? Was the doctor really the bus driver- "The bus driver" or just a bus driver?

Life can be like that, I'm here to tell you. "A Serious Man" is like that. But Job isn't. Job wasn't dreaming, he knew and he persevered. He retained his integrity. We, the audience, the third person, are observers, and while there is some benefit to experiencing the confusion of the protagonist it is also inevitable that we will make judgments. If we are not allowed to see beyond the dream then we become like Job's comforters, who lack understanding and whose opinions are worthless. I don't like being put in that position.


Carolyn Roosevelt said...

I have the advantage of having grown up among people who still say 'reckon', so the etymology seems a little clearer to me.
Happy New Year to you.

the man from Utz said...

What's really interesting is that reckon, to add up or deduce, or retell, is derived from a different root, from a cognate with frisian, middle dutch and old high german. The similarity must be the result of all these being Indo-european, but reck and reckon are not as close as I would have assumed. This little exploration threw a new light on the phrase "To reck his rod" in the sense of fearing the justice of God, also.

Thanks for your comment.