day 2 & 3 at the soap face: rjf project

they insisted on knowing the story of the voices. They wanted her to name, embody and describe them in ways they could understand, with recognisable … imagery and emotions, in a conventional narrative that would be susceptible to conventional disproof. … It seems that for her the voices had no story.

And one day when the judges were pressing her to define the voices as singular or plural, she most wonderfully said:

The light comes in the name of the voice.

He wants to defeat narrative wherever it seeks to arise, which is pretty much everywhere since humans are creatures who crave a story. There is a tendency for story to slip into the space between any two figures or any two marks on a canvas. [Francis] Bacon uses colour to silence this tendency. He pulls colour right up the edges of his figures – a colour so hard, flat, bright, motionless, it is impossible to enter into it or wonder about it. There is a desolation of curiosity in it.

Sometimes he puts a white arrow on top of the colour to speed your eye and denounce storytelling even more. To look at this arrow is to feel an extinguishing of narrative.

a catastrophising of communication.

Bacon has another term for this catastrophising: he calls it “destroying clarity with clarity.”

Bacon says we live through screens. What are these screens? They are part of our normal way of looking at the world, or rather our normal way of seeing the world without looking at it, for Bacon’s claim is that a real seer who looked at the world would notice it to be fairly violent – not violent as narrative surface but somehow violently composed underneath the surface…

the silence that followed Joan of Arc’s response to her judges when they asked her, “In what language do your voices speak to you?” and she answered:

Better language than yours.

To sum up. Honestly, I am not very good at summing up. The best I can do is offer a final splatter. I was trained to strive for exactness and to believe that rigorous knowledge of the world without any residue is possible for us. This residue, which does not exist – just to think of it refreshes me. To think of its position, how it shares its position with drenched layers of nothing, to think of its motion, how it can never stop moving because I am in motion with it, to think of its tone of voice, which is casual (in fact it forgets my existence almost immediately) but every so often betrays a sort of raw pity I don’t understand, to think of its shadow, which is cast by nothing and so has no death in it (or very little) …

– Anne Carson, “Variations on the right to remain silent,” (talk on March 11th 2005 White House Guerlac Room Cornell University)

As well as being less aggressive and more cooperative, immature apes have other qualities … There is good evidence, for example, that younger apes make the best communicators. An experiment that tested the likelihood and ability of different chimpanzees to inform others of where food had been hidden in a large enclosure concluded that ‘the most dramatic and humanoid-looking signals were made by the most infantile and least efficient of leaders, and they decreased markedly as the animals gained experience at leading other chimpanzees.’ But, of course, one of the most noticeable qualities of immature animals, and especially primates, is their inquisitiveness and playful nature.

– Clive Bromhall (The Eternal Child: How evolution made children of us all, Random House, London, 2004, p. 64)

Entering without plan, on the second day, to resume working at the surface in order to soften it somewhat and in the hope of clawing from its immaterial surfactancy at least a few material coordinates for the direction of … what? a progress(ion)? … the work, Jeff, Paul and I cleared the forms and tables – as if this were a positive act – and seated ourselves at a round table on the edge of the space, where we tried to get our hands around “on the square: ninth rendering” (see page, under RJF project). This particular piece was chosen to discuss because of its clear dramatic and imagistic line, for its setting. Even here, however, there is an ambiguity. The piece moves from Francis Bacon’s studio at 7 Reece Mews, as photographed by Perry Ogden, in Bacon’s friend, John Edwards’s reminiscence, to the ‘square’ of the title, a human stockyard, where the ‘friend’ becomes one of a group of spectators to the stumbling passage of the Bacon character across it. He could in fact be heading for the showers under the eyes of the Camp guard. He is at any rate bound for a conclusion, whereat his body will be ‘thrown in the gutter.’ Bacon’s progress is at once that of the Passion, in this piece, and that via a masochistic sexual fantasy, in which Christ-Bacon indulges – being, as the historic Francis Bacon determined to be, extraordinary.

The problem is how heavy these things get outside of dramatic dialogue, outside of conversation. It’s not simply about interpreting a text that goes into the inevitable abysm. Conversation might be said to be the opposite of a speech that takes with it, that holds within it, either gaping and ignored or hidden like a trap, the residue of nothing Anne Carson writes about. You hope, as she says in her reluctant summation, it will refresh and refresh others too, with whom one shares its implications and plumbs its surface-effects of depth. But with the pragmatics of making drama from it, the opposite of making conversation threatens even when, especially when, its complexity is acknowledged as all surface. The ‘conversational style’ in dominating dramatic writing habituates its translators to a another order of relation to the word. Interpretation occurs by addition. Whereas with the classic texts of the theatre, omission, the bounded history, the surface-tense rule of limiting interpretation, and also discussion, removes the risk of descending endlessly through the substrata of the text. Rather, it encounters the risk and allows just enough, the sufficiency in keeping with the recognition of the greatness of the classic text. The ease of an after-dinner conversation contrasts with the difficulty of the hunger-artist’s soliloquy. The latter for its intimacy makes it a problem of an inhuman intimacy or an intimacy of animal intensity, lebendig, which is how Anne Carson pegs Hoelderlin’s standard for poetry in the talk quoted above. The passional speech is not dramatic. Or it is overly dramatic – it puts the course of theatre back at least a hundred years.

Francis Bacon said, I think in the celebrated interviews with David Sylvester, we require a shorthand for emotion – for getting things across up on to the nervous system. This shorthand will not anyway be conversational. But it will not either be cliche, the cliches of a Bernhardt in Russia, the gestural shorthand that had dominated theatre, to which the notion of the ‘dramatic’ is latterly a shorthand, encompassing the idea of an unnatural excess, an exaggerated and externalised, exaggerated for being externalised, dramatic language of symbolic poses and ‘muggings,’ facial contortions, physical deformations from a nature only afterwards discovered; like the discovery of single-point perspective’s ‘natural’ representation of the extent of a physical space. Francis Bacon is remarkable for putting the course of painting back in a way that many, like Picasso’s reversion – among others and amongst diverse other things – to ‘primitive’ models, assayed but never achieved. For theatre there is the model of Howard Barker’s Wrestling School. But the important point is that the ‘wrestling’ has to begin – and if need be make its great leap back – again every time the angel is encountered.

Day two we spent in the disembodied state in which one is never sure if anything at all for all the careless talk is being put and got across up on to the nervous system. We found a depth without extension… into theatre.

Day three Erica, Tallulah, Jeff and I did the opposite. We moved. Without charging the air. Without a lot of talk, we mapped the text of the same piece, “on the square: ninth rendering,” onto the improvised stations of a dance, from the dance, onto the dramatic externalisations of the action, the drama. Without depth. Interesting where nothing matters – as that great movie Deathwatch says or, “everything is of interest but nothing matters.” No, the play is not the thing. Except where its orbit is damaged, the first gravity deformed by another centre into the ellipse… Christ’s returning to the not-himself of the divine at once outside him but within his orbit (or how He is constellated?) – which is how Slavoj Zizek has it but says it better.

And I must say this is how I’ve found things in the past: what everybody in the company can recognise as a play because it fulfils certain minimal requirements is easily surpassed as the company finds its own centre, assembles it, to each their own, outside of that in the script, which is only its pretext. Now the first gravity wants and the second forms. And I’ve never been entirely happy with the resultant closure of the company onto itself and of the work, text-work, script seemingly left unquestioned enclosed within its own presuppositions. Is this really realisation? Tautology intended. Here at the Soap Face of the current work I need to find a way of making it matter to the actors beyond their technique, to have the discipline of freedom, the necessity of chance.

The exercise we followed through with on day three – that led me to believe there is a way through – was The Burrow, Herbert Blau’s take on the story by Franz Kafka, reconstituted for our purposes from the evidence in Take up the Bodies.