June 2007

the meniscalist

A cotton shirt, ironed smooth, should lead the eye down to good tweed trousers, just as a crafted and cut sentence blends into a second thought as it finishes with the material of the first.

– Gerard Donovan, Schopenhauer’s Telescope, Simon and Schuster, London, p. 12


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excerpts from a slim volume which ends with Beckett rather than with Brecht and points to a practice that in the silence can’t go on but does

At its most fundamental, authentic belief does not concern facts, but gives expression to an unconditional ethical commitment.

– Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan, p. 117

the paradox of surplus-enjoyment at its purest: the more the object is veiled, the more intensely disturbing is the minimal trace of its remainder.

– Slavoj Zizek, ibid., p. 103

The lamella is an entity of pure surface, without the density of a substance, an infinitely plastic object that can incessantly change its form, and even transpose itself from one medium to another … A lamella is indivisible, indestructible, and immortal – more precisely, undead in the sense this term has in horror fiction: not the sublime immortality of the spirit, but the obscene immortality of the ‘living dead’ which, after every annihilation, reconstitute themselves and shamble on. As Lacan puts it, the lamella does not exist, it insists … bear in mind that ‘death drive’ is, paradoxically, the Freudian name for its very opposite, for the way immortality appears within psychoanalysis: for the uncanny excess of life … Freud equates the death drive with the socalled ‘compulsion-to-repeat’ …

– Slavoj Zizek, ibid., p. 63

In contemporary art, we often encounter brutal attempts to ‘return to the real,’ to remind the spectator (or reader) that he is perceiving a fiction, to awaken him from the sweet dream. This gesture has two main forms that, although opposed, amount to the same effect. In literature or cinema, there are (especially in postmodern texts) self-reflexive reminders that what we are watching is a mere fiction, as when the actors on screen address us directly as spectators, thus ruining the illusion of the autonomous space of narrative fiction, or the writer directly intervenes in the narrative through ironic comments. In theatre, there are occasional brutal events that awaken us to the reality of the stage … Instead of conferring on these gestures a kind of Brechtian dignity, perceiving them as versions of alienation, one should rather denounce them for what they are: the exact opposite of what they claim to be – escapes from the Real, desperate attempts to avoid the real of the illusion itself, the Real that emerges in the guise of an illusory spectacle.

– Slavoj Zizek, ibid., p. 59

the disavowed beliefs and suppositions we are not even aware of adhering to ourselves, but which nonetheless determine our acts and feelings.

This is also one of the ways to specify the meaning of Lacan’s claim that the subject is always ‘decentred.’ His point is not that my subjective experience is regulated by objective unconscious mechanisms that are decentred with regard to my self-experience and, as such, beyond my control (a point asserted by every materialist), but, rather, something much more unsettling: I am deprived of even my most intimate subjective experience, the way things ‘really seem to me,’ deprived of the fundamental fantasy that constitutes and guarantees the core of my being, since I can never consciously experience it and assume it.

– Slavoj Zizek, ibid. p. 53


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some days at the Soap Factory there are no interventions that so offer the possibility of summing the whole thing up

Mexican soap operas are shot at so frantic a pace (every single day a 25-minute episode) that the actors do not even get the script so as to learn their lines in advance; they wear tiny receivers in their ears that tell them what to do, and they learn to act out what they hear (‘Now slap him and tell him you hate him! Then embrace him! …’). This procedure provides us with an image of what, according to the common perception, Lacan means by ‘the big Other.’

– Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan, Granta Books, London, 2006, p. 8

One does something, one counts oneself as (declares oneself) the one who did it, and, on the base of this declaration, one does something new – the proper moment of subjective transformation occurs at the moment of declaration, not at the moment of the act.

– Slavoj Zizek, How to Read Lacan, p. 16

Some satisfaction. And a tenuous hope – rather tenuous than attenuated – that the RJF Project will continue, both in order to clarify itself as an approach to staging these texts (see pages) and as the artistic practice of an interested group. The primary obstacle, at this point, is the constitution of the (and a) group. In particular, we have lost one member – through her own care for her own projects -, Tallulah, gained another, Erika – an actress with a fine mezzo-soprano voice – (having both of them in the group would have made the balance of skills and gender), have not replaced Tallulah, a dancer, for whom a space was opened up and roles created, and continue to have to accommodate and work around the absences of performers at rehearsals as and when they find paid work.

Despite an overarching commitment on the part of the performers, these shortterm absences are simply the burden and bane of an amateur group with pretensions to being professional, to which we could conceivably add the evil of applying for public funding. No doubt an injection of money would be a balm but it would be an added evil, from that source, at this point, because there would necessarily be some deception involved in making the application, at least in making an application that had any chance of success, betraying both the amateur attitude of those who want to do it, make theatre, for its own sake, for love of craft and the professional approach to play as being of the utmost consequence. In other words, the professional undercuts the amateur by removing the injunction to enjoy! While the amateur overrides the professional, saying if it’s not simply to be enjoyable then one should at least get paid!

I declared from the outset a certain informality about rehearsals, namely that paid work had to take priority over what we’re doing – a practical expedient. Now the practical result is that one to two members of what is already a very small group are called away – to support themselves! – from what is already a very light rehearsal commitment, two days a week, four hours a day. (Here, clearly, declaring it to be so does not effect the desired subjective transformation!) As for informality, although built into the work and the cause of some satisfaction, it’s difficult to carry another performer across the room informally or to be carried across the room, in your carrier’s absence, at all.

In addition, there is the problem of casting, not of performers of disparate skills and levels of skill but of performers from different disciplines, which brings us back to the consitution of the group. An actor can’t take the part of another performer, whose role has been devised around the fact that he or she has worked for years to acquire a discipline apart from acting, without changing the shape of the work, the forces it requires, from the group, to be realised or spending years in additional training.

This would seem obvious and it would seem, if the work requires a dancer, for example, but a dancer can’t be found, that the obvious answer would be to change the shape of the work. However, aside from the argument that the needs of the work come first, which is true only for some types of work, it has been surprising to see how quickly, after an initial casting around for available disciplinary resources – if I may for a moment reduce performers to productive ‘resources’ – that is, it has been surprising to see with what ‘extra-rapidity’ the found materials – if I may make a further reduction – become the givens. And being givens, they take on the concreteness, the factuality and solidity characteristic of what is minimally required in order to produce the desired ‘work.’ (Are they not in this, as in other respects, homologous with what Slavoj Zizek calls the truth of the lie itself, after Jacques Lacan’s notion of the symptomatic deception in appearance, appearance that deceives by appearing in place of what is dissembled?)

What satisfaction has been derived from the work-in(-damaged)-process has come from seeing two projected aspects of performance experimentally confirmed in their effectiveness: half-mime or gestural objects and the unacted or unacting. (For ‘half-mime’ see page, “from the notebooks for the RJF project.”) Not acting, as in what is enjoined upon, especially, inexperienced screen actors, “Don’t act! BE!” denies what it seeks to affirm, without quite getting at the lie that tells the truth, which is at the core of all acting. Deception, again, the phallus is razed from its symbolic raising against the imaginary backdrop, reminding us of the proximity between psychoanalysis and theatre. Or as Gilles Deleuze puts it, nonsense is opposed to the absence of sense; so is the unacted opposed to the absence of the enacted.

What is there? What is there there?

For our purposes, in the group, at the soap face, another modality of performance, with, alongside, acting. To sketch it: what we are dealing with is nevertheless not literal and definitely not abstract. The movements and gestures of the actor conform to the truth of the scene and of the sequence in which it occurs without illustrating or making narrative sense. But he or she is still acting, still performing. At least something is enacted, of which the sense confronts the viewer at the level of action and speech. The two, however, do not quite or always coincide. Enter the superfluous object.

By this object, in the form of a task, the actor becomes his or her own supernumerary, with two qualifications: the task cannot be completed – although able to be completed, it’s also in its nature as superfluous to flow out of and overflow the action and/or speech; the actor has his or her self as supernumerary, in the sense that a supernumerary is preindividual and therefore both no one’s and any performer’s, or any performer will have the same differently.

Unacting, then, is excessive and neither purer nor more impure but an accessible modality of performance usually kept erased in case it harm the symbolic narrative. It may be thought of as corresponding to an uninflected, unstressed flow of feminised speech, the return of the particularly feminine mimicry the actor has already in his arsenal, at least as the box in which those tricks of hers come.


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