July 2007

day 13 @ sf/surface/soapface

When is a pulse a rhythm? And a rhythm a pulse? Where is the stage a square, a yard, a stockyard, a human stockyard and the stockyard a painting?

Paul called me up on the metophoricity of these concrete generalities, where everything consorts and difference cannot obtain. The point is simple: If, in the piece entitled “on the square” (page opposite), the “friend” is following, where is he? for the actor? It’s a given that we avoid illustration, after the example of Francis Bacon, so is the pursuing “friend” an immanence? to stage right or stage left? above or below?

Is he located along the plane of the fourth wall, in the actor’s sightless gaze out at the audience? Where is the focus for the action?

In fact, is it all the same? Can the actor perform the general universalism of a point of focus? (that is, a point of focus from a distinctly embodied (in the actor) point of view?)

Make the stage the painting, the painting the yard, the yard the space to be crossed before taking a forced shower, under the watchful eyes of our “friends,” who wear their distinctive armbands, and what have we? The same of the same? Or a progress by surface transformations? Or the schizoid connection of every point with every point, of simulacra? Everything is everything at the same time. What good is this lack of particularity to the performer who is asked to cross the stage?

I’ve often had to think about this problem when presenting work I’ve written for the stage and have never arrived at a satisfactory answer. Of course, the friend is Judas as well as Nazi, object of desire as well as monstrous other. The stage is gallows for being platform, test-bed for presenting irreversible but replicable events, stockyard for being empty – except for this solitary figure passing over it with his shadow and his big straw hat and his eisel, Van Gogh.

Samuel Beckett’s specificity in his requirements for staging his plays, his concrete particularisations of urns, mounds of earth, rubbish-bins, rooms which are not skulls but are skull-like, having windows up there upstage, bear additional consideration in light of the impossibility of the generalising abstraction of “the stage is a stage and therefore all places”… The stage is never what it is when it is a stage. That’s just how it works. The stage is reducible to itself in the first place because it is never what it is. Just as the world is reducible to an image because it is not, after all, an image. Where’s the univocity of being when you need it?

The answer this time – the implication of the problem in its solution, in the particular case – was to put the character in charge of the metaphors: the stage is unlike a square but for the character here and now it becomes a square; the friend’s only resemblance to a Judas or a Nazi comes from the character’s act of imagination here and now; and the here and now must be a point in time when, a place on the stage-square where, the transformation occurs – a time and place on the surface of the performance, from the point of view, generating the point of focus.

The “friend,” in turn, cannot be imaginary but must be a real actor, an attendant Figure, and only then imagined by the character speaking, the active Figure. Imagined by the character into the reality of his singularity, even as that singularity shifts and slides over the series of imaginative identifications the character makes. (The attendant role Gilles Deleuze considers in Francis Bacon, Eliot’s ‘third who walks beside you.’) Jeff, in the event, took on the role of the attendant for the purposes of pursuing this logic.

Is this a sufficient answer to the intractable fluidity of a general metaphoricity? Again, in Francis Bacon, Deleuze offers some useful observations. There is no code of codes but there is a logic and a system in operation through the different periods and stages of the work. How it works takes precedence over why it works.

We opened the stage to the possibility that the character could call it – and the “friend” – into being and beings, now square, now yard, now stockyard (and, friend, Judas, Nazi), without any contraction of results onto a single term and without, in effect, displacing one term onto another. So it was less a matter of naming beings than of providing the conditions for the improbable arising of the next condition, of speaking being and of that univocity, being under the rule of difference.

I’m no doubt not being clear enough about this but at each point to allow the character to change and to have an imaginative representation of himself which changes gives the actor little opportunity to fall into the cliches of identity or of a fundamental identity of the world, the “friend,” the stage. Point of view here constitutes point of focus, where ‘focus’ is already a dramatic term.


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2 day 13 @ sf

so there’s this pulse, right? and you might say it’s a vivifying pulse and you can’t hear it but it unites the work. And when I say you can’t hear it, when you give up on waiting to hear it, you do hear it. It comes out. It’s like Ezra Pound’s Great Bass, Pace-Keeper for poetry, although he was talking about music, and at the same time like Igor Stravinsky’s Great Tradition for the back-and-forth in a battle, a dialectic, a polemical rhythm, although he was talking about music. It’s a time-setting beat below the actions, below even the settings, sub-acoustic. It sets up where each entry must be made. It’s the egg-plant of improv. Funny there’s no improv. But no cliche either. … so it’s how you know you’re on the right track. Like Stravinsky said, After harmonic invention, rhythm possesses the greatest scope for progress…

the pulse sets out on a plane which it invents, calls up, down from the heights of the good intention, up from the depths of the destructive shite of indifference and apathy, the vegetable norm: because as Deleuze says there’s a screen of integration and the pulse is the integration of this single thought. But, he warns, we have to have patience.

now patience is the thing I most lack. If I heed the warning, I hear of dangers on both sides that threaten me if I hurry: the schizoid position of peering into the dark abyss so that it enters me; and the depressive position of never getting what I want so falling back in. And I… what?

I howl like a late Allen Ginsberg and end up celebrating only the productive howl? it gets hooked up and does that pathetic positive dance of reconciliation with the madness that provokes it? what?

if I hate with enough courage it will be like love. If I love with enough courage it will be like hate. Until it’s someone I love, someone I hate. T.S. Eliot saw this as the flight smack bang into the concrete correlative but here was a man who painted his face green and protested when his cheese hadn’t quite reached the correct degree of blue, a snob. So I will ask you because you don’t answer, What is castration?

What violence is necessary? what violence that it turn back on the hand hitting, cutting? What shock is necessary? that it turn back on the mind thinking? that it alter the mind of the loved hated other who can possibly abide to watch?

how is it that I’m afflicted to hear only the steady beat without acceleration without deceleration, as of a vector of rhythm, insensible to the curve which we have mistaken for a force as it curves to you? as if you were the hole, as if you were the clime?

gentle reader I know you think


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day 12 @ sf:

The event is sense itself … Over states of affairs and their depth, their mixtures and their actions and passions, psychoanalysis casts the most intense light in order to reach the point of emergence of that which results, that is, the event of another type, as a surface effect. Therefore, whatever may be the importance of the earlier positions, or the necessity of always connecting the event to its cause, psychoanalysis is correct to recall the role of Oedipus as a “nuclear complex” [cf. “A World without Good Will,” post] – a formula which has the same importance as Husserl’s “noematic core.” For it is with Oedipus that the event is disengaged from its causes in depth, spreads itself at the surface and connects itself with its quasi-cause from the point of view of a dynamic genesis. It is the perfect crime, the eternal truth, the royal splendour of the event – each one of which communicates with all the others in the variants of one and the same phantasm. It is as distinct from its actualisation as from the causes which produce it, using to its advantage the eternal part of excess over these causes and the part which is left unaccomplished in its actualisations, skimming over its own field, making us its own offspring. And if it is indeed at the point where the actualisation cannot accomplish or the cause produce that the entire event resides, it is at the same point also that it offers itself to counter-actualisation; it is here that our greatest freedom lies – the freedom by which we develop and lead the event to its completion and transmutation, and finally become masters of actualisations and causes. As the science of pure events, psychoanalysis is also an art of counter-actualisations, sublimations, and symbolisations.

– Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, pp. 242-3

Are we not in the business of a phantasmatic progress in theatre? Or, in the theatre of a phantasmatic business? Are we not after all in reproducing a phantasm and rehearsing events, producing an event-phantasm?

The fact of the event’s communication with other events – and of what it lacks in doing so, what it wants for, what it lacks in order to do so – renders it a phantasm among equals. There is a point passing over events, an aleatory categorical, making distinctions. How psychoanalysis perverts an individual life could be seen to be similar to how cosmology perverts a cosmic history by focusing on its first moments of actualisation: in one, the schizoid explosion of pieces to the depressive consolidation of disconnected planes to the Oedipal substitution of parts; in the other, the Big Bang which starts time in which parts arrive at differentiation before they have left the whole and form wholes which depend for the laws of their deployment in spacetime on a prior substitution of a something for the nothing of dark forces in mathematical representation.

The two constitute schemata of events that are able to talk to us because before they can they share a phantasmatic reality. The excess in either makes them mutually irreducible. Nothing is not opposed to something. But the way in which each is too much insists as a metaphoricity to themselves. This, at least, is how I’ve understood metaphor, in terms of its productivity, beyond the substitutions of representation, whether mathematical or symbolic.

I can understand the phantasm as what works in its setting of a level at which events meet. This theatrum philosophicum reflects back, as far as I’m concerned, on the work of making that everyday thing we call theatre. It entails the consideration of theatre as an art-form among its initial coordinates. Thus, against this curve which we must not keep insisting is a force, and without a gold standard which we must keep insisting is the higher form of matter, insofar as its morality is, genitally and genitively, of the “perfect crime, the eternal truth, the royal splendour,” what are we called on to make by this philosophy if not the betrayal of its principles or ideas? which betrayal will insist as the slow unfolding of each of their secrets?

On the twelfth day, we, Barney, Jeff, Paul and I – Erika being called away to light the pizza ovens and Barney about to depart to Welly to be rehearsed in to Paolo Rotundo’s show and no dancer-character as yet – completely confused a number of lines and added some inconsequential actions. And only now, on reflection, am I beginning to see the sense in what we’ve done: the first substantial piece, Jeff’s, breaks down twice, once on “let me be more precise” and then on “perhaps.”

There will be a battle about a revelation which will refuse to occur on “perhaps.” A woman will not be. A man will not make her. A series of refusals will constitute the initial stations from which the dark matter will obtain, adsorb.


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which is worse, this snobbery or the inverted snobbery of what Paul Virilio calls a ‘pitiless art’? (“Art can rest on sinister foundations,” says Diaghilev in Chinchilla.)

I said, ‘Marco Polo, the hero of the Christian west. This man travelled freely [because of Genghis Khan, its villain] because of the Mongols. He went from outpost to outpost along roads they made safe, where before he would not have gone ten miles without a knife at his throat, or would have stayed in Venice reading his precious books. That is the fact of the matter. That’s what sickens me about your type. You favour the arts, but it was violence that spread those arts.’

The teacher shouted, ‘You make me sick!’

‘And you’re a snob! Read your damn history. Europe before the Mongols. No money, no building, no roads, no reading, no art, no science. Villages in the dark forest. Nothing for hundreds of years until nations had boundaries and soldiers guarded the roads. Then came commerce. Then the drawers and scribblers. The art-people.’ I drew in the air. ‘It’s all down to military power, Teacher. Brute force made your Renaissance, the artists and merchants that plied the Silk Road. When the roads are safe the art crowd come out of the woodwork and open their little shops and buy their canvases. So don’t be a snob. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!’

‘The Mongols are gone,’ the teacher said.

‘Wrong,’ [I said].

– Gerard Donovan, Schopenhauer’s Telescope, Scribner, Great Britain, 2004, p. 165

Induced by fear of being lonely and cold, men drift into bars and drink to push back the despair and pull forward the dreams of greatness that were their constant companions when young.

– Ibid., p. 206

(According to Daniel Farson, in The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, The Colony Room boasted these four as the perennial topics of conversation: scandal, daydreams, sex and drinking.)


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day 11 – see previous post “towards day 11” – @ sf, The Mother

Day 11 at the Soap Factory had been a long time coming. Sickness and the making of a side project at www.filmaka.com, a 3 minute short, “The End of the World,” had intervened. When it finally came, I’d spent the morning at Children, Youth and Family, otherwise known by the inauspicious acronym of CYF’s, dealing with a particularly vexed interfamilial issue. Tuesday afternoon found us, Barney, Jeff, Erika and I – Paul missing in action, on a paid gig – auto-piloting into the ‘rendering’ (pages opposite) entitled “RJF.”

The piece, Erika’s, in the character of a Survivor, who meditates on the possibility that humans were made by the Nazis into soap, contains, for its figurative depths, only figural surface: how does Erika hit the points of performance in rehearsal which represent depths without plunging into them, or skating over them, and draw into the ambit of what she does, in the diagramme of character, all those ideas we’ve had about what she is? In the event, we have a breakthrough.

The day redeemed itself. We saw the places of the missing objects and heard the absent people. We had the rehearsed reproducing the Great Original, wherein all objects and people were remembered there, without the loss of the present (of the text), without the failure of imagination and memory. It worked.

Next, we rehearsed Barney’s piece, the Kafka character, in his conflict with Jeff’s four lines, three of which are simply the word “No.” Barney kept hitting up against the power-relation: his, the submissive character, takes power from the dominant one, Jeff, while on his knees, Jeff holding the back of his head as if to rub his face in the dirt, without any overt act of resistance, with a simple turn of the head. Barney couldn’t see it. Fair enough. But couldn’t do it or find it in the doing.

The piece has ultimately little to do with the power-relation or its paradox. This was the hardest to explain. We said, Jeff’s “no” and his physical act of domination is tangential with regard to K.‘s present – in the same way as the expressed is not the expression. But how deal with a performer’s resistance to this special form of resistance, which may feel like submission?

I have to say this remains a constant theme, the “attack by sudden and strange surrender” (Wilde, Dorian Gray), the subversion, and its limitations. Again, getting there, to the surrender, completely, is the crawling one has perhaps to achieve by first running and then walking. It’s a job for the autist-savant, and in the rehearsal, because it involves so much hope, perhaps, has to be brought back to the surface of “do it because it works (worked)” or, at worst, “because it reads (read)”! (Is this the logic of perversion affirmed before you can accede to its before before?) You have, of course, to get there before you can deal with the horizons, the limited vista offered, after. All.

Barney brought up in discussion afterwards a wholly, and globally, connected problem: the mother. K. has a girlfriend, a mother and a dead father. The mother is somehow a condition of what plays out between him and the girlfriend insofar as she never meets the girlfriend before the latter dies of negligence and is left hanging half in, half out, of his burrow. The girlfriend is like a coveted and then neglected pet. The mother is the buried platform on which the negligence is staged.

For the outside of all five performances, is there a mother? A mother theatre?

the history of depths begins with what is most terrifying: it begins with the theatre of terror whose unforgettable picture Melanie Klein painted. In it, the nursing infant is, beginning with his or her first year, stage, actor, and drama, at once. Orality, mouth, and breast are initially bottomless depths. Not only are the breast and the entire body of the mother split apart into a good and a bad object, but they are aggressively emptied, slashed to pieces, broken into crumbs and alimentary morsels. The introjection of these partial objects into the body of the infant is accompanied by a projection of aggressiveness onto these external objects, and by a re-projection of these objects into the maternal body. … We call this world of introjected and projected, alimentary and excremental partial internal objects the world of simulacra. Melanie Klein describes it as the paranoid-schizoid position of the child. It is succeeded by a depressive position which characterises a dual progress, since the child strives to reconstitute a complete good object and to identify himself with this object.

– Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 215

You might see here echoes of the part objects I’ve talked up earlier, those products of half-mime, that fill the room (theatre) which is otherwise empty, those stand-ins for properties. The question I now ask is, Can we generalise the mother role as Deleuze suggests above? How do we let an audience know?


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“art has the most intimate knowledge of disease,” says Serge Diaghilev in Robert David MacDonald’s Chinchilla. But is the artist, Francis Bacon, who expresses, inoculated in the way that the perverse philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who incorporates, is paralysed? Is this the Kafka-effect of “The Burrow”?

Returning to a bottomless abyss that he renewed and dug out afresh, that is where Nietzsche perished in his own manner. It would be preferable to say that he “quasi-perished;” for sickness and death are the event itself, subject as such to a double causality: that of bodies, states of affairs, and mixtures, but also that of the quasi-cause which represents the state of organisation or disorganisation of the incorporeal surface. Nietzsche, it seems, became insane and died of general paralysis, a corporeal syphilitic mixture. But the pathway which this event followed, this time in relation to the quasi-cause inspiring his entire work and co-inspiring his life, has nothing to do with his general paryalysis, the ocular migraines and the vomiting from which he suffered, with the exception of giving them a new causality, that is, an eternal truth independent of their corporeal realisation – thus a style in an oeuvre instead of a mixture in the body. We see no other way of raising the question of the relations between an oeuvre and illness except by means of this double causality.

– Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 123

Paralytic Child Walking On All Fours (From Muybridge) by Francis Bacon, 1961

This is a world of terror and cruelty, of incest and anthropophagy. But there is of course another story, namely, the story of that which, from the Heraclitean world, is able to climb to the surface and receive an entirely new status. This is the event in its difference in nature from causes-bodies, the Aion in its difference in nature from the devouring Chronos. In a parallel manner, Platonism undergoes a similar total reorientation. It had aspired to bury the pre-Socratic world even deeper, to repress it even more, and to crush it under the full weight of the heights; but now we see it deprived of its own height, and the Idea again falls to the surface as a simple incorporeal effect. … What are we to call this new philosophical operation, insofar as it opposes at once Platonic conversion and pre-Socratic subversion? Perhaps we can call it “perversion,” which at least befits the system of provocations of this new type of philosopher – if it is true that perversion implies an extraordinary art of surfaces.

– Gilles Deleuze, op. cit., pp. 150-151


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a world without good will

Thinking that I should really reaquaint myself with Marx, I picked up at a secondhand book-dealer’s Marx: His Theory and Its Context “Politics as economics: An introductory and critical essay on the political economy of Karl Marx” by Angus Walker. Leafing through the pages in the car outside the shop, I discovered a postcard. The above image is not it. But there’s a connection. As there is to the image that follows and possibly also to the image which follows that.

The postcard has a photo on it, not of Los Alamos but of the “Road to the Hill, Los Alamos, New Mexico.” This, its legend, is printed at the top of the picture. On the back, which is otherwise filled with the tightly packed script of the sender’s message, written in blue fountain pen and running perpendicular to it, we read the printed description: “Leaving the main gate at Los Alamos one passes the Otowi Mesa. On the south side and at the base of this mesa are numerous cliff-dweller ruins which were occupied over five hundred years before the Atomic Bomb era. Nearly thirty miles away are snow covered peaks of the Sangre de Christo Mountains.” The phrases I’ve italicised are underlined in blue fountain pen. It says it has been “a marvellous holiday.” The senders “skinny dipped” near Los Alamos in something that looks like “106 Hot Spring.” “Trinity” or “Timothy” “got out and rolled in the SNOW. It was terrific!”

The photo on the front shows the black-top curving to the right, a low crash fence at its edge, while the Otowi Mesa dominates the shot. At its base, in the valley below the road, a dark green stripe of coniferous trees follows its curve.

Apart from the road and the information that, invisible in the photo, “numerous cliff-dweller ruins” mark the mesa out as having been occupied, if at a distance of “five hundred years” from “the Atomic Bomb era,” there is no indication of a human presence, of a “marvellous holiday.” In the background of the photo we see the cordillero, the snow-covered peaks barely seen, of the Sangre de Christo.

The road is grey, the low fence grey; the muted fir-tree-green, then the dull grey of the rising mesa; a faded duck-egg pale blue sky is set with vestigial ink-white, text-white, clouds. A white border frames the view. Whether it was taken today or fifty years ago, the photograph would still look dated, tonally.

It looks, in fact, as far away as “the Atomic Bomb era.” An air of imminent threat still emanates from it, rather intensified than decreased by sense of place, Los Alamos, and by the sense of the sender’s holiday fun there, and by the shot’s depopulation. Should we think looking at it that it is a postcard from beyond the pale of the Atomic Bomb era? It could come from some imaginable aftermath.

For this, from this, I’m put in mind of an over-riding imago of the 1950s, an idea wedded to the incorrigible provincialism of New Zealand, its architecture, its very light, its marvellous post-war holiday.

I’ve sat in the same light recently, at the Birkenhead ferry terminal, looking back on the harbour bridge and the city, drinking coffee. The coffee had the same washed-out flavour. I felt sick in the winter sunshine, hung over by the long white cloud.

– photograph by Laurence Aberhart

Several months ago, a friend of my daughter turned up on our doorstep in tears. Her family lives around the corner. We’ve known them for about a decade, not that we know them well. It’s a small community with one primary school. The connection has largely been through the kids. They also have another daughter the same age as our son and a son inbetween. The younger siblings are the half-sister and half-brother of my daughter’s friend. It’s a familiar modern family set-up: mother finds new partner and has two further children by him while keeping child from previous relationship.

The real complication comes from the fact that the friend has been treated as an outsider for many years in her own family and has progressively been excluded from family activities, such as, on one extreme, music camps, on the other, hugs, and kisses goodnight. At the point where she turns up distraught at our place, things have reached a head. Her mother has thrown her out, locking the door on her.

A normal family pathology, then, and given the friend’s age, perhaps indicative of the ordinary rites of passage of a fifteen-year-old girl. However, not at all ordinary or normal for our family!

At the receiving end, we find ourselves with an opportunity to play the good samaritan. But how do so, and, taking cognizance of this unfamiliar turn of events, maintain our neutrality? That we are neutral is important on several scores. It is the main reason the friend has come to us. But how do we not take sides, knowing that her family has – for years, in fact – acted unfairly towards her?

Well, we don’t leave her crying on the step. We open our doors to her. She is welcome to stay with us for as long as she wants. Or until the situation resolves itself. We put to one side the latter eventuality. Because to accept that the situation can resolve itself means committing ourselves to neutrality in a way that simply remaining silent about it does not.

We are not entirely silent about it, of course. The friend does stay. We include her. And her inclusion is a protest vis-a-vis the pathological unfairness of her exclusion at home. We joke that we’ve adopted her. We represent and speak about our actions, as ‘doing a good thing.’ The part remaining silent is contained in the reactive force of ‘adoption.’

In taking in one who is in need, we clearly take ourselves in, not simply in the way that our intentions are compromised or that we have agenda (which may be summed up as selfishness, a selfish need, to possess, and a self-serving desire to have taken possession of, ‘to hold and to have’). We deceive ourselves not just in that we are disinterested and non-judgemental of the pathology, of a possible evil in others but, at the level of our own goodness, fairness and ethical well-being, that we can claim or afford to be anything like neutral or disinterested.

The problem of this anecdote is to be found neither in the slip-of-the-tongue ‘adoption’ nor in our not wanting a bad situation to resolve itself. We can confess to the flaw in our nature, as if it were at bottom its truth. (God knows there are plenty to listen to this kind of news.) Its problem comes rather from crowing fair than in crying foul.

To be guilty of the very sort of charitable act that is supposed to characterise the christian is to find no ear into which to confess. The role of what Slavoj Zizek, following Lacan, calls the Big Other the christian defers onto and unto death. (Christ, the Living Word, may be the source but not the recipient of Good News.)

What moral authority do we call on? What Big Other do we make recourse to? In doing any good? There’s none to hand but the process of the world. In order that it prove itself neither square nor white, out of necessity, but round and dark, pregnant with the possibility that what we put in will return. And even to us. As if the Karmic Wheel could counter-command (in ‘vice-diction‘), for want of a divine act of grace, that our world is necessarily without good will.

Here, you say, is another picture with nothing to do with the image presented. Look again, past Mt. Taranaki, as the sign suggests, to the snow-topped peaks of the Sangre de Christo. Some blood has leaked out, out of the passion. And each of us wanders alone, under high cirrus, and dies alone, with the knowledge that the sponges are soaked in vinegar. And here’s a small provincial church, no doubt built under the empire in some colony, brought down by the weight of bearing witness.

If it were a dead world, as Jean Baudrillard suggested in Forget Foucault, in the immanence of this eschatology, whereby each wanderer or viewer is the last, I could speak directly into the ear of death. And in doing so (the doing would be in the saying and the saying in the doing), say I do a good thing. But these landscapes and arrangements of being human are lacking grace, giving it to each of us as if the last, but finally lacking grace, which would, if the world were touched by it, be a kind of deadpan irony.

It’s not this. This is a world without good will.

– photograph by Sam Hartnett

point to point

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