January 2008

reassignment, fa-afine, mahu, kathoey, xanith, hijara, hsiang ku, berdache & the faecal child


– etching by de Bry, “Balboa’s Dogs Attacking a Group of Panamanian Sodomites”

Being a berdache – that is, a man who behaved much like a woman, or occasionally a woman who behaved like a man, in a Native American tribe – was not soft option. As well as customarily providing non-berdaches with sex, berdache men carried out a variety of shamanistic duties, became skilled at women’s tasks, wore women’s clothes, and even underwent their own versions of menstruation and childbirth. After a male berdache got married – which was usually to a young man or an older one between marriages – he began to imitate menstruation by scratching himself between his legs with sharp sticks until blood flowed, after which he strictly followed the women’s menstruation taboos. When he decided to become pregnant, he stuffed rags and bark under his skirt in increasing quantities, boasted of his condition in public, and started to follow normal pregnancy taboos – except that, unlike pregnant women in the tribe, he allowed his husband to carry on having sex with him. As delivery approached, the berdache started to drink a concoction of mesquite beans that led to extreme constipation, pain and stomach cramps – in other words, ‘labour pains.’ Finally, and inevitably, when the colonic pressure became too great, the berdache went into the bushes, took the position of a woman giving birth, and ‘gave birth.’ Clearly, the ‘baby’ simulation had insurmountable problems from this point on. As a result, the faecal baby was pronounced stillborn, following which the berdache commenced a period of wailing to lament the loss, clipped his hair and gave away the cradle that he had prepared for his child. The husband, meanwhile, was obliged to join in with the melodramatic proceedings.

– Clive Bromhall, The Eternal Child, p. 261

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snap 66

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repetition, rendition, recognition, representation, return, rerun: torture

Repetition was key to the representations of hell our teachers unveiled to us. Without repetition, the eternal dimension would have seemed flat and less frightful.

– Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana, pp. 172-173

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Bene-Deleuze’s theatre of subtraction (re: Carmelo Bene’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard III) -1

Shakespeare était auteur, acteur et chef de troupe. Dans sa vie lui-même a été un spectacle. A présent il est un texte. Il faut être un beau salaud pour lui refuser l’infidélité qui lui est due

– Carmelo Bene in an interview

Deleuze’s commentary, in “Un manifeste de moins” (“One Manifesto Less”) on Carmelo Bene’s production of Richard III is his only extended writing on theatre. He refers to Kleist in several of his books but as a literary example. Bene (1937-2002), director, writer and actor – like Shakespeare himself, of course – offers Deleuze the prospect of a pre- or sub-representational theatre, a dynamic, subject-less and “subtractive” approach to theatre. Bene’s critical statements confirm his theatre as Deleuzean selon la lettre, or as having been produced by Deleuze’s sidelong influence (the two share, in fact, similar interests in de Sade, Artaud, Kleist, Carroll), like that above, “you’d be an idiot not to render unto Shakespeare the infidelity he’s due,” and “the truly great authors are the minor ones, the untimely ones. It is the minor artist that offers the true masterpieces: the minor artist does not interpret his times: mankind does not have a specific time, time depends on mankind.”

Bene gives rise to a ‘minor theatre’ comparable with Kafka’s ‘minor literature.’ Deleuze follows a dramaturgical movement, that of Bene’s imagination qua Shakespeare’s text, rather than a scenographical movement, that of the actor qua the space, the set or decor. The interest is in how the combination of Deleuze and Bene counter-actualises a multiplicity of givens, Richard III, William Shakespeare, Elizabethan embodied practice and theatre an sich, in order to reach a dynamic process, a minor or virtual theatre.

Here, then, decor is not ambience, not a place; it is not even an idea: decor is merely a throw-away stage-prop. And each step of the actor’s movement is really a regression at the service of depopulation of image and object. …

Here, then, is the meaning of the “subtraction” that Deleuze insists upon. Bene’s visual imagination moves in the inverse direction of image proliferation. How, then, can a character be constituted if the entire machinery of theatre remains at the service of depletion, regression, and flight? …

The actor’s prime objective is to gain a foothold on the stage. …

…the whole point is that Bene’s Richard is neither a person nor a character, even less is he an historical figure. He is, in his interaction with the aural, visual, and linguistic elements of Bene’s theatre, part of the process that demonstrates becoming: becoming minor, becoming warrior, becoming woman, becoming “other.” … a war-machine is constituted, making the emergence of Richard as warrior possible.

– Mohammad Kowsar in “Deleuze on theatre: a case study of Carmelo Bene’s Richard III,” Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers, ed. Gary Genosko, Routledge, 2000, pp. 30-46

‘You begin by subtracting, by cutting out everything that determines an element of power, in language and in gestures, in representation and in the represented.’ You then further subtract all ‘constants, stable or stabilised elements, because they belong to a major usage’ and consolidate fixed or molar identities. Along with such constants you should eliminated structure (since it maintains ‘relations between invariants’), dialogue (since it codifies rule-bound relations of speech), history (since it lends figures of power their stability over time) and even the text itself, insofar as it confines the virtual creativity of language to actual configurations of speech. In a theatre thus purged of all actuality and representation, only creation as such will act.

– Peter Hallward, including quotes from Gilles Deleuze’s “One Manifesto Less,” Out of this World, pp. 80-81

Peter Hallward invokes Deleuze-Bene to illustrate the distinction between ‘subtraction’ and ‘extinction.’ He is not so interested in theatre, which is why, perhaps, his characterisation of the actual method of subtraction reads like satire. It leads me to ask What’s left? once all these subtractions are made? as if Deleuze were pressing towards extinction.

Mohammad Kowsar presents Bene’s scenography, his decor, his set, his design, to extend Deleuze’s commentary to factors which he leaves out. (He also notes, tantalisingly for a practical consideration of what is going on in Bene-Deleuze’s subtractive theatre, that the Richard character’s monologues can be delivered in anything from an incommunicative mumble, too quiet, to an overemphatic shout, too loud, can be either too fast or too slow.) But these tantalising clues as to what is happening on and with the stage, between actor and setting, put a different spin on this idea of subtraction.

Bene, apparently, subtracts as much as he presents subtraction. The dynamic process underlying the actuality is presented, is part of the show and characters and actors in the show have actively to contend with this creative subtraction. In Hallward’s terms, the creative process acts, it shows the creature to be that through which it acts and by which it is actualised.

How does this square with Deleuze’s insistence that the actual covers the virtual? I suspect it squares quite roundly: Deleuze’s view of art is that it occupies a place between philosophy’s absolute abstraction and science’s relative referentiality. The actual work of art exists only insofar as the virtual is sensible in it, or, insofar as its very vituality is available to sensation – which sensation, furthermore, is the work of art’s alone and not that of a sensing subject or sensible object. The process – here, one of subtraction – constitutive of the artwork is the virtual, or sheer and impersonal, unindividuated and otherwise inaccessible creativity.

The theme in Deleuze’s thought, whether dealing with a work of theatre or a painting, is to account for it by finding out how it works, an account which necessarily implies becoming or creating, a process. What might this mean for the director, writer and actor or the painter? How do we make a piece of theatre while holding on to Deleuze’s account? Because, isn’t there a circularity here, whereby the artwork that stands up on its own as an artwork stands up thanks to that by which it stands up on its own as art? The latter participates in a logic of representation, the error, according to Deleuze and the habit of thought to break. Or subtract.

Deleuze promotes the artwork’s participation in a logic of sensation, about which there is already an asperity – a sense of paring down to the essential, here the same as movement. So: to approach the infinite speed of the essential is art’s job in a creative ontology; to proceed at once at risk in the knowledge that both this knowledge and this job go by way of the inessential; and that to make the approach at all is to become inessential.

How we subtract must be considered along with what we subtract. If I, the other and the Big Other are to come under the minus sign, the art becomes a Fresh Widow (Duchamp, 1920). Deleuze and Guattari recommend subtracting by infinitesimal decrements; proceeding by baby steps of betrayal, or infidelity, as asserted by Bene. They say, Use a nail-file to break out!

Would the theatre-(art)work record somehow those tiny steps of subtraction, which are quantum leaps, recording also the iron-filings collecting on the ground, including the direction of their magnetic orientation, from our efforts to cut through the bars and break out?

Could its success, after all, be all of a piece with that of our carefully planned escape?

And could the fault for its failure rest with our inability to escape, or to avoid recapture by the theatre-work, just as it fails to live without us?

It has come to this: -1, whether 1 = I or you or it, down to the merest atome.

detraque
hommangerie
immedia
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shortly before the sacking of the palace

It is all so ugly. … I would much rather join those who prefer to float on their backs for a while, drifting on the ocean with their eyes turned toward heaven, and who then go down with a little prayer. …it is not in my nature to tilt against the savage, cold-blooded fanatics who clamour for our destruction. … I am so calm it is sometimes as if I were standing on the parapets of the palace of history looking down over far-distant lands.

– Etty Hillesum, 14 July 1942, in An Interrupted Life, The Diaries, 1941-1943, p. 180

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regarding needlepoint

today I am picking a cold minority, to bring to your attention this master of needlepoint, who is equally able in all the fine digital disciplines. Please take advantage of the new and entirely justified link to his space and his sewing circle in the blogrole opposite and, remember, keep those stitching fingers active and nimble, lest they do the devil’s work.

croydon
detraque
hommangerie
point to point

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Cuban Celine and socks

I have nothing but the utmost contempt for Kant, and so should you. He was foolish enough to trust entirely in one kind of reasoning alone, and verbose enough to convince many other smart people that he was right. Benighted fool, that lousy philosopher Kant, curse of the thinking class.

May you burn in hell forever, Immanuel, you obsessive-compulsive pedant, or find yourself in heaven, right next to Mel Blanc and the airport guy who laughed when he peered inside my underwear. And may you be eternally rid of the double set of garters that you wore on your precisely timed walks around Koenigsberg every afternoon, those jaunts that were a more accurate reckoning of the hour and minute than that of any clock in your grey Hanseatic town. You need not fear that your hose will slither down around your ankles in the afterlife, dear Immanuel, as you discuss the Categorical Imperative with Mel and Airport Guy. Or as you ponder the ding-an-sich and dissect Vernunft in a million useless ways with your eternally doltish pupils. Socks and philosophy are even more useless in heaven than in the tropics.

I found that out early in life …

– Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana, pp. 92-93

The white ectoplasmic socks which Francis Bacon became so interested in as they materialised and issued from the nose, mouth or ears of the receptive medium. Receptive to spiritual hosiery, that is.

croydon
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study for a passion exists as a new page, see opposite

I apologise for the formatting of it. But it’s there. So it is. Legible. Virtually complete. As to whether it stands up on its own, I look forward to your comments and criticism. I am openly soliciting for feedback. Feedback and the money to produce the work. At City Art Rooms, in March.

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SNAP: chance antecedent to study for a passion, required reading: 1. we shall not walk on all fours 2. we shall not drink blood 3. we shall not inhale poison

Things happen the way they happen.

Planned they are from the get-go, eternal they are and eternal are we all. One and the same are we and those facts, forever. The way Brother Alejandro’s starched clerical collar moved as he spoke. The angle of the sunlight on the boys who knelt on the gravel. The shadows they cast. The taunts, the blow to the head, the tears, the dirty magazines, the bag of popcorn, and the trajectory of every popcorn kernel as it fell to the floor. The hand extended in goodwill. Each bewildering gift from on high. Every temptation, every glimpse of the crevasse inside our souls. The Judas kiss. The basest humiliation. Everything. All of it seamlessly woven into the story of my fall, our fall, yours and mine, that deep and steep fall. That happy fall, that joyous fall during which we can always, in the wink of an eye, with grace, sprout wings and scrape the gates of heaven.

– Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, Free Press, N.Y., 2003, pp. 33-34

Nowadays I play a game with my own three children. I ask them, suddenly and unexpectedly, at the oddest moments: “What is the Law?” They know the answer, and they pronounce the words as I have taught them, slowly and ponderously: “We shall not walk on all fours. We shall not drink blood.”

Moreau’s creatures, barely erect, ask themselves and their creator, “Are we not men?”

– Ibid., p. 41

Jesus was there in my dreams to say an infinite number of things. Messages too vast in number to be understood all at once, or even in a whole lifetime on earth. Vital messages such as:

“Behold your mother.”

“Lipstick is wonderful.”

“Lizards are beautiful.”

“Demons are doomed to fail: I have defeated evil, and so shall you.”

“Fear not death: you shall live forever in a wondrous body, just like Mine.”

“Drink champagne, and blow it out your nose.”

“This pain, this cross, shall vanish as quickly as I did in your dreams; these stains on your soul shall be wiped clean, just like that lipstick smudge you once had on your cheek, that smudge you never saw, from the kiss you never felt, you drunken fool.”

– Ibid., p. 48

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Sufism & Deleuze

As the Sufi mystic al-Hujwiri notes, there is a crucial ‘difference between one who is burned by His Majesty in the fire of love, and one who is illuminated by this Beauty in the light of contemplation.’

The path exemplified by the ascetic al-Hallaj, leads to emptiness pure and simple … ‘the cut between creature and Creator’ is preserved all the way through the redemptive effort, so as to be all the more entirely overcome at its end.

– Peter Hallward, Out of this World, p. 84

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