May 2008

Cosmopolis and chance meetings: internationalist symbolist avant-garde

Cosmopolis was a magazine published in London and New York, 1896-1898. It had three sections, German, French and English. In May 1897, Cosmopolis printed Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem, “Un Coup de Des,” for the first time. (Available in English translation, with the French, here: http://www.tonykline.co.uk/PITBR/French/MallarmeUnCoupdeDes.htm)

Albert Dupont, born in 1951 in Hanoi, Lettrist, explorer of “Art-Rebus,” and friend of Roberto Matta, uses “Un coup de des” like this:

Gilles Deleuze staked everything on it, the house, the car, you, me and life and creation in particular.

John Cage used it in 4′ 33″, which you can now hear here:

And then, like his old chess partner, Marcel Duchamp, the two are pictured below with Teeny, he used it in just about everything he composed.

I was going to talk about the transatlantic liner of flight: how, while engaged in killing generations of its own, Europe sent those artists and philosophers and artist-philosophers we still know, because they survived two world wars, to the U.S.; and then, how, after, the latter returned the favour by sending back an avant-garde, raised in America on the work of the European, in people like Robert Wilson.

– photograph by Lesley Leslie-Spinks

– Robert Wilson’s Deafman Glance (in collaboration with Raymond Andrews), 1970

– Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach (in collaboration with Philip Glass), 1976

– Robert Wilson’s POEtry (in collaboration with Lou Reed), 2000

By this last image you might be getting what I mean: Wilson’s productions had become too expensive for American theatres (or the theatres had become too cheap); and look at the graphic backdrop. “Un coup de des” is still there, albeit in German.

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summary proposal for doctoral research and thesis: a crack in the theatre: T-Cell, practice and theory

A playwright writes texts intended for performance. A director rehearses and, with the help of a company, interprets these texts for the stage. An audience attends performances. A philosopher creates concepts. Theatre possesses a philosophy: it raises the problem of the ideal theatre, the fact that none is, but that theatre signifies this ideal, and creates works under its sign. Already there are traces here of Gilles Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism.

What I propose is a research project in and doctoral thesis on theatre. Research includes starting a small theatre group called T-Cell, for which I will write texts. (I am preferring ‘texts’ over ‘scripts,’ because of the idea that play scripts are in a sense pre- or pro-scriptive; although the pharmacological sense of ‘prescription’ might happily be retained, considering the group’s name and its ‘clinical’ undertaking.) These texts will function as pretexts and subtexts, to measurable degrees. That is, they will be written so that they can be rehearsed and interpreted by the group and performed for an audience. The experiment is to produce work for the stage, and for an audience, which explores and exploits the milieu of theatre through its concepts. Deleuze will guide the research, in the writing of the texts and in the practice of the group, and provide coordinates to the different but connected theatre of philosophy so that I may arrive at proposing a philosophy of theatre.

I completed my MA thesis, entitled “Nihilism, Cosmetics and Audacity: Dandyism and Dorian Gray,” in 1992 and, having done the theory, wanted to put it to work, into a theatre practice. In actuality, the relationship turned out to be asymmetrical: the practice literally swallowed up the theory. My plan, now, is to generate theory from the practice directly, towards writing a doctoral thesis, which will test and record the findings of the research I’ve sketched as well as opening up the conceptual field: the working method may be summarised, after Deleuze, as both critical and clinical.

The concept I want to begin with is: theatre as art. Following Deleuze’s lead, the problem can be stated: Is theatre an artform? Is that the Idea? Or is there just something wrong with the company it keeps? The myths of its foundation place it one step up from the brothel and one step down from the rites of religion. The crack between the flesh and spirit runs right through theatre and may account for its extraordinary fertility as a metaphor, theological, psychoanalytical, philosophical, political, martial, passional.

The problem with theatre being an artform is that where it is invoked as metaphor it acts, in Slavoj Zizek’s phrase, as a ‘negative disavowal’ of representation. A judgement that, without the double negative’s suspended sentence, is confirmed by theatre being condemned as “representation par excellence.” Theatre’s status as an artform is settled: in a virtual ontology, art generates what representation kills. So the initial concept of theatre as art leads immediately to two more problems.

The problem, firstly, of representation arises particularly with regard to Deleuze’s philosophical treatment of theatre. Although a collection of essays about him might bear the title Gilles Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy, his writing on theatre amounts to a single extended piece, called Un manifeste de moins. Add to that the stringent requirements that Deleuze makes of art – “there are many who write but very few writers” -, its signally important position within his philosophy, and we ought to ask whether it is possible to read Deleuze in the theatre at all.

The second problem, or concept, here has to do with ’embodied practice.’ In order to meet Deleuze’s critical criteria, and if it is indeed possible to read him in the theatre, what then is a Deleuzian theatre? So far, we can at least project that it will be non-representational. I would suggest further that it will involve the Bergsonian concept of duration and would refer to Dorothea Olkowski’s feminist reading of Deleuze and, since he wrote extensively on theatre, Roland Barthes.

T-Cell will set out to inquire into what non-representation on stage, before an audience, might be. The thesis I am proposing will set out to inquire what it might mean, or, in other words, how it works. What this summary proposal misses is company: the group collaboration, the community of the theatre, the society of the audience.

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list: no concern to the living unless there move within it the reflection of these things

In 1929, someone named Velona Pilcher wrote wisely in Theatre Arts: “I don’t think it goes too far to declare that a play is no concern of a living playgoer, play-reader, producer, or player unless somewhere within it, or within the art that shall present it, there moves the reflection of these things:Four years of World War
Frazer’s Golden Bough
Epstein’s bronze Madonna
The prose of D.H. Lawrence
The Thought, as far as it could reach, of Back to Methuselah
The Mask of Gordon Craig
Einstein and the scientists
The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics
The dramatic dancing of the Diaghilev Company
The Outbreak of Peace.”- Herbert Blau, The Impossible Theatre: A Manifesto, MacMillan, New York, 1964, p. 18

Herbert Blau continues, that to his day, just under forty years later, the theatre had failed to reflect some of these things. He proceeds to extend the list to include what happened next: WWII, gavitational-field theory, the discovery of the structure of DNA, Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble, Shoah, Pollock’s Totem #1, Hiroshima, Antonioni and Eisenstein, Artaud, serialist music, the advent and baggage of the Cold War. To our day, just over forty years later, the theatre has failed to reflect these, but what are they? concerns of Velona Pilcher and Herbert Blau? or events of global importance? chosen by what standard?

Two actions here should be considered, because clearly the first response is either to substitute for the opinions of Blau and Pilcher one’s own as to what the theatre ought to reflect, or to dispense with such lists altogether, on the grounds that they’re hardly objective, and driven by vested interest, if not ideologically; or a bit of both: to seek to establish criteria that support some kind of list, democratic representation, for example, or empirical truth or scientific falsification. The actions I wish to have considered and of which the consideration is given additional impetus by the dual and even treble compulsions of popular list-making, academic and scientific list-breaking, media expert and pop science list-spiking, -spinning, -slanting, or simply list-ing, are, that, firstly, the theatre reflects any something, and, secondly, that the list of somethings is, from Pilcher to Blau, cumulative, accumulating somethings.

What is the theatre being asked to do in reflecting “somewhere within in it, or within the art that shall present it” these things? How does the theatre show that “somewhere within it, or within the art that shall present it, there moves the reflection of these things”?

It’s worth attending to the remove of a ‘movement’ which is the product of the reflection or produces the reflection, because theatre is neither being asked to illustrate WWI or WWII, nor to celebrate scientific discoveries, nor carry on in the vein of either Craig or Brecht. These things, that might or mightn’t concern us all, but approach adequacy to their age and ours, as images, ought to exert a gravitational pull on our theatre. That these things are there for us ought to be enough reason for their reflection to move within the theatre that we are asked to make and watch.

Is this any more than asking for a degree of seriousness in our theatres in terms of theatre having an historical role: what do these lists do if not signify history in their designated histories and offer signs that within the nihilist surface of our insistent, instant historicity there might move the reflection of an incarnate, durational and also theatrical history?

What is history being asked to do in affirming the signs, Four years of World War, Lawrence’s prose, Pollock’s painting, deoxyribonucleic acid, but affirm itself? Is it really vouching for their adequacy as images over its adequacy as image?

It’s important that the series making up such a list is not and does not seek to be representative. Or is it simply a mistake to read them that way? And, if so, should we hold the list-maker responsible? Responsible, yes, culpable, no.

Blau makes a point of extending the list, neither that it should include everything, nor that it should be treated as a whole thing; the list is a project, an historic project, to assert the theatre’s connection, both to the particular histories of the items in the list and to the idea of history. What, then, could we add to the list of which the reflection ought to move within theatre?What, that would affirm history as it gets added on and on? What, that gives us our place and time, as well as our theatre? What particular events? What to add?

Globalisation and anti-Globalisation
Imminent ecological collapse
Robert Wilson’s opera
Peak oil
Extreme art as sport: Hermann Nitsch (whether Matthew Barney, remains to be seen)
Friedman’s economics
Web 2.0
The Human Genome Project
The philosophy of Dorothea Olkowski
Heiner Mueller’s life and work
The State of Israel

I’ve quoted it before, I’ll quote it again, “Everything is of interest, but nothing matters.” [Deathwatch or La Mort en direct, dir. Bertrand Tavernier, 1980] And if it matters, it matters, selfishly, to the individual. This would be the character Max von Sydow plays in Deathwatch, an isolate, an eccentric, surrounding himself with the things he loves, exactly excluded from the events of history for the fact that he inhabits history: Peter Ustinov in Logan’s Run. [dir. Michael Anderson, 1976] For this reason, I’d include:

Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised

The problem of the theatre connects with the insignificance of what goes in this list. The struggle for relevance is as irrelevant as any other. The confrontation between historicity and history is a conflict lacking in drama. It is in the individual player in whom now moves the reflection of these things and whom the audience avoids for that very reason.

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working @ PACE: day 11, On Applied Theatre and Process Drama & why I won’t be applying or processing & what a small theatre group called T-Cell is for

Today The Big Idea advertised, on behalf of the Kids 4 Drama School of Performing Arts and Productions, for a part-time drama tutor:

“Kids 4 Drama offers in school and after school drama classes for children and teenagers and also provides a wide variety of Theatre In Education contracts for local government.

“We are also leaders in Environmental Education and operate a number of Nationwide contracts in this field.

“Training is given but practical experience is important. This may be as a teacher, actor, educator or youth leader. If you are experienced using Process Drama / Applied Theatre techniques, this is a bonus but not essential.

“Email Principal Stephen Dallow [email protected] or post to P.O.Box 20509, Glen Eden, Auckland.”

The reference to “applied theatre” and “process drama” piqued my curiosity. What does that mean?

My first port of call, site of google, was http://www.appliedtheatre.co.nz, homepage of Applied Theatre Consultants Ltd. Literally, a theatre consultancy firm, like Kids 4 Drama with some, albeit heavier-duty, contracts from government departments, Applied Theatre Consultants describe theatre as a “powerful tool to foster justice, equality and citizenship.” This sounded suitably horrible, insofar as it suited my mood, so I read on:

“We believe the central role of theatre is to make sense of the world in which we all live, and that theatre and its processes should be available to everybody. Applied theatre is theatre without outside audience: as actors, participants guide the process to create drama that is meaningful to themselves.

“ATCo is an organization committed to creating high-quality aesthetic experiences with non-actors around issues of social justice and public health. We use dramatic conventions and techniques to safely investigate issues from a wide range of perspectives. Using applied theatre pedagogy, participants become actors and agents in control of the dramatic conversation. In doing so, they have the opportunity to discover what it is to be other than themselves.

“ATCo was incorporated in 1999 with two directors, Peter O’Connor and Briar O’Connor. Since then, the company has worked with the Ministry of Education, Biosecurity New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development’s Department of Child, Youth and Family, the Human Rights Commission, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Department of Justice, the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and the Office of the Police Commissioner.”
[http://www.appliedtheatre.co.nz/index.htm]

Applied Theatre Consultants linked me to The Centre for Public Culture and Ideas. “Applied theatre pedagogy,” referred to above, seemed to warrant further investigation, since it indicated the existence of a disciplinary (pedagogical) discourse in theatre with which I’d hitherto had no prior acquaintance.

Griffith University calls Applied Theatre a “new and dynamic field of academic study, covering a range of performance practices that focus on specific needs within different social groups and contexts.” The University runs The Centre for Public Culture and Ideas, “an interdisciplinary research centre. With members across humanities, creative arts and life sciences its central brief is to encourage greater collaboration between these areas, while articulating with [sic] contemporary debates in public culture and ideas.”

“We promote cross-disciplinary research that addresses the question: ‘How can cultural representations, practices and institutions promote public deliberation about questions of the common good in a pluralist society?’ Such research is intended to explore:

“How value is assigned to the strange multiplicity (Jame Tully, 1995) represented by the term ‘culture’ in a globalising world;

“The ways culture is deployed in public spaces for civic, commercial and other purposes;

“The extent to which public disagreement is a creative force, capable of producing new forms of democratic association;

“The local and particular rationalities used to settle questions about justice and cultural recognition;

“The tensions inherent in the formation of communities of belonging and communicative publics;
The ways “history” is invoked in public arenas.”
[http://www.griffith.edu.au/arts-languages-criminology/centre-public-culture-ideas]

Referring back to ATCo’s links, I couldn’t find the paper written by Peter O’Connor, published in the first edition of Applied Theatre Researcher in 2000, which looked to be seminal, at least for ATCo’s approach. Griffith Research Online gave me nine documents but not this one.

The first merely included the words “applied” and “theatre,” the second of the nine promoted the management of conflict in schools through drama. The abstract for the third suggested that ‘Impro’ theatre be used as a “technique to lessen self-awareness, heighten spontaneity and encourage humour,” a use the popularity and success of which it attributed to Keith Johnstone. Such forthright utilitarianism had the scent of Applied Theatre but was not the prey itself. “Powerpoint to the People” sounded promising. And that was it. However I was starting to get a feel for what ‘applying theatre’ and foisting drama as a ‘process’ on unsuspecting ‘participants’ might mean.

Theatre, well no, drama really, serves the State, who offers thereto its patronage, as a tool for moral edification and social improvement. Nothing new in this. Even the pretense that what is being sold to government departments, and state institutions, schools, prisons, is theatre is not new. What’s on offer here is an anaemic version of the encounter-group and psychodrama of 30, 40 years ago.

Applied Theatre and Process Drama bear witness to the influence of psychoanalysis, are tools of group analysis and have nothing to do with either theatre or drama, but from the latter borrow and corrupt the possibilities of the mask, the character, the actor. That is, they disembody theatre and drama, via the abstractions of performativity and narrativity, in order to impose psychoanalytical narratives and performances on real bodies and extract from them certain programmed virtues for their patron, the State.

Rereading ATCo’s manifest, there’s clearly more going on here than this that calls for a fuller and more rigorous treatment and possible surgery. For example, the idea that drama or theatre can have anything in common either with a practice which explicitly excludes the audience at the outset or a technique which encourages participation is not only an error in thinking but also carcinogenic for the concepts of theatre and drama. It ought to be exposed and excised and the bodies of thought from which it is extirpated will likely require irradiation before the return of T-Cells in numbers adequate to halt its further advance.

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this self-portrait of the Italian Symbolist sculptor, Adolfo Wildt, is sometimes referred to as the Mask of Sadness

Autoritratto, Adolfo Wildt, 1868-1931

standing on the cusp of Symbolism and Expressionism: fluid surfaces of smooth marble torn from the model at the moment of paroxysm, like masks that have taken on their wearer’s emotion, and which, once removed, carry it with them.

All that remains on the face of Adolfo Wildt, after his gilded marble self-portrait, in the mask of sadness, is a touch of melancholy around the eyes. Apart from that, he is completely expressionless. Perhaps this explains the power, residing unseen, like morays, in the mask’s drooping submarine eye cavities: an absence of life, with an access and seeming surfeit of emotion. And in the mouth, where we imagine the muscularity of the tongue, nothing, but not empty air either; on the upper lip an alienation, a detached moustache attachment, like a piece of seaweed, the vibration of a recent absence made visible.

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the tremendous and fascinating mystery of a rich art (nothing in itself or prosperity theology? discuss & compare)

– one of Gustave Moreau’s Salomes

Go to the masters, they all advise us not to create a poor art. From earliest times, they introduced into their paintings everything that they knew was richest, most brilliant, most rare and sometimes most strange, everything round them that was considered precious and magnificent. They felt that the subject was ennobled when framed in a profusion of decorative motifs; their respect and piety were like the reverence of the Magi who carried the tribute of distant countries to the foot of the manger. Look at their Madonnas, the incarnation of their ideal of beauty. What robes, what crowns, what jewels, embroidered fringes and carved thrones! Can it really be said that the royal pomp of Van Eyck’s Virgins is incongruous with the unction and recollection of these solemn figures? On the contrary, the luxurious furnishings and even the accessories, which combine to make a fabulous display in the works of the old masters, throw the abstract theme into sharper relief and the great primitive geniuses sometimes cast onto their canvases I know not what delicious plants or absurd and delightful fauna.

– Gustave Moreau, quoted in Gustave Moreau, Jean Paladilhe and Jose Pierre, trans. Bettina Wadia, Praeger, New York, 1972, p. 29

The Virgin with the Canon George Van de Paele, Jan Van Eyck, 1435

– detail Ghent alter-piece, Jan Van Eyck

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public identity & transversality, a note, a link to lethal theory

The problem of a loss of the theatre, Herbert Blau brilliantly engages in The Impossible Theatre, is neither the possibility of a concomitant loss of a private, community or social space, nor that of a civic or national identity, but introduces the possibility of the loss of the individual’s public identity: the individual loses a chance at producing a public identity; the public space, in turn, loses the individual. The audience indeed performs in this view, it observes a rite, participates in a ritual, a mystery, which goes back millennia, which affirms in the duration – of its being an audience sensing as an audience – the distinct, albeit often obscure, exactly mysterious, theatre of difference, the particularity of each of its members. Again, this is a non-representational theatre. Individuating occurs here through intuiting the duration of the theatre, its particularity, and such individuation enacts both a differentiation and a differenciation, the latter, because in producing a process of difference in the duration, the generation of the public identity of the individual, it gives rise to processes creating difference, as in, whole social milieux, which in turn make theatre, making differences.This image implies an architecture, or rather transversal movements in architectures, perhaps an architectonics, of the civic space inhabited by individuals, public identities who organise and spread, encouraging fields of heterogeneity, part-whole societies. However, without theatre, without this chance, the possibility of the individual differentiating into a public identity, there is still the rite and ritual, and the mystery, wherein the identity of the individual is forged: war and terror, capital and celebrity. The persistence of theatre in this displaced form amounts to its non-existence: more effective than losing the ritual, than abandoning it altogether, is substituting for it a theatre of blood, money and images.

For the latter, there is a new architecture, Eyal Weizman describes it. [http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/0507/weizman/en] But in it architecture is deterritorialised in the image of the theatre of images, or theory: it is exactly about maintaining the hierarchy of representation.

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First Nation authoress puts Poe & Parton first!!!

I was born on the same day as Edgar Allan Poe and Dolly Parton. I am absolutely certain that this affects my writing in some way.

—Eden Robinson

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PACE: day 10; Whāia te iti kahurangi Ki te tūohu koe, me he maunga teitei? Pursue excellence – to let you stumble, should it be to a lofty mountain?

SWOT report shows structural defects (in the project to establish a small and economically sustainable theatre company called T-Cell): opportunity exists, and there are the personal strengths to make it so, commitment, passion, etc., & skills to realise it, and the weaknesses are not insuperable, i.e. the lack of financial nous, but a great voidy hole in the lower right-hand quadrant, THREAT sucks the marrow from the bones, the bubbles from the Bolly and the Lindy Brut, because the THREAT is isolation, the THREAT is peer support, the THREAT is not so much competition for dollars on the crap tables of CNZ funding as getting the elbow from one’s fellow gamblers, anonymous or not, at said tables, the THREAT is the people in theatre, the THREAT is having nowhere to climb to – the heights of success of say ATC? Silo Corporation? – but a long way to fall… the THREAT is not just not bowing my head in another man’s house but being unwilling to take out even one of my eyes to lead the flock … with clear sight stepping over the cliff… the THREAT is built in, I call it as I see it and it is people, it is people, it is people…He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
(What’s the most important thing in the world? It is people! Etc.)

He mahi kai te taonga, this is Lynn’s advice at PACE. I’m not sure how to take it.

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so Leibniz is the source of Deleuze’s unflappable Candidean affirmation that once one dismisses the rest of all possible worlds (& one really ought to), one finds that this is the best, & c. / the tyranny of service done by distance

God has chosen the world that is the most perfect, that is to say, the one that is at the same time the simplest in hypothesis and the richest in phenomena.

– Leibniz, quoted in Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion, p. 646

Standing on a ship in Japan, I am closer to London than ever I was standing on the banks of the Thames as a mud-lark boy.

– Ibid., p. 682

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