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.