June 2008

how do you like your actor your puppet your doll? rigid or soft? Plushie or Anatomically correct?

Can a mask have vision? We know it can grant vision and produce spectacular effects. But without eyes, can a mask have vision?

Mask, Ferdinand Khnopff, c. 1897

We know eyes as an answer to the problem of light. Humanists make the distinction, moralising, that men and women walk in light. Does vision require light? … as it does on stage, where light is the medium as much as time.

Margherita Sarfatti, Adolfo Wildt, 1929

Where then draw the line? Between light and dark? And on which side of the line put vision? What the eye can discern in the shadow, the liminally sensible, that you feel and see, out of the corner of your eye, reveals more at the limit of visibility than the mere habit of light’s vegetable prerogative, enhanced in the animal by the structure of the eye, to use light to evolutionary advantage.

The puppet is sometimes more alive than the man – or woman. The photograph is sometimes more lifeless than the painting. The artifice for the Aesthete has it all over nature.

I have eyes. But, on reflection, I look past sight … and, like Gilles Deleuze says of Francis Bacon, see the head before the face: I have it in meat. My non-organic substratum sees seeing. And seeing, I wear a mask.

Head II, Francis Bacon, 1949

To give vision its due, something specific is there. I’ve said in an earlier post that vision is useless. Yes, and think use for what the runner-bean does with light, what the cornea does: these habits, in Henri Bergson’s sense, that are so useful but beside the point… of vision.

– Henri Bergson

Tell an actor to count to ten, to chew gum, and find some distraction, an amortised plane, a dead-end thought, outside the superimperative, or, specifically, out of sight of the primary intention, and that intention sometimes is liberated from personal expression. And we, the audience, we, the director, hear and see, sense, the living meat, which constitutes a performance. Artifice? What’s that?

Jonathan Kalb, in Play by Play, a work I’ve cited, reports from the Watermill Center on Robert Wilson’s directing style: “Be careful when you sit,” Wilson is upbraiding an actor, “You’re moving in your mind before you move in the body.” Wilson says ‘the’ body, not your body, the ‘meat’ body, the physical ‘real’ body, which is ‘a’ and ‘any’ body’s: so, the body’s body.

“You can’t do that,” continues Wilson, according to Kalb, “The mind is a muscle.” And implicit is that the action of a muscle is visible, sensible (by the director, the ideal audience)… even as it is neither seen to be seen, nor sensed to be sensed, which is a problem concerning the secondary phenomena of representation.

Robert Wilson: Please be careful not to express! If you try to express yourself, it’s unbearable [pause] to me. [in Jonathan Kalb, Play by Play, p. 123]

Declan Donnellan, in The Actor and the Target, makes what I have written sound like a gothic infatuation, an idealised version of vision I have because I’ve never ‘done it.’

… seeing things is not so easy sometimes, particularly when it is dark. How then can we light up the darkness? Actually there is no such thing as the dark; there is merely an absence of light. But what could be casting this shadow over everything i see? There is a clue. If I examine this darkness I will see that it has a familiar outline. I has exactly the same shape as … me. We make darkness by getting in the way of the light. In other words we can only nourish our imaginations by not getting in the way; the less we darken the world, the clearer we see it.

– Declan Donnellan, The Actor and the Target, Theatre Communications Group, London, 2002, p. 10


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Residual/Vestigial (neither sublime, nor quintessence or essence)

Residual would be the word I was looking for in the previous post, in which Duchamp’s infra-mince is again at work…

…or David Byrne’s sound that never leaves a theatre

knee play 1, drawing by Robert Wilson

…from the knee plays

– for the CIVIL warS, Robert Wilson, the international artistic event of the 1984 LA Olympics… from which (and from whom) the Olympic Arts Committee withdrew support

point to point

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Between Complexities (Dense/Heavy/Solid): Exploring the Rift (Vestigial/Light/Fluid) between Two Self-organising Forms, Poem & Play: project description for creative and professional development, in part, in draft

What happens when the characters from this play drop the words that up to this point they’ve been speaking, when they forget the expressions and gestures they’ve been rehearsing, and leave the play behind altogether, to walk, like children in an enchanted wood, through the story of Semele, picking their own lines as they go?[Semele]

This project explores the rift between the play, organised for its characters, and the poetic text, an arrangement of words. It asks, once the two supporting structures have been removed, what is left?

It finds, in places, a vestigial tracery of cracks, like a pattern in iron sand; in other places, a chasm opens, deep as a mountain-range is high, but again with its own delicacy and natural harmony. The poem and play have been pressed together. The project runs into the sometimes infinitesimal, sometimes gaping, difference between them, following the movement and process of differences, looking for a life outside the self-organising principles of the play or poem.

What I have not mentioned is story or drama, in the hope that these things will live inside the structures which eventuate and inhabit them with a sense found rather than forced. For structures that are at once a leaf skeleton and the instantaneous brush-stroke of a master calligrapher preparation is what is most important.

point to point

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innocent of everything

Jonathan Kalb tells Heiner Müller that Brecht has never been in fashion in the States, to which Müller, according to Kalb, answers: “”That’s because Americans are all innocents.” The most difficult audiences in the world and “the most dangerous people” are “those who feel innocent of everything.””

– in Jonathan Kalb’s Play by Play: Theatre Essays and Reviews, 1993-2002, Limelight, New York, 2003, p. 83

– Heiner Müller with Robert Wilson, who is an American


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Revisiting Chekhov, after 20 years’ neglect, with Michael Pennington, who is passionate about his subject, & talks of revisiting the playwright after his own period of neglect. Then, what’s a year to a grand passion? What’s a hundred? Seven hundred?

Three Sisters at the Moscow Art Theatre

Chekhov is also bringing from his journalism a sharp eye for the obsessive, for the ludicrous ease with which we ignore other people’s needs. This is a farce technique, but now used for something a farceur hardly aspires to: a hymn to our doomed, resentful independence. It is as if he had suddenly seen how communities are formed in spite of themselves, in the length and breadth of Russia. All his plays from [The Seagull] involve a local group dealing with visitors from somewhere else who then go away, leaving Vanya and Sonya, the three sisters and old Firs struggling.

– Michael Pennington, Are you There, Crocodile? Inventing Anton Chekhov, Oberon Books, London, 2003, p. 37

– a young Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

In a bad production of The Cherry Orchard, Gaev willingly serenades his bookcase or talks about billiards because he’s a funny old thing. In a good one you see that the pain of his nostalgia, and his discomfiture in his present company, is forcing him into foolishness.

– Ibid., p. 53

– Chekhov with Tolstoy


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caution: language

Gibson is back with his trademark use of language to set mood and feeling

– review by S. Potter “thepothole” of William Gibson’s Spook Country, @ amazon.com .

Now that the present has caught up with William Gibson’s vision of the future, which made him the most influential science fiction writer of the past quarter century, he has started writing about a time–our time–in which everyday life feels like science fiction.

– Amazon.com, @ ibid.

Now that you’re writing about the present, do you consider yourself a science fiction writer these days? Because the marketplace still does.

– Amazon.com, @ ibid.

I happened to read Charlie Stross’s argument as to why he believes that there will never, ever be any manned space travel. It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to colonize Mars. All of that is just a big fantasy. And it’s so convincing. I read that and I’m like, “My god, there goes so much of the fiction I read as a child.”

– William Gibson, @ ibid.

the most important writer of our time

– John Kwok, @ ibid.


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@ PACE: day 12… some kind of epoche?

A vision differs from a mission, or statement of mission, and from a prediction, according to the EPOC Workbook. A prediction extrapolates from the present into the future. It renovates the past and tends not to innovate or create a new and envisioned future. A mission describes a present purpose or reason for being.

A prediction makes a forecast using the datum of the present; it is contingent. A mission imposes an order or meaning on the present; it is expedient. A vision is creative; it is a virtual future experienced by and extracted from plunging oneself into the virtual present: a cast of the dice, then, chance or fate, separates a vision from the present, which by no means makes it indeterminate or is a sign of its conditionality. A vision is determinate and unconditional. A vision is also quite useless.

Since a process of visualisation, with the aim of having workshop attendees articulate their vision, lies at the heart of EPOC (Exploring Processes Of Creation), the EPOC Workbook cannot concur: a vision must be flexible, creative, yes, and above all it must be useful. I attended the workshop, as part of the PACE programme, on June 10 and 11; that’s over a week ago, a week during which I’ve found it difficult to move beyond either the contradictions embodied in EPOC or the visionary process.

I have not followed through and set goals and completed action plans to meet those goals so as possibly to arrive at the point of my vision’s potential fulfillment. I have not embraced and therefore not empowered my vision. I have languished in a state of sub-visionary isolation wondering what the hell I can do to escape my vision.

This is not even Eliot’s “bewildered enlightenment.” This is getting stuck in that precinct of the rabbit-hole which always scared me the most, seeming the most literal, the most imaginatively reductive and real, real as nightmare: Through the Looking-Glass:

And what did Alice find there? The point is that she found something and she didn’t get to choose what it was. She found something but had to put up with staying there until she did. And when she did, she was still there affirming the uselessness of it. … Not that I’m suggesting some sort of moral reprieve ought to be inflicted on or suffered by either Alice or myself. … What did Deleuze find there?

What’s been going on in my head has for the last week been out of reach of reason. It is a state of affairs it would be very easy to exaggerate. I could, dear reader, tell you about a dark shape moving in the undergrowth, an emergency in the id, “bodies falling,” and the cruel cycle of destruction … of life and death. It would be easy to sensationalise and say that something happened, that something has, that something is.

I’m tempted – more sorely, more poignantly than St. Anthony – to start at the beginning, again. Like a Beckett character is tempted. Again. I can’t; I will: like Nietzsche’s, Qui peut; Qui fait.

However, I am forever in the middle and am rather ethically impelled than morally to resist temptation. On the first day of the workshop, Lynn asked me how I was. Fine. Don’t bullshit me, he said. I went on to try to explain the difficulty I had with this way of thinking; this way of thinking that is a strange mixture of the hopelessly abstract with the hopefully actual; this new utopianism: this science fiction. A week on and I still haven’t decided what I mean.

I had, at least, decided to learn something. And kept thanking – it must have seemed bizarre -, thanking, at every opportunity I was given to share thoughts and comments, thanking the audience at the workshop for being such a wonderfully diverse and interesting bunch of young people. (They didn’t require that ingratiating epithet: I strike it through! counter-indicatively.) What did I gain from the workshop? Thank you, PACE, for bringing such a wonderfully diverse and interesting bunch of people into contact. (What contact has there been since the workshop? None.)

At the end of the day, the second day, I also wanted it recorded how alien I found the way of thinking. It wasn’t so much recorded as heard. I mean, I didn’t finally want to say it, I wanted it heard. Alien? Really? asked Lynn. Yes. These comments had been elicited somewhat prematurely by one of the attendee’s testifying that the workshop had given him all the things that school should have, lessons for actual living. I returned with, My daughter, at secondary school, complains at the constant value-identifying, visualisation exercises and mind-mapping.

And did I engage with the white square and the black square? the empty field? It lay open waiting to be filled with a visionary differential. I went in determined to tick boxes and I tried.

I discovered things about myself, like: as a director, I want to be more of an architect; as a writer, I want to be more of a photographer; I prefer dining al fresco; there’s a room that the Venice Biennale uses I’d love to make a piece of work for; my romantic ideal is taking a theatre group overseas, then dining al fresco, then leaving the party early and having fantastic sex in an hotel room; travel is more important to me than money … But I don’t yet know if money for travel is more important to me than making work.

– check out that back wall

– not this one but this is pretty good

You see? I did have a vision. It was squirty and architectural and visionary. And my first goal is to make four shows in 2009, arbitrarily, uselessly. How absurd!

– anon. avant-garde Chinese artist

Check in later for the other Goals and the Action Plan. Where you will hear Vision say:


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November 18, 1982, at 12.35 am., Neal Ian Roberts detonated six sticks of gelignite in his backpack and in sight of the two security guards blew himself up in the foyer of the Wanganui Computer Centre. He was nearly 22.

Police identified the body from tattooed pieces of skin. Parts of his body were discovered up to 65 metres from the centre of the blast. Across his chest he’d had tattooed: This punk won’t see 23. Over the road from the building housing the Wanganui police computer, on the wall of a public toilet, he’d written, For too long we have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity, followed by an A(narchy) is O(rder) sign.

His friends regarded his death as an act of martyrdom. Returning to the suicide bombing seven years later, right-wing tabloid newspaper, Truth, ran the headline: We Remember Neal Roberts… The leader announced that punk groups throughout New Zealand had the previous Saturday, on the anniversary of Neal Roberts’s death, held quiet memorials for “a martyr.” Interviewed by Truth, Bronwyn Dutton said, “He talked suicide for three years and he had every intention of doing it. It was not an act of cowardice … it was making a statement with his life.”

The Wanganui computer went live in 1976. Then incumbent Minister of Police, Alan McCready, said it was “probably the most significant crime-fighting weapon ever brought to bear against lawlessness in this country.” “This country” was another country under Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. He introduced the Wanganui Computer Act. It granted the State Services Commission the remit to set up the Law Enforcement System at Wanganui to handle all operational, management and historic information across the justice sector, Police, Justice and Land Transport. The Serious Fraud Office was later given access to the records held at Wanganui, as were certain authorised local authorities.

In 1981, during civil unrest, riots, marches, sit-ins and protests for and against the national tour by South African rugby team, the Springboks, it was alleged that the Wanganui system was used extensively by law enforcement agents, both the police and the Secret Intelligence Service, to identify protest organisers and ideological opponents of the state. Even before the ’81 Tour, Robert Muldoon’s virulent anti-communism had divided New Zealand.

There was the “man in the street” and “reds, commies and pinkos” under the beds, in the universities, in the schools and trade unions. I recall, but cannot find an image, a poster that appeared in ’81. It comprised a single block of text, white on black, a paranoid anti-red, anti-intellectual, ant-student, tract. Below the text, in italics, was printed, Adolf Hitler, 1933 – Robert Muldoon, 1980.

In 1995, the Computer Centre was closed and the mainframe moved to Auckland, where it retained the name, “Wanganui Computer.” In 1999, the Government permanently shelved INCIS.

INCIS, Increment One National Intelligence System, was supposed to be the first installment of a replacement for the Wanganui Computer. It was a project led by IBM and by 1999 had become a source of major political embarrassment. Exceeding its $98 million budget by tens of millions, INCIS failed in delivering a viable system.

– IBM poster, c. 1934, (trans. “see all with Hollerith punchcards”)

The National Intelligence Application (NIA) proved to be the successor to the Wanganui Centre. In 2005, the Wanganui Computer was decommissioned and NIA, running under IBM’s WebSphere application server, took over as the central repository for information across New Zealand justice and state services sectors. NIA is a client-server application, the client developed in Smalltalk and the servers in VAGen. This year, 2008, will see the migration of its server code to Java.




anima: of people, puppets, Tesla & Zeus

In the previous post, in Rodolphe Rapetti’s description, the little girl in the photograph on the harmonium has become a “living doll,” “lifeless,” with “vacant eyes;” the picture of her actual body “disembodies eroticism.” (He does not, however, pass over the opportunity to make a sexual joke of “pull[ing] all the stops” to produce the “perverse fascination” of the “mechanical performance” she promises.) Whereas the work of the Nabis and Jarry with marionettes and, by inference, Symbolism itself “conjure[s] up a dramaturgy in which an author’s inventiveness [can] forgo flesh-and-blood actors.” The puppets offer an embodiment for Symbolism’s theatre of concepts, the flesh and blood of actors forgone, that is by contrast alive, vital, full, and erotic. [Symbolism, pp. 73-74 & 83]

Pierre Louÿs’s little girl is posed. She’s sat on an organ; her legs are spread; her head is tilted. She is first a passive recipient of the photographer’s instruction and might easily have been replaced with an anatomically correct doll but for the affect of vitality the photographer perhaps wished to extract from her living body. The question is: Is that affect all the more striking for being pressed, posed, forced out and subsisting in the image as a furtive pulse or point? Or is it the knowledge we have, the presumption we make, that the girl was alive at the time the photo was taken?

These two possibilities correspond to Rolande Barthes’s concepts of the punctum and studium. In Camera Lucida, Barthes asks a similar question of a photograph. He asks it because the photograph has an immediate affect on him and he wants to discover whether that affect is somehow localisable on the surface in the photograph or is in him, on the surface, in the beholder’s eye. Contrary to expectation, he finds something, some little thing, in the photo, which does not belong to the body of knowledge, social, historic, etc. he brings to the photo. He invents the terms punctum to cover this small thing and studium for what the viewer brings to the photo, which, presumably, includes the part of the viewer’s knowledge that resonates along with the punctum.

An additional question may now be asked: Do puppets have a punctum? Rapetti quotes Heinrich von Kleist, who said that the line of movement, or arabesque, of the marionette was “nothing less than the path of the dancer’s soul.” [Symbolism, p. 83] Does puppetry distill a human aspect, an affect, and literally re-present it? And, then, the obvious further question: Or is it the actor or dancer, the living person, who steals from the puppet or doll its soul?

These questions revolve round the problem of representation encountered earlier in posts here with regard to Dorothea Olkowski’s The Ruin of Representation. Olkowski pursues her line of inquiry in The Universal to ask of the punctum and that in the viewer’s studium with which it resonates whether there is an ontological basis for this resonance, this passing of energy, this vibration in the sensibility. She asks, therefore, about a relational process of differentiation and differenciation.

Symbolism raised the disembodied and embodied spectre of animation at the end of the 19th century, the problem of the uncanny, of unholy possession and of transported and ambulatory souls. Spiritualism testifies to the perverse fascination of science with that furtive substance animating puppets, dolls and people in their affects and the immaterial in its effects. It was called electricity or magnetism, in combination, electromagnetism, as if the divine breath were experienced by mortal man and woman in a thunderbolt.

– publicity photo of Nikola Tesla

– Semele perishes at the sight of Zeus

Coming soon: rigid or yielding? How do you like your puppet? Anatomically correct or plushie?

point to point

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Poe, Baudelaire, Rops, erotic idolatory & satanic idleness; Jarry’s & Maeterlinck’s redefinition of theatrical space: of puppets & porn

The title Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (translated into French as Histoires extraordinaires) combines two terms taken from the vocabulary of the decorative arts, erecting an aesthetic system on the opposition between fantastic caricature and nonfigurative ornament, between the deformation of the body and the pure abstraction of line, between what belongs to the metaphysical domain and what does not. The choice of this graphic metaphor as the title of a collection of stories posits a principle of equivalence betwen literary and artistic expression. A radical shift stems from the postulate that the aesthetic realm can have pertinence that empowers it, like a philosophical system, to generate a comprehensive conception of the world. The perspective opened by Poe and Baudelaire, given its metaphysical ambitions and poetic scope, pointed the way to a pan-aestheticism that would be incarnated by Symbolism.

– Rodolphe Rapetti, Symbolism, trans. Deke Dusinberre, Flammarion, Paris, 2005, pp. 65-66

As Baudelaire wrote, “The unique and supreme pleasure of love resides in the certainty of doing evil. And man and woman know right from birth that in evil resides all pleasure.” An awareness of and quest for evil as a requirement of freedom are what set artists apart from the rest of society. Satanism and dandyism went together – both were modern inscriptions of myth. Baudelaire’s modernity was of course subject to current events, current fashions, and the shifting flow of social life; but his acute attention to the present, far from being cultivated as a value in itself, existed only as a function of a quest for timeless qualities.

– Ibid., p. 75

– Félicien Rops, Calvary, 1882

Félicien Rops (1833-1898) … Described as a “phony idler.” [by Edmon Picard, “L’infame Fély,” L’Art moderne 43, October 24, 1886, p. 338]

– Ibid. p. 69

Rops’s picture of sexuality was basically modern in so far as it involved risk and a certain technical skill, and eschewed metaphor.

– p. 74

– Félicien Rops, Black Mass, 1883

The Frenchman’s imagery clearly conditioned the erotic imagination of an entire era and a social class.

A few extant photographs by Pierre Louÿs testify to the persistence of Rops’s conception, although here the maniacal, erotic tension ultimately turns to parody.

– Pierre Louÿs, Nude Girl on Harmonium, c. 1895

The altar has been replaced by a harmonium and the symmetrical organisation of Rops’s composition has given way to a dislocation in which the female figure takes on the vacancy of a doll. Her body goes from consenting victim in Rops’s work to an automaton with lifeless eyes, waiting for someone to come along and pull all the stops that govern movement. Eroticism is disembodied to the point where all that remains is a perverse fascination with what has become a mechanical performance. Through voyeurism, Rops’s satanism has ebbed into mockery, fantasy has become desanctified.

– Ibid., pp. 73-74

The Nabis’s theatrical activity, and their work with Jarry around marionettes, was not a mere sideline to painting even if it left few visible traces. It was an integral part of their exploration of the relationship between tangible reality and various fictional forms that an artwork might adopt. The return to the Italian primitives and to noble forms consecrated by history thus also had a subversive counterpart, one that drew on a playful, lower-class tradition and that enjoyeda significant, if subterranean, heritage … As a theatre of pure concepts, Symbolism thus conjured up a dramaturgy in which an author’s inventiveness could forgo flesh-and-blood actors. “The acting in such works … matters little. You can’t find actors who can create states of mind,” wrote A. van Bever on Maeterlinck. [in his Maurice Maeterlinck, Paris, 1904, p. 15]

– Ibid., p. 83

– Thommy Conroy’s production of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi with puppets, Pittsburgh, USA, 2007

– Marian Pecko’s production of Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Blind with puppets Bialystok, Poland, 2001


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