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