Draft Proposal for a Dissertation on Deleuze and Theatre

Walking into the rehearsal room, possibly with a script in hand, possibly not, flanked by a small group of actors, we are struck – if the room is a familiar one and not itself a complete surprise – by how much is already there, although invisible. The room is not empty. It is not a desert. We do not make work in a vacuum.

Choices stretch out beyond the three or four visible walls. The working area is jam-packed with clichés. So the first task becomes how to clear the room, because the problem confronting us is: where to start.

At the beginning of chapter III of Difference and Repetition, entitled “The Image of Thought,” where the show really gets under way, Gilles Deleuze presents the problem of where to start in philosophy as of the utmost delicacy. Before he gets to it, so as not to make, before the curtain rises on this the opening night, a false start, a false theatre, a false drama, a false movement, he opposes the theatre of representation to the theatre of repetition.

On the latter’s platform, he writes, “we experience pure forces, dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon the spirit, and link it directly with nature and history, with a history, with a language which speaks before words, with gestures which develop before organised bodies, with masks before faces, with spectres and phantoms before characters – the whole apparatus of repetition as a ‘terrible power’.”[Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Continuum, London, 2004, p. 12]

In the rehearsal room, which is our theatre of repetition, and which we often hope to take beyond and to the stage, to the theatre of resemblance – to the run – we are confronted with just the kinds of clichés Deleuze names. Theatre and philosophy depend on where we choose to start: “for beginning means eliminating all presuppositions.”[ibid., p. 164] These presuppositions constitute the Image of Philosophy as much as the choices we face in the rehearsal room constitute the Image of Theatre.

We will never entirely escape the Image. In fact, both theatre and philosophy prepare, albeit in different senses, its advent. Rehearsal, commonsensically, precedes and is only justified by performance. What Deleuze at first calls the theatre of repetition, though it pass to it by a phase of misosophy, ends up philosophy. What is more, as Deleuze remarks in comments about surfing, posthumously published in the Abécédaire, it ends up on the inside of philosophy, having to be reattached to the outside, and to life, again and again, by the living.

Theatre and philosophy, however, differ all the way through: what is artifice for one is an article of faith for the other, because theatre is pretend. Deleuze’s ‘dynamic lines in space’ are a gestural histrionics; his ‘language before words’ is sheer clowning; ‘gestures before bodies’ becomes shorthand for status onstage; ‘masks’ are worn to dissimulate; ‘spectres and phantoms’ appear in the list of dramatis personae as distinct characters; the ‘apparatus’ sounds like the philosophical equivalent of the deux ex machina, the ‘terrible power’ which is achieved with fx and sfx, or smoke and mirrors.

This is where I suggest we start, at the inversion effected on philosophy by theatre, from which two critical prospects immediately arise: metaphoricity and theatricality. By the former is meant the voracity of theatre as metaphor, not only a matter of its discursive frequency, the frequency of its appearance in discourses, and therefore quantifiable, but also a matter of its power, its ‘terrible power’, and therefore qualifiable. By theatricality is meant exactly this quality of theatre-as-metaphor, a distinct metaphoricity.

There are theological, psychoanalytical, philosophical, political, economic, martial and passional theatres. It seems there is a theatre of everything else apart from theatre. Psychoanalysis has used the metaphor of theatre with a compulsiveness bordering on the obsessive to the extent that it has practically metastasized. When it does we see the outcome not as the death of the body but its spectacular recovery, if not as philosophy, then as the thought we tend to call theory, with which theatre shares its etymological roots.

Theatres of war and thought, theatres of engagement and operations, are deadly serious. From within their three walls we hear the sweet bird of truth singing, loud enough that the gods will take notice, having unleashed its payload of explosive. To talk about Paul Virilio’s ‘theatre of thought‘ is to get at the essential Virilio-ness of Virilio, into his very bunker. The play is high stakes; we risk losing everything on a single throw of the dice.

If we are all already squashed into these theatres, as Virilio seems to say, that is, if we are already within the purview of this metaphoricity, then we are here not just to put bums on seats and see the actors get paid; we are not here for the sake of the spectacle but of panic, and terror. The metaphor heightens our experience, makes it immediate, creates the impression we are in danger.

In reality and not hyper-reality, if we run the risk of ultraviolence being used upon our persons, we understand that it remains theatre. Keeping it real, it is at the level of the actor that the danger passes; and that it exists. Even should the theatricality of the moment insist that he avert it with a wave of his chiffon scarf, yet the risk informs the theatrical encounter. The lie here tells the truth.

Theatricality joins, insofar as the theatrical is also artificial, mannered, forced and unnatural, showy, fake, kitsch, camp, ironic, and effeminate, with other logics of inversion. It is an historicising vector of theatre: it contains without ever exhausting the history of artifice; which suggests that it is a logic of sense, in Deleuze a condition of truth and as sensation a condition of creative thought, native to theatre. [Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2003]

As for terror, it is general over the countries and on all sides, in full regard of the theatrical conditions which give rise to and sustain it. Terror could be seen as the disease which afflicts the prevailing humour of theatricality; which suggests a clinical prospect: theatre as an artform.

The problem of theatre’s metaphoricity is that it doesn’t save any room for theatre. The problem of theatricality lies in its power to create between what is and what is not a transformative tension, but one too easily coopted by recognition, representation and the recuperation of identity, rather than absolute inversion or transfiguration. Theatre is blocked. It is the art of representation par excellence.

Art is of signal importance in Deleuze’s philosophy because it is in sensation, in the encounter which disrupts the harmony of the faculties, that thought opens into thought. Art gives access onto the real, the virtual and creative ground of being. For these reasons, it is first in Deleuze that we should look for a ‘thought of theatre.’ It is on the ground of a virtual ontology that we may build theatre as an artform.

Although a collection of essays about him might bear the title Gilles Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy, Deleuze’s writing on theatre amounts to a single extended piece, “Un manifeste de moins.” In this text, Deleuze considers the work of Carmelo Bene, exhorting us to represent nothing, to accede to a minor theatre and a minor consciousness, and to make a decisive transformation.[Gilles Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy: Critical Essays, ed. Constantin V. Boundas, Routledge, USA, 1994. “Un manifeste de moins,” translated as “One Manifesto Less,” by Alan Orenstein, in The Deleuze Reader, ed. Constantin V. Boundas, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993, pp. 204-222]

From 1) the critical project of looking at the ‘theatre of thought,’ as metaphor and logic, comes 2) a clinical consideration of the ‘thought of theatre,’ as artform, from which proceeds 3) thinking theatre: the theatre of theatre.

In this third part of the proposed work, we will seek to build a theatre in thought and set forth the conditions for a thinking theatre. While at the same theatre the death of man is playing tonight, and will be back tomorrow, by popular demand, we will open in theatre another.

The crack of theatricality divides chiffon scarf from act of terrorism by bringing them together. It too divides brothel from church and state. The actor, like the whore or the priest and politician, betrays his promise. But he does so rather before he makes it than after. So it is in it and in him that the problem is shown to come into being and it is here where it is most clearly elaborated: in the theatre we might attend to it as a problem of being and not with being, of and not with ontology.

Herbert Blau gets very close to this sense of a theatrical logic being borne out by a virtual ontology when he writes that what gives theatre life is what theatre hides. As both practitioner and cultural theorist, he attends carefully to “the living insignia of theatre, seen unseen, its troubling materialization from whatever it is it is not.” Where Blau returns us to this side of the looking-glass, to follow Deleuze is to continue around the turn in thought, to come to a place we no longer recognise. [Herbert Blau, “Performing in the Chaosmos: Farts Follicles, Mathematics, and Delirium in Deleuze,” unpublished essay, provided courtesy of the author]

This is the challenge Deleuze presents to thinking, with the object that without too many false starts, but very many rehearsals, we arrive at a theatre of theatre. In the context of New Zealand theatre practice, a theatre without context and a colonial history post- and neo-colonially of diminishing interest, let alone return, the task is to develop a ground on which theatre might justify itself, find its context within itself – the meaning of ‘theatre of theatre’ – and find also within itself the ‘terrible power’ of creation.