Catachrony, la soustraction, Gjentagelsen, and other good words

Samedi 5 décembre de 17 à 18h30
Centre culturel suédois, 11 rue Payenne, 75003 Paris

Collège de la Biennale de Paris :
Les leçons de la soustraction
Il y a pléthore de tout. C’est pourquoi il est temps d’envisager l’activité
productrice comme une soustraction. Furtives et exclusivement orales, Les
leçons de la soustraction prendront place en tous lieux, de façon sporadique
et à la dérobée. Dans la pratique, on oeuvrera en retirant avec méthode un
petit ou un grand quelque chose à ce qui existe déjà.

– via Anart

La soustraction, subtraction: I like the word in French. It has the sense of undermining. It is like that other word that is better in Danish, Gjentagelsen, the title of Kierkegaard’s 1843 essay, Englished as Repetition. The “good Danish word,” Samuel Weber points out, contains the word for “again,” gjen, and “take,” tagelsen, which looks to be in the infinitive form. For Kierkegaard, again, taking this from Weber, such a repetition is different; it is impossible, in so far as it removes and acts at a remove, so that what is repeated simply cannot be the same: identity neither exists between something and the repeat, nor does causality, in the form of consequence, nor does reflection. There is a sequence, but on the second take it does not attribute to itself the power to bestow, or contribute, identity. It is simply a second take on… a room overlooking a square, a scene to which we return only to find it… displaced, a displacement we share with the scene, through Gjentagelsen; it is recurrent, then. Again. [Samuel Weber, Chapter 8 in Theatricality as Medium, Fordham Uni. Press, New York, 2004, pp. 200-228]

The French word does not display such a marked contrast with the English as the Danish but I think it exerts a similar pull, represents a certain difference, and presents an image that compels thought to take up on it; as if there were a mystery to it.

Il faut donc soustraire, toujours soustraire pour retrouver l’image à l’état pur. La soustraction fait apparaître l’essentiel, à savoir que l’image est plus importante que ce dont elle parle, tout comme le langage est plus important que ce qu’il signifie.

– Jean Baudrillard, courtesy of Louise Desrenards

Soustraire carries whatever it is, the je n’sais quoi of it, further; or, more literally, draws it out, or from. Traire is used for milking the cow. We can visualise from this drawing-from how we get to the trait, as a stretch, prolongation, or an extension, which becomes understood as a feature, something which is, rather than unfolded (explicated), extended, like an essential difference, a point, an essence, a distillation. Yet with soustraire, it may be sublime.

What happens in the first passive synthesis, sub-representationally, with the drawing off of differences (or excitations) is that they come to resonate in the second passive synthesis. The word Deleuze uses is s’approfondir: the synthesizing of excitations and bound egos deepens in what may be called a catachrony, a taking on of a temporal element in virtual memory, a deepening in time. Hence, catachrony. Another way of saying this might be, time-mining. This deepening occurs under the influence of a ‘dark precursor’ below the ‘moving soil’ of evanescent matter. What is there? in these lower depths?

Firstly, there are only lower depths, each plumbing deeper, each going down more deeply in the Great Down:

There is no depth which is not a ‘seeker’ of a lower depth: it is there that distance develops, but distance understood as the affirmation of that which it distances, difference as a sublimation of the lower.

– Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, Continuum, p. 294

The structure of time in the process of catachrony, or virtual memory, acts as transcendental ground, a sub-representational infinitude.

In the light of la soustraction, as a philosophical attractor, we might say that it is an extension of this idea. And, possibly, as a ‘seeker’ of a lower depth, la soustraction is a vermiculator, but, unlike in Negarestani, time is wormed out, vermiculate and the ( )hole itself, catachronous: think a catacomb memory, speak.

Alain Badiou subtracts from philosophy its truth-telling power; in Deleuze such a subtraction would be an extension. The sub-representational genesis of the object is something like a guarantor of its intelligibility. The void is devoid of actors in Badiou. For Deleuze the void is not all take, and the dark precursor is there mining time, which is a fold and an endless fold in the void. Enfolded in its pleats are those intensities, differences, which it is the responsibility of the structure of the syntheses to extract and purify. To draw out and distill.

My father was fond of quoting Eliot saying, and I think I would rather misquote the latter in an act of remembrance of the former than discover the source of the citation:

I distill and distill and distill.
And the little that is left,
that is my essence.
That is my art.

Beckett’s repetition of Joyce, whose paternal influence he had such trouble drawing off, distills itself, is subtracted, in Beckett’s work in a similar way. But what is the relation of subtraction to theatre? What follows as a note is intended for fleshing out at a later date:

The last thing theatre is is an art of subtraction. There is always too much. This is the very meaning of the word ‘theatrical.’ There is so so much it is not containable onstage. In the medieval mystery play it goes down. In the Age of Enlightenment a deus ex machina descends like a scoop to skim off this excess. In the 19th Century we see tabs and skirts and other curtains gleefully multiplying like an erotics of underwear, to hide it by showing it. A textile fantasia and great precursor of modernity’s obsession with fashion, nothing in itself. The Elizabethan stage manifested a linguistic excessiveness unparalleled. Shakespeare damned by Shaw for not subtracting! Attic drama moves the very event offstage, focusing us on the peripeteia (Περιπέτεια), as if to say, Theatre is close to but not the mystery itself. the mystery of subtraction…

The 20th Century’s obsession with the forms of representation, its saturation in imagery, can be seen as inoculation, literally, and a fetishization. Evidence, as a matter of course, I would say, that we don’t see. Because of a didacticism whereby looking is constructed as something that leads nowhere. With so much to see, we don’t.

Moving is a form of looking. This may seem a strange thing to say in an age of mobile labour forces but despite appearances I am talking about reality. What I mean in view of moving that we tend to carry representational framing devices with us everywhere, which themselves don’t move. This is a self-imposed too-much-ness. It constitutes the visual field at once as theatrical. We even know that the whole picture evades us. But we yearn to be drawn on our conclusions nonetheless. As if in the interval of a play. We know our points of view to be provisional but there is always about to be too much going on and for fear of reductionism we bear witness to the frames by which are as much blinded as fixed in time and space, unmoving.

Theatre is the opposite of subtraction. This is why a theatre is the very thing a philosophy is supposed not to be.

– nb