twenty-fourth part, called “the subject XXIV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

We perceive ourselves to be subjects in view of symbolic structure and in view of something else, that concerns how we perceive. It’s hard to get away from the idea that we are not the subjects of symbolic structure. Subjected to the system: but this has become a vague term, as if we have to blow off the historical dust that’s settled there. Either that, or remove the dustsheets covering it. To discover, what?

It’s Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. It’s the mechanical universe and Euclidean space. And humanism. And post-humanism.

It’s the system of knowledge meted out and divvyed up by the levels of education, where it’s inculcated. It’s capitalism, of course. And where we might have found a sharp blade in this term, we encounter the field of its diffusion. With which the very air is redolent… Then it’s postwar capitalism, liberalism, neoliberalism and postcapitalism. This we have alluded to in the field of data.

So, isn’t the air thick now with dust and the gaseous apparatus to which we are subjected? Well, yes. Abram, enacting an archeology of preliterate conceptions of space and time and their interpenetration, finds the future to be beyond the horizon of every thing, the past to be in the depths (as in Robert MacFarlane’s wonderful—wunderkammerlich—book, Underland, whence it is, like anthrax and the dead, each day the ice recedes, vomited up; the anthropocene as emetic?), and the present, sheer presence, to be here, in the air. The great Air Spirit that the system of our present dystopia is for whatever reason despoiling. Bringing about a present crisis which is also a crisis of time.

The system for poststructuralist and postmodern (think death of Master Narratives, critique, deconstruction of Transcendental Signifier) thinkers is both in us and all around. The concept of power Foucault develops at the beginning of his History of Sexuality project is its immanence. Power is productive, inciting to production, of what else but subjects?

The system is the system of subjection, producing subjects. The structure is their structure. Ours: it is how we stage psychic or mental development, finding in each place a symbolic occurrence, and build up a case study, from Klein’s theatre of terror where the symbols are still being eaten and spewed in a terrifying and liquid exchange between infant and mother, all the way to the surface that seems stable but every so often breaks open, swallowing us, or, as we said before, spitting what we are out of the structure. And notice here the verbal and regurgitative functions: just like God who spits out of his mouth—the same the Word came from—the lukewarm, presumably conserving the hot and the cold like a ball of tobacco in His mouth, to chew over on the Sabbath, or like cud, the cud of the cow who naturally moos.

Ours: it is how in each place is found a symbolic occurrence and these are codified into, what else, but codes. Codes of public morality; or, just public codes. Performing the social functions of language as discourse: all the way from the founding of institutions to institutionalisation. Again, ours.

Ours, the system means that in each place a symbolic value is put in for what is there; how what is there is extracted and enters into the system of symbolic exchange. The system is that of this triple ecology (of Guattari), psychic, social, environmental, determining how each plays its part: from the machining, the tooling out, the impress of the individual, all the way to the machinic governance of its ultimate instantiation in the System of the World. But the world is now the cosmos, and human nature is destiny, even if it be conducted by high-order machines.

So it’s bad then is it? We know it to be, but we also know it to break apart. And where does it break apart?

Better ask who are the individuals because it is their (our) separation from the system, that distance, that the system relies on, distances that are structural. Enabling both the putting together of the machine-like system and its falling to pieces, tears, and so on. Between each one of us stage doors swing open, that double as fire-escapes. But the same can be said for the vertiginous individuality of flowers in the field, stones on the path, letters on the page, words in the air and clouds. Consider the inseparability of schizophrenia: the schizophrenic (which was the initial, after the first nonmedical one, diagnosis of my friend Tony) is out of his head, but not free—because the world is burning down. Or, rather, the world is burning up, in each flame another sign of it.

Here, yes, the whole world is a stage (and Tony is pretending); but also notice the absence of any offstage: this is not the same as nowhere private and the great debate between our private rights and public powers, and their incursion into our private lives. It concerns that other line, that is the same line. The one underlining, with an exaggeration that also belongs to artifice. It separates by cutting and we gave the image of pruning—which makes it sound like another castration, after the ones psychically, socially and environmentally inflicted, and, we must specify, inflicted without regard for gender. So it is neutral… then, castration does nothing but remind me of the Wizard who has now a blade, behind the curtain, or at the tabernacle. This is its symbolic function.

We come to the surface: it’s hard to escape the feeling of our intrinsic and terrible depths. Should we begin to act, we are reminded we are already, were already acting. It’s hard to shake off the feeling: and for actors to be trained used to require no less than what we can properly name a kenosis. Empty. Come to nothing.

My father used to do an exercise with young actors (bear in mind that dramatic exercises are never explained) almost parodying the breaking down the emptying out of becoming tabula rasa which acting was supposed to require. In it, the director would ask an actor, who had been told to shut her eyes and stand still, What do you see? The answer, prescribed, and true: Nothing. Perhaps, Reach out. Touch. Then: What do you feel? The answer, scripted but true, again: Nothing.

Pause. Pauses after each answer. A Beckett play.

Where are you? This time: Nowhere. The actor, blind, suspended in space: the answer true. The pauses like a relief or a reward, to be savoured, for telling the truth.

What do you feel?




What … are … you?


We have our complexes, our private histories, our genetic predispositions, our phylogenetic and inherited characteristics, our chemistries always threatening to show imbalance. Waiting for imbalances to show. The young actor reassured. Knowing if they do, if he dissolves, a heap on the floor, in tears; if she resists then cracks all the more severely, radically, knowing if they do there is the comfort of those pauses, that silence, that nothing. This is sometimes called trust.

Yes, we may betray ourselves today, thinking we are acting, then not be. Then, as Elric Hooper used to say, escaping into humour. Laughing. The fear, the terror, in fact, was supposed to be salutary. 

We have come back to the earlier theme of risk. It’s very personal, the structure of the subject, the system producing that structure. And despite its denegation, it is entirely positive.

Is the fear for or of nothing? We know the fear not to be nothing. But it’s a strange experience, standing onstage, knowing there’s nothing holding you up.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

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