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

the subject

A selfish actor surveys his gesture. In it she sees a world. One in which she is she. Or he is. She pats the pelt of it. And this reference to self, in it are recalled all of his lines, in her mouth, his in hers, and so on. All of the blocking. The mise en scène, which we learn from Anthony Bourdain we can shorten to mise, in a crucial distinction from the en abîme of what we might call ‘life.’ That is, Bourdain speaks of the kitchens where he spent most of his working life, and of the chefs he worked with, from whom he learnt both his craft and his style.

He is speaking of the setup particular to each chef, why she comes in first thing, sets up, puts on her apron, unrolls her bag of knives, puts each in place (the sous was entrusted with sharpening them the night before), and prepares the working space. And abuses anyone who shifts a thing a centimetre before service. An altogether different approach from self-reference.

The selfish actor comes on stage and remembers her lines. The unselfish type, for which we don’t yet have a name (the opposite of the selfish actor is not the selfless), comes on stage and forgets them. He, or it, no matter, loses track of the mise, is unaware of the blocking. And yet, and yet, hits the mark, speaks the part, or, better, acts the part, whereas a selfish actor just performs.

We might ask, in view of a strategic approach to theatre, if not to writing on theatre, since this is our purpose, what are the different conditions of subjectivity? And why should we attach a pejorative sense to performance? Are we dividing it in half as we have language, not into speech versus writing, but preexisting, structured system and having forgotten structure? Same with acting, thinking, doing: each has another inside it, which for the sake of that inside, it forgets.

So is a selfish actor forgetful of performing? Or is it the other type, that seems the better, forgetful of it all being no more than a performance? Isn’t the very type of the selfish actor, its epitome, the one who believes her own hype? something like a competitive performer, a high-performance athlete of the stage.

After all, he needs self-belief to survive in a sometimes harsh world. This is the commercial reality. But it is not a commercial reality we need embrace in the theatre, is it? become the bitches of, give it airtime. It’s said: that depends on how many theatres you want to see close.

I think the question here is exactly of a language, and of losing the power of speech, losing that power to speak for itself and on its own terms, of theatre, but of any kind—even the kitchen where Bourdain has his mise. Being the bitch of the commercial institution, of commercial institutionalisation (the institution being the level at which power speaks, to power), means theatre stopping performing. Performing means losing self-reference. It’s a language thing, so, Bourdain has his mise.

What then is the reference of the subject, if not itself? We can directly say it is its undoing. Because in the subject, theatre, itself, herself (himself, the accommodation is to the pronominal not to the commercial reality), is a stage. It underlines the action, or the performance. This the selfish actor knows, but she does not feel the cut, or is inured to it, scar-tissue, and so on. The cut dividing, we might say, poverty from riches, or just cause from poor excuse, that plays out across its surface, because as a surface it is an opening. Each time an opening, an outside. So things, the most profound things, riches, the justice of good causes, are undone at the most superficial level of the surface.

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

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