thirty-fifth part, called “subjective powers XXXV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subjective powers

We don’t know a surface is working until there is movement, but we don’t know there is a surface until something surfaces. We only know, as such, on the surface. Perceiving movement, as it entrains us, as we follow it, is not movement, but neither does surfacing nor surface resonance constitute movement.

We know when, to enter into hyperbole, there is a successful sacrifice. So does the actor. He feels something rise to the surface, or, she feels something descend to the surface.

There must be a type between a beginning actor, in whom the sense of risk is strongest, and a selfish actor, in whom it is weakest. We should remind ourselves that what is being risked is what had been perceived as personal, even as most personal, taking on a life of its own, becoming impersonal. We should also say from the start that this danger, and concomitant sense of risk, does not belong to organised humanity.

Trust, initially, is important, but the danger here is that a beginning actor can think of this as an opportunity to spill her guts. A selfish actor takes it for granted, places trust in technique. Still, a need for it remains, in rehearsal, in the workshop or studio, in the invisible work.

For a beginning actor, she is feeling her way out onto the stage. It seems like a void she is scared of filling too much at the same time as she is scared of entirely disappearing into it. The first step out onto the void is the decision we have focused on so far. Do we withdraw trust if it is betrayed, there? when everything he does becomes so heavy, so necessary, so meaningful and deep? Significant of the depths? No, then we make recourse to nonjudgement.

She is not to be judged for the mess she has made… yet, somehow, we have to maintain the risk and not let it slide into, … slide up, we might say, attaining the heights of established technique. We know what happens: a selfish actor, or a selfish director who was once a selfish actor, mansplains. Or, of course, womansplains: she is supportive; his tendency is to condescend. Both have the same effect, and when she demonstrates as when he does we see it, we know it, we know that without anything surfacing there is no surface. The risk is either from the heights or depths. …of course, when the skilled actor demonstrates we may not even see her technique.

Neither surface nor stage rest on convention. Neither are institutions. They are not, until we get stuck.

This is what happens with a beginning actor, he sees the institution, he sees the acting surface, the space itself, studio, workshop, rehearsal room, or the stage, as an institution. His participation is already weighted. At that first step, stuck in the mud.

A selfish actor treats it as a convention, is sucked down with the conventional, that, despite it being quicksand, she sinks into, like a warm bath. She is at home on the stage, as some people are said to be at home with the conventions of social media. And does not feel she is stifled. She is a star, a little one perhaps, but guarding her little light the more fiercely for that, for that investment, from the trolls.

From the heights, like the Word, or from the depths, we see ‘it’ when it moves. The surface enabling it to move, putting it on the move, at the surface. Movement that is not resonance or involution but of gestures, of symbols…

Such symbols are not yet human. They are not yet organised into structures, systems, when they are thought to be so. Again, all is subrepresentational; all meaning, no structure, no system.

A process is invented. It is by a series of cuts we move from one thing to another and, at the same time, from one meaning to another. We can see this process in reading from the printed page or screen.

Across the surface of the page, we watch the characters take something from the depths, our interest, as they are contrived to do, and something from the heights, as they contrive to do, often with the noisome feeling we are being talked down to. The surface of reading tends to be successful, until it sinks into conventional meanings, or gets stuck in institutional ones. And the process, invented, improvised at the time, working often against structure and system, destructuring into a style of comprehension, perhaps, mobilising the characters into meanings is as little projected as the saccading movement of our eyes.

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

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