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

subjective powers

We see more clearly what is at stake in a beginning actor. Everything for some. That’s why it can be a good exercise to raise the stakes. And we might leap immediately to the conclusion that this means the stakes for you, or me, personally; the guts we sometimes say it takes guts to show: when we know the visceral does not come from the viscera.

Out on the stage, on the surface, even when they are real, like in the case of Hermann Nitsch, there’s something pitiful about this loose jumble of organs. And something shameful in the sacrifice. Nudity, sexual acts, faked are pathetic, performed have a flattening effect, unless the point of these is this alone: to be what they are, and, being what they are, the effect of the surface. That is, the stakes are rather flattened than raised. Pornography tends to being a pure surface on which nothing moves, and it is often, if not always, the artifice or its exaggeration that we find moving: shame or titillation, it can go either way.

With artifice and exaggeration, we are back home in the theatre. The ‘being what they are’ which looked to be an action, wanted to be an event, ends up being a subject who makes no more claims on us than any other. On a raised board, underlined, so we can see it as it is, or as it ought to be.

In other words, at the extremes there are no breaks. Open your legs, open your fly, your mac, and what are you asking for, really? Sympathy? Same with the spill of our innermost organs, those structuring identity. Those upon which it is said we can make a politics.

The stakes it can be a good exercise to raise are indeed the ones we place in what is personal. And here they can have the value of our identities, of our selves. Of the jumble of things which go to make us up: they have the inflated value our investment has given to them, that inflated is real; and it is not for the sake of a disenchantment, for their deflation to ‘being what they are,’ or for the spectacle of humiliation or a moral lesson, however twisted, like the one parodied, when I am nothing. When he was, as Mervyn Thompson wrote about 1984, an empty husk. But it is to raise the stakes when these are sacrificed.

We raise the stakes in order to show we are mistaken if we think there is on the stage no sacrifice. Because it is the stage itself which comes along and renders what is most personal into subjective effects, impersonal. It renders them as having no consequence: for this is one of the subjective powers we are talking about. That is, the personal is the starting point, not the destination of the exercise. You don’t get your guts back after the show. These are thereafter stage properties.

The type between a beginning actor and a selfish actor might be named the actor who takes risks. A risking actor is one who can raise the stakes, by taking what is personal and turning it to impersonal effect. Thereby losing his possession of it; spontaneously letting go of her investment: because it happens suddenly, in a single movement.

We can start from a story that has personal intensity for you, for example, your life. Play it. Take your time.

Use all the resources you have around you, most of all time. Use the language of theatre, which involves placing yourself imaginatively in the situations that had maximum intensity for you, and, if it involves speech, involves speaking from there, to the people you imagine around you. In the words you would use, and they understand.

… but look: when you place the noose around your neck like that using that imaginary rope it is like you are giving yourself airs… You are on the Western Frontier, not at home at all, and playing at once the hangman who places the noose around your neck and the man who shot Liberty Valance. … and when you tease up your hair like that, as if you would pull it out by the roots, it’s like you’re at the hairdresser, very upset with what you’ve got or with the results.

I don’t need to make these suggestions to you verbally, anyone can see it! …another actor might like to shoot through the rope on which you were so recently hanging. And together ride away, Calamity Jane.

Or, hold the mirror to you. So you can see in fact your pain, your soul sickness, is not being poked fun at. It is being moved somewhere else entirely from where you’d stuck it. Where it had stayed so long mired in your person that you came to suspect it was not only yours but you.

Movement on the surface distinguishes itself from action by giving itself what may be the slimmest excuse to move to something else. To invent something new. Some new outcome. The movement is not then caused by the action. Neither is it causative, in having agency. The movement is from its point of fixity, away from it. An abruption. A subjective event.

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

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