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

subjective powers

What is he afraid of, the beginning actor? We have attributed to him and to her a fear akin to losing control of your own stuff. That, once it’s out there, on the surface, for all to see, even if there’s noone there to see it, it is no longer his and hers. Beyond his and hers, that action is more or less raised by the lines of exaggeration and artifice.

In the state of exaggeration, that action, it stands in relief from the surface, in a queasy way. The state of artifice… a beginning actor might rightly fear he will be found out for showing himself in a good light. Producing the standardised pout or stance, which on him is vaguely ridiculous. And we’ve said about this that what is happening is the action being cut from the body, which acts, by the blade, the line, of the surface, or stage, on which it features, which receives it, on which its report is made, as any body’s. What is personal, now impersonal; action to event: and this, because of its little bit of outside, itself subject, subjectivated, or having its own life, apart from the erstwhile host, donor or sacrifice.

Another sort of fear perhaps is more realistic: of putting the inside outside. Now there’s no retreat. Another sort of exaggeration: commit thyself, we say to the beginning actor; and she puts it all out there, tits and all. Or he is the striding cock strutting across the play area. Another sort of artifice, then, of the most realistic kind: the body as its own prosthetic. …but it is exactly by the body a beginning actor, having committed an action to the stage, is not protected. What’s inside is now outside. And we’ve suggested it now like a birth, an afterbirth, or an excrement, has to make its way on its own.

In Minus Theatre, the group I led for some years, we praised commitment. But we had a saying about that first decision, which the whole practice focused on, perhaps unduly: There are no bad decisions that you can make. But you can get better at making them.

In exaggeration and artifice some comfort lies, a comfortable zone of the indiscernability of one’s artifice to others, or one’s (exaggerated) forthrightness. Yet a beginning actor finds herself out. Or fools himself. And so commences the process of becoming a selfish actor.

What does the surface have that there’s no retreat from it? That whatever I have decided to ‘commit’ to it is unretractable. Is a commitment. Yes, we can see here the fear of the institution of the stage, the theatre, performance, to which a beginning actor feels himself having to make a commitment. But beyond that, it’s more obvious: fear of not being praised; fear one is no good. One is bad. It hasn’t quite sunk in that one is not what one does, that the gesture, the noise, motion one elicited from oneself, being out there, is no longer one’s own. And should a beginning actor be so informed?

Should we say to her, that glance you made to me full of the hope of being recognised, was it part of the action? Cut it. The line is not yours, it’s the character’s. Those guts you left out on the stage, leave them for the stagemanager to pick up; yes. I recognise they’re still attached. Cut it.

What’s out is out. There’s no going back now. That arm you waved with, that heart that beat, yes, I know that if I prick it it will bleed, with your blood. And yet, no, no. I am not in judgement. This is how we console ourselves standing on the outside, standing, as it is said, off.

Fear of being judged precedes the fear whatever we do will produce that judgement. And don’t these two things go together? Fear of losing what one had inside, one’s precious life, one’s precious death; fear that comes when it is outside. Fear that comes too early and fear that comes too late.

Committing to the surface of psychoanalysis used to be the fear of many creative people, lest the engines of creativity are disassembled on the surface, and, when brought back together never work the same way again. Not so much the fear of having one’s dirty little secret outed as of seeing it for oneself, for itself: that this is all I am, because it is all I ever was: my work is the working out of the most trivial complex! and common!

It is strange given the ubiquity of the digital surface it does not occasion a similar fear. … And there, on it we are productive of our performances, showing through our engagement our will to humanity, our good will. And what wonderful sense we can make when we try! How witty! … and how good we can look when we are properly made up.

Attachment anxiety is given new meaning by an inability to separate ourselves from those actions on the surface. Separation anxiety is given new meaning by our capacity for attachment to the slightest gestures of our digital personae. Commitment anxiety has the meaning it has from attachment to those personae. Like an analyst, it interrogates us, the surface; like an analyst whose analysis goes all the way to the psychic source: an engine we proudly display in the exploded view.

Do we inform ourselves of so being analyzed? When it is in the company of friends we are swapping parts? As if it was entailed by our interconnectivity that it resemble a giant psychic swap-meet.

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