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twentieth part, called “a way in XX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

What if language had no structure? either for consciousness or for the unconscious. What if the structure we observe in cognition were purely symbolic? We would be constantly borrowing and imposing something from language that is not natural to it—its structure. And this would occur in the break between signifier and signified as well as at the level of universal grammar.

What drives Saussure to insist on the break between element of sense and sensed element except that symbolisation which language presupposes? Symbolisation takes the first step towards organised language by organising symbols. What then happens to meaning? after all, signification has been the guarantor of meaning, its process.

Without that process arbitrating for meaning by differentiating the sonic and other symbolic materials meaning is lost. That is, working inside those materials. Externally, we have the language tree: a structure of derivations and declensions parsed from rather than parsing to an overall syntactic structure. In other words, language is asked to perform its structure. From Indo-European roots to the approximately 7000 known human languages.

The problem is: a level of consistency perceived for all known human languages, such that a structure must be inferred. But that problem depends on the structuring element, naturally a sensed element—it can be sensed—and it can be separated from the element of sense—in order to structure. Something performed on both sides of the equation, in social and linguistic organisation.

Or we might speak of them as intrinsically the same: as a human orientation, giving us the formula: symbol + structure (structure x language) = human. And leading to all sorts of exclusions, because of the 7000 languages how many are exclusively human? and exclusively express human meanings? that is, meanings exclusively meaningful to humans. Are we not before we start excluding from these and all language everything not human?

In how many languages is the wind meaningful? I am suggesting everything not represented symbolically to be withdrawn from an understanding of what makes human language. This is in order that language become exclusive to humans. All others are withdrawn, as it were, from the symbolic stage. It is only language structured internally and externally for humans, by humans, for the social and linguistic organisation of humans, that is considered to be language. We will see that the naturalisation of language’s symbolic structure does produce another level, but only by denaturalising the human from it, exiting not through the social foyer, but by the stage door.

We see in language entirely natural forces, as if linguistic forces applied only to symbolic structure. Which is symbol from the point of view of social and linguistic organisation containing no other symbols than humans produce. We have said the internal condition of language is this insufficiency, causing symbols and their use to be pushed out of language if these are not produced by humans.

This secures its structure, which is then identified with its function, its function identified with processes of making meaning. Meaning limited to meaningful in the terms of the human being’s social and linguistic—and, we would add, psychic—organisation. From here we get the idea of use, meaning useful in those terms, and that of humans as themselves symbols, and therefore of a use limited by the symbol. This naturalised orientation to symbolic use has the internal limit imposed by the symbol so as to produce economy.

We might be able to speak of natural language pre-existing symbolisation and structure, such as in preliterate societies, but does the organisation of language pre-exist the subject developmentally? That is, in psychic development. Since both social and linguistic organisation are enabled by symbols is it not the case for the individual that developmental stages, stages of psychic development and individuation, are mapped onto and are forced to correspond to the symbolic? and not the other way around. Each physical zone is broken off by a symbol and the stage is set to be a temporal zone, given a structure and a drama.

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nineteenth part, called “a way in XIX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

Making theatre, what are we looking for in what Declan Donnellan has called the invisible work? This is the work preparatory to the piece coming before an audience, where it is visible. The training of the animals. The coaching of the children. And, before each performance, the actors coming together, with crosswords, or to run lines; to do their makeup, dress in costume, check props; have the stagemanager do the rounds and, after checking actors are in the house, costumed, made up, props in order, give the call, the half, quarter and five minutes. Beginners please. Because at this point the stagemanager runs the show, reports back to the director, and dramaturg. Who may come back after the curtain to give notes, the notes, also, part of the invisible work.

In fact, the actor who is visibly acting, before an audience, is at the same time invisibly working. Isn’t this what we wait for, making theatre? So that we can’t see the actor, even if it is a horse, working? but acting.

There was an abyssal moment in the theatre of equitation of Bartabas at Versailles. The theatre in the stables before the gates of Versailles a masterpiece of design, done in raw wood, the seats benches, the stage an indoor arena, lit with theatre lights, luminaires, its floor sawdust. And the stables, which doubled as dressingrooms for the horses, which aren’t all stables, really? ornate as Paris Metro entrances of the old style, with, on each stable door, the name of the horse it was for, on an engraved brass plate. No stars anywhere, but you get the picture.

The horses were released from their human riders, who were ideal types: identically dressed, breeches or Japanese-influenced riding skirts, hair pulled back into ponytails. The horses began to play in the middle of the lit arena. The riders had withdrawn to the four corners. One horse rolled in the sawdust. Others nickered at each other and to-ed and fro-ed. Then they began to circle the arena. No signal was given. The improvisation spontaneously took on structure. And I recall The Rite of Spring had been playing. Its introduction over the playful jostling and rolling, the section given over to free play. As the rhythms intensified, the structure already latent took form: horses circling, gaining in speed, galloping. The riders expressionless and unmoving.

It was like the bottom came off the show, as performance gave way, and the artifice was swept away, with the thought that all this equine choreography, of which the show was full, at times incredibly complex as it unfolded in time, was a matter of the voluntary expression of the company of horses. The training at the equestrian Academy of Versailles had all been to untrain. The untraining to train. That is, the invisible work was now at this moment visibly invisible.

The acting had undone itself, as any kind of performance. But does this give any inkling of what we are waiting for, watching for, making theatre, in the invisible work? For when the work … vanishes. Then what does this say about this work? That the visible, the structure and form of a performance, somehow preexists? And we have to get back to it.

For this reason, it may be, that we identify what we are looking for, making theatre, with the depths: the actor must look deep inside. Dig deep. To come up with what is required, where, on the surface, it becomes visible. And we say, Yes, that’s it.

Then, equally, it is confused with the heights, what we perceive, making theatre, as the it of it. As we do in poetry, we say it is a voice. The quality of Voice, that is its essence. The line suddenly sings. … It, the line, loses any sense it had. It becomes a thing of absolutely no consequence. Which is the state of theatre itself, isn’t it?

Isn’t the question of theatre, making theatre, in the invisible work, to arrive at the perfection of its lack of consequence, at its perfect inconsequence? Then, when it does not touch us in the slightest, it most touches us. The beautifully meaningless line is a gesture of the kind of emptiness we are after. Isn’t this, in turn, what we have already invoked as the inexpressible? Aren’t we trying to touch, to broach, the ineffable? (the in-effing-able, as Beckett says). So that we have an idea of what this is and so that the inexpressible precedes what is able to be expressed.

We earlier invoked the inexpressible in view of the system of language. Where the system might rather have the inexpressible as its outside, at its limit, pushed beyond its limit, the inexpressible arises inside, as an internal limit. Because in actuality everything can be said, but we say it is implicit and therefore hard to say and difficult to make explicit. A function of the system not of language: to assert the insufficiency of words to express.

If this insufficiency arises in the system it appears as that which the system suppresses, suppressing what is implicit in it. For the sake of its own explicitness. On the one side, the system is to make everything explicit.

On the other side, it projects what is in it implicit onto what it does not contain. It says, the system, I cannot say it. I cannot say it, without leaving language. Without screaming. Crying. Growling. Laughing. Making chewing sounds. Teeth grinding. Or spitting.

Twitching. Stammering. Stammering becomes, in view of system, expressive of resistance. Of repeated resistance, and so symptomatic of reluctance to commit … to what? To language. To its organised system. Rather than giving away the implicit difficulty faced by the system, it gives one away, in one’s personal failure of voice.

Rather than the hesitation bespoken by the stutterer being the moment through which a certain freedom might be gained. To say. To choose for what one says. To act. We bear witness to the unfitness for language in the individual. And we see what we can do about it, in the way of training and coaching.

Rather than being inside the system of language, the expressive deficit is linked to the gesture. The gesture being what is outside the system, along with all those inchoate gurglings, murmurings, unhinged utterances, unprompted and unsolicited expletives. Then, isn’t this what, making theatre, we are waiting to ring through the delivery of the line? this natural language? This other language in continuity with the world?

Read this way, delivered that way, the line, say, in continuity with the gesture, does it presume the pre-existing entities, or the coming event, that it is? And among pre-existing entities we may include the presumption of organisation and system to complete occupation of linguistic forces that it pretends to possess. Even as it cannot contain them, spits them out, and they are turned into an internal horizon of the possibility of language. The inexpressible.

Why would I speak of a subject before the subject of organised language, before insertion into a pre-existing state of (social, political, personal) affairs, otherwise? A subject before visible, before institution. And on the same grounds, speak for a language before language that cannot presume to possession, either through custom, convention, or organisation into system? On these grounds, where there is continuity of linguistic forces with what we may, stammeringly, call natural ones, what we wait for, what we look for, what we search for, making theatre, and what we work for, does not then belong to either sense or consequence. It is the event of the subject, whose ineffability becomes effing-able.

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eighteenth part, called “a way in XVIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

The systematicity of language, on which its humanity depends, lies in the organisation of symbols. But other species produce symbols: again, they have a sexual function. Yes, I would even say some other species are symbols. And other species have languages that do not require the presence of another of their species to communicate, because of symbols.

Systematicity borne of symbolic representation relies on persevering in the illusion of human separation, through the separation of symbols, that we share with other species, from nature, material, from the elements, chief among which is the air; separating human symbols from breath, sound and means of physically producing them. Each symbol is complete. It doesn’t, as David Abram writes, require the breath or the voice or the air in which to mean something. Each symbol gives the impression of its autonomy, of its independence from the physics of its transmission. So it makes what we may call a metaphysical impression. It can only be organised as a language in a system because of this.

We can add that the system of language is also only analyzed because of the illusion. The line, we have been saying, of artifice. Where symbolic status is, as we know, exaggerated, through the thickening of the line that frees it from the action of its making. The stage.

It can therefore, the system of language, as system of systematicity, be analyzed to be an external object. Because it is. And an invention. And it can manifest from its depths its propensity to deconstruction. Or historical genealogy, such as Abram enacts, showing, through a somewhat exaggerated claim, it is with the Greeks of the 5th century BCE that language achieves autonomy, is freed from the voice. And from the need to be animated by being spoken in order to make sense, and, equally, at the same time, showing the insufficiency, a kind of systemic insufficiency, giving rise to the inexpressible. The Greek invention is vowels, added to Ancient Hebrew they make all the difference.

They carry the voice. And are by some to be seen as the flesh of the word, its impersonal affect, the very sound of breath passing through the consonants. Said on stage, revocalised from the page, consonants, according to this tradition, carry the thought or reason, while vowels convey emotion. With certain stresses, certain modes of exaggeration, an actor speaking from a script, or, I suppose on her own behalf, I have never tested it, perhaps because it is presumed, that is, her emotional investment is presumed, as soon as she speaks on her own behalf, and because of it, an actor can foreground affective or noematic qualities, phenomenalise them, as it were. Choosing either reason or feeling to foreground.

In order to make the system of language, breaking bits off it was necessary. And claiming for them an internal structuration on which they were sustained. As much letters as the division of signifier from signified, or sign from the event it names. Names then proliferate because each word names one. And within each one is another which it names. So that we may ask, where else have we seen such broken bits, each stating itself individually autonomous and simultaneously being replicated in every part?

Simultaneously, and not in succession, note, because the system to be one, like the network to be one, requires simultaneity. The simultaneity of its auto-differentiation, where, in space, each difference is a part of the same. Where, in space, each part is enumerable. Each part is able to be enumerated up to the very big numbers that lead us to invoke the inexpressible.

And, haven’t we, on the stage, which is a space, said that the subject drew on the mise en abîme, drawing from it subjective resources? These are, we recall, as much those of the I think I think as the it thinks it thinks. And we have said these are limitless as well.

Yes, I can see there is a kind of nonsense here, but how do we escape it? In other words, this writing takes part in the systematicity of language we have equated with being the basis for the human’s claim to uniqueness, and not the fact of language itself. And I’m not envisaging, for this writing, any sort of escape, from its lack of systematicity. Or its bad grammar. (As if not playing by the rules or not acknowledging them were enough. Or, as if ceasing to function was enough!)

What allows us not to fall into the depths? The stage door. Exiting via the foyer would be the social function.

If Blanchot is able to claim for literature an outside it’s because it has a stage door. The autist remains in the doorway. And the depressive continues to stare into the black and empty stage.

Theatre teaches us—just enough. Take just enough of those internal resources. Take just enough subject with you.

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thirteenth part, called “a way in XIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

I don’t think we are the subject of the stage, that we make the actions on it become subjects. I think this is a quality of the void. And of the risk an actor is able to take.

An actor is able to fall apart, rather than to remember. This is not a simple play on words. Remembering being to bring the deconstituted back together. Having the constitution so to do. Like Dionysus—after the Maenads. Orpheus torn apart by the women of Thrace.

An actor is able to forget to recuperate, to recover, to return to her person, what she has, as they say, left on the stage. She might need a drink. And some silly talk afterwards. But an actor’s investment, his personal investment, is in the impersonal, or for its sake. The event, we said, and the subject on stage.

Or in the case of cinema, the image. At the same time as there is the most investment there is a disinvestment equal to it. Or divestment. An undressing. An undoing.

An actor differs from the role onstage, but this separation is not that of the subject onstage and herself, or from the role an actor plays: it is both, both a separation from the role or part played and from the actor himself, what we might call the performance. This word occludes its best meaning, however, when we de-identify it with an actor, when we say, well, very good, she was great, gave a great performance—as if it issued from the actor and now is no longer his, but has either been claimed by the stage or the screen, or is ours. When we make ourselves part of it, we take away from the actor what he has done, and done by undoing. We are left with the performance being left on the stage and not the actor. The fact of her being or having been the part is not so important as that it belongs to her. That she has it or bears it.

He is just a performer unless there is this wresting away. And we don’t catch her in the throes of it! Birth is as playable as anything else. But to be played right it is a re-ingestion.

And from the worst meaning of the word we get the performativity of the everyday. It gives us a sense of unconscious action, of being and doing tied together, or doing and saying, and none of the conscious subject that appears at the undoing of the actor. His fall-apart. His crack, you might say.

The best meaning of performance goes as far from risking displeasure as possible: distancing itself from the fear of being disliked; or of not liking the character. So playing the unlikable character likably. Performing the distance, exaggerating it, and forming a caricature.

We have the famous egoism of actors connected to their exaggerated means, their childlike naivety, brought about by playing the theatrical hero who is usually undone, their narcissism of belonging to worlds that are in their sway and the product of what they do. Their caricature, in other words. Doesn’t it come from reversing the order? of investing in the impersonal for the sake of the personal, or personalogical? And doesn’t it come from a loving environment in which trust is fostered above all? Again, we see the difference between Douglas Wright and Michael Parmenter. And also why actors do not necessarily make the best directors.

An atmosphere of trust. From it the worst performativity. And from it we can see the risk is both impersonal and asocial.

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twelfth part, called “a way in XII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

What we have been talking about is a power of selection. It is experienced as a political, ethical imperative. On the heart. On the womb or balls. On the brain. The necessity that Lear doesn’t recognise being spoken by Cordelia: nothing?

The necessity we spoke of at the beginning. The Stoics, writes Deleuze, deny necessity and affirm destiny. There is after all no necessity prompting the question we began with, What is theatre? And unkind people are sooner to see it as a matter of personal history, that accident, that I ask it. Ha, off again, on a tangent. Claiming for it some importance… Unresolved? In no way is the question unresolved. It will be my issues that are unresolved, getting a workout here.

The Stoics affirm destiny and deny necessity. No to necessity. Yes to destiny. They introduce choice. And just as quickly seem to withdraw it again: because as we know the Stoics represent the highest form of amor fati, and so choose for what happens.

Aurelius calls the death of a child in the nature of things, part of the natural order. If it should happen, in reality as in potential. The ethic Deleuze draws out is to be worthy of what happens. To wish or even will it.

He even calls the actor exemplary in this. Not because of her passivity. Because, we have said, she plays the event. And although we have also said the event, which takes place on stage, frees affect, produces a subject, the actor is not in subjection to what happens. And … sort of is, too. But in what way?

The actor selects for that power of selection we have identified with the stage. Does he lose himself in the role? Again, sort of. Is disappointed if he didn’t get there, didn’t find the right pitch, that her words or her actions did not have the resonance she trained herself to produce.

Is the actor then exemplary for having taken that step out onto the void that is the stage? What is necessary for her is destiny for, let’s say, Antigone. Deleuze does think the actor is exemplary for this will to death, but then he says it is a great humour and a great health: to play sickness against health, health against sickness; or to live for this death that I embody. Douglas Wright calls it his precious jewel. From it comes the dark power of his work. And is illuminated. Lit up like Chinchilla’s beautiful young men. Like the theatre from which Joe Kelleher takes his title, Kierkegaard’s illuminated theatre, Berlin’s Königstäter Theater.

To live this necessity is to undo destiny with humour: insanity, Lear yelling at the storm. The actor playing Lear going all the way there. Why should she? Why risk it?

In the grip of psychosis, Tony McKeown did the best Fool from Lear. All the lines. He had taken off his clothes, neatly folded them on a hospital chair, and now was dancing on the backs of the chairs in the waiting room, where we were waiting for his assessment.

It came. It was, He’s an actor. He’s just acting.

He is dead. His own poor fool, yes? No. My friend, my brother.

My brother militant, for the theatre militant. You see, he thought the risk was not just worthwhile, but necessary. And we cannot say at risk was Tony. Noone else. At risk was the necessity itself. And he knew that. Would have known that. I say it to him now.

To risk to make an action. So the event takes place. Be overtaken by affect. Madness, but the risk differs from the necessity.

And worse would it be to say it was Tony’s destiny, always written in the brain’s chemical imbalance. Or the heart’s, that becoming an actor threw off balance—a social liability, imbalance. And the balls? What about the unbalance of the desire?

Courage in adversity is not Stoicism, but looked at from inside theatre it seems we might want to affirm necessity and deny destiny. Inasmuch as an ethical and political risk is concerned, courage is necessary and is what the people of Blau’s description lack, as despicable. But only to theatre people. I’m sure they’re very nice people. Enjoying the intervals greatly. Because aren’t we seeing an arch, a theatrically heightened, sense of necessity here? It’s destiny again.

Aren’t we exaggerating the risk? The risk is not madness. It’s going not mad. Death and madness are our only destiny.

Imagine the dark light you carry shining over the stage. And such is the nature of the stage, to select for it: the theatre a machine for paring down to the essential just enough. Then we’ve said that it can do this very well without us. Then we must choose for that which surpasses us, by which we are overtaken.

And in saying what surpasses us, we are talking in time. Kelleher’s nonpunctual. Weber’s medium.

In speaking for the stage as what selects, for its selection of the necessary, for the courage and risk behind this as ethically, politically imperative— Behind this, again, that curtain. And behind that…

Then how composed, how deployed, is the stage? To show what we have selected? To show what we have elected to represent?

The composition of the stage is a straight line of time. If we have already elaborated it, made it a labyrinth, hunted it down into its burrow, adding, with the lines of artifice or theatricality, and of exaggeration, a life it draws on for itself, these too speak to this time. From this time. For this time has for its baseline the void.

In speaking for the stage as what selects, for its selection of the necessary, for the courage and risk behind this as ethically, politically imperative, we assign to the void a positive quality. As that on which this subject stands. We understand it to be this.

To disappoint the times. This we choose for. To exalt that we choose. With its power of forgetting.

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eleventh part, called “a way in XI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

Asking what is behind the Hard Problem of consciousness is like asking What is behind that curtain? What is behind the stage? The answer is too often disappointing.

The King. The Wizard. Is a little man pulling the levers. … And behind him, we can assume, is another pulling the levers. Behind him… The en abîme of an infinite regression we spoke of earlier. The impossible. Or dimensions packed fractally one inside the other. The question asks us which it is to be.

The latter and we seem to be saved from disappointment. Or the disappointment is only a step we have to take outwards in order to find the answer inwards. Still, our disappointment is not allayed. Even to have found a brain, a heart, courage or home, we are recuperated to a world of black and white.

I didn’t want to see the film again. Didn’t want to show it to my daughter, for the moral reduction it enacts. And yet… In the Wizard of Oz the characters have the resources of subjectivity inside themselves. To show that is not magic is incorrect.

We can suspect every sign in the film of a latency preparing us for… growing up. And find here phallic imagery, there allusions to patriarchy, to capitalism, class struggle, gender inequality, sexuality, menstruation, dysmorphia, and be disenchanted. From the first, softening ourselves up, for when the curtain is pulled aside, for the revelation of the wizened pedo. At the controls of desire.

Perhaps this is what I intended to say from the beginning? To rail against the passage of disenchantment, that takes us, inevitably, by way of practice, seen to be outside, or theory, inside, to the endpoint, from that question What is theatre? We don’t know at first. Bear with me and we will find… We’re off to see the wizard.

Perhaps this is why I said I want to present something more useful, than either practice, its exegesis, or theory and thesis, than either analysis or discussion, commentary or critique. Strategy. Strategy not as salve, prophylactic, pharmakon, compensation, for political disappointment. Not raising consciousness, or deflating it. Hope, neither false nor true.

I don’t even want to speak against political disappointment, because it is at once the product of a line of artifice, like Humpty Dumpty, on a wall, exaggerated line, line of mobilisation. But more than this, because of a quality Joe Kelleher finds in theatre, a temporal quality. That it is nonpunctual.

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ninth part, called “what is theatre? IX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

What is theatre?

This writing has been pursued as if there is something to be said. About theatre, certainly. But I have pursued it as if there is something to be said for it, this writing. When the for it I ought to be considering is the for it of theatre. Something to be said for it, theatre does not on its own say. At least, that it not quite, not yet or no longer says.

I have assumed this writing on its own speaks for itself. Although I don’t know if it does. I don’t know if I should entrust it to you when it is not the saying but what is said I would entrust. In the saying I am choosing not to speak on its behalf. Leave what is said to speak for itself, as if it spoke to a friend. As if that is it projected my voice, when I know this is not true. It’s a question of artifice. … Or, is it a question of this, the stage?

Theatre has a stage. To theatre belongs a stage. Here it expresses itself, speaks for itself. And the conditions are reversed of this writing: I would entrust to you not the said but the saying. So what theatre is saying is said onstage. And it will not be a question of theatre no longer, not yet or not quite having the means to say it. Because it is under-resourced, for example, or poorly understood.

Perhaps this goes to my poor understanding of it that I believe writing always to have the means of expression so that it never has to say, Words cannot express… And I understand writing to be this having of its means. As if it produced from its not quite, not yet or no longer having them, those resources of expression that it requires for what is said. This would not be ex nihilo, from nothing, but as I would say of the stage also, on nothing, that line of the void to which the line of the stage belongs. As its condition of expression, not its limit: or as one might say, it takes its internal resource from outside itself. However the line is not the opening, that is more simply the stage door.

Theatre has a stage. The definition is incomplete because theatre is not a stage, just as the screen on which moving pictures are shown is not the cinema. Neither is it how the stage is displayed, its disposition or its conformation, that might assist in the identification of the theatre with the stage, its definition. Nor in the cinema is it these with regard to the screen, whether it is a dirty sheet or a patch of earth.

For the cinema, isn’t it with the moving pictures themselves that we ought to identify it and by them define the cinema to be any place a film is shown? And so presuppose the technical resources enabling the showing of a film. Like this, the painting is separable from the support. Whatever technical requirements are made in stretching the canvas, and so on, their provision is presupposed. And questions of applying paint to canvas and projecting image are put to the side.

To painting belongs a support, to cinema belongs a screen, and to theatre belongs a stage in the same way: because of what it does. How it works is what it does, with the qualification, as Oscar Wilde said, that it is quite useless. We might say of them, the support for painting, the screen for cinema, the stage for theatre, that each is unemployed, does not work, or is inoeuvrable.

The theatre is black is what is said when nothing is on. No shows. And the stage is clear, perhaps lit up by the workers, worker lights, luminaires having been derigged. We enter not through the stage-door, that would take us through the backstage, the dressing-rooms and green room, before we even reached the wings, in a traditionally appointed theatre, but through a side door, maybe a fire exit, into the auditorium.

For a short while we stare at the stage, as if we might be staring at the sea, looking out. Or our stage might just as well be on the beach. With our intention to do a little outdoor improv, we are reccying the scene. Having picked where, we stare at the sand in the same way. There is never nothing there, nothing on the horizon. And like with the sea, there may at first be too much.

We might be overwhelmed with the sea-wrack, distracted by the plastic, by the constant movement of the waves, or the climatic conditions, outside the theatre. Inside, still, there may be too much, but since theatre is this machine to pare down, we can find the stage. There’s something meditative about it. Zen: like the raked gravel that is still called a garden, so the empty stage that is still called a theatre.

Like the Zen garden the stage provides conditions essential to this meditative or contemplative state not for having removed whatever obstacles to achieving it had been there, not by cutting out or cutting down distractions, but by preserving just enough. A +1 dimension. Of the essential relations, the minimum. In the garden, the relations between rocks. Or the tree pruned not to resemble an objet mort, but to preserve the minimum dynamism necessary to growth, to life. Its essential condition.

This essential condition in fact resembles the mathematics of the fractal. The fractal relation is of one dimension to 1.3 or so, up to the next whole number, while at one end of the continua between dimensions there is the order, directly, of the manmade, of artifice, and at the other a chaos which goes further than any that occurs in nature. Neither our intention nor imagination are enough to create this effect. Neither is it by an action of will or by its suppression that we achieve it.

The workers off, we sit in the auditorium, in the dark. There is the vestigial sussurus of past audiences, in a theatre that has had them. Facing us, from the stage, there is something else. We look out into it and it looks back.

Learning to meditate, you are told to empty the mind. Yet the images come. So you are told to let them pass. You do so here.

You let them pass and you let them pass, and you attend to the essential dynamism of the stage, or canvas, or screen, which is itself a mind. Not a chaos of minds, of subjectivities. And not an entirely built, ordered structure, a carpentry, as it were, of the human world, a symbolic structure of the social world. An undoing.

The subject is an undoing of the action, intent, projection, preserving the minimal object of the event, immobile, singular, with its force or life. A play is a thing that is undone on stage. A theatrical hero is usually undone.

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

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eighth part, called “what is theatre? VIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

What is theatre?

Let’s go back to the empty theatre. It’s somewhere we didn’t spend long enough and it’s one of my favourite places. You recall, sounds never leave it, sang David Byrne. He was referring to the cinema, that used to be called the picture theatre. He also said, or sang, that knowing what’s happening—in the film, is not so important as being there. In the theatre.

In a cinema the artifice by which sounds are reproduced is usually concealed. In old cinemas the screen is behind a curtain. With the advent of cinemascope, the revelation of the screen being exposed was followed by another, though smaller, revelation: having opened to show the pre-film shorts or ads, the curtain then widened before the main feature. Sometimes, for a moment, it was blank.

Anecdotally, the first cinema audiences in Japan did not watch the screen. They looked at the light streaming above their heads out of the projection box, and were not aware that this was not intended to be the object of their attention. How to make sense of the movement swirling in shades and densities of black and white upon the screen? Never stillness, unless this too is projected, depicted, presented and represented. Not so with the … what can we call it to distinguish it from the picture theatre?

The theatre-with-stage? The usual distinction invoked is between onscreen and onstage, but this refers to action. In the empty theatre there is none. Yet it is still a theatre.

With the idea of the stage being a line drawn under events I have effectively removed actions from the stage. This line, I’ve said, splits the personal from the impersonal, in a kind of inaction. The movement that does not move: this is the movement of love at first sight and of going on, on to the stage. Having to reconfigure all that was personal impersonally. Stage-struck or paralysed with stage-fright, that is immobilised in the moment of relinquishing… a pause is necessary: what does the one who walks out on to the stage relinquish?

I would suggest it’s no different for the screen actor. Perhaps it’s even clearer as to what acting removes from one: one’s image. Some screen actors refuse to watch their own films as a result. Are the ones who can watch their films and separate themselves personally from the image onscreen egoists? Or is the personal ego that they have forfeited supplanted by the superego of the industry in a way that is precisely to do with compensation?

So much is in one’s image. And don’t forget that the screen actor still has to reconfigure, to make up that image, as one screen actor I know recently said, like a carpenter. This image-building, is it more or less solid than that of a personal ego? I think we can at least say, there are industry standards.

Can we say there is also displacement? Any more than there is in the builder putting her reputation on the line in the course of her professional life? Is it less a question of relinquishing something than of hazarding it? Again, no great difference between carpenter and actor.

And there must exist actors who’ve never experienced a twinge of anxiety before the camera or on the stage, mustn’t there? Actor training is not about suppressing it, but about carpentry. Building up again, so that in many schools the process preceding it was called ‘breaking down.’ And it was conducted in some like a form of torture, where the intention is the same: breaking down. Overcoming and destroying the fortifications, the defensive structures erected around the self (once more, a building metaphor), in order to introduce another directive: to confess, for example; to rat and sell out. After which the building up again, that, in cases where it is dispensed with or left incomplete, is to meet industry standards, of whatever will do the job.

The problem of theatre would seem to be that it is where the subject is overtaken, but it need not be by artifice. And this would be to say that the use of artifice—the line of artifice we talked of earlier—is not to heighten effect, but that it is already supported in this by something that has occurred earlier. From this earlier point, everything is equally natural and artificial, which is to say, a supplement.

Is it not so that we can leave the theatre and that everything afterward can be equally fictive and factual? The opposite of moving in a crowd in fact. Or having a crowd move and flow around one. That is, we can leave the theatre, and remain answerable to the subjects that surround us.

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

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seventh part, called “what is theatre? VII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

What is theatre?

It would seem that the two lines are opposed. The one on which what is represented, the object of representation, is severed from its representative—onstage. And the one that effects the apportioning of actions and events, personal actions, impersonal events. On this second line, the actor risks making an action.

Why making and not taking? Because the action is taken from her and put in play for other purposes than she intended? Or because in this context it is not true. The latter would imply true to her. Or him. And this lack of truth implies the presence of the first line. But is this really so serious?

It has the seriousness of the not serious. The seriousness of the game when we cannot figure out the rules. A ramifying seriousness, since the issue at stake for us gets tangled up in our efforts to untie it. To free it. An intense seriousness. And we are on our own with this mess, this entanglement, this, Augustine writes, bent and twisted knottiness. An entanglement in which we are entangled. Like the inert depressive. Whose every impulse to dig and relieve the pressure is thwarted by an equally intense aversion: I don’t want to! … yes, to the degree that suicidal thoughts take root.

Then, we’ve also addressed the possibility, the potential for the audience to be absent, for theatre to be without audience, by saying that whenever someone goes on, and makes a move onto the stage, wherever the stage is suggested, there it is—the second line. Onto it the highwire artist sets his foot. Or hers. I used this turn of phrase, however: I said in my encounter. Much as I might have said, of my acquaintance. And the silent question: What is my eligibility so to assert? The qualification in question is not my own. Rather it is in the presence of others that the risk is felt, the vulnerability, so that it takes courage to go on, doesn’t it?

Yes, but what about the absence of others? Of all other observers? What about when I am not there? In the room. At the beach. … And… Is it your sudden sense of being watched that arrests you in your tracks? That leads you to feel … you are going on stage? Performance anxiety, and so on.

Does anyone else need to be there for you to form this impression? And, yes, I would say that the anxiety of performance does come, but not as it is usually understood, as a fear of failure. It comes as a fear of… falling. And we can mention love here.

O god, I’m falling for him! Oh no, I’m falling for her! Every resistance seems further to entangle us in this mess. As we have said. Because falling in love, or falling into a black hole, we are overtaken. Even so far as to be overtaken at first sight. Or, at the first step. Then, the action made takes us. Is a wind blowing us into… And yes, we can refuse, but I’m saying we cannot deny. So that it is not the personal action we have taken overtaking us but the impersonal event the action makes, expressed in sight or step. … How many times have I reached the edge of the stage and said, I can’t go on?

The fear of artifice, isn’t it secondary? the fear we are fooling ourselves. It would be the work of the first line, splitting the work we are doing to represent love from the fact of being in love. And I would say that it is in recognition of the second place taken by the fear of playing false that theatre people tend to be the most not serious. Even about the most serious things, sexuality, for example. Identity! My father on his deathbed said to me: The problem with us is that we can never take anything seriously. And of course he meant it, seriously.

A person risks falling into the thrall of what they do. Of the action they make… just getting onto the stage, that decision, but then in every subsequent action, in every event. The thrall they fall into is that of the impersonal, what Deleuze calls affect. Depersonalised love crashes down on me and I want to weep or run.

Deleuze and Guattari say this in their last book together: to science belong percepts; to philosophy belong concepts; to art belong affects. Belong in the sense of expressing and creating. So art expresses and creates impersonal affects. These are not influences. They are aspects of what we might call inward life, inner experience, cut, sometimes painfully, by this second line we have been talking about. And who’s to say whether in that case they are true or false?

Care. Who cares? Haven’t we said that the things we put on stage are not themselves? That the walls, the curtains, hold meanings which in the everyday they did not when onstage, in a theatre?

It is therefore a strange work we do to insure the validity of the affect, which is the effect created onstage, is not simply representative, of the love we confess to, of the walking… The walking! How an actor walks says so much about that validity. Is she actually in her body? we might ask.

We might say, You’re doing something different with your feet… Just walk. The actor can’t. The significance of making each of the actions which together comprise walking is too clear. He stands out too clearly onstage for this appalling condition of not being able to walk.

So does that mean it’s not artifice we want? This goes to the nature of what we have so far been calling either the actions that are made or the events in which they are overtaken. Is this because as events, as impersonal, they cannot but be true? No, it’s not.

Don’t forget the line of artifice, of theatricality, overturning any truth, even that of the event. We have said, however, that the force of the event is here, and that doesn’t mean only of the event in its impersonal aspect.

What are the gestures we make on the stage? Are they ideas? No, no, no: they are affects freed, set free from personal entanglement, and as such must be true to themselves.

Is this so? Well… I would say that some paring down occurs: yes, some pruning, of the dense tangle of messy emotion. While preserving intensity. How?

We have just had taken from us that which we gave intensity for it being in the context of our interior lives. Isn’t its mess its essence? That is the decision we must make, in where we put the line of artifice. And how we use the line of the stage to underline what is shown. Events? …yes, but in a very subjective sense. In the sense that we say, it was only your impression that that truth led to that other one. Only your opinion. For me it didn’t work at all: I couldn’t believe in what happened because of … to be honest I was distracted by the walking. It was dishonest.

It would seem that the two lines oppose one another: the line of artifice and that of … let’s say, necessity. One undercutting and undoing the work the other is doing. Artifice making it all seem so … pointless. We already know what side theatre people are on, the one of saying, Don’t take it all so seriously! And then with their care about the details, the technical details, that otherwise do seem so pointless: how do I walk? What steps to take so that the affect that was personal is freed from me-ness to have the effect of any body walking, at least subjectively.

Note here is a subject talking to a subject and the strange coincidence of the two, which breaks with the imposition of the second line: the subjects splitting, one from the other. Now there is the one onstage, and the other, who is an actor, who acts the part we are interested in, of the affect or the event. So that we would sooner call it a subject than either of the two.

We can see it to be the case, the two lines seeming to be opposed, most clearly when we look at the things, the objects, in a theatre, on an empty stage. What is it going to take to convince us that that is a real door? Leaving by it?

No. Wait. What is being staged is the subject itself. Himself. Herself. It no longer matters: an impersonal, depersonalised subject.

This is perhaps why I like dance. Because Douglas Wright understood it better than anyone: the stage is overtaken as much by the set elements as by the movements of the dancers. And there is a complex ensemble here. An agency. Not a subject, or subjective state or viewpoint, being expressed, but an expressive subject.

And this is perhaps why, for all his brilliance, I don’t like the work of Michael Parmenter as much. Always a sentimentality, a sentimental attachment to personality, whether it’s the personality of the dancers or that of the choreographer. While Douglas sweeps all that away: yes, sometimes it is dark; but what you win is like Beckett’s affirmation, impossible. Fail again. Fail better.

In Slava’s Snow Show, in the interval, several clowns came down into the auditorium. Some went up, climbing up the boxes in the Civic Theatre, into the gallery. And they abducted audience members who weren’t out getting a drink, or doing what Badiou in his book pins his entire argument for the significance of theatre on, perversely, its social aspect: talking about what they are watching; sharing interim observations, before returning to have them either confirmed, and now confirmed socially, or confounded. A potential for social confoundment.

Anyway, the clowns came down into the stalls, some went up, and abducted individual audience members. Carrying them away by force. From those they were either sitting with or, if on their own, from their places in the audience. Ah, we might have said, Breaking down the fourth wall!

A clown with a woman over his shoulder. Her legs kicking in the air. Possibly terrified.

At the end of the interval, they were returned. And were unharmed. But the abduction added something to the conclusion of the show, something horrifying, as if they had not been returned at all. The stage exploded.

Magnesium flare audience blinders extreme upstage. Wind machines blowing the scenery and curtains and clowns across the stage. The deafening roar. ‘Snow’ streaming forth…

…as if bodies, not paper streamer snow, but white ash back out of the blazing pit of the blown wide open stage.

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

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sixth part, called “what is theatre? VI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

What is theatre?

What is it necessary to do now? What is it necessary to say? Two suicides come to mind. Why?

Neil Roberts’s and Mark Fisher’s. Neil Roberts wrote “we have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity,” drew a peace sign on the wall, and blew himself up in the toilets outside the Wanganui Computer Centre on the 18th November 1982. He was 22.

Mark Fisher taught at Goldsmiths. He was ten weeks from the end of a seminar called “Postcapitalist Desire” when he died. 13 January 2017. 48.

Fisher’s writings are voluminous. Of Roberts’s we have that one line. Police said of his body that they’d be picking up bits for weeks.

Then the infamous statement of Stockhausen on 9/11, that it was “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.” Next to it, he wrote, composers are nothing. 17 September 2001.

Why do I submit these to my timeline here? Because these are not performances. And perhaps this is what, despite everything, I want to affirm in them.

I was going to begin with Beckett. After asking what is it necessary to do, what is it necessary to say, I was going to say, we can’t go on. We go on.

Until of course we don’t. And this is what, in his way, Beckett was affirming too. The three other figures each go in quite another direction.

I don’t want to reduce the lamentable to the gestural. Make light, or exhort to action. Joshua Cohen, psychoanalyst and writer, says of a case of depressive inertia, the desire not to do anything, completely to stop, is not symptomatic.

Telling yourself to stop is not symptomatic of any other desire. The impasse to productivity has no other outcome, than, Beckett again, failing better. What is as impossible as imagining an alternative to capitalism is always that, not merely difficult.

From this point I was going to talk about the decision to step out onto the void that the line the stage draws under events is stuck to. You will recall Nietzsche’s Seiltänzer, whom Zarathustra bears on his body and buries as a friend. The wire artist. The risk and the necessity.

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