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on transcendental experience … after Mario Levrero

Mario Levrero begins The Luminous Novel… he is a writer from Uruguay, was. An unnecessary detail, perhaps. Alejandro Zambra, a writer I admire, Chilean, as it happens, or happened, like Bolaño, yet very unlike him, writes about Levrero that we cannot, we readers, we cannot hope to understand that mythical beast, that chimaera, that the literature of Latin America is, without taking in the part Levrero has in it. He says something like that.

And we might for a moment consider the chimaera. Mythical, yes, but also a fish…

…although to call it a fish is to dismiss the inventiveness that’s gone into it. …but also man-made, the chimaera:

…here pictured as a kind of babble of bodies.

Chimaera is mythical, fish and … here made by Kate Clark:

Or, consider the following, in view of literature, from E.V. Day:

The chimaera is also a work of conscious and deliberate construction. Matching chicken and lion, bird and reptilian parts. To put on display, and this is the key word, don’t you think? display.

4222 years ago, the Egyptians weren’t engaging in the earliest known taxidermy for the sake of producing chimaera to display. Embalming and processes of corporeal preservation, of animals, including humans, was conducted not for the living but for the dead on whom these practices were being used. Unless we consider that the exhibition of the dead was not as we understand it but for religious purposes.

Was the intended spectatorship some kind of cosmic audience?

Probably not, because the way out into the cosmos was back in through the world, a world of living deities and cosmic entities present rather than having to be presented, not requiring elaborate rituals, for example, in order to be presented, but already there, in attendance. And these were waiting to see themselves join the throng of the dead.

Their embalming and preservation must have seemed like having to join the queue, for the afterlife. Death.

And now they see themselves sail the stygian waters of the Nile into the omphalos of night. They don’t leave their bodies… no Judgement will have to restore the lucky ones who got the winning ticket to their discarded corpses.

Embalmed, taxidermied, they wait in line, the living gods, and travel over into death beside themselves, beside themselves, if everything has gone well with their preservation, beside themselves in the same way as we might think of an other world being beside this one. An early multiverse.

It is also the Egyptians we tend to thank for our first glimpses of chimaerae. (The word itself is something like a chimaera.) The Sphinx, whose riddle is herself. The bird-headed people, the dog-headed, and the alligator-headed dog.

When does this all change?

Is it at the birthplace of the human individual that Siedentop announces with the advent of early christianity? When, he maintains, before a subsequent crackdown by the institutions of a priestly caste, there were just as easily female communities and communities in which women were considered individuals as they were male… children, individually, born with a relation, a corporeal relation, to the living body of Christ, and, to life everlasting?

So Larry Siedentop maintains in Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism, 2015.

If you bear in you this inner connection, in your living body, this special relation that is special to you, would not the display of the dead pass to individuals to behold? Would you not already have in hand your ticket, to join the queue…?

General exhibition would be a thing institutions might want to have some say over, so restricting entry to an other world, and cutting out the ones not worthy for being somewhat… chimaerical. Raising ticket prices, and so on.

Cutting out animals entirely. Women. Naughty children. Saving them who’ve not had time to sin. Little angels. But all would press against the gates, to see… the exhibition.

Instruction enters. Education, and edification. Now it is on how to live beside yourself, next to your immortal part: the real you. It is no longer the practice of separating to be rejoined in the afterlife.

Until we consider resurrection in the body. Then we have to consider which one the dead part is: and it is clear. It is the body of the animal to which the soul is glued on, by cosmic taxidermy. Well, not really. More by transcendental taxidermy:

the human soul stuck to the body of a corpse… and which the afterthought? For the afterlife, the latter.

…Is resurrection in the body metaphorical? or… virtual?

This would make sense. I mean: it would make sense. The rational part of sense, to which the soul is the best proportion, the perfect ratio. … And freed from the body takes off, like this:

Pause.

What part is the insubstantial again? and what the rendered insubstantial? the de-prioritised?

It’s that old body of the animal again, of which the chimaera is the perfect example: a constructed thing.

A mechanical thing, even, that David Bentley Hart rails against with such seriousness. Seriously. (In a nod to Hart I wanted to say, with such wanton solemnity.)

A book I am reading. Roland is a dog. He talks to the narrator on serious subjects like the dismissal of the transcendental experience (of living beside yourself, body and soul) by the mechanistic world view. The book’s success will be in the measure to which Roland separates himself from the views of Hart, the narrator.

From instruction, edification, tutelary and educative purposes, to … entertainment, would seem to be the path followed by chimaerae into modernity. Entertainment and art, that is. And we ought to think of those lesser souls belonging to lesser bodies, bodies more chimaerical, like those, classically, of women. And of the children who are yet to be edified and educated; and of non-whites, yet to be colonised, indentured, and given a mission.

Too embodied, these ones.

Will Hart allow his dog, Roland, to be one of these?

And what of the bodies of literature, like Latin American literature? The chimaera of …?

I don’t think Zambra really uses the word, chimaera. χίμαιρα is the female form of χίμαρος, meaning, in Ancient Greek, male goat: female goat.

– Jacopo Ligozzi, c.1600

I said female goat… but we do have here the fire-breathing part, and the querulous lion: is this masculinisation concessionary?

We can ask the same of literature, of course, as well as we can whether it is non-concessionary.

Mario Levrero begins his novel… this happens in the first two pages… by relating the sort of psychologism that Hart might reject.

Levrero tells us that he had a transcendental experience, which he told a friend about in the form of an anecdote. Why an anecdote? Because the etymology of anecdote is clear: it means unpublished account (ἀνέκδοτος = ἀν- not + έκδοτος published. έκδοτος derives from έκ- out of or ex– and δίδωμι, which is the first person singular of the verb to give).

Levrero’s friend says he must write it down. It would make a great novel. A great and luminous novel, perhaps, like we have here in our hands.

And Levrero says no. Impossible. Impossible to recapture the transcendental experience, to do it justice, in anything more substantial than an anecdote. End of discussion.

Except that it’s not, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

Levrero forgets, and this is the important point: he forgets the friend’s instruction, the friend telling him what he must do; he has, afterall, rejected it. And, anyway, it turns out they are no longer friends.

He forgets it. Levrero says, of course, what he is in fact forgetting is his resistance to his friend’s advice. And from this resistance comes the whole problem. The problem that is The Luminous Novel, in its published form. Because his opposition to the idea inflames it.

He tries again and again to write down the anecdote in which he relates his transcendental experience. And he dismisses each effort, and destroys it. But, the next important point: the urge and urgency to pursue the idea no longer comes from the friend, the friend who is no longer a friend, but from Levrero himself. It comes from inside him.

He attributes to himself, to his inner being or core, or soul, if you like, the demand, the commandment to write … and even tells himself it was own idea. It came from him…

And what is he doing, then, the poor man, torturing himself, when every effort to write down the story of the transcendental experience is in vain?

One thing is for sure, he can’t write his way out, he can’t write himself out of this problem, because he is the problem!

He is the problem and the cause of the problem and he can’t cut himself into two halves, even if they are unequal halves, returning to himself once he has cut himself off from or cut out the criminal part. The corpse, if you like. The animal. He can’t claim transcendence by following the only part that is transcendental.

As I said a psychologism, or a psychological ghost story. And, like Hart’s, a spiritual one.

The friend is ghosted, dead to you, and you tell yourself it is you yourself who told you what you must do because of what you had done.

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a musical interlude–takes me back to chapter two you know who

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a short series up to christmas

a small colourful bundle

	arrived yesterday

We must trade offline



first inclination

	to propose it, in this form

Must be kind



“the mystery you would be

	I would unfold, pausing at the mystery

Be careful



“of unfolding, trembling fingers

	following soft bifurcations...

We must move



moments laid bare, a trail

	"unwound wonder wounds"

To a new form of life



of fragmentary insights, like

	garments, or threads

We must change now



teasing or warning? to propose

	to time, unlike anything in

Now each of us recognises



the original bundle,

	here, its skin

In the other the same need



and every moment of its skin

	unwound, veins and neurons

In a nutshell, I want to say a skull,



minute, fractions of Horror

	and Love,

We are bound



a colourful bundle

	arrived yesterday

We must not break down.







21 . 12  . 2021

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fifty-ninth part, called “on movement LIX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

on movement

The static: civil war: it elicits a … breach, that runs through society. It breaches, then runs in all directions at once. But this is to say that it surfaces. It surfaces as the mobile displacement of every certainty. It has that other meaning of static, white noise, and causes a superfluidity of motion, like the sea. Passes like a wave over the world, without resolving, so, also cloud-like. Vaporous. And intoxicating.

Static, it is the music that doesn’t allow you to hear. Only in the last instance will it resolve into melody, in Bergson’s terms, time. Yet at that instant, along comes a tragic figure, limping. And we should note that for Bergson there are no instants: we are always in the cloud, caught in the wave of time as duration, for as long as we can. So he supports this confusion: is it like the thought severed from itself? or severed from potency? No, Oedipus chooses for just this type of displacement, just this type of mobility.

We must ask how things differ for us when everything is in this shifting cloud of abstraction which is more like a screaming hurricane or jet engine. The difference is that we are immobilised. In those beautiful lines from La mort en direct, Eveything is of interest. Yet nothing matters. Enormous effort is expended on trying to make it matter again. This is unlike any will to power we have ever seen before. It is, as Houellebecq writes in the novel of the same name, atomised.

Each harbouring her little cut. Yes, I recognise it as a sexual image. And each his.

It will be a great relief to be able to use words again as they were intended: to enable movement. A similar relief was found, you recall, when we were talking of theatre people, about how, after the show, after the evisceration of it, happy or unhappy, about how great it was to have imposed on one the most ferocious violence of language, about how being called a cunt and a cock doubled for those organs one, happily or unhappily, had left or spilt on the stage. And this is in fact the way we have been using the language of theatre, without malevolence. To speak for movement, not on behalf of bodies, but to offer them some relief.

Another film: My Dinner with Andre. Wallace Shawn is speaking with Andre Gregory. He asks why the other gave up theatre. Gregory answers, Everybody got so good at acting in their everyday lives. Gregory, a theatre director, having given up theatre had initiated a new project he called a hive. Really just a dinnerparty where everybody turns up and we just see what happens.

With everybody so good at acting all the time, performing, as well as being their own (atomic) impressarios, entrepreneurs of the self, we experience humanity as an endless mobility. But not an open-ended one. Since each one is the end point. A stop.

And this is the word one cannot say. At least, it brings no relief to say it. Saying it is like plunging into the punctuation point at the end of a sentence.

Mobilities are of those old things, gender, race and class: the working class is on the move like never before and so has been the main victim of the various state-imposed lockdowns. Gender fluidity has been called by some performance, while those little words, the linguistic shifters, have become intransigent like never before, and we are asked to have our pronouns permanently assigned. Like smiles. Race and gender have most exercised the middleclasses even in the middle, exactly in the middle, of their crisis in values. When, perhaps, it gives relief from being squeezed. And when that class is empty, will the mobilities remain?

Yes, we are in the cloud of our own carbon emissions. Stumbling around and trying not to acknowledge how we falter. Seeking therapy not to make that acknowledgement. Or plastering over the cuts. When along comes Oedipus, not that old one we can thank for doing so much harm in the century before the last one. And not that Anti-One Deleuze and Guattari take out for a schizo stroll. This one solves the Sphinx’s riddle. By choosing to walk with a faltering step, he (or she, or both, let’s see) is two-legged, three-legged, and four-legged.

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

If you would like to help it come to pass, and show your support for what I’m up to, please sponsor it: become a patron, here.

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forty-fifth part, called “subject matter XLV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subject matter

An actor who stakes her life on the squeak she makes with her gumboots, playing Rosalind in As You Like It, rubbing one rubber gumboot against the other: a very human privilege, and a privilege amongst humans. Squeak, squeak. It has even more weight than the sound of her voice, but when her voice comes it’s like it has been infected with the sound, making something else sound in her speech than the well-formed words. Giving another sense, and, de-structuring the existing or pre-existing one.

The resonance is first on another surface than the stage, an ideational surface, perhaps, ideal surface of the actor’s finding something out, which she is reporting on, all speech onstage having something of the nature of indirect speech. The words consist in a participation, participate in the script, and counter-actualise it, in Deleuze’s terms, without contradicting it. The deformation enacted is not of purpose, necessarily, of what one purposes to say. Rather it removes something which it does not replace. This removal is not to the heights, a withdrawal, or retraction; neither is it to the depths, a regression or subduction.

The removal may be said to be of the whole, for the sake of consistency. Not that saying so would be in order to be consistent, but that what is left is the play of parts which form a consistency. The sense of a whole withdraws durationally, is reserved for the subjective power of an indeterminate duration. Then again, it’s not as if we hold off from telling you the whole story until an end is reached, with which the story was, had been, was always going to be self-identical, in a sort of retroaction devised to make, or give the impression of, everything falling into place.

In each playing his part, it’s more the case of an internal cohesion of conflicting elements. The conflicts are great but effortless; and the conflicts are diminutive, at the vanishing point: because the withdrawal or removal of the whole, reserving it to a subjective duration that is indeterminate, is for the sake of indeterminacy and consistency. The body, for Bergson, is a centre of indeterminacy. It too has a centre of reception, where what is being reported on is given time for an action which is as yet not fully determined; we can say, when it is, it will be actualised. And, for Bergson, such an action that is as yet indeterminate is also a sensation, the act of sensation.

Sensation acts or interacts in and with the world at large, does not provide representation of it, or give information to us, in the way of what it is like. No likeness, action: and we have set up the surface of the stage to be a field for the grossly indeterminate. We have deemed it to have the consistency of indivisible movement, going from one thing to another without regard for the different frames or structures of reference being trespassed on: structure has been left behind. Is left behind at the first step. That is, the thing structuring the world is removed for the play of parts, where there is great division, clashes of what we may call conscience; and yet the movement is indivisible: so we go from world to world as easily as going from part to part (the reason for taking out the whole, or, and, taking it for being simply one more part: now one part less). In fact, we go from subject to object and back again.

The play of movements is reflected at smaller and smaller scales, degrees of difference, all the way down to the most minute. At the level of the vibrationary squeak, a particle is emitted. If we imagine it in wave form and blow it up enormously, we can see the peaks as well as the great troughs, which at this level are of worlds colliding. The overall, duration, is what enables the one and the other, by consenting to the formation of a single surface, having the singular consistency to comprehend, so hold in contemplation, the great play of the world with the fraction of a vestigial sound or gesture, glance, grimace. Structures clanging against and destroying each other. Then, no more than gumboots rubbing, as small as a mouse, singing.

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

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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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thirtieth part, called “the subject XXX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

Inclusion, like diversity, has acquired a self-righteous and humanistic inflection. It is not for the inclusion of the hitherto excluded that we advocate for the inhumanities. Neither is our advocacy, in saying the inhumanities, in the sense of disciplines, practices of art, theatre, writing, reading, language, history, political science, sociology and economics, ought to replace the humanities even for the sake of the animals and plant species humans are intent on killing off, that is, in offering their summary execution by corporations (of humans). Nor is it in acknowledgement, either to commend or celebrate, of the cruelty, the, for some, sacred cruelty, we visit on our own species. Neither is it to extend the tolerance of intolerance, in human societies for all other forms of life; nor to extol a primitivism of acceptance and respect to these. We don’t believe in that anyhow, not as they are currently read, where the terms of respect and acceptance for nonhuman forms of life and nonlife are forced into alignment with a spirituality, of the earth-mother, say, from which we all come, to which we owe… Nothing like what we owe each other! (That debt, since Nietzsche, is infinite.)

We advocate that the inhumanities replace humanities because they are badly called. They have always been concerned with non- and in-human becomings. Whether of, since we have mentioned Nietzsche, the sub-men(sch) or the super.

For these becomings—the mineral becoming that finds in paint transmissions and connections between pigments which are at base mineral; or the algorithm becoming, where we are subsumed, or sublimed, into digitial society; and the becoming algorithm of the statistical data harvested for that purpose by economics and sociology, and, to an extent, history; the marmoreal, metallic and material becomings of sculpture; the temporal becomings that are the achievement of cinema; the ex-temporal becomings of theatre which retains in the subject of the human its sacrificial element; animal becomings, or becoming vegetative, which are, as well as those of different art forms, the concerns of human sciences in a cover-all evolutionary becoming … for these becomings—and these are not matters of inclusion, for the inclusion of diversity, because they exit generation, race, or, in German, Geschlecht. For these becomings some-where is needed.

Is matter (it makes me ask this very strange question) another word for outside? What matters being both outside the metaphysical impression of the symbolic and (because) outside the purview of the (human) spirit, spirituality. The materialism of Marx, for instance, which offered a distinctive outside.

We asked after words in the air and their vibratory meanings. Meanings they ought to lack, ought to in the moral structure common to humans. Meanings possessed by all and every instance of what vibrates in the air. That would be a becoming-material that gets at, materialises, reifies, the evolutionary spirit. Spirit in its evolutionary origin being exactly those meanings. And still, thereas, inspiring poets. It would also entail the word becoming inhuman.

We found life in the stone unfolding on the stage in fractals. So underscored. Even in a black theatre the darkness of an empty stage we said had this vertigo-inducing en abîme. The en abîme of the mimima of mise. An auto-individualising …

I want to say automaton. For that it would be a spiritual automaton of the material belonging to the stage that is fractally expressed. So from the smallest gesture—a world. The smallest inhuman gesture. Haven’t all the human beings exited? Aren’t we there—in a black theatre, in the darkness of an empty stage—contemplating ourselves? But for this abyssal substance some-where is needed that does not precede it, that it makes, so that as a substance it is badly called, because it is not, except in the sense of under-standing. The self-supporting origins of life-non-life, its material sustenance: with nothing going on ‘outside’ it.

The necessary fifth element is void for it to grow. And with void we have identified the stage, as both line underscoring and surface. Note that it is a surface that does not support.

For this source of life that does not surface but begins at the surface and with the surface another kind of where is needed. This where is where fractals grow. It is what they make not what they need (like void). And we can see immediately it is the surface, but what is happening at the surface? An opening out and a putting in: for each new petal put in, new branch, fold or frond, space opens, … and there is always space. It’s not a matter of the new bit halving or dividing and making room for itself on the inside.

In this it is like memory. And memory shows us there is matter in us. Matter being (another word for) outside.

The appearance of what’s new already is as larger than what was before. It doesn’t go outside and doesn’t press out from inside to make space for itself—as is held in evolutionary terms—because the space it takes up was not there before it was. It exits rather than emanates, or expresses itself, from what was included. And it does not produce diversity. And it does not repeat or differ.

Deleuze calls this static genesis. It’s our feeling that this happens outside. Not in a some-where that is a place. Yes, in a direction of time but not for being itself a form or type of time. So it’s better to say static genesis—or the fractal growth—or the opening up of the putting in—happens from outside. It also goes to outside.

Outside is a direction rather than a place or a form or type of time. Strictly speaking, it is the space time makes. The creation of space from time makes it sound as if it is already full when it is in the gaps, and goes to the creation of what does not exist. Yet. What exists because it exits. So this perhaps gives a better understanding of what is meant by inhumanity.

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

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

the subject

The surface receives the gesture. On which side sits the subject? With gesture, or with reception? And…

Is it definite, this action? Is it possible to slow down the selfish actor, to find this moment that breaks every habit? I want to say it is more violent than definite, but this is contradicted by the physical evidence, of which there is none. And this is what’s wrong with asking for it to be marked, with asking the selfish actor to go back to the beginning. She will forget entirely the stage, and make the most natural movement: and there will be no difference between gestures. Mark it? How?

It seems already to be marked. Not physically. That’s obvious. Not symbolically: the addition of any symbol, sign, would signal the gesture, would be it. So it would not take place. All we have is the index.

The selfish actor says as much. He says, What? This? … you want me to believe in the smallest… one of these… is a world? Huh?

…but it is what happens when an actor reaches the line, takes a step, makes a sound… And it is not taken away when the stage is empty. Can we compare it to the brain? to internal experience?

What index do we have to thought? To think there is one gives a vertiginous feeling. We are like the selfish actor, unable, for some reason, to find the beginning; but for what reason?

Now, we have the endocrinal revolution. Can talk to the facts of emissions of signal chemicals, but to talk this way places these outside, outside the subjective nonfacts of internal experience? The physical causation cannot account for the metaphysical impression.

Then there’s the barely scientific analysis of psychology that wants to find footing using behaviour as index, or using the social activity of neurons as index, their communication, their inner gestures and almost spontaneous formations, worlds. The dramas of psychoanalysis passing from favour. In these dramas however we do find violence and narratives of metamorphosis, but they too are contradicted by the physical evidence, of which there is none. None for castration. None for Oedipus. None for the phallus, as a signifier occluding its presence, by a process of signification. Removing from the beginning the evidence. Some of the lies told about me are untrue, as Geoffrey Palmer said, some time in the 90s.

The opposite of the selfish actor is the beginning actor. A beginning actor is frightened by the seemingly symbolic function of the stage. It would be great if the beginning writer were too, afraid that in the first word lay coiled up all of his, all of her, future failure. While we are inured to thought.

The selfish thinker being the precise double of the selfish actor. So that what if thought does not actually occur? And can we throw that back at the surface that receives the gesture?

Can we say, sometimes neither the stage nor acting occur? The surface does not appear. The line does not divide. And… it’s not that the gesture is impotent, or sterile, or say in some other way non-virile. These are the conditions precisely for the surface to receive the gesture.

In the gesture is already marked the lack of consequence. The stage’s triple oath is like the monastic: poverty, chastity and obedience. Might we unpack that last, and say obedience to the beginning?

No physical trace is left, neither by thought, nor by the stage or acting. Poverty has its correlate in the smallest gesture, the pruning of the subject to its bare fractal life. Chastity is the cleaving of the stage to itself, its complete powerlessness, and its failure even to be a surface of registration for the gesture it receives, which summons it. Obedience has its correlate in the necessity we can observe, since it is this observance, for the actor every time and at each instant to be beginning. So the gesture with the subject its centre of reception is always new.

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

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

the subject

We perceive ourselves to be subjects in view of symbolic structure and in view of something else, that concerns how we perceive. It’s hard to get away from the idea that we are not the subjects of symbolic structure. Subjected to the system: but this has become a vague term, as if we have to blow off the historical dust that’s settled there. Either that, or remove the dustsheets covering it. To discover, what?

It’s Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. It’s the mechanical universe and Euclidean space. And humanism. And post-humanism.

It’s the system of knowledge meted out and divvyed up by the levels of education, where it’s inculcated. It’s capitalism, of course. And where we might have found a sharp blade in this term, we encounter the field of its diffusion. With which the very air is redolent… Then it’s postwar capitalism, liberalism, neoliberalism and postcapitalism. This we have alluded to in the field of data.

So, isn’t the air thick now with dust and the gaseous apparatus to which we are subjected? Well, yes. Abram, enacting an archeology of preliterate conceptions of space and time and their interpenetration, finds the future to be beyond the horizon of every thing, the past to be in the depths (as in Robert MacFarlane’s wonderful—wunderkammerlich—book, Underland, whence it is, like anthrax and the dead, each day the ice recedes, vomited up; the anthropocene as emetic?), and the present, sheer presence, to be here, in the air. The great Air Spirit that the system of our present dystopia is for whatever reason despoiling. Bringing about a present crisis which is also a crisis of time.

The system for poststructuralist and postmodern (think death of Master Narratives, critique, deconstruction of Transcendental Signifier) thinkers is both in us and all around. The concept of power Foucault develops at the beginning of his History of Sexuality project is its immanence. Power is productive, inciting to production, of what else but subjects?

The system is the system of subjection, producing subjects. The structure is their structure. Ours: it is how we stage psychic or mental development, finding in each place a symbolic occurrence, and build up a case study, from Klein’s theatre of terror where the symbols are still being eaten and spewed in a terrifying and liquid exchange between infant and mother, all the way to the surface that seems stable but every so often breaks open, swallowing us, or, as we said before, spitting what we are out of the structure. And notice here the verbal and regurgitative functions: just like God who spits out of his mouth—the same the Word came from—the lukewarm, presumably conserving the hot and the cold like a ball of tobacco in His mouth, to chew over on the Sabbath, or like cud, the cud of the cow who naturally moos.

Ours: it is how in each place is found a symbolic occurrence and these are codified into, what else, but codes. Codes of public morality; or, just public codes. Performing the social functions of language as discourse: all the way from the founding of institutions to institutionalisation. Again, ours.

Ours, the system means that in each place a symbolic value is put in for what is there; how what is there is extracted and enters into the system of symbolic exchange. The system is that of this triple ecology (of Guattari), psychic, social, environmental, determining how each plays its part: from the machining, the tooling out, the impress of the individual, all the way to the machinic governance of its ultimate instantiation in the System of the World. But the world is now the cosmos, and human nature is destiny, even if it be conducted by high-order machines.

So it’s bad then is it? We know it to be, but we also know it to break apart. And where does it break apart?

Better ask who are the individuals because it is their (our) separation from the system, that distance, that the system relies on, distances that are structural. Enabling both the putting together of the machine-like system and its falling to pieces, tears, and so on. Between each one of us stage doors swing open, that double as fire-escapes. But the same can be said for the vertiginous individuality of flowers in the field, stones on the path, letters on the page, words in the air and clouds. Consider the inseparability of schizophrenia: the schizophrenic (which was the initial, after the first nonmedical one, diagnosis of my friend Tony) is out of his head, but not free—because the world is burning down. Or, rather, the world is burning up, in each flame another sign of it.

Here, yes, the whole world is a stage (and Tony is pretending); but also notice the absence of any offstage: this is not the same as nowhere private and the great debate between our private rights and public powers, and their incursion into our private lives. It concerns that other line, that is the same line. The one underlining, with an exaggeration that also belongs to artifice. It separates by cutting and we gave the image of pruning—which makes it sound like another castration, after the ones psychically, socially and environmentally inflicted, and, we must specify, inflicted without regard for gender. So it is neutral… then, castration does nothing but remind me of the Wizard who has now a blade, behind the curtain, or at the tabernacle. This is its symbolic function.

We come to the surface: it’s hard to escape the feeling of our intrinsic and terrible depths. Should we begin to act, we are reminded we are already, were already acting. It’s hard to shake off the feeling: and for actors to be trained used to require no less than what we can properly name a kenosis. Empty. Come to nothing.

My father used to do an exercise with young actors (bear in mind that dramatic exercises are never explained) almost parodying the breaking down the emptying out of becoming tabula rasa which acting was supposed to require. In it, the director would ask an actor, who had been told to shut her eyes and stand still, What do you see? The answer, prescribed, and true: Nothing. Perhaps, Reach out. Touch. Then: What do you feel? The answer, scripted but true, again: Nothing.

Pause. Pauses after each answer. A Beckett play.

Where are you? This time: Nowhere. The actor, blind, suspended in space: the answer true. The pauses like a relief or a reward, to be savoured, for telling the truth.

What do you feel?

[pause]

Nothing.

[pause]

What … are … you?

[pause]

We have our complexes, our private histories, our genetic predispositions, our phylogenetic and inherited characteristics, our chemistries always threatening to show imbalance. Waiting for imbalances to show. The young actor reassured. Knowing if they do, if he dissolves, a heap on the floor, in tears; if she resists then cracks all the more severely, radically, knowing if they do there is the comfort of those pauses, that silence, that nothing. This is sometimes called trust.

Yes, we may betray ourselves today, thinking we are acting, then not be. Then, as Elric Hooper used to say, escaping into humour. Laughing. The fear, the terror, in fact, was supposed to be salutary. 

We have come back to the earlier theme of risk. It’s very personal, the structure of the subject, the system producing that structure. And despite its denegation, it is entirely positive.

Is the fear for or of nothing? We know the fear not to be nothing. But it’s a strange experience, standing onstage, knowing there’s nothing holding you up.

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

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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.

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

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