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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 I am suggesting everything not represented symbolically to be withdrawn from an understanding of what makes human language.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 All others are withdrawn, as it were, from the symbolic stage.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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seventeenth part, called “a way in XVII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

A creature of language. Homo logos. Whose sapiens is only through language, because it is through language she comes to know the world. As it is in language he becomes a subject. A social creature. With all the problems attendant on social organisation. Such as her own status, that of being human, which does not automatically confer on her any status. Is not a recognised institution in society, such as being a subject is. Just as it does not automatically mean he speaks, let alone entail she is heard. So we ask, is an institution all a subject is?

We have claimed that human being becomes exception before being in general through language, a natural and exclusive right. And further proposed it is the system of language that founds this right. Exclusive to human being and natural.

Exclusive because systematised: having ascertainable rules and functions that are common to all languages if they are human. A grammar is the primary example. Then there are repertoires of sounds and the specificity of their production to the human anatomy, the laryngeal, lingual, palatal, dental and labial make-up. Which is unlike that of a cicada. And the further dependence of this exclusive proclivity natural to the human on upright bipedalism: having to feed against a vertical face, the frontal breast, and neither suffocate, though the conformation of the nostrils, now downwards, nor be held at a distance by a rigid snout or nose, and the out-turning of mucous surfaces, the lips as independently prehensile and able to latch on the nipple. A shortening of the jaw, and so on, all ideal as if retrofitted to allow for the production of sensible sounds, meaning sounds making sense through their separation from those that don’t, like gurgling-feeding.

Or chirruping? Doesn’t that make a sense separate from those of mastication, in an unnecessary expenditure of energy? Expenditure of no evolutionary use, not motivated by instinctive purpose, but pure display, as we see in birds, tropical fish, flowers. Yes, I know, finding a mate. Reproducing. Still, excessive in this regard. As it is in humans.

The chirruping of cicadas doesn’t follow the rules or functions of human language, which functions for what? Communication. Then these rules and functions of linguistic systematicity are retrofitted since they are not communicated in communication, back-engineered to account for the system itself. They are presuppositions of systematicity, otherwise what else does it organise?

The distinctions between signifiers? Repetitive patterns of sound? Do we say of music it is rule-based because of twelve-tone equal temperament? that seriality proves a latent serialism? We know these to be of human invention and to become matters of social convention, that is, musical institutions.

Codification is the necessary step in music as in language and it is provided for by symbolisation. Notation, separation, transposition of articulations of air into those manipulations of elements, minerals and chemicals, that give us paper and ink as they give us electronic means of registration. Encoding, a surface of registration and its recollection, as well as accepting the loss of the gestural and other physical signs and significations is compensated by the gains in, what? transmissability? These are necessary.

What is the transmission of? more language? differences that make a difference? Or more system and more of the same? The transmission of institutional understanding, like philosophy, and the reproduction of those institutions. In other words, pure display. And to restate or reinstate a purpose extends that which we may call libidinal economy. We are in fact left with transmissability for its own sake. So, data-communication. The autoproductivity of the code that at its most exalted is Artificial Intelligence.

We should note that it’s not AI decentring human being, neither the promise of it nor its actuality, of which we already see the effects. And we have for this reason no need to fear it. There are those that even encourage this decentring from his centrality of Man (sic) as being long overdue and want to hurry it up because they reckon on the intelligence of machines in surpassing human intelligence as heralding the coming of a Greater Wisdom. No doubt in an apocalypse. A messianic cybernetics: and Machine to pass Final Judgement on Man. Ending His destruction of ourselves and of our home on planet earth.

Anthropocentrism decentres itself in such wishes: the real danger, of which we are living both the actuality and the promise, is not the transfer and construction of the means of transference of instrumental reason to technical mechanism, like the singularity—systematicity in excelsis—but human abrogation of reason itself. The technical mechanism has and is undergoing development to be applied to human house-keeping. That is the problem it is meant to solve: economic. The decision is being and already has been passed over to transmissability itself, for itself.

This is why I want to return to the question of language, because its systematisation provides the rules of code-functions for the technical system. And I want to ask about the extra-being of language that exists without the system. Because that language is a system makes it a human system.

So, what is language before its invention as a system? And what is language both outside the human, to which its systematisation is subsequent, and during the anthropocene? Not to return, and not to make human language, after what happened, evil, so that the only answer to What can we do? is, obviously, physical theatre.

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

A way in

What is meant by subject? When we speak of the staging of the subject, are we saying nothing more than the subject takes the stage? That is, the actor? And then when we align that with consciousness, aren’t we confusing it with the subject, with the human subject, specifically, as the subject of speech, the linguistic subject? Or is consciousness the cogito? the I think who fractalises, fracturing, as it descends the en abîme, into an I think I think, I think I think I think, I think I think I think I think I think: or is this the it thinks? The it thinks of the empty stage, not waiting, but already a subject of expression, and … nonlinguistic expression. And ought this to anchor us in our anti-human-exceptionalism viewpoint? Because, as soon as language enters the picture, so does human exceptionalism.

And animals are notorious enemies of the stage. But then, so are children. Our nonlinguistic subjects par excellence. Or are they? the unpredictability of animals onstage, or that of children, such that we say, Never act with them! isn’t this rather to do with a lack of training and the training not having taken? The kids not being educated in the way of, Please don’t stand in front of me when I am delivering my line?

After all, we have animal trainers. And acting coaches for children. What really is the difference? Why coaches for one. Trainers for the other? Well, of course, the animals can’t act, exactly can’t act, because animals act out of instinct. So with animals we deploy various strategies to lead them to do what we want, on film, or stage. Whereas children, with children, above a certain age, we can explain it to them. They are capable of understanding what is expected.

Isn’t it however nonsense that animals don’t act, can’t, that is, perform, except by instinct? The dog show, or show-jumping horses, would seem to go against this: the horses are certainly conscious of a rider’s expectation, exert themselves to win races, often beyond the point that would serve instinct, or instinctive behaviour serve to explain.

Do dogs feel shame, having shat on the floor? Having ripped the head off a doll? And what about chimpanzees at the tea party? Cruel, so cruel. They were doing it for the peanuts.

Birds on stage, they seem not to take direction. Lay down some seed. And we’ll scoop up the chickens directly after their scene with the nuns. Before they embarrass themselves. The chickens.

The children: if you keep out of my way next time I deliver that line, I’ll buy you a drink after the show. You’re too young to drink? How about icecream?

Isn’t the word of praise to the kid the same as the icecream? its symbolic surrogate. You did great. Do it again, just like that. Well, this is the whole reason for rehearsals, isn’t it? same for children as it is for adults: Yes, that was better. Says the director. Or, no matter how many times we do it, I just can’t get it. Well, speak your lines and stay out of my way!

Consciousness of performing: it’s not enough to dispense entirely with a stage given over to trained monkeys who are trained humans. Sorry, highly trained. And the charming children who are coached. And the charming coaches who are well paid. That is, to rid us of the idea that we can only speak of linguistic subjects as being subjects, and open the stage up to animal consciousness.

How to proceed, then, if we want to move beyond what we may see as a political position on subjectivity, such that making the stage the line supporting the subject limits the subjectivity in question to the subject as it is formed by social and political systems and by the system of language? Because language is never innocent. Always a matter of subject formation according to the discursive conditions of an embedded, as we might say it of journalists in the military, subject. No leverage exists in language, making possible a viewpoint outside of it, to shift the world from being as it is formed in and by language.

Sure, languages: each a different viewpoint on the language problem. Different differences providing points of articulation, so that different distinctions are made. Still, the problem remains, of the specificity of language to human being.

And when we consider political subjection, we are even worse off: it looks like we can undo subjection to systematicity, the systems of government, or governmentality, tout coup, by changing the system, doing away with the principles on which it is founded. But the fact of subjection persists, the fact of being a political subject. Even when an anarchist, and rejecting the principles of any system of government, on which it is founded, and outright refusing to be its obedient subject.

We might ask, of linguistic as of political representation, does the system of representation come before its systematisation? What works to separate off governmentality or English so that it can be systematised, become a system, generating subjects? And insistently human subjects?

We can examine a grammar of governmentality, as did Foucault, as others have done of language all the way to Chomsky’s universal grammar with a biological basis in a grammar organ, that humans have, but is missing in chimpanzees, for example. Preventing their acquisition of language. We can look to the great systems makers, like Hegel, or the encyclopaedists, and go back to the practices giving rise to systems, such as monastic rule.

As Saussure shows, the separation writ large reflects that at the smallest scale, between signifier and signified. In other words, the causalities and the genealogies are, as Deleuze says, quasi. Not that they are not real, because events of linguistic expression differ in nature from those of the bodies in which they are expressed, having then causes produced in language. Their reality is not quasi when it comes to language; their causes are. Still, when it comes to the speaking subject it seems we cannot make the leap from human to animal, or plant, or mycology (itself a quasi-logical entity). And we say of these they are subjects because in communication. Whereas we are always within language.

The problem of language has two parts: an overall systematisation, that is as it were external; and an internal slippage, of difference, the symbolic shifting of an individual difference. This individual difference is however the foundation. It grounds the system, and Derrida makes great anarchic play of this, as a system of differences. Destabilising sociopolitical and lingophilosophical certainties.

And we have to ask if we recognise ourselves in language as system of differences, in a particular grammar comprising, Chomsky says, universal elements. Do we recognise ourselves in this universal system of systems? of systematicity? Our obedience to its rules and principles has to be pointed out to us. We have to be trained, coached in subjection. To become subjects, willing or unwilling.

As for the idea that language and consciousness are coextensive, even before we give to either its biological basis in the brain, doesn’t this extend subjection indefinitely? Enslaving humanity to… what? Man is of most use to man, writes Spinoza, man having a gender specificity difficult to eradicate; because, is woman of most use to man before man is? And of most use to woman is … man? woman? child? sub- or super-man? …or some representative of a nonequal minority, a minority that is by the same, shall we say, token, nonnumerical, not reflected in the actual numbers? Or those nonhuman species… who are superior in numbers… like the dinosaurs in The Flintstones?

When I look at you and speak to you, or is it when I command you that we see the primary function of language? beyond that of communication. When we are in communication we are like fungus, as we say now, networking.

Commanding you, I am extracting from you some use-value, that Spinoza never intended. I am extracting human capital. Like the data which so readily is flowing in the way financial capital did once. Value a function of magnitude as much as speed of flow. Yes, of course this has yet to be done, to free us, in the anarchic spirit, to become useless to the data miners. What such uselessness is is not to drop out of society but out of language, in a very technical sense: to eschew the symbolisation that makes the systematisation of language possible in technical networks through monetising communication. And makes the monetising of communication possible through its systematic embodiment in technical networks.

Give to the great apes data flows! To the trees of the Amazon, make them data rich! To the viruses of our new pandemics, data! …Oh, in effect this has already happened.

What makes the technicity of data-capital possible, isn’t it what makes the systematisation of language possible? And isn’t it at the heart of human separateness? Isn’t it symbolic representation? Doesn’t symbolisation—and the subsequent displacement, condensation, projection onto the symbolic field that is entailed precisely in investment—make possible the systematisation of language? Isn’t this and not language itself its humanity? as separate, as exceptional, leading to the anthropocentrism Spinoza could not have imagined, of man being most useful to man through the monetisation of the data of communication, or communication-production, and the reification of the data network? Wherefrom everything that is not communication-production is excluded for having no value.

So we might ask of language, as we ask of data, does the system of representation come before its systematisation? And is not this systematisation made possible by symbolisation? We might ask, what language is before its systematisation. And this would be to ask what it is before or outside writing.

Or, otherwise, what if writing, as Blanchot seems to say, is the outside of language? Far from Derrida’s il n’y a pas d’hors texte, there is no outside the text, we would find ourselves saying, there is no text outside. Before we can go back to the notion of the stage constituting an outside and take it further by saying, for nonhuman performance, we must stay with the symbol.

The symbol is of human construction, yes. And it is a tool, enabling new forms of exploitation, through the discourse of technology as through technical implementations of symbolisation, sure. But what we might call its first function, on which all further use, usage and usefulness is founded, is to separate the word, the utterance, from the air.

And, by so doing, make distinct a general quality of what we may call meaning, and a particular quality which we can call difference. The second is a positive phonetic difference, that between two phonemes, as much as a symbolic one, that represented by symbols, of which the phoneme already is representative, allowing the general quality of meaning to … circulate, surely, and invaluably, but on the condition of its separability, on the condition giving the difference its distinction. Making it this general quality for an economy of signs, an economy of differences, able to be read.

I am not intending to draw attention to the difference between the spoken word and the written word, but the difference that the latter makes possible, in turn making possible its circulation in a system. That is, its systematisation. A rule-based function that extends over the whole system with which language as a system is coextensive.

Making it, language attest to its own separateness from things, bodies, subjects. And bringing it, language, in to bear witness for the separation of humans from those who are not subject to this system, which includes animals, because they can’t read, and children, before they can. This separation of the word from the air I breathe and share with others gives onto human exceptionalism, leading to anthropocentrism.

The so-called anthropocentric worldview can be grounded in humanity in general because of the claims made for language. The claims made for language can only be made on the back of language as a system. Human consciousness is upheld to be a realm separate from others on the basis of these claims and the subjection of humanity to symbolic means, which means are newly embodied, or embrained, in the technical apparati of data networks.

And from this is drawn our image of the brain. The human brain. A neural network. Or neuronal apparatus of information processing. We can say that the anthropocentric worldview reaches apotheosis in the ejection of humanity from its centrism, of the anthropos from the magic circle of its enchanted symbolic garden.

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

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Lecture on Academic Writing–delivered online for AUT 14.9.2021

Part I
Part II
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fourteenth part, called “a way in XIV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

It’s a funny idea that the resources we draw on are within. Psychic or subjective resources. We might want to draw on the theory of humours. Invoke all the shades of bile, call for a bloodletting when we find ourselves too sanguine. Seat the different sources in the organs, the spleen, our hysteria in the womb.

It’s as funny to say it’s from the womb as it is to say that nurture, with its atmosphere of trust, or that early self-disgust that was inculcated when banned from dealing, or handling, the bodily humours, brings about such narrowness or breadth of range—in what we are able to metabolise of social life, of social psychic life, psychically: as if on one side as a subject you were once tabula rasa and on the other the fix was in, the genes had it in for you or had it at all, and all that was necessary was the trigger, the trigger points. Or switch points, for latent or recessive capacities. And as funny is the idea of a social interpellation, a social dynamic, that we are filled with contents, subjectively, by the social institutions of our time and place. And so filled to a limit, but told the filling is infinitely divisible: we can be anything.

We can be, but on the understanding that it is not a thing. It is a one. And the division is a choice. We can make it. It is made for us. Which is it?

We are no doubt split between the two. And sometimes we have no choice about this. The one rears up and severs our social, psychic relations, and those of the will itself: taking away the ability of the will to will. Which it can, when it did, not because I let it, asked it or even was aware of it. And what can I add through the will that now I cannot? Because it seems to me we feel its free exercise not in the choice we make, not in the use we make of it, but in its uselessness. It comes to us and we let it take us like a wave.

Then I have contradicted myself. The will is able to will not because I let it. Then it comes and we let it.

It’s almost as if in the first instance it comes as an opportunity, then it takes us with it, or bears us. As if it is a matter of compunction, or moral lesson of the will, that I would be a fool to miss. That I, as we’ve said, will be disappointed, but only after the earlier disappointment, for having left it too long, for being afraid. But what has happened has been the division itself, that we, in our finitude, infinitely experience. We are either looking into the black hole, in the process of being swallowed, or are looking out to sea.

It’s a funny idea, that the will bears us, that the other I am is borne of the self. The self one isn’t. But where does this actually occur? What produces the subjective resources that might be infinite within our finitude? Within your finitude that is only the finitude of the one. To say, one was.

Isn’t this talk the interval talk that the silly talk abjures? That dealing with the profundities in the comfort of the foyer, in respite from the play, film or show, putting to rights our understanding, hashing out whatever intention was to be communicated, whether there was one, and leaving, in company or on one’s own. With the connotation that here society confronts its depths. A certain society does. Having come and paid, in the best possible scenario, for the experience.

What am I saying? In the best possible scenario society confronts its depths as a right, and not the privilege of a certain bourgeois or colonial type. And, in the best possible scenario, it’s not even for its own good that it does. It demands edification as much as entertainment, finds one in the other, and these not to the preclusion of any one class, type or group but part of its belonging as a whole. Another one who come collectively to exercise free will to will themselves other than the one society they were.

The failure of the notion of inclusivity, in cultural participation as in political engagement, for these, is the same as that of diversity, for and in political and cultural representation: its exclusion of difference, its exclusion of actual division, internal and in depth, as separating the itself of society from what it may become. The oneself of the individual from what it may become. It is a staging not of a surface—surface differences, because aren’t they all?—we are only superficially divided as a society—this inclusivity and diversity attest to, because we’ve got to try!—without depth, but of a depth without surface. A profound superficiality, as Warhol once said.

The profundity of silly talk. The superficiality of interval talk. Where performance is useful to us is in its profound superficiality: it is, on the surface of the stage, in constituting an outside.

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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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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.

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

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

What is theatre?

I want to address two lines. The first we have seen. It is the line splitting representation into what is represented and that which it represents. Into what it is, and what’s doing the work, we might say, of representation. In theatre this is the whole theatrical apparatus. Even the curtains we can suspect of meaning something, of referring to a veil, and unveiling, and yet staying visible.

This line was important for Weber, you remember, since by remaining visible, the curtain marks a kind of limit. Again, it has meaning. It limits represented action to that which occurs onstage, but in doing so remains accessible to trespass. So the action of Oedipus at Colonus, of his death, being offstage, trespasses the limit of representation to have effects on the world.

The world that is no longer beyond but included. The world the invisibility of which no longer guarantees its security, it not being placed in jeopardy. Or, for Oedipus—for Sophocles—guarantees that it is available—and, for Weber, means we can entertain the possibility that when Oedipus promises his death, the secret place of it, will protect Athens more than shields and armies, neither he nor the playwright are speaking in vain. So we can entertain the notion that his promise is, was, will be kept by the medium of a theatricality that is inclusive of this split, this line.

You no doubt recognise it as the fourth wall. I think this is to misrepresent it, if I can say so, because a wall in theatre is never just a wall. For example, the theatre productions that erect a mirror to the rear of the stage, so that the whole audience is reflected behind the action. Or the crude methods Alan Read talks about, where audience members are brought into the action, to do what is called participate, but who are never entirely there, can never entirely suffer the consequences, and are limited to personal reactions, like shame. (That is, they participate but in themselves.) Where the undoing of illusion backfires. And there are for Read political consequences of this, just as there were for Weber, with Oedipus, when theatre crosses the line from the inside.

The line here is that separating the stage from the world, one that is highly mobile. We find it cropping up in our personal lives when we accuse others or ourselves of being fake. Again, this is an oversimplification, the oversimplification of what has come to be known as performativity. An oversimplification because it does not come from the side of theatre but assumes a world outside it. And so re-inserts the line in order to make a stand on what is real, so reinforcing and fortifying it, claiming and then defending it. Making it the real of the real. Or Big Real. What is really going on I think is more subtle.

It goes to the answer to the question ‘what is theatre?’ The answer I might’ve made at different times of my life is that theatre is, as Weber, Read and Blau all maintain, about risk. It entails risk and the responsibility that comes with that risk or that it imposes, which we can either assume or not. And the despicable people of American theatre Blau describes I would say do not. Risk anything.

My answer is like Blau’s then: it is a charge, a judgement on those who get on with playing the nice plays to the Cynthias, as one such person in New Zealand theatre described them: because these are the ones who will pay to ensure theatres stay open. Until they don’t.

In a sense, then, the risk for being shirked, is all the more acutely felt, because it is of losing one’s livelihood. … Then, the talk goes, what are you going to do with your fancy ideas about theatre? if there is no audience!

My answer would have been that necessity comes before reality. That there is a principle worth, as Blau does, getting angry over. And being passionate about.

And writing about! Also. My answer would have been to take the risk is imposed by the necessity of theatre. Like a vow, certainly, to one who does not requite one’s love. And if my answer now is different it does not come out of finding that this is the case.

We can look at Blau’s life. Rather than get bitter and stay in theatre he went to academe. My father did not, didn’t have this recourse from theatre to theory, and did not make it.

Then, what is the necessity of that implies this risk, that one imposes on oneself? The answer pure and simple is the choice between risking the world or the soul. And the soul of theatre is about necessity and the world of theatre is about that soul.

The other part of the answer has already been touched on—the answer I would have given at a different time of my life than now: it is time. The necessity placed on us by time, by this particular time. Now. As well as this instant: the instant we see the young, golden and invulnerable Rimbaud, or those beautiful young men … as they should be seen … under arc-lights, beautiful and golden and in that instant immortal. Says Chinchilla in Robert David MacDonald’s play of the same name.

So: the necessity placed on us by the time, for which we risk everything. And I say we have touched on it because it is that certain type of realism we ascribed to theatre of a temporalising temporality. This necessity is also to speak to the time.

If the time cannot have the revolution it deserves say it, show it. Even if that means pissing off the sponsors. The donors. Or the funding body, with its functionaries in their sinecures. The latter has meant the destruction of many theatres in this country, a destruction that cannot be thought of in any other way than politically motivated.

Do I now disagree with my former answers? Have I made recourse to theory from theatre? No. Not really. And, no. But I would say now, still with this first line, that it is not between audience and theatre. It does not demarcate the stage. In theatre’s relation to an audience is not found its definition. That is, in what defines the stage. Because a stage need not be in front of an audience.

So, it is of another necessity and risk that I write at this time, that this writing concerns, with an urgency not simply speculative. This line, the line of theatricality as a distinct medium, for Weber, or as the defensive line of performativity for thinkers of performance, is not lost in any workshop, studio or rehearsal room I have encountered, where I have seen actors, non-actors, some musicians, dancers, graphic designers, the curious, risk it. This line confused when it’s called the fourth wall takes place in any place theatre is done. As soon as any one enters the stage.

We come finally to the second line. Where the first lets us see the work of representation and what does the work, or who, the second is the line of the stage itself. Where it is stuck by gravity. Its necessity. Over the top of a void. Its risk.

The second line is a line drawn under events. That is, the stage is no more than a line drawn under events. The events that take place on it. But not actions.

Why not actions? Because of what the line does to actions. It depersonalises them, it makes them impersonal

This, then, is the risk posed: of making an action. The second line does not split what is fake from real, what is done for theatrical effect, made-up, from what is done for real, or in the real world. Does not split the real world from what goes on on stage. It divides the personal from the impersonal. And this is what the actor risks.

The moment any one steps out onto the void is a suspended moment. A movement that cannot move. With all the force of an event.

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

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