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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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“That the Holocaust…” —Jacqueline Rose: on getting stuck inside your mind by experience, as a traumatic diktat

…could have become a premise–that is, a proposition which produces its own logical conclusions–is striking, or rather strikingly different from seeing it, for example, as unrepresentable atrocity, as unassimilable, or barely admissable trauma in the way Judith Butler, citing Primo Levi, has so powerfully described…

— Jacqueline Rose, The Last Resistance, 2017, p. 214

— Antoni Tàpies, lithograph

As I thought about it, it seemed to me that the idea of ‘premises’ as diktat over the future might also do as a working definition of trauma. When I was studying Sylvia Plath a long time ago, and trying to understand the appearance of the Holocaust motif in her writing as something other than the opportunism of which she was accused, I read an article by German psychoanalyst Ilse Grubrich-Simitis on working with second-generation Holocaust survivors that has stayed with me ever since. She described how the language of these patients was characterised by a dull, thudding referentiality, with no mobility or play, as if they were saying–in a way only made clear after the most difficult analytic listening–‘this happened,’ ‘happened‘ ‘happened‘ over and over again, to compensate for the silence, the psychic refusal to acknowledge the reality of the Holocaust, in the generation before. And in one of his evocative articles, ‘The Trauma of Incest’ of 1989, psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas describes how trauma shuts down the mind of the patient. The problem is not believing what they say, but the fact that that is all they have to say, so that there is nowhere else left for them to go inside their minds.

— Ibid., 215

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

the subject

The selfish actor: it was remiss of me to introduce him and give no other description than the abstract—she identifies the depth below the stage as her own—and the advice that everybody knows the type. The selfish actor is the most common, even the dominant of the figures we see on the stage, but not for dominating. You might call it a professional hazard. Either that or a privilege of position.

Firstly, let us say a selfish actor is not a bad actor. The problem is she has become the model of the good actor. The selfish actor is often very good precisely at acting.

What affords us this precision? Let’s move past the abstract and look at what he does. A selfish actor takes the stage without any discomfort. What does she see? What, as Donnellan might say, is her target?

Donnellan’s admirable move is to de-psychologise acting. The actor does not act from what is inside him; he acts from what is outside. And the character is like a shell. In a way that is almost Deleuzian, he also invokes the crack.

An actor projects what the character she plays, which is no more than a shell or mask, sees, without it needing to have any reality whatsoever. The character is in the world only inasmuch as the actor can evoke it for herself. That is, this world belongs to the actor. The target is its point of interest, the bit it is reduced to by perception. The target therefore moves and changes with the changing, moving interest of the character.

Donnellan therefore maintains a distance, a psychological distance we might say, between actor and character. An actor’s technique is operational. It operates the character through projecting what this character perceives. The impression aimed for is liveliness, the life of the rigidity of the mask. And here it is worth noting that mask-work does exactly what Donnellan describes: it pares down the world the mask inhabits, who is a subject of it, its life world or life language, say, to singular points of interest.

The mask is an instrument to focus in on what exactly the character, of the mask, and generally, perceives, which will always be a portion or point in that world: the target he is trained on, and by which entrained, since the actor follows it, keeps it in sight. Like a good hunter, she does not chase it, but as it were sits inside it. Ideally, it becomes a point of contemplation, a moving, changing point, subject to all the vicissitudes an actual living world would visit on it.

The danger is not the identification of the actor with his character, or mask, but that of taking the target to be representative of the world. To believe it is real; when this is exactly what an actor is called on to do: which is why a selfish actor is a good actor. The selfish actor acts as if these phantasmatic projections, which her character, the part played, the mask worn needs to be life-like, were real. Were actual living targets.

A selfish actor then has an excellent understanding of what acting is. He understands it to be what it asks of him. And acting becomes a self-less act. But he is a selfish actor!

Consider what is asked of the slave. She has been volunteered for the games. An island has been fabricated in the middle of the colosseum, and it has been populated with wild animals. Trees provide some cover, and rocks, and other low plants, but not so much she will not be seen by the onlookers when she is attacked.

She smooths down the fur on the pelts that are her costume. She plays the savage inhabitant of an island about to be eaten by lions imported from the Barbary coast. But she is about to beat her fate because when she runs, when she screams, when the lions’ claws tear her flesh, when she sees her ‘children’ eaten in front of her, her ‘husband’ running away, and when she is herself picked up in the lion’s jaws and shaken like a toy, when her arms are flailing out and her legs treading air, and some vital organ is punctured or her spinal cord is broken, she will be acting. She will be acting when she dies.

The problem is not not knowing the difference between reality and the projected reality of a role’s interests, which give life to the role, and of which its (life) world (life language) are comprised. The problem is not confusing reality with art, the actual with the artificial. The problem is not not knowing the limits of the stage or of forming too strong an identification with the role. The problem is with thinking that it is you giving everything you’ve got: the problem is identification with the self.

It is too easy to call this ‘ego’ and the selfish actor an egotist. No, no. The selfish actor is self-less in doing what he is tasked with, but this fulfillment of his tasks is seen to be the selfish actor’s and not the character’s or role’s. A selfish actor is even self-less when it comes to acknowledging others, both in their roles and in their performances, inasmuch as they help her in the construction of the world.

We see this clearly in the case of our politicians. A selfish actor can, however, be damning of those who are not helpful. She is first to call out those actors who undermine her in the performance of her role, who don’t play their parts—who are not as good as she is. And who undermine the world she is painstakingly engaged in constructing. Target by target. Interest by interest. Point by point.

To say this of our political representatives is no mere analogy, because they, if they are any good are selfish actors. And we judge them by the same being good at what they do. And we pick at the masks and attempt to pry them away from their faces. So, this is a problem too: the selfish actor has become the model of the good politician.

What a selfish actor is is still an actor. And is so not for belief in the world but for belief that this world exists entirely without consequence. A selfish actor knows he has no power actually to do anything in the world. That is, too well because this too is that with which she has been tasked, she knows the limits of the stage.

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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Lecture on Academic Writing–delivered online for AUT 14.9.2021

Part I
Part II
Lecture-2-in-5-parts-with-intro-1

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is theatre?

Theatre takes place. Whether under a bare tree, or at Colonus, the place divides along the line splitting representation between what is represented and that which it represents. And then there is the unrepresented death of Oedipus, off-stage, packed full of meaning.

If it is kept a secret, this place, Colonus, Oedipus promises it will better protect Athens than shields or armies. Because it is not Colonus. But wherever the show is put on.

This is the line dividing theatre from what happens, protecting what happens in truth from pretense. And it is here that what happens in truth is most vulnerable, at this threshold… What Sophocles’ play stages, for Weber, is both theatricality and medium, of representation. Its theatricality is in crossing a threshold. Crossing it each time it is performed, from what is no more than representation to what it represents, it goes by way of what is outside of the theatre, off-stage and unrepresented, unable to be represented. For it to be would show the rule, all the more clearly: you can’t cross the line.

So for Weber this is the case each time, a referral onto the real that the audience are sometimes said to represent because of a mobility of place. It also gives rise, in theatre, to the participatory–because the audience is the real representation, as opposed to the fake one, it is asked to cross the line. Crossing it, for Alan Read, is the occasion for shame.

Shame to which the individual is prone, to which the individual is sacrifice. For the community, whose community the sacrifice was supposed to affirm, to bind in community, the sacrifice disaffirms and negates community. The opposite effect is achieved from that Herbert Blau find for in the sacrifice of the actor, on stage.

Under the stage the bodies are buried, according to Weber, and will not stay so for long. Something similar is happening in Blau, but it has to do with the proximity of bodies, the theatrical appearance being the threshold between life and death. And so ghosts passing this way and that, with real bodies on the line.

No. I would note how theory raises the stakes, its own as much as those that are theatre’s own, stakes that are political, ethical, as well as epistemological, ontological, and although I would quote the opening of Herb’s book, The Impossible Theater, this writing is not to put forward a theory. Neither is it to follow a practice, to hang a theory of theatre on a practice in theatre–or to follow more closely the problem that is a practice’s. Neither exegesis nor thesis is intended here, but something more useful that I don’t have a name for yet, out of which, the urgency not purely speculative, a time-contingent writing, a static genesis.

Here’s the Blau quote from The Impossible Theater: A Manifesto, where for ‘America’ you may substitute wherever you happen to be:

The purpose of this book is to talk up a revolution. Where there are rumblings already, I want to cheer them on. I intend to be incendiary and subversive, maybe even un-American. I shall probably hurt some people unintentionally; there are some I want to hurt. I may as well confess right now the full extent of my animus: there are times when, confronted with the despicable behavior of people in the American theater, I feel like the lunatic Lear on the heath, wanting to “kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!”

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

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day 383 – day 444: forget Thought Police & newspeak – it’s time for the NEW MORAL ARMY – in extreme contrast with Janet Malcolm’s double-secret meta – and the arachnocapitalism of the webwork

“the spiders are taking over the interior, and capitalism—that dirty bitch—is still unstoppable and fucking is all up”

— on Antoine Volodine and post-exotic literature, here

and I don’t know if it is appropriate or not. Whether it is entirely inappropriate … for the missed-aches of Volodine, Bassman, Draeger’s postrevolutionary decadence to be marrked by mistakes. Fucking, I suppose, is all up.

Or, like this, when the use of whose goes bad : “Camp 801 in this place was composed mainly of abandoned construction sites and houses whose windows were sealed with bricks or planks, or which were demolished.”

— Manuela Draeger, Eleven Sooty Dreams, Trans. J.T. Mahany, (Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2021), 107.

“The camp belonged to a distant epoch, that’s all. It had been abandoned, the door had been forever shut and padlocked by its last occupants. The humidity, lunar acidity, terrestrial gravity, silence, and wind had seen to its disintegration.”

— Ibid., 46.

“She couldn’t stop herself from having a sexist thought. It’s often that way with men, she reflected. When the situation is a dead end, they don’t know what to do.”

— Ibid., 120.

RIP Janet Malcolm June 8 1934 -16 June 2021

Writer of my favourite book on psychoanalysis, particularly psychoanalysis as critical method, The Purloined Clinic. In which, as the blurb has it, she expresses her conviction that the best criticism is “an exercise in excess and provocation,” a process of “disfiguring the work of art almost beyond recognition” that allows us to see it in a radically new way.

Janet Malcolm exemplifies “all of the best truth-gathering instincts a journalist can have”–introduction 6’12” aka Crabmeat Pie.

The introduction also considers the meta and meta meta levels to Malcolm’s writing, particularly in its self-critique as journalism. Here the source of the title to this post: double-secret meta for the extreme subtlety of Malcolm’s writing.

13’33” Malcolm reads from 41 False Starts.

Every book I’ve picked up today has involved the disappearance of people. Juan Cárdenas’s Ornamental, in the best scene in the book–not the best idea. The best idea is very close to describing Minus Theatre: it’s the action that creates beauty as its ornament left to itself without a product; some might say an empty gesture, devoid of any meaning, but Cárdenas calls it through one of his unlikely female characters grace.* The best scene is the one where the female character referred to only as Number 4 applies cream to her mother. Her mother lies naked on the floral bedspread. Too many cosmetic surgeries have made her painfully hypersensitive to any sort of covering. And the daughter is required to rub cream over every part of her but the cream is vanishing cream. Erasing cream. And the body starts to smudge under her hands. The flesh does not disappear without effort. Number 4 leaves a mouth. An eye. In the streaked smudge of her mother’s face.

– Francis Bacon, Study for a Portrait of
Henrietta Moraes, 1964

Then I was passing a shelf on which Paula Cocozza’s How to be Human was on display. I opened it to the page where the principal character has woken up drenched in sweat. We are told her duvet froths on the floor. The side of her finger is slick with sweat when she runs it between her breasts. And she imagines an early menopause might be induced by the absence of sexual activity. Her boyfriend appears, he walks at her, up the garden into the kitchen, until he presses her, with his new muscles, up against the unit, its knob kneads into her buttock. Just as he slides his finger into the leg of her knickers, like a blade opening a tin, we are told, he starts to disappear. Unlike the mother in Ornamental, he comes away in strips. The description suggests wallpaper or burnt skin and here again an effort in the gradual removal of the pieces, strips coming off his face, revealing underneath the face of the fox. The fox is something like the character’s tutelary spirit animal, as well as an image of an irrational wild sense that is growing in her.

At the end of the same set of shelves was Richard Flanagan’s The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. Here the disappearances of parts of bodies as they fly out through an open window concerns, as in Ornamental, the relationship of mother and daughter. It illustrates the death that is taking the mother away piece by piece but is also an infection that the daughter contracts as pieces of her fly off … or so the frontispiece says. Perhaps in the body of the text nothing quite so literal takes place.

*Ornamental–too much struck me, even as the arbitrary and the necessary are the work’s themes, as being too arbitrary. Too little struck me as necessary, except this idea of the accident of meaning, and of the action to which the beauty produced is ornament, and nothing more–is not the point, target or purpose, but a residuum. Like Francis Bacon’s “slugtrail” of human presence. And where reviewers have contrasted the formal self-consciousness of the doctor’s prose, in a narration that is part doctor’s report and part diaristic, with the informal poetic prose, stream-of-consciousness-like, of his experimental subject and then lover, Number 4, I found hers the more self-conscious, but having the self-consciousness of the author, whose female characters–and characterisations–do not, to me, ring right and I found neither the doctor’s wife nor Number 4 convincing. In the latter’s case, trying too hard for the irrational feminine voice, and a cliché.

These we do have: Adam, Aymer, Oddo, Gilbert, Hemmet, Gerolt, Roger, Hugh, John, Ralf, Nicolas, Wilkin and Watty. These we don’t: Bonnacon, Basilisk, Chimera, Siths, Fauns, Devils, Leucrota, Ghosts and witches folk. Or either foul things in the forest. Or neither objects that don’t obey. Screaming in the houses–that we do. But not little people that are no bigger than a conker. Trees that have voices, never. Hunchbacked longears–that we do too. Childers born with two heads, a pig with six legs, that sort of thing–no, no we do not.

— Edward Carey, “These Our Monsters,” in These Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktale, Myth and Legend, 2020.

Ezra Pound, from Canto CXV, “The scientists are in terror”

— ubuweb, sound: https://ubu.com/sound/pound.html

after that brief musical interlude, he goes on. Fails again. Not better. If anything worse. Because what does it mean to us that the Gulf Stream stalls? (aka AMOC – Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation – aka a major component of earth’s heat conversion unit – and conveyor belt of minerals and nutrients to the oceans – here)

is that even news anymore?

is a new word required?

a word that would sound like a whimper and build and increase in volume over days months years and decades, so gradually you would not notice it? … that would build into a moan, increasing gradually in volume to a howl …

over years decades becoming shriller … building to a scream and … more years … a shriek …

[this is turning into a children’s picturebook. Picture it!]

louder than a jet, louder than a tornado, rising in pitch to a scream … and …

SCREAMING

yes, I can imagine such a word.

of course, beyond a certain point there is silence. Or simply the sound that is in your head right now.

…a word then that deafens. But thereafter does not so much cause hearing impairment as cognitive dissonance: causing the inability to hear it.

A form of news and therefore information that brings about the state in which it cannot be heard.

Sometimes I think we are in a camp where we are submitting to experiments. Experimental technologies are trialed in the camp because in a camp we are expendable. We voluntarily submit to these experiments because we are in a camp. Not only this, the trials are by no means logical.

The introduction and the withholding of technologies is in fact entirely arbitrary. One day that which we came to rely on as an effective treatment for our ongoing anxiety is withheld. The next month an improvement is introduced, but by this time our anxiety has increased beyond the point that its replacement has any sort of effect. … One month the virtual, the next the placebo, the next the real drug. So that we no longer know, can no longer know, which is which, what is what, because we are in a camp.

We might trial new foods on the populace. We might be told one week that what we were eating the last is no longer available. That it never was. Far from doubt that might lead to questions, we move on, because in a camp.

New policies might come into force that restrict our movement and by way of compensation we may be told we are being kept from harm, from risk of infection, and so on. And by way of compensation, we may be told we no longer need to work, because, by way of compensation, we will be paid as usual, for not going to work. Or, in compensation for our inability to have social contact or indeed any kind of contact with those outside the bounds of our domiciliary arrangements we may be encouraged to find new ways of interacting with others, through devices. We may be encouraged to form relationships with our devices so close they amount to intimacy. We may be required to transfer our intimacy from persons to devices, along with our memory and cognitive faculties.

We are in a camp so that the rules managing us, making for the efficient running of the camp, the country, and so on, are beyond us. We will have to put up with the reasons we are given knowing they are at least partially, if not wholly, untrue, for how things are run. We must endure being told what we know is untrue. While not believing it, we will not fully be able not to believe it. After all, it is we who are in the camp and that explains everything.

We may live and die without ever knowing anything but this. All the rest is subject to change at a moment’s notice, whether it is the truth of the matter or not and while such changes as do occur one moment, day, week or decade are readily deniable the next. No, it has always been like this. Yes, it has always never been otherwise.

The same applies to words: what meant one thing yesterday or last year means something else today and this year, as if it always did. If it means now the opposite to what it did is the same as if the meaning had only shifted by a shade, a fraction. This shift is not even to be accounted a process, it is, as Adler recognises, to do with the imposition of the amorphous.

H.G. Adler on Theresienstadt:*

Although I made an effort to write this book using an untainted German, because of the topic involved–an SS camp set up for Jewish inmates–the text came to reflect and was often subject to the general deterioration of language in the age of mechanical materialism, as well as, in particular, the amorphous, coerced language of the National Socialists and the colloquialisms and written language of Theresienstadt. But the demon that created this camp and left it to vegetate must, certainly, also be conquered linguistically. To show that a sound mind seeks to distance itself from amorphous words and phrases, which have been emptied of meaning, have been perverted to mean their opposite, or are simply wrong, I most often put such terms into quotation marks, even if I make frequent use of them. I purposely placed the glossary–which helps explain the nature of this “ghetto” and also demonstrates what components went into creating the camp’s language–at the beginning and not the end.

Experimentation and Destiny in History

In introducing his essay “Psychology of Life in Theresienstadt” (327), Emil Utz remarks that the camp was an “experiment” like no other, and other prisoners, too, could not avoid the feeling that they had been the objects of a monstrous experiment (91, p. 8a). But this expression should be used only with great caution. Every experiment is premised on conscious preparation and implementation. Yet this hardly was the case in National Socialist Germany, and particularly not in Theresienstadt. The SS leaders were, to be sure, imbued with a fantastical play instinct; they could also be curious and sometimes developed a bizarre love of systematic processes, but in the strict sense, they certainly were not experimenters. One must not be misled by the fact that the reality of the “ghetto” was the result of tendencies that developed into a caricature of a planned economy and thus forced human beings into a network of instructions and prohibitions, to the point that their natural independence virtually vanished and they took on the character of objects of decreed measures.

*from the preface to the first edition of his book, Theresienstadt, 1941-1945: The Face of a Coerced Community, Trans. Belinda Cooper, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017, xxiii, and the second excerpt from chapter 20, entitled “The Psychological Face of the Coerced Community,” 557.

Interesting this phrase Adler uses, mechanical materialism. As a rider on whether conscious agency engages in preparing the arbitrary experiments of our submission, we will say that such agency has been taken out of the hands of those who serve it, who serve in the experiment as the kapos and functionaries, whose governance engages the policies conducing to the experiment in its pursuance. So if we are in a camp it will be due to perfecting techniques that were already in play in Adler’s description–that is, the technical itself, the discourse of technology as a self-contained consciousness. The market after Hayek fulfils the role of the ‘brain.’ That is, it is the locus of rational decision-making preparing the experimentation to which, because in a camp, we submit. Here it is not a matter of our coercion but of our adoption into, as Adler writes, a network of instructions and prohibitions, to the point that our natural independence virtually vanishes and we take on the character of objects of decreed measures, otherwise known as data.

und jetzt das Lied zur Erde

and because minus theatre has not yet performed for the land:

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