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

the subject

It seems human beings create two worlds, when we know there is one. To one, humans are alien. Are alien or see themselves (ourselves) to be alien. This is the one world we know of through detailed empirical observation and description going back to the Natural Philosophers.

To the other, human beings have done something like naturalise themselves. It is the world borne of imagination, ingenuity and reason, seen to be the natural consequence of having a human brain. In it we see reflected ourselves, our, as it were, workings, the workings of distinctly human faculties, and find that it expresses most clearly our inner experience. (Ourselves, reflecting on ourselves, reflecting on ourselves.) It expresses our deepest truth as humans (seen currently to be the brain and functionings of the neurons). Built around interests that are human, this is also the world that is spitting us out: either we or it have gone bad.

So the world to which we have naturalised ourselves contrasts with the natural world, the world which from a philosophical perspective is natural. Of course, that we know it to be so is a function of science, the sciences. But this is something like a tautology. While the human sciences inform us of the human nature of the built world and remind us that it is humans who are responsible for making it as it is, the natural sciences (including both physics and biology) measure our distance from the natural world as well as take their distance from it, or keep distant from it, in order to measure that distance. That is, they rely on what is natural to the human, most true, our deepest truth: that we are different from the rest of nature.

Now, the human sciences, sociology, economics (debate may still be open as to whether it is a science, however to us, considering the actual influence and participation of economics, as an epistemological formation, in producing what we know, the question seems to have been settled, say, in the post-imperial age, before and between the first and second world war), political science (ditto) and to an extent biology, or these drawing on biological (and recently neurobiological) insights, may insist on a continuity between human being and animal being, on the human brain as being a natural fact, and on evolutionary factors—at base, because even social factors are said to have evolved—, which lie behind all of nature, all of life, in fact; while sciences focused on the human as an object of knowledge situate us in the natural world, they do so for the sake of public morality. Privately, it’s ok to go on thinking, indeed knowing, you differ from your dog and your garden. Publicly we must insist on a natural continuum, giving rise to notions of ethical use and sustainable practice. As much as Aesop, from the critical interpretation of human nature, from analyzing human development, in the species and individual, are extracted moral lessons, on pride, humility, arrogance, hypocrisy, and so on.

The hard sciences weigh in with studies on what we think and on how much of what we think, and on how much of what we think we know, is to our detriment—as a species—inasmuch as we experience the deleterious effects of what we do. Of course, at the individual level are harmful effects. But there is no current epistemic reversal going on in view of the fight between worlds: public morality remains convinced of human exceptionalism as it does of human culpability, or, as these are currently termed, anthropogenetic global threat and anthropocene.

The subject remains a moral one, and so does, in answer, our subject of the stage as centre of reception and receptive surface. The claims, we have said, for human exceptionalism rest on language. We have qualified this by saying that human exceptionalism can depend on language to support its claims only inasmuch as what is claimed for language belongs to the system and systematicity of language—of all human languages; and of all languages insofar as they are human. Human exceptionalism relies on the structure of language. In this structure is where human culpability is found. Its foundation. Or moral core.

The subject of the stage is a moral one, but is a dreaming subject: the dreaming subject is what we have in mind. So our strategy is not (only) in the unmaking or undoing that occurs in the interval, in the hesitation between stutters, in the selecting from perception of what will be acted on, that we have addressed as its freedom. Our strategy is to show that in theatre we find, we make, unmake, produce, undo, lose sight of, then strike, the hallucination of what it is not to be human. As if we had been dreaming…

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

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

the subject

A conventional theatre has its ambulatories, foyer and public areas, where the audience might mingle, entrance through which the public comes into and exits the building, and entrance doors into the auditorium, often soundproofed, where ushers and front of house staff stand, doors which are shut during the performance and only opened should an audience member have a dire need or to extract a noisy child, or in the case of an emergency. Front of house, when they are able, attend on all three occasions, and, sometimes, will lurk outside the door, or prowl the ambulatory, that with the show under way is darkened, having only sufficient light should one of the three things occur, for the audience member to find the loo, let the child out, for whom some theatres provide a separate room, like a soundbooth, at the back of the auditorium, the sound piped in, and the stage seen through the glass, where those disturbing others may be calmed. Babies are put on the tit or bottle. Old or young ones who are scared or overcome can turn their faces while their companions can keep up with the action.

Ambulatories are darkened so that the light does not spill in to the darkened auditorium when its doors are opened by the one who has to leave or the ones who want to; and yet not entirely dark so that front of house can respond should events demand, throwing wide the doors for gas attacks or fire. Their torches at their belts they are often trained for medical emergency, like a friend of mine who had a petit mal seizure, went rigid and slid onto the floor. The FOH manager, Greg Ball, was indispensable in his aid and unflappable, except when the then prime minister threatened to visit and we wanted to push him down the stairs.

To leave by the stage-door, in a conventional theatre, you go through a door that leads onto the public areas, or through places we have suggested are defined by the sort of work we have called invisible. These are the wings adjacent to the stage—to reiterate, they are according to tradition; although even in open plan style performance spaces it is unusual for there not to be some some delineation between being on the stage and waiting to come on or being or coming off it. Although cases are common in which the audience is not privy to the exchange of public space for … and we want to say private, but this is the last thing that the stage is, and it as well as anything marks the peculiarity of theatre. Actors are already on, for example, and the audience wanders in or wanders through, say in the case of a gallery, that recent invention of the white box, against the black box theatre, and regards the pictures as if they were actors, or the bare strips of canvas or the empty walls as if they were pictures. They weren’t before being transmogrified by the space: they had to cross that line we have been talking about to undergo this metamorphosis from a pile of rubbish to a religious ritual, icon or experience. Which, in addition, we can say are neither matters of symbolisation nor of representation. An actor, across the line between offstage and on, does not represent Christ neither is she a symbol even for herself any more. An actor, like any artwork, is cut off from this recourse. … Whereas we, we go through the wings, in our conventional theatre, past the stagemanager’s station, where the props table is, down by the flies, where the wires and counterweights are for flying scenery, out an aperture often covered by a heavy black drape, to stop sound and light spill, turning left along a corridor.

Depending on the size of the theatre, there may be multiple levels of such corridors arranged in an hierarchy: the most important players, actors, singers, dancers have their dressing rooms nearest to the aperture that gives onto the wings, their doors opening onto the corridor closest to the stage. Those of lesser rank are stationed further away. Until we reach the chorus, who is lowest, and shares. Then there is the greenroom, or rooms, which is a social style of waiting room and used to be equipped with ashtrays, tat and memorabilia on the walls, old theatre posters, photos, but note, no or very rarely any drinks. Private intoxication barely tolerated. Social intoxication reserved for after the show.

We reach and descend the stairs, coming finally to a double-door, that is, a door that doubles as the fire-exit for the backstage area through which we have passed. One side is slightly ajar, an old sandbag serving as doorstop, keeping it from clanging shut. Or a pedal-operated ashtray. Or a tin of sand. And out the stage door there is an alley that you cannot reach from the side of the theatre that faces the street, meaning, its public face, its classical, baroque or modern facade. Still, it is a facade, even if glass, allowing, through the glass, the inner workings of the public areas to be seen from the street, the promenaders, the interval audience, ostentatiously enjoying its own company.

Outside the stage-door is brick. Or bare concrete. And some rubbish skips, both for bottles and for rubbish from the workshop, its loading-dock behind a metal rollerdoor a little further down the alley. How any of an admiring audience can be expected to meet us here I don’t know. So we have passed from invisibility to its other form.

And we have to ask about this distinction, that Donnellan makes, because haven’t we throughout our transit been more concerned with the auditory than the visible? I know the audience come to see a show, and, having surveyed the ravages of the opening’s debauchery in mirrors ringed with incandescent lightbulbs, and having put in eyedrops and done our makeups, and having removed them at the end of the night, and having left early after notes, yet we leave hoping to be seen or that there’s someone there to see us. But isn’t the stage less a line than a place to be heard? And isn’t it only part of a theatre when the stage is in an auditorium? Isn’t the sense of sound what unites the theatre? Isn’t it the reason we extract the howling kid?

So that the stage is not an image and the line we crossed when crossing the stage out into the wings is that between one kind of surface and another and there is no line. From the stage we hear of what happens offstage and all of the world is offstage (but still nowhere near entire). All of the world and its consequence is off: news of Oedipus’s death comes to us and is reported onstage. It is heard. Comes to us by report. The stage is the centre for this kind of reception, a kind which is in the hearing of the audience.

The stage, before being perceived, is heard. Or rather, it hears. And by the audience is overheard. The audience receives what is reported onstage. But the stage is at the centre of those reports. It is a receptive centre, a subject.

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

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A way in

Is there a consciousness that is unperformed? That is invisible to itself? Isn’t this what we normally call unconscious?

Don’t we look at ourselves and wonder, where’s the rest of it? Try to arrest it in its tracks—and traces—in vain? Where is the rest of consciousness we can’t see at this time?

We sometimes feel cheated of it. That it is too little, its bandwidth too narrow. I feel cheated in this writing, by the time it takes to catch up to where I was. Not that the insights were particularly profound or that they were merely superficial, but that they were enchained, entrained in a temporality, called a line or train of thought. And then I don’t have enough time to get them all down… before the next performance, as it were.

Not only this, the traces have a life of their own. Run away, take over. As if writing, language, had its own intentions. Or sense did, but I hope not to limit this to what makes narrative, logical or discursive sense. So I cut the language off, and think what I require of it.

Bergson might say the limitations of consciousness, of inner life, or inner experience, are neither in space nor of time, except the latter considered to be time as it is inwardly experienced. Time inwardly experienced is the subject of conscious experience. I also don’t have enough space to get what I think down. A time and space combo that Bergson might decry but that exists as a self-imposed limit on this writing.

Where is the rest of it? Consciousness, or writing? Outside the glimpses we get. You, in the traces, yes, the traces, left on the page, the page on the screen or the paper page; me, in this matter of experience that is no less material for being inward and no less inward for being material. That is, each is supported.

Look under the page, behind the screen, behind, as said earlier, the Hard Problem of consciousness. Is it there? Or, is the work there? For example, the work preparatory, to the representation we have of it. The, as we also said, performance.

Should we look in all of language for it? Or, as we might say, or ask, is consciousness not language? And what can we make of this language? That it is the symbolic marks, on the page, the paper, the screen? That it is the spoken of the actor and this is how the marks are made as well as where they go?

I mean, in speaking her lines, is an actress remembering, or forgetting? We incline perhaps more to saying an actor remembers her lines. Or does not. The actress who in later years would not go on stage because she was no longer able to remember her lines.

I write like I think, although I don’t succeed in writing what I think, because the writing does not suffice. But I do write in this line. On this line. Enchain, entrain the words in phrases, sentences. The sense they have. Grammatical units.

If I go looking in language for what I think, will I find it? I won’t even find it when I read a writer I agree with; and I will not find it spoken, in speech—as communication. I find it to be incommunicative. Expression split, into, Deleuze will say, manifestation, denotation and signification, but then he will go further, and talk about a cut that, as it were, bleeds words. As Hemingway said, Writing is easy. You simply sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

I don’t bring in the actor by way of analogy, or to assert, insert, the difference between saying and doing, or thinking and doing. But the difference in living. Which is that between language in its symbolic aspect, as being, for humans, the most appealing, and, in fact, enchanting, and in its auditory or performed sense, where it is shared by all the creatures of time.

The capacity to remember lines is creative, it is acting. Not all of it, but the part we have said happens on stage, when an actor or anyone risks making an action. And the action is impersonal through the working of the stage, so an event. And the event is that subject of performance who or that is cut off from the performer, a figure belonging to the outside. A figure of minima.

These minima comprise those minimal relations for life that the theatre when it’s working well imposes. We compared it, you recall, to the Zen garden, which is really only a garden following the Japanese art of gardening. A sort of minimal elaboration, the letters on the page possess, on the paper page, on the screen not so much, when they bleed.

This is possibly why printed material is much easier to remember, to visualise on recollection, because of a dynamism lacking in letters on the screen, which, too manufactured, are too perfect. It is why we prefer the subjects of onstage action, and those of music, to be those before one has cleaned off the edges. A human voice, or the natural imperfect resonance of wood, against the stark and synthetic tonalities of electronically generated soundwaves. These imperfections are minima, around singularities, centres of key, as a kind of … self-imposed limit, like the stage is too, its edge defined by convention. And this is an internal limit. It only gives the impression of being external. It exists as a surface against the depth of its minimal elaboration into subjects. We prefer the texture of paper and the timbre of voice. Qualities that are fibrous because in depth.

Isn’t the rest of consciousness in depth? in the depths of bodies, for example. Or everything outside the human nervous system. So that we are led to a view of human exceptionalism when it comes to consciousness. And this below is that of which we say, At some subconscious level I knew… to retain the sense of identity, of an identity with others of our species, and maintain the possibility, of knowing, of being able to, or of recalling, as if we simply forgot, as a possibility, for ourselves and others, at some future date: that we can know what we now in this manner of speaking concede we don’t except subconsciously. Should the solution to the problem of consciousness come do we say, Yes, that’s it. Finally! At some subconscious level I knew it was knowable. Then if we do, we say it as the actor does, as he speaks his lines. Forgetting what he was conscious of. Attending to the words as if they embody his consciousness and, expressing that embodiment, are remembering.

No. For consciousness the unconscious is no less impossible than it is real and no less impossible than it is possible. That is, real, possible and impossible.

When we say not only the stage, the limits of the stage, its limited line, and the performance, on the surface of the stage, are visible, can be visualised, on the condition we are conscious of them, but consciousness itself, and its limits, is only visible, and can be visualised, when it is staged, performed on that surface, we have to ask when that when means. Because it does not mean in the time we make for it, but in the time time makes for it. And this time we share with all of its creatures and everything that can be staged and everything can be staged. Communication is not subconscious, so at some level we know, but as it is for consciousness, real, possible and impossible.

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

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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