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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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.

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

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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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