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

A way in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

What is theatre?

To the line of artifice we can add the line of exaggeration which has been there from the start. The stage draws a line under events. The line of exaggeration is the height or thickness of that line.

It too calls into question what is represented. But not by being crossed to show that what is represented is produced, a product of art or artifice. The line of exaggeration calls into question what is represented not by showing the representation to be no more than show but by showing it to be show and nothing else, the nothing of the stage.

Some artifice surely exaggerates and exaggeration relies on artifice but the two are as different as cross-dressing and clowning. And so artifice is considered to be the more serious, having the theatricality of camp. While exaggeration is the badge or mark of the not serious: You were out-rage-ous last night, darling. And now you belong to me, it says. While the lies we let each other tell spell the truth, they show the truth to be all puff and blow.

Is then the stage nothing? the line of the stage we have been following. The line of exaggeration would seem to say that it adds nothing to nothing, with a wink to artifice, because it seems like nothing. But only to those who have no hearts. For those who have, we know it’s all for nothing, which makes us care all the more.

You might say the line of exaggeration erases the work done by the line of artifice, but we know it’s all in the undoing: that this is where life is, in the continua between dimensions. And in the blacked out theatre before a thing is built we stare into the dark mouth of it… but what is it exactly? What is it between life and nothing?

Whatever is on its surface. The minimum for the line to be there. The minimum for the line to be there now assumes its status. Nothing under it, this the line of exaggeration shows.

Less than a physical framework and more fake than real: the appearance of the rear curtains now motivated by the absence of anything else. Or the scintilla of sand we cannot sweep away from the acting area. In the lines of the stage, on its line: an undoing that preserves its undoing inside itself, like a fold or a pattern repeated, then repeating inside itself. Yes, we can see how this could be thought, because it has the abstraction of thought. Because it abstracts from the physical what is no more than its support. Its screen.

And is it for this we see it as a subject? Is it for this reason we see as being the principal function of the stage to produce the subject? Not the image, no. The image, produced on the line of exaggeration, adds nothing. Not the person. And not (yet) the individual. Then if the stage is material support and so is the screen, what’s the thinking bit?

Isn’t it, rather than the line of the stage, and the thought which belongs to it, that encircles the stage and burrows into its depths, and covers the edges of the screen, isn’t it the thought of the stage? or screen? Then isn’t it the thought of this thought? And the thought of that thought? And beyond that thought the one that thinks it, and so on, an en abîme that only seems to go outwards to the material and physical but really goes inwards, inside and inside itself again. This I would say is what theatre is: a way in.

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

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

What is theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is theatre?

It would seem that the two lines are opposed. The one on which what is represented, the object of representation, is severed from its representative—onstage. And the one that effects the apportioning of actions and events, personal actions, impersonal events. On this second line, the actor risks making an action.

Why making and not taking? Because the action is taken from her and put in play for other purposes than she intended? Or because in this context it is not true. The latter would imply true to her. Or him. And this lack of truth implies the presence of the first line. But is this really so serious?

It has the seriousness of the not serious. The seriousness of the game when we cannot figure out the rules. A ramifying seriousness, since the issue at stake for us gets tangled up in our efforts to untie it. To free it. An intense seriousness. And we are on our own with this mess, this entanglement, this, Augustine writes, bent and twisted knottiness. An entanglement in which we are entangled. Like the inert depressive. Whose every impulse to dig and relieve the pressure is thwarted by an equally intense aversion: I don’t want to! … yes, to the degree that suicidal thoughts take root.

Then, we’ve also addressed the possibility, the potential for the audience to be absent, for theatre to be without audience, by saying that whenever someone goes on, and makes a move onto the stage, wherever the stage is suggested, there it is—the second line. Onto it the highwire artist sets his foot. Or hers. I used this turn of phrase, however: I said in my encounter. Much as I might have said, of my acquaintance. And the silent question: What is my eligibility so to assert? The qualification in question is not my own. Rather it is in the presence of others that the risk is felt, the vulnerability, so that it takes courage to go on, doesn’t it?

Yes, but what about the absence of others? Of all other observers? What about when I am not there? In the room. At the beach. … And… Is it your sudden sense of being watched that arrests you in your tracks? That leads you to feel … you are going on stage? Performance anxiety, and so on.

Does anyone else need to be there for you to form this impression? And, yes, I would say that the anxiety of performance does come, but not as it is usually understood, as a fear of failure. It comes as a fear of… falling. And we can mention love here.

O god, I’m falling for him! Oh no, I’m falling for her! Every resistance seems further to entangle us in this mess. As we have said. Because falling in love, or falling into a black hole, we are overtaken. Even so far as to be overtaken at first sight. Or, at the first step. Then, the action made takes us. Is a wind blowing us into… And yes, we can refuse, but I’m saying we cannot deny. So that it is not the personal action we have taken overtaking us but the impersonal event the action makes, expressed in sight or step. … How many times have I reached the edge of the stage and said, I can’t go on?

The fear of artifice, isn’t it secondary? the fear we are fooling ourselves. It would be the work of the first line, splitting the work we are doing to represent love from the fact of being in love. And I would say that it is in recognition of the second place taken by the fear of playing false that theatre people tend to be the most not serious. Even about the most serious things, sexuality, for example. Identity! My father on his deathbed said to me: The problem with us is that we can never take anything seriously. And of course he meant it, seriously.

A person risks falling into the thrall of what they do. Of the action they make… just getting onto the stage, that decision, but then in every subsequent action, in every event. The thrall they fall into is that of the impersonal, what Deleuze calls affect. Depersonalised love crashes down on me and I want to weep or run.

Deleuze and Guattari say this in their last book together: to science belong percepts; to philosophy belong concepts; to art belong affects. Belong in the sense of expressing and creating. So art expresses and creates impersonal affects. These are not influences. They are aspects of what we might call inward life, inner experience, cut, sometimes painfully, by this second line we have been talking about. And who’s to say whether in that case they are true or false?

Care. Who cares? Haven’t we said that the things we put on stage are not themselves? That the walls, the curtains, hold meanings which in the everyday they did not when onstage, in a theatre?

It is therefore a strange work we do to insure the validity of the affect, which is the effect created onstage, is not simply representative, of the love we confess to, of the walking… The walking! How an actor walks says so much about that validity. Is she actually in her body? we might ask.

We might say, You’re doing something different with your feet… Just walk. The actor can’t. The significance of making each of the actions which together comprise walking is too clear. He stands out too clearly onstage for this appalling condition of not being able to walk.

So does that mean it’s not artifice we want? This goes to the nature of what we have so far been calling either the actions that are made or the events in which they are overtaken. Is this because as events, as impersonal, they cannot but be true? No, it’s not.

Don’t forget the line of artifice, of theatricality, overturning any truth, even that of the event. We have said, however, that the force of the event is here, and that doesn’t mean only of the event in its impersonal aspect.

What are the gestures we make on the stage? Are they ideas? No, no, no: they are affects freed, set free from personal entanglement, and as such must be true to themselves.

Is this so? Well… I would say that some paring down occurs: yes, some pruning, of the dense tangle of messy emotion. While preserving intensity. How?

We have just had taken from us that which we gave intensity for it being in the context of our interior lives. Isn’t its mess its essence? That is the decision we must make, in where we put the line of artifice. And how we use the line of the stage to underline what is shown. Events? …yes, but in a very subjective sense. In the sense that we say, it was only your impression that that truth led to that other one. Only your opinion. For me it didn’t work at all: I couldn’t believe in what happened because of … to be honest I was distracted by the walking. It was dishonest.

It would seem that the two lines oppose one another: the line of artifice and that of … let’s say, necessity. One undercutting and undoing the work the other is doing. Artifice making it all seem so … pointless. We already know what side theatre people are on, the one of saying, Don’t take it all so seriously! And then with their care about the details, the technical details, that otherwise do seem so pointless: how do I walk? What steps to take so that the affect that was personal is freed from me-ness to have the effect of any body walking, at least subjectively.

Note here is a subject talking to a subject and the strange coincidence of the two, which breaks with the imposition of the second line: the subjects splitting, one from the other. Now there is the one onstage, and the other, who is an actor, who acts the part we are interested in, of the affect or the event. So that we would sooner call it a subject than either of the two.

We can see it to be the case, the two lines seeming to be opposed, most clearly when we look at the things, the objects, in a theatre, on an empty stage. What is it going to take to convince us that that is a real door? Leaving by it?

No. Wait. What is being staged is the subject itself. Himself. Herself. It no longer matters: an impersonal, depersonalised subject.

This is perhaps why I like dance. Because Douglas Wright understood it better than anyone: the stage is overtaken as much by the set elements as by the movements of the dancers. And there is a complex ensemble here. An agency. Not a subject, or subjective state or viewpoint, being expressed, but an expressive subject.

And this is perhaps why, for all his brilliance, I don’t like the work of Michael Parmenter as much. Always a sentimentality, a sentimental attachment to personality, whether it’s the personality of the dancers or that of the choreographer. While Douglas sweeps all that away: yes, sometimes it is dark; but what you win is like Beckett’s affirmation, impossible. Fail again. Fail better.

In Slava’s Snow Show, in the interval, several clowns came down into the auditorium. Some went up, climbing up the boxes in the Civic Theatre, into the gallery. And they abducted audience members who weren’t out getting a drink, or doing what Badiou in his book pins his entire argument for the significance of theatre on, perversely, its social aspect: talking about what they are watching; sharing interim observations, before returning to have them either confirmed, and now confirmed socially, or confounded. A potential for social confoundment.

Anyway, the clowns came down into the stalls, some went up, and abducted individual audience members. Carrying them away by force. From those they were either sitting with or, if on their own, from their places in the audience. Ah, we might have said, Breaking down the fourth wall!

A clown with a woman over his shoulder. Her legs kicking in the air. Possibly terrified.

At the end of the interval, they were returned. And were unharmed. But the abduction added something to the conclusion of the show, something horrifying, as if they had not been returned at all. The stage exploded.

Magnesium flare audience blinders extreme upstage. Wind machines blowing the scenery and curtains and clowns across the stage. The deafening roar. ‘Snow’ streaming forth…

…as if bodies, not paper streamer snow, but white ash back out of the blazing pit of the blown wide open stage.

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

What is theatre?

What is it necessary to do now? What is it necessary to say? Two suicides come to mind. Why?

Neil Roberts’s and Mark Fisher’s. Neil Roberts wrote “we have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity,” drew a peace sign on the wall, and blew himself up in the toilets outside the Wanganui Computer Centre on the 18th November 1982. He was 22.

Mark Fisher taught at Goldsmiths. He was ten weeks from the end of a seminar called “Postcapitalist Desire” when he died. 13 January 2017. 48.

Fisher’s writings are voluminous. Of Roberts’s we have that one line. Police said of his body that they’d be picking up bits for weeks.

Then the infamous statement of Stockhausen on 9/11, that it was “the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos.” Next to it, he wrote, composers are nothing. 17 September 2001.

Why do I submit these to my timeline here? Because these are not performances. And perhaps this is what, despite everything, I want to affirm in them.

I was going to begin with Beckett. After asking what is it necessary to do, what is it necessary to say, I was going to say, we can’t go on. We go on.

Until of course we don’t. And this is what, in his way, Beckett was affirming too. The three other figures each go in quite another direction.

I don’t want to reduce the lamentable to the gestural. Make light, or exhort to action. Joshua Cohen, psychoanalyst and writer, says of a case of depressive inertia, the desire not to do anything, completely to stop, is not symptomatic.

Telling yourself to stop is not symptomatic of any other desire. The impasse to productivity has no other outcome, than, Beckett again, failing better. What is as impossible as imagining an alternative to capitalism is always that, not merely difficult.

From this point I was going to talk about the decision to step out onto the void that the line the stage draws under events is stuck to. You will recall Nietzsche’s Seiltänzer, whom Zarathustra bears on his body and buries as a friend. The wire artist. The risk and the necessity.

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

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

What is theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is theatre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is theatre?

But why? Why this question? Deleuze and Guattari—the authorship has been contested in that Guattari is said not to have been so active in the writing of What is Philosophy? but from Dosse’s double biography we know that Guattari, enduring the ‘winter years’ of the 1980s, read and gave his authorship to the book. And we know, as Deleuze said, it could not have been written without him, that it came out of their friendship. Perhaps Deleuze understood this friendship slightly differently, since he understood it in the sense that we will get to in the course of this writing: he understood his friend’s little bit of crazy; he understood it to be the reason why he loved him, the crack… like a window cracked open a fraction, a window giving onto an outside altogether other than that within his own purview, outside his compass, letting in air of a different type (much as we might say, a certain type of realism, so a different type)—Deleuze and Guattari answer the question ‘What is philosophy?’ by saying there comes a time in life when one asks oneself what is it I’ve been doing all these years? … To what beast have I given my heart?

Although you might think, Ah, then, this is why. Why he returns to this question! And you might forgive me. Although you need not. As if I, a little bit crazy, must, through some accident of my psychological make-up, keep coming back to it.

Although you might think that it’s a time of life issue, a personal tick or a deep and unresolved, and therefore unresolvable, perhaps even masochistic, at least self-defeating and leading to self-sabotage—the self-sabotage of every project that might work it out—thing with me, let’s say a personal thing, this is not the reason (O, but can he say so with certainty?) for my writing. Neither is it, despite appearances, to play it out.

I am writing against the notion, even though I know I can’t help it, that I am performing. That writing is of course performative. Against the notion that this is all we can hope for, from writing or, in particular, from theory. That it is, as Blau writes somewhere, mirror-struck. And as Stravinsky denies being of his own mental processes.

I don’t believe words are inadequate to express… ever: but this does not mean we can get to the bottom of things; or that some privilege is entailed in getting to the bottom of things. That only the just, the true and good ever can. Or the bad, mad and mean. Dead white men, and so on.

No. Then it is a theoretical text? I love the theories of Herbert Blau and Samuel Weber, Blau also a practitioner, a director and a theorist, or simply writer on theatre, of theatre, but I don’t intend to present a theory here. That is, I have no wish to present a thesis, no matter how well grounded in the concrete, in either what can be or what has been called theatre. I’m more interested in what must be called theatre—in despite of its practice or its theory.

Weber’s is, helpfully, about displacement. Displacement and replacement. The mobility of the theatrical scene that renews itself in its referral. His example in Theatricality as Medium is Oedipus at Colonus. It is how Oedipus dies and the reason he dies. Or, how his death works on the world is a function of it not being represented. So Weber’s theory goes against anyone who might say that art has no effect on the real world as well as anyone making the assumption that it is the art of representation par excellence.

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

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