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thirty-sixth part, called “subjective powers XXXVI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subjective powers

We see more clearly what is at stake in a beginning actor. Everything for some. That’s why it can be a good exercise to raise the stakes. And we might leap immediately to the conclusion that this means the stakes for you, or me, personally; the guts we sometimes say it takes guts to show: when we know the visceral does not come from the viscera.

Out on the stage, on the surface, even when they are real, like in the case of Hermann Nitsch, there’s something pitiful about this loose jumble of organs. And something shameful in the sacrifice. Nudity, sexual acts, faked are pathetic, performed have a flattening effect, unless the point of these is this alone: to be what they are, and, being what they are, the effect of the surface. That is, the stakes are rather flattened than raised. Pornography tends to being a pure surface on which nothing moves, and it is often, if not always, the artifice or its exaggeration that we find moving: shame or titillation, it can go either way.

With artifice and exaggeration, we are back home in the theatre. The ‘being what they are’ which looked to be an action, wanted to be an event, ends up being a subject who makes no more claims on us than any other. On a raised board, underlined, so we can see it as it is, or as it ought to be.

In other words, at the extremes there are no breaks. Open your legs, open your fly, your mac, and what are you asking for, really? Sympathy? Same with the spill of our innermost organs, those structuring identity. Those upon which it is said we can make a politics.

The stakes it can be a good exercise to raise are indeed the ones we place in what is personal. And here they can have the value of our identities, of our selves. Of the jumble of things which go to make us up: they have the inflated value our investment has given to them, that inflated is real; and it is not for the sake of a disenchantment, for their deflation to ‘being what they are,’ or for the spectacle of humiliation or a moral lesson, however twisted, like the one parodied, when I am nothing. When he was, as Mervyn Thompson wrote about 1984, an empty husk. But it is to raise the stakes when these are sacrificed.

We raise the stakes in order to show we are mistaken if we think there is on the stage no sacrifice. Because it is the stage itself which comes along and renders what is most personal into subjective effects, impersonal. It renders them as having no consequence: for this is one of the subjective powers we are talking about. That is, the personal is the starting point, not the destination of the exercise. You don’t get your guts back after the show. These are thereafter stage properties.

The type between a beginning actor and a selfish actor might be named the actor who takes risks. A risking actor is one who can raise the stakes, by taking what is personal and turning it to impersonal effect. Thereby losing his possession of it; spontaneously letting go of her investment: because it happens suddenly, in a single movement.

We can start from a story that has personal intensity for you, for example, your life. Play it. Take your time.

Use all the resources you have around you, most of all time. Use the language of theatre, which involves placing yourself imaginatively in the situations that had maximum intensity for you, and, if it involves speech, involves speaking from there, to the people you imagine around you. In the words you would use, and they understand.

… but look: when you place the noose around your neck like that using that imaginary rope it is like you are giving yourself airs… You are on the Western Frontier, not at home at all, and playing at once the hangman who places the noose around your neck and the man who shot Liberty Valance. … and when you tease up your hair like that, as if you would pull it out by the roots, it’s like you’re at the hairdresser, very upset with what you’ve got or with the results.

I don’t need to make these suggestions to you verbally, anyone can see it! …another actor might like to shoot through the rope on which you were so recently hanging. And together ride away, Calamity Jane.

Or, hold the mirror to you. So you can see in fact your pain, your soul sickness, is not being poked fun at. It is being moved somewhere else entirely from where you’d stuck it. Where it had stayed so long mired in your person that you came to suspect it was not only yours but you.

Movement on the surface distinguishes itself from action by giving itself what may be the slimmest excuse to move to something else. To invent something new. Some new outcome. The movement is not then caused by the action. Neither is it causative, in having agency. The movement is from its point of fixity, away from it. An abruption. A subjective event.

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

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thirty-third part, called “subjective powers XXXIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subjective powers

The three subjective powers rely on a surfacing constituting their positivity: only at the surface can they be constituted in their positivity. That is, mobilised. Whether they come from the depths or from the heights, as obedience seems to, on the surface, or at the surface, new passages can form. And this is necessary because working in an institution is sometimes like walking in sticky mud and sometimes like quicksand. You get stuck or you get sucked down, by negation.

The nature of negation is that we hope we can reconcile our differences. So we do something like bringing to the surface our mutual resentments, our contradictory views, even admitting childhood trauma or matters of deep identification, identity politics, into the mix. The problem is these too are institutions: they belong to the subject; then they belong to subjectivity; and then they belong to processes of subjectivation, those producing the subjects through the masks, their masks, of desire and belonging. They never free themselves from either preexisting subjects, a presupposed subjectivity, or a fetishised subject to come.

It is this freeing, that is also a cut, crack or cutting, that is a subjective power. Does it turn the subjective and usually negative contents positive? No. It frees from etiology. From the paths set by habit and recognition (for example, institutionally recognised) as well as from the ganglionic root system, because this trailing apparatus is useless at the surface. It does not make for movement but stasis. It does not permit of extrication without trailing mud everywhere.

Not that the surface is clean! But a beginning actor does not know this. It fears betrayal by signification, of the signifiers said everywhere to be emitted. Leading to the great chains of predetermination and negation.

A beginning actor fears the slightest move might give rise to a meaning. The meaning to a world. The world one to which she is condemned. (Yes, I said ‘it.’ The ‘she’ that followed was not a correction. The ‘slightest move’ which the subject is at this stage is an ‘it’ before being submitted, or condemned, to sexualisation.)

A beginning actor does not know yet that to be on the surface is to have a nonhuman becoming. The selfish actor gets used to it, linking it back to his humanity. And note that the nonhuman becoming is principally a loss of the rest of language, to be left with only this monkey paw that does not link up in any human way. It is the destructuring of a sound made in the air, a word, a gesture or movement.

Such a sound, a word, gesture or movement can just as easily belong to a plant, a scenic device, a sign, an animal or a stone. And still be meaningful. Still? For the stone there is no movement. There is the other kind of movement belonging to the image, its fractalling involution.

And meaning-ful is wrong. In that fractalling involution is a meaning-emptying. In other words, it’s not going to wait around for you or I to interpret it. Is there in all its positivity. Its position. Its attitude and style. …but first get the surface working. How?

It should be clear we are talking of the stage. Static genesis had it being a line underscoring any action, even the smallest, a throat-clearing (or the tube inserted into Marco Antonio’s throat after his laryngectomy in Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s Julius Caesar for his funeral oration), so that the action became an impersonal one. And then impersonal affect. And, we said, subject; a subject of this strange sort: its activity now is dynamic. It has dynamic subjective powers. It possesses the dynamism of subjective powers.

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

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thirty-first part, called “the subject XXXI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

That a beginning actor brings to the stage something of which she feels she is about to be dispossessed is why the notion of sacrifice, that runs through Blau’s reports, manifestos and theoretical writing on theatre, still holds true. Where a selfish actor remains intact, identifying the depths of her personal formation, the formative years, coaching, training, and so on, with the void beneath the stage, identifying it as being what supports her, instead of the real nothing, a beginning actor is able to experience the sensation of these being cut from him. As if all that training was for nothing.

It was all for nothing and means nothing: this is the truth of the matter. This is your first day on the job. And what they didn’t teach you at school is what you need to know around here. Otherwise, you won’t survive.

What’s the good of this castration–this obedience to beginning that means going through each time, risking each time, out of necessity, one’s identity? …but haven’t we said it goes further than risk? That there is sacrifice?

What else is about to happen? What else is the audience here for? If there was no sacrifice to the audience would be returned their capacity for judgement. If there were none, as the selfish actor seems to deny there being, or the necessity for there being sacrifice, to her would be returned the self-congratulation. For him would be the applause: and she stands without the smile that is anyway ungracious and holds out her palms, open, in acknowledgement that this is all I am. Like you. Human.

If the guts left on stage at the end of the performance aren’t mine, then why do I feel this emptiness? I want to be among people again. Among my own. In company, engaged in pointless chat, which to the outside looks like the most pointed bitchery.

At the bar, after the show, well it’s like a very personal slanging match. Like the Colony Room. What a relief to be called a cunt! One knows that the vicious, the really vicious attacks will be those couched in the most childish terms.

One understands that if one is really truly upset or truly upsets another there will be silence, then, Pooh. If the most awful thing has happened, the Arts Council has withdrawn its funding, for the last time, a pause, then: That’s a pooh.

Deflation at the most significant events; inflation of the most trivial. And we should note among the trivialities are counted the most personal of issues, her dose of clap, his impotence. Or the age of a new girlfriend: For Christ’s sake, she’s three! … Yes, I know. But she has the body of a four year-old.

Why is it that personal identity, those things we had hitherto considered our most precious memories and shameful secrets, our depths, when the show’s over are subjects for hilarity? Because it is restorative. Not to be laughed at for them, but to be thought to have them still. For it to be acknowledged one is still in possession of those organs of which one had been relieved by the knife of the stage.

We repeat, but what’s the good of it? Isn’t it exactly for there to have been a hearing, to have been given a hearing by an audience? For the accolades, well of course: but these are due the corpses too left for the stagehands to pick up and drag off after the show. And note the theatrical meaning of corpse is to be overtaken onstage by unsuppressable hysteria. The deflationary language for this, one of the worst things that can happen, is getting the giggles.

Isn’t it exactly for the good of the audience, that good which comes from its exercise of judgement? that good Badiou talks about as going on and as necessary in the interval, pointing to a contemporary trend in France to do away with the interval. Making the interval, for him, into a necessity. A necessity for there to be theatre, as if without the interval’s permission to pass judgement there would be little point to it.

Then there’s the good in itself: it is good to have public sacrifice. In however sublimated a form. But in a form so sublimated as the modern stage, is it really sacrifice? For the selfish actor it is not. To think not, and to agree, we are like selfish actors.

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

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

the subject

Is symbolisation necessary for metaphysics? What is the difference between words in the air and on the page? That words are available to us on screen, in contexts composed of other symbolic data, helps create a metaphysical impression; but this impression is given even greater cause by the availability of words to the mind. So great is the impression made, it is almost as if consciousness itself were of linguistic construction. It’s as if thinking required words.

We have, however, to ask what kind of words. The words we have available to our minds… Laurie Anderson says in Heart of a Dog (I am thinking of her right now because in 28 minutes I hope to be attending the Norton lecture she is delivering via Zoom) that she took her dog, Laurabelle, around whom the film revolves, out into the desert. She had been told fox terriers, like Laurabelle, were capable of learning 500 words, and she wanted to find out which ones.

Which ones, which words we have in our minds, is a question but, like that of asking given the dog brain being a container that can hold 500 which ones, it is not the question. At least, not the question we are asking here. The words we have available to our minds are not seen as any special category of words. They are regarded to be the same words, as words, floating around in the air, or on the page or screen. They are regarded to belong to a language, or, in the case of machine languages and other specialist languages, to a code. This language or code is, in addition, considered to be the condition of their coming to mind, the condition presupposed by their coming to mind, and a condition preexisting either the one who uses the words or the one into whose head they pop.

Which words we have available to us as speaking subjects is a question for scoring competencies and marking differences, dividing populations up into categories. It is a question of language management, or the management of life languages. I am thinking of the social cohesion assured by universal education, driven by literacy, as it was for the missionaries and people of the book. There is here a want to have the same or restrict the variables of language—accelerated, intensified and augmented by digital literacy—across populations.

The systematic imposition of structure goes all the way to the letters, and is reciprocated by minor languages, those dominated, in their demands that differences be marked. Speakers of te reo, the language of New Zealand Māori, demand macrons, like that over the ‘ā,’ not so much to show that vowels so marked are lengthened when spoken as signs of respect, in what remains a moral mission, in this case imposing the Latin alphabet. It is then a moral system of language that is said to generate meaning, explaining the case made for the preexistence of symbolic structure by the claim that without it, and such markers as the macron, there is no meaning.

Our question opposes this one. No, not which words, but words made of air or letters? What sort of words have meaning? And which in the context of their mental image? as they come to mind. Because, to repeat, as they come to mind the dominant view has it that they are pre-symbolised. Giving cause for the metaphysical impression words make, since they belong to a certain sort.

The question then is one of focus: focused within, it’s difficult to detach our thoughts from the words embodying them. And so it’s difficult to separate that embodiment from symbols, because we don’t seem to have any air in our brains for them to sound out and be heard, or overheard. Focusing without, their sonorous qualities are obvious, but not their silences. These are hidden. As Anderson said about technology, in the lecture, which I did attend, it is not very good at doing. This.

[silence]

In fact, it can’t. The digital world is structured by the constancy of communication, of information, and interconnectivity. Structured insofar as we can call this its moral code. Her silence, on the Zoom screen, playing live although the lecture was clearly pre-recorded, seemed to be that of thought. Although we couldn’t overhear it. So she had to read it—the meaning of lecture.

The air in our brains cannot be heard. It is not like the wind. Or the still air carrying birdsong… traffic-noise… but if we look to our brains, inward, we see a kind of receptive surface. Meanings come from it unprompted, sometimes preceding words. Sometimes preceding either words or sounds. They are not cloaked in the sonorous symbols of their sounds. Neither are they, as far as I can tell, symbols floating in space; if I imagine symbols, these seem without meaning.

They seem to be images. And words will come to me unprompted, in full symbolic dress: but these are often shapeshifters. They are the subjects of dreams.

I think in the dream they mean one thing. When I wake up they mean another. Or they are nonsensical. Or a name that a person has in my dream on waking I find is quite wrong: this person is not called that. Tobyguppy, and so on.

The meanings words have in dreams are different. Then, they differ from themselves. Behind the surface meaning is a latent one, as Freud says. But if we consider how they differ from themselves, we find a different structure of meaning.

In Saussure’s terms, aren’t these the signifieds? The signifiers, like the dresses they wear, being quite arbitrary, not expressed in their sonorous symbolic or the symbolic qualities they have to other senses, slip. Behind them we know there to be other masks. Under the dresses, pants. Under the pants, flesh that is not too solid. And below? Nothing.

Isn’t it the signifiers then who lie? Who claim to point to signifieds, betraying the existence of further signifiers? And like the selfish actor, they come to curtain call, without a smile, with palms open and empty, as if to say This is all I am. Meaning, more than you can possibly imagine.

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

the subject

A selfish actor surveys his gesture. In it she sees a world. One in which she is she. Or he is. She pats the pelt of it. And this reference to self, in it are recalled all of his lines, in her mouth, his in hers, and so on. All of the blocking. The mise en scène, which we learn from Anthony Bourdain we can shorten to mise, in a crucial distinction from the en abîme of what we might call ‘life.’ That is, Bourdain speaks of the kitchens where he spent most of his working life, and of the chefs he worked with, from whom he learnt both his craft and his style.

He is speaking of the setup particular to each chef, why she comes in first thing, sets up, puts on her apron, unrolls her bag of knives, puts each in place (the sous was entrusted with sharpening them the night before), and prepares the working space. And abuses anyone who shifts a thing a centimetre before service. An altogether different approach from self-reference.

The selfish actor comes on stage and remembers her lines. The unselfish type, for which we don’t yet have a name (the opposite of the selfish actor is not the selfless), comes on stage and forgets them. He, or it, no matter, loses track of the mise, is unaware of the blocking. And yet, and yet, hits the mark, speaks the part, or, better, acts the part, whereas a selfish actor just performs.

We might ask, in view of a strategic approach to theatre, if not to writing on theatre, since this is our purpose, what are the different conditions of subjectivity? And why should we attach a pejorative sense to performance? Are we dividing it in half as we have language, not into speech versus writing, but preexisting, structured system and having forgotten structure? Same with acting, thinking, doing: each has another inside it, which for the sake of that inside, it forgets.

So is a selfish actor forgetful of performing? Or is it the other type, that seems the better, forgetful of it all being no more than a performance? Isn’t the very type of the selfish actor, its epitome, the one who believes her own hype? something like a competitive performer, a high-performance athlete of the stage.

After all, he needs self-belief to survive in a sometimes harsh world. This is the commercial reality. But it is not a commercial reality we need embrace in the theatre, is it? become the bitches of, give it airtime. It’s said: that depends on how many theatres you want to see close.

I think the question here is exactly of a language, and of losing the power of speech, losing that power to speak for itself and on its own terms, of theatre, but of any kind—even the kitchen where Bourdain has his mise. Being the bitch of the commercial institution, of commercial institutionalisation (the institution being the level at which power speaks, to power), means theatre stopping performing. Performing means losing self-reference. It’s a language thing, so, Bourdain has his mise.

What then is the reference of the subject, if not itself? We can directly say it is its undoing. Because in the subject, theatre, itself, herself (himself, the accommodation is to the pronominal not to the commercial reality), is a stage. It underlines the action, or the performance. This the selfish actor knows, but she does not feel the cut, or is inured to it, scar-tissue, and so on. The cut dividing, we might say, poverty from riches, or just cause from poor excuse, that plays out across its surface, because as a surface it is an opening. Each time an opening, an outside. So things, the most profound things, riches, the justice of good causes, are undone at the most superficial level of the surface.

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

the subject

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the subject

We’ve all known selfish actors, who’ve felt the depth below the stage to be theirs, when it is nothing. In fact, this type is more common than those who feel they’ve brought to the stage something precious of which they are about to be dispossessed. It makes one think of Wright’s precious jewel, his death, as he perceived it in his life. Or, as he said he did, and performed it on the stage.

After all, death, our knowledge of our own, is like a secret we carry, perhaps our most primitive. At the same time, it’s like the contents of our bowel. Which is present when we spill our guts.

More primitive than sexuality? And aren’t these used to undermine the selfish actors, who believe there’s something special about their own shit, so that we have to remind them, in Gargantua and Pantagruel, or Kafka, whose use of sex, Kundera calls, his greatest innovation in the novel? Look at the comedy of the public institution brought to its knees and having its face rubbed in it! The Princes, and the Schadenfreude!

Private tragedy is wrested from us by the public stage. And we become a laughing stock. A stock that is held in security, reassuring everybody else they are safe. It is not them. But is this the essence of the stage? Is the essence to be that it undermines those it holds up, when, haven’t we said, there’s nothing underneath?

To forget for a moment that we are ugly, crass, guilty, foolish and dying. Chinchilla’s words, written by MacDonald. This world of artifice we attribute too cheaply to libido.

Too cheaply, because we are not asked to pay the price, like those with their precious depths, who see it all bubble to the surface, who see it all come out: and how ugly it all is! And how shameful. So it is strange we ask our actors to find their motivation, or a correlate for what they perform in the depths of their experience, when we know from the worst instances of psychodrama, whether that of public life or in another venue, how pointless that is.

The body on the stage is expressive how? So that its slightest gesture creates a world. This insight is Esa Kirkkopelto’s, but he uses it as a lead onto the argument that an actor by composing from such gestures, of which the slightest creates a world, engages in dramaturgical composition; and to ask the question whether we need directors: well, shouldn’t theatre be democratised?

Again, in each of these cases, we have the exercise of public morality. But it is public by proxy: however brilliant Kirkkopelto’s insight is, he is not being separated from all that he is by the merest gesture. All of that private stuff, as soon as it bubbles up, is shit for consumption: keep producing it!

Yet, an actor makes the merest gesture, and creates a world of which she is not a part. Ought an actor then disavow it? Or choose for it, knowing herself to be excluded from it as from a stone? as the world were the gesture of a stone, and the stone her gesture. For this is what we are saying: to look at the vertiginous individuality of a stone; and for the actor, word or gesture being stone not to undermine it, but for it to act, perform this double-act of doing and undoing. Thinking. Unthinking. Composing. Decomposing.

Decomposing: not for being broken down into elementary particles, to be recirculated, reticulated or recycled, and so serve the composition and creation of life (life world, life language)—not for the sake of the communicative network, but directly de-structured of its organising component or principle. As if the whole thing, as if what makes the interconnectivity of the whole, were another part beside it: and could be split off, by the slightest possible gesture, word or sign. As if by the merest word or sign, symbol or gesture-index, the system’s being whole might be set apart, so that it fell apart. Lost its organisation in structure and in depth. And in height, as we have seen, in the undercutting of our public figures, and, indeed, in the whole structure of symbolic representation.

Yet we insist on the word, sign, gestural index that does this having meaning without the system of meaning, or of signification. So also do we insist on the integrity of the world, or the actor, having suffered this disintegration. This is the subject, who is at once a nonhuman subject, the ‘smallest possible gesture’ being an artistic material. The material with which we think, doing theatre.

So that when we ask after the symbolic structure in view of how it concerns our perception, our perception as subjects (of subjects of perception, and so on) we feel it right to point to the smallest possible gesture. Since it is all that is necessary. And, since it has been separated by the stage from the rest, and disconnected, yet is not unexpressive but creative and entirely positive.

The world in its entirety might have been the last thing to be created. And to lie, just there, on the surface. This is what our perception seems to say. The last thing is the first it sets before itself, in choosing as its final representative of it its own interest, and in claiming this to represent the whole. By this reduction to the only human world, our perception is like the selfish actor. The meaning of the stage is that there is nothing to support this view.

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

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

the subject

We perceive ourselves to be subjects in view of symbolic structure and in view of something else, that concerns how we perceive. It’s hard to get away from the idea that we are not the subjects of symbolic structure. Subjected to the system: but this has become a vague term, as if we have to blow off the historical dust that’s settled there. Either that, or remove the dustsheets covering it. To discover, what?

It’s Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. It’s the mechanical universe and Euclidean space. And humanism. And post-humanism.

It’s the system of knowledge meted out and divvyed up by the levels of education, where it’s inculcated. It’s capitalism, of course. And where we might have found a sharp blade in this term, we encounter the field of its diffusion. With which the very air is redolent… Then it’s postwar capitalism, liberalism, neoliberalism and postcapitalism. This we have alluded to in the field of data.

So, isn’t the air thick now with dust and the gaseous apparatus to which we are subjected? Well, yes. Abram, enacting an archeology of preliterate conceptions of space and time and their interpenetration, finds the future to be beyond the horizon of every thing, the past to be in the depths (as in Robert MacFarlane’s wonderful—wunderkammerlich—book, Underland, whence it is, like anthrax and the dead, each day the ice recedes, vomited up; the anthropocene as emetic?), and the present, sheer presence, to be here, in the air. The great Air Spirit that the system of our present dystopia is for whatever reason despoiling. Bringing about a present crisis which is also a crisis of time.

The system for poststructuralist and postmodern (think death of Master Narratives, critique, deconstruction of Transcendental Signifier) thinkers is both in us and all around. The concept of power Foucault develops at the beginning of his History of Sexuality project is its immanence. Power is productive, inciting to production, of what else but subjects?

The system is the system of subjection, producing subjects. The structure is their structure. Ours: it is how we stage psychic or mental development, finding in each place a symbolic occurrence, and build up a case study, from Klein’s theatre of terror where the symbols are still being eaten and spewed in a terrifying and liquid exchange between infant and mother, all the way to the surface that seems stable but every so often breaks open, swallowing us, or, as we said before, spitting what we are out of the structure. And notice here the verbal and regurgitative functions: just like God who spits out of his mouth—the same the Word came from—the lukewarm, presumably conserving the hot and the cold like a ball of tobacco in His mouth, to chew over on the Sabbath, or like cud, the cud of the cow who naturally moos.

Ours: it is how in each place is found a symbolic occurrence and these are codified into, what else, but codes. Codes of public morality; or, just public codes. Performing the social functions of language as discourse: all the way from the founding of institutions to institutionalisation. Again, ours.

Ours, the system means that in each place a symbolic value is put in for what is there; how what is there is extracted and enters into the system of symbolic exchange. The system is that of this triple ecology (of Guattari), psychic, social, environmental, determining how each plays its part: from the machining, the tooling out, the impress of the individual, all the way to the machinic governance of its ultimate instantiation in the System of the World. But the world is now the cosmos, and human nature is destiny, even if it be conducted by high-order machines.

So it’s bad then is it? We know it to be, but we also know it to break apart. And where does it break apart?

Better ask who are the individuals because it is their (our) separation from the system, that distance, that the system relies on, distances that are structural. Enabling both the putting together of the machine-like system and its falling to pieces, tears, and so on. Between each one of us stage doors swing open, that double as fire-escapes. But the same can be said for the vertiginous individuality of flowers in the field, stones on the path, letters on the page, words in the air and clouds. Consider the inseparability of schizophrenia: the schizophrenic (which was the initial, after the first nonmedical one, diagnosis of my friend Tony) is out of his head, but not free—because the world is burning down. Or, rather, the world is burning up, in each flame another sign of it.

Here, yes, the whole world is a stage (and Tony is pretending); but also notice the absence of any offstage: this is not the same as nowhere private and the great debate between our private rights and public powers, and their incursion into our private lives. It concerns that other line, that is the same line. The one underlining, with an exaggeration that also belongs to artifice. It separates by cutting and we gave the image of pruning—which makes it sound like another castration, after the ones psychically, socially and environmentally inflicted, and, we must specify, inflicted without regard for gender. So it is neutral… then, castration does nothing but remind me of the Wizard who has now a blade, behind the curtain, or at the tabernacle. This is its symbolic function.

We come to the surface: it’s hard to escape the feeling of our intrinsic and terrible depths. Should we begin to act, we are reminded we are already, were already acting. It’s hard to shake off the feeling: and for actors to be trained used to require no less than what we can properly name a kenosis. Empty. Come to nothing.

My father used to do an exercise with young actors (bear in mind that dramatic exercises are never explained) almost parodying the breaking down the emptying out of becoming tabula rasa which acting was supposed to require. In it, the director would ask an actor, who had been told to shut her eyes and stand still, What do you see? The answer, prescribed, and true: Nothing. Perhaps, Reach out. Touch. Then: What do you feel? The answer, scripted but true, again: Nothing.

Pause. Pauses after each answer. A Beckett play.

Where are you? This time: Nowhere. The actor, blind, suspended in space: the answer true. The pauses like a relief or a reward, to be savoured, for telling the truth.

What do you feel?

[pause]

Nothing.

[pause]

What … are … you?

[pause]

We have our complexes, our private histories, our genetic predispositions, our phylogenetic and inherited characteristics, our chemistries always threatening to show imbalance. Waiting for imbalances to show. The young actor reassured. Knowing if they do, if he dissolves, a heap on the floor, in tears; if she resists then cracks all the more severely, radically, knowing if they do there is the comfort of those pauses, that silence, that nothing. This is sometimes called trust.

Yes, we may betray ourselves today, thinking we are acting, then not be. Then, as Elric Hooper used to say, escaping into humour. Laughing. The fear, the terror, in fact, was supposed to be salutary. 

We have come back to the earlier theme of risk. It’s very personal, the structure of the subject, the system producing that structure. And despite its denegation, it is entirely positive.

Is the fear for or of nothing? We know the fear not to be nothing. But it’s a strange experience, standing onstage, knowing there’s nothing holding you up.

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

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

the subject

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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twenty-first part, called “a way in XXI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

And leaving what do we find? That the actual theatre that goes on is unremarked. And it is remarkable to live at a time of the reciprocity of a kind of theatre with life itself, when the data form of the virus and its life form are in reciprocation. But before we go to the question what is this theatre—and, again, not in order to pull aside any curtains. There there is only disappointment in the get-up of disenchantment. An actor or a human agency, somebody or someone dressed up: a self-interested selfhood. Who sits at the levers. Who is just like us—before we go to this question, let’s go back to the stage. Where there is only the choice of choosing pre-existing entities.

This is not the same as saying what is there. We know the stage to be teeming with, well, what they are, Bacon says, are clichés. You recall his gesture: in his dressing gown, wheezing, surrounded by the detritus of his studio, his face like a beacon, a surface you might turn in your fingers, rotate slightly, to take a sideways look at the canvas, as he desired them, always the raw canvas outwards, and the primed to the back, to give better absorption to the paint, a flat and depthless field; seen as he says he saw it what looked back at the painter, what from every canvas looks back at the painter, was not emptiness. Whether the white emptiness of the unprimed surface, or the black. It’s still dark out. A winter morning. Early. Or we are in the black theatre. Or, in the glare of a single high-wattage bulb, whether there already was a colour applied, flat and pink, violet or magenta, going to shades of crimson, vermilion, papal purple, or absinthe yellow-green, gamboge.

No. The canvas teeming with life. An orgy of life, like a pornography where every position is accounted for: and, if this was the result of his painting, he would burn it, rather destroy it. But, with brush in hand, he flicks his wrist. The paint splatters and it’s not so much like cum as blood. And the party-goers are dispelled. And the one left chosen drags guts behind, leaving a trail of slime. This Bacon assays to paint. This meaty absence.

No, it’s not like that at all with pre-existing entities. The symbolic function of language is the symbolisation of it having been staged. These are the pre-existing entities: parts of speech, words, letters.

The parts of speech, the words and letters are not yet clichés, the clichés of what is there, even if it is, in Bacon’s view, there already. Having to be de- … and this might be exactly the word… structured, through a gesture, the gesture not itself random but called for and essential. The structure of language does not pre-exist. It may be there, even there already, but it is nowhere complete.

Nowhere is language intact, any more than the world is. So that we may speak, with Jacob von Uexküll, of life-worlds, and of these being partial to the viewpoint in which they are expressed. Where a de-structuring goes on at the same time as a structuring, a re-structuring, we can call it, for this reason. Equally are there life-languages.

When we speak we are re-structuring language. When we write we are re-structuring language. We choose between this word or that, parts of speech and grammatical constructions. We choose between wave or particle, flow or segment, where the segment has as a characteristic its being like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle in a coupling with other segments.

In thinking there is an un-thinking, not through the choice to divide it from the actions of bodies. And not in the kind of context it has when thought. The thought, for example, the unthought of which is a continuation of the historical circumstance of where and when it arises, such as is the case with Heidegger.

In thinking there is an un-thinking that undoes thinking by separating it from itself, as thought. As, in Deleuze’s terms, stupidity. Or—the dogmatic image of thought, which, like (a) language, is a question of a certain structure and systematicity.

Do we forget the structure, like the aging actress with her lines? I think this happens. And then we remember them in a way that has an enormous freedom for taking the smallest fraction of time. The hesitancy that is so slight it can seem like indecision, before we choose for the line as it was written. It is at this indeterminate moment we make our way out onto the stage. And it is as this moment that Bacon’s gesture occurs. A flick of paint.

And in that gesture, as Esa Kirkkopelto has pointed out, is a whole world. A whole world, partial to the viewpoint in which it is expressed. A life-world. And a life-language for that world that includes the gestural. It includes, I want to say, the guttural also. Yelping. And falling apart with the mad and sudden and spontaneous hopping of a character in Chekhov. Or her chesty laughter, which quite undoes the impression we had formed of her.

Included in this language are not only the animal parts of human being but the animals themselves, in their performance. So, do they symbolise? Like Jungian archetypes, perhaps? Or, to put it another way, in the performance of animals is there also an un-structuring, such that we may associate it with the un-structuring of instinct and instinctual behaviour?

The dog trained may not be trained to speak but can show a similar, similarly fractional, hesitancy before completing his action as the actor did before her line. This we may call the function of memory, which is the fact of a life-world itself, and of a life-language. …but can we really honestly say that the cow chooses to moo? Well, it’s a cliché of course but yes, she does.

And so can we say there are levels or degrees of freedom to act? No. I would say there are just the same across life-worlds, and life-languages. And that we must consider all acting as having a component of un-acting and this being performing. And the impossibility that we cannot and do not, but that we do.

How? The answer is: never quite spontaneously. Any improvisor knows this.

Then, it is possible to call attention to the free part, the part that escapes structure and system. The artifice that is ever-present in any system can be exaggerated, but this does not undo it. The artifice happens in the moment on the stage, for having been staged.

This is not to call up the time-dependency of live performance, which, as Kelleher says, is anyway nonpunctual. Neither is it to invoke the unlocalisable-ness of what happens on the stage because, in Weber’s formulation of theatricality as medium, it takes place. It is not, because we are able to attend to it across all artforms. Or—it is art that shows us, when we attend to its world- and language-making, how both can strategically be undone.

In the de-framing of the framing device, whether the framing device is the literal frame, around the painting, whether the canvas is painted or not, or even materially there, or whether it is the gallery the art is taken out of, or the performance is on the street, or nobody is present, what is exacerbated or exaggerated is only its unexpectedness. And with de-framing there is always a re-framing, but what is re-framed is not the art, or artifice. Rather, it is the act of selection from which everything may have been de-selected.

That is, it is the stage, the line of the stage that cuts the word off. An exercise of the void. So that in that gesture, in that moment of stepping out onto it, there is a world, in that word a life-language.

Over the void, why? why else but through the possibility of a thought or selection that can have de-selected everything. More important is the work of a surface, become, for the fact of a void, pure surface. Here the stuttering of being has no further consequence but to show itself.

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

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