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

subjective powers

What is he afraid of, the beginning actor? We have attributed to him and to her a fear akin to losing control of your own stuff. That, once it’s out there, on the surface, for all to see, even if there’s noone there to see it, it is no longer his and hers. Beyond his and hers, that action is more or less raised by the lines of exaggeration and artifice.

In the state of exaggeration, that action, it stands in relief from the surface, in a queasy way. The state of artifice… a beginning actor might rightly fear he will be found out for showing himself in a good light. Producing the standardised pout or stance, which on him is vaguely ridiculous. And we’ve said about this that what is happening is the action being cut from the body, which acts, by the blade, the line, of the surface, or stage, on which it features, which receives it, on which its report is made, as any body’s. What is personal, now impersonal; action to event: and this, because of its little bit of outside, itself subject, subjectivated, or having its own life, apart from the erstwhile host, donor or sacrifice.

Another sort of fear perhaps is more realistic: of putting the inside outside. Now there’s no retreat. Another sort of exaggeration: commit thyself, we say to the beginning actor; and she puts it all out there, tits and all. Or he is the striding cock strutting across the play area. Another sort of artifice, then, of the most realistic kind: the body as its own prosthetic. …but it is exactly by the body a beginning actor, having committed an action to the stage, is not protected. What’s inside is now outside. And we’ve suggested it now like a birth, an afterbirth, or an excrement, has to make its way on its own.

In Minus Theatre, the group I led for some years, we praised commitment. But we had a saying about that first decision, which the whole practice focused on, perhaps unduly: There are no bad decisions that you can make. But you can get better at making them.

In exaggeration and artifice some comfort lies, a comfortable zone of the indiscernability of one’s artifice to others, or one’s (exaggerated) forthrightness. Yet a beginning actor finds herself out. Or fools himself. And so commences the process of becoming a selfish actor.

What does the surface have that there’s no retreat from it? That whatever I have decided to ‘commit’ to it is unretractable. Is a commitment. Yes, we can see here the fear of the institution of the stage, the theatre, performance, to which a beginning actor feels himself having to make a commitment. But beyond that, it’s more obvious: fear of not being praised; fear one is no good. One is bad. It hasn’t quite sunk in that one is not what one does, that the gesture, the noise, motion one elicited from oneself, being out there, is no longer one’s own. And should a beginning actor be so informed?

Should we say to her, that glance you made to me full of the hope of being recognised, was it part of the action? Cut it. The line is not yours, it’s the character’s. Those guts you left out on the stage, leave them for the stagemanager to pick up; yes. I recognise they’re still attached. Cut it.

What’s out is out. There’s no going back now. That arm you waved with, that heart that beat, yes, I know that if I prick it it will bleed, with your blood. And yet, no, no. I am not in judgement. This is how we console ourselves standing on the outside, standing, as it is said, off.

Fear of being judged precedes the fear whatever we do will produce that judgement. And don’t these two things go together? Fear of losing what one had inside, one’s precious life, one’s precious death; fear that comes when it is outside. Fear that comes too early and fear that comes too late.

Committing to the surface of psychoanalysis used to be the fear of many creative people, lest the engines of creativity are disassembled on the surface, and, when brought back together never work the same way again. Not so much the fear of having one’s dirty little secret outed as of seeing it for oneself, for itself: that this is all I am, because it is all I ever was: my work is the working out of the most trivial complex! and common!

It is strange given the ubiquity of the digital surface it does not occasion a similar fear. … And there, on it we are productive of our performances, showing through our engagement our will to humanity, our good will. And what wonderful sense we can make when we try! How witty! … and how good we can look when we are properly made up.

Attachment anxiety is given new meaning by an inability to separate ourselves from those actions on the surface. Separation anxiety is given new meaning by our capacity for attachment to the slightest gestures of our digital personae. Commitment anxiety has the meaning it has from attachment to those personae. Like an analyst, it interrogates us, the surface; like an analyst whose analysis goes all the way to the psychic source: an engine we proudly display in the exploded view.

Do we inform ourselves of so being analyzed? When it is in the company of friends we are swapping parts? As if it was entailed by our interconnectivity that it resemble a giant psychic swap-meet.

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

subjective powers

If we examine the impulse to dig deep, we find we are always looking for the truth down there, hoping it is a unique truth, not, at least, expecting it is not. And if we search the heights it is for the reasons of finding common understanding, the good thing we expect others to recognise, at least, hoping they will. God is dead, for example: we shout it at the marketplace.

On the stage, the situation is reversed. The hubbub over personal truth is laughable: it is because it’s not unique to us that we play it. As for a good thing that anybody is able to recognise in common with the others, well, there are only personal truths. There are in fact persona, the subjects we have been talking about.

A further reversal occurs: the one who holds her truth to belong to her alone, or who holds his values to be unique and defends them; or, she who attacks because she alone knows what it is inside her; is tragic. This comedy is what we all have in common. A chaos of impulses: each one reassigning its polarity to its opposite: there is no principle guiding it.

Yet, there is something guiding it, maintaining its narrative disorder in the case of comedy, and the order of its narrative in the case of tragedy. It has been thought that it is narrative alone, the stories that we tell ourselves. First there’s the story that I tell myself that I believe; then the story in which we all recognise ourselves, the story of the Fool (the fool who fools herself, the thief who steals from her own pocket, the trickster who is tricked himself by her own disguise, the one whose identity’s indeterminate). The stories, it is said, are necessary. Is it that? or is it the telling that is necessary?

Stories are how we make sense of the world, but this is exactly the reversal we have seen: the story that I tell myself is nonsense; yet it is that nonsense we all have in common. How do we progress in our collective insanity? tragically, but heroically, on our own? comically, but communally, democratically? In other words, what are the general orders given in our stories? This was the necessity we earlier talked of, to tell the stories necessary for the time, the necessity theatre was about. To give it, in Werner Herzog’s words, adequate images. Because in the current sense we have made of the world we recognise a tragic order, an order of necessity and of irreversibility, to which changing the narrative will make not the slightest difference.

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

subjective powers

The funny thing is, we know what the stakes are, yet we do nothing. A sort of collective catatonia has descended. The funnier thing is with the restrictions on freedom of movement imposed globally, in the time of pandemic, that it is given mandate, for the sake of health. The higher principle comes from the depths of sickening, dying bodies.

We elect, select, for this higher principle and it governs our decisions. That is, in the strongest way possible it determines the perception of reality on which we act. And that is in the nature of power, to create reality. In staying home and keeping safe, in taking measures to protect others, maintaining distance, blocking the transmission of aerosols, in suppressing the emission of Covid-Delta particles and of bodily particulates, we are not repressed, we are expressing the reality.

It is in reality that the risk lies that keeps us from doing anything. And in ourselves what is happening? There is a distinct reduction of subjective powers.

And what are these again, as we have enumerated them? Well, the first is impotence exactly, as it applies to a surface which does not effect action. The second is reduction such that a choice is made, a living choice, since it implies an internal relation which has its own life: at its simplest, it is the choice to step out onto the void, void because that is the only support the surface, or stage, has. And we are immediately mistaken to think of ourselves as being upheld by anything else, either of our own resources, like, for example, self-determination, identity, and so on, or of an institutional… perhaps architecture is the best word, meaning to identify the surface with a pre-existing structure, a symbolic one or a discursive one, like, for instance, a stage in the institutional architecture of a theatre.

The third we named as the condition for the other two: that we are always on a complete surface insofar as time is concerned and insofar as it is of indeterminate duration. The report made on it, since it is a centre of reception, will always be complete. In a beautiful phrase of Bergson’s, “the past presses up against the present and draws from it a new form, incommensurable with its antecedents.”

The time, this indeterminate duration we are talking about, is complete not when the action is complete. The subjective power of not effecting action restricts action to movement; movement mobilises the surface: movement confers on the surface the mobility that time has in going past, in passing. It is the mobility we do it for: and now the best word for this is change.

A fourth dimension was added when we said that perception cut off from action, and the impotence of the surface to act on what is outside itself, in the shape of change or pure mobility was in contemplation of itself—and this led to knowledge as a subjective power. Knowledge such as we have described it cannot lead to its institutional enactment, or re-enactment, to its being represented by or in an institution. Out of it cannot follow self-knowledge, because it is always moving that self-knowledge forward to a new form, incommensurable with its antecedents. So that from the shape of change or pure mobility, mobility without consequences, in action, and so on, in contemplation of itself, it follows that the self-contemplation is of that form. A new form. And so, a new form of knowledge.

Can we make then of this a higher principle? No, it can never ascend to the heights, and descends from them only to find itself in immanence, on an immanent and mobile and durational surface. Can we say then that this concerns embodied knowledge and involves actual experience, including the experience of the sickening and dying body? No, because it undoes them. In fact, it is a politics without principle.

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

subjective powers

We have trespassed on the divide between static genesis and dynamic, but what is dynamic here is not action. In choosing for an action we are choosing for something cut off from consequence. In choosing to step out onto the void, a beginning actor, fearing the institution, steps right into a place where he has no agency. He is divested of it… and we have to ask what plays in the theatres of bureaucracy and in government institutions? Is it really capital that dehumanises? or the impersonal operations of the law?

And by dehumanisation we mean that it is directed to human being as a stage or surface bereft of humans. What other creatures are welcome there? because it is there that we form political and legal subjects. We might look again at the question that seemed to crop up out of nowhere: What is happening in the time of being reported on?

Subjection there, in the Castle or the Trial, as these are appropriated to the understanding of the Kafkaesque, consists of having to make a report. And in current symbolic regimes, having to produce the data of which one is the datum. To report for oneself on oneself: the subject, however, as it is understood, is already spoken for in these apparati of power.

What is truly Kafkaesque is the impotence before the infliction of the law, the nonsensical nature of the task of the confession. Or of giving any account in these circumstances, and claiming it for oneself, as one’s right to speak. One’s right to being (fairly) represented.

Then, isn’t the demand the subjection, of having to produce the goods? knowing that the only story to be told is the one that plays. That will play before the judge or in the council chambers. It has been known for some time that the right of the individual is stitched on like a star or triangle, for which she has, for her sins, to join with in submitting her identity. Winning it no less! Celebrating the win.

The individual is there like the selfish actor, claiming her victory over the stage, while underneath, a void. What happens in the time of being reported on can be like this. Or like that other movement, that, having trespassed on the divide between static and dynamic genesis, by which a subject outstrips its fate. Does not cheat it. But in her decisiveness, having already taken her decision, is all reason. And with what is reasonable we are not butting up against those negative qualities associated with the Kafkaesque, our submission to the law of the father and the Law, in our impotence, our anorexic feebleness, our erotic failure, but grow closer to Kafka.

We choose for the movement that is reason, that for us is reasonable because it shifts the ground. Mobilises the surface. And possesses the nobility of claiming the irrationality of that choice for our own reason. Claiming this time is giving our report, like the ape in Kafka, to the academy, representative of both science and reason: that is, knowledge and history.

And yet, we recently spoke of knowledge from Bergson’s perspective. Here, perception serves action; it does not serve knowledge. Perception selects for that which serves action, in pursuing our interests, needs and the demands of our bodies.

Perception is in the world and in the matters of the world from which we make our selection. The selection does not grant us knowledge, but singles out that which we pursue. And should we pause in our pursuit, constructing from it the gateway where we must choose, we don’t have the freedom of our choice. As in Kafka, there is only one door meant for us. We have this block of duration. A freedom of contemplation, from which, knowledge, as being what plays before us.

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

subjective powers

That the stage removes consequence from our actions looks to be anything but a subjective power. It suggests a restriction on our powers to act, freely to act, since on its surface we lose agency and can cause nothing to happen. Throw in the knowledge the audience have of the story and the fact our lines are scripted and our actions circumscribed by the necessities of a given narrative, why should an actor risk anything? least of all what is most personal to her, intensities which are singular to her. Shouldn’t an actor do it for the money? or, failing that, ego-gratification? And so, whether good or bad, resemble the selfish actor, who takes the stage, taking the stage by the force of his personal charisma, technical accomplishment and enormous charm?

Yet, this limitation engages a power that is limitless, if it is chosen for, entailing the power to resist fate and to exceed it. The lesson of the surface is that actions do not lead to outcomes: there is no necessity for dying to result in death, for murder to lead to punishment, penance, or there being any victim. Without this necessity fate loses meaning. And, yet, surely Oedipus, of anyone, had no choice?

The mistake is to confuse acting freely with choice, freedom with the ability to choose. This is made clearer by the scripted work, where there is no doubt, even in Hamlet, of what will come to pass. The range of expression an actor has to choose from in speaking those lines, What a piece of work is a man…, doesn’t even approach what she can do with the character. He can resist, and call up the famous indecision, To be or not…, or decide, having already made his decision and, by the decisiveness of the decision already taken, having outstripped fate. In the moment where it thinks it can catch up with him, he is already miles ahead, has exceeded the girding round-about of this little life.

In the unscripted work, say, in the one improvised, there is no less a script, a familiar story, often a family story, if we are to invoke Oedipus. And this is particularly the case when we take seriously the claims to depth made by the one who deeply feels the trauma inflicted on him, even when she only does in the moment that these feelings arise. It has to have happened.

Better if she held a script, with the words, …or not, and read out the question. The lesson of the surface is the power of our woundedness to lead us can be outstripped by another, stronger. We might there empower our wound, let it bleed out the words. And then ask, is that all?

The lesson is both that no outcome is a necessary one and none is more ignoble than the one that has to happen. So, yes, we say a subjective power. And look to be free of an eternity—that is a determinate duration—of subjection by taking the more noble course of making an indifferent necessity our own: power of the subject.

Suzanne Guerlac, in her excellent book on him, writes that for Bergson perception is for action. Perception therefore selects inputs for the sake of outputs. The brain’s role in this is to coordinate sensory inputs with energetic outputs. Perception selects from the sensory field on this basis, limiting the inputs of what passes directly on to the nervous system, which, according to its complexity, either engages a hesitation, a delay, for example in cases of ambiguous sensory data, or reacts, for example, in fight or flight, at once.

The contrast here is not between two different sorts of information, information representing a situation where it is appropriate to sing a song on the one hand and to throw a punch on the other, or between knowledge and instinct, such that fight or flight is somehow the latter, and the knowledge gained through adequate training and coaching is supposed to provide the former. For Bergson, says Guerlac, the brain is not a centre of representations or a catchment for images experience and education have inculcated. Perception serves action. Still, along with the seeming autonomous selection by perception and production by the brain and nervous system of energetic outputs there is the option of suspending the action. This contains, for Bergson, the kernel of freedom.

What is happening in the time of being reported on? This is the time given hearing, in a single sitting, albeit one of indeterminate duration, in a block of duration. What is happening in the time of being reported on? Everything. And nothing.

All our worst fears, all our dreams, transpire in this time. Because the time of being reported on is our time with others. Our worst fear is that they are thinking or speaking badly of us. And Eleanor Roosevelt’s quip does not work: that if we are worried about what other people are thinking of us, we should realise how seldom they do. Or Oscar Wilde’s, There is only one thing worse than being talked about behind one’s back. That’s not being. Our dreams are of being loved; and our fears are of being destroyed by the opinions of others, in the time of being reported on, in others’ reports. Also the dream of social media.

And yet, in the selection of perception we have affirmed a subjective power linked to freedom. And yet, the suspension of consequence in following on from action has been a lesson of the surface. And yet, the suspension of perception is that which an action no longer follows by necessity. Yet is in the time of being reported on, then comes about as a time of pure contemplation. So that—and this is what all the stories are talking about, why we should change them and the lesson of the surface how we can—from selection, to the suspension of action, to contemplation, knowledge is created. The block of duration, that the time of being reported on is, is the subjective power of knowledge.

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

subjective powers

Selection is a subjective power. As we have framed it, selection prunes and decides from the possible, choosing on the basis of eminence, of what is eminently or even preeminently given, for that which is to happen. The degree of eminence, in preeminence, is not the issue. We might say what is chosen for is that which evokes the most life, the eminently or preeminently lively, yet this should not mean that it is alive in the usual sense.

That which we bring to the surface is chosen on the basis of movement. We can say so from the ordinary sense of what is moving, however we know that being selected for entails that it is no longer moving for us but that it moves us, that it is impersonal, and that the selection too is impersonal. This is the meaning of preeminence, not only that the selected moves in the direction of an involution, by way of relations pruned down to because they possess a fraction more dimension, like fractals, but also that we can do something with the selected. And that we have elected it for this purpose. Both the seemingly inward direction of the fractal characteristic acquired by pruning and the reaching outward for that which may be grafted on, like the hairdresser to the hair puller, amount to the same thing: which is … I want to say, gardening, and sound like Peter Sellers in Being There. Then, it is the kind of garden we have invoked before, the Zen kind.

Both the movement of internal relations and those leading to external ones originate in cutting, the originary cut of the surface line, or line of the stage, where everything is inside. Why inside? because we are talking of subjective powers; then what is this power? It is that of freedom.

The next freedom is that granted by what we have ironically called obedience and, by connecting it with the figure of Oedipus, unironically given it an active role. While the previous selection was and was of the passive, and despite moving, for static genesis (thought of as abyssal, the internal outwardly cracked). On this condition is it active: that the action has no further consequence but that of movement in any possible direction on the surface or stage, even to filling it with possibility.

Of course, we can see that the surface is capable of infinite extension, this was the power gained by Oedipus at Colonus. But unlike Weber we would not put this over onto displacement, the stage’s being any place whatsoever, and so giving that which happens the power of taking place. The surface is that which is mobilised, and is not any place whatsoever, but here continues out to the bird cleaning itself on the lawn who is giving its report on the day. Or there permits the movement from a prisoncell with its inmates to a library with its books.

Oedipus as a figure of the surface can be anywhere but for any harm he intends us he cannot get to us from the surface which is his condition of action, or acting. And he is impotent by the same token that his power is unlimited; he is heroic on the same condition he is a puppet: the report of his death fills the stage with the presence of his power, which acts like a presentiment, to the defense of Athens. And a presentiment of life, since from this surface comes the possibility of mobilising all the other surfaces and other subjects on them.

This, then, is acting without consequence. Or what is commonly called acting. Or, he’s just acting.

The third power of the surface or stage is more difficult to get a handle on but may the condition of the surface and that on which the other two powers are conditional. It is the power of completion. And the other two powers presume it.

The time in front of an audience can be endless—of indeterminate duration—but it is always complete. It forms what Bergson calls a block of duration. Note, it is not a blocked duration.

It is complete—a block—or bloc—just as a report is complete, since it is called on to be completed in a single hearing. Otherwise it’s a story …? Or is this the original meaning of story? Story, like language itself, might originate in the report, in reported or indirect speech, in reporting on what is not present, so closing the circle, for its eternal return.

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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.

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

subjective powers

We don’t know a surface is working until there is movement, but we don’t know there is a surface until something surfaces. We only know, as such, on the surface. Perceiving movement, as it entrains us, as we follow it, is not movement, but neither does surfacing nor surface resonance constitute movement.

We know when, to enter into hyperbole, there is a successful sacrifice. So does the actor. He feels something rise to the surface, or, she feels something descend to the surface.

There must be a type between a beginning actor, in whom the sense of risk is strongest, and a selfish actor, in whom it is weakest. We should remind ourselves that what is being risked is what had been perceived as personal, even as most personal, taking on a life of its own, becoming impersonal. We should also say from the start that this danger, and concomitant sense of risk, does not belong to organised humanity.

Trust, initially, is important, but the danger here is that a beginning actor can think of this as an opportunity to spill her guts. A selfish actor takes it for granted, places trust in technique. Still, a need for it remains, in rehearsal, in the workshop or studio, in the invisible work.

For a beginning actor, she is feeling her way out onto the stage. It seems like a void she is scared of filling too much at the same time as she is scared of entirely disappearing into it. The first step out onto the void is the decision we have focused on so far. Do we withdraw trust if it is betrayed, there? when everything he does becomes so heavy, so necessary, so meaningful and deep? Significant of the depths? No, then we make recourse to nonjudgement.

She is not to be judged for the mess she has made… yet, somehow, we have to maintain the risk and not let it slide into, … slide up, we might say, attaining the heights of established technique. We know what happens: a selfish actor, or a selfish director who was once a selfish actor, mansplains. Or, of course, womansplains: she is supportive; his tendency is to condescend. Both have the same effect, and when she demonstrates as when he does we see it, we know it, we know that without anything surfacing there is no surface. The risk is either from the heights or depths. …of course, when the skilled actor demonstrates we may not even see her technique.

Neither surface nor stage rest on convention. Neither are institutions. They are not, until we get stuck.

This is what happens with a beginning actor, he sees the institution, he sees the acting surface, the space itself, studio, workshop, rehearsal room, or the stage, as an institution. His participation is already weighted. At that first step, stuck in the mud.

A selfish actor treats it as a convention, is sucked down with the conventional, that, despite it being quicksand, she sinks into, like a warm bath. She is at home on the stage, as some people are said to be at home with the conventions of social media. And does not feel she is stifled. She is a star, a little one perhaps, but guarding her little light the more fiercely for that, for that investment, from the trolls.

From the heights, like the Word, or from the depths, we see ‘it’ when it moves. The surface enabling it to move, putting it on the move, at the surface. Movement that is not resonance or involution but of gestures, of symbols…

Such symbols are not yet human. They are not yet organised into structures, systems, when they are thought to be so. Again, all is subrepresentational; all meaning, no structure, no system.

A process is invented. It is by a series of cuts we move from one thing to another and, at the same time, from one meaning to another. We can see this process in reading from the printed page or screen.

Across the surface of the page, we watch the characters take something from the depths, our interest, as they are contrived to do, and something from the heights, as they contrive to do, often with the noisome feeling we are being talked down to. The surface of reading tends to be successful, until it sinks into conventional meanings, or gets stuck in institutional ones. And the process, invented, improvised at the time, working often against structure and system, destructuring into a style of comprehension, perhaps, mobilising the characters into meanings is as little projected as the saccading movement of our eyes.

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

If you would like to receive these posts, as they are written, as letters addressed to you, please send me your email address.

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

subjective powers

What begins at the surface, leaving no physical trace it was there, begins the surface, and ends there. We have to rely on reports that it was. And, in a way, we have to rely on reports it is, reports that do not differ in kind from those the surface receives.

If the surface does not change, is not changed, by scene changes, by quantitative measures, by subjects, how do we know it is working? Do we rely on reports for this as well? the accepted reports of convention and those that report on the conventions being broken.

Is there, we are asking, a principle for the constitution of the surface? Is it, for example, the Fourth Wall? the reality of which is phantasmatic, so that its chastity is reinstated as often as it is broken, or broken down. The sexual imagery of its penetration seems to exaggerate as much as diminish what is happening.

This diminution is in the advertised ease with which the convention is broken, it does not explain how it is reinstated. Because, there it is: the stage cleaving to itself and the action going on without consequence reaching any further than its limits. And the audience pulled in, asked to consider itself a part of the action, does the surface survive this? Does it break into surfaces, because of this threat to, Andrea Dworkin once wrote, its corporeal integrity? an integrity she considered to go as far as the ontological.

We know the time to have been prepared for when the audience is invited in, up onto, out across the surface of the stage. And it’s not as if its members do not recognise what’s going on, whether they feel it with sorrow, or reciprocate the excitement of the performers, or feel shame, as in Read’s example. We know whatever the intention behind breaking down the Fourth Wall that it comes before what actually happens and what actually happens will regardless, that it will happen with complete disregard for any preexisting intention.

The case is the same for the intention of the performer: what comes to the surface comes out and the surface receives it. Mimesis must be the odd mirror-play of recognition at seeing that it has. Yet, the performer can’t see herself. Even when playing into a mirror. And her sight is hindered by the selection that has been made beforehand, of the mask, or character, in Donnellan’s terms. Or else, if what is put out there is so in improvisation extemporised, the performer’s recognition remains mimetic, and comes with a feeling of resonance, which we might call in this instance, surface resonance.

Or the action, gesture, sound, presence, does not cause a surface to resonate. However deeply he has looked, like in the song, he feels nothing. Is there nothing there?

There is always something there. The position of the stage, its positivity, is always (of) something, a subject. And it does not need any as: the subject on the stage has no representational status. It is simply a point of view, a positive affect.

That it is a positive affect may confirm the constitution of the surface more than anything else, since it is the affect that will or will not resonate across the surface. Not, is the gesture made, the action done, the sound articulated correctly; but does it confer on itself the status of a decision? And then, does it stand up?

Stand up, neither in the sense of the human adult’s bipedal uprightness, nor in the sense of standing up to scrutiny, but rather in the sense of having been chosen for, in the further sense Spinoza gives to happy or sad: either one increasing affect and therefore affirmative or decreasing it and therefore negative. We might also note here the decision is a selection, and, for the increase of affect, one of subtraction, pruning down to the bare life, or liveliness of an internal relation. The internal relation is of mimesis, therefore it resonates with the subject and is, affirms, confirms by report, a point of view, beginning at the surface, beginning the surface.

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

If you would like to receive these posts, as they are written, as letters addressed to you, please send me your email address.

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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.

If you would like to receive these posts, as they are written, as letters addressed to you, please send me your email address.

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hommangerie
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