theatrum philosophicum

what is theatre?

I liked Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale. I liked, but not so much, Ulster American, by playwright David Ireland, presented by the Traverse Theatre Company, est. 1963. A part of the few thoughts I have now the energy to jot down concerns the institutional setting, including the timer setting of these works in their performance disciplines–I want to say respective, but what I have to say is really irrespective of discipline but in respect to its institution. (I mean, the relation the discipline acts to form, on which the institution of the dance subject and on which the institution of the theatre subject relies, with an outside.) It is to do with what name lasts.

Shechter’s tribe moved a recollection of dance in 1972, when the tribal musical Hair came to Wellington. The bodies are lithe long and abandon themselves to dancing. I like dancing like this. But then brackets of the most disciplined and synchronised group work take place. It is random, arm throwing, exuberant–a kind of excess anyway–and suddenly everybody falls on the beat. Pops on the beat. Jigs break out. Parodies of dance. I realised we are dancing for our lives. But our lives are threatened by lightweight simulations of the monolithic stones at the Jewish memorial, Berlin. These are bureaucratic and managerial walls to break our heads against as well as Wailing Walls. Or otherwise bullet shot-up walls. In other words they are scenic devices, moving scenery, on trucks.

Our lives are not threatened by these simulations, but the dancers are onstage. They are hemmed in, and there is the brilliant choreography of Tom Visser’s lighting, a designer for whom the deployment and pattern of sources of light is as important in this production as the way it strikes the body, bodies, floor, monoliths, impression made on the audience or not made–a lighting philosophy in which I see my own and the faults in my own.

I feel most deeply the moments when the energy is highest and deepest and most useless and in recognition and in despite of the kind of machine the social has become.

The whole first half of the Grand Finale is build, Shechter liking his music as much as if not more than his dance world. The acoustic world refers to Jewish experience. But then there are elements from Maori Haka, it seems, from war dance, or sport dancing–rugby. No distance comes in to separate it out in its culturally specific reference, either on the Jewish line of descent or the Maori. Perhaps it’s not Maori. It looks like it. And it is clearly martial in theme. The music builds–the staccato rhythm of k-chick gunstock being set, loaded, in the set-up.

So there is a loading of symbolism. But the dancers seem to dance for themselves even when playing corpses, so many dead bodies, but the most striking those initial four women, their limbs kicked out and propelled by the movement of their partners, into unbelievable unison of movement–unbelievable for one half of the sum total of bodies having no agency in the movement.

The second half I wanted to edit: because of a scene set upstage, with a live band of acoustic musicians playing klezmer-like music, and the ten dancers the band’s audience. Yet the music is pumping out full volume from the speaker arrays. It should have all been far upstage, distant, the sound faint, emitted only by the instruments, without amplification, or even smaller, less, on the verge of disappearing.

What a loss there is in the loss of Douglas Wright! Subtleties and dynamics washed out in the techno-rave reading of Gavin Bryars’s Sinking of the Titanic, to which the dress suits and lifejacket, was it, of the live band seemed to refer.

People stood and clapped. A standing ovation. I liked the display of energy. But the dance didn’t so much run out of material or so repeat material or allow it to return and vary as erect a world of art in its own image. Even the heteronormativity and harkening back to limb-throwing-out dance could be put down to this, and the symbols showing as well: that it was young, ok, but that it did not open onto anything but what it contained in the way of relations inside itself already. Sealed off, in dance as it is. Nothing invented. The discovery of the movement of these long lithe corpses so generalised within the scope of the whole as to lose all the elements with which they might be referred outside the work.

The theatre piece Ulster American is even more curiously contained in this regard. (I recall some notes I made about the Christchurch shooting: that the Muslim congregations are as ungeneralisable–to the city, the nation–as its perpetrator is unindividualisable–to the lone crazy, seeing as how he represents, as a terrorist, a political cause or interest, that of the extreme Right Wing, from the support of which our own political representatives are chary about cutting themselves off entirely.)

It concerns a script of honesty and integrity and one that says and does what theatre must say and do now and for all time: this script and the nature of its (theatrical) truth is, inside the work, fought over and contested by the American ego, the directorial ego, the ego of another–that is the ego of the writer, a woman. A nice way to get around the master text’s authorship.

Like Grand Finale its appeal is reflecting on–like the critics it holds up inside itself to all the old lines of fire–theatredance and rather than presenting it being seen to represent it.

(The link to the previous thought in parenthesis reposes in the playing out of a de- or anti-particularisation, generalisation, of artistic statement at the same time as an individualisation of artistic intent is set forth too: more obvious in Ulster American since the script’s very particular reference to Northern Ireland, Britishness, Fenianism, Sectarianism, and the Protestant-Catholic, British-Irish divide, is that contested by the egos as the one to generalise to universal human experience.)

It has to offer many words.

I liked seeing it at a matinee with a group in the audience who were sight-impaired. I took the cue and shut my eyes, partly because I was sick of the sight of the set by Becky Minto and the costumes, and the mugging to the audience of Robert Jack and the general state of affairs where the performer waits for his performance or hers to take affect, for the audience to laugh or take a sharp inbreath, or do the things, the dance of theatre. A dance with the audience, perhaps. But here the stimulus-response. While dealing, need it be said, with important and timely contemporary issues. But while dealing with them, by way of the script inside the play, in general.

That is: the discussion of the script around which the action revolves includes head-nodding eye-winking to the notion that theatre ought to be about the particular to reach a general, no, not consensus, as here, but application. A relevance. (But application and relevance are as soiled concepts today as signification. And the nod and wink is also to this fact, a matter of metaphysical, not desire, but irony.)

The world explored by Ulster American is theatre. Just as the world assumed by Grand Finale is dance. And, the delight of the audience at the former is more saddening than that at the latter. The words make a difference.

(I noticed recently several words that have dropped from common use: propaganda and didactic. They have become so common as not to need to be named. )

But there is something else here too. Not just ecce dance ecce theatre. Ecce festival. Not just the egoism of one form against that of another.

Both productions are energised by a kind of cynicism. It is what I find most moving in Grand Finale–the irrecuperable excess, in a kind of exchange beyond symbolic exchange, money, death, sex, and so on, with the sacred. Giving without any chance of return. In Ulster American, it is sheer exchange: language tokens for others. Performances attuned to the expectations, and recognising in them their reasons as well as their conditions, of the audience. A managerial complement. No.

More than this. Neither work wanted to give thought to what is outside it.

What is outside the timely contemporary issues of fake news and honesty and identity and rape culture and accelerated and exaggerated violence of social experience of Ulster American is not another point of view. And it is not from another point of view that it can be asserted. What is outside of these bodies hurtling through the scenography of Grand Finale, if not against its soft-prop moveable monoliths, however timely and contemporary its allusions to the musical traditions Islam and Israel share, and the guns and the bodies, and the status of these bodies as bodies in their muted migrant costumes, is not the actual events of these past two weeks, not an actual and indubitable outside.

It is the thought which specifies itself in its inside–as a point of view–by passing by way of the outside. It leaves theatre behind. It leaves dance behind.

Yet one ought to hesitate over the word ‘thought’ since it has been so denied and paraded before others to be the desirable term of exchange–that is, in the old days. Nobody should give it a single moment’s consideration in the era of outsourcing informational intelligence, these days. What good will that get you? No.

Let’s not talk about thought, and constrain ourselves to what this does and and what that does. Television does not seek consensus; it is driven by consensus. And advertising. Online content provision puts consensus, even a step before its proven drivenness, and so circles back to what is almost poetry. Just as loss-making companies can launch with untenable values on the financial market.

Theatre, what is that? And if it were to do something, what would it be?

In its marketplace, in the marketplace that stands in its stead, yes, festivalisation, as a way to make it, personal survival and the bottomline, always. Hidingplaces, like academic ones, sure. Covering its loss of institutional status–where it talks to power at the level of power–a way of talking, that’s all. A way of talking that bears no relation to the way it talks and represents itself to the conditions and powers which make it possible. Ok, but this growing identification with the managerial strata that want to kill it, not out of any ill will, but because it is irrelevant, only encloses it further in terms which it cannot articulate. For having all of language, it lacks a language.

theatrum philosophicum

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dear reader, I am writing a book. Below a tiny excerpt. If you would like to support this work, please contact me by way of the contact form, top, left hand margin.

The brain remains a symbol, with all that is entailed under this symbolic existence, nailed at some extremity—perhaps the highest plank—of the vast carpentry we have been calling the symbolic framework of reference, so long as its cognitive functions are identified with representation and so long as these higher functions are so called. Except that it express itself symbolically we should therefore show no small amazement that we cannot trust it.

luz es tiempo
theatrum philosophicum
thigein & conatus

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field recordings 2017:06:16 18:06:43 – 2017:08:03 12:37:29 including Minus Theatre rehearsing VMG at the Baptist Church and setup at LOT23

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theatrum philosophicum

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I think this will be the last one of this series, it is #31


getoveryourself or you should know when to stop are not the same pieces of advice

but you are not listening to me you are looking at the image of an idiot on the screen

an idiot boy Bolaño says—right in my ear—the image of an idiot boy—and i am overcome by a feeling of wonder at how great it would be it is to be a female art

a female artist a woman first, second—they are not the same pieces of advice—you could—one justifies another—produce the most overtly sexual and sexualised imagery

you would not be guilty of sexuality—and I am fore-betrayed by knowledge, memory, belief one does not justify another duplicitous amongst the victims blending in, before a page of prose looking for even yet the flight of a bird & birdsong, time blurred like the wingbeat of a sacred kingfisher [writes Adam Roberts] and


my stomach drops

into shallow pans


of my open hands (even yet Fergus Barrowman, replied, some of the lines are simply bad)

facing a page of prose: sometimes life is shit: one justifies another and I accuse the extinguished theatre I mean professor removed from positon by concerted and personal vendetta—what one feels now the other will. INTIMIDATION seemed right closest to our theme but you should know when to stop

the recoil is lost it is political and so it is born: and once it was a child and knew getoveryourself for not having to be a female artist, of a woman first second—at the same—the integrity of the personal gesture of sexuality now the integrity of the gesture was lost

it would not be reproduced, it would not pay to reproduce and once it was a child, and at the same time it is the memory of things, not as they were, thought to be heading in a certain direction, ends unknown, all of a sudden going in a wholly unexpected direction the integrity of the gesture was lost, and the reduction to ends and desires the image of that idiot boy on a screen I see my memory at two removes extinguished theatre I mean professor and yours but you are not looking

and in no wise would it be true to say these two manners of appearing followed one upon the other but that in somewise I know not were they concurrent also Adam in The Thing Itself the thing itself might as well figure thought in the image of the hypocrite not the idiot

we are so many people in the manner of a lost world given the word or gesture of the appearance of victims and I amongst gathered together who don’t who can’t and who cannot recognise a crime who gather together in their want and in their lack of recognition and who do not ask who answers for it, for once it was a child and knew, but that in the want and lack of their recognition its answer goes unquestioned its question goes unasked

which is their question and i amongst and it is like the memory of smoke in a dream that on waking is the image of a face in sand that on looking you look does not ask anymore

luz es tiempo
point to point
theatrum philosophicum

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another week past see how much has happened to a kind of record


sometimes I feel I can take more away than they can

but it isn’t true Is it

the story ends the song goes on the dirty pacing on goes

the end the start the knot the kick at you they

are not your clothes


arms cross over

uncross cross over

uncross on goes

man in his quintessence


I feel I can take you wait

than they you wait father is gone

mother gone

in her

they have cut me in half


arms cross over

uncross you wait on goes a woman

a woman stops in half

like this there is no more

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theatrum philosophicum
thigein & conatus

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a curtain not to be lifted – & other minuses – …towards a logic of sensation adequate to an analysis of performance

theatrum philosophicum

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theatrum philosophicum
thigein & conatus

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THEATRE WITHOUT AUDIENCE – THEATER OHNE PUBLIKUM – film by Pawel Kocambasi and Carolin Mader

with Andrzej Wirth, Aleksandra Konieczna, Roma Gasiorowska, Tomasz Tyndyk, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Robert Wilson, Rafal Mackowiak, René Pollesch, Jan Dravnel, Carol Washburn, Miho Takayasu, Richard Raack, Emma Lew Thomas, Helena Waldmann, Marianne Frisch,Hans-Thies Lehmann, Mandie O’Connell & Thomas Irmer

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theatrum philosophicum
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Trans-European Express

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the thing about invisible theatre


It’s an incredible project: part dance, part secret, part ritual. Heroic in its unsustainability, its unrelenting absence of logic tears like a cannonball through our understanding of the value and meaning of art – why we need it, how (and if) it functions, who it is for.

theatrum philosophicum

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Spend the evening pressing flesh and spending money.
That, after all, is what it’s for. And,
well, money’s money.

Fat and fatuous, a fatal
combination—when not being
utterly, utterly charming.

Stretching to 3 or 4, I’d say
and a slap on the wrist.
Hang back,

hang about, squeezed tubes in a rasp,
and the spitting, the spitting image
of suited shades loitering around
in the afterlife,
all on tenterhooks,
the very dregs,
too keen
with flickering porcine eye,
too keen by half,
a-trot in the half-dark,

one little pig, 2 or 3, 4
at a stretch
belted and buckled and gaping on,
buttoned and bottled
and raising a queer sort of
high-pitched sound,
not quite human,
a-squeal in the dust-yard,

the harsh cross-light of history, I’d say,
the torture-chamber herself,
steam and quite unmistakable smell
of freshly cut carcase,
a nose for blood,

5 and no more, tubes full
and the gutter-grey suddenly
a luminous shade of hope,
a pink-eyed shade,
falling over oneself,
over and over
as if entirely bereft of the scaffolding of bones,
fresh to the trough,
through the sublime carpentry
of our unmaker,
sliding down stairwells,
collecting splinters
in the hoof of the tongue
that pop like bubbles
on the roof and gums,

the heart sucks and quivers,
shoves the hub and heel
with the delightful infinity
of going against the drill pattern,
all the old numbers,
gown flapping open
at the cuffs and ankles,
streaked with heaven knows what stain,
ardent stain, no more naked clothed
than cut open by the gaze,
chest and armpit,
touch is the subtle retractor.

And the horizon deepening,
the departed on the farther shore beckoning
or, who can tell,
impossible clouds looming.
It has been like this always
but you have not noticed the lips on your partner,
his chest heaving and sobbing,
that apneia

her self-awareness quickened
by the sudden attention
of a, can it be? an oldish man,
to make it harder on her,
he is spitting forward his false teeth
and sucking them back,
to make it harder on him,
he is now retching into her lap,
now looking up into her eyes,
her lashes nothing flying can escape,
and fearing his gorge rising,
sending his questions flying,
and she is asking
what is the question he has for her?
but it is vomit

it hits the stainless steel at a bad angle
and splashes onto the friend
who receives as a gift,
who, quite unbelievably, saw it coming
and got him into the nearest mens

she is not there when he gets back.
The old man has taken her home with him.
Only the male interest remains.

The subtle retractor is brilliant at extracting information
under the disguise of chance,
a chance meeting
with the torturer after many years,
buying sausage at the same store,
thinking, I am not in the same torture chamber
I was before.

Only to feel the years rush away and the dryness
in the throat return
and the blood pumping in the guts again
and pinching of the tubes, throbbing,
a rasp and boot stamping down.

How out of place I must seem! You think,
at the delicatessen counter of the supermarket.
But it is not a private feeling.
The electric saw that cuts him cuts me.

Her lips that speak also refuse.
They lead to the rallies
and the rallies lead to the arrests
and the arrests will never stop
until names are named. They

The lips that refuse are removed.
They are removed in hospital rooms.
Not in butcher’s shops.
The light is flat,
sometimes at sunset a luminous pink
and the scent of fresh flowers beside the bed.
On the lavatory table.
The best of care.

The first surgery will cut off the tongue.
The second will take the teeth from the upper jawbone
and remove the lower jawbone in total.

The last surgery will join the skin where
the mouth was to allow a small tube,
no larger than a straw,
for food to pass down.

The whole procedure will be perfected
by erasing any trace
of there having been any surgery at all.

Without lips the subject will
look on without mouth.
And the flowers will be changed
beside the bed.
The curtain will be pulled to protect
her dignity.
No pain will have been meted out.
In the absence of words, all words
will have been reduced to
a simple whistling
from the hole
where the lips had been,
a high tone for excited
while a low one means relaxed.
A singing-along with everything.

The whole story will stay in the eyes
but the eyes will be in the background.
In the foreground will be the monstrosity.
The monstrosity will always be in the foreground.

How lovely to be able to give to the young
what their dreams and visions spell out
to them without benefit of hindsight or

Another one’s nose was removed
without the least trace being left
in a perfection of which
even the most consummate artist
or the best cosmetic surgeon
could be envious.

Not no nose to speak of:
one with no nose to speak,
one with no nose at all.
An immaculate disfigurement.

I have thought about these things.
About terrorism as the atom bomb
of the poor. And the murder of a young
child. Erased.

It was never a young child. It was a sucking
in foul street. We share breath
tonight you and it.

I, I will always be on its side.
You be on yours.
It was never a dairy owner.
It was that dairy owner.
You will never be a dairy owner.
On your side of the counter
are lined up the prime minister
and the camera crew, the minister
for justice, the twelve jurors, and you,

it has slit a neck and the weightless blood
bubbles and joins into larger bubbles
which rise
and float and burst,
according, as it is said,
to the breeze blowing from paradise.
Now lightly.
Now in a steady rain
gently falling on every man,
woman, and on those
who are scarcely even here, their
short lives, pets and children,
the animals left in the mist
of the species which did not survive.
On indigenes in general
count among the fallen
on your side of the counter
everyone after a certain number,
the certainest number

When you look at the face of money—nothing
but when you look at the face of age—living
hard to give it up
smashed in my car
the ribs clawing at the metal
the rods, racks, the pinions
poking here and there
pain like a crisp clear

like a crisp clear
hard to enter into because it is the last,
like waking on a dawn and refusing waking
no bed
no warm arms
no source
no support of life
no home
pain only
only pain
where there’s always room inside
the entry so narrow—
the exit is so wide

a slice even when followed next instant
by the crack of bone-break is different,
a connoisseur can hear it,
a victim feels it
but worse, much the worst—knowledge:
to know a hand cannot be re-attached
and know the ligaments, nerves and sinews
separated, to know the parting of the limb,
the eye, ear, the torn or cut, the split, the
lost organ, to know from this waking
no going back
to habit
the body at a point of no return

your body, I know
your body, your face billows
out from it and I want to take a pin
pop it

Your hands lift your face like wet clothes
try to put it back in place
and hold it, feel it slipping
from your fingers, dripping heavy
as wet clothes, a drapery impossible
to fix back on its scaffold

Your face today so full of self-satisfaction
unlike money: to stare at the face of money
is to feel the blood drain out
nothing come back at it with its privilege
to be nothing joyless
like looking in a shop window.
somewhere in the distance
the sound of boots
steadily approaching

Hell to be got by humans, by human
hands, before the flood
hell to be erased from face to foot
hell to waste all the flesh has put away
for the soul to enjoy
in old age—not to laugh, of course,
the soul is artificial, which is why
it lasts but an instant
burns everything up
even the reason for its existence
the air itself. There it is.

There it is.
There is nothing else. May as well
admit it. A burden. But to get rid of it
would be to assume there’s something
else, something other than this. There
isn’t. Bear it.

The children are arriving.
Hear the boots?
Somewhere a shop window
with all its five fingers
and five toes
a monstrous thing
smash it!
a monster
smash it with a brick!
do its head in!

something’s wrong
something has gone very wrong.

[performed 19 November 2016

at Auckland Old Folks Ass. by Minus Theatre:

Chenby Dien

Michael Ferriss

Jeffrey Gane

Alex Lee


Felipe Oliveira

with the assistance of Monique Wakaka

directed by Simon Taylor]

luz es tiempo
point to point
theatrum philosophicum
thigein & conatus

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