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

A way in

Making theatre, what are we looking for in what Declan Donnellan has called the invisible work? This is the work preparatory to the piece coming before an audience, where it is visible. The training of the animals. The coaching of the children. And, before each performance, the actors coming together, with crosswords, or to run lines; to do their makeup, dress in costume, check props; have the stagemanager do the rounds and, after checking actors are in the house, costumed, made up, props in order, give the call, the half, quarter and five minutes. Beginners please. Because at this point the stagemanager runs the show, reports back to the director, and dramaturg. Who may come back after the curtain to give notes, the notes, also, part of the invisible work.

In fact, the actor who is visibly acting, before an audience, is at the same time invisibly working. Isn’t this what we wait for, making theatre? So that we can’t see the actor, even if it is a horse, working? but acting.

There was an abyssal moment in the theatre of equitation of Bartabas at Versailles. The theatre in the stables before the gates of Versailles a masterpiece of design, done in raw wood, the seats benches, the stage an indoor arena, lit with theatre lights, luminaires, its floor sawdust. And the stables, which doubled as dressingrooms for the horses, which aren’t all stables, really? ornate as Paris Metro entrances of the old style, with, on each stable door, the name of the horse it was for, on an engraved brass plate. No stars anywhere, but you get the picture.

The horses were released from their human riders, who were ideal types: identically dressed, breeches or Japanese-influenced riding skirts, hair pulled back into ponytails. The horses began to play in the middle of the lit arena. The riders had withdrawn to the four corners. One horse rolled in the sawdust. Others nickered at each other and to-ed and fro-ed. Then they began to circle the arena. No signal was given. The improvisation spontaneously took on structure. And I recall The Rite of Spring had been playing. Its introduction over the playful jostling and rolling, the section given over to free play. As the rhythms intensified, the structure already latent took form: horses circling, gaining in speed, galloping. The riders expressionless and unmoving.

It was like the bottom came off the show, as performance gave way, and the artifice was swept away, with the thought that all this equine choreography, of which the show was full, at times incredibly complex as it unfolded in time, was a matter of the voluntary expression of the company of horses. The training at the equestrian Academy of Versailles had all been to untrain. The untraining to train. That is, the invisible work was now at this moment visibly invisible.

The acting had undone itself, as any kind of performance. But does this give any inkling of what we are waiting for, watching for, making theatre, in the invisible work? For when the work … vanishes. Then what does this say about this work? That the visible, the structure and form of a performance, somehow preexists? And we have to get back to it.

For this reason, it may be, that we identify what we are looking for, making theatre, with the depths: the actor must look deep inside. Dig deep. To come up with what is required, where, on the surface, it becomes visible. And we say, Yes, that’s it.

Then, equally, it is confused with the heights, what we perceive, making theatre, as the it of it. As we do in poetry, we say it is a voice. The quality of Voice, that is its essence. The line suddenly sings. … It, the line, loses any sense it had. It becomes a thing of absolutely no consequence. Which is the state of theatre itself, isn’t it?

Isn’t the question of theatre, making theatre, in the invisible work, to arrive at the perfection of its lack of consequence, at its perfect inconsequence? Then, when it does not touch us in the slightest, it most touches us. The beautifully meaningless line is a gesture of the kind of emptiness we are after. Isn’t this, in turn, what we have already invoked as the inexpressible? Aren’t we trying to touch, to broach, the ineffable? (the in-effing-able, as Beckett says). So that we have an idea of what this is and so that the inexpressible precedes what is able to be expressed.

We earlier invoked the inexpressible in view of the system of language. Where the system might rather have the inexpressible as its outside, at its limit, pushed beyond its limit, the inexpressible arises inside, as an internal limit. Because in actuality everything can be said, but we say it is implicit and therefore hard to say and difficult to make explicit. A function of the system not of language: to assert the insufficiency of words to express.

If this insufficiency arises in the system it appears as that which the system suppresses, suppressing what is implicit in it. For the sake of its own explicitness. On the one side, the system is to make everything explicit.

On the other side, it projects what is in it implicit onto what it does not contain. It says, the system, I cannot say it. I cannot say it, without leaving language. Without screaming. Crying. Growling. Laughing. Making chewing sounds. Teeth grinding. Or spitting.

Twitching. Stammering. Stammering becomes, in view of system, expressive of resistance. Of repeated resistance, and so symptomatic of reluctance to commit … to what? To language. To its organised system. Rather than giving away the implicit difficulty faced by the system, it gives one away, in one’s personal failure of voice.

Rather than the hesitation bespoken by the stutterer being the moment through which a certain freedom might be gained. To say. To choose for what one says. To act. We bear witness to the unfitness for language in the individual. And we see what we can do about it, in the way of training and coaching.

Rather than being inside the system of language, the expressive deficit is linked to the gesture. The gesture being what is outside the system, along with all those inchoate gurglings, murmurings, unhinged utterances, unprompted and unsolicited expletives. Then, isn’t this what, making theatre, we are waiting to ring through the delivery of the line? this natural language? This other language in continuity with the world?

Read this way, delivered that way, the line, say, in continuity with the gesture, does it presume the pre-existing entities, or the coming event, that it is? And among pre-existing entities we may include the presumption of organisation and system to complete occupation of linguistic forces that it pretends to possess. Even as it cannot contain them, spits them out, and they are turned into an internal horizon of the possibility of language. The inexpressible.

Why would I speak of a subject before the subject of organised language, before insertion into a pre-existing state of (social, political, personal) affairs, otherwise? A subject before visible, before institution. And on the same grounds, speak for a language before language that cannot presume to possession, either through custom, convention, or organisation into system? On these grounds, where there is continuity of linguistic forces with what we may, stammeringly, call natural ones, what we wait for, what we look for, what we search for, making theatre, and what we work for, does not then belong to either sense or consequence. It is the event of the subject, whose ineffability becomes effing-able.

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

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day 29, 30 & 31

I knew that the promise of this crisis, that it didn’t make any; least of all did it promise through the slippages entailed in the political management of the crisis any reevaluation of the principles by which that political management is in government informed.

What is meant here by political management is shutting down economies; what is meant by principles are those on which the business-as-usual of economies is based. Then by reevaluation is meant the power of a political will, of government, to change those principles on which the business-as-usual of economies is based.

At best what we have had over the period of economic shutdown–which can be taken quite literally in the lockdown of the public realm to the private and domestic realm–is a vague period. It has been one of not knowing how it will come out, of not knowing if any political strategy is going to work, and of not knowing, or of having inadequate knowledge, of what is really going on.

On one side we have felt the state flexing its muscles, sometimes behind the vanity screen of voluntary adherence to social rules, and out in the open, the enforcement of an almost arbitrary authoritarianism, then through the complicity of private agents jamming police lines dobbing other citizens in for breaches, Stasi-like. On the other side we have experienced what has felt almost like an over-reaction. Although to say so is to fistpump with the types of people whose opinions Trump mainlines, so we won’t be saying that.

The enigma continues in the prospect of many workplaces becoming filled once more, but by people doing very little; the businesses themselves propped up by subsidy and returning to work workers who will have little work to do. This has been, will have been, another of those embarrassing moments when that light negligee of economic dogma has shifted–showing, unsurprisingly, but nonetheless still shockingly, no body, nobody!, underneath.

Others have been a universal living wage having been coughed out to millions without any government whining about if you don’t work for it, just die, you just die! (As it happened this was what a Russian friend said to a Chinese friend, then both laughed and said: And we both had revolutions!) And if we take into account that the pretext for this coughing up is not say so bad as some global pandemics (but we won’t say that), then has it been too easily sidelined, the economic orthodoxy of neoliberalism? Has it given up without a fight? (The enemy COVID-19 is… evil evil evil, but hardly lifethreatening to the world economy! or globalism!)

But some of the explanation can be found in the price-mechanism of Hayek-inspired (who said so? Mirowski said so!) neoliberal thinking. That is, the machine is supposed to run independently of government actions, government being relegated to irrelevance, otherwise known as governance.

Then what happens? State governments shut down the mechanisms of the market, almost as if they no longer know what they are; almost as if they have forgotten that these levers and stop buttons used to have big signs on them saying use by political prerogative IN EMERGENCY ONLY!

The market is the market’s to shut down!

What to say about the promise–some commentators have evoked the work of Mark Fisher, who talks of the present as haunted by the possible futures which have never come to pass, and now never can. Why haunted? because of the hope, because of the promise … even if it’s simply one of a technological utopia. (I recall undergoing training at primary school in how to deal with all the leisure time I was going to have to endure as an adult, when technological progress was going to have, was supposed to have, coincided with enlightened social policy.) Now the future’s here and it’s hardly what we expected. … But then the future gets here again, with COVID-19, and it’s really not what we expected!

And again it returns, the future, bearing the φάρμακον, the pharmakon, that Greek gift–think Troy as well as Austerity–Derrida so well interprets.

And with the promises of returns to work looming, for me and some young people I know, as if this were the promise, I picked up Kundera’s book Encounter. It reminded me about the role of kitsch in hiding human cruelty.

And in view of the certitudes of work, as opposed to the enigmas we have suffered through, and suffered from, I read: “The existential enigma has disappeared behind political certitude, and certitudes don’t give a damn about enigmas. This is why, despite the wealth of their lived experiences, people emerge from a historic ordeal still just as stupid as they were when they went into it.”

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ZAD — zone à défendre

“All the things you dream of: do them now, while your enemies are reeling, trying to figure out their next angle of attack. There won’t ever be less repression, less police and private security, less drones and dogs. I personally regret not pushing harder before our possibilities shifted, not taking things to the fullest expression they could have reached. I hope you won’t have these same regrets.”

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neoliberalism = monism. liberalism = dualism.

…doing a keyword search for ‘neoliberal’ books, I am once more struck by the repetition of the two primary angles of approach to the neoliberal episteme. The first claims to have Foucault as inspiration, particularly in light of his genealogical work from the 1970s–so long ago, but not long either. It analyzes neoliberalism as thought collective (Mirowski & co.) or goes from symptoms to diagnosis; but both serve to critique from the angle of abjection: there is no affirmation but counter-affirmation. The work done does not get as far as affirmation. It finds sufficient a Nietzschean critique–genealogy–that identifies the enemy, analyzes its strategies, its behaviours, its break-out moments. But neither does it destroy, nor, from the ensuing destruction, does it create something new. The second angle of approach sets out forthrightly to serve resistance to neoliberalism, to give it weapons. Once again, that a putative we, we of the left, need to combat neoliberalism, must struggle and seek to overcome it, is taken for granted. The object of affirmative action is effective reaction. And so I ask myself what is the motor, can we get at the generative condition, engage the creative moment of neoliberalism, rather than go from abjection and reaction?

Foucault I think does this. He is objective, not normative or prescriptive. But in being so, he can also be seen as not taking sides, at least, as not taking the right left side. His analysis of power without a concept of power (see here) produces and does not simply reproduce or react, is productive inasmuch as power, like desire for Deleuze and Guattari, connects–or like the media, for McCluhan, in which we swim, invisible to us as water to fish. Foucault, I think, affirms power in this new modality, of its proliferation, its generative and creative capability, one without capacity, one purely expressive–or, more properly, virtual. Foucault does not repeat or repudiate a power that is connective, participatory and performative. He attends to a networked power, the powers of networked subjects, of which the network is greater than any one, the power one to the nth power, assembly or multitude, or, naturally, society–and because greater than any one, without subject, without concept.

I would hazard that the generative condition for neoliberalism is already given in liberalism to be the free will. Except that of the two forms, of the two epistemic arrangements, liberalism articulates a dualism, while neoliberalism articulates a monism centring on the market. The dualism articulated in liberalism owes its existence to the coexistence in it of freedom of the will with the equality and reciprocity of those who will, whose will will be free.

There is a religious conviction behind this formulation. Siedentop makes it his theme in Inventing the Individual (2017), where he calls neoliberalism a liberal heresy. This conviction entails the creation of a private sphere, not the household, or family or marketable lifestyle, but the conscience, the moral status of the individual. The monism of neoliberalism does away with the individual as a separate sphere, a sphere separate to society in even its moral claims and tenets, usages and principles. The individual becomes, as Foucault shows, a node in the network, or a communicating vector of sociability: the garrulous performance of everyday corpocratic existence.

What is suggested is not simply to see Foucault as the first theorist of the neoliberal struggle, because he is so both for and against, but a return to an individualism individuating society, standing against every enforced morality as contradiction in terms. Individual conscience is flattened through its universal appropriation to economic freedom–is not thereby made religious because the free practice of religion is itself moralised away. This explains what Siedentop refers to happening in Europe as a ‘civil war’, since the religious antecedence of a moral intuition both of the individual’s freedom as well as of the reciprocity, free association and equality of individuals, is disavowed.

 

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Heiner Müller’s instagram courtesy of n.1edicoes

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Douglas Lain of Zero Books interviews Slavoj Žižek

Marx’s labour theory of value: there’s something strange about what Žižek calls Lain’s metaphor of the “good Christian boy” who wants to believe.

And there’s something strange about the circularity of Žižek’s argument, as a populist philosopher, about the horror of the Left’s reactiveness to the Right’s activation of erstwhile Leftist policy platforms for, exactly, their populism: Marine Le Pen’s stand on easier access to healthcare and greater support for pregnant mothers, for example. (But then these can be seen as what Michel Houellebecq calls “nativist” concerns (in Submission): encouraging the put-upon ‘ethnic French’ populace to up birthrates, live longer, than immigrant sectors.) Žižek is saying something when he reports the comment of a friend: now the Left moralise, where they used to politicise; and the Right politicise, where they used to moralise: immigration is a moral and humanitarian issue for the Left; it is a political opportunity that the Right exploits. … Žižek’s call for the self-criticism of ‘us’ “progressives”, what does it mean?

We should spend less time judging statements like his, that if he could have he would have voted for Trump? And more time doing what?

It might get close to Nietzsche’s critique of reactive politics and affirmation of active policy … but is stymied by Hegelian dialectic and Lacanian (inbuilt) negative disavowal, the double-negative logic of not not affirming.

What the Left could use is some Nietzsche. I used to think not, but Nietzsche’s excoriation of those who set their values on a continuum orientated towards the best cover up value judgements that are from the start moral interpretations, moralisations.

The Left’s looking for a better way than the Right is only to perform the Hegelian dialectic dance of if you go that way, than I’ll go this way.

Here’s the link to the interview. See what you think. LINK.

…as for the labour theory of value and Žižek’s call to “de-substantialise” it, isn’t this precisely what is assayed in Anti-Oedipus (along with a critique of Lacan) and A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari?

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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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defaced theatre: Théâtre Hardelot

Andrew Todd’s 388-seater Elizabethan theatre on the grounds of Château d’Hardelot cost €6m. That is in answer to the graffiti of the National Front, about which here, and but for which it wouldn’t be here.

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l’imagination au pouvoir: the theory of modern art & the crucial “Giorgione effect” according to Enrique Vila-Matas

When back in May ’78 I was able to interview Salvador Dalí in his Cadaqués house, the painter kept going on about a Venetian painting: “A while ago, just before you arrived, I was looking again at Giorgione’s Tempest. There is a soldier, and a naked woman holding a baby. It is a pivotal painting, though our fellow countrymen don’t know it.”

The Illogic of Kassel, 2015, by Enrique Vila-Matas, p. 158

The Tempest, Giorgione, 1506–1508

[Strangely enough, this painting too is a theme in the great English experimental novelist, Nicholas Mosley’s Metamorphosis. He wrote the novella in 2014, aged 91. Like his masterpiece, Hopeful Monsters, written in 1990, it affirms the force of biological mutation in metamorphosis and is as optimistic about the future of life and of human life through transformation as Enrique Vila-Matas is about the future of art in transforming itself with life.]

…that interview with Dalí unexpectedly took on greater depth when I read by chance Mallarmé’s recommendation to Édouard Manet that is for some the founding statement of the art of our time: “Paint, not the thing, but the effect it produces.”

I immediately thought of Manet’s The Railway, that painting that dumbfounded critics of the time. In it, a young mother looks at us, while her daughter stares at the plume of steam from a passing train.

– Vila-Matas, ibid., p. 159

The Railway, Édouard Manet, 1873

[This scene, as described, without the steam, is repeated in A Man in Love, the second volume of his life story, called My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, an avowed art-lover, who speaks of how a painting can make him cry where the events of life do not. At once the proximity of these themes will be discerned to the European cultural and political tragedy of mid-twentieth century totalitarianism, of which Vila-Matas is at first sentimentally aware and to which, in his encounter with what has become by 2012 of the avant-garde at Documenta, he later unsentimentally reconciles himself.]

la réminiscence archéologique de l’Angelus de Millet, Salvador Dalí, 1935

In the foreground, the little girl has her back to us. In the background, there’s the great cloud of smoke that the train has left as it chugs through the center of Paris.

I noticed that the structure of The Railway reminded me of Giorgione’s The Tempest. Looking it up, I saw I was not mistaken, may people had said the same. And then I thought if only Manet’s picture had an actual trace of what someone had done before. A sketch or a hint of Giorgione would allow us to see the direct connection between the two, in the same way Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase would acquire greater depth if it contained an actual trace of Manet on the canvas. And might it not be that Dalí, lost in a very dark Spain, wanted to bequeath to me that day the effect that introduced modernity, the crucial Giorgione effect?

Se non è vero, è ben trovato, Dalí was known to say. That was, in fact the expression he quoted to me in that interview when I told him that his book [Le mythe tragique de l’Angélus de Millet] formed a sort of “obligatory perimeter,” while leaving free in the center of language a great “shore of imagination,” perhaps with no other object than for us to play on it. To this Dalí  replied that his wife Gala, when she read the book, had said: It would be great if what he wrote were true, but if in the end it turned out not to be, the book would be greater still.”

– Vila-Matas, ibid., p. 159

L’atavisme du crépuscule, Salvador Dalí, 1933

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because after this Enrique Vila-Matas writes…

…during these minutes I was able to think things over and put an end to any further queistions I might still ask myself about the possible, or impossible, relationship between innovative art and a bottle of perfume belonging to a Nazi woman, about the possible relationship between innovative art and our historical past and present. … It had become clear to me that art and historical memory were inseparable.

Any activity connected to the avant-garde – assuming the avant-garde still existed (which I doubted more with each passing hour) – must never lose sight of the political dimension: one that required us to bear in mind that perhaps nothing would do us poor mortals more good than for the avant-garde to disappear, not because it was worn out, but because, through an invisible current, it had turned into a source of pure energy, transforming itself into our own fascinating life.

33.

For a moment, I thought I saw the invisible impulse cross the area and flow through that community of strangers seated in the middle of the forest. I remember thinking of the efforts of popular revolutions trying to make a name for themselves, while secret groups like this one in the woods at Kassel, or those formed during sporadic bursts of fighting, had, by contrast, never tended to be photographed or leave a trace. I recalled Sebastià Jovani, a writer from Barcelona, who said that revolutions spawned postcards and all sorts of souvenirs, while guerrilla warfare and spontaneous groups involved in clandestine struggles – volatile groups, situationists if you looked at them that way – generated emotions, common feelings that didn’t require a picture framed up on the wall. Jovani also said, if I remember rightly, that it was worth asking if anyone would really want a signed urinal in their living room. Perhaps, in that question, the difference between art exhibited in museums and art without a fixed home – art that is out in the open, so visible in Kassel, in more than one installation – couldn’t be better summed up. Art of the outskirts. Or of the outskirts of the outskirts. Like Huyghe’s work, with his humus and pink-legged dog, with his remote quagmire, where there was no organization, no representation, no exhibition – although I suspected things were interconnected there than they appeared to be.

And while I was thinking about all this, I realized how that silent revolt of the spirit was making a move at that precise instant and let itself be seen, too: the almost imperceptible was making everyone suddenly get younger on the spot.

This reminded me of that episode in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past where you see the members of the old aristocracy grimacing in a Paris salon, getting older on the spot, becoming mummies of themselves.

For a while, I didn’t stop looking around me. The music’s attempt to get us over the collapse seemed very fortuitous. That motif of death Schubert had placed at the center of Winter Journey, which we were all listening to there in shy silence, collided head-on with the idea of that voyage. Each of us allowed ourselves to be assailed by our solitude, which expanded timelessly in the evening light, the sun reflecting among the clouds, and it did so like the nightmare I most feared, the one in which I felt at constant risk of seeing everything invaded by frost and dead nature.

Death was before us like the bird singing just then, filtering through in an unequal contest with Schubert’s music. Death was playing no tricks and plainly visible, but the general resistance, the effort not to succumb to its awful, murderous song, was admirable. The imperceptible breeze ran serenely throughout, getting stronger every minute, perhaps because it was a current that advocated life. Indeed, the conspirators in the forest appeared to be getting stronger and stronger in this lull. Even so, my disquiet didn’t seem about to evaporate so easily. There were flashes of vitality within the forest group, but a certain inner disquiet persisted. I remember the circumstances of that moment well. The truth is, I always remember my own unforeseen anguish with mathematical precision: I was in the forest, I lost myself mentally in a tangle of undergrowth. I heard the cry of a tawny owl in the area bordering the woodland, and then nothing, absolutely nothing. I went on to the esplanade and saw that Europe was a lifeless expanse and then accepted that the dawn light of morning had turned into darkest night. I think I perceived a song far off in the distance that I learned in childhood and that comes back to me from time to time, above all now that I’m getting old. It’s a song that disturbs me because it says there is no escape: to get out of the forest we have to get out of Europe, but to get out of Europe we have to get out of the forest.

The Illogic of Kassel, Enrique Vila-Matas (trans. Anne McLean & Anna Milsom), pp. 108-110

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