October 21st, 2011 § § permalink
photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto
The necessity for this book is to be found in the
following consideration: that the lover’s discourse
is today of an extreme solitude. This discourse is
spoken, perhaps, by thousands of subjects (who
knows?), but warranted by no one; it is completely
forsaken by the surrounding languages: ignored,
disparaged, or derided by them, severed not only
from authority but also from the mechanisms of
authority (sciences, techniques, arts). Once a
discourse is thus driven by its own momentum into
the backwater of the ‘unreal,’ exiled from all
gregarity, it has no recourse but to become the
site, however exiguous, of an affirmation. That
affirmation is, in short, the subject of the book
which begins here…
-Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse, 1
I would collect the entirety of Barthes’ unbearable book in this archive, but I choose these opening lines as an invitation. The words I have written over these past months, which I will write in whatever time follows, are nothing but a kind of affirmation severed from authority. Or perhaps I should have offered the lines that follow this passage under the heading ‘How this book is constructed’ to explain instead ‘How this site is constructed’. It seems best to start with a mistake, a feint, an apology. I quote: “What is proposed, then, is a portrait […] the site of someone speaking within himself, amorously, confronting the other (the loved object), who does not speak” (Barthes, 3).
And I must admit that this, too, is a false start, another mistake. I have spoken some version of this script before: first in Chicago and now, again, differently. I am always improvising on the same themes, testing my breath against that fine window between stage and audience. Still that child writing on the mist I’ve formed briefly on glass or on mirror.
Barthes’ book describes a series of fragments or roles taken up by the lover in relation to an Other—the loved—for the most part silent and deaf to his entreaties. These roles are available as practices for the lover to undertake, masks to inhabit and games to play, perhaps as a means of imagining a meeting or some moment of shared acknowledgement. The table of contents offers us a sampling of such figures: absence, waiting, body, demons, embarrassment, informer, magic, clouds, waking, will-to-possess. Likewise, the texts I offer here are claims I stake out in glosses, on screens and windows, each half of the dialogue spoken to an absent other (the quoted text or image put forth and my own text to follow). Since it seems that all commonplace books record a private dialogue, I should warn you that this veers at times hazardously close to the precipices of self-indulgence.
I ask you: isn’t my attendance to the performance that always escapes my capture no less than that between the lover and loved who will not or can no longer speak? I confront the enormity of your silence in my own extreme solitude, you—my performer—who dance on in inscrutable arabesques, always further, because I am always confronting you. I had thought the word love a kind of passkey, a thin word that fit any lock. As when taking up the word I, one takes up the whole of speech, finds a place for you and for then and for there, for right and left and wrong, for now. I thought love that kind of promise, the basis for directions through all that followed. I would call you simply love but could not satisfactorily elaborate because all of language, all of meaning surrounded you. And so I realize now that you are also what I’ve been calling potentiality this whole time, because I needed another name. Secreted in the deepest recesses of discourse so “completely forsaken by other languages”—as Barthes would say—that it might as well stay silent, might as well suspend any statement and maintain its potential to say itself, such love means nothing more than the pure affirmation of an attachment, an attention to what you do. Or did.
And so I will stay silent in an attempt to keep hold of all I could say.
October 15th, 2011 § § permalink
For the past few weeks I’ve been posting a collection of fragments under the heading “imagined theatres”: scraps of text that could be dialogues, perhaps, or even a single voice speaking to itself, texts that could be images and sequences that trail off and away. In some senses these are inspired by the working process of Romeo Castellucci, a director whom I greatly admire and who has shaped my thought for more than a decade now. The Theatre of Societas Raffaello Sanzio, the first and only English-language monograph on Castellucci’s singular body of work, reprints several pages from the Italian director’s notebooks:
“The light comes on. A diorama faithfully representing a primitive landscape: two ‘Neanderthals’, one make and one female (represented hyper-realistically), have sex with each other. No pretence. Once the sexual encounter is over, the male gets up. End of performance.”
“A suite of gym machines that ‘come to life’ and function on their own. High amplification. The microphones pick up and make a din of the pneumatic and hydraulic mechanisms that move the part of the machinery.”
“A big countdown display at the back of the stage. On stage, there is just a chimpanzee. The countdown starts at twenty minutes. And at zero?”
“Washing a leather armchair really well. Washing it with water and soap, with scrubbing brushes and sponges. Washing it thoroughly, with commitment and determination.”
“A deer, free on the stage, which looks blurred behind a semi-transparent PVC curtain. The idea of dawn. The idea of fog. A panorama appears to be a long way away.”
“Work on time. Time alone.”
”An infinite series of black curtains (forty or fifty) which open one after another (they have pieces of white material sewn onto them, in different shapes), until they reach the back of the stage. At the end, the brick wall of the theatre can be seen. The end.”
–selections from The Theatre of Societas Raffaello Sanzio (Routledge, 2007), 265-266.
For Castellucci, these conceptions collected over the years act as the raw material for his later work, so that reading these many fragments now will incite an occasional glimmer of recognition: in a sentence or a short paragraph, we catch sight of the seeds of some performance we have already seen, the fingertip of the larger body to come.
I am a writer and only occasionally a director, so my imagined theatres must remain in utero, suspended in conception without actualization. In this way, these imagined theatres take seriously the theatre as a site of “theory”, where the theoretical performs and makes the scene. For better or for worse, these are not merely poetic statements or dream images, but propositions in the language and shape of theatrical traditions, set against the rules and dimensions of a certain stage. So that when I speak of passing through a room, for example, or standing on the final cusp of a great desert, I am always also speaking of an event in a theatre. What this means is that these most private conceptions are always public: for a public and/or performed by a public. I imagine that we are all speaking these lines together. What this also means is that behind each imagining lies the expectation that these will take place some day or that they have already taken place in one of the countless theatres that gleam dimly in some subterranean quarter of this world of ours. A kind of contradiction in terms, an imagined theatre is an impossibility clinging fast to its eventual realization. Finally (at least for now), by putting my imagined propositions and theories on the stage, I am acknowledging the inherent duplicity or what J.L. Autin would call the “parasitic” nature of these thoughts, how they are “etiolations” of both theory and theatre. I own the fact that these are only flimsy cardboard cutouts, that no one is actually getting hurt or weeping. If you look closely enough that dead man in the corner is still breathing.
October 8th, 2011 § § permalink
a series of imagined theatres. notes for future performances. impossible performances.
photo by Uta Barth
In the room that is this theatre, a single window backs the audience. The daylight, dim light, streams in onto a white wall, onto hardwood floors painted white. Everyone is silent and attentive as they watch the gleam stretch out further and further into the gloaming, as the light flips its pages. It takes many hours. After the blue is gone and the grey is gone, the room shudders imperceptibly.
Now is when he would lift his head and see something outside. Now is when he would decide to take a walk.
The artist Uta Barth turns her camera on the vagaries of the sun through windowshades and curtains. The flicker of late afternoon light that glazes the corner of another photographer’s portrait here comes center, so that we see what could be any white wall colored in this particular moment’s cast of light. Nearing abstraction in the way that her entire large-scale print is taken up by the uniform white wall, apart from the edge of a window just peeking over the limit of the frame, off-kilter, grounding us in a domestic world. Our gaze keeps drifting along the skeins of light and reeling itself back to that sharp edge. Some kind of gentle dialogue like swimming away from a beach, testing the current further and further away from shore. The shores of this home, this room, lasting. And then the temptation of the now giving way.
October 3rd, 2011 § § permalink
Photo of a room at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel
I remember years ago sitting in on a friend’s performance–the name of the piece has escaped me at this great distance–and finding one segment particularly compelling. There she was, describing the hotel and its many rooms, filled with its many inhabitants or littered with the traces of last night’s parties and arguments, and then describing us in our rooms doing what we would be doing, could be doing should we ever arrive there. It was an imaginary hotel and I am probably misremembering its architecture. Perhaps I am even imagining the memory. This idea of a possible hotel certainly collapses into other dreams and other occasions where similar images have entered into the theatre and held me captive.
I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks with how to put words to the most moving performances I saw at Edinburgh this summer and then it suddenly struck me the other day: the three pieces that held my attention more than any others all centered around this figure of the Hotel. There was the New York-based TEAM’s stunning excavation of the myth of the American frontier, MISSION DRIFT, which ended in the fantastical eruptions of Las Vegas, its hotel-casinos themselves dreams of a culture-turned-spectacle; there was the Australian performance artist Nicola Gunn’s AT THE SANS HOTEL with its room-less and endless hotel at which one could not stay and in which one could never check in, find the room in which to belong; and there was the Brazilian company Zecora Ura’s six-hour adaptation of the Jason and Medea myth, HOTEL MEDEA, which had its handful of audience members tucked into bed as the couples’ doomed children and as onlookers and even as lovers themselves.
Having found this common ground, I want to spend the next few days writing more pointedly on each of these pieces in relation to this figure of the Hotel. For I feel (and these three pieces confirm that feeling) that the Hotel offers us a contemporary reference for the state of the theatre as a temporary home. Here we spend a night and pretend to access some kind of intimacy before leaving the space in a slight disarray, confident that another will come to clean up the mess and that some other stranger can soon come to live through their nightly life. If the late 19th century and early twentieth century had their domestic dramas, we now have our hotel dramas. Anonymous affairs with strangers in the night. One night only before leaving town for other quarters.