September 20th, 2011 § § permalink
a series of imagined theatres. notes for future performances. impossible performances.
unattributed illustration of focusing hook and cloth.
In half-light, the stage is set with great care by a trio of stage hands: a meticulously realized nineteenth century living room. Lights down as they leave. In the darkness, whispers and then the churning sound of some machine, the shuffling of feet, panting. The sounds cut out suddenly and we are back to half-light, the stage hands return to reset the stage once more, slight adjustments of the furniture, a few new portraits on the walls, replacing the old, perhaps a half-finished meal carefully laid out. Darkness again, this time the sound of lighthearted conversation at several removes, behind another wall or closed door. Again the lights return. Again, the stage hands enter. They clear the table and carry on a large photographic camera complete with black focusing cloth that they place center stage. It faces the audience. They leave. The lights remain on.
September 4th, 2011 § § permalink
So what is a hand? It is not an organ, it is a faculty, a capacity for doing, for becoming claw or paw, weapon or compendium. It is a naked faculty. A faculty is not special, it is never specific, it is the possibility of doing something in general. […] Our hands are that nakedness I find in gymnastics, that pure faculty, cleared up by exercise, by the asceticism of un-differentiation.
-Michel Serres, Genesis, 34
Serres contends that the hand holding the hammer becomes a “hammer,” giving itself over to the use of the tool, while the hand deprived of a tool becomes pure faculty. He is, of course, borrowing from Heidegger, who wrote that the hammer appears to us in its usefulness and that the being of the hammer itself, or any such object subsumed in its utility or “equipmentality,” appears the moment that the tool breaks. While for the German philosopher the break reveals the beingness of the thing to the subject, the French philosopher disposes of the broken hammer in order to imagine that the hand-always already broken in its nakedness-reveals the becoming of the subject herself. A utopic imagining, really.
What of the stage hand? The name is fortuitous. It suggests that these offstage presences are the theatre’s faculty of doing. The purest of actors, without any illusion or role laid atop their doing, they are anonymous and naked, even in their blacks. Stage hands are not stable parts (organs) of the apparatus of the theatre, but are the undifferentiated energy source from which all things appear. The stage hand becomes whatever he or she grasps: not merely a hammer, but the very sky and fog, the living room wall, the line that lifts the ‘flying’ Peter Pan, the light and dark. They are the makers and movers of the world. They are less figures, than forces.
And yet, the ‘hand’ is a profoundly human word and concept. After all, it is the hand with its opposable thumb that distinguishes us from all other animals. And if there is a hand of god or of fate, it is a hand that directs action and coerces movement in terms that concern humanity. So if stage hands are faculties of the theatre, they are its ways of becoming human and reaching out and touching us, moving us in our terms.
July 21st, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
July 21, 2011
When the actors have finished their bows, they will turn to the wings and gesture offstage or, facing out front, raise their hands towards the back of the theatre house. To whom or what are these actors gesturing, as if to say that the performance could not have been played without this final central actor? We assume they honor the Stage Hand, that unseen laborer, but perhaps it is the theatre, itself, that they acknowledge? More often than not, the anticipated figure will not emerge. Like some shy director or writer unwilling to step from behind the frame and accept praise for her work, the stage hand will keep to the dark. It is an offering not unlike the place left waiting for Elijah, the glass of wine full, an opening for the final guest to take a seat and complete the repast.
The absence works on at least three levels:
1) they confirm their sacred, unseen role by refusing to appear (and, thus, to remain the “man behind the curtain”);
2) they keep the precise number of their ranks a secret—the many hands become synonymous with the one stage hand, a whole nation in black;
3) they leave the making or working of the play a mystery, its world still whole and inexplicable, extending offstage towards some other shore or round some other corner.
If they do appear, one cannot help but feel slightly dissatisfied: is this all it took, these all too human hands? Surely there are others, more of these anonymous figures, waiting behind the scenes, unwilling to come out. The studious hierophant too busy interpreting the sacred text to step into the open.