I thought in our seminar discussion today that we made some suggestive progress on analyzing the relationship between “theater/theatricality” and “performance/performativity.” The residuum of the conversation is inscribed on the board depicted above. To summarize what I got from it: the anatomized condition of spectatorship characteristic of the museum/gallery art spaces AND the collectivized “we” audience of the traditional theatre BOTH affirm/reinforce a durationally consistent and fundamentally fixed subjectivity (i.e., one is the “viewer” of the artwork; one is “the audience” for the show — these identities perdure and are not subject to transformation or destabilization under the ordinary conditions of theatre and museum spectatorship). By contrast “performative” situations trade-on/stage/invoke an unstable superposition of audience/actor and/or viewer/”work.” The affective (aesthetic? political?) dynamics of such circumstances are generated out of the imminent and realized “decoherence” of the superposition. (I use these terms from quantum physics in a purely metaphorical way).
Offering us the “Invasion of the Body-Snatchers” theory of the actor, David defined the condition of acting in a purely contextual way: the actor is the person who has the attention of others directed upon his or her person like so many rifles.”
We experimented with a version of this condition in undertaking a riff on the exercise evoked by Stanislavsky in Chapter 3 of An Actor Prepares:
Any thoughts on this, or on the work with David on the “performance” of the critical texts (props to Enzo and Lee for throwing themselves into that) very welcome…
Finally, very important to me was the final moment in our discussion, in which we considered what it is to “have” a piece of critical text (a piece of argumentation) “in” oneself in such a way as to be able to covey (teach? perform?) it compellingly — and in such a way as to communicate its claims and their rationale/force. The notion, flagged in conclusion, that such a “mastery” of a text remains, in a sense, superficial, until one can conjure a motive for the line of argument — this struck me as fascinating, and I have continued to mull it over. Pushing the thought, I find myself close to obsessed by the idea that it is precisely the sublated presence of a (confected? invented? dreamed?) psychological “deep story” under any given proposition that makes for something like “ownership” (or, if one prefers, “full participation”) in the proposition itself. If something like this obtains, it stands to reason that a kind of “character-analysis” amounts to a condition of possibility of reading itself. Something to think on. Not, I believe, how we usually think of reading critical sources.
Very nice meeting you! Here is a five-minute excerpt from the longer video. Please forgive the quality. It was 2005!–David
DGB: this is really quite compelling; thanks for sharing.
Performance of Critical Texts Exercise
EVT: Coming into the exercise, I felt like I was in my “actor mode.” As a theater performer, I have always thought about characterization way too much; and I thought that when reading Ranciere I also needed to portray a character. The first time I read my selected text, such “character” that I had previously envisioned came across with my hand movements and gestures while also adding tone inflections while reading. Aside from the fact that it was my first time engaging with Ranciere in English (I had only read him in Spanish before and occasionally in French), I felt that I was “relearning” what he was trying to say while I attempted to perform his ideas. The first reading was comfortable since it occurred without interruptions; the second one allowed me to re-think and criticize on the spot that “characterization” I had in mind. This was because I was confronted with interruptions and misunderstandings from the audience, and needed to rework my ideas of performing this text immediately—I realized that the characterization I created was not as clear as I thought, or at least it was not for everyone else. Not being able to use my hands complicated the process of putting Ranciere’s points across with only his words (I realized that my hand movements served as a way to add to Ranciere’s words with some of my own). Finally, doing the exercise standing felt more of a performance to me; I was able to fully embody the text. Overall, this exercise was very eye-opening regarding my own understand of what performing a text means and how to characterize myself through the words of someone else.
LHP: I was captivated by the moments when I, as a viewer, met the gaze of the sitter. As a member of the audience, I was sitting, and the person in the chair, under inspection, the subject of the audience’s gaze, was also, yes, sitting. Both viewer and subject partaking in the same action, yet not interchangeable, except in moments of mutual gazing when the audience member is brought into the realm of the subject/actor. The viewer is put on the spot, the tables are turned, or shared. Perhaps Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present” from her retrospective at MoMA in 2010 (that 736-hour and 30-minute sitting piece) makes sense in this context. Although in this case the shared gaze would be more than a moment!
EFG: To switch the perspective from the sitter to the audience, I found it a really interesting exercise from my perspective as an audience member to be confronted with so many different ways of sitting. Particularly in the performances where the sitter actively made eye contact with individual members of the audience, I felt a very strong urge to look away as much as possible, to not observe the sitter. My inability to observe them while perceiving that I was being observed made me intensely aware of my own posture, my facial expression and how uncomfortable I felt. In the cases of those who made a point of not looking at the audience, particularly those who it seemed to me felt comfortable sitting before us (who didn’t draw attention to their awareness of their own performance), I felt far more free to observe the sitter. I looked not only at their face, their posture, but their entire body and its movements, or seeming lack of movement, the movement of their breathing. But this in turn made me aware of my position as a voyeur, or at least, in observing my aesthetic pleasure in watching them without being confronted by their observation of myself, I felt my watching turn into a voyeuristic act.
In being in the position of the sitter, I had planned to sing in my head a piece of music I know well, in order to give structure to the time and provide myself with something to fixate on to distract myself from becoming too acutely aware of my own performance. I was surprised at how difficult it was to sustain my concentration on the piece. I found it in the moment to be ineffectual — I was constantly being distracted by my awareness of my performance — but I think that perhaps this would get easier with practice.
EVT: While doing the chair exercise I felt that I needed “to act” more as a viewer than as the sitter. When being an audience member, it was unavoidable to interact with the sitter and I sometimes felt I needed “not to interact” as naturally with my classmates’ performances on the chair. I found it very interesting to see how that also was reflected when I was the sitter and looked at everyone else in the audience. As a sitter I took the approach of making myself feel comfortable, I even felt a little sleepy at times because the chair was very comfortable. This technique helped me “look more natural” although at times this naturality was broken by the artificiality of the interactions I gathered from the audience. I felt that we all did not want to be a source of distraction, make the sitter nervous or make him/her laugh; I found this understandable but interesting to watch. This also made me reflect on how “natural” we should/should not look while we perform and how that could be portrayed when we perform a text beyond traditional theater conventions (e.g. under Stanislavskian terms).
I found that the most compelling sitters were the ones that sat with a sense of expectation and anticipation–the ones you felt you had to watch because, at any moment, they might move, they might shift, and you had to watch in order to catch it. These were the sitters that, I think, had the most self-possession and felt most comfortable with the space of the stage, who were in control of all of their movements, who made not a single movement in vain. This means, I suppose, that these were the sitters who were most still: each little motion had to be so thoroughly earned that it could not have been otherwise.
I myself, on the stage, focused not so much on movement as on projecting emotion. For this reason I think my “performance” on the stage was a bit patchy; I did not know how to sustain the emotion over the entire allotment of time, nor did I know how to eliminate extraneous movement that did not further the convincing portrayal of the emotion. I was happy, however, with the use I made of my feelings of discomfort up on the stage: I channeled them toward my performance and thus controlled their expression.
PRE CLASS POSTS
Later this week, please note:
(We read some Tim Etchells stuff later in the term — specifically in CLASS FIVE)
Lee Colon & Enzo Vasquez Toral
Enzo V. Toral:
Moving from our conversation on Dramatic Platonism last week, Rokem invites us to pay attention to the encounters between philosophers and thespians. Similarly to our discussion last week, Rokem presents Plato as using theater-like devices to express philosophical thought. However, an aspect we might want to focus as well is the circumstances under which philosophers and thespians meet in the Symposium. In particular, Plato’s text portrays such encounter in a way that we see an intimate view of the character’s social life and their philosophical interactions. Another question I had while reading Rokem’s text is understanding thinking (and not just philosophy) as a performative exercise—in particular related to Benjamin’s performative storytelling—versus theatricalized thinking in philosophy.
Although not particularly related to Plato’s and Rokem’s texts, Stanislavski’s chapters for this week invites us to look at daily life to solidify acting. To me, in a way, Stanislavski’s invitation to create imaginary stories to objects and understand the emotional contexts of our interactions with people—and the world—is inherently a performative exercise, which then is translated in a more believable performance. In this context of imagination, how can we ground this performative thinking and attention towards dramatic action to philosophy?
These are just some thoughts that came to mind while reading the texts for tomorrow. I look forward to discussing more about these and other topics with you all! –Enzo
LC—Some thoughts to add on to Enzo’s and some passages that might help guide our discussion:
Rokem compares Brecht’s discussion of a car accident as a trigger for the actor in “The Street Scene” to a similar discussion of accidents in Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares (Rokem, 155-159). For Stanislavski, expressed through Tortsov, the collective emotional memory of the actor is a store from which he may draw upon onstage. Though we haven’t yet reached this section quoted by Rokem, chapter 5 contains a premonition that we might engage. Tortsov describes an old women carrying a caged canary in a baby carriage down the boulevard. He imagines the bird is the only companion she has left in the world. Struck by this image and the emotions produced by his imagined scenario, Tortsov states, “All this is more interesting and suited to the theatre than the actual truth. Why should I not tuck that impression into the storehouse of my memory? I am not a census taker, who is responsible for collecting exact facts. I am an artist who must have material that will stir my emotions” (Rokem, 93).
In what Rokem categorizes as the earliest encounter between a philosopher and thespians (Rokem, 21), Plato’s Symposium reflects, Rokem argues, Plato’s philosophical ideas. The text critiques narratives as but faded copies of eternal Ideas, so that even Plato’s own text does not propose to fully represent the truth (Rokem, 23). Information passes through a number of interlocutors, mirroring the relationship he theorizes between works of art and the truth, twice removed, copies of copies (23, references Book 10 of Plato’s Republic). The narrator recounts a story told orally to him by his friend, Aristodemes, who was not awake for the entirety of the period of time he describes and who cannot remember many of its details. This oration describes a series of orators who also recount what, in some cases, has been verbally described to them. Socrates’ speech, for example, deals in large part with a conversation he had with Diotima.
In addition to these levels of removal from the original event, if this can even be located, the information being conveyed is limited by several dramatic occurrences that serve as interruptions. Rokem points to two instances: the moment when Aristophanes is about to respond to Socrates’ speech and is impeded by a drunk Alcibiades knocking at the door, and the narrative’s conclusion, in which Socrates breaks off his argument, which states there can exist an author that writes well both comedy and tragedy, when he realizes both his listeners, the thespians Alcibiades and Agathon, have fallen asleep. Another significant example of interruption, which Rokem does not address, occurs after Alcibiades has finished his ode to Socrates and before Socrates praises Agathon, which the philosopher proposes to do along the logic of the oratory game they play, when a group of revelers storm into the room.
The revelers interrupt a shift in the game’s order as a response to Alcibiades speech, which Socrates accuses the actor of performing as a theatrical ruse meant to cause a fight between Socrates and Alcibiades in order to gain the affections of both. This event in the text is perhaps interesting to consider in relation to the the Moustrap and Dumbshow in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that utilize the theatre for philosophical goals, according to Rokem, to solve the emotional conundrum Hamlet faces and determine the truth (Rokem, 73-74).
Lastly, I want to reiterate two questions presented by Rokem in his introduction that resonated for me in relation to this course (Rokem, 5)—How can artistic practice be considered a form of research? What kind of thinking is produced by such artistic and creative practices?
DGB: everyone who does not know this piece by John Baldessari should check it out —
LC: The film essay is, perhaps, a recorded form of performance lecture. This essay in Frieze gives a fine overview of some of the work of its practitioners. A couple relevant examples:
Hito Steyerl, How Not To Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational. MOV File (2013)
DGB, commenting more on the above: “I LOVE THIS; MY KIDS LOVE THIS :-)”
Camille Henrot, Grosse Fatigue (2013)
NJW: Continuing with Matthew’s thought from last class of putting the text on stage as a method of reading, allowing the drama to unfold before our eyes and the implications that this theatrical approach has. I have found look at texts through Wagner’s Total work of Art (Gesamtkunstwerk), the unification of various systems of art in an effort to synthesise and utilize all the senses, as an interesting method of reading. His writing on the ‘mystic gulf’ has been a recurring theme for me of late:
“Between (the audience) and the picture to be looked at there is nothing plainly visible, merely a floating atmosphere of distance… while the spectral music sounding from the ‘mystic gulf’ like vapours rising from the Holy Womb of God beneath the Pythius tripod.”
If we also look at the etymology of the term Phantasmagoria (for what was Wagners opera house in Bayreuth if not a giant phantasmagoria made of hidden magic lanterns) we find, phanta (Greek) for Ghost, phantom and Agora (Greek) for “assembly” – to speak publically. Within such a framework we end up with a conversation between audience (Reader) and ghosts (Plato Nietzsche / Brechte etc.) in the midst of which sit our texts…
A great talk by Brigid Doherty on Rilke’s lecture on Rodin exemplifies this. Conjuring up the French Fable of Jacquo, the Monkey with a Magic Lantern, to explore Rilkes reconfiguration of the lecture as phantasmagoria…
Rilke calls attention to his predicament as speaker bereft of images of the subject of his speech (Rodin’s sculptures). He also will not speak the name ‘Rodin’ for…
“saying that name straight away would establish a friendship between us.. a warmth… (that) would make it appear as though I only seemingly set apart were speaking from among you, as if I were one of your voices”
… and she continues on to compare the ‘eyes of audience as lens of magic lantern’. The absence of photography means the audience dispenses images from its collective head (as the prior proliferation of Rodins images means that everyone in the room would be aware of his work). The absence of the object of ‘enquiry’ necessitate an invoking of phantoms from within the audiences ‘collective’ head.