please adjust your set
What might be the implications, for the ways some of us proceed to think arts practices, of the premise that established ways of knowing condemn us to inadequate ideas? What might be the implications, for those of us involved in or with art-making practices in one or another arts-marketplace, of the premise that inadequate ideas, produced and reproduced in the university, condemn practitioners to participate in the reproduction of inadequate ways of knowing? One example of the "set" to which my title refers, is provided by the apparently irresistible, even commonsensical reproduction of the couplet "theory and practice"; another linked and equally commonsensical set is brought by his old friend "mind and body".
The "Deleuzian challenge", notes one particular metacommentary, "is ... to think the difference between two incommensurable series", "preserving radical difference" instead of attempting to overcome it (Ian Buchanan, Edinburgh University Press: 2000). I ask what we might substitute for the inadequate (but perfectly commonsensical) formulation: "theory and practice", if it emerges that continuing, commonsensical use of these terms condemns all of us to inadequate ideas and ways of knowing.
Keynote Address, presented at
copyright © August 2002
"to think the difference between two incommensurable series"
I should start here tonight by apologising for what might seem to be an obsessive fretting about words when there are more important things to talk about and show, particularly here.
There is, as might be expected, a word for the condition of word-fretting, particularly when it manifests as an inability to answer a question without fretting about the way it is worded. The clinical term is hebephrenia, which refers to "disorganized bizarre, behavior with inappropriate affective expression". Its symptoms can include obsessive word-fretting which causes the 'sufferer' to stall and to turn in circles. On the other hand, despite some performance studies colleagues' preoccupation with death, trauma and deferred action, to which they return apparently obsessively, I should prefer not to pathologise a condition which has served me, now and again, as a professional qualification.
Nonetheless, I can't approach tonight's engagement without worrying at the way it has been announced, with plainly the best of intentions, on the web - as though on behalf of the Goat Island effect. In fact I am stalled on two claims of that announcement. The first is that the present symposium might aspire to enable us to "blur the distinctions between theory and practice"; and the second is that in so doing we might "encourage different approaches to creativity". I'd like to be able to operate here in terms of the organisers' avowed principles, with which I have considerable sympathy; but I wonder what exactly you understand the terms" theory" and "practice" to mean, in the present context.
My word-fretting, here, is actually political, rather than 'simply' pathological, in the sense that my concern is with the 'knowledge-political status' of certain modes of complex practice within the university as predominantly writing-based and writing-productive economy. In what follows I want to ruminate a little on the problem of words, grammatical and textual choices, and the machinery within which these are key operators, for those of us who, from within the university, are concerned firstly with those disciplines of a devised performance-making which can survive professionally in one or another arts-marketplace, and secondly with the evaluative apparatuses which we, and others, bring to bear upon these. I want to outline some details of performance-making knowledge-practices which Performance Studies rarely writes about, although they are constitutive, in my experience, of devised work which 'goes public'.
Particular practices and 'apparatuses' I'm concerned with here are those relating to the operations of disciplinary intuition in performance-making, of recognition, and of what Ulmer calls the "contingent register" of innovative practice (Johns Hopkins, 1994). My argument is that these are disciplinary skills largely marginalised in mainstream written accounts of performance practice; that they form part of the oral economy of performance practice; that they intertwine within the materiality of that particular economy; and that as such they have largely been excluded from a mainstream writing whose operations are by contrast irresistibly conservative.
Linked to the erasure of consideration of these operations from much published writing, is the generalised erasure of the curious arts of hypotyposis, which can roughly be described as relating to the production of a type of figuration "which makes present, to the senses, something which is out of their reach, not just because it does not happen to be there but because it consists, in whole or in part, of elements too abstract for sensory representation" (On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks, University of Chicago Press, 1979).
I am going to be so crude here as to say that wherever and whenever any of us sense magic in devised work, or experience a 'something' whose detail is finer or more complex or greater than what we actually have before us, then the practitioners have tapped in to the operations of a hypotyposis whose name has rarely appeared in performance studies texts published in the past 20 years. Why this omission? Because these operations, "consist in whole or in part of elements too abstract for sensory representation", causing the attempts at their naming to be located outside of the established orders of categorial calculation and nominalisation. They tend, as a consequence, to be located in meta-practices, rather than discursively. When represented in discourse, they tend to be identified in an critical, meta-theoretical discourse.
For these sorts of reasons, I need to fret, as well, at the promiscuity, in recent writing, of the terms "body" and "bodies of knowledge", for the apparently simple reason that these nouns, like their equally nominalised friends, attempt to confer thingness on what I have already described as modes of practice. In performance there is no such 'thing' as an unpractised "body", no body which is not a complex practice or set of practices - which to me means that the noun is far from precise in terms of the performance-professional. And bodywork in skilled performance, surely, is always more than, greater than, that everyday body to which the word defaults. (Hypotyposis, again…)
Use of such nouns and expressions is a matter of habit in some parts of the university, and to a lesser extent amongst those who enter into dialogue with the university, where however its terms may be differently interpreted. Their re-use on the pre-symposium web-site, however, reproduces the very problematic it thinks to confront. The habitual and effectively commonsensical reproduction of these nominalised terms - and of what they exclude or marginalise - should alert those of us whose work focuses on inventive and innovative performance-making, to the toxic load they carry. This repeated formulation, normalised, habitual, and ratified by a widespread and popular use, is nonetheless unworthy of the performance company it keeps.
In other words, their unproblematized re-use does more than its writer knows, and more conservatively than its writer may be aware. If innovative performance-making practices challenge or at least enquire into some aspect of the machinery through which they are produced and reproduce, it remains the case that both the obedient and highly conservative reproduction of specified lexical items, syntactic patterning and textual structures, and the categorial calculation which these encode, are unlike the work they seem to champion. The expression "theory and practice", that is to say, is condemned by its own nouns or nominalism, by the categorial aspiration which can be inferred from it, and the desire for synoptic order in the face of change and disappearance, which repeated uses also encode. Nominalism, Merleau-Ponty has argued, involves "the reduction of meaning to the misinterpretation of vague resemblance or to the meaningless of association by contiguity" (Phenomenology, Routledge 1999:15) (15). Live performances are by contrast action-based, rather than noun-based.
My sub-title tonight is "dis-eased writing from the interface zone". The interface zone to which I refer is unfolded between - and thereby itself marks out - two sets of practices, one of which, reputedly rigorous, coherent, critical, analytical, aspires from within the university, to overtake the other, on whose creative invention and innovation, however, it depends. There is nothing innovative in my claim that one set of practices aims, with the best of intentions, to homogenise, in and through writing, what needs to be viewed as an other, incommensurable series that is performance. That claim was made, and made again, in the 1970s, in a variety of contexts critiquing logocentrism, but apparently only to the effect that, associated with one or another political aspiration, certain terms and the tenor of the engagement changed, but not the reproductive machinery itself.
Writing continues to write its own codes and conventions, whatever else it may claim to 'be about'. It does so to such an extent that, within Performance Studies in the university, the means of its production and reproduction remain in place, not simply in the seminar, but in what is taken into, and - in part - produced out of the workshop or rehearsal space. One outcome of this state of affairs, I want to argue, is that the perspectives adopted by performance studies continue to mean that, even in the workshop, they are unable to articulate exactly what innovative performance-making practices themselves theorise through complex action; how they theorise as mixed-mode actional engagement, without necessary recourse to explanatory text-production; what the knowledge-bases and modes of operation of live mixed-mode theoretical practices might be, when that practice has also to operate as performance in terms of the evaluative apparatuses which are engaged in one or another arts-marketplace.
The enquiry I propose is thus necessarily meta-practical, and meta-praxiological. It practises an enquiry into other practices and their own "logics of practices". As such, I want to identify it as one aspect of a larger enquiry into mixed-mode theoretical practices, some of which are performance-disciplinary. It requires of us in the university a number of adjustments, to discursive habits, to the commonsensical reproduction of ancient dramatic scenarios through reproduction of the lexical and syntactic options employed in their staging. These adjustments are painful - hence my dis-ease - precisely because the discursive reflex is internalised, naturalised, habitual, and at the same time applauded - at least, within the university.
Those of us who currently occupy the interface zone between two incommensurable series are necessarily two-faced, because we look in at least two directions at once (at performance and at writing), whilst professing on subjects like liminality and the subversion of dominant codes, to a peer and student audience. As two-faced babblers, full of the talk of subversion, as Jon McKenzie has argued (Perform Or Else, Routledge 2000), but without the fact, and ever-ready with a neatly turned sentence or two, we are also single-minded practitioners of a writing which is obedient, auditable, conservative of its own codes and conventions, within the university. We are also often teachers - a role some of us tend to shrug off in places like this, calling ourselves, instead, performance analysts - and we are dangerous, firstly because our modes of practice are resource-efficent and transportable, neatly folded into pages or on screens; and secondly in the sense that we reproduce certain tendencies upon a captive audience, often with an old-fashioned missionary zeal.
I have claimed elsewhere - and no round of applause was forthcoming - that what many of us in the university are engaged in is in fact the delineation, production and reproduction of "spectator studies", under the guise of performance studies. I have nothing against spectator studies, provided they are prepared to speak their name as such, but as far as I can tell, they represent a largely sedentary and extremely programmable mode of production by consumption, rumination and projectile excretion. I wouldn't pay to watch them.
In addition, I would argue that those who practise spectator studies only see what spectators can see. And they tend then to reproduce, often implicitly, the schematic circumstances which stage that insight - as though these limited circumstances might account for performance practices themselves. What spectators can see, generally speaking, and attempt to reproduce in words - as though this might account for the operations of performance - is their own relationship to a performance product.
On the basis of that relation to a product however, performance-making processes can only be intuited, inferred and/or guessed at, through percepts that are specific to this spectatorial position. Or there may also be an attempt at extrapolation on the basis of students' own performance-making - one which is rarely equipped to operate in terms of extra-university disciplinary criteria. The performance-making disciplines, as a consequence, are necessarily poorly inferred by student performance-makers in the university. When they are required to make 'their own work', and assessed on it, I want to put the question: "from what source have they learnt performance-making processes and how to apply them?"
This impoverishment as far as the grasp of performance-making is concerned, is increased precisely because the factors involved in performance decision-making, as distinct from their outcome, are not available to spectating. Spectators by definition cannot see practitioner-intuitions after the event of their emergence, nor can they identify, from the product, the constituitive operations of contingency, choice or luck. This is because what resulted from disciplinary intuition and contingency has been incorporated into performance, or abandoned, on the basis of its being tested and tested again in composition. In matters of composition, intuitions are played out in terms of the macro- and micro-logics of disciplinary practice, and in terms of signature. Thereafter the performance can thematize intuition, on behalf of spectators, but generally speaking, it cannot demonstrate its disciplinary operations. (Forced Entertainment's Speak Bitterness provides one rare example where performer intuitions are staged as they emerge, as part of the mise en scène.)
The operations of performance-making intuition, their moment of emergence, and their identification and exploitation of contingent factors, have rarely been available to spectating (although some elements of these may be recorded by practitioners). On the other hand, many of the details and the 'story' of their operation remain, after the show, within practitioners' own command. Here we find, once again, two incommensurable knowledge-sets (that of practitioners and that of spectators), which seem to meet in the third space of 'the same' performance event, from which each however differs again. (On this basis, I have argued that Peggy Phelan's notion of performance ephemerality (Routledge 1993) is flawed; it has to do with spectating and spectator studies of product, and not with performance-making.)
It follows similarly that a 'performance semiotics', once again performed from the position of spectatorship - which in the university at least aims also to be a "logic of culture" focused on the subject and the social - mis-takes its own starting-point, mis-takes its aspirations and its own modes of production, for 'the performance thing itself', whereas the 'performance event itself' has already made good its get-away. As others have pointed out, this spectatorial intervention tends to mistake effect for cause.
I want to conclude this introductory section with the observation that the expression "theory and practice" itself, once we shift out of, or 'without' the university, should be viewed, especially here, as what Katherine Hayles calls a "skeuomorph"; that is, a "design feature that is no longer functional in itself, but that refers back to a feature that was functional at an earlier time". All we need to say here, with a shrug, is that the expression "theory and practice", still a matter of habit within the university, is not useful to it, when performance comes into play (Hayles 1999:17). The most useful alternative, in my own experience, emerges from a slight adjustment: from "theory and practice", to theoretical practices, which, in the case of performance-making, I should want to further qualify to read "mixed-mode theoretical practices".
from "theory and practice" to mixed-mode theoretical practices
What precisely is 'wrong with' the expression "theory and practice"? The implications of nominalism provide one indication. But a second comes from etymology: there are no etymological bases, in Ancient Greek usage, for"theory" to be habitually understood to mean writing in expert registers, detachable from the practices of the writer, hence context-transcendent. Theoria, in Ancient Greek, referred both to the action of observing and contemplating, and to the solemn procession of the ambassadors who performed those actions.
The theor himself, as ambassador, public functionary, traveller and witness, saw the sights, saw for himself, got a world view, consulted an oracle or two, or performed a religious rite on his way. The "first recorded 'theorist' in Western history", Ulmer has pointed out, was Solon, a "Greek sage" who lived around 550BC in the city of Athens (120). His reporting back was oral rather than written; his presence authorised its power, by performing it. How long did it take, for authorised performance techniques to be internalised, so that they seemed to be immanent to that performer's body, and to attach to his name? The theor's performance was embedded within a ritualised event, performed, it is noted, "with ostentatious pomp", and he thereby gave his listeners the benefit of his acts of observation, contemplation, speculation and reflection, actions linked etymologically to the term "theoria". My simple proposition, in these terms, is that we interpret "theory" as a set of actions, performed by somebody competent, which are themselves complex acts of contemplation, speculation and reflection, and attributable to a particular signature, rather than the outcome of these (although performance, including the performer, is also that).
The theoretician, in other words, was live, and present in Ancient Greece, and ostended his own authority to report back plausibly. "Others", adds Ulmer, "could see and make claims, but their reports would merely have the status of 'perceptions'" rather than public witness. "The term implied a complex but organic mode of active observation...that included asking questions, listening to stories and local myths, and feeling as well as seeing. It encouraged an open reception to every kind of emotional, cognitive, symbolic, imaginative and sensory experience". The best word for "theoria" in English, Ulmer adds is "curiosity" (121).
Can we say that the theor as practitioner radiated with that curiosity; that he worked and ostended his own aura and enquiry? That it combined elements of hypotyposis such that it could be interpreted as conceptual, propositional, intuitive, affective and reflective, as well as 'world-creating' - as some of us might have wanted to conclude of recent work of Robert Wilson, Robert Lepage, and Ariane Mnouchkine, among others? If this is the case, then it would seem that I am also declaring that this work was both singular, and signed, a singular, signature event, as well as "scientifically definable", according to Deleuze and Guattari (1991:24) "in relation to a particular axis [or axes] of reference" (D&G:24) and recorded as such in recent theatre history.
In this case, it might be appropriate to remark that the theor as mixed-mode theoretical practitioner - for such he was - was not just any body, nor simply some body; not the simple bearer of a body of knowledge - as though there might 'be' a knowledge-body, anonymous, universal, transcendant, as distinct from knowledge-practices - but rather a singular, invested, signature-bearing and performative bodywork practitioner; a bodyworker, known as a sage.
What does it take, for a mixed-mode practitioner to be identified as a sage? What was it that Solon publicly rehearsed, in a public space, such that wisdom was either intuited or inferred by onlookers and listeners? My supposition is that there are two initial responses, both of which are linked to hypotyposis: the first is his explicit or implicit manipulation of that mode of figuration such that he reveals more than he performs - seems indeed to 'magick a world up', magisterially. The second relates to different spectators' ability to take up and constitute a further meaningful figuration 'of their own', derived through the operations of hypotyposis, in terms which are those specific to (individually-lived) possible experience. In both instances, what is produced is greater and finer and more vivid, assembled on the basis of particles which are more diffuse than what in performance can readily be accounted for.
More important, than this accounting is the ability to create the circumstances within which the spectator experiences a degree of "affinity" or even "empirical fit", providing channels in performance through which insight might be experienced. According to Ulmer "insights arise out of the perculiar way memory stores information in 'emotional sets'", gathering disciplinary knowledges "into categories classified not in terms of logical properties", but in feelings themselves, "based in eccentric, subjective, idiosyncratic physiognomic perceptions" (142). But I'll come back to these.
juggling "insights" ...
I have attempted, in what follows, to lay something I've taken from Ulmer (1994) over my own reconfiguration of material taken once again from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? (Verso, 1994). Of particular interest to me in the latter is their notion of knowledge through intuition and knowledge through the "construction of concepts within possible experience". They write, after Nietzsche, that:"[Y]ou will know nothing through concepts unless you have created them - that is, constructed them in an intuition specific to them: a field, a plane and a ground that must not be confused with them..." (7).
Juggling these notions, I want also to try to identify the currently available sum of macro- and micro-logical production-processes of performance to disciplinary criteria as the plane or ground or field, within which and in whose terms the processes of intuitive knowledge and knowledge constructed as devised performance-making concepts are forged. The simplest gesture or direction of the gaze, in performance, is co-determined on the one hand by macro- and micro-logics of performance production and on the other by the impress of signature onto the practitioner's intuition or emerging performance concept.
For the moment, however, I want to hold on to the set of actions which under the heading of "theoria" includes observation, contemplation, speculation and reflection, in order to ask at what historical moment, and following upon what cultural circumstances, was one part of that complex act of signed public performance hived off from its event; separated from he who practised it in public - as well as from those who observed it and ratified its importance - and from the energised presence and bodywork which guaranteed part of its authority? At what moment, and on what basis, did the university - and especially those parts of it renowned for their interest in and application to experimental practice - slip into the habit of identifying certain expert registers of writing as "theoretical", and separating these out from certain expert registers of performance-making, which were thereafter identified as "practical". And why maintain this historical error of judgement, when it is in the interests of so many of us here, including the working artists amongst us, to assert something quite different?
Indeed, some of the artists present already do assert it in/as their work, which makes me wonder what is wrong with the university's perceiving apparatuses. What prejudice is operating here, and is it simply that prejudice identified by Ong (Orality and Literacy, Routledge, 2001) and Ulmer as linked to the technologisation of certain complexities of the word, within industrialised and science-rich economies? I tend to think that this is probably the case, but at the same time, such a 'dramatisation' of technologisation and the pre-technologised is equally too easy, and especially so if we want to account for what seems to be habitual, even amongst the supposedly enlightened.
If the theor was once a practitioner driven by curiosity, whose work shifted from observation and contemplation, through speculation, ritual obedience, public procession and reporting back within an oral economy, and if that work was metaphorically 'signed', as singular, what was it that occurred to cause the theorist's name to be associated, instead, with writing as a preferred and highly economical mode of production of symbolic capital, within the scriptural economy?
I mentioned Walter Ong's early 1980s enquiry into the technologisation of the word achieved through writing, to which a number of other worthies have added their own late 1970s and 1980s accounts. I want to shift my own enquiry sideways from that time of writing, in order to suggest first that - as I have hinted - paged writing is also practised, when it is read, and reconfigured by another reader in terms of her or his intuition as well as her or his intellectual grasp of it. Hence there are no ongoing bases for a romanticisation of the oral economy as practice-based before the word was technologised. Plainly, oral economies have their own techne - regulating the production, distribution, and evaluation of complex practice. What might need to looked into, from these perspectives, are some of the apparatuses and operations and operators of production, the machines, which characterise and regulate, albeit differently, both the oral and the scriptural economies. But live practices in oral economies are notoriously difficult to track down and to record, not least when we start from the supposition that these practices are both disciplinary and singular.
My contention is that some professional practitioners do exactly this sort of work and that the action formations which can be discerned in devised productions are human-focused, multi-dimensional instantiations which experiment in those terms. These instantiations present certain reflections on these sorts of questions through the decisions made in performance-making. In order to separate this mixed-mode theoretical practice from what has been called "conceptual art", I would list Wooster's recent work, that of Lepage and Robert Wilson and some of the work of the Théâtre du Soleil, DV8 and Complicite, as master-practitioner theorisation, which enacts its own contemplative, speculative and indeed conceptual engagement as the work itself. Their engagement as performance is located in a space momentarily marked out between writing and orality, as well as "within possible experience" - which reminds us that its instantiation is human (e.g. 'the performer', 'the director'), with all that the term implies.
the bird as event...
Where does Goat Island fit into this framework? Perhaps on the basis of an apparent affinity, of what Bourdieu in the late 1970s called a "theoretical disposition"? I am supposing that Bourdieu's "theoretical disposition", despite his aspiration to outline a theory of practice, remained writerly in its own prejudices. Nonetheless, I want to interpret "theoretical disposition" here in schematic as much as in argumentational terms. My suggestion is that some mixed-mode disciplinary practitioners tend to recognize, in the ways Bourdieu's writing 'works', some sense of "empirical fit", between on the one hand a complex word-thing, which seemed to offer the reader the possibility to "construct concepts within possible experience", and on the other her or his skill in devising other practices which similarly "construct concepts", but mixed-modally, "within [performance-making as] possible experience".
In full hebephrenic episode, when I stall on lexical choice, syntactic and textual choices, I have been able to note that certain expert registers of writing mark out and enable their writers and readers to seem to engage, schematically, - as though in reading, they are anticipating a performance to come, an event of experience which might be transferred from the close confines of the book to those of skilled performance making. Something is folded into this writing and can be unfolded into imaginary spaces. After the work of Deleuze and Guattari, I want to call this multi-faceted 'tendency' "the bird as event". Some writing, in other words, can make some readers seem to fly.
I want to argue that what can be identified as the macro- and micro-logics of performance-making by certain identified practitioners, regardless of the fact that it is always "definable in relation to a particular axis [or axes] of reference" (D&G:24), always also draws, in order to mark out its singularity, on the highly disciplined and indeed professional intuitive and conceptual knowledge-practices of expert practitioners. I have briefly also mentioned actions in the contingent register, and the forces of recognition in the development of new work. When any practitioner working in devised mode juggles these, as each does, seeking as she does so after singularity as well as disciplinary mastery, she is far from any sense of practice which might be given as inherent, or inert, as is suggested by terms like "the body" or "bodies of knowledge".
Expert bodywork by the singular and signature-bearing practitioner, kept on edge by the demands of invention and innovation in one or another arts-marketplace deserves better than a habitual and commonsensical wording of the outcome of devising. In writing about the logic or logics of invention, Ulmer notes the role to be played by contingency, chance and luck in - for example - devised performance making. Disciplined and expert bodywork-focused engagement in devised performance-making seems to me also to be dependent upon the expectation that something might emerge which has not yet been experienced, but which will be recognised and taken up as performance material. In this sense neither its subject can be pre-determined, nor what predicates it. How then can we think to name "it", as though it were already logically-stabilized?
It is difficult to articulate the terms of this challenge without slipping into humanist metaphor and/or metaphysics - and after all, why not do so? Deleuze and Guattari's metaphor, "bird as event" seems to me to participate in both, and to be meaningful in terms of performance juggling, of the performance-unknown-(but expected), the rare moments of an inuition which works and can be used. The only reason not to slip into these registers lies with the interests of the academic who is eavesdropping at the door, and who is quick to pick up the humanist metaphor - as though it might be detachable from the circumstances of mixed-mode intersubjective practice which enable it, because words have more generally been seen, by that academic, to be detachable.
The challenge and the terms of the engagement I have set out here are meta-praxiological, and need to be identified as such. Their writing is laborious, as well as dis-eased, and requires a particular economy of practice which is in part solitary, long in duration, and narrow in its focus. If mixed-mode practitioners do not care to take it on - and why should they, since the problem is hardly theirs - the metapraxiological engagement may fall to those of us who are professional writers and teachers. Perhaps some of us have been slow to acknowledge, from within the university, that theoretical writing which is publishable is expert, institutionally determined, and 'professional' in its practice and processes. Interestingly, mastery within writing's own sets of codes and conventions may however be more like creative practice produced in terms of disciplinary criteria, than some of us are keen to admit.
We writers also need, in this case, to tidy our own professional practices, to render them explicit and auto-reflexive, if we seek the rights, as well as the means, to approach mixed-mode performance practices as equally 'theoretical', but incommensurable with hegemonic modes of theoretical practice in/as writing. Established writing-based, post-technologised-wordings are still accustomed, as I am now demonstrating, to seek to homogenise mixed-mode experience through a conventionally mono-modal writing, but to their cost.
I want to mark this anticipation of a conclusion by returning to the terms 'composition' and 'singularity' - words which are as rarely indexed in Performance Studies texts of the late 20thC as is 'intuition'. That these terms rarely get a mention in the index of these texts is worth noting, as are the facts that 'conceptual' is largely subsumed into "conceptual art", while the term 'diciplinary' is hung about with historically specific scare marks. Typically 'intuition' figures three times in Jon McKenzies' index to his Perform or Else (Routledge 2000), where it is generally linked with the qualifier "non-rigorous".
I was intrigued to discover that Deleuze and Guattari, in What is Philosophy?, together with Umberto Eco's Kant and the Platypus (Secker and Warburg, London, 1997) and Ulmer's Heuretics - none of which is specifically concerned with performance-making - have identified in knowledge-practice terms, not only 'intuition', but 'recognition' and, in Eco and Ulmer at least, 'judgement'. In place of judgement, in D&G, we find something they call "taste" as an apparently unifying 'force', along with questions relating to sentences, concepts, propositions, the plane of immanence, and "composition".
In these writers many of the particular aspects of experience with which I have been struggling here are approached as being both "of the code", "irreducible to the code" itself, yet regulated by the code's terms, conditions, and possibilities. In this sense they recall the operations of hyptyposis in performance as well as the intertwining of performance intangibles with the macro- and micro-logics of performance production. How curious that what I was looking for on behalf of performance-making knowledge-practices has more usefully appeared in what might be called 'meta-philosophical', 'meta-epistemological' treatises, dating from the last decade of the 20thC, rather than in the texts more specifically concerned with the niceties of spectator studies in performance.
Both Eco and D&G present highly metaphoric writing in the texts noted. This register indicates, among other things, that philosophy, which we might want to say is practised everywhere, is equally characterised by an ongoing struggle with and within the writing that rehearses it. That struggle can in part be identified as a difficulty in identifying a subject (of the clause) and its object (within the predication of subjects that the production of clauses requires).
D&G consistently return to terms like "intuition" and "concept", which I have argued here can be related to devising practices in performance-making. I want to juggle these terms briefly and wholly inconclusively in an attempt to see whether they begin to offer elements of a written approach to the compositional strategies and tactics of a professional devised-performance-making which is both a mixed-mode theoretical practice and one characterised by the fragility of its knowledge-bases as well as its auto-reflexivity. In so doing, I want to signal that in professional performance-making the fragile and fleeting knowledge practices of intuition and performance conceptualisation are rendered rigorous through a compositional engagement with the macro- and micro-logics of performance production. The mode of production to which I refer here always also entails decisions involving questions of judgement.
In D&G's What is Philosophy? the word "composition" appears a number of times in the chapter entitled "Percept, Affect, and Concept" (pp. 163-200). It interests me less in this particular chapter than does its implication elsewhere in their account of philosophy. Leading up to the chapter mentioned, the writers attempt to distinguish between intuition and concept in what might be called 'composition in philosophy itself'. The writers note that intuition is located on the plane of immanence, whereas "concepts", with which intuitions are nominally contrasted, at least, are "intensive features" through which the philosophical 'itself' can be constituted(39).
They go on to describe the concept as "the event: not the essence or the thing...". But to what "event" do they refer? "It is like the bird as event" (21), they respond, rather than the bird as such, or the notion of 'birdness'. The concept is defined by "the inseparability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speed." (21) - much as the bird as event, one might conclude, is both finite (we can catch it in a glance), heterogeneous in its contributory parts (these include bird-matter, but also flight, height from the ground, air, and so on), where these together traverse and are traversed by movement, direction, speed, and, arguably, volition. Concepts are " 'absolute surfaces or volumes', forms whose only object is the inseparability of distinct variations". (21)
"The concept is therefore both absolute and relative: it is relative to its own components, to other concepts, to the plane on which it is defined, and to the problems it is supposed to resolve; but it is absolute through the condensation it carries out, the site it occupies on the plane, and the conditions it assigns to the problem." It is, they continue, "finite through the movement that traces the contour of its components".
Intuitions - those which seem suddenly to emerge in the conditions contingent to performance-making - are given in contrast as relating to "elements of the plane [of immanence]". I might once have identified this "plane of immanence" as 'theatricality', or as 'performance in general'. On that plane of immanence, out of which the performance-recognisable will emerge, intuitions, according to D&G, are "diagrammatic features". These are calculated, in my experience at least, in terms of that domain 'theatricality' or 'performance in general'. I can envisage 'theatricality' or 'performance', before I experience it anew. With reference to it, intuitions are "movements of the [performance] infinite", which seem to proliferate without a halt until they meet the material and aspirational bases for real production.
Performance-making concepts - whose formulation follows this meeting, providing a halt in that proliferation - mark out something like performance-compositional building blocks, of what might be called 'invested materiality'. These will be retained, or not, in the ongoing processes of performance-making. The Deleuze and Guattarian "concept", in this sense, gives us the "intensive co-ordinates of these [intuitive] movements, like original sections or differential positions". They are original, because they retain elements of the intuition; but they are differential in that these are now applied to the available materiality, which is regulated in turn by the logics of its operations from the perspective of production, and by the operations of taste and judgement. Concepts, thus, are "finite movements in which the infinite is now only speed".
Each of these finite movements, in turn, can be seen to "constitute[...] a surface or a volume, an irregular contour marking a halt in the degree of proliferation". The identification of these surfaces, volumes and contours, in performance-making, is rendered difficult to the extent that performance as we know it tends to entail a live human instantiation. This instantiation brings with it, almost irresistibly, all of the notions of the human and the human interface to which identity politics,critical anthropology, human geography, biology, sociology and psychology have drawn our attention. I have watched practitioners at work in devised performance composition and in choreography, arrive at a sense of this "halt in the degree of proliferation", which they often justify in terms of human experience. "Concept", after all, coming from the Latin, conceptus, signals a grasp of something; but whereas the dictionary suggests that this grasp entails an intellectual representation, I prefer to identify the halt involved and the chunk obtained as specific to the various schematisations performance-makers and performance viewers obtain and retain through experience of the world.
Can we review the performance-intuitive and the performance-conceptual, at this stage, and in spite of the traps posed by human instantiation, in terms of the notion of the diagrammatical and of multi-schematisation? Although it is easy in commonsensical terms to conflate schematics with diagrammatics, I want to retain the separation between the two which their naming reinforces, in order to return firstly to the notion of incommensurable sets, and secondly to the notion of a temporal progression, in performance-making, which takes up once again the separation D&G have allowed, between the performance-intuitive and the performance-conceptual.
2. between performance intuition, performance machinery, and the person of the professional
I want to argue that in the ongoing process of devised performance-making, 'theatricality' is necessarily internalised and retained by the director (just as 'dance' is retained as a performance-plane of immanence by the choreographer). The diagrammatic is obtained in the actual performance-making pursued in the rehearsal or workshop; and in these conditions and circumstances, the diagrammatic is shared - although its particulars differ - by the different practitioners. (Indicatively, the director can see the whole, including the individual performer's role and place in it; whereas the performer cannot see herself as the other sees her, nor, in the live, what is behind her. Her diagrammatic grasp is literally self-centred and centring.)
The diagrammatic, from this point of view, is a multi-dimensional action plan, understood to be provisional, and worked in the actual circumstances of pre-production. These 'actual circumstances' necessarily include whatever is provided by the macro- and micro-logics of performance production. To provide some sense of the latter, I want to direct your attention to what looks like an architectural diagram of a working theatre 1.
You need to consider, in viewing this diagram, that what conventionally appears to be architectural, is actually a multi-planed, macro- and micro-logically-organised, account of a technologically 'rich' theatre production space; an operating model, so to speak, of theatre production processes, logically-stabilized and instantiated in this illustration as a spatial construct, through architectural representation.
When we return to the Mnouchkine rehearsal process recorded in Le Soleil Même la Nuit (to which I refer in "Entertaining Other Options..."2 ), and relocate it within this diagrammatical representation of theatre production processes, it seems to me that we can begin to move from the human and psychologised plane, with which this particular video invites us to engage, onto the plane of production logics in their relationship to performance signature. That Mnouchkine as theatre professional has wholly internalised the macro- and micro-logics of performance production, such that her very gaze and sustained interrogation are informed by these, should start at this point to become clear - despite the fact that the video makers cannot seem, at this point in the process, to leave the plane on which the personalised professional engagement between director and actors is instantiated; despite the fact, secondly, that the actors themselves, in this aesthetic and professional tradition, can rarely separate their professional engagement from their person and the performance of their own vulnerability within the professional.
In these circumstances, it should become clear that the directorial knowledge-bases, and those of the actor, if we take them to their polar extremes, are incommensurable, although they are fitted together to make performance. The directorial knowledge-bases and modes of practice are necessarily regulated by the macro- and micro-logics of production processes, although they are incommensurable with these. Decisions derived here are overlaid upon, and inform, the human negotiations centred, one after another, on individual performers, to facilitate their making the jump from where they have started (performance-making habit) into the signature-marked Tartuffe which the Mnouchkine undertaking (or the Liz le Compte undertaking for Phedre, or the Robert Wilson undertaking for Stindberg or Marguerite Duras), seeks to produce.
In each of these cases, the directorial function is a matter of juggling intuitive processes, schemata and material availability, to produce those shared diagrammatic "accounts" which progressively mark out the rehearsal production processes specific to the engagement of the different performance-makers. "Intuitions", from this perspective, are "directions that are fractal in nature", whereas concepts, in relationship to performance-making schemata, are "absolute dimensions, intensively defined, always fragmentary surfaces or volumes". (40) In Ulmer, meanwhile, we find this: "intuition uses emotion to encode information redundantly across all the perceptual modes" (143) "The [sensed or felt] trigger or catalyst", he writes, which causes "'recentring' (creating a pattern of redundancy between two unrelated [and arguably incommensurable] sets3]", tends to be an almost recognisable "body posture or movement", a kinesthetic thinking which consists in a "mental feeling of, [for example], the textures, contours and consistency of the environment" as practitioners experience it. He goes on: "[i]t is not that the solution-set has no logical consistency with the problem-set, but that this consistency may go unnoticed until a 'feeling calls attention to it'".
"The sudden recognition", Ulmer suggests, "produces a strong feeling of certainty, of being 'right', a feeling of 'knowing', which Bastick (1982:73) names 'judgement'": the "correctness of an intuitive product", he argues, "is judged by the intuiter according to the release in tension, anxiety, and frustration afforded by the product. This judgement based on body reference is necessarily subjective... As some evidence is subliminal and all experiential evidence has subconscious associations, it is not possible to verbalise all the evidence used in deriving an intuitive product", even if it is the case - as it is for disciplinary performance-making - that this "product" is also derived when intuited 'material' is subjected to the conditions of performance-making, to performance conceptualisation, the logics of production and, finally, to spectators themselves (Ulmer 1994:143).
1 Le Petit Larousse Illustré, Dictionnaire Encyclopédique, Larousse, Paris,1996, p.1005
3 I am emphasising the term "set" here, and in what follows. The word is unemphasised in the source text.
Background image of Bristol copyright © John Robinson, 2002.
Page last updated 2nd August 2003.