borders and boundaries

[blessed to be at the ican conference in ireland, hosted by pauline ross and elaine forde of the playhouse in derry… giving a talk in a bit; notes below. some repetitions from recent and not recent posts. apologies; it takes me a long time sometimes to suck the jawbreaker down to where i can crack it.]



Outline – Hello; a mandate for interdisciplinary approach to social change; some of the ethical challenges facing the work.


A wave and a handshake.
At the heart of our project is this – this letting go, this mutual welcome, which, when real, is an invitation to ensemble. I open a and am less than myself when I’m armed; Shaking hands, I am not you (Henry Boda) – here’s proof; I am with you. This is the foundation of what we do, everything else we do is built up from this. We destabilize ourselves in some way in coming here – a conference is an empty hand, we are ready to change ourselves and to be changed, through actions of mutual witness. Maybe to be fully human is to be available to change; this defines social, emotional and physical health – a successful orientation to change. We promote sanity not so that the body or mind are immortal, but so that they have a future in their mortality; end of life care doesn’t defeat death but turns us to the way of it.


We make theater so that we may be ready to receive and promote change. Change is difference, diversity. We are not the furnishings in the house, we are the space in it. The closer we can be to an absence, the finer. More later.


A quick enumeration of projects –

ICAN is in ensemble with Arts in the One World, AOW is in partnership with Theater Without Borders, which is in league with Cynthia Cohen and Coexistence International – a group putting together a book of case histories on Art for Social Change, featuring Eugen Van Erven. AOW is an annual conversation I pull together on art and activism, complimentary with a summer trip I lead with students and practitioners to Rwanda and Uganda, where look in particular at the ways the performing arts are addressing healing from trauma. For myself, I’m a playwright, and I write extensively on genocide and violence. [Soulographie/VT]. The best these projects can do is witness. “Witness” pitches us to ethics.


An ameliorative project is most sustainable if it is formed according to the prayer it is praying. An organization seeking justice needs to be organized according to justice. A project’s true aims are revealed by the ways in which it is formed. We see theater dying when we see it built of death – when in fact it bases itself in linear time and money, instead of: trust, listening, lust and cunning, as it means to be. If we – theater workers, social scientists, activists of various stripe, are interested in clarifying presence – vanishing towards a perfect readiness for transformation – then we must make ourselves diverse (musical), disgraced (unattached to consolation – fame or the glamour of death), and diamond (a crafted transparency, lovely for the light that passes through). Diverse, disgraced, diamond.


Ethics looks at:

What we will, what we do, and what we accomplish (intend, execute, achieve).


Per our intentions: it’s a daily question, and so basic we overlook it… What are we doing? What do we want to do? The habit of art is to show a thing in action; action is revealed by oscillation – by vibrating the attention from background to foreground (different from one another), or by rapidly shifting the apparent position of a thing (as a plucked string – a moment is inviting and repellent at the same time; I think this is Derrida, but I could never make much sense of the guy). Crucial to metaphor, to oscillation, to the artistic effect is that we know the one thing – the string, the moment – to which we aspire. We make the moment vivid by complicating or tormenting it (surgically exploring it, harrowing/rehearsing it). We heal it by drawing our complications to an ultimate unity. Our work vitiates when we fail to aspire to unity, simplifying instead by pursuing a kind of inaction – theater of the okey doke (Laurie Carlos’ phrase) – or when we substitute the explosive sophistication of complexity for the inner heat in the sophistication of simplicity (when we try to make music by adding more strings rather than tuning them or even playing them). To what extent are we cloaking unexamined work in noble purpose, or softening the empiricism of a social science with art activity (versus meaningful art action)? Does our work suffer from too many agendas? Do we know our agenda?


About disgrace or humility: We can restate our purpose by saying that to teach presence is to teach seeing – our senses in all senses are open. We know that to see a thing is to change it. There are times when we want to change what we see; there are other times, as for example with testimony, when we don’t want to make a change. A common error in art, therapy and history is to try and get in there and make sense of what happened; to get it right, to make it right, often relative to our own experience and standards. Testimony is perfect. Trauma is perfect. We don’t have to take the testimony away from the survivor by converting it to a teachable moment. We don’t have to perform an alchemy that converts trauma to joy or switches out revenge for friendship. Swords will be beaten to plowshares – it is the same metal, and the plowing is so much struggle. Forgiveness is not always a sunniness of heart, a breaking down of guilt, but the ability to move forward with guilt. Someone who has killed will always have-killed, but can have-killed, and live, even live with the family of a victim – but not ever by pretending that the moment of killing has stopped killing. A witness, in one scenario, is empty, not looking even for the consolations of grace. By being with (not simply alongside, but in fellowship with) suffering, for example, we provide room for dramatic action – a space in which the trauma is not, a ground against which the trauma may move. I am not you; I can do that for you, and you will save me, because together we are in action, are visible to love (or whatever you call that-to-which-we-are-present, what it is).


Which leads us to the diamond sense – we refine our practice to make ourselves a vehicle for light – that we achieve nothing, but are delightful for the way perfect energy passes through us, in diversity, per facets. Our purpose is public. Weil: a right is deepest when it is most a human right, and not yours or mine. We seek out, in ensemble, that which is most human, in common, single and diverse in our work. We look to do less, have less, and be less, separately, so that we may participate more perfectly in the massive, coherent project of human creation.

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