[an expansion/cleaning up of ideas developed at york and cornish, now conn college…]
It’s too neat a division but let’s look at desire versus passion, as a way of getting at how art operates (before getting to our end in absolution), especially in terms of arts’ relationship with suffering. This is the basis of human life! I’m not making this up. It’s one of humankind’s oldest thoughts and bedrock to global religions and philosophies. This is not downbeat. Death as a tarot card signifies change. By suffering I mean change – I mean our carriage through time.
We’ve built a culture of desire, which is linear; it possible, practical and satisfied serially. It pursues the complete through consumption: hunger, fire. We’ve built this broadly and we’ve built this into our schools, which are on the free market and which array themselves like a market. We’ve built this into our plays, and linear dramaturgy is deeply consumerist. The exercise of individual discernment is now inevitably modeled on the shopping experience: which of the many choices displayed to me am I going to have? What goes into my bag? What will I expend to have it?
Even the making of fictions on behalf of social change can represent an effort to sustain desire and horde its satisfactions – to reward our experience of empathy and fix its cause. To sweep the flies from the eyes of babies and to make sure we never see anything but babies in distress. Our failure to complete, to completely fix, to correct, to cleanse, to remove, is, in these cases an insult to agency, that we look to redress again and again – a frustration rather than a meditative paradox.
The alternative faces us to beautiful chaos, where there is infinite diversity but none of it glossed, no part of it with a bar code. And rather than completing or extending a pattern in ourselves we already know, we could draw down hidden patterns – patterns we’ve never encountered or have utterly forgotten [the way the DNA of the Bubonic Plague was pulled, chemically, from cells out of the crushed teeth of medieval victims, using contemporary fragments as a way of hooking the primal].
This is passion, different from desire: it’s an opening onto mutual instability – fire in fire, light in light, water in water. Passion wants union rather than consumption; union is impossible – impossible to both be and be with the object of our longing; if it were to be satisfied it would be satisfied, once – but it won’t be… The moment of union is perfect darkness, the I/the eye can’t see – we move into the loss of satisfaction and consolation, rather than from achievement to achievement. It is possible, only in paradox. Passion opens onto compassion, a place emptied of ownership. Desire facing desire is a contest.
Quotations from Wallace Stevens – Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1942)
Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be
In the difficulty of what it is to be.
He tries by a peculiar speech to speak
The peculiar potency of the general.
To impose is not
To discover. To discover an order as of
A season, to discover summer and know it,
To discover winter and know it well, to find
Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all,
Out of nothing to have come on major weather,
It is possible, possible, possible. It must
Be possible. It must be that in time
The real will from its crude compoundings come.
To find the real,
To be stripped of every fiction except one,
The fiction of an absolute —
For him a kind of union is possible between observer and observed, artist and the world – but possible in fiction. Simone Weil says that reality and fiction are the same things – nature is a poetic reading out of the ground of being… So, union possible not in fiction, then (and the Greeks didn’t differentiate between science, history and poetry). Union – our power, our lovely purpose, is possible in creation, which is omni-disciplinary. It is anarchic – the way Occupy Wall Street is gorgeously without agenda for now, and with mortality as part of its beauty, will lose beauty as it gains usefulness.
In this territory (describing compassionate drama) I can’t quite say what I mean, which suggests I’m going in the right direction. As a student recently wrote in response to Weil’s essay on Evil: “I do not want to be evil, certainly. I do not want to be good, either. Out of the good and in service of the good have we pushed the good to become a false-good, something grotesque, a mechanism.” So desiring not be be either good or evil, but to be, trusting that existence is personal in a way we can’t describe and merciful in a way we can’t explain.
School should be shaped like a riot with undeclared goals and very clear actions, omni-disciplinary, involving and invoking troll-eyed stereoscopy and a change of heart that perseveres through mystery.
Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: An angel tries to frighten a diabolic poet into obedience with visions of damnation. The poet: “I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? he said, ‘between the black & white spiders.’” Exactly right. The poet lives between the printed word and its absence.
Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!
Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!
Meaning – they shouldn’t. Prayers pray and sorrows are a bottomless lake not a sequence.
“Opposition is true Friendship.
“Note: This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is my particular friend; we often read the Bible together in its infernal or diabolical sense which the world shall have if they behave well. For every thing that lives is Holy.”
Our passions are indifferent. In the Ignatian sense – we do not follow our own preferences on a path to ownership, but always expand our availability to creation, to the single, unified, permanent and impossible act of creation that intersects the individual only at the point of grace, which we can only admit at the limit of our poverty (spiritually – our humility).
Going back to Cohen: we’ve loved the bells fastened to the reins. The face we’ve loved is not the face we knew before we were born, when our bodies were like searchlights. We want, we want greedily, but want as love wants, not as we want… “Take this longing from my tongue – all these useless things my hands have done…” Sliding over to Van Morrison – live the loves that loves to love. “And everything depends upon how near you sleep to me” – There is outcome, there is assessment, but without hierarchy. Audience and author, social servant and the served, are as weak as each other, proximate with neither enclosing the other, or superseding the other in a hierarchy; mutual sleep.
Maybe not mysticism you can dance to, but mysticism you can sway to.
If we’re having trouble articulating a way to go may be to improve our in-articulation before we make the awful mistake of saying anything. It is the habit of nature to create at the point of weakness, as with a river, and in the study of massive failure, radical cracking we should fail absolutely, spiritually.
To flow forth, break. Break in yourself and always go towards brokenness – as the natural path of the human potency.
It is in the range of normal theater practice/art to seek out, confirm, and sustain community, and to convey information. But: this is not what art is best at. It is best at promoting conundrum, inefficiency, perplexity, argument and entrapment within wonder. I encourage social sciences and the law to pursue theater for what it is by nature – a problem; a worked out way of summoning the whole of ourselves to what is wholly impersonal and unreal in a conventional sense, but not in the true sense. This can spare partners (in interview, for example) re-traumatization – because we’re not repeating or revisiting events – we’re bursting them, not to change their difficulty – but to make space in them.
I believe that the vanguard of contemporary performance esthetics is searching out the form of the memorial.
Features of memorial writing – it includes: Mourning, memory, the void and the absolute/absolution.
A typical experience of memorial art:
Mourning: The “ordered incomplete” – testimony and information are put in new arrangements with no pretense at the encyclopedic. The account is admittedly broken. We build, but we build a ruin – a house with a corrupt roof and incomplete walls. (The ceiling of Nyamata retains its shrapnel holes and blood stains.) The shape is difficult to read (what were the exact dimensions? What was this room used for?) and impossible to live in for very long. The internet pretends to be a building but is really a ruin, like Eliot’s Wasteland or a Congolese cosmogram outlining monarchic succession – it will only ever be asymmetrical/incomplete. Even if it were to include smells, it will be a shadow, a description, broken down from what it describes.
Memory: The ruins are navigable. Spectators are given room in space and time to structure their own experiences (Soulographie = 17 plays, some played simultaneously – it is impossible to experience the whole sequence as an uninterrupted event. And play by play, the effort is towards a constellar dramaturgy, where the action revolves around a central way of knowing rather than moving towards the outline of a story).
The void: Navigation is known to be hopeless – progress is indeterminate, looping (the big middle of Lear is a model). The work spends a lot of time breaking.
The absolute/absolution: One can’t finish but one can leave.
We can’t do this. In any way. By “this” I mean art, and by “we” I mean the compact between collaborators, including inspirations and audiences. No work can take on suffering; it takes an infinite series – an infinity that bends to a circle, because linearity, when it’s finished, stops and is no longer dramatic. If it’s infinite, then it’s either imperceptible – we can only enter it by giving it a beginning and we end it when we name it – or like Einstein say, it turns into a circle anyway. Circularity can achieve itself and remain in motion in a few ways – Pi is unresolved, and a circle can spin on a central stillness – which is active and stable at the same time.
Ezekiel’s wheel, in its fourfold complexity, was the world’s sign – its problem (from Francisco de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet). The redemption was in the axle – which extends back into heaven. A wheel inside a wheel until there’s only the point of the wheel.
Looking face-on, it seemed to be a wheel – but it was actually a spiral – developing, always different from itself, breaking off (in the time of human perception). Not only will we fail together (if we’re lucky, if we get this right) – we will fail multiply, and fail incompletely.