A Manifesto for the Patient
"Man wird oft von einem Word behext"
[One is often bewitched by a word]
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty
Welcome to the heap. This is a tool for thinking about words and time. It is made particularly to address the question of assembling words to be spoken and sung in performance. Underlying this heap of passages is the notion that performance is above all meant to create a space of presence that is otherwise unusual in daily life, and further that this presence, the interior of a play, is built of words, which is the arena of the past. That is, language is our entire access to time other than the now time. So I propose a heapish technique of making theater that attunes to the fullness of the word.
A Word is a Jupiter
Inexplicable is not unintelligible
Theater is to Stand and Say while Seen
The Heap is a Ghost Cabal
Thinking at a Distance
Death and Magic
Understanding is a Tether
The House of the Work is the Heap
Thinking is Seeing
Rescue=orphism -or- when is a word not a word?
Composition as Constellation
Sense is Local; Holes are Emotional
Landscape Plays 1
Landscape Plays 2
The Virtue of Strange Constellating
November Cat Panic
The World Worlds
History is a heap of remembered presences and reproduced forms. This medium of the heap is language. So history is not what has been, but what has been made articulate in language, what has been seen, perceived, thought. The heap exists only insofar as the past exists: it is no longer real, but it nudges and pushes at our present. An immaterial archive. Estimably junky. Uberproliferate. Jungly and fat.
It is only possible to meet the heap through presence. It is only possible to meet the heap insofar as it nudges and pushes at us at all nows. When we enter presence of mind when we stop behaving in terms of purpose and start behaving in terms of perception. A play should ask exactly this of its two durational lives--the one being the writing of it, the other being the doing of it. Purposefulness is a sad thing to do to a play. How it undermines the possibility of ringing into the present. When we fail to meet the heap in the present, when we don't even look for the heap by turning our real perception toward things, a cloud of torpor floats in and obscures the shape of the heap. So simulacrum, which is repeated perception without work, experienced as reality, is a kind of cataract on memory.
Both performance and writing must be acts of presence, that is, presence is not limited to the performance itself.
We cannot see the heap. Rather we can perceive the ghostly play of the heap at the edges of things: the trees and creatures and travelers that leave their traces in the wood the boards the floor, the orbital rings that mimic the rings of the wood, all the axes and all the carpets, all the carpet weavers. All these things nudge at the wood, but only become perceptible when I stop treating the wood as serving the purpose of flooring on which I will walk from here to there.
In the same way a word cannot ring its heapish operetta if it is being made to serve. So we say poetry stops us in place. And songs circles us around.
Things in the world in now-time are material; they are in space. Words are immaterial. I might amend the title of this fragment to say a word is an immaterial Jupiter. But really Jupiter, since you haven't seen it in person, is immaterial to you anyway: an idea, a word, an image, a complex. Words give us access to the distant and the past because the presence of a word is its ability to make present to our perceiving minds the no longer material, or no longer present. so a word is an immaterial trace of matter, a meeting of one and zero, balled out without distinct endings like the big red planet.
Hugo Ball practiced word magic because he thought that language had lost all its traces, that the speakers of words had lost their desire to recollect that a word springs from matter. (The perils of abstraction: ideology.) He performed sound poems by taking words apart with a hammer, recombining the fragments and reciting them as a lost language. He didn't know what would happen when he went through with this liturgical word bishopry, and when he did it he still didn't know what happened, but that performance, as I imagine it, was a clanging sound, a tremoring of traces reawakening out of the bottom of the heap. Hugo's word magic was to reawaken the dead, just as communion is to fill the room with the real presence of Jesus.
The implication of this jupiterishness for playwriting is that the reawakened dead might just be enough to fill a room, that such containers as character and plot might not only be unnecessary, but might, if they are too insistent, inhibit the ghostly din.
A play could be inexplicable without being unintelligible. Explanation is not a value of presence. If a play were completely explicable, especially if it explained itself as it went, it would barely be present, it would be an archive of the past. Explanation belongs to human nature, and not to human mind. It belongs to history, not to presence. Explanation and history belong to other guilds than that of the playwright. If a play does not explain, what does it do?
Being seen and heard is the fundamental premise of theater. So the traditional definition of theater as representation is faulty. It is one step away from the base of theater. The base of theater is to speak and be heard. The base of theater is the performer and the audience and a shared, finite piece of time in which they face each other, in which they return each other's gaze (are present to each other). Maybe even being seen is not fundamental: the audience is there to aud. So Listen to me, the title of a play by Gertrude Stein, may as well be the title of all plays.
The heap is made of words and images. It is fair to consider these things as ghostly. Ghostly that is: immaterially present. So it is fair to consider playwriting as spirited, in the old alchemical sense of the word, in that forms of the past come forward, not in bodies but in words. We deal with the presence of what is absent. We take the words into our bodies and bring them to standing, bring them to speech. It is a form of spirit possession or maybe rather immaterial Jupiter possession. This is nothing to be ashamed of.
Words as ghosts allow us to time travel. In fact language is the only access we have to what we call "the past" or "the future."
The heap is a ghost cabal and when we pronounce words without using them for a purpose we are acting as the medium for traces of the past and making it present. does this mean that we are indebted to the past? I think this means that we have to understand that what makes our performances live at all is this fullness that comes through words. So the past contributes the ghosts which make a word dimensional, and we, in the present, perform the gathering and constellating, the putting into relationship, of these words, then we pluck the strings between them and set going a music that is pregnant with not only sound but old ideas. Suddenly we recognize the shape of it (either in seeing similitude or becoming aware of the appearance of a new shape), and that is a new idea, which we give to the heap so it can haunt us in the future.
Thinking at a distance is imagination. Thinking as seeing is thinking that is strictly in now-time. It corresponds with what is appearing, and is bound up with the body's sensory apparatus.
It is fair to think both in time and at a distance. This combination is inevitable, because the thinking that responds to presence nudges into our personal heap of old thoughts. What I'm proposing is a technique of oscillation between the two.
How do we effect this oscillation? By continually challenging the sensory organs to send signals to the brain flagged with question marks.
A magic object is an object that has erased the traces of how it came to be. It has made time disappear by seeming to come from no where. Magic eludes infrared cameras and dental technicians.
Magic, because it has removed all traces of its coming into being in time past, implies that it will continue to float freely outside of time. That is, magic does not have death ahead of it.
We do have death ahead of us. So to suspend ourselves for a moment alongside a magic object is to momentarily empathize with, to momentarily become, something that death does not bear on.
Stage magic happens not through pyrotechnics but through the erasure of traces. To sound a word and disable the return-ringing from the heap. The simplest stage magic is the blackout. The disappearance of an image. The image never floats so freely as when it is disappearing.
Understanding is an image operation, it is how we meet one word with another word. If a word fills itself out spherically as a many-dimensioned image of being, then understanding is the simple line that connects one word to the next. A tether stretched between little Jupiters.
In the most simple sense this tether can be drawn simply by forcing the proximity of words.
When understanding starts to work between complex clusters, the tether lines multiply, braid, and bifurcate.
It is a mistake to think that understanding is the same as explanation. Explanation seeks repeated patterns, demonstrates them to have happened and suggests that those patterns may repeat themselves in the future. Understanding is less rational than explanation; it is simply the seeing of all the Jupiters at hand: seeing them in relationship and configuring an image of that constellation.
In theater, which unfolds over time, this tethering on the part of the audience describes the movement of the play. So understanding is both an image configured in the mind that expands in space, and a mapping of a sequence that moves in time. This understanding can be drawn by the audience without the hammer on the head stylings of the Great Causal Why (GCW). If the audience seems to be craving that the play hands them the GCW as the only possible means of moving along in time, then great care must be taken draw them into the space between the Jupiters, and encourage them simply to fall into the practice of tethering.
Still, the velocity and strength of these tethers between things vary. This is the natural overtone series of a particular set of words. So understanding is at once a simple line and a natural line. The Phrygian, the Lydian, the intervals that fall into place with harmonic rightness.
Understanding that falls into place is constellation.
The word is the house of being. The house of the word is the heap. The heap is never lost to us so long as we use words, but we can close our eyes to its estimable junkiness. To its uberproliferate jungly fatness.
The heap is never lost to us because words are immaterial and so are always usable instead of near or far. When words are not being ticked off in rote glossaries, they are being spoken out of presence (nearness) of mind. So words are the means for us to articulate presence. This is what Heidegger means when he says language is the house of being.
Presence of mind discovers present time not as a single point in the tic toc march of clock time (productive time), but as an open aired time that is the only kind of time possible to experience. (What is the time sense that experienced time, as seeing or hearing experience things in time?) Facility wants to middle manage present time for everyone. This is fair when the goal is production, but when the goal is not production, i.e. in aesthetic time which is by definition useless, facility must be strictly refused entrance.
Does facility love the heap? Not really. Because facility makes use of the past only to make bets on the future. This is all fair in work etc. etc. and survival. But work etc. etc. and survival are not the only parts of the walnut of our lives. No, they are one half of the walnut of our lives but there is another half that does not move into the future at the rate of one second per second but rather lives in the now-time on the front tip of the heap, which is always expanding. The point at which the heap nudges us gently out of place is the present. The present, because it touches the heap, never loses the past.
Thinking is a process that results from perceiving things. So thinking is fundamentally worldly and bodily. Thinking is fundamentally part of now-time.
Performing is being but also being present to. Being present to means performing in the space of the returned gaze. To see and be seen. So performing is a kind of boomerang seeing. It is always a nested experience, an oscillator par excellance.
This space of the returned gaze is animated by sensory perception. Seeing and hearing, etc.
RESCUE=ORPHISM -or- WHEN IS A WORD NOT A WORD?
A word that is not a word is a word stacked up in clock time, a word that is no longer the custodian of being, but the empty repetition of it, the container of causal notions. (Mere glossary, where truth is dislodged from what is and becomes repeatable.)
How do we regain what gets lost in a word? Word rescue is a kind of aquatic sounding of a word, putting the word in a situation that forces it to sing back from the underworld and ring into the open air of the present.
So to regain a word is an orphic task.
The enemy of this task is facility. Habitual use throws up a hard shell around a word, which parries our sounding waves, for the sake of efficiency, for the sake of work. Facility necessitates the suspension of doubt, and does not encourage investigative practice. Sounding and facility pull a word in different directions. Facility above all enables moving forward quickly. The point of all work in the modern scheme of production is to move forward more quickly than everyone else, more quickly than before. So it is not just looking for the tic toc of reliable progression whereby clocktime moves into the future at one second per second. It is looking for usage that completes itself ever more rapidly.
So if I am prepared to become the enemy of facility, then the first thing I need to do is pebble the path of usage--create friction, roadblocks, detours, full stops, make usage turn in circles, switch gears, reverse.
A rescued word is a thing that is folded in on itself in uncountable dimensions. It is pleated and noisy. Auratic. A word is a room in the house of being. It should not be made to give this noise up for maniacal speed.
Composition as constellation is to pull items from the heap and lay them on the page. Because understanding is an image operation, when the words on the page are pronounced, they recall their place in the heap; this is the substance of their Jupiter. Composition as constellation is interested in the harmonic fabric that is made when sets of things pulled from the heap are sounded.
The page of the constellation composer then is not a diagram of plans, but a collector's album. The heap is the junk shop that yields the treasure. Composition is yield of the hunt, but it is a particular kind of hunt, more akin to reading than to seeking. (But maybe hunting is like reading too. If the hunter wakes up and says, I think I shall wander around for a while and see what I find.) To arrest a word in writing is to come across it in the present: the present of what is seen and heard, or the present of what floats up to the net that skims the heap in the free wandering of the mind. To plan for a word and work for a word is labor, and belongs to pursuits not based in presence.
So composition is the arrangement on a page of what is collected through presence of mind: items locked in a magic circle and pulled from the heap. Composition as constellation takes care not only to remove words from service, but to keep them from submitting to new service. Strictly made of items pulled from servitude (i.e. functions of continuity inside the communication of narrative), the constellation does not unfold in time. Rather it opens up an area, the space defined by the arrangement of items. The composition creates this area as interior.
The virtue of the interior is that is creates a space for presence.
A world for the stage that might resemble the world beyond the stage would be an aggregate of localized strings of sense. In words, a localized string of sense is a sentence. It is the accumulation of sentences, not necessarily the lengthening of the string, that creates the tone of the stage world. The accumulation is what acts on us, not the stringing. The holes between local strings create little airpockets and wind tunnels to fall through in connecting the one to the next. These holes, the speed with which we fall through them, creates the emotional life of the play. "Sentences are not emotional and paragraphs are." We fall through holes to arrive. "Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not be at all."
The emotional life of our times is entirely played out in holes between things and the relief of sudden arrival, before falling into a new hole. The logic of cutups, collage and montage, is one suspended on an airbed of holes.
Holes are ghosts of death. Words are the ghosts of matter. One creates an empty interior, the other whispers like a palimpsest.
To make a heapish play, you need to know this: thing thing thing
To make a heapish play, you need to forget this: idea, idea, idea.
Ideas, yeah, they are like gulls or like gullies and eddies. They dip in and out and they arise from the heap and from the time of things being done and seen and grasped. So I don't say no to ideas I just say, swoop in and out if you're there. Circulate, as you do. That is fine. But I will construct a play made of terrible things hammered together.
Do you really want to be that idea-play author who says in a tone of utter superiority, "My gull is best and yours is a dunce!"?
Nature equals constancy. Life, which is not nature, has dual properties of constancy and newness. Life is in time: it unfolds. Mythologies naturalize figures, events, happenings and remove them from specific time by implying the permanent, timeless constancy of the subject of the myth. Mythologies surround the unfolding line of time as we imagine it. Mythologies sketch in a landscape to surround the unfurling line of time as it cuts through the space of time. But we are not invited to wander into this surrounding space of the myth, from the path of 1,2,3 unfurling time as we imagine it. We are not invited by myth to wander through the naturalized landscape.
Landscape plays move laterally from the unfurling line of time and cut through the would-be fixity of the mythological to draw new horizons. Landscape plays pull you away from the unfurling action, and posit everything as particular. If a "force of history" marches across this landscape, or a "big mythological proposition", the landscape play will not stop its entrance but it will make it wear a banner across its chest as it marches. One thing among others.
Landscape plays are not concerned with the future. Landscape plays don't tread back along the line to investigate the past. Landscape plays move laterally by observation and attention. Landscape plays uproot habit only because landscape plays have no need of habit. Habit is an efficiency for moving forward, but landscape plays only move laterally. They are all for stargazing. They are all for scenic vistas.
These scenic vistas can be scenic vistas of the heap. A landscape play is composed of words, not dirt trees mountains and villages.
Landscape plays are also impossible. Impossible because plays happen in time, which continues to unfurl.
To write a landscape play, the first thing the writer must do is tune into the landscape in which the play is being written. The feedback of the senses from physical surrounding reality not only provides a layer of detail which pulls away from any kind of unfolding concept. It also sets within the composition a dynamic of cartography. To write what is coming into the system of perception is to train the writer of landscape plays.
The basic event of a play is speech in time. To stand and say.
As soon as someone starts speaking, the question of story comes up. Story is inescapable. Even an audience that has trained themselves in Cagean aesthetics will form a thread between images or events. Story can happen entirely on the part of the audience; story is the job of the receptor.
To tell a story with a play, one need only to haul junk out of the heap and speak it. For the sake of the continued agility and flexibility of the audience, it is our responsibility to leave the threading to them. Otherwise they will get feeble minded.
I say: storytelling in a play is hauling junk out of the heap and hammering it together so it can be spoken. So we refine our craft of storytelling by refining our heap-digging noses. We refine our craft of storytelling by learning how to stitch, hammer, tack, and glue. We refine our craft of storytelling by learning that the shape of junk is like an amino acid--there are optimum things to attach to it. Catalyst, receptor, docking station. We refine our craft of storytelling by attuning ourselves to the building arts. Joindering and dovetailing. Knitting. Cutting and pasting. Looping.
The great danger with history as clock time, or professional thinking, or fixity of ideas, is that these things are surrounded by a cement dust that gets tacky when it's humid out. Not only does the humid air slow down the free oscillation of the bee, as it zig zags between accumulated explanation and the world as it is seen at each moment in time, but as it hits the limit lines with figure eight touch turns, the bee gets weighed down by dust made tacky, made gummy by the weather, and after a while it becomes easier not to fly. and when the bee stops moving in the path of the wave, the bee discovers that there is in fact a moving walkway on which are built houses of clock time, and all this time the bee has been working very hard moving forward and touching in and out of historical time and present time, the moving walkway has been a place of great comfort and refuge for millions of other bees, and so the bee gets a spot on the walkway, builds a house, kicks off its shoes and relaxes, and eventually the bee forgets what it was like to be zigging and zagging. Meanwhile the sky has been pumped full of water from the cloud machine of habit.
Repetition risks loss of sensation. Repetition promises the momentum of forms, the way they joint and fold and fall and carry forward, the way they open a specific aperture of seeing. Repetition offers a gift which is the impossibility of repetition. Impossible because time flows only forward and does not walk in circles.
[Making our experience of time walk in circles is a particular magic of performance.]
The danger of recognition is that it makes possible a leaping-ahead. Time breaks off the path and circles around, but you don't notice. You have already jumped to a conclusion.
So being kept in time with a performance as it moves is fundamental. How can we construct a play to ensure that the play and the audience progress hand-in-hand?
If familiarity is what enables the jumping ahead, then many strangeness is what keeps us alongside. Strangeness keeps us in time.
Strangeness is above all allied with presence, because strangeness requires of us the lean-in, the close looking and listening. Strangeness disables habit and requires perception.
To pronounce the word "november" outside of all explanation is to sound into the heap for any and all novembers. So long as the word does not serve as (or get served by) linkage, mapped transition, from one point to the next, it is all possible novembers: never fixed, never closed. To sound into the heap "november" and also the word "panic" and also the word "cat" is to create a constellation. And to leave the words in simple constellation, i.e.
november cat panic
panic panic cat
panic cat cat panic
is to draw an interior that creates a space, but does not move forward (as would "This november, my cat went into a panic because..."). The play november cat panic as written above is a three part harmony that lasts for the duration of saying, always present at each moment inside that duration.
Say we wrote a play called four score and seven. As a single sentence, this play tugs into time, into historical, bearded time. Can we restore the words to themselves?
four score and seven
and seven score four and seven
seven and and and and and and
and four score seven
and seven four score
and score and score four
We've succeeded in lessening the dominance of the beard and adding a football. Which demonstrates a bit of heap magic. Because the words, even these four words in combination, have more than one pronouncement to them. Time hovers at their edges but cannot be fixed.
So the magic of the heap is the magic of multiple possibilities. So the enemy of heap magic is explanation, which fixes a word in place.
How is a play nudged forward in time? By the smallest bits of language that serve explanation.
november cat panic
panic panic cat
I said to her
panic cat cat panic
absolute cat panic
and she said to me
absolute blue panic
absolute cat blue panic
then we went
The words "I said to her" don't insist on their wordhood. They let their wordhood hang out in the background because they have a task. They are part of an explanatory sentence. Explanatory sentences fix things in place. They remove possibility in favor of exactitude.
The basic attribute of the world is that it is seen. What is merely a number of things, to a world is the springing up of reciprocal channels between things. The channels between things are made by the happening of their being present to each other. Being seen. Because the world does not fly apart in space. It congeals, it binds.
To world is to bind.
To bind is to institute a channel of reciprocity.
Not only does the world world. A play worlds too. And so all questions of composition should have to do with not explanation but worlding. What is the basic dynamic of the verb to world? it is to bring into relation. To create tethers. This is very basically a bond of love, not in the hugs and kisses sense of love but in the reciprocal channel that makes one thing stare back at another, that marks the space between them.
Abstraction is a designation of musicality--logic without reference to matter. Musical form foregrounds structure, form is a description of connective movement. A world foregrounds its matter, but not its mechanism.
Can't we write plays with musical mechanism that moves us connectively between material things? Wouldn't this resemble a world? Play as a gathering and linking of matter. Playwriting as a gathering and linking of words.