I have been wondering a lot recently at the various afflictions connected to warfare: most of them falling under the heading of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This was once called *shell shocked* after the first world war. I guess PTSD sounds better, more clinical, more hygenic.
And then I weas wondering at the (seeming) high numbers of people being diagnosed with some form of autism.
Thirdly, I have been thinking about theatre. So, let me open with some thoughts on theatre. When I participated at the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, I was aware of how unique it was to be working outdoors. I think everyone who sees plays performed outdoors is aware of the sky above. That awareness is linked in subtle ways to the realization that theatre performed indoors is a more Renaissance conceit (though it is more complicated than just that) and that it is part of a privileging of the spectator’s viewpoint.
If we go back to Greek tragic theatre, the first thing to note is that these were outdoor plays. They were also meant to be inclusive of the audience (in other words, the spectator’s p.o.v. was not privileged). The actors no doubt could not look over the heads of the audience.
“The Greek theatre masks covered the entire head. All documentation shows that up tothe end of the 5th
century theatre masks were closely fitted to the head. The size was
probably not larger than the head, and the masks had rather small mouth and eye open-ings. On the masks depicted on ceramics both the whites and the pupils of the eyes are painted, suggesting that the eye holes of the original masks were as small in size as the pupils of a living person.According to my research this feature helped the actor to concentrate, acting as a lens to
focus the actor‟s attention. As the gaze is directed through this construction, the optic
field becomes very narrow and after a while the actor has the feeling that he is looking through one single eye hole -a “third eye” –
placed in the area between the eyebrows.The gaze is directed to one point, rather like a lens that focuses the rays of light. The minimization of the sight leads to the maximization of the listening to the other actors,to a different awareness of their presence based not so much on seeing but on hearing. It leads the actor to the act of
the act of conscious and active listening.”
This is very important. In fact, crucially important if we want to begin to understand what has happened to theatre as an art form, and also to understand the wider society of neo liberal violence.
Let me quote Vovolas again, who is among the more insightful theorists writing about theatre today.
“…the mask influences the actor spatially is the essentialization of the movements and gestures. The strong extrovert direction given by the new field of
view promotes an increased awareness of the body‟s axis, the spine, the pelvis and the
physical actions. In an outdoor theatre the actor has not only to express the role but also,simultaneously, focus the audience through his presence and movements. Being visible and discernable means being essentialized. The actor must develop presence,
connections to the space, and must get rid of all the personal, parasitical movements of every-day life.”
This is important if one considers film acting as its found today. I have written before and had conversations on this blog, about the increasingly robotic bodies of Hollywood actors, as well as a sort of principle of establishing a banal “real” from which all observations are referred (i.e. ” that wasn’t very realistic”). I am reminded here of the work of Grotowksi, and of Kanter as well. It may be that this was the last real investigation of a *healing body* as part of a theatrical experience.
Today’s institutional theatre, what one finds off-Broadway on the stages of 99% of US theatres is a banality of movement, and something akin to the flattering of an audience granted an artificial sense of privilege. It is the theatre of bourgeois banality and pandering. In film (at least studio film), it is Spectacle, the theatre of mayhem….The “Spectacle”, a capitalist orgy of domination.
However, this raises another question; and that is the erasure of possibility under a process of social domination.
If one watches today’s theatre, even those attempting some version of what Grotowski did, one cannot help but see the trivialization of all theatre. Perhaps, trivialization is unfair, because it is a dialectic and the audience has been infantalized and trivialized itself. There is a failure to listen, to focus one’s attention, and this raises a host of secondary questions about the actor and his awareness of being seen.
Artaud demanded a nakedness for the actor, a spiritual nakedness. This harkened back to the role of the mask in Greek tragedy. For the actor in the mask is both emptied of psychology, and united with the play, with the collective and with the audience. This is very easy to mis-interpret. The cheapening of this results in the sort of new-agey vapidness of so much of today’s theatre spectacles. There is a difference between Kanter or Grotowski and Robert Wilson. And this introduces my other theme today, which is what I see as a collective PTSD, a version of social Aspergers syndrome.
I have thought a lot recently about the effects of the surveillance state on the individual. And one aspect of this that is worth following is the way in which those diagnosed with Aspergers relate to cultural product. In a recent thread on the subject of Japanese *anime*, a young woman wrote…
(and it’s long and I will not post all of it here)…
“I don’t know where I am on an autism spectrum but at least when I was a kid, I was certainly “sensory defensive,” and I basically disliked people and human spaces (prefering natural environments and
objects, and the company of animals). I wasn’t introduced to manga/anime until I’d already made my way into human society, but it still appealed to me when I found it.
Here’s what appealed to me.
First, every element of every scene is intended; there’s no static, there’s nothing to filter out or ignore. Everything is there for a reason and has meaning. Backgrounds are clean, conventional, and often simply vanish when they aren’t relevant.
I don’t think the frame rate is stim related (unless we’re talking about Pokemon here); I think it’s the same kind of aesthetic economy. Nothing moves unless that motion means something. The human face is reduced to its most communicative features; there’s none of the risk of mixed signals or interference that acting introduces…
Exactly how much attention we devote is being controlled for us.
Now, there is much more of this comment, and it’s just anecdotal speculation, but it touches on a lot of the questions I have been asking myself.
The actor in Greek drama, in a mask, is creating a pre-condition for allegory, and establishing something that is in opposition to the *real* of social domination.
“Total emptiness is thus the same as total presence; an expansion of consciousness. It is akin to standing outside oneself and watching oneself objectively. Being absent and present at the same time. Being absent -so the absence can be filled with a new presence, the presence of the role. In that emptiness, in the inter-space that arises, the actor creates space for the role in the actor‟s
presence the tragic archetype is born.Mask creates an interior space for the actor. Through the mask the actor becomes readyto meet his audience, to communicate with the vast theatre space. The mask is the actorsown space, inside the acting space – and both inside the theatron.This kind of theatre is not centred upon the individual…”.
I believe this is the exact heart of what has been abandoned in the cultural product of the Spectacle. The face in anime is empty, it is only empty. The actor in Greek drama has created a *space* in which the *play* looks back at the audience as history looks back it. In the same way, in a sense, the dead look back. It is allegorical. The play becomes prophetic, as well, in the sense that the Oracle at Delphi did, or the Temple of Athena. This is what theatre is capable of doing, and what some modern work approximates. There is a de-psychologizing, and it disrupts the very idea of identity. For identity is married to the notion of the *real*. What one sees in today’s kitsch theatre are plays of identity. Those that resist or look outside these bourgeois narratives tend toward the drama of autism. Robert Wilson is the spectacle as emptiness, the face of ‘anime’, not the mask of collectivity.
In anime emotions are expressed in what is called “face fault”; for example a vein will bulge in the neck in an exaggerated way to signal anger. It is JUST the vein that changes, often nothing else.
There are other aspects of this. A society now under surveillance — and of course people have to know they are being watched for it to be effective, are going to adjust their behavior. The effects of the panopticon, the sense of domination that is now being widely accepted, are internalized and find expression both in daily life and in cultural output.
Jesse Coles wrote in the Guardian, on the botox phenomenon:
“…Botox…minimises micro-expressions, those brief, involuntary facial expressions that reveal our unconscious feeling of anger, happiness, disgust, embarrassment or pride. In a sense, communicating with someone who’s had Botox is like communicating with a static image – much of the body language involved is silenced. Considering that body language, mostly consisting of facial expressions, makes up at least half of any message being communicated, this is a significant loss.
But this facial paralysis also inhibits the ability of the Botoxed to mimic the facial expressions of others, which is critical in the formation of empathy. Facial micro-mimicry is the major way we understand others’ emotions. If you are wincing in pain I immediately do a micro-wince, which sends a message to my brain about what you are experiencing. By experiencing it myself I understand what you are going through. This suggests that not only do I find my Botoxed friends hard to read, but they are also hindered in their capacity to read me. An unfortunate feedback cycle. The possible implications of this are frightening.”
Over at the excellent BAMF (Bad Ass Marxist Feminist) blog, there was this additional commentary…
“Cole proceeds to suggest that friendships and mother-child bonds could be negatively affected by Botox use in women. Because women comprise the majority of Botox users and 4 million women give birth in the US each year, there are negative implications for children,* as well as society as a whole since the majority of children become adults that make up our population. If parents have frozen faces that cannot display emotions or micro expressions, thereby limiting their ability to empathize, then the development of children could be negatively impacted. She cites Edward Tronick’s Still Face Paradigm as a scientific indicator that frozen faces on women would negatively impact children’s social and emotional development.”
So, there are aspects of “masks”. Also, how this intersects with race and gender.
The U.S. is increasingly a culture that manufactures narratives of state domination, and if one examines the acting styles of cop shows, what you get are the police and lawyers exhibiting this loss of affect. Emotional flatness. All relationships reflect or mirror the dynamic between police and suspect.
What happens to a society that is being watched, where there is no place to hide? It may well be that knowing one is being watched results in ‘not looking’. The blankness motiff is a structural by-product. To bring this back for a moment more to theatre, one of the mis-readings of many critics is that privileging text somehow reflects the instrumental logic of science. This is reductive because its only *plot* that reflects this logic. Text is not inherently the tool of plot formation. One of the indexes of radical theatre has been to create text that elliptically erases plot (starting with, perhaps, Buchner, and on through Handke, Muller, Beckett, Genet, Pinter, et al). In fact, the space of myth is created partly by narrative. Today, much plot is driven by signifiers for suspicion, not really story. Furtive looks signals suspicious behavior. In fact, it’s essentially how CCTV security personnel look at the world.
People with ASD have trouble interpreting the expression in people’s eyes. In anime the eyes are extra large. In fact, they resemble cameras. In Greek drama, the masks had very small eye openings. I will post again, I hope, on the topic of autism. There has been a lot of criticism (justified mostly, not completely) on Lacanian psychoanalysts in France treating autistic children. Unfortunately much of the criticism comes from the UK medical establishment, who might well be far worse. But…that is for another posting.
Now, there is a wide variety of animation styles in anime, so these generalizations may not really hold up. But what does hold up is the sense of much of the noise of daily life being removed. The backgrounds tend to be free of anything not essential to the, usually, very simple plots.
The theatre of myth, and certainly this goes back to the Greeks, keeps the landscape visible — at least the sense of it, even if it is often in modern theatre, off stage. Plot driven *realism* does the opposite. The psychology of the fixed character identities is privileged above all else, so that usually the larger world is rendered invisible.
“Cultural hegemony has imposed a racist, imperialist standard of beauty (i.e. white, thin, and tall with straight hair) on cultural representations around the world for centuries. Those standards exclude women of color, women with the scars of work and motherhood, and women with Afro-textured hair. They have always been inaccessible and unattainable to poor women. If rampant Botox use adds an eternally frozen face to the Western standard of beauty, then working class women will be further removed from an already unattainable aesthetic, condemning them to further invisibility to the imperialist patriarchy that so ruthlessly and consistently exploits and ignores them.”
By making certain things invisible, or generalized, the master discourse maintains a clear hierarchy of value.
The spiritual depletion resulting from mass surveillance finds expression in the orgies of violence from Hollywood and network TV, as well as in the violence of emptiness, of a blank flat-lining of emotion, of infantilzed objectified sexuality and an aesthetics of PTSD, of propagandized realism.
Just being observed is an act of control. A state apparatus of surveillance is almost by definition totalitarian. One defining characteristic of fascism is the merging of industry and state. Today we have defense contractors who are quasi agencies, manned by people who were either before or will be later members of the government, and with giant media conglomerates, from Time Warner to Google to Microsoft to SONY working hand in hand with the NSA, FBI, CIA, and Pentagon. The lines have completely blurred. This surveillance is a significant social trauma. If one were to read post war Japanese culture in the light of Hiroshima, one might end with pretty fascinating and perhaps important conclusions. Today, the United States is exercising a new level and register of domination on its populace. It has solidified and centralized what was already a trend that began in think tanks and marketing firms — data mining and analysis. Only now it is formed around a policing ethos that resembles the Stasi on steroids. The new robotic blank populace, a public not only approaching, collectively, Aspergers symptoms, but one that often can’t read expressions on faces because faces increasingly have no expressions.
The culture now revolves around shaming, snitching, and ritualized humiliation.