“The relationship between the intellectuals and the world of production is not as direct as it is with the fundamental social groups but is, in varying degrees, “mediated” by the whole fabric of society and by the complex of superstructures, of which the intellectuals are, precisely, the “functionaries.”
Gramsci (Prison Notebooks)
“Art is always in some kind of relation with non-art. It does not, indeed it cannot, take place in a bubble cut off from the rest of culture.”
“If it is true that little boys bring back the past with bows and arrows,
it is also true that youths easily become cliquish, seeking friends and above all a
father, which their own one often was not. This happens more easily to bourgeois
then to proletarian youth, not only because they are bourgeois, but also
because they are more degenerated and consequently more open to games
and enthusiasms. Continually preoccupied with the self, considering themselves
to be of supreme importance, these young people show with their swing to the
romantic Right how external their bad contemporary and material gesture was.
The sharp wind of youth makes fires on the Left burn brighter, if they are
burning; but if a “renewal” is under way on the Right, then the youth from
bourgeois and other vulnerable circles is more vulnerable than ever: the bloodline,
the organic youth is fertile soil for the Nazis.”
Nonsynchronism and Dialectics, 1932.
“I can see their divine patience, but where is their divine fury?”
Brecht’s Galileo to the Monk…
When Noam Chomsky wrote this week: “People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence. It’s interesting to compare the situation in the ‘30s, which I’m old enough to remember. Objectively, poverty and suffering were far greater. But even among poor working people and the unemployed, there was a sense of hope that is lacking now, in large part because of the growth of a militant labor movement and also the existence of political organizations outside the mainstream.” — I think it is clear that there is a collective sense, an absolute atmosphere of frustration and despair throughout the United States. I am also not entirely sure that objectively people were worse off in the 1930s. By some measurement perhaps, but today there is a deeper internalization of rage and sense of failure in the working class and the non working poor. I know hardly anyone who isn’t anxious about their economic security, about their future. In fact most people I know simply don’t think about the future. For there is no future that is not purely nightmarish. And I also think that this hostility, the snark and snide tones, the aggression, especially from men, and the compulsive attacks on even people who are on your side, is the result of this acute and withering experience of peak anxiety. Americans can no longer even invent stories and participate in their culture because there is only a corporate pre-vetted culture of propaganda and mindless infantile distraction that has colonized and now occupies the imagination. Many people today have never been exposed to culture, really. Academia is a graveyard of specialist self congratulation and apolitical careerism. The educated classes are perhaps more than any single group paralyzed with a sort of myopic instrumental form of game playing. Again, a form of careerism. Gramsci would suggest that this is hegemonic, that the status quo is perpetuated through not just coercion, but through an ideological organizing principle — and this is today, of course, mass culture. And what is missing is what Gramsci would call a *counter hegemony*.
And my feeling remains that in spite of the compulsive need to be right, or to win arguments, the practice of criticism is crucial to countering the hegemony as it exists today, but I suspect that the steps toward the effective challenging of popular consensus today comes via aesthetics. Friends I have that write a good deal on social media often neglect this aspect, I think. Transformation of consciousness in a society that no longer reads means that form must subvert the ideological domination of the status quo. And this is aesthetics.
I ran across Francois Cusset’s book, French Theory, and in the introduction came this paragraph…
“In the aftermath of the attacks on New York City and
Washington, D.C., most of these brilliant campus radicals didn’t have
much to say about Bush, Iraq, terror, national pride, and global democracy,
apart from a distant feeling of horror and disarray. Whereas liberals
of all sorts in Europe or Asia did expect some sort of awakening from
their North American counterparts, or a new inspiration to come from
the belly of the beast, perhaps a new tone on American campuses for
times of emergency, what they witnessed was mostly self-criticism and
a sense of uselessness. When touring campuses right after 9/n, I was
astounded to discover that the dominant feeling in academia was one of
desperate impossibility, complete with guilt and resentment. Yesterday’s
tenured radicals were now writing sophisticated articles just to make a
note of the insuperable gap between the world and the text, theory and
“reality,” intellectual leisure and the new state of global emergency.”
There are many things already wrong here. Firstly, the snide tone…(*brilliant campus radicals*), which seems in the service of something subtly anti-intellectual. Second, liberals in Europe…um, maybe could we be a bit more specific. Thirdly, and most importantly, there is a tacit assumption at work here that writing sophisticated (sic) articles were (it is implied) pointlessly taking note of a gap between the world and the text, theory and reality. And that to take note of it, as Cusset has it, is a way of not actually *doing* anything. And this is a very old canard, and a very tired one. But to be clear, Cusset is picking some very low hanging fruit. There is hardly a debate, really, that U.S. academia is moribund and in a state of near self parody. The endless regurgitating of the worst of the French post modern thinkers is indeed a sort of hemophagic virus of the mind on U.S. campuses, but I think its perhaps very wrong to blame Derrida or Lyotard for this. The social forces and economic forces more pointedly, that shaped the elitism of University culture in the U.S. is not to be laid at the feet of post structuralist thought. The elevation of minor figures like Lyotard, who had many good and useful insights, to the status of prophet was only a part of the larger burial of genuinely radical thought, and also a part of a barrier against too much class interaction in higher education.
Cusset does make clear that it is mis-readings of Derrida or Baudrillard or Foucault that are the problem; that the fate of French thinkers from the 60s was to be Americanized and turned into their opposite (not unlike what happened to psychoanalysis).
I won’t spend too much time on Cusset, because he’s not worth it, but the topic is very much in the zeitgeist just now. And by that I mean the cultural genealogies of western Academia — but here is Cusset again…
“One might even play the game of casting the American intellectual world in terms of the Hollywood western: these French thinkers, who were often marginalized in their own country, would certainly have the leading parts. Jacques Derrida would be Clint Eastwood, so often cast as the lone pioneer, enjoying unchallenged authority and endowed with the imposing mane of a conqueror. Jean Baudrillard could almost pass for Gregory Peck, a mixture of bonhomie and dark detachment, not to mention an aptitude for always turning
up in unexpected places. Jacques Lacan would play an irritable Robert Mitchum, based on their common attraction to murderous traits and
undecidable irony. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari would evoke not so much the spaghetti westerns of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer as the disheveled duo, breathless but sublime, of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And why wouldn’t Michel
Foucault be a kind of unforeseeable Steve McQueen, with his knowledge of prison, his disquieting laughter, and his sharpshooter’s independence, appearing in the top spot above all the other players in this cast, the darling of the public? And let’s not forget Jean-Fran<;ois Lyotard as Jack Palance, with his rugged heart, Louis Althusser as James Stewart, with his melancholic profile, and, in the female leads, Julia Kristeva as Meryl Streep, mother courage and sister of exile, and Helene Cixous as Faye Dunaway, a woman unfettered by any models."
Ok, well, besides not being very good in its attempted satiric goal, it speaks to something else, I think. And its subtle (there is, clearly, an obvious aspect, too)… and that is the curious introduction of mass cultural cues (once again), and a sort of ironic validation of these cues. It is another stealth anti intellectualism. Their inclusion registers as affirmation. But what is underneath this, and what drives this hostility across various segments of the population, is a deeper anger. Beating up modernism or post structuralism is a symptom more than it is a genuine critique.
The question often arises as to why bother with critiques that so few read. This seems a near constant refrain these days on social media. In one way, Gramsci is the perfect answer. For Gramsci saw (in his now over referenced section on intellectuals from The Prison Notebooks) that what intellectuals did, in his somewhat unique definition of that label, was organize class consciousness. Any class.
“What we can do … is to fix two major superstructural “levels”: the one that can be called “civil society”, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called “private”, and that of “political society” or “the state”. These two levels correspond onf the one hand to the function of “hegemony” which the dominant group [class] exercises throughout society, and on the other hand to that of “direct domination” or command exercised through the state and “juridical” government.”
But he also posited this idea of superstructure. And that is also rather relevant today, I think. The mass culture, ever dependent on new models of distraction, on refreshing the buzz-factor, the novelty quota, is on auto pilot in one sense. The bourgeoisie today is awash in technicians of the distraction sciences. Google spends jillions figuring the right algorithm to order its search engine results and thereby profoundly affecting electoral results (as an example). If I cared at all about elections I would find this information stunning, but in fact the electoral circus is a non-event, largely. But the point is that technicians of cyberspace are the intellectuals of the status quo. Now, circa 1920, and Gramsci saw the organizing principle of labor leaders, trade unionists, etc. as very much the intellectual’s work — participatory and active. Today’s subjected techno nerd is non active, but his code writing skills, and technical acumen is, partly just by virtue of technology’s inherent qualities, expressing something structural and regressive in the new relationships of the post industrial society that are shaped by the screen.
But again, the poetics of oration, the life of the text, of narrative, is a receding mental tide in contemporary society. And the shutting down of narrative means the shutting down, at least mostly, of memory. The robot overlords meme, again. The entrepreneur of Capital traditionally (per Gramsci) accrued acolytes or useful service people, and specialists of one kind or another, in order to carry out the maintenance of the system. The technological era of capital, of advanced capital, has replaced entrepreneurs with electronic mass media. The various platforms operate almost automatically, and the fine tuning (as in the case of Google and its search engine) is carried out by technical experts who are ideologically in sync with the values that technology possesses by default. These experts are essentially following the logic of the machine. At a certain point it doesn’t matter what someone says at, say, the Oscar ceremonies, because everyone is saying the same thing. One could scream *strike* repeatedly and nobody would think it was not a kind of advert for an upcoming film. The aspect of this that I think matters for this discussion is that intellectual rigor and seriousness carries with it an emotional sensibility. It expresses more than just specific arguments. And in art, there is increasingly a marginalizing of radical voices, just as there is in mainstream media. Michael Parenti is not on sunday talk shows, and neither is Andre Vltchek, or anyone else not easily controlled. But art operates within a culture in a more complex manner. There is a tendency, one consciously imprinted, to hear the word *art* and think of a museum or gallery. Art is a thing that happens at institutions, within institutional frames. And one expression of this was a recent article in Hyperallergic, an art zine, where the Met in NYC was criticized for still being Eurocentric and conservative. Well, MUSEUMS themselves are Eurocentric. You can’t have a not Eurocentric museum. And when one tries, there is an irresistible force of appropriation that goes on. I love the Met, but I know what it is.
There is that non-identical and often inexplicable quality to the artwork. If one can speak too easily about a work of art, its likely a bad sign. And when I raise this issue almost without exception I will get responses about how unimportant such topics are. Oh who cares. Etc. It is the hallmark of new philistinism to ridicule seriousness in culture overall, and seriousness about culture. And this common complaint retains a quality of misogyny within it, too. Art is still too feminine, not manly and active and purposeful. And as I say, this is a very widespread sentiment. Culture has taken on the optics of minor pastime and a hobby, a quirky place for weirdos to congregate, and something almost to be shunned. Across the political spectrum the signifiers for masculinity flee at the mention of art. The left almost as much as the right is guilty of this. And it cuts across classes. The white bourgeoisie male, educated and career driven will wince a bit when asked for an opinion on art. This has always been latent in American consciousness, of course, far more than in Europe. Sartre and de Beauvoir were actively interested in art, while today there is a quality of disdain, mostly, although even the now much derided French thinkers (that Cusset discusses) such as Badiou or Deleuze are deeply interested in culture. And there are some in the U.S., Cavell for one, but far more distance themselves form the subject. In the U.S. the masculine ideal has always been stoic and no-nonsense, pragmatic and uncreative. Creativity itself is viewed with suspicion. The issue, for me, however, is the way in which critical judgement aligns with artworks, and that a seriousness about both is often met with suspicion. It is the same response one meets with the question of anger. One is not supposed to ever get angry, not about society. One can get angry about personal issues, but not about social ones. Those who are angry about social issues are tagged as malcontents, but more, are tagged as underclass agitators. Black families grieving over the latest police shooting, they are angry. If one gets angry — even in print — a backdrop of inner city streets full of drug dealers forms behind the words. White society today is in reality the angriest place in the Universe. And this is partly the schizoid nature of the Trump phenomena. Trump is providing a space for white people to be angry. That is his most significant role, as a public figure. I am running for President and I want to provide space for you raging white uneducated unemployed yaks to express your rage. A metaphoric rubber room. Because I know you are losing grip of reality and you cannot articulate any of this. I know you need to open your mind…let it bounce off the walls here in the padded cells of Trump tower.
Gramsci saw that encouraging workers to educate themselves not just in technical specialties, but in the humanities was vitally important. For only then would they have the breadth of vision to lead. It’s surprising how little attention this paragraph gets.
“…from technical work [the select worker] arrives at technical science and historical humanistic views, without which he would remain ’a specialist’ and would not become a ’director’ ”
The affluent educated class in the U.S. is the most narrowly educated in the history of that country. Technically curious to a degree, and technically savvy, but profoundly defended emotionally, and deadened creatively. So the issue of these nefarious French thinkers is something of a reactionary trope, I feel. Firstly it is a mis-reading, and secondly, EVERYTHING that arrives on the shores of the U.S. is changed and domesticated. Any idea, any practice and any belief.
The purpose of bothering to write, to engage in debate, is of course firstly to articulate the problem and offer analysis of how it might be solved. To rectify errors or fight propaganda. But it is also about furthering a sensibility, a seriousness, and like Gramsci’s factory worker studying the humanities, it is to further an emotional reality. Perhaps that sounds strange, but this is what art does, too, partly, and it is what culture is meant to cultivate. One cannot fully understand a Sartre without grasping his milieu, the coffee shops, and climate of Paris at that moment. Debord cant be understood fully without May 68, and Kierkegaard cannot be fully understood without a sense of Danish culture and history. Pollock can’t be understood, or Still, or Agnes Martin for that matter without knowing the feelings of the prarie night skies and the sound of the American plains in summer. I could go on. Of course one *can*, one can with effort, but the point is that any effort to learn the nuances of an artwork, in context, and to experience it, means that a lot of only tenuously connected material will be explored. Wittgenstein starts to make more sense when you examine the house he helped design, or his cabin in Norway, or his family and class. Modernism is attacked almost relentlessly these days, but of course so is Post Modernism now. I am not sure what ‘isn’t’ attacked, actually. The reason for seriousness is at the end of that long logical road; revolution.
The loss of not just narrative, but speech, is going to looked at in fifty or a hundred years as the hallmark of this era. And the loss of speech runs alongside the loss of culture. The Weimar thinkers, all of them Jewish, that included Adorno and Benjamin, Horkheimer and Ernst Bloch, came out of a tradition that valued the metaphysical aspect of language. They were keenly aware of the encroaching effects of scientism, and instrumental thinking and they all approached something like a redemptive notion of culture. They also, perhaps most significantly, explored an aesthetics that almost began with an idea of messianic silence. How much of this came from a cross pollination with Judaic thought is open to debate, but it was Benjamin who went furthest in positing a theory of language as something that hid more than it revealed. But that in this hiding came revelation, but only through a heightened sensitivity to the suffering of the collective. The forgotten voices. Language was a societal tool that was complicit in ideological manipulations. For Bloch especially (well, along with Adorno perhaps) there was a dignity that came with critiquing ideology. Douglas Kellner wrote…
“…Bloch is most useful today in providing a model of cultural theory and ideology critique that is quite different from, and arguably better than, dominant models which present ideology critique as the demolition of bourgeois culture and ideology, thus, in effect, conflating bourgeois culture and ideology. This model — found in Lenin and most Marxist-Leninists like Althusser, but also to some extent in the Frankfurt School –interprets dominant ideology primarily as instruments of mystification, error, and domination which are contrasted to science or Marxist theory, or “Critical Theory.” The function of ideology critique on this model is simply to demonstrate the errors, mystifications, and ruling class interest within ideological artifacts which are then smashed and discarded by the heavy hammer of the ideology critic.”
Habermas wrote…“What Bloch wants to preserve for socialism, which subsists on scorning tradition, is the tradition of the scorned.”
For Bloch, ideology was not an entirely negative thing. In one way this is not completely unlike Gramsci. But Bloch was the reluctant mystic (as was Benjamin) in that for him, the mystifications of bourgeois society was the obvious level for critique. In fact Bloch wrote that the problem “of ideology is broached from the side of the problem of cultural inheritance, of the problem as to how works of the superstructure progressively reproduce themselves in cultural consciousness even after disappearance of their social bases” . The idea of reproduction as compulsive, the Freudian notion of repetition appears again in another guise. But for Bloch there was a buried Utopian dimension to ideology; almost as if trace elements of human desire resided within the vulgarities of class domination. And it was the role of the critic to unearth these. And one aspect of this project was (as Kellner points out) the sense of adjustment — ideological adjustment — of radical critiques that transform them into pro-Capitalist narratives (Adler was his example, who replaced sex with power in the Freudian libido and hence turned the discussion into a paean to the Protestant work ethic. One that included Nietzsche as well). The thrust of Bloch’s work though was always on the revelatory potential of textual analysis, of clear sightedness on ideological matters, but one that looked to find Utopian escape. In that sense he veered away from Adorno and Horkheimer.
Benjamin said Kafka was the last storyteller. And it is worth remembering Kafka’s Nature theatre of Oklahoma, where actors rehearse (study, re-narrate, memorize) their earlier lives. All these themes tend to come together here. Repetition, cultural excavation, a performance of the past as a performance of the present (or vice versa) and the stage. And the stage in this discussion means a *space* (and more on this below with Dutchman), a created ceremonial or ritual area in which narrative is heard, where a tragic form can happen, and where texts are *heard*. I mean its hardly an accident that today’s theatre landscape, at least in the U.S., is so hideously wrong. And this is the product of woeful pedagogy in most Universities in terms of theatre arts. It is almost impossible to imagine teaching being worse than it is today. Impossible. It is soul killing middle brow formulaic bourgeois melodrama tricked out in various multi-culti thematic accoutrements. Name me one important play to come out of theatre programs in the U.S. over the last twenty years. Just one.
It was the anniversary of Amiri Baraka’s death this week. Once known as Leroi Jones, Baraka was a seminal figure in off off broadway theatre in the sixties. There was an interesting piece (sort of) covering the making of the film version of Dutchman :
Watching this again after, probably, twenty years brought back memories of how vital and ambitious theatre work was during those years and how important Baraka. I sometimes find myself wondering if my memory is simply flawed, and that plays like this perhaps wouldn’t hold up today. In fact, it is quite the contrary. So perhaps it is worth looking at in what ways Baraka’s play retains its power and poetry. And it is poetic, and it is metaphysical as well as providing social commentary.
The moment Shirley Knight is on the train, the play starts. The space is no longer representational. It is Mad Tom on the heath. It is The Screens. And, it is as if one walked into the space of the 19th century photo by John Thompson (above). I have a love of that particular photo. And I suspect it is because it is so theatrical. I am also not sure I can fully explain why I believe that, or feel that. But in Baraka’s piece, the truth of that text only happens in *that* space. And this is a video, a film of a play and because no attempt is made to disguise that, the quality of theatre is retained. Now actually it is, no doubt, more complex than that, but some of it is also Freeman and Knight’s performances. These are not film performances. I cannot imagine an actor today with the openness emotionally that you see in Freeman. Or the utter behavorial genius of Knight. The only other film role by an actress that compares is Piper Laurie in The Hustler (1961). These are actors not asking to be liked. They are no *entertaining*. They are enacting a textual ritual. The off stage is the soul of what is on stage. The unconscious is off stage. And sometimes there are reversals, and the off stage is on stage. So to speak. But that cannot be sustained. It is fleeting. For the messenger must arrive from ‘out there’. Genet had a hand appear from behind the screen and speak. Beckett would direct actors how to sit behind the flat, out of view of the audience. The theatre is always an enactment of a ritual of ourselves and history. It is always a paradox and always impossible.
This kind of discussion doesn’t happen in U.S. MFA programs. Dramaturgy has rules, and narrative must conform to those rules and those rules are pop psychology made into a recipe for an unthreatening reproduction of the status quo. Theatre is today what Peter Brook fifty years ago called ‘Deadly Theatre’. And it is not even that. It is simulacra theatre. Max Headroom as Hamlet.
Peter Brook wrote at the beginning of his chapter on deadly theatre…
“The Deadly Theatre can at first sight be taken for granted,
because it means bad theatre. As this is the form of theatre
we see most often, and as it is most closely linked to the
despised, much-attacked commercial theatre it might seem
a waste of time to criticize it further. But it is only if we see
that deadliness is deceptive and can appear anywhere,
that we will become aware of the size of the problem.”
Now, as I write this posting I have been searching for critical writing on theatre from the last two or even three decades. But after Brook and Herbert Blau there is almost nothing. I find essays, such as June Schlueter’s American Theatre since Waiting for Godot; and almost everything she mentions took place forty years ago. Off off broadway is given some attention, but she forgets many crucial names, and then there is a valentine to Shephard, of course, but mostly his work from, yes, forty and fifty years ago. Why is this? Well, because NOTHING has happened in American theatre since the institutional cultural genocide of MFA programs and white affluent critics colonized the system. There are no Amiri Barakas, but there are black writers. There are no Richard Foremans of any sort. There are no Charles Ludlums, but there are many queer writers. There is nothing radical in contemporary American theatre. In fact, across the board there is an almost sinister odor of death and decay. And the administrators, the institutional gatekeepers, have doubled down on their control. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING that is not easily controlled, subservient and abject is even allowed through the door. That figurative door that enforces class and political difference. Those who control the scant resources of funding are a bit like American trade delegations sent to third world countries to explain what is required: groveling and obedience to Empire. Only in theatre the empire is a pathetic far corner of what is, anyway, a cultural graveyard. Those gatekeepers for arts organizations are equivalent to security guards at the local mall, rent a cops earning minimum wage who dutifully arrest shoplifters and suspicious minorities.
Working class voices are absent. The underclass are never considered as part of this bourgeois cultural mausoleum. But the marginalized must also become curious, and develop their own disciplines and practice. The erasure of the poor, of their history and suffering means that the language of dissent will be a search for what Benjamin believed was actively hidden. An active silence, an imagining of something outside the corridors of acceptable. But too often I read, from the proletariat today, gushing enthusiasm for a Jay Z. or Breaking Bad, or a deep interest in the Academy Awards. Recently at the very good Black Agenda Report was an essay asking did the winners of the oscars really deserve them given the inequality etc etc. I thought, who the fuck cares? Focus on who owns the bakery, not getting a larger piece of cake. (I think Gramsci actually may have said something like that). But the point is, seriously, that the Oscars has never been about art. Orson Welles didn’t win one, Chaplin didn’t win one, or Pasolini or Fassbinder or Sam Fuller etc. WHO cares? One is not supposed to have competition for awards anyway.
Herbert Blau wrote of American theatre artists, and this from decades back already….“that there is no natural discourse among practitioners in this presumably social art, no ideational framework for it, and sometimes, it seems, no desire.”
So just inviting working class artists inside is not the answer to anything. Who wants to be inside, anyway? Build an inside out there on the margins. And while doing so, find a critique that burns down the inside.
The beginning of stage notes to Kaspar, by Peter Handke, the author writes….
“The play Kaspar does not show how IT REALLY IS or REALLY
WAS with Kaspar Hauser. It shows what is POSSIBLE with
someone. It shows how someone can be made to speak through
speaking. The play could also be called speech torture.”
Handke is the last theatrical visionary, almost certainly. James R. Hamilton wrote an interesting paper on Kaspar and Wittgenstein, which is not as obtuse as it might seem. And germane to this discussion he writes….
“Notice that here, as in Kaspar, there are no characters in
the usual sense, only listeners. Nor will the Sprechstiicke have any action, “since
every action on stage would only be a picture of another action” and, as such,
would be a formalization—a falsification—of both the action pictured and the
formal play of theater as well. Surely Handke is correct here if he thinks that
these are interconnected phenomena. For, to describe someone’s action, or to
describe someone as acting in a certain manner, requires reference to that
person’s dispositions and intentions. Inasmuch as dispositions and intentions are
not momentary, but relatively enduring, features of a personality, their description
in turn must refer to the person in a temporal context of interaction with
others—in short, in a story. Absent characters, actions, and stories, what is left
is . . . words: words that “give no picture of the world . . . that don’t point at the
world as something lying outside the words but to the world in the words
themselves . . . [that] give no picture of the world but a concept of it.”
Sarah Kane arrived at a similar state of silence, by the end. Listening, a pure listening that becomes an active ritual in a theatre space. Benjamin, again, on language and the hidden. Kafka, and the Great Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. For Kaspar is not all that far from Karl Rossman. And Hamilton shrewdly notes Wittgenstein’s belief, at the time of Tractatus anyway, between depiction and display. And this is highly relevant to theatre. Hamilton writes…
“But this just means that, qua proposition, no proposition can express anything of value. Once again, but with a fundamental difference, we arrive at something that cannot be said and must be shown. The difference is, of course, that there is a role for language to play in the displaying of value. The relevant influences here aie Kierkegaard (who, like Wittgenstein, believed that the most valuable matters could be discussed but only indirectly, through the medium of stories that had a capacity
for revelation) and Tolstoy (whose short stories Wittgenstein took to be especially important in his own life).”
To understand the limits of thought, one must have either side of the thought be something thinkable…so to speak (sic).
And Wittgenstein wrote…
“There really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in
a non-psychological way. What brings the self into philosophy is the
fact that ‘the world is my world’. The philosophical self is not the
human being, not the human body, or the human soul, with which
psychology deals, but rather the metaphysical subject, the limit of the
world—not a part of it.”
Now all of this is hugely important for starting to reclaim a relevance for theatre. The age of mass produced corporate (and Pentagon vetted) film and TV, the role of theatre looms out at those places where the buses don’t run. The other side of the interstate, beneath the freeway overpass. The spaces of underclass exclusion. For that is where the metaphysical subject lives. Not in Lincoln Center. And what needs understanding here is that alienation, the reified state of the contemporary spectacle, is linked, or rather intertwined with loss. And that means a loss of language, of a language that had meaning and connections to community and history. The figure of the exile looms again, here, and the role of coercion under Capitalist domination. And Wittgenstein, or the early version of Wittgenstein, believed that all languages were second languages. That there was always a coercion innate in learning language. For the purpose of this post, this impacts ideas of narrative — but more, as Horkheimer wrote….“Men as they are today understand each other…to the extent that the last works of art still communicate, they denounce the prevailing forms of communication.” Art has never been about communication. And as soon as young writers and directors begin to think of it that way, the conventional forms of domination are reproduced. There are a number of implications in this having to do with repression. And with repetition. For theatre is the space where repetition becomes ritual. And that may well be one of the formative motives for the origin of theatre.
Bloch wrote that one who is deeply moved “must close his eyes”. Mimesis is then not necessarily optical. Not in that innermost space. Theatre is firstly about listening. Russell Jacoby wrote that the Jewish utopian screen (meaning Kabalistic) is mostly blank. It is defined, he says, by imageless longing.
“Death is a barking where there are no dogs.”
Neruda (Bly tr.)