Sunday, May 31, 2009

What what is is (a beginning)

Another word for theatre is desire.

Beyond want, beyond need even, more joyously complicating of the body in its relations with the bodies and the places that surround it, is a kind of desire which is identical with theatre: not free from fear, but left holding only the fear of letting fear go.

The fear is what if. The journey of the audience, in encountering theatre, is from what if to what is. How we gradually come into a gentle confrontation with how things really are, who we really are to each other. The fictions that keep us 'in our place', the edifices of stultified authority and stupefied injustice, become transparent. Likewise the forces that contort authentic desire into the effigies of commodified lust and programmed appetite.

We feel ourselves watching, drawn in, summoned to a loving attentiveness to what is, here, before us, seducing us with its painstaking truthfulness, we becoming immersed until what is here is finally wholly us. The distance between us, conceptually collapsing, changes state; air, breathable air, rushes in. We touch, for real.

What this is, we desire, completing the basic theatrical circuit; and in desiring it we desire also what lies implicitly beyond it, awfully close, so that we can almost touch that too. That this, here, could be how we live: not the thing we occasionally do to make the way we live feel nearly bearable, but in itself our way of life.

Whatever does not activate this desire, what is not itself this desire in action, is not theatre, though it may have stolen that word as camouflage. Rather it is a ceremonial obeisance carried out in fear of this desire, like a quaint supernatural appeasement. Its technologies are escapism, diminution, generalisation, self-preservation, greed. It speaks of fear in its every gesture. It wants control, not attentiveness, not openness. It may perhaps spout radical-sounding phrases, but it cannot comprehend their meaning; or if it understands them, it cannot dare to be shaped by them for itself. It may throw up vivid images: sensational pictures, sometimes, or the image of participation. But it cannot dare to show itself for what it is: the conservative hiatus of the holiday, the allotment of leisure that helps preserve the status quo, that can only signify against a changeless backdrop of petrification and profound self-denial. Like the degraded uses to which we most often now put poetry and classical music -- wanting to be soothed by it, relaxed, consoled; hoping merely for an interlude of retrograde orderliness faintly tinted with the epiphanic or the numinous -- this kind of "theatre" is simply a betrayal: not only of ourselves and our capacity for meaningful creative engagement, but of all those whom our self-betrayal eventually touches. Those whom we fail because we cannot imagine their lives, or our complicity with the forces that shape them; our imaginations which fail not because we do not exercise our most speculative fantasies but because we are chronically afraid to look at, attend to, what is, without synthetic fear to insulate us from the facts of the matter.

Theatre is a way of giving up our fear of giving up our fear, and when we do that in relation to other bodies, in designated places where privacy is gradually but perpetually becoming meaningless, another word for that is desire.

Yes, I'm talking myself in to something.


notional said...

'gentle confrontation'... gossamer radicalism. Love the audience to the point of (mutual?) 'conceptual collapse'. You've got to allow for it to be mutual.
But keep talking. this is better than the diary stuff.

Chris Goode said...

Hey Notional,

Nice to see you. It's been a while.

Think we're at slightly cross purposes here though not to any grievous effect. I meant "conceptually collapsing" to apply not to us -- that's the last thing I want us to do -- but to the distance between us, which under these conditions ideally becomes only spatial. Our "conceptual collapse" would seem to take us awfully close to the Romantic sublime and the dwarf varieties thereof that clutter up the contemporary scene.

Given the circuitous nature of the enterprise as I describe it I can't see how its enaction could be anything other than 'mutual'. Else the circuit doesn't close. But maybe I'm not quite seeing what you're meaning? What would a situation where it's not mutual look like? feel like? I suppose you can't be sure you're taking everyone with you -- is that your concern? Are we winding up back at that horrid HQ of not being able to contact an audience in sufficiently high resolution to know what they're individually thinking and experiencing?

Sorry you don't like the "diary stuff". I wonder why. It all feels of a piece to me. But I would say that, wouldn't I? Pooter's Paradox strikes again.

Anyway. Nice to see you.

notional said...

yes, hello again. glad your shows seem to be going well. of course we're at cross-purposes, but only on purpose. I was only ribbing - suggesting that if you're not willing to share the collapse, then you could be end up just as distant and manipulative as the betraying theatre-makers you talk about. I like the the idea of a show where the performer is sensitive enough to the audience to feel the fear with them. You do see it sometimes.
(and i only prefer the provocations because they're a teensy bit more economically composed. But blogs is blogs, innit, and yours wouldn't be yours without the midnight brainwaves.)

simon said...

Hello. Just got a call from the landlord. 22 W**l*ss R**d will be reopening its doors in September. I thought you'd like to know.

Anonymous said...

what if to what is - absolutely.
talking yourself into it? go on, say yes.

Unknown said...

just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your "What what is is (a beginning)" post. I am a theatre director and am in the midst of creating a blog of bits & pieces & images - artists whom I admire.Hoping to expose folks in this small southern to more substantive theatre than is the usual fare here.

I posted an excerpt from your post on my blog, giving you full credit, of course.

If you object, I will remove it. But I so liked what it says.

Best, jcgCollaborations