THE EROTIC AND THE VISIONARY IN SONG OF 8

In this article we’re going to unpack the notion of the erotic to see if and how it is conceptually related to the visionary. In defining the term ‘the erotic’ I will focus mainly on the thinking of Georges Bataille and to a lesser extent Audre Lourde and Marc Gafni (a philosopher who often draws on the Jewish mystical tradition in his thinking).

The erotic as a concept has been substantially diminished in its contemporary understanding by being conflated solely with the sexual. Though the sexual is a metanym for the erotic principle, it by no means limited to the sexual. Furthermore by realising that the essential element to making something erotic is the potent addition of the imagination we can rediscover the erotic as a visionary force.

The erotic as a transformation of the discontinuous into the continuous

In his definition of the erotic Bataille makes the distinction between discontinous and continuous selves. The Discontinuous subject is the one that recognise themselves as a self that is distinct from other phenomena in the word which is understood as not part of that self. The discontinuous subject lives in a universe composed of distinct things and phenomena, that are neatly dispersed, well delineated and interacting in ways defined by rational principles. The continuous subject on the other hand, is no longer a subject but an energy, a exuberant and chaotic flow of immanence, coming into being without end. The ‘continuous subjectivity’ (oxymoron though that is – it is the only way language will allow us access to the idea) does not contain within in it limits or distinction, it is thus non rational and inherently violent. According to Bataille the erotic is the force the transformation of the dicontinous into the continuous- a transformation it might be added that relies on their being a discontinous subject in the first place. What does this look like in practice? Any moment, in sex, or making music, or drawing, or meditating or smoking a ciggarette when you become, according to your sensation, one with the thing you are interacting with. The lover fusing with their partner, the musician becoming their sound, the artist the line etc. Its also clear at this point why this is called a violent act because it transgresses a subjects boundaries, it unleashes irrational forces that act in all kinds of incoherent, exuberant and purposeless ways and cannot be held accountable. The subject who employs the erotic force is ascenting to their own death, the death of their subjectivity but only to be rebeorn into the unknown on the other side. It is in this unknown that we glimpse the visionary potential of the erotic.

The Visonary Potential of the Erotic

To imagine the world on the other side of a death is the key componant in the erotic. The death does not have to be a literal death it can be a symbolic one, the key is that it happens at the point of transition from an experience of the self as discontinuous to one in which the notion of self is dissolved into a flow of  undifferentiated energy. To imagine what is on the other side of the transition from discontinuous to continuous is hard because it involves imagining oneself as a different ontological category, its not the difference of apples and pears it is the difference between apples and the infinity of life force. Meaning that the imaginative act required asks you to travel beyond the bounds of the possible, to a place in which new language, new political structures, new morality will be needed. These erotic acts of imagination take the form of prophesy, wisdoms that come fully formed and unrelated to present realities. There is a beautiful symmetry in the use of the term ‘the promised land’ made so famous in the 20th century by Martin Luther King when he referred to a place beyond the known landscape of racial segregation. In that speech MLK makes two biblical reference to the exodus out of ancient Egypt of the enslaved Jewish people, the first is in the famous line “I have a dream’ which was what the slave Nun woke up declaring to his fellow slaves in their compound in Egypt. Im that dream Nun had seen a vision of the promised land and it was the faith in that dream that was to eventually lead to the enslaved peoples exodus out of Canaan. This act of faith in prophetic imagination is what is celebrated each year at the festival of passover. In this uniquely mythic ritual the faithful are invited to imagine themselves journeying out of biblical Egypt, out of the ‘narrow places’ of bondage and into a new self. This is a two step process, first it’s necessary to locate the boundaries that define what you are and then you are invited to step beyond them into what you are not…yet. The erotic reimagining of oneself in the bounds of the unknown is dangerous for any political systems of oppression or economic orthodoxies that rely on having stable, predictable and docile subjects. This would explain why the erotic is so deeply repressed in our culture.

The repression of the Erotic

One gets a sense of how potent the intertwined concepts of the erotic and the imaginative if we look at their contemporary association. For the erotic the association is almost soely the sexual and for the imaginative it is the infantile, the fanciful, the ungrounded. It is also relevant to observe that the real crises of our time are crises of the imagination, neatly summed up in the aphorism: people could imagine the end of the world more easily than an end to capitalism. In the suppression of the erotic and the marginalisation of the imagination we see the both the will of power and the tools to defeat it. In an effort to avoid change the oppressive system must corrupt our connection with the erotica and by insiting on the power of the imagination and the engagement of feeling we can resist it.

“FUCK POLITE”- MEISNER TECHNIQUE AND GOING OFF TEXT IN TRANS-

In the following article, we will examine how the Meisner technique’s principles subvert the traditional hierarchy of the performer’s attention and what this might offer the artist and their stage.

By Jonathan Bonnici

As artists and audience participating in a performance, we are traditionally conditioned into placing authority in the pre-scripted. However, subverting this and placing the contingency of a genuine interaction over any pre-decided relationship opens the possibility to access material that is both unexpected and in concert with the artist’s unique impulse. Upending the hierarchy of the traditional relationship between the scripted and unscripted was Sanford Meisner’s gift to performance.

The Meisner technique in practice

The Meisner technique was developed as a tool for actor training and scene study by Sanford Meisner at the Group Theatre. It was further developed in his position as the head of acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York over the 50 years of his tenure there (1935-1995). 

Though Meisner saw his technique as an extension of the Stanislavskian method as interpreted by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, it could be argued that it significantly departs from that technique. In ‘the Method’ a particular focus is placed on the actor’s preparation for their role which primarily involves priming themselves on the (imagined) history of their character, relating this history to the actors lived reality, and, maybe most importantly, identifying objectives that the actor can pursue in their scenes and on their lines. 

Meisner’s revolution was to do away with the playing of objectives. Actors were instead encouraged to focus all of their attention on the reality of the moment. The training for such a sensitivity involves the famous Meisner ‘repetition’ exercise in which two actors sitting opposite each other begin by noticing something about the other that is a fact (not an opinion, a question or an assumption) one will ‘call’ this fact – “You blinked”, their partner will repeat this call from their perspective by using the pronoun “I” – “I blinked”, the one who made the original call will then repeat the call again switching the pronoun back to “you.” For example:

“You blinked.”

“I blinked.”

“You blinked.”

“I blinked.”

“You blinked.”

“I blinked.”

“You blinked.”

“I blinked.”

“You blinked.”

“I blinked.”

“You blinked.”

“I blinked.”

Etc….

The form’s simplicity led Meisner to call this a “dumbass exercise”, the kind of game a toddler could play without much effort. With this simple form established Meisner could then challenge the actor with a more difficult twofold (and interdependent) invitation: first to put your attention entirely on your partner and second to “invent nothing and deny nothing” (alternatively put: ‘to not lie nor withhold the truth’). The two injunctions are interdependent in as much as the first will better allow you to do the second; by putting your attention on your partner, the psychic energy usually reserved for monitoring and censoring one’s behaviour is depleted. The invitation contained in the second injunction to uncensor oneself is typically the one that causes the most struggle in the participants. It encourages a shattering of the social code that usually keeps the impulse in check, a social code which  also serves as a convenient rubric for how to be with the other. When this rubric is thrown out all the participants have is the emerging moment and the risk of that moment becomes acutely felt; the exercise could go anywhere, and it often does. 

Prioritising the emergent

The reorientation of priorities for the performer trained in the Stanislavskian method can be quite bewildering. Gone is most of the baggage of mental and emotional preparation that is pre-primed to detonate during the playing of a scene. The little that remains (the personalisation of the dramatic circumstances to the performer’s reality) is left at the door with a trust that it will be playing under the surface, organically steering the responses that arise. What replaces all the method’s framework is the moment to moment reality of the relationship to the scene partner and what kind of response that may illicit. And the performer is encouraged to remain committed to that reality even if it seems to be playing against the way the scene ‘should’ be going. It is also discombobulating to the actor on the level of the labour to which they are accustomed. Analysis of motives and the mapping of a character’s psychology is replaced by a work that negates work. The logic being that the impulse will take care of itself and that all the performer needs to do is get out of their way by not inventing their responses and not censoring them either. Weirder still is how this all affects the performers’ understanding of self. The technique implies that to be authentic in one’s expression, i.e. to live rather than imitate living we need to take our attention off the act of manufacturing ourselves and give it all to the environment in front of us. As a subject navigating this practice you are confronted with a contradiction: by focusing on everything but yourself, you come into focus. But given that you are only visible as long as you are in the process of exchange with another in what way can you be understood to be an independent subject- the kind that might be worthy of a singular pronoun?

A multiple self?

What emerges in the exercise is a version of the self that is uniquely coherent but dependent on things contingent and external for its appearance. It is a self that is rock solid and always changing. A self that is fully formed and entirely dependent. Are we talking about a non binary and multiple subjecthood that is both essentialist and performative? Maybe so but from the perspective of a participant, if one has been brave enough to break with social convention (the “fuck polite” of the title) and surrender to where the exercise may take you the experience is one of profound personal power. What fills the body is an erotic force tinged with a particular flavour that you recognise as what might be objectively identified as your you-ness. If unleashed, this self explores the world and reacts to it expanding creatively in ever widening pools. The moment that self stops discovering and turns its attention inwards it ceases to exist.  In terms of subjectivity then this could be the offer the world and everyone in it makes to the consciousness that perceives it: ‘I am here to be witnessed, and by witnessing me you come into the kind of presence that can be witnessed.’

PROCESS DOCUMENTATION IN TRANS-

My role in this project was conceived to fulfil both a dramaturgical function and to find a meaningful way of documenting the work. With the idea of combining the two positions Jon, Marie-Louise and I developed a practical approach that mimicked the performers’ practice of describing. 

Like a gaze documenting another’s gaze I took on the performers practise, but different from them my media was written text. Daily I spent time describing, noting down different situations taking place in rehearsal. I had simple rules – no interpretations, no use of metaphors and producing maximum one page per day. Sometimes I had special themes like focusing on facial expressions only or avoiding the use of gender specific pronouns. 

Some days the practise seemed totally trivial. I even had moments of dozing off while writing. Other days my experiments produced concrete ideas or proposals that in agreement with the rest of the team, could be implemented in the performance practice and tested by the performers the following day. In this way the mode of documenting fed the process; my practise while documenting also became a source for a type of feedback and direct input.

Later my texts were sent off to graphic designer Sam Moore, who then went on to interpret the texts in a relatively free manner. Sometimes he followed my rules or themes, at other times he developed his own concepts for interpretation. What was a simple written document to begin with went through several processes of super-exposure or densification. Words were enlarged or graphically layered to the point of total alienation, creating different forms, visual patterns and textures or even concrete images. 

Being surrounded by the daily routines of verbal description from the performers the auditive impact on me became more and more full. Towards the end of the project the initial effect of being labeled by another person (blushing, feeling exposed, mis-read etc.) had basically worn off. I even stopped listening to what was being said concretely and it was rather the movement, or different qualities within the constant noise that I became interested in. We discussed how we could add another level of density to the documents that were being produced. Could the words be stacked further? Perhaps to the point of creating a three dimensional object, a piece on its own? 

The documentation of this project finally consists of approximately 400 multi-layered images printed, stacked on top of each other and fixed together forming a brick like paper entity. It is language multiplied and deformed to the point of material solidification. It has weight. 

For reference, we have included here a few of the layered images that can be found inside the document object.