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The Art of Being Off-Task

I’m not trying to derail the progress of the scene breakdown. I was cleaning a room and got distracted. Maybe this is more appropriate for the Lichtenbergian site since it represents divided attention; I don’t know. It does touch on theatre art, however, so…

I wrote a speculative little thing a while ago in which I tried, yet again, to synthesize two of my interests: performance and psychoanalysis. Yes, I know; I’m pretty predictable, but don’t begin chanting the Te Dium just yet. And no pained sideways glances. Have a look at it and see what you make of it.

I’m not much interested in being asked questions beginning with What did you mean by…. or entertaining editorial observations; as exposition and improvisation, it is what it is. Rather,I think there are occasional passages I’m quite proud of because of the way they articulate some pretty arcane Lacan concepts in everyday language. Also, I want to inspire new thinking on performance issues. To my mind, nothing I’ve offered is shattering original, just another stirring up of the familiar into a slightly unfamiliar brew.

Useful for Coriolanus? Not a bad question. It’s not my agenda in encouraging you to read it, but if it inspires, why not. Too eccentric? We can only hope.

19 Comments

  1. marc wrote:

    If I live, I think I might take the tape off my mouth and stick it under the chair.

    Monday, July 21, 2008 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  2. jeff wrote:

    JEFF: My arm, please.

    Monday, July 21, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Dale wrote:

    DALE: I’m still thinking. And feeling your arm. Be still. And know.

    Monday, July 21, 2008 at 5:45 pm | Permalink
  4. jeff wrote:

    JEFF: But … I’m … HUNGRY!

    Monday, July 21, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  5. marc wrote:

    MARC: Another time, I remember standing by a vending machine. I was four or five, but I could have been older. It still feels the same. It could have been yesterday. I stood close to the vending machine and focused my thoughts, my will, onto some item inside. Something. I knew that if I did this, sooner or later some kind grown-up would come by, see me locked onto the machine, and offer to buy me whatever I was staring at. And unfortunately for me, I guess, in the long run, it worked.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 7:15 am | Permalink
  6. marc wrote:

    noting Dale’s still-firm grip on his knife-bearing hand

    I’m still thinking. And feeling your arm. Be still. And know.

    We could easily turn this into a psycho-physical exercise in which Jeff and Dale explore all the possible permutations, real and ironic, of this image.

    Which ones or what approach might break away from the imaginary capture of the idea? How do we take this moment and investigate as if we don’t know what a body is (or what a wounded body would be…or we challenge the assumptions of the image, the “drama” of it)?

    I promise concrete suggestions. I just wanted to throw the idea out there.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2008 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  7. marc wrote:

    A lecturer on myth and anthropology is unpacking the tales of Sock-Chew. Slides included.

    The lecturer is possessed by…enigmatic longings.

    The chewing of gum. The placing under the chair. By? Perhaps an object of the longing?

    A workman arrives with his toolbox. Much. rummaging and scraping. Much eating. Students watch with longing.

    Motif of mouth versus anus. Status of the gum in question. Status of words in question.

    Suggestions? Elaborations? Other “themes?” Other…nourishments? Gum as substitute? Placeholder? For what? Lecturer’s true preoccupation?

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 6:59 am | Permalink
  8. marc wrote:

    Another piece of the puzzle.

    I suggest we chew on this one a bit before yea or nay.

    Each audience member will find a stick of gum in his or her chair with note: more chewing satisfaction.

    During performance, perhaps connected with gum under chair idea, we collect wads of gum from those in the audience who chose to chew. (Memory of MF collecting gum from students before the entered the gym for prom. Held out her hand.)

    In connection with the Sock-Chew mythos, a small totem or fetish object is sculpted from the pieces of chewed gum and used in some way. A ceremony? What is the lecturer up to?

    What if at some point the performers confess to collecting the gum and fabricating a ceremony to enact a rite which is part of some earnest system of neo-pagan beliefs, in an effort to exercise their will upon the audience? Shades of the Wicker Man or Genet’s The Blacks, but certainly implicates the audience. The rite is disguised throughout the performance and is the “real” agenda.

    Or is it? Performers offer to lead a prayer in a gesture of goodwill.

    Gum as avenue for communion? Intimacy?

    Gum being given up versus gum being hidden versus gum being swallowed versus…shared, stretched among two or more. Strands consumed incrementally like a single string of spaghetti. Mouths reaching the point of junction.

    Fetish is consumed? Sacrificed? Expelled? Used as igniter of arousal?

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:29 am | Permalink
  9. Jeff Bishop wrote:

    (Breaking character)

    I’m totally enthralled by posts 105-107. Some exciting opportunities for exploration here. I’m in love with Marc’s brain.

    (Getting back into character)

    JEFF begins stomping his foot. It’s rhythmic, aggressive, oppressive.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  10. marc wrote:

    Sorry. Have to put one more down before I lose it.

    The lecturer, motived by a strange mixture of fascination and disgust and by an interest in connecting with the student, interrogates the student about the nature of gum chewing, its physical mechanics, its pleasures, the decision to remove and dispose of it, etc. In phenomenological detail. The audience watches this exchange either chewing their own gum or having chosen not to chew, some having thought they might “save it for later,” some not chewers, etc. Lecturer starts out trying to humiliate the student and prove gum chewing is a sign of second-rate intellect, but the exchange goes in unexpected directions lecturer cannot control. Lecturer has already placed a call for something to be done about all the gum under the chairs, hence the arrival of “the scraper.”

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  11. marc wrote:

    MARC chants phrases to accompany the ancient rite known as The Knife Dance:

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  12. marc wrote:

    Unfortunately it is always tempting to gain familiar satisfaction by identifying with the kid who gets passed over during rounds of playground drafts.

    But I won’t go there. I still have a great many challenges ahead of me as I try to translate my ideas into acts. I will continue to push the plow.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  13. marc wrote:

    …and then someone asks, Why do you say “push?” Aren’t plows pulled?

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  14. marc wrote:

    …and either I can assume the position of the Subject (slashed S) and begin to question my “goof,” generating possible signifying connections, or other performers can simply begin to unfold more possible questions, playing the Other meanings lurkings about.

    Why are you trying to “push” us around with your arcane concepts?

    You really don’t have any “pull.”

    “Plow” who?

    Plow evokes pillow, my earliest sexual companion.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  15. marc wrote:

    Let me quickly take stock. The most significant thing I can say at this point is I’ve let myself go astray from my original drive to undertake this work through my preferred theoretical avenues. It’s funny I’ve become the word guy because my most pressing desire is to explore what in the theatre might be seen as unspcriptable. My trauma, my delirium, my ghost, my fatality, they all involve my experiences working in a fashion in which what is unspeakable in the spoken is what takes the focus, in which enigmatic events unfold and ask to be newly assimilated. It’s pretty much my wordless mystical core. It’s a set of sentinel events.

    I’m attempting to formulate strategies for negotiating through such unspeakable intensities, and I have eschewed conventional psycho-physical performance languages revolving around “the body” in an effort to find new things.

    Hard to do in a blog. Not impossible, though. My approach involved focusing on the activity we were engaged in: we were all imagining events and choosing words to describe those events. What might be enigmatic and unscriptable in that? In our attempts to write? To get at it, I couldn’t stay within the scenario we were describing. In the absence of intensities playing out in a physical space, I explored possible intensities lurking in our writing. And I used the same “psychoanalytic methods” I was interested in employing in work in an actual space.

    Problem is, I couldn’t successfully transmit my ways of strategizing and “interpreting.” I began to stand in a corner and try to talk my way out. Still not practical enough. I need to offer more than a mindset.

    There. I think others may see my stretches of being “rational” as endpoints and, therefore, not in service of fruitful creativity. But they’re certainly not meant to be endpoints. Back to my memories of the unspeakable. I must hold that in view. The mystical vision.

    Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  16. marc wrote:

    Plus, who’s comfortable discussing country matters non-anonymously on a blog.

    Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  17. marc wrote:

    Time for another installment in our series “Psychoanalysis and You.” Arcane or seemingly hermetic concepts made simple and understandable.

    Lacan’s Petit Object (a).

    I am throwing Logan his frisbee as usual. I sail the disk over a wide strip of ground in the backyard and he makes the snatch with sublime acrobatic grace. It is a transcendent process, a formula from the mathematics of nature writ down in a series perfect acts.

    Ike is feeling better now that he’s on pain medication. He has the energy this morning to descend the stairs from the porch into the backyard and sniff out a place to perch and poop. I stop throwing for a moment to watch. We have been encouraged to monitor his pooping. A soft pudding is extruded. Not great, but no spewing. It holds its shape and coils into a neat pile that glows brownish-green in the morning sunshine. Ike serenely moves on in search of tasty weeds to chew.

    The process of frisbee throwing is now complicated. Logan will run anywhere to make his catch. He certainly wouldn’t put on the brakes to avoid stepping in a pile of Ike’s poop. I don’t want him stepping into it and trailing residue all over the porch, so I have to throw to an area of the backyard where he will not run that risk. Every time I prepare to throw, I locate the pile, its color making it easy to see in the yard, and I launch the disk. I have to factor in the pile before each throw. The pile controls certain aspects of this activity that were free and open-ended (from my point of view) before. One could even say that the pile is now the only real thing in view and that I ignore it at my peril.

    Such is the place of the (a) in the subject’s unconscious. It is the thing around which all movement is negotiated and orchestrated. It, once lodged into place, is never not not taken into account. It’s effect as a noxious bodily remainder is significant. An actual encounter with it would be unacceptable, but its existence is influential and holds a place perpetually in perceptions and the shaping of intentions.

    This is very basic stuff. Carry on.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  18. Dale wrote:

    Pilobolous

    the poop

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  19. marc wrote:

    Thank you. As you show, traditional Science sutures over the place of the (a): it is dung, a harmless item of study like anything else.

    The Stevens poem is apt. And reminds me of Lacan’s meditation on the jar as sublime in his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis.

    Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 7:45 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] in the summer, I short-circuited the play-acting we were doing in The Art of Being Off-Task by claiming that I had found the answer to the […]

  2. performance group potlatch › The Art of Being Off-Task on Monday, November 3, 2008 at 9:26 am

    […] This is a post from this past June in which I tried to beg some lacunagroup members to read recent psychoanalytic musings and respond. The comments take some interesting turns. For a bit we turn the forum into an online performance laboratory. The results? I’m not going to judge. This was written by marc. Posted on Monday, November 3, 2008, at 9:26 am. Filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments here with the RSS feed. Post a comment or leave a trackback. […]