Whatever you’re looking for, you won’t find it here.
As mottos go, not too promising. Not at all promising, in fact. And yet. Can’t we agree that something is there? Once we’ve reached the end and look back? Back to the pause, the comma? Something is there, but it’s not articulated. Something is implied. Something positive within the negative. Irony, right? That’s the term. It’s there haunting and hovering, but it’s not scripted. Certainly, that, in a nutshell, is a statement of an aesthetic. And it’s safe, seemingly. There be no dragons there or work making anyone free. No false promises, thankfully, but no abandoning of hope, either; good news for those who might dare to enter and check things out. We also note with relief that the exits are lighted.
I like this motto. I just thought of it, but I find it easy to believe that it has always been there. Framed. On the wall. Or above the door. To my mind it testifies (along with those marked exits) to the fact that we are in a theatre. I can imagine a cadre of eager archeologists finding a sign buried in the rubble. It is the few faint traces of this motto remaining on the bit of dried board that tells them they are standing amidst the ruins of a theatre. It’s that kind of incontrovertible inscription. Or, to conceive a scenario closer to our own time, perhaps a few of us found a way to escape before the town’s ghosting implosion. We made it out alive but now have returned seeking the warm glow of nostalgia and a bit of closure. As we move about the space wrapped in a full and choking silence, one of us finds the sign. We wipe away the dust and smile at our motto. We remember the work that took place in the space, if this was the space–there were actually a number of spaces–and we remember the hope for an understanding audience. There was that one time, wasn’t there?
With a motto, I can close an era. The first decade of our new century. Done. I lock up and give the sign a nudge. It gently rocks. The motto allows me to write the ending. Memory is now era-gated. Closed and full. Perhaps there can be some form of harvest.
Time for a confession. The motto is mine, but it’s also borrowed. It’s pulled from Jacques Lacan. I changed it a bit to serve my own ends, but I can’t escape the original resonance. In truth, this collection of writings is documentation of my struggle with my Lacan heritage, with the fact that I can’t just quell the echoes. I devoted a good bit of time and effort to studying Lacan (yes, I know–for good or ill!). After an earlier “Farewell to the Theatre” from a previous decade, I spent a number of years studying, training and working in the world of clinical psychology and with that came the opportunity to get really immersed in the clinic of Lacan and his version of psychoanalysis. When you spend a great deal of time looking through those particular lenses, it’s hard to just stop cold turkey. It makes for an addictive kaleidoscopic experience.
I discovered this as I found myself gravitating back to the theatre at the dawn of the new century. I fell into a teaching gig. Six weeks each summer with an eager group of young gifted performers. I got to preach my gospel of collective creation–always a cause with me–but I also found Lacan creeping in, not so much in what I did–which largely involved introducing the students to the Vocal Sequence, a performance discipline codified by Herbert Blau and his experimental group KRAKEN
–but chiefly through an impulse both to write journals and to generate a collection of supplemental “educational materials.” I was undergoing my own analysis at the same time which, no doubt, exerted its own influence.
As I continued to push my way into the decade carrying theatre and Lacan on my back, I started to take assorted excursions and side trips. The common factor for filing away all these forays into the bush was a name: lacuna. I started to assert there was this performing entity that called itself lacunagroup. I derived great enjoyment from the name. A lacuna is a hole in a manuscript, with the implication that at one time a bit of meaning was present that is now no longer available, and, further, if one is optimistic and committed to puzzling and pondering and even cyphering, the absence can be resolved, the meaning restored. It also makes me think of a tropical paradise, a place with a lagoon and a bar where, after a swim, you can get a drink served in a pineapple with a little umbrella. But, too, there is a slight dark threat that the hole cannot be filled or figured out. But a farther and more remote possibility, at the most giddy extreme, the actual definition of the thing for me is effaced and the hole is no longer a former presence but a forever constitutive gap, an inevitable and catastrophic jumping off the rails. And, finally, as friends forever like to point out, in lacuna you can find Lacan.
lacunagroup was truly a coalition of the willing. Work was done. We even had a website. On it, I would continue to write: notes of encouragement, statements of principle, promptings to create, and improvisational experiments that sometimes involved only myself in a full-bore mode of mono-mythic-mania and sometimes included an entire chatroom of cohorts. It was all quite mad, really. Often it seemed that the only theatre taking shape, and I can’t help but think of Herbert Blau here, was in the writing itself, in that act, as I sat in the dark of a totally indescribable but wholly inscribable space, enthralled by the incitements and traumatic accidents of thought thinking its own truth into existence. Then I remember: work, in fact, was done. People met and tried to create. We gathered on a platform we had constructed on top of a little rise and around which I had dug a narrow moat rippling with words. Sometimes on hot days we choked a bit on a stagnating stench, but otherwise it was okay.
I did believe there was a new way to find a theatre in the words. This belief had taken over since trafficking with Lacan. In the theatre of Lacan’s version of psychoanalysis, there is nothing but language and speaking (and occasionally a couch). It is the classic arena of the Freudian “talking cure” but somehow more austere, more (and for this I might get letters) ascetic. You try to keep the distractions of theory out of the way. A wager is made which assumes the gravity of an ethical commitment, one which is vulnerable, certainly, to the condescending estimations of other therapeutic schools and to the affable dismissals from a certain kind of scientific outlook, but for analysts working this way the gamble is real and not taken lightly: to truly understand what is going on with patients, you make a commitment to follow the language: it has been around them and within them since their infancy; it helped build them; it’s there and not going anywhere. The words know the neighborhood, the words helped build the neighborhood, the words carry around a great deal of history and information, they’ve seen it all. Some things the words will share readily, other things require a certain kind of effort and a certain finesse, a bit of savoir faire. Often the words know more than they care to reveal. Often they don’t know they know. Or they only dream that they know. However, if you stay with the words, you are going find out a great deal. You might think of the word as a unique and particular type of neurotransmitter. Furthermore, with assistance of the words, repairs can be made. So whether you are the one on the couch or the one positioned behind it at a proper distance, you are working with words. And playing. And cursing. And abusing. And loving. All with words. Taking them apart, turning them over, suspending them, watching them refract the light. It becomes a habit. No, to be honest, it becomes something of a compulsion. I brought that preoccupation with me back to the theatre, and I was going to find a way to make it do something interesting, to make it perform.
This desire to crack open words and perform within the innards was not limited to the theatre, however. I confess I got a bit nutty with social media. I adopted an interventionist approach in the way I would deploy posts, as if I was going to rely on the butterfly effect to turn one syntactical disruption into a collective crying out for utopia which would span the continents. I would pun. I would whip up Joycean Wakean frittatas of meaning. For most of one year I wrote a haiku a day. A well-observed vignette would also appear on occasion, crispy with ironies both daunting and daring. And so on. The impulse to churn out sentences moved faster than any reflex for cautious reflection. I think this quirk of mine was underlined and lampooned a bit when I was appointed to the office of Aphorist in the Lichtenbergian Society, another group alignment from that era whose members only took seriously the coupling of vaunting creative ambition with measured and consistent procrastination. In other words, it was a drinking society devoted to putting off projects and discussing the avoidance of art and the art of avoidance, all as a tribute to the malaise of selective inactivity that afflicted the career of Enlightenment polymath Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. I took it upon myself to take the joke of my appointment seriously (Lichtenberg’s Waste Books do exist, after all) and doubled my production of epithets, aphorisms and hoaxes. This is “How to do Things with Words” could have been emblazoned on my banner or crest or stationary. I was insufferable.
As for the symptom I suffered while fidgeting in the gaps between the words–the theatre of lacanagroup–it ran its course with the decade. I now believe I can pinpoint its true end. While on a morning walk in May of 2010 I came across a storm drain.
The first thing to note is that holes figure prominently in the clinic of Lacan. The presence of a “lacuna” in our name i a nod to that. The drain set off a Lacan fantasia, really: to think of something being “full of holes” is a compelling paradox inasmuch as the in the clinic of Lacan the analyst is already encouraged to think in terms of lack or of empty sets or, alternatively, of fantasies of continuity and fullness. One hole. An infinity of holes. The vicissitudes of desire–to be without holes is to be without desire and to suffer the holes is the whole of desire. And then there’s the psychotic horror of the holes as real, as so many unstoppable leaks, and of the terrifying loss of a distinction between outlets and inlets. But I also thought of O’s. Letters. Also an important set of concerns with Lacan: the set of what can be written. Words, again, but now as galaxies of more elemental entities. Letters as the ins and outs of words. At a recent lacunagroup gathering there had been some discussion of resuming exploratory work on King Lear, so I found myself thinking of Shakespearean O’s and the idea that the letter O held open a place in the script for some sort of extra-textual bodily outburst, for something unscriptable the actor had to evoke to further the unfolding meanings of character and action. I thought of a gully-washing flood of emotion which then led me to the quintessential instance of such an extra-textual actorly event in Lear’s speech during the storm on the heath (BLOOOOOOOOW…). Storms, floods, tears, emptying out through the storm drain, through the O’s. Eliotic O’s of the “Shakespeherean Rag” are in there too, of course, contending with endings. I also found myself reflecting on the elusive twilight world of women and their O’s, a subject so veiled and esoteric a poor Pentheus could only surreptitiously spy upon it through slapping and obscuring branches while contending with the ever-present risk of losing his head. The fantasia had shifted. Sexual difference, also an important category in the clinic of Lacan. EncOre. MOre. MOan. (MOM? the analyst silently and predictably ponders…) I was O-bsessing. NO surprise. I wondered if I could collapse this all into a name. A signifier. A MOttO? A mOniker? MOnica? That’s all it took to conjure up the image of Harriet Andersson in Bergman’s Sommaren med MOnika. It was quite a storm that was brewing and I wasn’t sure if a sea of O’s could drain it. The resulting text wrote itself. I brought it with me to our next lacunagroup (grOup grOpe grOOt grOttO…) meeting. (LakOOOOOOna LaOcOOn …)
The TITLE: Storm Drain
The PERFORMERS: One or several.
Face front. Connect.
Turn around. Face away.
Turn around. Face front. Connect.
Turn to the right. Profile.
Turn back to the front. Connect.
Turn to the left. Profile.
Return to front. Connect. Complete.
(The ACTIONS may be performed as a sequence, or the items may be used singly or in groups, numerically ordered or not, interspersed between bits of TEXT or accompanying bits of TEXT.)
Repeat after me.
O Monica, O Monica
OO Monica, O Monica
O Monica, OO
OO Monica, O Monica, O
O Monica Monica, O
Monica Monica, O Monica, O Monica
O Monica, O Monica, OO Monica
O Monica Monica Monica, O Monica, O
Mon-O-i-O-ca, O Mon-O-i-O-ca
O Mon-O-ica, O Moni-O-ca
O Mon-O-O-i-O-O-ca-O-O, O Monica, O
O Monica, your heart belongs to me.
To me your heart belongs, O Monica.
Your heart belongs, O Monica, to me.
O, to me your heart belongs, Monica.
O me, to your heart Monica belongs.
O me, Monica, to your heart belongs.
O me, your heart belongs to Monica.
O Monica, heart belongs me.
Monica, heart to.
O your heart.
O your belongs me.
O Monica, O your heart, O me.
Monica O me, heart your O, to O.
Monica, your belongs
Your belongs to me.
Belongs O belongs, your O me, heart O to.
O your O, belongs me O.
O Monica, your belongs, your belongs, to me, O me.
Me to belongs heart your Monica, O.
Monica to heart, O your me belongs.
Me belongs, Monica, O your heart to.
Me to Monica, heart belongs, heart belongs.
Monica me your, O Monica me your, heart O me your.
O Monica your O, O me to your heart.
Your to me O, Monica your heart.
Belongs to your Monica, me belongs.
Heart me to.
Heart me Monica.
Belongs me Monica.
O belongs, O me, O your O.
Your me, Monica.
Monica belongs to me, O your heart.
Me your, me your, me your, me.
Heart O, me your O, belongs, belongs.
O Monica, O heart me your belongs to.
Me your belongs, me your belongs, O.
Monica to me, O belongs, O belongs.
Heart belongs, to your, me to your.
Your to your, O me, Monica.
Your heart to your, O me, Monica
Heart Monica me, belongs your O, belongs your O.
Heart Monica your, me O belongs.
O Acinom O
O O Acinom, O
O A O ci O nom O A
Om nom Om A i
O A i No m A i
O No A No ci No No No O
Ma No I C
A I C
(The TEXT may be performed as a single sequence by a single performer with the ACTIONS employed when appropriate, or multiple performers may engage in contrapuntal processes with the TEXT and the ACTIONS. Repetitions and out-of-sequence combinations are possible. Remember to give time after each TEXT item for audience repetition–possibly excepting item 1 (Repeat after me). The audience interaction is a crucial part, performer interaction is optional. Other permutations which might supplement or extend the sequence of the TEXT are certainly possible.)
Neither I nor anyone else knew what to do with it. Even though I now have a lingering unashamed fondness for it, at that meeting I interpreted everyone’s confusion as confirming that my marshaling of various Lacanian stratagems and preoccupations had hit a dead end. A periOd(d). An end to an era of effOrt. Furthermore, I suspected something else might be taking shape because I had brought a guitar and a broadly spacious metal bowl to the meeting and found my way towards playing them–tapping the now water-filled bowl while using it as a slide on the plucked guitar strings–in an attempt at accompaniment while I led us all singing some fragmented blues rendition of “The Old Oaken Bucket.” (Old Oaken…still with the O’s, thOugh nO mOre MOnica…) Sounds, voices, music, song: evidence I might be moving on to something else. There were a few more meetings, but I think that was it for lacunagroup. Maybe the absolute absence of the O was too much, maybe I wanted to plug the lacuna with something or at least find something to put there to smooth out the page. A little song and dance? It was a decade dOne. An era Over.
A few years later, Jeff Bishop, an always embarrassingly supportive lacunagroup cohort, presented me with a manuscript. He had spent some time online pulling together bits of my writings that were squirreled away in the archives of assorted blogs and other internet venues. He’s an historian, after all. Raiding archives is what he does. He instructed me to publish. I consented with the added stipulation that I be allowed to include an Introduction…
(…include an Introduction. Here I want to pause. I was reviewing this Introduction, and as I passed through this moment of what can only be acknowledged as looping self-reflection, a folding back through repetition and re-examination, I decided there was an opportunity to make a cut and open a gap. I want to make an interpretation, a particular interpretation, and I feel a pressure to be the one who makes it. Pride, perhaps, is at work, and a bit of anticipatory defensiveness. I want to be the one to recognize what may the most obvious meaning beneath the presence of a lacuna. What’s missing in this push towards a theatre? What may be absent is true creativity, and I can’t allow myself to seem blind to that possibility. Many of the articles in this collection describe processes and approaches, a number of theoretical provocations, and numerous strategies and exercises, but little to no evidence of the thing itself. Sure, the ephemeral nature of performance can make isolating documentary evidence a difficult proposition, but in the case of this lacuna, the lack might be profoundly inevitable. My cohorts and I nervously pace around the opening, perhaps in denial. We wait for a birth, at least we hope for a crowning, for the first crowning of many crowns, for the children to appear and begin the journey, but the hole remains a hole. We circulate and wait. I theorize. I may be struggling with that perpetual lack of a spark. Yes, in this collection you will find some evidence of creative effort, but I cannot help seeing each instance as a demonstration of merely the possibility of creativity. Not the actual thing but merely a semblant. No conception but deception. All with the best of intentions, but still. This is one interpretation of the lacuna. Now to resume my review of this Introduction. I believe…)
I believe he meant what he had assembled to come across as a self-portrait. It got me thinking and ultimately wondering whether or not that was truly the case. Dale Lyles, another lacunagroup member, created a cover. When I asked him about his choices, he confirmed what I had suspected: it was designed to make you think of a Grove Press paperback, as if what the reader was holding was one of those time bombs tossed from the barricades by the European theatrical avant-garde throughout the 1950s and 1960s, one of those collections of plays and essays that had certainly exploded my teenaged brains and left me with no hope for life save through a rebirth in the theatre. I appreciated the joke, and so, yes, the idea of a portrait of a sort, the idea that I, too, was another heroic exploder in the theatre, but this time without the reward of a real mOment, without a result as true as some Great GlObe itself Offering fOrth an era or even as palpably fully empty as a great Beckettian NOt-quite-NOdding-Off before the end. The era here was errOr maybe. Or it came before it went. Nothing could be found. NOthing.
So, in reality, maybe not a portrait after all. Too much absent. Too many holes. Something else may be going on. I want to end here by asserting that what was really scribbling through the decade in and on a theatre of absence was the sinthome. Those reading this who are familiar with Lacan may acknowledge that I’ve gone too far at this point. I ask them to bear with me. My appraisal of these “occasional writings” simply couldn’t stay away from this idea. The sinthome
, the word an archaic version of symptom, is a theoretical formulation which enabled Lacan toward the end of his teaching life to describe a certain kind of self (not a word he would use, self, really, but it makes for a quick explanation) engaged in an ongoing project of self-creation or self-writing, as if the act of creation could tie together and strengthen other registers of life and reality that are not coordinating for that self as they might. So not a summation, not a portrait. This was an engagement, a cycle set on perpetual spin, a span of years and occasions: 2000-2010, a tying together, a binding up and rebuilding around some questions of self. I genuinely do still take my interest in Lacan seriously, and I present here what ultimately strikes me as some work on the sinthome that I have tried to accomplish through the sinthome. I hope it can be appreciated as a unique and colorful exploration of the concept. I also hope it has produced some diverting documentation.
References to the Vocal Sequence will pop up frequently in this volume. The definitive description of the Vocal Sequence can be found in Herbert Blau’s essay “The Grail of the Voice,” contained in The Dubious Spectacle: extremities of theater, 1976-2000, Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2002.
An English translation of Lacan’s Seminar XXII (1975-76), Le sinthome, is still to my knowledge just a thing passed informally from hand to hand. For a useful introduction try Thurston, Luke, ed., Re-inventing the Symptom: essays on the final Lacan, New York: Other Press, 2002.