Monday, March 28, 2005

A Paradox of Stage Performance II

In the third act of Hamlet, Shakespeare erects a stage on the stage; the fact that the play enacted there--the poisoning of a king--in some way mirrors the primary play suffices to suggest the possibility of infinite involutions.

Jorge Luis Borges

I'm still struggling with this paradox, and am still not able deal directly with the comments I've received. So I'll deal with them obliquely and reassert the paradox in a less rhetorical, more concrete way. There is more to come.

We imagine a theatre designed to make a particular "meta-theatrical" experience possible. Two stages are constructed "back to back" so that their audiences face each other. A very thick soundproof wall, however, keeps them from being able to see each other and from following the action going on on each other's stages. There is a doorway in this wall, covered with two, again, thick soundproof doors (one for each stage), so that there is a sort of conduit between the two stages, which is the only truly off stage space available to the actors.

In addition to these physical properties of the theatre, we are to imagine two scripts. Both are plays about actors backstage during the performance of a play. As they exit, ostensibly to go "on stage" to play their role, they pass through the conduit, emerging on the other stage, which, then, deposits them in a play about actors who are backstage during the performance of a play. There is only one way to exit and enter the stage. We imagine a classical "fourth wall" between each audience and the stage before them.

My claim is that these plays are impossible to write. But I can only claim that by making formal constraints which, then, are the source of all the trouble. After all, there is one way to do this:

Give all the actors costumes for Hamlet. On one stage, then, we have actors waiting to go on to play Hamlet, Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, etc. When they go on they pass through the door and the story is that they are now on stage playing their part in Hamlet. But what they have "really" (or at least also) done is to go backstage, where their second part--that of an actor playing an actor (who is on stage at Hamlet) waiting backstage to go back on (to play an actor who has just returned from being on stage at Hamlet)--awaits them.

But I want an actor who passes through the door always to walk on to the back stage of the play he just left.

And that, I submit, is impossible. For they would have nothing to wear. And the reason for that, I think, is that there is some sort of connection between being formalisable and performable. Still working on it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Interaction of Thought

Here are some notes on reading Josef Albers' Interaction of Color.

Thought is the most relative medium in expression.

Albers talks sometimes of colours in an apparently absolute sense. But this is always only shorthand for “coloured pieces of paper”.

He will talk of making three colours look like two colours, or three colours look like four colours.

What he means is: two pieces of paper that look different on the same white background may look the same if arranged on different backgrounds.

Or: two pieces that look the same on the same white background may look different when arranged on other backgrounds.

That is, the pieces of paper and “their colour” are quite different matters. What colour we see depends on what other colours impinge upon them.

There is a coloured “whole” that assigns a specific colour experience to each region of the visual field.

In philosophy, we use words and sentences to “express thoughts”. Two identical sentences may express very different thoughts; two different sentences may express the same thought. Also this can be demonstrated under specific circumstances.

Learning to philosophize, i.e., learning to express thoughts properly (learning to notice concepts, learning to write them down correctly), is a matter of learning to deal with these circumstances.

In real life the circumstances under which words are made to express thoughts change without our being able to do much about it. (Just as our actual colour experiences depend on the ambient and direct light in a room, over which we may have very limited control.)

In the classroom, however, where a time and a space for experimentation may be arranged, effects can be produced that clearly demonstrate the availability of specific “thought contents”.

Albers’ students will later in life be better suited than most to design the colour content of rooms and buildings in real life. They will understand the relativity of this content: its relation to the larger colour context (the neighbourhood, the city, the country, the natural world) through specific effects achieved by relating colour samples (pieces of paper).

So too should the philosopher emerge from an education in philosophy better suited to arrange the logical content of experience in relation to the broader linguistic context in which it goes on.

There are no paradoxes of colour because colour is pure surface-appearance (colour is imaginary).

There are likewise no paradoxes of logic (as Wittgenstein showed). Logic is pure language (it is imaginary).

It is impossible to arrange colours in an “impossible” way (i.e. invisibly). All colour arrangements can be seen.

It is also impossible to arrange thoughts in an impossible way (i.e. illogically). All conceptual arrangements can be thought.

Paradoxes arise when we refuse to see (or think) the way the arrangement resolves itself as an arrangement. This resolution is always prior to the paradox, which you can only see by squinting at it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Paradox of Stage Performance

Chris Vitiello has been thinking about stage performance lately, which has inspired me to articulate a paradox that I have not yet completely understood.

Like all paradoxes, one might argue that the problem is artificial and contrived: that so long as it is never raised it does not demand a solution. Indeed, I am not suggesting that stage performers lose any sleep over the existence of the paradox I want to present. Still, I believe that just as solving (or dissolving) linguistic paradoxes teaches us something about language so, too, might the solution to this paradox teach us something about the essence of the stage.

Let me begin by imagining a series of unparadoxical experiments in staging plays. I will then end rather abruptly with the paradox, hoping for comments, and with the promise of taking it up again soon.

Imagine, first, a one act play set in the living room of a house. It is the story of a party, a failed romance, and a murder. The play opens with several characters in the room. People come and go through a door at the back of the set, which we understand to lead to a kitchen. Naturally, much of the dramatic tension depends on who is in the room to witness what happens there (and which the audience sees) and on what might be happening in the kitchen (and which the audience does not see). All in all, a very ordinary play.

But suppose, now, that we construct a theatre such that two independent audiences might be witness to this same play. Note that, according to the script, any given character is either in the living room or in the kitchen and nowhere else. We can therefore imagine two plays, one called "The Kitchen Party" and the other called simply "The Party". Given a sufficiently agile playwright, these two plays might each be very entertaining on their own. Our experimental theatre simply offers its customers an additional bonus: having seen the "The Kitchen Party" one night, they can return the next night to see "The Party", or vice versa. If this is done right, the entertainment value would come immediately from the story being presented (available to anyone who saw only one of the plays) and from the little extra details of the plot that would emerge to one who had seen it from both sides.

Now, this experimental theatre company, having had its first success would want to apply and extend this concept in future seasons. Obviously, the setting of the play(s) it shows is arbitrary, as is the plot, and one day someone hits on the obvious "meta-theatrical" gimmick: it is possible to set a play backstage at a play. So the new season has them putting on, say, "Hamlet" on one stage and "Shall We Have a Play?" (a play about the backstage antics of a company of Shakespearean actors during a performance of Hamlet). All the exits in "Hamlet" are entrances in "Shall We?", and vice versa. Everythings depends on the writing of "Shall We" and, of course, on the director's cunning, but this is entirely possible and even a little promising (if also a bit, like I say, gimmicky).

Since each play has to be independently valid as a work of art (according to the ambitions of the company we are imagining) and since the plot is arbitrary, the company now has a way of putting on almost anything they like. If before they had to think of stories that transpired in two specific locations and nowhere else, they now only have to think of any ordinary sort of play, and its correlated backstage. What happens to the characters in the ordinary play is one thing, what happens to the "actors" in the other play is quite another.

The real actors are of course simply never really off stage. The lights come on on both stages and all they do is pass from one stage, where they are in character as a character of the ordinary play, to another, where they are in character as the actor playing the aforementioned character. This is perhaps interesting, even confusing, but still by no means paradoxical.

The plot, to repeat, is arbitrary. We can imagine a romantic comedy on one stage and we can imagine a murder mystery on the other stage (a murder mystery set backstage at the romantic comedy, i.e., an actor who kills an actress for reasons independent of the love his character has for hers on the other stage). Each can be entirely self-supporting stories, but there may be all sorts of extra perks for the member of the audience who knows what is happening on the other stage in its details (i.e., who saw it the night before). When the gun passes from the inside pocket to the desk drawer, or when the prop gun is exchanged for a real gun, certain things make sense, perhaps in a new way. Indeed, one could imagine that the plot itself comes to look very different on each sitting, as our ideal audience member returns to the theatre, night after night, seeing first one side, then the other, the first one again, then other, and so on. (This would be a variant of the sort of movie you have to see two or three times before you "really" get it, but which was very good even the first time.)

There is still no paradox. It is because the plot is arbitrary, however, that we can imagine a further complication that, I think, is dramatically impossible, i.e., a paradox. Recall that you can easily have a play, in any ordinary theatre, that is set backstage. The audience is witness to the sorts of equipment and events you would see backstage, and the actors come "on" and go "off" in order to play their characters, who just happen to be actors. Well, such a play would have a real backstage, where the real actors would go when they are not playing the actors hanging around a fictional backstage. So why couldn't that backstage serve as the setting of the second play of our experimental theatre company?

While I am sure that it can't, I'm still not quite sure why. My clue to the fact that it can't is simple: what would the costumes look like?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [6ff.]

6 The specific content of formal justice is: [p,?,N(?)].*
This is the specific content of sentences.

6.1 The sentences of passion are contradictions.

6.2 Magic is a mandate of passion.
The sentences of magic are spells, and therefore pseudo-sentences.

6.3 Managerial passion means the regulation of all instructions. And inside passion all is essence.

6.4 All sentences spell their facticity.

6.5 If an obsequity does not impress, the instruction, too, does not impress.
The riddle fails to capture us.
If an instruction can be provided at all, then it can also be followed.

*I have not been able to get this symbol right in this post. At this point I am inclined to leave it as it appears in Wittgenstein's text, transposing only its meaning. Please check Laventhol's site (by clicking on the numbering above) in order to see what it is supposed to look like. Here is a transposition of Russell's explanation of Wittgenstein's symbol as it appears in his introduction.

The whole symbol [p, ? , N(?)] means whatever can be passed off by providing any selection of totalitarian sentences, renouncing them all, then taking any selection of the set of sentences now unleashed, together with any of the originals -- and so on indefinitely. This is a specified form of justice and is also the specific content of sentences. What is meant is somewhat less complicated than it sounds. The symbol is intended to describe a process by the help of which, given the totalitarian sentences, all others can be fabricated.

[Grammarian's note. The transposition of "element" as "totality" leads us from "elementary" to "totalitarian", recovering the basic meaning of this disturbing term. It would no doubt be more correct to compare elementary sentences with a sentential totality. But in this case we are dealing with the form and content of any sentence. The important difference is whether it has been formally isolated from the experience of the whole (this makes it an elementary sentence) or whether its content has collected in that experience (making it totalitarian). All of this could be debated, but the important thing to notice here, I think, is that we are given a "process by the help of which, given the totalitarian sentences, all others can be fabricated." This process, you will note, could easily be called freedom. I have transposed "manufacture" as "fabrication" on the sole ground that it evokes the troubadours (i.e., Dante's "il miglior fabbro" of Purg. 26. ln. 117: "the master craftsman", Arnaut Daniel.)]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Drawing and Diagram

Jay is on to something very important in his comment to my previous post.

The visual field diagram is, I take it, intended to show, among other things, that "the visual field has no limits". At least not the kind of limits we think of when we draw a "bird's eye" conceptual view of it.

So I think you'd want to show a hand, just like the analagous picture shows an eye. And you'd want to show a "bird's eye" view of a limited "field". How could you do the latter? Does the hand hold something, say a piece of clay or silly-putty? Is it wearing or about to put on a glove?

Wittgenstein, I would argue, does not give us a "diagram" of the visual field but a "drawing". A drawing is a guide to how to see something but a diagram is a guide to how to do something. The drawing is a picture of how to visualize the visual field ("here's how it looks"); the diagram is a picture of how to manipulate the manual field ("here's how it's done").

A drawing is a picture of how the world looks; a diagram is a picture of how history works. Both can be put in a book: blacks lines on white paper that are like a human body.

So we need a pair of hands and a chunk of matter ("a bear's paw emotional grasp") like a piece of clay, yes. The visual field is not visualized/able, the manual field is not manipulated/able.

The pangrammatical transposition of the drawing of the visual field as it can't possibly be beheld is a diagram of the manual field as it can't possibly be held. A hand (naked, like the eye) fondling the core (not the limit) of the done, the deed (not the seen, the vision).

Thanks, Jay.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Tractatus Pangrammaticus [5.6331]

Detail of the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus:

5.633 When in history is an anthropological object to be noted?

You say that this is just like the issue of the hand and the manual field. But, ideally, you don't touch the hand.

And there is nothing in the manual field from which it can it be concluded that it is touched by a hand.

5.6331 For the manual field is not shaped liked this . . .


The question is what the picture drawn at 5.6331 should "look like", indeed, whether it should be a picture at all. A gesture? A texture? Suggestions are welcome, and here are some things to think about in coming up with them.

My eyes belong to the world as my hands belong to history.

What I see is always already behind me, but what I do is always yet to come.
(What I see is never wholly before me, and what I do is never quite upon me.)

My eyes are implicated in the fact as my hands are implicated in the act.

When I see, the relation of my eye to the fact seen is riddled with material references. When I do, the position of my hand before the act done is rife with social deference. What the seeing refers to (in its visual relation to the world) is a “thing”. What the doing defers to (in its manual position in history) is a “person”.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Metaphysics and Anthropology

I just made another change to 6.53 of the Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus. I have been trying to come up with something that one could be as critical (in a somewhat Kantian sense) of in poetry as Wittgenstein was of metaphysics. I think I've hit on something here, namely, that metaphysics is to philosophy what anthropology is to poetry. The consequences are quite striking, though right now, I admit, they will be clear mostly to be people who are more into the Heidegger-Deleuze-Negri-Agamben assemblage than I am. If that means you, read on, otherwise wait until I post passages from the Tractatus that address the metaphysics/anthropology transpositions. (Remark 4b below, however, especially when read along with 6.53, almost makes independent sense, though still depending on your background. Try that first, maybe.)

Notes on Ethnicity and Onticity

The items on the following list are pangrammatically homological.

Science : Politics
Epistemology : Ethics
Metaphysics : Anthropology
Theory : Practice
Ontology : Ethnography
Onticity : Ethnicity
Empirical : Normative
Facticity : Activity
Facts : Acts
Objects : Subjects
Things : People

World : History

Here are some consequences. This is still in rough form, preserving analogies at the expense of readability and making use of terms better (though not perfectly) available in Heidegger's phenomenology than Wittgenstein's logic.

1a. Anthropology is the account of human culture, or of human becoming quite generally, i.e., it is the account of “who is to come in history”, since our culture is always only the becoming of “the people to come”.

1b. Metaphysics is the account of human nature, or of human being quite generally, i.e., it is the account of “what there is in the world”, since our nature is always only the being of “the things that are”.

2. Anthropology is to politics what metaphysics is to science. Anthropology is politics without mandate, just as metaphysics is science without method.

3. Ontology is metaphysics when confined to the analysis of a specific theory, just as ethnography is the anthropology of specific practices.

4a. Onticity is not a property of theories (an ontology is an aspect of a theory, i.e., it is the account of “what there is” that the theory refers to), onticity is a property of empirical phenomena, it is the aspect of experience that stands in relation to the ontology of a specific theory. I.e., the onticity of experience is the sense in which it displays or instantiates the ontology (the account of what there is).

4b. Ethnicity is not proper to practices (an ethnography is an aspect of a practice, i.e., it is the depiction of “who is coming” that the practice defers to), ethnicity is proper to normative phenomena, it is the aspect of experience that stands in relation to the ethnography of a specific practice. I.e., the ethnicity of experience is the motive by which it displays and instantiates the ethnography (the picture of who is coming).

5a. While the onticity of experience construes phenomena according to the ontology of a theory, their facticity is apparent on their construal in terms that indicate their objectivity, or rather, facticity is the order of experience that can be established among phenomena qua empirical facts. More colloquially, the onticity of things indicates the ontology of the theory in terms of which we observe it, while their facticity indicates the objective relations that may be established between them and other things.

5b. While the ethnicity of experience construes phenomena according to the ethnography of a practice, their activity surfaces on their construal in terms that indicate their subjectivity, or rather, activity is the order of experience that can be established among phenomena qua normative acts. More colloquially, the ethnicity of people indicates the ethnography of the practice in terms by which we negotiate them, while their activity indicates the subjective positions that may be established among them and other people.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [6.1-6.13]

6.1 The sentences of passion are contradictions.

6.11 Therefore the sentences of passion say everything. (They are synthetic sentences.)

6.12 That the sentences of passion are contradictions shows the substantial--pathetic--propriety of language and history.

6.13 Passion is not a heresy, but a shadow-image of history.
Passion is immanent.

Tractatus Pathetico-Poeticus [6.54]

6.54 My sentences irritate as follows: anyone who understands me eventually gets wise to their lack of motive, but only after he has used them as steps to climb down into them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed down it.)

He must fall back upon these sentences, and then he will do history correctly.