How to avoid storytelling in the theatre…
Formal strategies are very important. Processes, too, are crucial. Choose them and trust them.
I found myself wanting to do something with verse. I decided to invent a line. I arrived at three iambs followed by three trochees:
And that would be followed by a line consisting of three trochees followed by three iambs:
I decided that if I had one line of one sort, it would have to be followed by a line of the other sort.
Will all the lines follow this verse form? I reserve the right to not know.
Symmetry and isomorphism come to mind with this approach to prosody, but not in a way accountable to formal mathematical definitions.
To back up a bit, the reflected mirroring aspect comes from a silly two line poem I wrote:
Damn! Finish already.
Already finished? Damn.
That one led to another one, an imagined bit of chat between voices:
And it’s inverse:
She did, did she?
That got me curious about symmetry in language. You can have it in certain ways, but in other ways, you can’t. Time flows in one direction with respect to how you deploy words. Sure, you can construct palindromic sentences, but can we perhaps say that meaning lies in the impossibility of certain symmetries in the domain of language? Or can we even talk about the breaking of symmetries?
You do have symmetries with the shape of certain letters, however. And maybe that I will also exploit.
So, to carry forward with this idea of reflection or twoness, I chose for there to be two speakers. Sitting in chairs. I impose an arbitrary restriction: they must remain in their chairs.
To shape how I ponder the implications of what I have so far, I give myself two words:
Associations to these words will help prompt and organize material.
Now, with me, there’s always this matter of what I’m going to call the “extra-textual” in a script. This is a germane issue in this instance because I want to compose something for two performers I worked with in grad school. I am thinking particularly of these two because it was a moment of work between them in a piece we did using the writings of Poe that was very much about defining the significance of the “extra-textual” component, so much so that it basically led to my own particular “Road to Damascus” transformation with regard to what I want out of theatre.
So somehow the work has to attend to this matter of the “extra-textual.” It has to have something built in that will allow for these two performers to have some opportunities for elaboration that they, because of their training, will know how to use to their advantage.
I’m thinking square brackets. At certain points I will place things in square brackets and this will lead the performers to explore “extra-textual” possibilities at that moment in the proceedings.
The gender of the performers, both female, will also guide certain associations. It will underline, ultimately, a certain attitude toward reflection and symmetry. At a certain point, perhaps, a certain attempt at balance is an attempt to define absolute intimacy. So, too, I now realize, the scan of each line and the structured coupling of lines are also enactments of that intention.
So here’s the thing about story. I don’t want to deny the audience the possibility of finding a story or speculating about a story. They will attempt to clump together the strands. As I associate within my strictures, moments of a storied temporality will emerge, but I refuse to let those take over. It’s enough to trigger things for the audience. I’m more interested in using language and creating a multi-dimensional realm of possibilities for the performers.
I should play with some examples. Here’s a couplet that illustrates my verse scheme:
Your tongue will sound a cold click before I finish
running lengths of twine all around your hands and heart.
Three iambs followed by three trochees in the first line, the reverse in the second. This implies a two-fold mirroring, one between the lines and one within each line. The challenge of composition with this verse form led me first of all to the question of the mirroring break in each line. I knew I had to have two accented syllables next to one another in one and two unaccented syllables together in the other. Cold click came first, free of context, just a collision of two unarguably accented sounds. From that choice, I tried to let questions and answers regarding subjectivity, intimacy, body, and relationship, start to unfold. Since a context began to emerge, it made it more challenging to determine the mirroring pivot of two unaccented sounds in the second line. The twine was already in place trying to do double duty as both a tying action and a punning allusion to doubleness or twin-ness (not to mention a bit of promise for some comic sado-masochistic jouissance to come into play), so all around made for a possible solution with the all a- serving as the unaccented couple. The somewhat idiomatic tone of that phrase also seemed to keep things light and gave me permission to indulge in the use of heart at the end of the line. There is fun and grumpiness here, a familiar griping between intimates, perhaps, a domestic ritualization of the perpetual misalignment of desires.
I am suddenly surprised to see that the word finish, one of my orienting ideas along with nestle, has made an appearance.
I want to take the mirroring action further, so I decide to reverse the couplet:
[Heart and hands your round all of twine and running lengths
I finish click before sound will cold and tongue you.]
I made small adjectival adjustments, but tried not to interfere too much, just enough to conform to the inverse of the original couplet’s verse scheme (I did change around to round for that reason). The line struggles with grammatical conventions, of course, but subject and object still seem to churn and insist. I tell myself there’s a bit of extra enjoyment seeping in with this uncoupling from the conventional requirements of sense. I wonder if this approach might have some “extra-textual” interest for the performers, so I enclose it in brackets.
The piece I’m interested in writing is for two performers, so I decide to mirror again, but this time from the point of view of the other presence implied by the first couplet’s address. Again, I reverse the verse scheme:
Tie my heart and hands with at least two tightening turns
to try and stop my tongue clicking cold indifference.
This indifferent responder’s use of the alliterative t‘s communicates an investment in some kind of overt and resistent physicality, more exertion than what is at work in the tying one, seemingly. The word indifference, caught up in irony, also seems to situate the responder in a different place.
For the sake of completeness, I now mirror the responder’s couplet, again reversing verse rhythm:
[Indifference my cold clicking tongue stop try and
Tight at least and tightening hands twice heart and tie.]
Again, an evocation of the “extra-textual,” as if nestled within the attempt at a meaningful utterance is some other projected truth, something with a life in another dimension, an expression folded up and hidden away in the mirroring surface between the speakers.
These principles and processes are leading to some material. Is this dialogue I’m writing? I don’t know. I think I will need to follow my processes for a while and watch material accumulate.
Finally arrived at the thought of birds. I got there by staying with this idea of symmetry. After a detour into concepts of higher mathematics to find out more about a wondrous notion I stumbled upon in a “math for civilians” book: homologic mirror symmetry (attaching myself instantly to a precise colloquial sense I found in these words that seemed to set out my poetic project in its entirety) and discovering, no surprise, in parsing the specifics, that I had no business traveling into this area, the notion that eventually developed, as I thought about symmetry with tempered ambition, was that it was what was needed to establish containment.
Symmetry is the essence of any holding structure. Take a moment to visualize expressions of symmetry and you will see how trivially true that is. Think of a circle, think of a sphere. Fold over a plane and you have a pocket. Can one go further and assert that with a fold of containment, the line of time gets bent back on itself, gets looped or knotted? Symmetry asserts itself as something set off from the flow of time, perhaps.
Language seemed to both fit and not fit in with this. Language can be likened to the flow of time itself, of course, with every word marking a notch on the timeline. But can’t language also reach out into the world as part of an impulse to construct something that gathers in, holds, and preserves? Then I arrived at birds. You can perhaps see how.
When I ponder the mysteries of language, I sooner or later get caught up in a wish to lace together questions of what is within us and what is without us. How, for instance, is language a natural result of a living organism engaging with its environment? What part of the world of meaning is engendered by this odd muscular harnessing of acoustics with instinct and what part is an outside pressure pushing in on us like any other threat to the integrity of our cellular walls. Language as both an is and an it, and what might we, as investigators, stumble upon if we can find a way to study things both ways? So I drifted into thinking about other creatures that reach out into the environment to “express” containment. I naturally came to birds building nests. I then was immediately pleased with the fact that one of the guiding words I had chosen for my project was nestle.
Birds also harness acoustics as part of an engagement with the environment, of course. Can we see the impulse to sing and the impulse to structure containment as part of the same instinctual web of engagement? I’m simply playing with conceits at this point, be assured. I’m not trying to pass this off as any kind of scientific speculation. I had already imagined my two performers sharing a relationship that involved nesting. I had also seen them as lovers: love birds. So it seemed right to stay with birds and it followed naturally that I asked myself how two love birds might build a nest with words, the words emerging through a kind of singing…
After the bit of play with the symmetries of “she did” and “did she,” there’s an expression of enjoyment, I can imagine, followed by one performer asking the other if the pleasure is shared. If it is shared, then I think there’s a symmetry evoked that contains that sharing of enjoyment, that sharing of enjoyment typifying for me an expression of intimacy. Perhaps an erotic intimacy.
Sin entering Sister Mary.
Merry Sister entering sin.
A concept from the quest for meditative wholeness leads to some fun with the clichéd trope of the naughty nun. I had already had a notion of female mystics somehow pointing to a language source for this piece, along with two other words (the f in the word finish kind of prodding me to some choices) flowers and furniture. What if, in fact, the nesting love birds are former contemplative sisters? Trying to story it so explicitly all of a sudden makes it seem a little silly, but I am interested in the idea. Erotic and mystic union intertwining. Via a balancing and reflecting of language. Strange thought. Where could it go? Can I build something with this that can actually contain something?
With words, of course, there’s nothing really there. What can you keep in a container that is not real? Look what thy memory cannot contain… Symmetry holding an absence, a mystery, a passion. Maybe. But then as we carry on to the thought of the mirroring reflection, the symmetry is no longer a containment. We move to something else. Absence is not contained. Absence co-constitutes as a chimerical reflection. And what does the bird sing for then? Here, I think, is where the insurmountable conflict takes shape. These voices trying to make words contain something that cannot be contained, to reflect what cannot be reflected. Something is gone and can’t be gotten back. Folding, reflecting, nestling, containing, nesting, singing, all insurmountably painful. Pleasuring against life with what is lost to preserve who is lost. Again that silly surge toward storying is there. There’s a loss, right? One of the love birds has flown the coop, taken wing. Angel’s wings? Now the nest is empty. There’s the other aspect of finish. These clear outlines start to get boring and I want to dive back into the play of the words, into the effort and the mad scramble of making.
Lichtenbergianism: the book
As I brought up at the Annual Meeting, I am semi-interested in assembling a book on the creative process by examining the ways we have found the basic tenets of Lichtenbergianism to be useful in our various attempts. The discussions we have about each of these terms—and any we add to the list—will be the basis of the book.
My intention is to write a brief explanation and introduction of each of the tenets. You can then argue the points as you see fit, and provide instances of the tenet in action.
The nine tenets, as presented at the Lichtenbergianism seminar on the GHP campus in 2013, are:
- task avoidance
- abortive attempts
- successive approximation
- waste books
- steal from the best
Let the wild rumpus start!
L. 12. 1 Bear Hunt Song, or rules of creative conduct revised
- Be wary when it feels like a word association game.
- What is the form? Form is the wheel you don’t have to re-invent.
- If it’s truly new, it should be somewhat off-putting, something you would just as soon skip past or avoid, like a stranger who a year later is an intimate.
- Today’s intensity is tomorrow’s regret.
- Welcome intrusions.
I have no problem with these. I still feel cute as a button uttering them. Shirley Temple cute, if I’m being honest.
Three gnaws a bit, though. I want it to be more concise, more aphoristic, more…Lichtenbergian . Georg is the Master! I’m so happy the quote rotator is back up to speed, humming away. In these dark days of diminished production quotas, it’s a reason to visit the site everyday. I can fiddle with Three, maybe, in the spirit of Lichtenberg:
3. The truly new is that troubling stranger who in a year’s time could easily become an intimate if you gave in to your instincts, but who would more likely reject you outright for understandable reasons.
Shirley Temple is now disgustingly cute. I think my more compact version is actually longer, but it feels more precise and even has a touch of storytelling verve, which is not usually my forte. So it’s a keeper. Bon bons at play…
But I’m also content to chuck all of them. I don’t really believe in them as working guidelines. I don’t really believe myself these days when I claim I create. I have been revisiting the circumstances that first put me on a supposed creative path, and the truth is, I really cannot speak of those circumstances in any other way than as an encounter with an impasse. At a certain point in my development, I met with something I couldn’t understand or encompass or circumnavigate. The instruments I normally employed to get at things were useless.
Always an exciting moment, of course. And, in my case, I think, traumatic. Every encounter with an impasse is something of a trauma, I might assert. The moment of defeat makes an impression and sets the stage for a lifetime of re-visiting, of rehearsing the fatal encounter. Exciting, traumatic, and, ultimately, therefore, essential. Because, as I said before, you are not equipped. You lack savoir faire. There is no help. You become a moment of possible extinction. Such a threat, a loss, a lack, touches on the essential, on you, on life. You can’t find a ring to grasp. You plunge.
Here’s a version of the Bear Hunt Song as thoughtfully preserved by a helpful Boy Scout troop. The song is basically a guide to using prepositions in one’s various encounters with the world. It is the prepositions that function as the working codes, the symbolic formulas, that afford you the chance to move on Reality, to engage it, to establish meaning and possibility. Reality as a set of known possibilities is, in fact, mapped out in the song. But here’s the interesting thing: at the heart of the song is an encounter with an impasse. And that moment, really, is the essence of the song. The key moment, the thrill, is when prepositions aren’t worth a damn. And that is why it is fun to perform the song. Repeatedly. The Bear.
To put it briefly, my particular preoccupation with “creativity” and all that it promises and withholds is due to meeting a Bear. My continued engagement is a rehearsal charted by a particular practice, a particular way symbolic reality works and then unravels. I flee and re-approach.
I was lost in a Baroque tangle and baffled by words. That was the Bear. At the time there were no friendlier words to begin to characterize the predicament or the effect. I then began to collect related objects that seemed to want to adhere to the initial mysterious mute monstrosity. The “creative” path took its place as a possible connection to that mute kernel, along with others. All within a family drama, of course, and surrounded by various figures of interest. And so I orchestrated more and more elaborate meetings with the thing in the cave.
What to do? What will this new clarity tell me about how to proceed? I’ll keep you posted.
I have yet to achieve my goal of some years ago of writing non-stop for a 24 hour period. In the last three weeks, however, I have managed to write for five hours. (Not five together, but five separate hours on five separate days, but for those five hours, the keys didn’t stop once. No stopping to think; just a response to stimulus with infinite digressions allowed- but no distractions.) This yielded 35 pages & over 22,000 words. This was the result (which you can click to embiggen):
These were the top 50 words that showed up in the mess of 22,000. Process, implications, and thoughts after the jump:
Fugues all in one place…in order of attempt.
Yes, exploiting the fact we have a media library. And not to be confused with “fugue state(meant)s.” Then again…
Assignment L.11.02: Reflection
I rarely propose assignments. I rarely do them. I do not expect an enthusiastic response. That is not the Lichtenberg way. Our way is toss off whatever it may be with only smothered hope. Followed by a smirk. And then walk away quickly.
I propose a structure that may inspire a creative response. I’m mostly interested in whether or not the structure is useful in any and all media or though any and all modes of expression. Need the structure be explicit within the work? Good question. Visible or invisible? Subject or silent support of some other subject? Are we always aware of what stages the supporting mise en scene of our every thought, revery or effort?
The structure is built on reflection. Looking into a mirror and seeing not only oneself but also, behind oneself, another. Another looking perhaps at one’s back or at the reflection of one’s eyes. And so, what may follow? Might one try to look into the eyes of the reflected other to discern what the other sees, to see if the other sees one’s attempt to look? Everything would then circulate about the question: at any moment, does the other share the beam of sight with the one looking? A beam shared though reflected.
You can ignore everything after my initial sketch of the lines of sight, after the first three sentences of the previous paragraph. To imply that a question might reside within this structure is an imposition, I realize. Certainly a possibility within the structure, but not necessary for creative exploitation. Don’t attach anything to it unless it’s useful. You need not let this structure lead to questions of any sort.
A mundane though uniquely modern phenomenon. Mirrors certainly are part of the architecture of mind and self in the modern world. And I say modern (said it twice, now, really three times, heaven help me) fully aware that glassy reflection appears in myth, theology and other pre-Renaissance moments of thought. An aside, this paragraph, a ruffling of an otherwise smooth and unfussy texture. Or a skidding waver of the beam.
It occurs to me to add that, for the purposes of this assignment, I consider philosophy to be a mode of creative expression.
Fractal: a geometric pattern that is repeated at ever smaller scales to produce irregular shapes and surfaces that cannot be represented by classical geometry.
That seems to be an okay definition. The patterns were created:
Already kind of purty and fractally, I hope. The computer implemented these units at numerous scales of magnitude. And by magnitude, I mean tempo. In musical terms, I think that’s a reasonable translation for size or scale. The beats were subdivided and subdivided exponentially.
I then created color options through specifying a tone row and it’s retrograde. I also added color gradations by letting each tone also specify a key. Additional twists applied through some octave jumps.
I have made a fractal music in the past by manipulating frequencies with the Mandelbrot set, but I wanted to keep tempered pitches in this instance.
I also added some delay that would vary through assorted consonant values. The feedback of the delay enhances the contrapuntal nature of the music and adds some instrumental give and take. I chose a piano sound. Not the greatest, but it’s what I had available, and by manipulating the envelope of the sound, I could create a kind of fiddle voice to play along. Chamber piece for piano and strings. Trying for an acceptable musical equivalent of a fractal image. Here’s one:
That was the most recent attempt. Â Due to a particular arrangement of sequencer reset triggers and a more circumspect use of delays, it seems to offer a fairly controlled and dramatic musical organization of the themes. Â The ghost in the machine is a touch Romantic, I guess. Â Here’s the first attempt with the present tone row:
Not bad. Â More adventurous meter permutations. Â More appearances by dissonant clusters. Â Here’s the second attempt. Â I used fewer sequencer resets and so it seems a bit more broad in its lines. Maybe more contemplative?
Some snaps and crackles and pops because of the fussiness of the delays. Sorry. Must keep tinkering. Â I am using a nifty audio processing software with a modular interface: Plogue’s Bidule.
Go see this.
Then tell me if you are in or not. We’ll start on 1 September. Comments here will suffice for announcing your subject matter, which you must do before August expires.