Towards a Docta Memoria of Roy Hart

Translated from the French
Voir l'original en Français

Docta Memoria / Learned Memory

No doctorate has been written on Roy Hart. This is a surprising lacuna that contains or has taken on the appearance of an aporia, that is to say a void or avoidance, possibly a moral obstacle or a form of tacit interdict linked with his violent death in a car crash, including his two closest loved ones. On several occasions, I have tried to encourage students to take on such a doctoral undertaking, which I would say is all the more interesting because of the inherent difficulty and resistance. I have suggested different approaches to persons who could engage in such cultural reflections, and I am even prepared to lend a hand. It is true that time passes and that most of the academic and cultural references belong to another era, namely to 1968 and the 1970s – but the distance can be actually an advantage for such reflections.

I am referring specifically to Roy Hart (1926 – 1975) and to his ideas.

I am referring specifically to Roy Hart as person and not to the use of his name as a label for what became of his legacy, especially his teaching legacy, after his death in 1975. Incidentally, today Le Roy Hart (pronounce with a strong French accent) refers nebulously just as much to the actual place, Malerargues, in Southern France, where the Roy Hart Center is based, to the people who live in it, to the owners, or to those entitled to teach there.

As we all know, a doctorate is an undertaking that is supposed to be scientific, in terms of its doctoral, that is, learned content and procedure. And I have no intention at this stage in my life to take on a doctorate on Roy Hart: I am passed that age and my mindscape is elsewhere. However, in at least half of the recent articles on my Blog I refer to Roy Hart. And I think I will continue to do so because, I would say: I like the challenge he left me – which includes the challenge to speculate on a memory which is essentially oral, unwritten. As far as I am concerned, it is a question of intellectual pleasure, the pleasure to reflect on and to contextualize someone who made a strong imprint on my career, who convinced me to do theater, which was not my vocation – it was painting – nor was it a temperamental inclination. Rather the opposite: I first wanted to make theater to compensate for the introversion and solitude of painting.

The fact that there has been no doctorate on Roy Hart raises also ethical and deontological questions, especially at the Roy Hart Center where I seem to be less and less in agreement with how his name is being used (or avoided). I will address this controversy only in its possible links to the question of doctorates, where there is an aporia, a vacuum, an area without address or post box, an area of embarrassment in some ways, and for some, perhaps even a forbidden area, an anathema with the ghostly presence of a terse and cryptic Roy Hart considered to have been anti-writing, anti-intellectual. These notes are therefore aimed at the possibility of learned explorations and reflections – “learned” even in terms of the healing that such a doctoral research could bring. Therapy, as in « therapy of ideas », following James Hillman.

I recently received a consultation request from a person who is writing a memoir on Roy Hart, within a philosophy of theatre context, and towards a doctorate. This person’s request focused on where to find the right bibliography. Roy Hart hardly left any writings – and this is already, as I said, a challenge, a point to analyze. The academic reference framework that this person proposes is the pleasure principle, in terms of bodily ease and embodiment, in the ideas of Epicurus, Michel Foucault and Wilhelm Reich. This point, the question of the body and pleasure, is presented as very important, if not central to Roy Hart’s work as experienced by this person in workshops with teachers calling themselves “Roy Hart”. Here is my answer:

« I receive your email and the “theoretical framework” of your memoir on Roy Hart, and had an overall glance at it. I deduced that it is based mainly on the notions of body and pleasure in the work of Michel Foucault, especially his proposals around « care of self », and on the notion and reality of the body in Wilhelm Reich’s writings. You are right, if such a framework is taken as one of « personal development » – in line in particular with Foucault’s subjectivism. But I would say that Roy Hart’s idealism, and the dynamics of what he called singing go far beyond, go elsewhere, and point to another « revolutionary » horizon. My own work differs today from these horizons even though I still include the memory of Roy Hart’s impact. We are after all more than forty years after his passing. I will also add that the main reproach I make to the new generation of “Roy Hart” teachers, is that they do not confront nor develop critically the philosophical and artistic ideals of Roy Hart, and often turn back towards the presumably romantic and less agitated / agitator formulations of his teacher, Alfred Wolfsohn, and settle for a “facilitation” model that I would call « soft », which could possibly be put in relation to a presumed soft side of Foucault’s notion of “care of self”. The much more rocky side that Foucault describes is a critical and historical one, based on the fact that Athens fell under Macedonian dictatorship and lost all political power: what a disaster for the « inventors » of democracy! The result was introspection and the “invention” of care of self, with, later, the emergence of what is called the Second Sophistic: the creative liberation of the notion of fiction – and even autobiographical fiction.

I take a stand that is outside the notions and procedures of searching for one’s self, especially one’s “true” self, with the devotion (caring and / or rituals) that it generates, a religiosity that often turns into authoritarian piety – even “evangelist” in its approach to singing. I have suggested that it happens to be anti-theatrical, which is at the very least a paradox for those who call upon the memory of the Roy Hart Theater.

Recent articles on my Blog elaborate on some of these questions. Like you, I also feel passionate about what you describe as the links between theory and practice – and I look forward to seeing what intellectual landscapes you will be « academically » visiting.

PS: I consider, and I also think that Roy Hart himself considered as his manifesto the poem written by Serge Behar (Jewish, a medical-doctor and a freemason – hence, surely “learned”), titled Biodrame. I had the fortune to see Roy Hart perform it, solo, on its première – around 1971. I saw, heard and felt precisely the links that he could make between theory and practice, between body and ideas: his philosophical practice of singing.”


I publish these notes respecting the anonymity of my interlocutor. A consultation of this kind, or a request for counsel or supervision for a dissertation or doctorate, is a request made to a non-academic artist-thinker, and therefore an unpaid request. (From my own experience, “outside” supervisors are poorly paid by universities – who often are not serious in the proceeding). I am prepared to answer – depending of course on the tone of the request – but I allow myself to use my answers, usually aligned with and integrated into my own research – and to publish them on my Blog, like in this case. And maybe one day in a book. If a dialogue ensues and if the person so wishes, I will give her or him personal credit. They can do the same for me, with my permission. These are enriching dialogues.

Paris, February 30, 2018

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