Nekyia, on the road to Preston.

Footnotes and links will be added soon
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This article shares a series of reflections on my stand and outlook today in relationship to performance and theatre. It is offered as preparatory notes, to Amy Rome, professor at University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and organizer of the coming Symposium titled Transdisciplinary Explorations into Performativity, as well as to Jane Turner, Principal Lecturer of Contemporary Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University, and guest lecturer at the Symposium. The Symposium follows my being awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Central Lancashire.

July 17 to 20, 2018
The Media Factory
University of Central Lancashire. Preston UK
Pantheatre’s Myth and Theatre Festival
June 19 to July 1st, 2018
Roy Hart Centre, Southern France

1 – Militant Autobiographies

I have just written a brief updated autobiography for professional training purposes. I realize that it clearly (and inevitably?) contains an implicit manifesto: the choices that life allowed me to make, especially the militant ones. The older I get, the more (hopefully knowingly) militant I become. I use extracts from it as landmarks for the internet exchange prior to the symposium, with Amy Rome and Jane Turner. Here is the first quote – last in the autobiography, probably the most militant:

“To put it in a nutshell: my research focuses on the roots and links between psychology and magic. Perhaps what French colleague and philosopher Xavier Papaïs calls ‘une anthropologie de l’esprit’ – an anthropology of the spirit-mind.”

On the road to Preston there is one capital event – certainly for me: the Myth and Theatre Festival, dedicated this year to the theme of Nekyia – Descent to Hell. The Festival ends July 1st, only two weeks before the Preston Symposium. The first conclusion I draw is to simply take note that there is a descent to hell on the way to Preston. And, since I gave myself the task, at the Preston Symposium, of asking and venturing answers on a rather monumental question, “Why Theatre?”, I can say already that my answers will come from Nekyia, from the descent to the Underworld (Hell is not actually the correct term). Theatre as descent, as going-under and under-standing, taking on the dimensions of depth (as in Depth Psychology) – especially in a tragic, or, as I prefer to put it, from a “post-tragic” perspective. My fantasy on post-tragedy, one that I often quote and hope to realize one day, is to interview Hecuba, forty years after the fall of Troy, when, as the defeated queen, she was given as slave to non-other than sly Ulysses. The fantasy is to allow Hecuba’s emotional and philosophical demons to fly around the stage, and especially, to speak – to free her daimonic voice. But, to do so well after the actual ‘hot’ tragic event. Not live tragedy but post-mortem, underwordly and ghostly reminiscences. Necromancy too: learning from it. I see theatre as a most considerate, mature, acute, apposite, perilous, potentially explosive experiment (even after forty years have passed; certainly in Hecuba’s case) – supremely worthwhile. We are on the road to “Une anthropologie de l’esprit”, an anthropology of the mind-spirit, of the mind’s spirits. Spiritism, why not?

2 – A word on philosopher Xavier Papaïs.

I have been attending his seminars in Paris for some years now, and he has become a good friend. The theme of this year’s seminar is “Demons”. The overall task he gives himself is clearly the rehabilitation of magic, including a fierce critique of Claude Levi-Strauss and of Structuralism’s euphemisms, like symbolic efficiency, floating signifiers and linguistic blueprints. We also spent over three years studying David Hume with him – on magic and emotion, especially in politics. I know of few persons with his knowledge and outlook on ideas and their history. He has the advantage, besides being an amazing reader and speaker, of being very well versed in History and in ethno-anthropology – though he remains very guarded about his public output (no book yet, for instance.) His relationship to Psyche could be seen as parallel to James Hillman’s, whom he did not know; few French do. Plus, he is a specialist on Jacques Lacan, in depth. From his perspective, what emerges is finally the closeness between these great figures of psychology, especially in their “anthropology”, or meta-psychology, and how much historical continuity, going back to Mongolian shamanism even, there is in their arche-theories. I write all this because it is with such ideas and with the figures they invoke, that I take on the laboratories. Often, I just write a few words on the wall; the ideas appear – sometimes.

Having said that, here is the quote on James Hillman in my autobiography: “It was with psychologist and writer James Hillman that I recognized my philosophical mindscape: a contemporary polytheism and, to quote him: “…a poetic basis of mind and a psychology that starts neither in the physiology of the brain, the structure of language, the organization of society, nor the analysis of behavior, but in the processes of imagination.”

3 – Alchemical Artifex

Another quote from the biography: “Today I work mainly in laboratory contexts. Voice performance: giving body, motion and emotion to the voice. Choreographic theater : a synthesis that includes the oracular complicity of language and texts. Bodies caught in image networks, with the voice harvesting and expressing the emotions. I describe my direction of performers as: Folie à Deux (Shared Madness).”

I notice I use neither the term “director” nor “teacher”, so how do I describe my role in these “laboratory contexts”? I recently described Kaya Anderson as a shaman. She replied in quicksilver mode: “Do you consider yourself a shaman?” In Alchemy, from where the notion of experimental laboratory comes from, the term used is artifex. As most things alchemical it is a fascinatingly complex concept and figure, and especially so since the ‘rediscovery’ of Alchemy by C. G. Jung, and his use of Alchemy as a meta-psychology and as an ethical corpus of super-vision. James Hillman follows in this line with his articles on Alchemy which I consider amongst his best precisely because of how they address a “poetic basis of mind.”.

What I wish to comment here are the shadows of the artifex in the ambiguities the role of laboratory director entails: hermetic orchestrator, mercurial shaman-charlatan, charismatic magician-manipulator, supposedly wielding creative powers and stirring sympathies (the original word for magic). Such a role generates a vibrant spectrum of projections (multiplicatio in Alchemy), in the hope, obviously, that the resulting laboratory performances, or those devised through them will carry and radiate a similar metaphorical intensity and wealth.

I return to the first quote, where I write: “my research focuses on the roots and links between psychology and magic”. At one point in my late thirties, practically all my friends were psychotherapists – Jungian and American, and all had worked with James Hillman. It constituted my biggest education – it was more than mere ‘training’ – in the art of transference, and in how to conjoin psychoanalysis, mythology and theatre. It gave rise in 1985 to the Myth and Theatre Festival.

Psychoanalyst Michael Whan pinpoints the artifex dilemma in an excellent 1999 article titled Aurum Vulgi (common gold). He speaks of Alchemy’s inflationist “puffers” (especially of the Faustian kind) and writes: “When we identify ourselves as the central figure in the alchemical opus, we ignore what Jung meant by the ‘objective psyche’ ”. He also writes: “Equating the ‘artifex’ with the analyst and/or the analysand misrepresents the artifex’s role, whose work, as Hillman stresses, was concerned with the ‘substance’, not the ‘subject’.

This is the (problematic) core of my laboratories: how not to dilute or divert the work with subjective ‘puffers’, recurring to excessively sentimental, subjective options (or to the use and abusr of the phenomenology of ‘feeling’), or, to totemic and power-ridden semiotic attitudes: impressive but often void. (Having said that, these figures can only be gaged in the praxis context of laboratories: dealing with them requires keen ‘artifexes’ (artisan reflexes). Michael Whan drives the message home: “Behind this stands a beguiling anima complex, seducing psychological practice and thought into a programme of the ‘rescue’ of ‘the beautifull soul’.” Roy Hart’s voice work, for one, (genius / artifex / magician) took care of that problem through what he called the audible shadow: “I break my voice every day” (!) But then his own anima drive took him to allegorical and often proselytizing theatrical rituals – but that is another matter.

4 – Ethical Animal

I used to describe the bottom-line of the ‘training’ I impart, in terms of: “to develop the instinct of image”. I saw the performer as “animal in image”: knowing instinctively what move to make in order to enhance image. “Instinctive”, because the performer is inside image and does not have an ‘objective’ outside view. The aim, admittedly of a tall order, could also be said to be the capacity to recognize and act out instinctively in line with what Jung referred to as “the objective psyche”; I tend to speak more of “objective imagination”. Today I would add the word “ethical” to both these proposals. The latter, I would put in terms of “objective ethical imagination” – (and I would have to bring in my philosophy lawyer-friends to help me plead for such a baroque chimera!) The first statement, the one concerning training in terms of instinct, I would put like this : “to develop the ethical instinct in image”. It is almost the same as the original one, but it underlines the ethical / psychological quality in the gestures made inside image. And in doing so, I am equating ethics and psychology, or rather creating a critical tandem as the basis of artistic criticism.

There are slight (ethical) differences between “making a move” and “making a gesture”. It is a matter of sensibility, consideration and what I like to call “sentimental sophistication” – and, especially, it involves an addressee, an other. “Making a move” does not necessarily imply physical movement and can be a solo affair; its essence is in the notion of change and initiative, and it could be a taken as purely instinctual, spontaneous, capricious, an un-reflected reflex. Whereas this cannot be the case with “making a gesture”. It necessarily implies heart, tact and ethical judgement, however instantaneous it may be. When I first invited James Hillman to Malérargues in the very early 1980’s, I was told that the first check-question he asked his friends was: “Are they psychological?”

An important note – but only a note, since the topic is too huge to tackle here in any depth – on the notion of embodiment. It was Roy Hart’s ultimate ethical reference – and it clearly influences my own take on ethics in performance and theatre. He used two expressions that can sum up his stand : conscious spontaneity and conscious schizophrenia, thus equating embodiment with consciousness – the latter being a god-term of the 20th century. I avoid using these notions and do not find them helpful in terms of performance. It can lead, especially with Roy Hart and with the work ‘after’ him, to a definition of performance about which I have written in terms of being “exemplary”, with moral overtones: how things should be said and should be done if a performance was to merit to be the recipient of ‘embodied’ values. (I think that if one asked Roy Hart why he thought he was ‘right’, he would have answered: because I have an embodied voice – and therefore embodied ideas.) He takes a position of this kind in an issue (early 1979s) of the Spanish theatre magazine Primer Acto, perhaps the only document where he is interviewed in depth by militant and mostly left-wing intellectuals – and it was under Franco.)

5 – Praxis & Teoria

I must now mention Gregory Shaw, professor of philosophy and specialist in Neoplatonism, in its performative and magical currents, and particularly in the figure of Iamblichus. I am lagging behind in my exchanges with him and hope to catch up soon. He is part of an Esalen Institute (California) circle who has started a cycle of studies and research on the notion of embodiment;  we have spoken of possibly my linking up with them. I met Gregory Shaw because he knows intimately James Hillman’s work, and why, and how Hillman mentions Neoplatonism, especially Plotinus, in Rome, and Ficino, in Florence, as part of the ‘archetypal’ traditions with which he links his own psychology.

As mentioned already, all these notes are speculative teoria: the Oratory aspect of Alchemy. The praxis happens in the Laboratory which, in its experimental upshots, may or may not confirm with the oratorical theory, in line the principle that states that “artistic rules are made to confirm exceptions”. But in order to perceive, experience and perform such mercurial happenings one has to attend and observe, or, better, physically plunge into the laboratory. I hope, in a next article, to describe and comment, as examples, two recent laboratory events, and specifically in terms of artifex ethics. The first I call “Mantegna’s Vices” (after Mantegna’s painting of Virtue chasing the Vices); the second on recent work in Madrid with Bibiana Monje and Company on a piece she has conceived and texts she is writing, called Pogüerful (‘Spanish’ for Powerful). Two very different artifex undertakings.

I must also mention, of course, Jerzy Grotowski’s laboratories; his was also a rediscovery of Alchemy. I am not aware of Eugenio Barba using the term – which of course he knows well, having worked with Grotowski; and I look forwards to dialogues with Jane Turner on this count. My own link with Barba and his Odin Teatret is indirect, having only met him briefly a few times but having seen quite a few of his Odin Teatret performances and the amazing impact he has had on world theatre. I will mention here one crucial notion which I hope to include in my dialogues with Jane Turner – she is a specialist on Barba’s work: the performer’s autogenic training, which I put next to Jung’s (and Hillman’s) practice of active imagination. That link is very important for me.

6 – “Research Governance” and “Ethics of Research”.

To finish, a last autobiographical quote, and two cases of coincidentia oppositorum. The quote first, referring to my mid-twenties: “I chose to follow an extraordinary guru and “ethical genius”: Roy Hart, whose formidable voice I still consult.” At the time, I clearly had to put ethics before esthetics, especially given the lack of psychological and philosophical education (and even Art History!) in art schools (this was in London, but circa 1968).

Now for the two cases of coincidentia oppositorum, (as in Nicola de Cusa’s theory of the coincidence of opposites), in his (very Neoplatonic) De Docta Ignorantia. First : I was quite amazed when I discovered amongst Jane Turner’s official titles at Manchester University: Faculty Head of Ethics and Governance. I checked, and found the title to refer to highly principled behavior definitions in research contexts (probably including laboratories!) Limpid and impeccably stated correctness (worth reading – maybe even performing!) Of course, I thought: we do just the opposite! – but on parallel core ethical tracks, maybe going in opposite directions, especially, for us, in the borderline between fiction, acting out and morality.

The second coincidentia, my favorite, happened during a laboratory in a Moorish palace in Granada, when I discovered who were our noisy neighbors: a Spanish army garrison preparing for Holy Week! The shrillest possible bugles with flamenco-like military drums. It was the Escuela del Genio (School of Genius!) – army engineers, of course. Their moto: Doctrina y Adiestramiento (Doctrine and Dressage). Another perfectly coinciding opposite.

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