Video Performance & Critical Commentaries
An invitation from Sara Belo to a group of artists under the title Pandemic Vocalism, facing the CORONAVIRUS. See complete video 20'.
Online Lecture Series by Enrique Pardo on the god Pan.
July and August 2020.
The figure of Pan is clearly of archaic and wild, even coarse origin; it is one of the few divinities of Greek mythology that maintained its animality, its zoomorphism, and a certain distance from the anthropomorphic civilization of the Greek Olympus – one feels like calling it : “humanist”. He remained half man, half goat, sometimes with the latter’s pungent smell: rustic, savage, brutal. When he was born, his mother scurried off in panic upon seeing she had given birth to a hairy creature with goat’s feet and two horns.
Note: Adjoining image used for the first Pantheatre logo: Pan with a goat’s head, looking out at his herd, a whip in his left hand.
His father, no less than the god Hermes, took the matter up with the grace, philosophy and ‘shamelessness’ that characterizes him: he took the creature to Olympus, where he made everyone (pan) laugh – gods and goddesses. The story of Pan begins, then, and according to this legend, with hermetic, adult and patriarchal humour (we are at the zenith of Greek mythology); and with, let us say, jocular animality. But also with a nymph that flees in panic terror.
This panorama, and the figures of grace that compose it, first hermetic, then panic, are complex ones, and the last thing I want to do is simplify them or take sides for or against their character, their ethics or their aesthetics. I think it best to leave myths polysemic and ambivalent, that is: complex and adult.
There is a recent instance where we clearly saw a decrepit, decadent, and dumb Pan: the pictures of Harvey Weinstein (of appalling #MeToo reputation) during his arrest. He does not understand his guilt or what’s happening to him. And what somatizing! He is a Pan lacking in sentimental sophistication, incapable of reflection or psychological empathy (or therapy). Yet such an aporia is an integral, archetypal part of what the god Pan represents. My question is: What would be the anthropological (and artistic) thinking that could integrate, deepen and broaden our understandings of a figure like Pan?
On the other hand, his apparitions and iconography sometimes take him closer to the classic majesty, presence and seduction of a Dionysius, or even the virile splendor of a Zeus. There would also be a lot to say about how Pan personalizes and attracts projections on his supposedly genuine, wild nature, to the point that, many times and in many historical periods, sentimentality has erased his violence, especially sexual violence, so that he “asombra”, astonishes us. It happens, for example, when he is transformed into a garden faun, or its opposite: an infernal
monster. The faun ends up as Peter Pan. The monster, as Satan. The Portuguese translation of the Socratic prayer (the text of the video), summons all « the other gods who asombran this place »: haunting, dark shadows.
In conceiving and editing this short video – I wanted to revisit the Pan with which I created Pantheatre, back in 1980, consult him with the pandemic background of the coronavirus. In fact, with this video and these notes, I open a series of online conferences about Pan and the forty years that I have been in his proximity. Here, I would like to make a brief critical assessment of the result, the 4 minutes 30 seconds of the video; what was I looking for? – and explain what I found, that is, what I liked about what I achieved: sharing the krisis, without boasting, excuses or complaints.
The impulse comes from the proposal of Sara Belo: to gather short vocal performances of her friends, confronting the coronavirus under the title of Pandemic Vocalism. My main reflection, already in progress when she wrote to me, was to question Pan’s involvement in the current pan-demic. Even the animal supposed to have started it all (with the help of the bats) is called Pangolin! Pan is a brute; he is even a psychopath – like all gods, according to Hillman and Lopez-Pedraza; his dimensions are not human – they are archetypal. Any identification is dangerous and can be fatal: we are not gods and it is better not to tamper with identifying with one. I include here a phrase from Jacques Derrida (quoted by Paul B. Preciado): a virus is the absolute otherness to our humanity. Lifeless but with mortal logic.
Pan is included in most coronavirus reflections through channels that we know well: the selfish, suicidal and ecocidal contempt for nature and animality. On this, Pan’s speech is violent, fractured, rough, discordant; yet, one thing it is not is simplistic or sentimental. It is also difficult to listen to: his voice speaks of the disenchantment of the world. I, for one, cannot listen to that voice without, somewhere, it breaking my heart and obliging me into lyricism and nostalgia in a search for “sentimental sophistication”. It is painful.
My idea was to open this short performance to these mytho-emotional contradictions; including mourning and tears. I remember something that we were NOT taught in Catholic catechism: the death of Pan – a death perhaps unique in Greek mythology, according to Plutarch – which coincides with the crucifixion of Christ. This is a major theme that I will develop in the conferences.
Thinking about all this, one night, I opened the window of my room. Absolute silence. (In the countryside, silence was the unexpected gift of confinement: nights without traffic noise!) A nightingale sang and I began to record it. Suddenly it started to rain torrentially. This is the sound background against which I vocalize and dialogue with Pan. I thought of the first words of my original performance, supposed to be the last of Socrates: the famous prayer to Pan (I quote it briefly and with Portuguese ‘asombro’):
Beloved Pan and all ye other gods who haunt (asombran) this place: give me beauty in the inner soul…”
Note : Portuguese uses the notion of asombro as a verb in an active and transitive way. It includes shadow (to be under the shadow of…) and umbra, as in penumbra. Asombro can lead to stupor and even stupidity, or to marvel. I was struck by this use of asombro in Portuguese: the background work of archetypal thinking is largely about seeing through to the shadow, figuring out the dark and awesome side of a deity.
What did I like most of what I did in this short performance? I would say, the mytho-poetic location in which I managed to place myself, and to dislocate myself, since identities disaggregate. My recorded voice speaks to Pan, but also to me as performer. And who am I? Who is speaking? Who is this performer? Do I take myself for Pan? At this point in my life, I would say that I can imitate him, even caricature him. I know he will not be offended. Caricature is a panic way of learning, of apprehending the other.
I close with a word of praise and gratitude to the nightingale. The valley where I live in the countryside, is squared away with nightingales: one every seven hundred meters, I calculate. It is a territoriality in constant dialogue and maneuvers; hours without stopping; competitive and with high intensity, but full of nuances, and very sophisticated in its rhythmic-musical discourse. But not at all autistic or narcissistic. Sometimes they imitate each other! Yes, they quote and caricature each other! But they remain in total commitment to their performance; sometimes with astonishing genius, sometimes with earnest hard work.
My gratitude to Didier Monge who did the assembly of image, sound and subtitles.
My gratitude to Linda Wise who suggested how I could talk, lost in the woods.
Malerargues, May 30, 2020