activate

—volume 1, issue 1: on the paper floor

Introduction to Issue 1, Vol. 1; On the paper floor: exploring writing practices
Danae Theodoridou, Guest Editor

Somewhere among those fascinating images of body and dance I hear her saying something like: ‘there are some moments when words leave us. And then dance begins’[1].

Being always even more fascinated with words, the phrase haunts me.

Are there indeed moments when words leave us? And if yes, where do they go? How do they return? But most importantly, is the space this departure leaves behind, a word-less space? Or is it more what Giorgio Agamben has argued in his Idea of Prose, that there where language ends it is not the unsayable which begins but rather the matter of language?

So what if the moments when words leave us are not word-less. But they are rather full of the materiality of language. And within such material space is where dance of language indeed begins. On the paper floor.

Here, as Agamben says, language is not experienced as this or that signifying proposition, but as the pure fact that one speaks, that language exists. Here one ceases to inquire into the meaning of specific propositions in language but instead delves deeper into the darker and simpler fact that there is language; and one then wishes to delve deeper into the nature of an experience in which what is experienced is language itselfas Agamben puts itOn one such floor then, the words leave us in the sense that they do not work only as signifying entities aiming to construct linear meanings according to well-established rules of grammar and syntax, but more as materials and matters of language.

Thus, the paper (or any other writing space) can be conceived as a dance floor; a material space with material dancers performing on it: language and its words.

And yes, P.A. Skantze is right, in the dialogue she shares with Joe Kelleher in this issue. Whoever has read literature, whoever became her[2] lover and slept with her even for a little while, whoever has read even a single poem in any language from those great and rare ones, is bemused when the talk comes on performative writing because that one knows well that such talk constitutes an oxymoron; as if there could be another option for writing or language other than to perform.

But if language performs in all cases, what kind of performance of language are we talking about here? I would say that the language that all of the contributors to this first issue of activate are interested in has to do more with what Agamben has called ‘experimental language’. Its performance then is an experimental performance, just like the one we love to see, make, speak and write of[3] in the vivid space of the University of Roehampton’s postgraduate community that I have the luck to wander in, these last four years.

The experiment and experience that this performance of language relates to, has to do, as mentioned earlier by Agamben, exactly with a process that works with and thinks on language not so much in terms of specific signifying propositions as in terms of the fact that language exists and can be experienced as itself. A process then that mainly and stubbornly, according to Agamben, pursues only one train of thought: what is the meaning of there is language and what is the meaning of I speak’?

In the preface of the French edition of his Infancy and History in 1989, Agamben defines such questions as the main motive of his thought; one that, as he says, all his written and unwritten books have dealt with. At another occasion though, during a lecture he gave in Lisbon in 1986, he defines this motive and main subject of his work as an attempt to understand the meaning of the verb can’ and what one means when one says I can’ or ‘I cannot? What at the first glance seems here to constitute a contradiction or a particularly mobile center of study, on second look reveals an interesting compatibility that implies that the two declared motors are indeed the same, only the different facets of a single question. In this sense, ‘to speak’ is seen as a very material and decisive action towards an understanding of the potentiality that the action of ‘I can’ entails and thus the two questions are understood as one. Within this frame, Agamben s experimental language is also understood as an experience of pure potentiality.

I can and I speak. I can and I write. I can and I am language.

Or else, a performance of language more connected with the urge, erotics and aggressions included in Greek poet’s Matsi Hatzilazarou’s wish to pull and ruffle the hair of syntax for a while so that she sings the one she loves, through the potentiality of the space that this action will open.

It is this pulling and this ruffling that takes place here. Or else: this ‘de-scribing’ as Barthes would put it; a de-scribing that following the etymology of the word wishes to un(de)-write(scribe) writing and language practices, to undo them, to work towards a de-familiarization of writing and reading processes and conventions so that it creates an experience both to the writer and the reader through which the text is ‘produced’ every time one encounters it and does not exist outside or independently from this encounter. One such text depends largely of course on a game based on the relationship between the signifier and the signified and aims to the former’s freedom. A freedom that implies: ‘the return of words, of word games and puns, of proper names, of citations, of etymologies, of reflexivities of discourse, of typographies, of combinative operations, of rejections of languages’ (Barthes 1989, p. 72). And I would say that it is probably in this sense that Bausch talks about ‘moments that words leave us’; leaving behind them a paper floor free for a dance not of the unsayable but rather of what urges to be said.

Ever since the end of the 10 Performances[4] in November 2009, I have been thinking of a publication that would continue the exploration of writing and language practices that the projected invited. The eleven totally unexpected and inspiring, for me, contributions to the 10 Performances[5] and their distinct response to our request to view language ‘not as a text, but, as an event’ (Etchells 1999, p. 105), and to observe and expand the forms and ways that can ‘make writing perform’ (Pollock 1998, p. 75), have made me eager to look for more and more diverse perspectives on this issue; eager for a further exploration of the infinite potentiality of the actions of speaking and writing as well as of the understandings of these actions;

So here we are now with eleven more contributions that go to even more and more unexpected directions, in order to propose other floors, contexts and ways that language performs.

Contributions, herein, about holding wrong signs in the middle of the street and about the potentiality entailed within such totally unsynchronized fights for human rights (Johanna Linsley). Contributions that muddle definitions, meanings and words undoing linear narratives in an attempt to create new connections and spaces for language and wander in them (Katerina Paramana); and others that in a much more literal sense wander around in the streets of a metropolis in order to produce new meanings and writings through the views involved in such ‘drifts’ (Tom Stone). Or contributions that remember, return and look back to the actual event of the 10 Performances, directly reflecting on it to perform-a-write and materially act on the paper floor (Becky Cremin); and others that also return again and again to one same stage work to view and review it, to write and rewrite of it so that, through one such repetitive movement, they come closer and explore the space, intimacy and distance created in our encounter with a work of art (Eirini Kartsaki); or contributions that explicitly see language and its structures as a useful space through which this estimation of distance and closeness between art and everyday life can be achieved (Tamarin Norwood). Then contributions wherein nous (the Greek word for mind) and pneuma (the Greek word for spirit) discuss uses of glossolalia as the performance of a pure language material without signifying propositions; and they discuss such uses in the form of a radio play that defends its right to be called so even though remaining unheard -or rather because it is heard with our mind’s ears (Matthew MacKisack). Also, contributions where fragments of language are seen as equivalent to collage fragments that hide certain parts of images only to reveal and open space for new ones and to perform within such spaces of overlapping and ever-changing perspectives (Nathan Walker). And contributions that stand there in the middle of the page, in the place of an absent body that could not be there; and they propose this presence in words as an interesting notion of a ‘pre-document’ that documents a performance before it even takes place -or is it already taking place in that pre-document? – questioning established limits of where a work starts and ends (Thomas John Bacon). Finally contributions that take the form of dialogues wherein words of all kinds continuously pass through two different people and different areas of theory, critical language, poetry and literature; always in flow and floating, always within an urge to share, always ‘over to you’ (Joe Kelleher and PA Skantze). Or, dialogues which share a concern, an anxiety even, about the event of scholarly writing, and what is performed therein (Lis Austin and R. Justin Hunt).

So here we are. On the paper floor. Within moments when words leave us; and yet moments full of language -here is where dance begins.

Bibliography

Agamben. G., (1995), The Idea of Prose, trans. Sullivan, M. and Whitsitt, S. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press

Agamben, G., (1999), Potentialities: collected essays in philosophy, ed., trans., and intro. Heller-Roazen,D., Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Hatzilazarou, M., (1989), Poems 1944-1985, Athens: Ikaros

Barthes, R., (1989) The rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

Etchells, T., 1999, Certain Fragments, London: Routledge, p.105

Pollock, D., 1998, ‘Performing writing’ in Phelan, P. and Lane, J. (eds) The ends of performance, New York and London: New York University, p.75


[1] The words belong to Pina Bausch as presented in ‘Pina’, A film for Pina Bausch from Wim Wenders, 2011.

[2] In this case it is impossible for me to let go of the impact my mother tongue has on me: the word for literature (λογοτεχνία-logotehnia) is feminine in Greek. And I am always fond of allowing myself to think of her in that female form and shape.

[3] ‘of’ is used here as a precise conjunction, in the sense suggested by Adrian Heathfield in his essay ‘Writing of the event’, to denote a kind of writing that ‘is not simply upon a subject or about it but, rather is ‘of’ it in the sense that it issues from it, it is subject to its force and conditions.’ Heathfield, A., (2006),‘Writing of the Event’, in Christie J., Gough, R.,Watt, D.P., eds, A Performance Cosmology – Testimony from the Future, Evidence of the Past, Oxon, USA, Canada: Routledge, p.179.

[4] 10 Performances, an AHRC funded initiative, part of the Beyond Text Programme:  http://www.roehampton.ac.uk/10performances/index.html.

[5] And my warmest thanks and thoughts once more go to all artists who worked on them.

 

 

The contributions to the inaugural issue, On the paper floor: exploring writing practices, share a concern with language “not as a text, but, as an event”, as Tim Etchells, the artistic director of Forced Entertainment, has aptly noted (1999, p. 105). This publication’s aim is to explore the notion of writing as a way of performing as well as the ways that performance is being elaborated through linguistic and writing processes; and in this way, to expand the forms and ways that one can “make writing perform” (Pollock 1998, p. 75).

Issue 1, Vol. 1: Editorial Team: Annalaura Alifuoco, Sarah Harman, R. Justin Hunt (managing editor), Shaun May, Katerina Paramana, Flora Pitrolo, Molly Beth Seremet, Lucy Thane, Veronika Wilson

IN THIS ISSUE:

ARTICLES:
Traces of Being: a document of absence in words
Thomas John Bacon

PERFORMED PRODUCTION: how to perform-a-write?
Becky Cremin

Writing and Re-writing: Performance Returns
Eirini Kartsaki

How to Write Protest
Johanna Linsley

Arguing in Tongues
Matthew MacKisack

The Inscription of Art and Everyday Life: How Being Slips into Performance
Tamarin Norwood

Muddle, Muddle Toil and Trouble: Disorder and Potentiality
Katerina Paramana

The performing everyday: Perceptions and Drifts in a modern world
Tom Stone

The Edge of Writing: John Stezaker’s ‘Cinema 1 II’
Nathan Walker

DIALOGUES:
Over to you
Joe Kelleher & P.A. Skantze

Dialogue (To be titled)
Lis Austin & R. Justin Hunt

PERFORMANCE REVIEW:
‘Cuando Los Piedras Vuelen,’ Compañia Rocío Molina
Molly-Beth Seremet

Danae and Justin would like to thank all the contributors, the editorial team, Fiona Wilkie, Simon Bayly, the Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Roehampton, and everyone who has supported our work on this issue.

activate is a peer-reviewed electronic journal in the field of performance and creative research. Based in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance at University of Roehampton, London, it is run by postgraduates as a forum for postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars to publish their work. Each edition focuses on a specific theme and aims to include a range of new critical and performative practices in relation to it.

activate is a peer-reviewed e-journal in the field of performance and creative research, based in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance at University of Roehampton, London.