History’s blessing: memories of violence like aurora in the sky of my mind. Undulating, singing, pulsing.
Sexual. Verbal. Physical.
When a surgeon separates the two sides of the incision’s cut, that peeling aside, that meticulous pinching and unfolding and severing … There’s a tongue inside that does that, to itself, splitting and severing and unfolding pulsing out of itself over itself over and over and over. This is the entryway to language, written language, language sounded in the voice of the mind that has no face.
opened the LIFE of ‘theater’ to me – with an intimate violence – perhaps the violence of memory – that crushed me like I was in a mortar, freeing my scent, my flavor, my essence.
I was young.
The mask – it had just reached for the ghost of a child, and embraced the empty air – cocked its head to the side, so slightly – and my spine split along its axis and spilled me into the world. Later, I would come to love the word ‘dehiscence’.
The play was a Noh called Sumidagawa [pdf]; I was 17, living alone – isolated in language & exiled in space – in Tokyo, the stolen oxygen tanks of someone else's air on my back, running out.
Theater-going had meant nothing to me, and I don’t think I’d seen more than a few plays in NY. In High School I’d loved the Greek & Shakespearean texts, though.
Subsequently, twenty or more years later, two other ‘theater’ events have moved me, to the depths: masked West African stilt dancers, and Trinidad Carnival’s Blue Devils, blue bodies emerging from the trees in the dusk drooling blood and eating money high up on Paramin. European/American ‘theater’ seems, on the whole, to not reach me. It seems, in general, to always be a display of a particular kind of control, a particular kind of mastery, a particular kind of Time.
The kind of ‘reach me’ I’m describing is also, in some ways, out of fashion in the more ‘avant’ realms of current American theater, it seems. The ‘reach me’ I’m describing is an experience not of esthetic/intellectual ‘appreciation’ but of physical agony, pleasure, catastrophe; the building tumbling with you in it, the wave smashing to the sand with you in it; the Real having made its way past all the corners, all the lines, all the doors. Come to get You – no other. An experience of loss of size; an experience of not knowing what’s real; an experience of freedom, puncturing the placenta of the world.
(Paradoxically, the current ‘avant’ professes ((yes?)) to be an action of resistance against the kind of control/mastery/Time I mention above, but somehow, in my experience, seems to always reiterate it, vie for its graces. Certainly, the problem could very well be my viewing itself.)
Of course, the three performance traditions I’ve cited here are some of the highest – highest – esthetic achievements on the planet.
Curious, I notice here – in all three the face is covered, or obscured.
The other side of the incision is text.
History’s blessing: writing as an act of resistance, refusal, refuge. A capsule of – what? safety? control? untouchability – in the middle of the fleshwar. A refusal to write history, to resist this, its most insidious demand. And in the refusal, capitulation & repetition. To hit-and-run against syntax. To violate the Set. To not-speak, writing. Being freed from the ‘truth’.
So, the incised opening between: me: Jew, American, man.
The dichotomy/tension/opposition/incompatibility I’ve sketched above is nothing new, of course. Body – word. Freedom as freedom from being-taken-away vs. freedom as being-taken-away. The ways of mastery, mastering, the ways of submission, submitting. Presence – re-presentation.
Beneath what eye.
For A’ Traveling Yeshiva Sideshow, the intention is to bring this violence & this resistance, this intimacy, to the action of performance, and enact it out. Text & flesh. Esthetic (and) demolition.
Not Noh, not Ogun, not Paramin.
Not the encadavering (great Lacanian word) of the actor, a la Richard Maxwell, who directed the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen.
But another thing.
Something coming up from the toxin-soaked ground of this America – fertile, monstrous, hemorrhaging, repressed: history’s incision.
And so the same thing.