publisher colophon

What confounds a society is not serious competition, but the lack of seriousness altogether.

—James P. Carse

I submit this photy-wordy, this pleg

’cause it’s all buffoonery, or [something like buffoonery]:

experimental theater is more [a photo you can’t forget], [a deformity]

[a grotesquitude], poetry, small-h history

than [all you remember] than [all the movies you’ve seen]

it is more [something that hurts you quickly] or [def. “sublime”]

the embodiment of [1 kind of exile]

[one photo from a foreign newspaper] [the moment you fell in love] [an uncontrollable laugh]

than it is a continuous process, [a film]; more [a startle] than [an awakening]

the moment in which you saw going this way versus that way

as Brecht says, “the familiar stripped of its inconspicuousness”

[a few bars of an ugly tune, sweetly]

that all necessity is false; there is only possibility, rather probability

maybe just [2 road signs] spray painted over

that [def. “bifurcation point”] which can’t have been predicted, but came

like [1 exact straw] on [1 exact camel]’s back

[def. “negentropy”] or [1 nonce word], implying how one instant “is” [1 total transformation]

[2 ways weather predicts the man] [2 technological innovations]

in an instant where [6 new patterns of behavior] swerve from the laminar flow

all back to [what you find when you stare at a photo]

and [what experimental theater does], that crime of evidence

which relates to my hunch ([2 reasons “1” is the “identity” number])

that [the elements common to experimental art] say things in [the ways a photo says things]

about [the relationship between contingency and history] or the facts sprawled on our faces

about staying where you can’t fully see what you’re seeing, or [def. “island”] [End Page 34]

about not getting too literal about [the best way to “free associate”] when

[5 reasons for extinction] or [4 current superstitions]

are all poses held for absent but demanding audiences who may know but have forgotten

[1 difference between water and the boil] or [10 ways experimental actors are like cameras]

quoting [1 difference between want and need] or [3 things laughing means]

[3 ways players are chosen for [any game]]

sizing up [the way [1 character] fits [1 role]] [the way [an actor] quotes [a character]] or

[the relationship of abstraction to ideology] or [how not to lose sight of the person acting]

and finally [how much it costs to sit where you’re sitting] now

between trips to the dump and [def. “potlatch”]

between having no ground to stand on and owning far too much of it

I sometimes forget [the best reason to get rid of everything you own]

[the best theater you’ve ever experienced] or just this photo which may or may not strike you

Figure 1. “They say Officer Reinhold Springirth of the Chevy Chase Village Police Department never sleeps. Speeding motorists, intimidated by him, hit their brakes. He is credited with reducing car break-ins. He is a mannequin.” New York Times, April 3, 1997. Photo: Scott Robinson.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

“They say Officer Reinhold Springirth of the Chevy Chase Village Police Department never sleeps. Speeding motorists, intimidated by him, hit their brakes. He is credited with reducing car break-ins. He is a mannequin.” New York Times, April 3, 1997. Photo: Scott Robinson.

and think about [the last time you took part in a theatrical experiment]

maybe every year on your birthday

so that [all the things you remember from yesterday], leftovers

like how many things in your life feel obligatory; [def. “lifer”]

I submit, most of what we are we choose freely, and we can’t even see it

[6 reasons you can’t try to look natural in a photo]

[a photo in which you recognize yourself fully] is difficult to find, remember [End Page 35]

even if the consequence of something is death or silence, or pain, we choose it

though more often than not we don’t and slide into our chairs

when we’re thinking of life like [a film of your life] rather than

[a photo which perfectly captures [something you’ve never seen]]

and yet looks like [1 kind of truth] if such a thing is possible

because light fell there out of time, because light doesn’t lie, even staged light

is the same as [2 reasons reading poetry and staring at photos are private acts, ultimately]

and [3 ways both these acts involve the whole body]

so that throughout the unsparing garage sale you realize

there aren’t really [4 beliefs] or [10 laws], only participation

[15 norms of behavior] [9 publicly consumed spectacles]

and [how we determine when a game is won] is what capital-S Society shows

along with [3 ways winners support the institutions that title them]

rather than [how to keep a game going] which often involves losing

even dying anonymously (which is not so bad if the game is good)

which is why there isn’t [1 word for “the person who looks at a photo”]

but it’s more that [the pattern of light and darkness [a particular photo] reveals]

or the irreducible shriek of [1 absurd theatrical moment]

shows up [4 differences between “poetic” and “descriptive” language]

and [2 ways “once upon a time” is not “here is all there was once”]

and [how a bruise appears] which is more a mechanical unfurling

[1 way time confirms hunches] or [3 ways a past action is perceived in the present]

[how medical photos can reveal cancer], cancer which is about growth

and makes you wonder [what cancer looks like in a moment of rest]

or shout out loud, “now here is a bruise!” [End Page 36]

Figure 2. “Voters in Augusta, Me., celebrated yesterday after learning the results of Tuesday’s referendum, in which a law banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians, enacted last year, was repealed.” New York Times, February 12, 1998. Photo: AP.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

“Voters in Augusta, Me., celebrated yesterday after learning the results of Tuesday’s referendum, in which a law banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians, enacted last year, was repealed.” New York Times, February 12, 1998. Photo: AP.

and is that anything like how [every word you’ve ever learned] is a little piece of property

given away, or have you considered [how much a $20 bill is actually worth]

[4 reasons a mirror is not a photo] or vice versa

([why the mayor playing himself in a play is not an actor])

when we can find [10 ways to make peace with death] and then look at light

differently “lifelike” in all artifice, not unlike [2 outcomes of the boy crying “wolf!”]

and [3 reasons you can’t separate words from a scene] any more than

you can separate events from time which is, as Einstein pointed out, the same as space

“the Now is only Here” or [2 ways things “take place”]

or [all the things “I am afraid” might mean] according to Wittgenstein

none of which leads to a science, though silence is tempting and original

a picture can’t doubt, nor does speech itself; experimenting leaves without [1 answer]

so that, unlike what Brecht might’ve said, the audience can never see [how all things work]

and motivate a collective swerve to right the world

[10 differences between a film still and a photograph]

something carved out of a controlled image, [a painting] presenting [a landscape]

but not an environment, its time the time of its making, not being, light

we can’t prepare what the photo says, even in Man Ray’s dreams

or the digital information which is light slowed into electricity

because there aren’t really [2 ways to tell if a photo is “staged”] only that we doubt our eyes

what we do, who or what we affect, maybe it’s just [a new branch of science] [a metaphor]

it’s all chaos right?

[forms of energy] without a total worldwide view

a realism in the photo and experimental language theater, not unlike

[4 reasons the smallest individual particles are impossible to handle]

because nothing ever really fits anybody’s purpose

bigger even than Brecht and his [9 ways to get alienation effects] in the stopped clock

and yet fifty years later [2 reasons applause can be considered insulting]

[2 reasons theaters hold “readings”] and think they know

[3 things about what makes a play] forgetting to consider [why a “darkroom” must be dark]

and when there is a caption the photo becomes a pamphlet

unfastening from our psyches, from its world, and extinguishes

into [1 place dominated by text] which is [def. “abstract”] and

I’m not talking about [10 poetic uses of language] but

text empowered, which is exactly [def. “conventional”] through repeated use

[4 ways to tell the central character in a drama] reliving a script

rehearsed by replaying [the idea of something new] in [5 contemporary “styles”]

dressing up the same [old story] in something transparent ([1 “cool” television commercial])

absent [1 unforeseen outcome of boredom] or [1 antisocial act]

somewhere between [def. “normal”] (a circle of light which isn’t very deep) [End Page 37]

I submit the giant squid, where deep is dark and impossible to find

like [anything experimental] turns up noisy in the most advanced technology

Figure 3. “Look Back in Puzzlement. A radiographer in Sydney, Australia, last week prepared a skeleton, preserved for 2,000 years in volcanic ash in Pompeii, for a CAT scan to gain a medical perspective on the people of the Roman Empire.” New York Times, November 6, 1994. Photo: Rick Stevens/The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Photo Library.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

“Look Back in Puzzlement. A radiographer in Sydney, Australia, last week prepared a skeleton, preserved for 2,000 years in volcanic ash in Pompeii, for a CAT scan to gain a medical perspective on the people of the Roman Empire.” New York Times, November 6, 1994. Photo: Rick Stevens/The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Photo Library.

and perhaps we suddenly realize all this when the accident of some deviant art

stops us dead in our tracks

dead, I submit, and we glimpse the vast storehouses of social time

which art, so-called, had been filling:

[the show time of a film] [the length of a piece of theater] [what is meant by “eight hour day”]

or [def. “time off”]—and we inhale and resurrect once again, creating tenuously

our lives from [def. “hiccup”] an hour of lovemaking, a glacier advancing

[an instant of fear] [a sound of hate] a confusion of silence

[2 ways to recognize a season beginning] the process of carbon dating

in other words, an experiment producing accident

[a wound] [a photo] [a laugh] [a look] [an unknown word]

a sudden swerve, or as Berger says, “the shock of discontinuity”

the startle of “I’m only here” and this right here-now is all there is to

history and not capital-H History which is only [a retold series of completed actions]

a script, a story; [3 differences between “custom” and “costume”] [a reenactment], a grammar [End Page 38]

when, as Barthes says, “we are interested but do not love”

which is not the living of the world in you now, your particular lowercase culture

which is always deviant or would be as visible as [2 ways to know if someone loves you]

[4 ways to be “tied” to the moment]

[where you are sitting] this page, I submit, is cultural

[a photo of someone you loved] the photo which is [a great poem]

[a photo you are drawn into, in which you don’t know exactly what’s “happening”]

which you cherish, but which you will lose, knowing the page fades too

the word made mortal flesh, as Sontag says: “language entering history”

“the body entering language” as even [a photo you despise] veers you into a “there we were!”

all dressed up and nowhere to go, nothing but the fear of heights when you still feared them

whereas [a film] plugs you in and keeps you there, a drama-in-progress

the darkened but not darkroom, scene and background very clearly defined

all the “set” information in each “scene” controlled

through [10 tricks to making movement look fluid through editing]

[3 ways filmmakers ensure “continuity”]

rather than death lying dead, from Swinburne: “here change may come not ‘til all change end”

for there’s no way to rewind a photo or [an experiment]: it goes and stays

in the stopless tickle of captionless moments, [2 things a shooting star makes you think]

which is again different from Brecht’s placards captioning scenes

we’re not storming the gates except in the details; the flesh, the flash, “the social gest”

awake “historically,” that is: unique, transitory—which brings us back to poetry

[the difference between “shouting” and “wounding”] as Barthes says

where mostly “we are interested but we do not love” and perhaps this contradicts

the quote’s earlier appearance, perhaps not, it’s grown older

[3 ways a quote is not a photo] and yet [3 ways it is] [End Page 39]

Figure 4. “A young boy hoisted his jug above water level to keep flood waters from polluting its contents yesterday in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Flooding has taken more than 900 lives in the poor South Asian nation in the last two months and millions of people have been displaced.” New York Times, September 16, 1998. Photo: AP.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 4.

“A young boy hoisted his jug above water level to keep flood waters from polluting its contents yesterday in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Flooding has taken more than 900 lives in the poor South Asian nation in the last two months and millions of people have been displaced.” New York Times, September 16, 1998. Photo: AP.

and maybe this experiment may surprise the audience into becoming players, open to surprise

so that everything that happens is of equal consequence and we must stay awake for it

[2 ways to know if news is old] or [4 ways time heals a wound]

as Carse says, “if the future is always surprising, the past is always changing”

and History loses the illusion of continuity ([what it means to have a “good” seat])

for unlike a film which identifies completely with its own purpose

a photo without captions has no “kind” to tell us what it’s “of”

[10 ways we link “meaning” to “purpose”] so that among [all photos]

in this so-called image-saturated world, most are read from their use and language

contexts: [a family album photo] [an advertisement] [a surveyor’s photo] [a tourist shot]

[a newspaper photo] [a satellite photo] [3 ways to record an event]

and so few of them get much beyond that to name themselves silently

into an irretrievable, irrational, irreducible completion

because what is mathematically unique is [def. “uncompressible”] [a strange new word]

again [a poem], “the camera does not lie even when it is used to quote a lie”

light off paper, this once, light from light from light, not metaphysical

at a speed that remains as constant as change

[1 exact candle] in this room or [2 ways to tell if a star predates its galaxy]

as we lay here together, reading and writing

a moment without a next moment ready, caught, in other words, lost

without a story ([what you need in order to determine motion, position or speed])

[2 parables which illustrate Heisenberg’s principle] unreadable

the speed of light so constant it rests, and suddenly we may care about something

like [Zeno’s paradox], the is-there of an arrow always stopped and in flight

[describe the “law of moments”] or [the story of the word “googolplex”]

just part of an infinite play lived through exact players

as each was-there is gone forever

as we stare at [a particular photo] or hide it, afraid of losing it, afraid to stay with it

afraid of catching sight of ourselves, masks of our face gone down in history

suddenly slapped, like [3 ways our minds are not our own]

so that, as Suzan-Lori says, “repetition is never repeating yourself”

[a photo] repeats endlessly but does not conclude, and what is rhetorical does not wound

[2 reasons politics is not news] whereas a jackal gone on a pilgrimage is incredible

[a haiku], a punch of living death hiding between breaths

nothing to lose and losing it all to find yourself in [an “accelerated frame”]

which is analogous, I submit, to when theater is not “conventional”

(a word for [theater which recaps past theater]) [def. “inertial”]

all tied up in one-to-one correspondences of plotted points with other stories

just the same old [def. “topological equivalence”]; reiterating the past into consciousness [End Page 40]

easy oil-slicked gears sliding into certain success, even real estate

in which the only performance is of acquired status: [def. “institution”]

what was won and is maintained through an ever-renewing “audience”

following [all the rules of being an audience], necessary for

[2 reasons value must be consumed to exist] or “if it’s happening here it must be blessed!”

[3 ways propaganda affects perception] [2 ways we hide our freedoms] [3 literary prizes]

[why hierarchies create cronyism], or I submit, to defeat an enemy: let him in and feed him

Figure 5. “A Chilean dressed in a prison uniform and wearing a mask of Gen. Augusto Pinochet knelt behind a fence pleading for his release, in mockery of the general, at a demonstration in Santiago yesterday.” New York Times, October 24, 1998. Photo: AP.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 5.

“A Chilean dressed in a prison uniform and wearing a mask of Gen. Augusto Pinochet knelt behind a fence pleading for his release, in mockery of the general, at a demonstration in Santiago yesterday.” New York Times, October 24, 1998. Photo: AP.

for as Sartre says, “to believe is to know you believe and to know you believe is not to believe”

and in theater as in [a photo] we cannot deny that [a thing] was there, meaning nothing

but unlike in [a photo], in theater we cannot deny that we were there

[4 reasons what is “scripted” cannot be played]

and stop seeing ourselves as collective viewers of a constant “elapsing”

[3 differences between a camera and a photo] [how an area is aroused] [a field of care]

[def. “extinction”] where shooting with the camera means, as Sontag says

that “the person who intervenes cannot record” which is not unlike [End Page 41]

[how an object’s value is assessed] or [15 reasons not to take a photo] or

[def. “witness”] which is why [25 uses of a camera] or [6 ways to mark your place]

is a different discussion altogether, though not irrelevant, I submit

[1 species] comprises time which is never empty of a world, which is all in a photo

anything experimental, I propose, as Barthes says, “a science for every object”

(a unique physics for every playworld) though it’s hard to grasp, I admit, about Einstein

that there are no simultaneous events [why no two photos are the same] or plays

and [this] is not [this] and the present time is only present here

and how [def. “infinity”] is not just “increase without bounds”

but [a whole] which always already equals [a part of itself]

which is not the whole being equal to the sum of its parts (as we were taught)

or an audience (noun, singular) might think about itself, or a bank account

not the sum of [2 promises] or [1 demand] but of you and the universe

and it all comes back to [def. “probability”] and that there’s not much to do about anything

[1 mathematical reason time is unidirectional] and you are what’s happening to you

which experimental drama sets into view, valuing [the history of written numbers]

[a song from a record, scratched] or [rain in the lens]

making the window apparent, the hotel window in particular, something transient

which can only be sorted out in the movie version, when events “become” events

[what it takes to achieve an “understanding”] even in parenthesis

we understand only what we experience through time, in a certain way, we accustom to it

because despite any intention on the part of photographers to control the light or our eye

or make something feel inevitable or controlled

when what we’re not supposed to perceive are the frames, which like the stupid arrow again

are stopped and advance at once

[what happens to an audience when the film reels don’t change smoothly]

if you take reading to mean an incomplete consumption of signs in a series

or even any [def. “reading”] which is [1 reason television is more deviant than film]

[how a broadcast works]; [1 turbulent system]

[2 reasons a stopped clock never shows the correct time]

or [2 ways cinema can only playact danger]

its subject severed from its world like [3 ways “knowledge” is confirmed]

always concluding [3 ways motivations can be determined to be true]

or [2 ways a character is “built] rather than setting out a poem

because what we love is often more an experiment which fails, or seems to

like [3 things which cannot be spoken of abstractly] or should never be

“that role played by someone,” veiling our freedom in finite games

while in order to really continue to play, you must agree that when you think of

[a film you can’t forget] or the story of Achilles, you don’t think of it whole

only [3 particular images] and do they make sense, or is it just the heel?

[2 reasons why what begins in freedom cannot end in necessity]

how [1 thing you say] can become [a lie] very suddenly

which is history, which is scary when you’re fooled, forgetting

that even impostors in a photo are real [End Page 42]

the complete silence of [a photo] provides all the evidence, no learning takes place, only insanity

so that in the experiment of acting, which in experimental theater is more an act of listening

which does not result in “the obedient silence of the listener”

but in [1 exchange in which speakers and listeners play equally], indeterminately

as Wittgenstein says, they figure out how to “go on” together creating each other

and an audience not waiting for the end of the so-called Play to play

because [10 ways culture busts into Society], as Carse says, aren’t when norms are broken

but when the audience is diverted back into culture as players (deviants, liars, geniuses)

[2 reasons someone gets “arrested”], we celebrate anything stopped as [1 act of resisting

interpretation] revealing [the limitations previous artists imposed on subjects] and that a

“script” is a “corpus not a corpse,” as Barthes says, or [what prompted you to read this]

our language is never whole, the speaker makes it in the listener, and it can die there too

before even knowing what was said

([how the world of a species disappears when the species dies])

like [2 reasons a clown cannot mime her problem] and

[why a clown never reaches a goal], however much [all the obstacles a clown encounters]

are constituted from a clown’s dilemmas, and this is [1 reason clowns aren’t funny in

photos] they need time in their journey, the goal and the obstacle in constant play

lurking in every photo like [a crime], [the difference between “why” and “how”]

and maybe this writing does the same for [what I’m saying now], maybe not

when I can’t see what I’m saying when I can’t hear you speaking

or can [a house’s contents] make sense of the house? [def. “alive”]

[4 ways evolution is experimental], evolution which stops and jumps and doesn’t quite flow

but still leaves me pondering [1 reason it matters that space-time is curved]

or [1 reason the world is covered in roads] or [3 reasons revolutions begin]

[the working parts of a vending machine] or [def. “viscosity”]

not to be interested but to love, to be gone for a moment and come again

not for want of [3 reasons to give away favorite books]

but for the desire to find just [1 performance which really is unfathomable]

Figure 6 - No description available
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 6.

Thalia Field

Thalia Field received a 1992 NEA opera grant for The Pompeii Exhibit. Her prose and poetry have appeared in Conjunctions, Avec, Chain, and Central Park, and her book Point and Line is forthcoming from New Directions. Hey-Stop-That, published in Theater, was produced at SVT in Austin, Texas, and now at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art’s theater. A senior editor at Conjunctions, she edited an experimental music-theater issue. She currently teaches at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Footnotes

* Editor’s note: The text in brackets are [prompts] that can be read as continuations of the poetic phrase or as indications of a category that the reader is invited to complete. Thalia Field has previously used this indeterminate form in her plays.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-196X
Print ISSN
0161-0775
Launched on MUSE
1999-06-01
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.