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TDR: The Drama Review 45.1 (2001) 118-127

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The Debate with Space

Valère Novarina

Translator's note: "The Debate with Space" (Le débat avec l'espace) was first published in Valère Novarina's Devant la parole (Paris: P.O.L., 1999). It is a prolongation of a conversation that took place between the author and Pascale Bouhénic at Le col du Feu, in the French Alps, September 1997. The translation was first commissioned by the Atelier de la Traduction of the Scène Nationale d'Orléans, and appears by their permission and that of Valère Novarina. Novarina's work has been presented in a dossier in TDR (37, 2 [T138] 1993), and in the volume The Theater of the Ears (Sun and Moon Press, 1996), both edited and translated by Allen S. Weiss. The first English-language theatrical production of Novarina, Theater of the Ears, a play for electronic marionette and recorded voice, was directed by Allen S. Weiss and Zaven Paré, sound by Gregory Whitehead with Christof Migone, and puppeteer Mark Sussman, and was staged at California Institute of the Arts in November 1999 and at LaMama E.T.C. in New York in September 2000.

The books are often begun here, in the mountains, in an isolated place where the great coldness lasts a long time. The seed must be placed in the earth: winter, death preceding germination. At the moment I begin a book, I instinctively return to this place of childhood. I wrote from the age of 8 to 22 without anybody in the world knowing; it was linked to a secret, to the secret of secrets. The work begins asphyxiated, with the sensation of the strangeness of space, its lack.

The writing progresses like an organic work: there is insemination, ripening in darkness--then thrust, birth, blossoming. The architecture of the book issues forth one day like a newborn's face. But in the beginning, I am oblivious to everything. There is gestation, burying, descent--and not fabrication. I descend... When the structure is unveiled we see that it was active from the first pages, its germ in the very first, the poorest notes.

The work begins with a thorough examination of the crumbs that fell from previous works, like shavings gathered under a workbench: four words on a sheet, some almost-nothings, scraps. Then a proliferation begins, a blossoming of the things themselves; one is confronted with incomprehensible rebuses in their mysterious materiality, with rejects. I throw away nothing, I amplify everything: it's a gathering, an exercise in humility. On the ground, words. And then--though sometimes nothing moves and everything is dead for weeks--the book begins to breathe, advances in an arborescent manner, as in springtime labor. One becomes two, four becomes eight, sixteen becomes thirty-two. Multiplying and worsening. This is a movement of expansion according to the laws of the living disorder of nature. One is fecundated by language, by [End Page 118] the love we bring to it. Language is no longer an instrument of speech, but a tool of apparition: it tears asunder the world before us... All is chaos in the details...but stepping farther back permits us to perceive the perspectival point, the absolute order. It is by means of infinite multiplication that symmetry arises. Such is work in the shattered shapes of a kaleidoscope, multiplying to make the one appear.

No erasure: to the contrary, everything is florescent, germinescent. I never remove anything, I develop by opening, I disseminate. The first book that I wrote, at the age of 11, was entitled Hésitations sans ratures [Hesitations without Erasures]. I write on white pages with huge strokes; I test language outside of thought; I write without self. I like drudgery, idiotic work. La Lutte des morts [The Struggle of the Dead, 1979] was written while shoveling cement or digging a hole at each pause, as during intermission. I liked exchanging pencil for pick axe. I seek a repetitive discipline, a muscular prayer, and a degradation.

Everything begins...


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