- Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance by Laura Cull
In Laura Cull’s book, Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance, complex Deleuzian concepts are injected with dramatic life and manipulated with great ease and originality. The book pays a beautiful tribute to the fact that Deleuze’s concepts have also inspired artists and have brought some performances to life: “A growing number of performance practitioners have referenced Deleuze as a philosophical stimulus for their practice, suggesting the particular suitability of his materialist, processual thought for thinking through the embodied, durational art of performance” (2). We can wonder what a “philosophical stimulus” is and how it engages with the performing body. In performance, Cull asserts, “everything thinks” (4). Thinking transpires from the objects onstage, even from non-human [End Page 124] elements such as animals (live or not), monsters, ghosts, or puppets. The stage is both “a kind of body” (214) responding to stimuli and a kind of brain, an eerie Frankenstein-like creature neither human nor non-human. Following this important premise, Laura Cull’s book consists in crystallizing textual and physical encounters between the works of thinker-performers such as Antonin Artaud, Carmelo Bene, and John Cage, among others, and the filigreed ethics at work in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze.
Contrary to what the title of the book seems to suggest, it looks as though performance gradually fleshes out what a Deleuzian ethics could be. The great merit of this research is to testify indirectly to the fact that the only way (a Deleuzian) ethics could express its force is in the non-philosophical, minor idiom of performance. As the reading of this book proceeds, emergent and dynamic systems of ethics percolate into the reader’s mind, shimmying rather unobtrusively at first, like shivers of Spinozist joy. They could be pictured as affective forms of life, as metabolisms, that assert their multiple presences more positively in performance. This ethics composes itself like a resisting fabric, made of sentient matter, and reverberating human relational or affective efforts in duration. The open composition that performance materializes by affecting the bodies and brains of its audience resists the hollowing exteriority of accidents, decomposition, and death. The ethics it portrays has nothing to do with a moral system of values; its highest degree of intensity would correspond to a maximal capacity to be affected by others, as an amplitude of gesture.
Further down the line, the ethical claims that underpin the book are made clearer and clearer. The consequences of an immanent perspective for ethics in performance, as opposed to a transcendent view of ethics, are tremendous. The divine imperative has dissolved into the levelling sensuous thickness of the stage-real. Yet, this horizontality of immanent stage existence does not mean irresponsibility and general mayhem – quite the contrary. There is a throbbing, a power of life that enjoins the participating audience to respond to it and respect its demands, increasing their own body power by contagion. Approaching ethics in performance with Antonin Artaud, Carmelo Bene, Robert Wilson, The Living Theatre, Goat Island, Marcus Coates, and Alan Kaprow, among others, allows the author to acknowledge the depth and unpredictability of perceptual experience. More importantly, it seems that what philosophy can’t say about ethics, performance can make us feel, as an intense field force, as human and nonhuman generosity. “Goodness,” as Laura Cull uses the word, becomes this persevering gesture of composition against decomposition – the resisting movements of open hands and dancing bodies, which have aesthetic and political meanings: “For goodness is itself a matter of movement and composition; always a part, relative, open” (240). [End Page 125]
One of the major consequences of this view of ethics is to acknowledge how, in performance, our bodies do not belong to us, and there is no property relation or hierarchical divide between our bodies and our minds. This strict parallelism between body and mind is made more concrete in performance than it is in Deleuze’s account of Spinoza’s immanent practical philosophy. Not...