In the context of a recent writing workshop that I held for Regional Arena for Contemporary Dance, Sandnes, I was invited by CAS to write a text about writing about performance. This metatextual escapade led me down a self-reflective spiral that resulted in the formation of this collection of statements on language and relation. These declarative statements that echo the supposed didacticism of the workshop environment sometimes undermine themselves in parts, and, just like the nature of the type of writing that I am talking about, are somewhat unstable themselves.
Language is always an act of translation – moulding thoughts into words that form symbols or sounds. These symbols or sounds are sometimes somewhat of a struggle to procure, especially when those symbols or sounds are subjected to the more permanent documentation of publication or recording.
The linguistic transference of concept to object starts from the deep wells of the inner voice and ruptures forth to the external. A rupture that must, in some way, be contained and wrestled and nurtured and grown – formed and performed in an ecstatic vocation – from the vocalic chrysalis to inscriptions in writing – in cyclical repetitions of call and responses.
Language is mostly a process of relation – of self to oneself or of self to an other, or collection of others – a form of connecting and clarifying together – a communal experience of documentation, of emotional processing, of information relocation – ordering and questioning, expanding and reducing.
This relation is a kind of act or performance – as words depict processes as an active component – words that are active are doing things in motion. The issue of the utterance is the performing of an action – it is not normally thought of as just saying something. 1
- Austin, J.L., How to Do Things with Words. Harvard University Press, 1962.
Writing is further an act of inscription – a diligent record keeping of emotional disposition – a rendering of the sonic into the symbolic – a forming of glyphs and structures and figures from sound. Sound being the original point of departure, writing coming after, after the sound.
Writing is both individual and collective – the splitting of the ego opens a multiple and performative space – a space that is inseparable from a certain orality. The act of writing is corporeal, sensual, and vital for whoever subjects oneself to it. 2
- Zana, J.J., Cycles. bleu, 2022.
Each writer is the product of all of the language that has coursed through them – inhabited them – possessed them. From the novel read at that poignant age, to the poem that passed them by – from the words whispered in gentle reassurance to those overheard at the kebab shop – from the scripts of Mad Men to the beggings of the billboard.
Writing is standing on a heap of words and books and poems and parcels of other texts – in a vortex of voices already spoken – spinning around in a swirl of language. The texts become papier-mâché under the feet of the writer, forming a mulch of an undecipherable quantity. The vortex of voices becomes simultaneously a babbling brook, a glottal howl, and a sub bass hum of continual mass. Fed continually with new content, words are recycled and reformed into new compositions – in cyclical repetitions of call and responses – all of the voices, all of the time.
The voice is at the centre of the human self-experience of presence.
Real-time transcription of voices can be less than reliable.
The body is an active site for listening. Somatic practices can help us to fine tune it, but the daily fluctuations of diet and digestion and emotion and devotion and distraction and attention and objection and exhaustion can complicate the task. The listening body is a site built on unstable grounds.
The arena of performance is similarly unstable – combining the instability of each body of the audience with the instability of each body performing – a wavering chorus that could or might break – the temporal and atmospheric fluctuations of the space – the sonic invasion of the external world to the place of the performance – in sirens and thunder and creaks of the door.
The experience of a performance oscillates with each repetition – with each subsequent vibration. What is heard today is not heard tomorrow. What was witnessed before will not come again. This certain collective of bodies will only be together on this singular occasion – each respiring, perspiring, and thinking together.
Recording these actions is a solely subjective experience – mediating between the individual and the collective – relying on memory to do most of the work. To capture a liveness or a likeness is almost impossible.
Writing is a process of figuring it out. When writing, you're trying to find out something that is not currently known – the whole language of writing is finding out what you don't want to know – what you don't want to find out. Something forces you to anyway. 3
- Baldwin, James, No Name in the Street. Dial Press, 1972.
A instance of nostalgia can provoke the intensity of remembrance – a twist of the wrist or the drop of a sentence – in smells and in lighting and rhythms of voices. Experiences may trigger the unfolding of nonlinear time. Should we stay with the liveness or float into the erupting memory?
Inscribing such instances after the fact, we are subjected to further dislocations – in spaces and time of a supposed linearity. The performance itself becomes a remembrance, a point of access for previous dispositions. The state of the body and mind in the moment of writing further infect the purity of the original experience.
The impossibility of parity is a known situation. No memory or recording or experience or occurrence contains a total objective reality. The point of departure for the accessing of the memory is remembering the last time said memory was accessed. Like a chain link fence connecting the present with the past, filtered through various points in time that dilute and change and warp the experience – in cyclical repetitions of call and responses.