Academic journal article Liminalities

Say Nothing. Say Anything. Do Something: Expressing the Ineffable in Performance Poetry

Academic journal article Liminalities

Say Nothing. Say Anything. Do Something: Expressing the Ineffable in Performance Poetry

Article excerpt

This essay is about Pieces of ¿Me for You, an autobiographical performance I performed at BRINK Festival at Central School of Speech and Drama (University of London) in 2012. My practice is predominantly performance poetry, which essentially means that I write poetry to be performed. I write to and for the spectator/listener with a constant mindfulness of how the words will sound when performed. I speak as I write, silently mouthing the words to myself, feeling the shape of them on my tongue, and I write in anticipation of the moment of performance; because it is in that moment that my words become meaningful. Above all, my practice is driven by the obligation to which Samuel Beckett (1970) refers, that is, the obligation to express the inexpressible, and the feeling that it is the writer's duty to do so (103).

Beckett brought silence to the stage when faced with the obligation to express the trauma caused by World War II, and he created elliptic dialogues to show the limitations of words. My work in performance poetry has been driven by an objective to break these limitations, to find ways around words and create texts that are performative acts of expression. These performative texts evoke feelings that are too intense for words, materialise memories that evade literal description, and create metaphors for past experiences too painful for full articulation. For Beckett, silence and elliptical language were the best tools to express the ineffable, for me writing performatively and performing poetry express what words alone cannot express. In this essay I use the method of performative writing within a critical framework, informed by the writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, C.G Jung and Sigmund Freud on the unconscious. Using the writings of Beckett, Freud, Jung and Merleau-Ponty I will argue that metaphorical writing realises the ambiguity, subjectivity and ineffability of the unconscious. Developing a practice that uses performance poetry to narrate personal experience, and represent the ineffability of dreams, memories and repressed emotions, including grief, has led me to the conclusion that the performer is able to show ineffability. Furthermore, writing as performance evokes the quality of an ineffable experience, emotion, or vision so that it becomes a felt experience that can be shared with an audience.

Expressing the Ineffable: an Introduction

B.- ...I speak of an art turning ... m disgust, weary of puny exploits, weary of pretending to be able, of being able, of doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road.

D. And preferring what?

B.-The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express

(Samuel Beckett, 1970: 103)

A writer may turn to poetry with a desire to artfully name the world and make others see the world in different ways. However, there are certain subjective feelings, emotions, experiences and images that are unnameable, but are expressible without words, and that is the ineffable. Expression can be a struggle, a struggle driven by an obligation to express the ineffable, even though that is a paradoxical task. How can the ineffable, of which its very nature resists, nay evades, words, be expressed in language? How can writing become more than a description, and in this becoming evoke ineffable experiences, that are crucial to the narration of personal experience? And finally how can writing performatively re-evoke an ineffable experience? These are the questions that inform my investigation into the fulfilment of the paradoxical task to express the ineffable in performance poetry.

The obligation to express the ineffable can be satiable by saying nothing, by saying any random metaphor that comes to mind, or by speaking (or writing) in such a way that saying (and writing) become doing. …

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