Psychoanalysis and Performance

By Patrick Campbell; Adrian Kear | Go to book overview

1

REHEARSING THE IMPOSSIBLE

The insane root

Herbert Blau

A few prefatory remarks, theoretical, personal, before we get to the root, or at least the root of the title. What I want to reflect upon eventually are the limits of performance, to the degree that approaching those limits seems to resemble an obsessional neurosis, in theater as in sports or any activity exceeding itself, its very discipline not only demanding but threatening, perilous, self-punishing in extremis - as it may be in psychoanalysis, where the accretions of the subject’s symptoms may push things to the limit. It is there, as Lacan remarks in his thesis on aggressivity as ‘intended aggression,’ that ‘the analytic experience allows us to feel the pressure of intention,’ while the symptoms - hesitations, evasions, parapraxes, the improvised or calculated deceits, sullen breakings off, remorse, returns, excesses of renewed commitment, and then again the vacillations, the turning off or against, ‘recrimi-nations, reproaches, phantasmic fears, emotional reactions of anger, attempts at intimidation’ 1 - might constitute a repertoire familiar in the course of rehearsal, especially to the director whose own pressures of intention may be arduous to the point of cruelty. I like to believe that Freud was right, however, when he observed

that the instinct for knowledge can actually take the place of sadism in the mechanism of obsessional neurosis. Indeed it is at bottom a sublimated off-shoot of the instinct for mastery exalted into something intellectual, and its repudiation in the form of doubt plays a large part in the picture of obsessional neurosis. 2

It is the instinct for knowledge to which I’ll also return, and to theater as heuristic, interrogative, a function of thought. But when I first began working with actors, the American theater was profoundly thoughtless. The repudiation of the intellectual, next to no doubt at all, accounted in part for my own obsessions - all of which were registered in The Impossible Theater: A Manifesto, which I wrote in the early 1960s, 3 anticipating the dissidence about to break out. Before that happened, however,

-21-

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Psychoanalysis and Performance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Preface xii
  • Introduction 1
  • Section A - Thinking Through Theatre 19
  • 1 - Rehearsing the Impossible 21
  • 2 - As If 34
  • 3 - Scanning Sublimation 47
  • 4 - Now and Then 60
  • Section B - Parallel Performances 73
  • 5 - Violence, Ventriloquism and the Vocalic Body 75
  • 6 - Hello Dolly Well Hello Dolly 94
  • 7 - Writing Home 115
  • 8 - The Writer’s Block 132
  • 9 - The Placebo of Performance 147
  • Notes 163
  • Section C - History, Memory, Trauma 167
  • 10 - Freud, Futurism, and Polly Dick 169
  • 11 - Laughter 177
  • 12 - Speak Whiteness 192
  • 13 - The Upsilon Project 203
  • 14 - Staging Social Memory 218
  • Index 237
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