Research area D
Have you ever seen such a plain? Bland and bleak and seemingly endless.
On windy days, the dust swirls from the ground, turning the sky grey – and in winter, with the occasional snowfall, the plain turns hard and white, as if glazed over.
There is a weight about this place, only balanced by the castle and the road.
It is as if the castle and the road have been placed there to make the weight bearable, or maybe it is the other way around. That it is the fact that the palace is there, with its spears and halls and helicopter decks, with its casino, and fortified doors and tennis courts, with its barracks and dungeons, that gives the plain its weight, its bleakness, this feeling that it goes on forever.
Only sometimes, in the spring, after a swift and rare rainfall, when the sun is out, before the blazing heat of summer, the weight lifts. As if the perspective shifts, and as the feeble grass starts to sprout on the horizontal spread, a lush green spreads across it. For a few weeks, it is a place for grazing herds of goats and sheep, with the ringing of tiny bells breaking the monotony.
Now it’s late September.
All is still. Nothing moves.
It’s as if there is no change from day to day. Overcast, greyish days. No cars coming or going. The barracks filled with sleeping, gambling, restless men, too bored to leave the palace grounds.
And then, – two lonely figures at the edge of it all, one leaning against the other as she says:
Some people say that it was always there
But I think that once the plain was just a plain
not heavy at all
In the time before
before humans walked it and gave it its name
In the times of the grazing
or even before the time of men or palaces or roads
before words like plain, or heavy, or grass
Before any name was given
Before the comprehension of anything having a name
When all was still open
They sky, the wind, the hare, the fox, and the mice
a worm worming its way through the grass
Before there was anything here – then maybe there was no heaviness at all
There they are.
Can you see them?
Two figures at the edge of the picture. They are there. It is there: the palace, and the road crossing the plain – and at the same time, none of this exists. It’s just something I’ve conjured up. Just language. These are just words. Language brought them about and can erase them again.
For now, this is a beginning.
For now, in this text, it is all there is.
BEGINNINGS AND TIME
Beginnings deals with time, and time to me is inseparable from place. To understand when something starts, one have to investigate from where it came.
Time is never just one “thing”. On one hand, it is factual, measurable, shared and universal, and on the other, it is fundamentally subjective. Time is experienced by me, – but I share it with others. One could say that we live in the time of the clock and in the time of the self – at the same time.
In Gilles Deleuze’s books Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, he observes time as a phenomenon in cinema. Inspired by Bergson’s duree and Augustin’s first contemplation on time and man, he points to the simple fact that time is a diverse phenomenon connected to subjectivity, and due to that, – it can be both smooth and metric. An event, and uneventful even at the same time. Measured in the tick of a clock, but experienced by a subjective human being, in a universe that seems to spin beyond time.
These times are at the same time simultaneously present, and will never add up.
They are as separate as they act and interact with each other, and as such, time can be as measurable as unmeasurable. As steady as it is in flux. As physical and factual, as it is abstract. (Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, London, Bloomsbury Academic 2013).As a maker of text, I write places in time. I conjure up a plain, build a palace, make people speak. In a space/time composition like a play or a performative text, time works its magic everywhere. It is not only narrated or exposed, – but it acts. It moves and shifts and modulates, inside the text.
I imagine a city. A city almost as vast as the plain, spreading out in all directions. Not a European City, not an Asian city, – a city like you’ve never seen before – and there are no streets running through it, but rivers. And there are no rooftops – but forests, so when you pass over it by air, all you can see is the lush green of the roofs, and the sparkling waters of the rivers. And a voice says:
This is what we’ve had: Earthquakes, storms, floods. Water, suddenly bursting past the skyscrapers like reoccurring dreams. Bewilderment. Sudden loss of orientation. Crowds to get lost in. Buildings to get dressed in like a dark disguise.Then we had to reinvent the city. After the storms took it, and the floods. After we returned. Or, maybe it reinvented itself. After all – it’s never quite the same, and it is always itself. Turning us in to another, in a constant displacement, like a continuous shifting of gravity.
THE SPATIAL TURN
We all inhabit the same space. This earth is where we sleep, eat, live, die and although some very few prepare for a space-shuttle travel to Mars, the rest of us has to stay here, no matter what comes our way.
We live in Anthropocene times. This home of ours is shaped by human actions. There is soon not a corner of it that has not been touched by man, but the world has its own language. It has become heavy by our hands, but it reacts at its own will, not really paying attention to whether it suits us or not.
In their book Land/Scape/Theatre, Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri writes about what they call the spatial turn in theatre. Theatre has been associated with culture, not nature, they state. By entering landscape into the mix, one can offer a fresh framework for thinking on modern theatre.
As the theatre of the last century has challenged the Aristotelian hierarchy, it has been undermined by a flux of dramatic structures and a gallery of fractured subjectivities, – A pervasive new spatiality, of which scenography is only the most obvious site, has turned the Aristotelian hierarchy on its head, now spectacle may be the “soul” of the dramatic enterprise. (Elinor Fuchs and Una Chaudhuri, Land/Scape/Theatre, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press 2002)
Although landscape has always played a part in classic theatre, King Lear’s storm-lashed heath, Segismundo ‘s desolate cave, something changed with modernism. Theatre begun to manifest a new spatial dimension. For the first time, landscape held itself apart from the character and became a character of its own.
In his book Thirdspace, Edward W. Soja looks at the return of space in social sciences, art and architecture. His claim is that never before has the spatial dimension of our lives been more vitally present, practically and politically. We are spatial beings, he writes, and there are social consequences to this fact, on a local and a global scale.
To be able to encompass this, Soja puts forward the term Thirdspace. He explains it as a purposefully tentative and flexible term that attempts to capture the constantly shifting and changing milieu of ideas, events, appearances and meaning. He sees it as a transdisciplinary term that can be used to fathom the simultaneity and interwoven complexity of the social, the historical and the spatial, in one. To expose how they are both inseparable and interdependent.
It’s all about combinations of perspectives. A multiplicity that also entails the not real or the imagined (Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing 1996).
The first part of Soja’s book draws heavily on the theoretician and situationist Henri Lefebvres “triple dialectics” and postmodern theory deriving from basic Marxist analysis of society. Thirdspace can be described as: a creative recombination and extension, one that builds on a Firstspace that is focused on the “real” material world, and a Secondspace perspective that interprets this reality through “imagined” representations of spatiality.
Soja is looking for a multiplicity of real-and-imagined places.
A vital part of both these books is the rediscovery of the fact that the world does not end at our doorstep. That there are more to the world than Europe and the United States. Fuchs and Chaudhuri turn their gaze away from the Eurocentric, to theatre praxises of the third world. Soja, as Focault, has his mind set upon power and social equality, and especially in urban contexts. He is interested in spatialities of class, race and gender, and he pays special attention to the post-colonial criticism and critical feminist theory as an opening up for the vital importance of space, when it comes to understand inequality and the play of power. And both return to the urban space. To the city. The city as a Thirdspace in itself.
Soja’s Thirdspace is an open-ended system, as is Deleuze’s and Felix Guattarri’s term assemblage and their understanding of the city’s a mega-machines, composed of overlapping human and non-human entities and relations (Frichot, Gabrielsson and Metzger’s Deleuze and the City, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press 2016). An assemblage is any number of "things" or pieces of "things" gathered into a single context. Together and interacting with each other they are capable of producing any number of effects, rather than a tightly organized and coherent whole producing one dominant reading (Deleuze and Guattarri, A Thousand Plataus, New York, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2013).
I live in reality. My experience of time runs paralleled with thousands and millions of others. With it comes an infinite of potential beginnings and ends. Thoughts forgotten. Motives hidden. Mind-sets and ideologies out of sight, and still continuously played out and spilling over into my world, entering my thoughts, my words and my actions.
AI live on the fifth floorI grow lemon trees in my windowsill, and apple trees and tomatoesI take the kernels out of the fruit and then I plant them there
I’ve also tried to plant an avocado, and ginger and apricot
BI can’t stand it any longerIn two months’ time it will be five years since I last left this building
CThese last weeks we have been arguing – constantly
We have bought this new flatthis penthousethis wonderful five bedroom place with a rooftop garden and an ocean view and now he wants to get rid of everythingEverything we haveall the furnitureall the family portraitseven the TV
He says it makes no sense anymoreto keep all those things we have loved and cherishedthat generations have loved and cherished since we are moving into this new flatHe says that we pay so much for the view, for the space, for the vicinity that that will have to do
DI decided to walk straight across townI started at the left corner by the old slaughterhouse and then I just continued west, all the way through Newtown and the upper district – just stopping to drink – and eat maybe once a day
I have decided to walk all the streetsand then circle townSee how long it would take meSleep as little as possible
I do one street at the timeCircle them on the mapthe once I’ve walked and the once I’ll do next
EOnce all the madhouses and all the jails was outside town
Now the city is catching up with them
FA Sunday morning, at 10.30 – this man starts going bananas at the main square, shooting at anything in sight. I mean anything. Not people but signs and busses, and commercials and doves and even the tram as it passed
(The texts are from the City Dwellers Complex)
Some say that soon 75% of the world’s population will live in the city. A city is in itself layers of time, one on top of the other.
I remember entering Cairo for the first time. Staying at the Hilton in the middle of town, then branching out into the old town, still mediaeval in its form, shaped by earthquakes hundreds of years ago. Then taking the bus out to the pyramids, seeing the shantytown of the potential urban sprawl, the timeless pace of rural life at the edge of that again, and then as we approached Giza, the looming shapes of the three pyramids, almost mythical in their brutally concrete forms.
And then everywhere, on the bus, in the streets, on the patchworks of field, at the pyramid gates – a throng of people. Talking, laughing, feeling, experiencing, surviving. The smell of garbage and dust and cigarettes. Of streetfood and perfume. Children playing. An aeroplane roaring overhead. A schoolbuss passing. The streetsweeper. A man selling sunglasses, and napkins and rubber sandals, – and in the background, the modern city with its banks and finance district.
All this cramped together in one space. The multitudes of perspectives, times, even realities fluctuating and intermingling. Small scale and big scale. A myriad of time, place, history and social interaction – the Thirdspace that is cities like Cairo.
Currently, I am writing on a large voice-piece, the City Dwellers Complex that currently consists of 400 text-fragments, dialogues, monologues, quotes and outcries – sometimes being played out in as many as 37 parallel scenes or events. Voices simultaneously played out in space and time. I want to populate space with parallel actions. Letting these actions represent the space. To do so, I have to trust in the generating powers of language. To see if these voices, played out collectively, could be both the place, and the events being played out in it.
In a way, I am composing.
Voice-composing. I want to create a coherent flux of time and voice, tone and rhythm. A place where the words’ inbuilt meaning and musicality work together in sentences, combined in fugelike patterns.
In his book Thirdspace, Soja elaborates on Louis Borges short story The Aleph and Lefebvre’s love for music, and start to think of presentation of the production of space as a musical composition, with a multiplicity of instruments and voices playing together at the same time. Soja writes: More specifically, I found that the text could be read as a polyphonic fugue that assertively introduced its keynote themes early on and then changed them intentionally in contrapuntal variations that took radically different forms and harmonies. This, he states, would be a way of spatializing the text. A way to break out of the conventional temporal flow of beginnings, introductions, developments and ends. In this manner, one could explore new rhythms and tear away from the traditional dialectical way of thinking, always adding another – both, and also, even introducing discursive or disruptive dissonances.
PLACE UPON PLACE or THE THRILL OF DISCOVERY
In his book New Playwriting Strategies, Paul C. Castagno points to new forms in playwriting. Forms that exposes, utilises and play with this potential. They construct hybrids, he says. Creating work that combine different genres and language strategies. The hybrid play may take on a myriad of forms and combinations: from literary pastiche to a collage-like performance piece. The collage is an apt corollary form of art, since collage transforms diverse found material into a new, aesthetic whole.
In the hybrid, the playwright is flexible to juxtapose, deconstruct, or reassemble space and time. It opens for clashes and tensions inside the play itself, and – he states: When language alters space and time, established moorings are loosened, as conventions are interrupted or replaced (Paul C. Castagno New Playwriting Strategies, New York, Routledge 2012).
Before I had even read Castagno’s thoughts on the hybrid play, I had started to think differently about the performative texts. Both the ones I was reading and the ones I was working on myself.
When I write for the stage, it varies from my prose or my poetry, and when I read Paul C. Castagno’s definition of a hybrid play, there was something that clicked in me. I recognized the texts and the reality he was the describing.
First of all writing for the stage involves combining different text types: dialogues, stage directions, monologues, situations, outbreaks, confessions, the one addressing the other. They are montages where different types of texts are put together to communicate something very specific. They offer this assemblage of different layers and text-types, to tell a skilled reader how to deal with it performatively – directly or indirectly. They offer themselves to a praxis.
The genre in itself is dirty, and when I call my texts dirty, – I mean that they are conglomerates understood in a geological way.
The shift in playwriting, states Castagno, is that language has become the arbiter of character and mis-en-scene. Although it focuses on language, its task is to create unique theatrical worlds, creating polyvocal texts, interactive systems in which each element is in dialogue or dialogized with the other elements. As Bakhtin discovered when looking at literature in his own time, the plays Paul C. Castagno has been looking at are plural. Contradictory even, stagings of different voices or discourses, and thus they can entail clashes of perspectives and point of views.
Language playwrights have been particularly effective in creating shifting scenes, usually in the form of landscape altered and formulated by language. The seemingly desultory relationship between scenes is mitigated because the language provides a structural linkage (Routledge 2012).
Language constitutes the text. The text as an artefact is a laboratory. In it, we can do what we want. Change the rules and change the perspective. As long as the universe holds. As long as the game is sound. As long as the reader or the audience wants to “play”.
THE TEXT IS A CRISIS IS A CRISIS IS A TEXT
In my daily life, I do not feel this freedom. I feel conditioned. I feel heavy as the plain, and I do not know why.
Sometimes, I find my life as a consumer in today’s economy unbearable. It makes me redraw. I want to take part in the public and political life, but at the same time, I live with a feeling of not having real access to it, and I think – is it possible to be free, but at the same time not to feel free? I can’t seem to find the space for me to act. Sometimes it feels like this democracy I live in is a kind of theatre. A pretence world. A game we have made up, where we are all playing out our different parts, and that the only thing I am really free to do is to buy things. That I am first a consumer, then a citizen.
I live, I produce, I consume. I dance, I shout, I write, I make performances, but sometimes it feels like I am the one that is being performed. That what I am really doing is sinking deeper and deeper into a pattern that won’t change anything. That all I am doing is shouting, writing, acting out inside my own echo chamber, like a shadow-dance with my own ghost, and I can’t get out.
Many of today’s influential playwrights, like Roland Schimmelpfennig, Kristin Èiriksdottìr, Jonas Hassen Khemiri and Lisa Lie expresses dance-macabres like these. In their play’s, one can feel the struggle between the ethic longings and the system these longings exist inside. These texts does not only expose or narrate crises, the texts themselves are in crises, and these crises are played out both in language and in composition. It goes on between the characters and it is based in the structure of the plots and dramaturgies. Many of them are played out in hybrid-like forms that re-theatricalizes the spaces they exist in. Here you can meet democracy masked, and unmasked. Here worlds are made up, and worlds are torn apart. As real as they are constructed.
The texts asks questions like – when all can be sold, if everything, even a child can be turned into a commodity, then comers has become performative in itself. Comers plays out its own spectacle, its own tragedies and comedies, and through that, it even performs us, through that it even performs the public sphere itself.
In a play, language gives freedom to begin where one wants, and to open up a Thirdspace. A space where time, history, place and social interaction exists at the same time. This gives freedom. This gives a possibility even to merge and combine perspectives. To turn the macabre dance of comers into allegory, and allegory into song. To change and transform. To make possible and impossible worlds.
Two little figures at the edge of everything. They see the palace, they see the plain. The empty road. A helicopter circling overhead.
The sky is dull, their voices faint, as the first one starts saying:
Are we there now?
Yes we are
So this is it
BWhat happens next
Just lay down on your back.Just for a second
How do you feel?
What do you see?
Clouds, I think, Blue sky mainly – and some clouds
Is that enough?
I think so – Actually – I think I could stay like this forever
What do you hear?
What do you smell?
Grass. Moss. Wait!
What was that?
It sounded like a somebody crying, yelping –
A buzzard maybe
No, it was something else
A little mouse?
I think its dying
Don’t turn your gaze!
Now it’s gone silent
Not a sound
Please let me see! Let me check
If you see, you change your perspective
If you see
You might change this story
Where are you now?
Deep in the moss. On my belly
What are you now?
A worm I think
Gliding through the grass
Blood in the grass
There it is
The thing I heard
The head is gone
What do you feel?
What do you want to do?
I want to eat it
Please let me
Please let me eat it
Please let me swallow it whole
Now – do you understand?
What’s to understand
I am hungry
I want to eat
If I were there, would you eat me too?
I know that my texts are a part of me. That whatever I do, they will reflect who I am and the time I live in. The life experiences I’ve had, and the way I foresee the future. Still, they are something of their own.
The last years I have started to see them as entities in themselves. As intact and unique systems that consist of events, text-surfaces, intertextuality etc. – and that all these separate parts interconnect.
These interconnected systems has a «behaviour», and it is the way the different parts are put together that gives them this behaviour. This is something the texts is, and at the same time it is something it does.
Due to that, the text itself entails an imperative that is not necessarily mine. It wants something. It demands something. Not only in the way it may ask to be performed or interpreted – but in the way it wants to be understood.
This praxis also endorse a worldview and an aesthetic. And this aesthetic, and the world view it represents – is there – inscribed in its structure as something self-explanatory and given. This, that is given, does also entail an ethical stance, and it is the way that I structure my texts, the way I compose them – or put them together, that gives each texts its specific behaviour.
It all comes from somewhere. So the question I often ask myself is where am I speaking from. Sometimes I even ask – what speaks in this one.
The place does something to you. Space, to me, is not passive or neutral.
As when we enter the mace of an old part of a city. All of a sudden lost. Disoriented. Staring up at the sky to see what’s south and what’s north.
Spaces can changes who we are. As a city forces us to wait for a red light. Slow down as we pass through a crowd. It teaches us patience. It keeps us on our toes. It closes us in and it leaves us exposed and alone in the open.
THE PERFORMATIVE TEXT AND ITS BEHAVIOUR
Some settings for a play, can force private dilemmas to collide with public, even political ones. It could be children living in a burnt out oil-tanker, it could be a small place on Americas east coast cut off after a snow storm, it could be a street in Turkey full of sweatshops that employs Syrian refugees to produce flawed life-vests.
Topois carry their own rhetoric. They can be lexical, emotional, clinical – A place after death where one sees everything clearly for the first time, when one knows it all.
Can’t you feel it?
I feel kind of tingly
Can’t you smell it?
Oh – that’s wonderful
You are flowering
You are in flower
big purple flowers
If I was a girl I would have picked me
She wants to pick you
Let her pick me!
I have been her long enough
Let her uproot me, take me
If I let her pick you
I know – I’ve got it
Then we will change the perspective
Then we will –
Change the story
LEAVING THE PLAIN AND ENTERING THE CITY
A single field of flowering grass. All else grey and muddy. The plain crisscrossed by car-tracks.
Night’s falling – Airplanes ahead. There are cars on the road. Somebody is shouting. All of a sudden a column of smoke. A fire in the barracks. The floodlights are on. Missiles are falling. A group of soldiers breaking down the palace door. Shouting at each other. Shooting at everything. Slamming the doors open, and at the edge of this image – our two figures are gone. They are nowhere to be seen. Maybe they have left the place. Maybe they are hiding in an underground cave. Maybe they were never there to begin with. Maybe this whole place was just a metaphor. A mental place, something they imagined. A part of a therapy session or a story they told each other while sitting up all night, drinking maybe, or getting to know each other.
I should know.
I am the one writing this.
One of them is newly divorced, she says.
The other one has just come back from a trip abroad.
They’ve met in a bar. Now they are sitting on a balcony, looking out over the cityscape, spreading out underneath them like a never-ending curving landscape of green.
We argued all the time, the woman says. We had bought this flat. A spacious, wonderful flat with a rooftop garden, and a terrace and all – and then it all just fell apart. He wanted to sell everything we owned. He said that none of it fitted the style of the place. Who needs a TV with such a view, he said. Such an incredibly expensive view.
– And did you? Sell the stuff?
– Yes. In the end.
– And what did you do with the money?
– We lost it.
And the sun is setting on the many rivers. On tiny boats tied to moorings along the riverbanks, little lanterns lighting up the steps leading up to the bric-a-brac system of flats and apartments, as the garden rooftops, with their trees and plant-life and birds of prey, sends out this sent that it always does after a warm day followed by an afternoon shower. And the man says: For a long time I thought that this was what we had – earthquakes, storms, floods. Bewilderment. Before we reinvented the city, I did not know what to do. I hated this place. The smells, the noise, how the streets were always dark, how it took forever on the underground to get from one place to another. How there was never time here for anything – and so I decided to go walking. I decided to walk the streets, all the streets in the whole of the city to see how long it would take me. Sleep as little as possible. Do one street at the time. And so I did. I wanted to befriend the place. To see if what I saw was all there was, – or whether there was something more. Something yet to come. Something I had not noticed. Whether this was it.
Castagno, Paul C., New Playwriting Strategies, New York: Routledge, 2012
Chaudhuri, Una & Fuchs, Elinor, Land/Scape/Theatre and the New Spatial Paradig, Ann Arbor:University of Michigan Press 2002
Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 1 and 2, London: Bloomsbury Academic 2013
Deleuze, Gilles & Guatarri, Felix, A thousand Plateaus, London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2013
Frichot, H, Gabrielson, C. & Metzger, J, Deleuze and the City. Edinburg: Edinburg University Press 2016
Morton, Timothy Dark Ecology, New York: Colombia University Press 2016
Soja, Edward J., Thirdspace – Journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places, Hoboken: Blackwell Publishing 1996
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