I went to Vienna to do a lecture in TQW's great Precise Woodstock of Thinking series – 50 lectures over ten days by a collection of usual and not-usual suspects on the topic of The Future of Dance and Performance. Writing the lecture was a bit of a torture, and led to at least a couple of days of my recent time in New York being consumed in curses. I found an angle I could work in the end though (the process of finding perhaps relates a bit to what I wrote here about performing Quizoola!) and I was more than happy with the result. My general line was to doubt the past, to suspect the imagined capacity and mock the vanity of our hold on the future and to focus instead, on the present, presentness, now. This from the lecture, not the end, but heading in that general direction.
Language. I love words in a room, in the space between persons. This room, the one we are in now. Words that bring us closer, you and I, you and they, and those which force us all apart. Language for performance is that maybe – not so much a matter of writing, as one of speaking. Speaking is always bodied, provisional, temporal. Always performance. Now.
She speaks. And could stop speaking. Could be made to stop speaking. Could fail in speaking. That perhaps is a glimpse at the vulnerable the heart of performance. That it could stop. No book is going to stop. Movies rarely do these days. Few sculptures stop. And yes, the internet jams, the computer freezes but that’s another matter I think. But performance – performance can always just drop dead there right in front of your eyes, clam up, fall over, dissolve and that fact is written all though it, all over it, no matter how much denied. Now I am talking about frailty not language. But perhaps those two are more connected than I thought.
Words I wanted to write about. The failure of them – the struggle of them, the always present attempt to arrange them, to line them up, here now, in the here and now, in such a way that they make something happen, the fight or flight in the mouth and the brain to make sense with/of them, words. The constant stumbles in language, the digressions, the sudden energies of excitement – the sudden clarification of a purpose, the finding of an idea – and the subsequent lostness, vagueness, the fracture of hesitation, faltering, the hysteria as you or I and these words lose their way.
Words I wanted to write you about. How they summon things into the room, imagined presences, scenes, images. The complicity of those moments in which we hear something and make it happen in our minds eye. The way that words work make and surf the now, pulling us closer, forcing us apart, unfolding. No past and no future, each new word in the sentence always the same word in fact, always now, now, now.
Also in the Vienna Woodstock my friend Christine Peters made a lecture, in which she quoted a letter from Buckminster Fuller included in his book Critical Path, (1981) . Fuller wrote the letter to a ten year old boy, who'd written to him asking about "thinking and doing". The letter goes like this:
Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning "thinkers and doers."
The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.
Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely interested in. Don't be disappointed if something doesn't work. That is what you want to know — the truth about everything — and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite non-working elements embraced by their system.
Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar, find it in the dictionary and write a sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools — and once you have learned how to use a tool you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.
You have what is most important in life — initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.
Buckminster Fuller, February 16, 1970