Patrice Pavis: "The State of Current Theatre Research"


The Experience of Materiality

The spectators concretely experience the materiality when they perceive the various materials and forms in the performance, provided that they remain on the side of the signifier, i.e provided that they resist the temptation to immediately translate everything into signifieds. Whether it is a question of the presence and corporeality of the actor, the texture of his voice, or some kind of music, colour or rhythm, the spectators are at first submerged in an aesthetic experience and the material event; they do not have to reduce this experience to words, they savour rather the "erotic in the theatre process" (Lehmann, 1989: 48) without trying to reduce the performance to a series of signs, as, according to Bert States (1987: 7) semiotics sometimes does: "What is disturbing, if anything, about semiotics is not its narrowness, but its almost imperialistic confidence in its product: that is, its implicit belief that you have exhausted a thing's interest when you have explained how it works as a sign." Such an objection is worth considering: performance should be treated both as materiality and as potential meaning, and should never be reduced to an abstract and fixed sign. When the spectators observe a gesture, a particular space or listens to music, they appreciate the materiality of the performance for as long as possible; they are at first touched, surprised and silenced by these things in front of them which offer themselves to the spectators in their being-there before becoming completely integrated into the rest of the performance and evaporating into an immaterial signified. But sooner or later, the spectators' desires are bound to become vectorised, the arrow is bound to reach its target, transforming the object of desire into a signified. Reading the signs in a performance thus means, paradoxically, resisting their sublimation: the question is for how long?


Getting to grips - body to body - with the performance's materiality is thus to be taken literally: the analyst returns to the 'body' of the performance, moving beyond the kind of sublimation which comes about whenever we use signs; he is fully absorbed by the aesthetic experience and by the material aspects presented on stage. He desperately tries to overcome the "blindness of many semiologists when it comes to the material force of aesthetic signifiers" (Villeneuve, 1989: 25); he is aware of the "phenomenon of non-intentionality, of libidinal investment of events, of the sensual materiality of signifiers, which make it impossible not to consider the corporeality of things, structures and living beings through which signifiers are produced in the theatre" (Lehmann, 1989: 48). To experience aesthetically a circus, a performance or any production using several kinds of materials, we must be open to the impressions such materiality might create and resist giving it meaning. This comes naturally to children as well as those who watch a performance from a cultural tradition different from their own.
The current trend in performance analysis is thus a return to the material and concrete reality of the stage, a desublimated return to the body of the performance. This breaks with the abstract idea of the mise en scène as sublimation of the body, as idealised abstract schema. We shall see in the chapters dealing with the different components of performance how this materiality can be revealed in detail and how we can trace the vectorisation which organises this materiality in space-time-action. Suffice it to point out here that it is possible to follow the traces of the trajectory and energy in any movement or utterance; it is possible to closely determine the breath, rhythm and the 'voice' and 'path' of the performed text. This "logic of sensation" (Deleuze), this movement which moves the text and nerves the spectator, this displacing of affects and attention can only be grasped and felt if we refrain from resublimating them in a univocal written trace, reduced to a signified or a secret code.

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AS/SA Nº3, Article 1 : Page 9 / 16

© 1997, AS/SA

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