Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hélène Cixous, December 2012. Photo: Kevin Kane.Hélène Cixous, December 2012. Photo: Kevin Kane.

Notre Spectacle

by Hélène Cixous
Introduction and translation by Alexandra Grant

Published in X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly, Fall 2013, Volume 16, Number 1

http://x-traonline.org/article/notre-spectacle/

Hélène Cixous’s “Notre Spectacle” (Our Performance) is a short text originally written for the program of Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées) (The Last Caravan Stop [Odysseys]), a play written collectively by the French philosopher Cixous and the Théâtre du Soleil in Paris in 2003. Cixous is a long-term collaborator of the Théâtre du Soleil and its director, Ariane Mnouchkine. Since the early 1980s, she has written works for and with them, including L’Histoire terrible mais inachevée de Norodom Sihanouk, roi du Cambodge (The Terrible But Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia) in 1985 and Tambours sur la digue (Drums on the Dam) in 1999. In these plays, as in Le Dernier Caravansérail, Cixous and the Théâtre du Soleil are committed to political story-telling through episodic, large-scale spectacles with large casts that place the audience member squarely in the middle of the day-to-day experiences of those under the stresses of colonialism, persecution, and/or statelessness. What is impressive about the Théâtre du Soleil is their ability to entertain and marvel their audience while maintaining an empathic, non-exploitative, and non-didactic relation to the subjects of their work. No easy balance.

As a collective, the Théâtre du Soleil has never produced a manifesto. But its egalitarian principles and its radical commitment to collaboration radiate through Cixous’s text. Structured as a series of questions, “Notre Spectacle” demands both ethical reflection and action from artists collaborating with someone other than themselves: across the boundaries of difference, language, and power.

Questions of ethics in practice continue to be vital to artists, as many of us are working in collaborative or collective ways, either openly in the sphere of participatory artwork or “social practice” or privately in the space of our own studios with large-scale production teams whose identities are not disclosed in benefit of a central author. Collaboration itself is not a new phenomenon, but the terms under which collaborative work is accomplished are reframed by every generation in philosophical, legal, and financial terms. What is unusual and relevant about Cixous is that she is the rare theorist who also practices successfully as an artist and these practices are marked both by her ethics and her action-oriented stance.

Théâtre du Soleil, "Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées): Origines et destins, 'Sur la route de l’Australie,'" Duccio Bellugi, Sébastien Brottet-Michel, Sava Lolov, Delphine Cottu, Serge Nicolaï, Vincent Mangado, and Dominique Jambert, 2003. © Michèle Laurent.Théâtre du Soleil, Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées): Origines et destins, “Sur la route de l’Australie,” Duccio Bellugi, Sébastien Brottet-Michel, Sava Lolov, Delphine Cottu, Serge Nicolaï, Vincent Mangado, and Dominique Jambert, 2003. © Michèle Laurent.

Le Dernier Caravansérail gathers the stories of escape and unimaginable danger faced by migrants from the world over—Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Serbia—in search of better lives elsewhere. These “elsewheres,” such as Australia, France, and Great Britain, often materialize as places of great misfortune, as those seeking a better life often end up in political no-man’s lands, such as refugee camps and prisons. The stories presented in Le Dernier Caravansérail are based on interviews conducted by Cixous and other members of the Théâtre du Soleil with refugees across the world. Some are the stories of those living at the theater itself, which serves as a safe-haven and a place of employment and community.

Le Dernier Caravansérail was originally presented as a two-part, six-hour play, with a break halfway through for a meal cooked and served by the actors—including some of the very same migrants whose stories the audience was watching. With forty-two scenes and at least twenty-seven actors, the play drew the audience into experiences that they may have only encountered on the news.

In “Notre Spectacle,” Cixous asks, “How can you get as close as possible to the other without taking their place?” This is not a rhetorical question but one that interrogates the role and responsibilities of a writer representing the stories of powerless and displaced people. For this reason, her phrase “Comment ne pas,” which begins the first three lines, resists easy translation. The phrase can be translated in a multiplicity of ways: How is it possible not to…? How can we not…? How can you not…? How not to…? How to not…?

Théâtre du Soleil, "Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées): Origines et destins, 'Dernier assaut (Les voies),'" Delphine Cottu and Sarkaw Gorany, 2003. © Michèle Laurent.Théâtre du Soleil, Le Dernier Caravansérail (Odyssées): Origines et destins, “Dernier assaut (Les voies),” Delphine Cottu and Sarkaw Gorany, 2003. © Michèle Laurent.

“Comment ne pas” combines a moment of hesitation with a call to more considered speech or action. In a lecture delivered in 1986 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, called “Comment ne pas parler,” Jacques Derrida asked: “Comment ne pas parler de soi? Mais aussi bien: comment le faire sans se laisser inventer par l’autre? Ou sans inventer l’autre?”* (“How not to talk about oneself? And also, how to do it without letting oneself to be invented by the other? Or without inventing the other?”) An aspect of both Cixous’s and Derrida’s philosophical project is to question the invisible authority of language and in so doing show how differences in power are subtly enacted through dialog and creative collaboration. When someone says “Let’s” they’re not asking permission; they’re giving an imperative veiled under the guise of “we.” In contrast, “Comment ne pas…” invites us to question the we-ness (or nous-ness) of collaboration, of “our performance,” to be empathic with the refugee figures without taking their place. The difficulties of translating Cixous speak to the very difficulties that she is addressing in her work. Cixous asks, “How to not translate? That is to say: how to avoid translating? We must translate.”

Notre Spectacle

Comment ne pas…
Comment ne pas remplacer la parole de ta bouche par ma parole même de bonne volonté?
Comment ne pas remplacer ta langue étrangère par notre langue française?
Comment garder ta langue étrangère sans manquer de politesse et d’hospitalité à l’égard du public, notre hôte dans le théâtre?
Comment, sans se comprendre en mots, se comprendre quand même en cœur?
Comment ne pas s’approprier l’angoisse des autres en faisant du théâtre?
Comment ne pas pécher par illusion de compréhension et par crainte d’incompréhension?
Comment se mettre aussi près que possible de la place de l’autre sans la prendre?
Comment ne pas traduire?  C’est-à-dire: comment ne pas traduire?  Il faut bien traduire.
Comment ne pas se laisser séduire par la meute des bons sentiments?
Comment ne pas en rajouter?  Ni d’un côté ni de l’autre.
Comment se glisser entre la bonne conscience et la mauvaise conscience, les siamoises?
Comment tout dire sans un mot?
Comment devenir humain c’est-à-dire jamais assez ni trop?
Comment ne jamais renoncer à l’absolu que l’on n’atteindra jamais?
Comment être l’acteur d’un personnage et non son maître?
Comment se laisser être un refuge pour l’étranger?
Comment ne jouer aucun rôle?
Et si on n’y arrive pas?  C’est la question du réfugié en son voyage.

—Hélène Cixous

Our Performance

How not to…
How not to replace the words from your lips by my words spoken in good will?
How not to replace your foreign language by our French language?
How do we keep your foreign language foreign without neglecting the politeness and hospitality due our audience, our host in the theater?
How, without understanding each other in words, do we still understand each others’ hearts?
How not to appropriate the anguish of others in order to create theater?
How not to sin by illusion of understanding or fear of misunderstanding?
How can you place your self as close as possible to the other without taking their space?
How not to translate?  That is to say: how to avoid translating?  We must translate.
How not to be seduced by good intentions?
How to not lay it on thick?  Not on one side or the other.
How to slip between good conscience and guilty conscience, those Siamese twins?
How to say everything without uttering a single word?
How to become human, that is, never enough or not too much?
How not to give up on reaching for the ideal that we may never attain?
How to be the actor of a person and not her master?
How to be a refuge for a stranger?
How not to play a role?
And what if we never arrive? That is the question of the refugee on her journey.

—Hélène Cixous

Hélène Cixous is an Algerian-born French writer whose work spans many disciplines from poetry to playwriting, literary criticism to philosophy. Charged with founding Paris VIII University in 1968 (with a faculty that included her peers Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze), she also established the first women’s studies program in Europe. She is the author of more than 40 books, over 100 essays and 15 plays, and, in the United States, is perhaps best known for works that analyze and take issue with traditional Western notions of femininity and gender.

Alexandra Grant is a text-based artist who uses language and networks of words as the basis for her work in painting, drawing, and sculpture. She has explored ideas of translation, identity, and dis/location not only in drawings, painting, and sculpture, but also in conversation with other artists and writers, such as her long-term collaborator, hypertext author Michael Joyce, and the philosopher Hélène Cixous. Her recent project with Cixous, Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, was a participatory exhibition at 18th Street Arts Center, in Santa Monica, California, and Mains d’Oeuvres, in Saint Ouen, France, in response to Cixous’s book Philippines.

© 2013 X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly

Advertisements

Oy! at Actors Gang

Please join the Cixous Reading Group for a wonderful event at The Actors’ Gang Theatre on Sunday, October 13th. Following the performance of Oy!, Hélène Cixous’s play about her mother and aunt’s return to Germany for the first time since World War II, we will hold a special reading group session with the play’s two actors, Mary Eileen O’Donnell and Jeanette Horn. Many of you will remember them from the reading of Philippines that took place at 18th Street Arts Center, and from the performance they did for the KCET documentary on the Interior Forest.

For more information on Oy!, please see: http://www.theactorsgang.com/#/now-playing/

“Through Oy!, playwright Hélène Cixous interrogates the question of forgiveness, the work of memories and transmission to new generations, and the state of modern racism throughout the world. Oy! is the story of two German Jewish sisters, Selma and Jenny, who in 1995 in their late eighties are some of the last remaining witnesses to the period of Nazism in Europe. They return to their home in Paris after a trip to the German city of their youth. Upon their return to Paris, the sisters try to make something of the swirl of emotions, opinions and memories that have surfaced and all the things they were not able to express in Germany. Through their simple, flavorful work together, they begin to unravel the complexities of a society’s internalized racism – the broad anti-Semitism that so darkly colored their past. Based on close family members of the playwright, the interaction between these fictional sisters is honest, emotional, humorous and compelling.”

When: Sunday, October 13th at 2pm for Oy!
Reading group to follow after the play

To RSVP and reserve your ticket, please send a note to interiorforest@alexandragrant.com. Tickets for Oy! will be $20 each.

The Actors’ Gang Theatre
9070 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

If you would like a hard copy of the play, please email interiorforest@alexandragrant.com.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/237454613078274/

SecretBook

Une performance de Cindy Rehm

Cindy Rehm va habiter l’espace en utilisant les livres secrets de Hélène Cixous et Alexandra Grant, à l’image d’un rituel privé qui explore le transfert entre l’intérieur et l’extérieur du corps par des méditations silencieuses et des gestes symboliques.

Secret Book reflète les thèmes récurrents du livre “Philippines” d’Hélène Cixous, y compris la télépathie, le double, la relation entre le rêve et la vie et l’imagination sans limites de l’enfance.

Mains d’Oeuvres
samedi, 12 octobre, 2013/Saturday, October 12, 2013
18h30/6:30pm

www.mainsdoeuvres.org/article1963.html

Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/216460591855320/

Secret Book, a new performance by Cindy Rehm, reflects reoccurring themes drawn from Hélène Cixous’ Philippines, including telepathy, doubling, and the relationship between dream-life and the limitless imagination of childhood.  Within the performance, books appear as magical objects that serve as pathways for telepathic communication between the author and reader.  Rehm will transverse the space using the professed secret books of Hélène Cixous and Alexandra Grant, as she enacts a private ritual that explores transference between the interior and exterior body through quiet meditations and symbolic gestures. 

Cindy Rehm was a collaborator in the 18th Street Arts Center iteration of Alexandra Grant’s Forêt Intérieure/Interior Forest, through both drawing and active participation in the Cixous Reading Group. Founded in January of 2013, the on-going bi-weekly reading group has read works by Hélène Cixous including a deep exploration of Philippines

Rehm is a Los Angeles based artist and educator. She is co-founder and director of the feminist centered project Craftswoman House. She is the founder and former director of spare room, a DIY installation space in Baltimore, MD. From 2001-2004, she served on the Editorial Board of Link: A Critical Journal on the Arts. Rehm is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship in Media from the Tennessee State Arts Commission and a Learning to Love You More Grant. Her work has been shown at national and international venues including, the Torrance Art Museum; Torrance, Woman Made Gallery; Chicago, Consolidated Works; Seattle, Goliath Visual Space; Brooklyn, Transformer Gallery; Washington DC, LACE; Los Angeles, and the Archeological Museum; Varna, Bulgaria.