THE INVENTION OF SEX (monodrama)

Music by Diana Syrse (second part of the diptych Connected Identities)
Text by Aleksi Barrière


1. Summer / Cambrian Explosion (instrumental movement)

 “Although the origin of the eukaryotic cell has long been recognized as the single most profound change in cellular organization during the evolution of life on Earth, this transition remains poorly understood.” (David Baum, evolutionary biologist)

Until 1,5 billion years ago, life reproduced by cellular division only. A unicellular organism –the only kind available– would divide into another similar cell, carrying out its DNA unchanged, and only slow and sparse mutations would allow evolution. Energy required to sustain life was rare too, and bacteria had to rely on the fermentation of their decaying dead peers to produce it, until some evolved to support photosynthesis, and became able to convert the energy carried by sunlight into chemical energy –releasing as waste incredible amounts of oxygen that went on to fill our Earth’s atmosphere. This is called the Great Oxidation Event, and it created the conditions for the diversification of life forms beyond the depths of the oceans.

But then some bacteria evolved into something even more radical, cells with a nucleus, that allowed them to store and manage their genome in new ways –‘eukaryotic cells’ that could form tissues, combine into multicellular organisms. And, although some eukaryotic organisms continued to reproduce through division, some acquired the ability to mix their genetic material with other organisms to create entirely new individuals. Rather than replicate their own DNA internally, constrict and split into two cells, like bacteria, they would go on a hunt for a mate, someone different, seek out the Alterity without which they were incomplete. Nothing would be “the same” again after that, literally: life became more than interaction with one’s environment, it grew into a perpetual quest, constant exploration, change, adaptation. Such was the invention of sex, and the beginning of the era of the Eukaryotes. Messy, chaotic, profuse, wasteful creatures, also ingenious and outwardly splendid, just the opposite of the elegant density and efficiency of bacteria, a life form to which it seemed that nothing needed to be added, in its solitary perfection.

And oh, how we reproduced once we could! We were intoxicated with the possibility to EX-IST, etymologically “stand out of ourselves”, unfold, communicate, mingle, transform. Sex led to the so-called Cambrian Explosion, during which, within a couple dozen million of years, after over THREE BILLION years of only life forms that would have been barely visible to the human eye, the Earth was filled with plants and animals, the wild diversity of life as we know it today, millions of different shapes and forms and sizes and colors. Fabulous flowers, the peacock’s train, scents and songs, all expressions of that primal extroversion. Hard-wired into all Eukaryotes, from an evolutionary standpoint, as the urge to reproduce, sex became much more than that in complex beings, and often dissociates from it entirely into pure pleasure. It fills all creatures as a force of creativity, of boldness, of sophisticated emotional development, and of bonding.

2. Spring / From A Hundred Flowers Open (a tree speaks)

In the spring I dance and I gorge
And I shake the rain off my leaves

Breathe me in I am all over you
Tears of pleasure
I smell like I would if I burned

My name, my name is abundance
Me give and me take
Grasp and spit and clutch and hurl
Very man and very woman
From a hundred flowers open

I am all veins and I shake and I creak
My branches moa– branches moaning with the wind
Slowly we all sway slowly as if
Someone were listening

We are one and we swallow
The sun the sun the sun

Soon plump with sweet fruit
And full already
Of the whispers of insects and birds / like lustful ideas / in someone’s head

3. Autumn / The Throbbing Velvet-Maybe (a deer speaks)

Red ripe forest and the earth like a river was here
I run after my doe her scent in every shadow
(Mushrooms and lichen make silent love)

This is a hunt for more than meat
As we all follow and She plays the ancient game
Of the throbbing velvet-maybe and she is so fast

Madly I scratch the bark of trees
The world is my cage this week
And my kingdom My head full of blood

The sun goes down in a cloud of flies
Right in the light she calls me lets me closer / Oh
The privilege of warmth

How I have battled and will battle
For the bruises we share
Never before did I have a home

More 
To have and to feel is new 
Instant Importance Everything

I want to know her like the forest
Days and days of treating her like a tree

4. Winter / The Art of Being Overwhelmed (a woman speaks)

I hold your hands and your hands unfold me
The air is cold I followed you into the sleepy forest

Your weight on me shatters the solitude immense
I hear your voice like never before
Please closer

I look at the winter sky and I feel you
This is grow-oh-th

I remember now the art of being overwhelmed
I close my eyes and we are green in the sea
A wave might as well take us back
This is the primitive life of the ocean

We exude and we exist
The hunt is on we are out of breath
All at once we are trees flowers insects deer we are quarry we prey
For us there are no seasons we tremble in perpetual spring
Like animals of the tropics selfish cats of the wild

Round and round we roll on the ground Fill me I will fill you
Us fruit to each other until we m-melt me in your mouth you in mine-A-iN

A-O-O-O-U-Mmm

UN TOURISME ÉMANCIPÉ

À l’occasion du concert dirigé par Clément Mao-Takacs à l’Auditorium du Louvre le 25 septembre 2019, associant le Pulcinella de Stravinsky et la Symphonie n° 4 de Mendelssohn, avec l’ensemble Secession Orchestra et les chanteurs Romain Dayez, Fiona McGown et Yu Shao.

C’est un concert donné dans un lieu signifiant : le Musée du Louvre. Et au-delà du procédé lui-même controversé de continuer avec obstination de jouer ces œuvres du passé qui constituent la musique classique, l’expérience d’écoute qui nous est proposée évoque à plus d’un titre une visite au musée. La Symphonie « Italienne » de Felix Mendelssohn condense tout un paysage sonore de l’Italie en 1830, des musiques de carnaval aux processions religieuses, en passant par les danses des villes et des campagnes. Pulcinella d’Igor Stravinsky se présente comme un arrangement de pages choisies d’opéras de Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, en italien classique et en napolitain, sur fond d’intrigues et de masques de commedia dell’arte. Les deux démarches, par ailleurs symptomatiques de leurs auteurs, ont elles-mêmes quelque chose de muséal qui leur a comme de juste valu les critiques qu’on adresse d’ordinaire aux musées, réputés cimetières de l’art.

La musique de Mendelssohn, dit Nietzsche dans Humain trop humain en bon défenseur de la « musique de l’Avenir » de Wagner, « regarde toujours en arrière : comment pourrait-elle avoir un à-venir, un futur ? ». Un « regard en arrière » est aussi la façon dont Stravinsky lui-même décrit Pulcinella, quoique le travail sur des partitions méconnues de Pergolèse ait été aussi, selon sa propre expression, un « regard dans le miroir » qui a déterminé le reste de son parcours artistique : la révélation de cette façon de jouer avec les formes musicales anciennes qu’on a appelée le néoclassicisme. Et qu’Adorno, jamais en reste d’un anathème plus dogmatique que les compositeurs « progressistes » qu’il défendait, qualifiait carrément chez Stravinsky de « restauration ».

Au sens strict, ce n’est pas un mauvais procès. Pulcinella s’inscrit en 1919 dans un grand mouvement de redécouverte du baroque italien, à la suite d’une commande du directeur des Ballets russes Serge de Diaghilev, qui venait de remporter un beau succès avec des arrangements de pièces de Scarlatti réalisés par le compositeur Vincenzo Tommasini. Mendelssohn, en son temps, s’était fait le champion de Haendel et de Bach, compositeurs alors oubliés, et on lui doit la première résurrection de La Passion selon Matthieu depuis la mort du Cantor de Leipzig. Stravinsky comme Mendelssohn ont par ailleurs puisé abondamment dans le vivier de la musique dite folklorique et traditionnelle, la plus « ancienne » de toutes, introduite à grand bruit dans les salles de concert voire sur les scènes de ballet, scandaleusement comme on le sait par l’exemple des danses païennes du Sacre du printemps.

Musiciens tournés vers le passé donc, sans aucun doute. Mais conservateurs ? Le jugement serait aussi superficiel qu’expéditif. D’abord parce qu’arrangements, orchestrations, montages au sein de structures musicales complexes résultent dans les deux cas dans ce qu’il faut bien appeler une composition, au sens propre du terme, et une œuvre originale. Aussi parce que, faut-il le rappeler, la recherche, dans les musiques du passé et d’ailleurs, de modèles en rupture avec la convention en usage et avec les sons trop de fois entendus, a tout aussi bien marqué toute l’avant-garde musicale du 20e siècle. Et de fait, quand à soixante-dix ans Stravinsky se lancera contre toute attente dans la musique sérielle, ce sera moins une rupture qu’un aboutissement : la réalisation la plus élégante de la clarté formelle qu’était sa recherche dite néoclassique. Revenir aux fondamentaux, c’est bien ce qu’avait voulu faire Schönberg lui-même, aussi rétif au qualificatif de « révolutionnaire » que Stravinsky à celui de « conservateur ».

Pour ceux qui souhaitaient boire à la source du passé, l’Italie a longtemps fait figure de passage obligé. Les histoires s’y télescopent : vestige de l’Empire romain, épicentre du catholicisme, conservatoire de la grande tradition musicale et lyrique en particulier, terre de folklores méditerranéens (et donc, pour le reste de l’Europe, source de fantasmes exotiques), la péninsule est surtout entre l’époque de Mendelssohn et celle de Stravinsky un pays désuni et pauvre, qui exerce sur ses voisins septentrionaux un troublant magnétisme, où la sauvagerie côtoie l’aura de la grandeur passée. Pour cette raison, les aristocrates anglais inventent même un mot spécifique pour désigner leurs rejetons qui y vont cultiver leur âme et se déniaiser : tourist. Avant de connaître la fortune commerciale que l’on sait à l’ère des loisirs de masse, le terme devient un archétype dont Stendhal fera la poétique, et Mendelssohn lui-même en est un parfait exemple quand il fait le voyage d’Italie à vingt ans sur les deniers de ses riches parents, son carnet d’esquisses et son papier à musique à la main.

Il y a, indéniablement, quelque chose du tourisme dans la musique qu’inspirera jusqu’au 20e siècle l’Italie aux compositeurs venus s’y laisser dépayser. Les Années de pèlerinage de Franz Liszt sont, dans cette catégorie du carnet de voyage, un exemple méticuleux et érudit, mais autant chez Mendelssohn que chez Stravinsky, on ne peut réprimer une certaine impression d’album de vacances erratique, réunissant dans un désordre subjectif une pile de photographies prises arbitrairement, et nous informant davantage sur le regard du voyageur que sur ce qu’il a bien pu rencontrer sur son chemin. Ainsi fonctionne le creuset de la forme symphonique qui fond tous les emprunts dans le flux d’une continuité propre, tandis que Pulcinella, dans sa technique de collage, et dans son désir avoué d’être une musique qui se passe en fosse (chanteurs compris) indépendamment du ballet censé se jouer sur scène, pousse plus loin encore cette logique, en présentant à l’oreille quelque chose comme le souvenir confus d’une soirée à l’opéra où, à défaut de surtitres ou à défaut de les avoir suivis, on n’a rien compris à l’intrigue sinon que le ténor et la basse se disputaient la soprano, et que tous trois étaient alternativement très heureux et très tristes.

Ce tourisme dévoyé là, cependant, est joyeusement assumé, et il s’avère libérateur. Dans une célèbre scène du roman d’E.M. Forster A Room With a View (et dans le film qu’en tirera James Ivory, pour lequel nous savons que Clément Mao-Takacs a une affection particulière) Miss Lucy, une jeune anglaise des années 1900 qui fait son tour en Italie conformément à la grande tradition policée, se voit reprocher par une romancière délurée de visiter la ville de Florence à travers les petites pages formatées et les parcours obligés de son guide Baedeker : « J’espère que nous aurons tôt fait de vous émanciper de Baedeker. Il ne fait que toucher à la surface des choses. Quant à la véritable Italie, il ne la voit même pas en rêve. La véritable Italie ne se laisse découvrir que par une patiente observation. » Mendelssohn et Stravinsky, eux, envoient balader le Baedeker, et ils nous proposent une aventure musicale qui, pour reposer sur une observation patiente – ce sont des centaines de partitions rares des années 1730 que Stravinsky a étudiées avant de les piller – n’en est pas moins résolument subjective et éloignée des sentiers battus.

Mendelssohn, malgré tout son amour pour la musique qu’il entendait dans les rues de Rome et de Naples, écrivait de la musique allemande. Stravinsky, qui en même temps que la Russie post-révolutionnaire dans laquelle il n’est pas retourné a laissé derrière lui la partie de son œuvre qui était ancrée dans le folklore russe, inaugurait avec Pulcinella une nouvelle page de sa vie où il a cherché par un geste radical au sens propre à replonger ses racines dans un nouveau terreau culturel, celui de l’Europe. De fait, compositeurs européens, c’est ce que ces deux artistes déracinés qu’un siècle sépare, ce fils de juifs convertis et cet exilé politique, ont le plus pleinement été – ou cherché à être, puisque le geste éclectique relève ici de la démarche ardue et pensée. Il n’y a pas d’identité européenne, mais il y a une culture à construire, qui commence dans les échanges et dans les voyages. Et dans la transmission d’un héritage, quel que soit le rapport qu’on s’invente par rapport à lui par la suite : dans tous les cas c’est un trésor précieux. Nietzsche, toujours plus fin que ne le laisse supposer le fracas de sa « philosophie à coups de marteau », dit encore de Mendelssohn : « Il possédait une vertu rare chez les artistes, la gratitude (Dankbarkeit) sans arrière-pensées. »

Contrairement à d’autres, dont le génie particulier a peut-être été plus innovant et a ouvert des voies plus originales, Mendelssohn et Stravinsky ont moins prêché dans leur art la ligne dure de la radicalité que la ligne claire d’un regard et d’une démarche. Nulle confusion ou boursouflure dans leurs emprunts et leurs mélanges, nul flou artistique. C’est dans cette nuance que se trouve aussi le geste artistique de Clément Mao-Takacs, dont le travail sur les répertoires les plus variés, jusqu’à la musique d’aujourd’hui, est toujours unifié par son obsession de la ligne claire dans son geste devant l’orchestre : l’articulation du discours musical et de l’expression. Pour en revenir au musée, il est ce guide qui, sans ménager son enthousiasme ni son souffle, ne perd pas de vue, tandis qu’il met en valeur un détail ou une couleur, le sens de la visite. Suivons-le sans Baedeker.

KAFKA : TRADUIRE POUR ÉPROUVER

Les Aphorismes de Zürau de 1917 – et tous les aphorismes et les récits courts de Kafka, qui sont parfois simplement quelques lignes dans son journal – sont des textes dont l’écriture procédait pour leur auteur d’une forme de méditation, quoique plus proche peut-être des textes de Zhuangzi que des exercices spirituels d’Ignace de Loyola. La traduction, dans la mesure où elle est à la fois relecture répétée, recherche du mouvement de l’écriture à travers sa trace et tentative de restituer ailleurs ce mouvement, est un moyen de prolonger cette méditation pour soi-même. Se heurter à un mot c’est rencontrer une difficulté de son auteur, ou l’une de ses fausses évidences, c’est-à-dire une difficulté. Mais des fausses évidences, on n’en décèle pas beaucoup chez Kafka, tant son allemand maternel lui semble la langue de l’école (et d’une tradition littéraire écrasante), qu’il contemple avec la même distance que le tchèque qui l’environne à Prague, que l’hébreu du culte, ou que le yiddish qu’il fantasme. Rarement autant qu’avec Kafka le traducteur partage avec l’auteur le statut d’étranger·e (vis-à-vis) de la langue-source, et en l’occurrence ce fait n’est pas une anecdote qui nous éloigne du propos mais un vice caché qui nous place au cœur de sa fabrique (alors que paradoxalement, Kafka est peut-être le seul écrivain que j’aie un peu approché en traducteur qui n’ait pas été lui-même un grand traducteur). C’est pour cela qu’il y a certes des traductions plus ou moins fidèles de Kafka, mais que sans doute on n’arrêtera jamais de le retraduire, car c’est toujours une affaire personnelle et existentielle.

La traduction est ici plus que jamais une trahison, consciente, inévitable, de ce devant quoi on ne voudrait que s’effriter. C’est que le traducteur s’avère le personnage kafkaïen par excellence.


Es ist nicht notwendig, daß du aus dem Haus gehst. Bleib bei deinem Tisch und horche. Horche nicht einmal, warte nur. Warte nicht einmal, sei völlig still und allein. Anbieten wird sich dir die Welt zur Entlarvung, sie kann nicht anders, verzückt wird sie sich vor dir winden.

Il n’est pas nécessaire que tu sortes de chez toi. Reste assis à ta table de travail et écoute. N’écoute même pas, attends seulement. N’attends même pas, sois tout à fait silencieux et seul. Le monde va s’offrir à toi et jeter son masque, il ne peut pas faire autrement, il se tordra d’extase devant toi.

Im Kampf zwischen dir und der Welt sekundiere der Welt.

Dans le combat entre toi et le monde, prends parti pour le monde.

Es wurde ihnen die Wahl gestellt, Könige oder der Könige Kuriere zu werden. Nach Art der Kinder wollten alle Kuriere sein. Deshalb gibt es lauter Kuriere, sie jagen durch die Welt und rufen, da es keine Könige gibt, einander selbst die sinnlos gewordenen Meldungen zu. Gerne würden sie ihrem elenden Leben ein Ende machen, aber sie wagen es nicht wegen des Diensteides.

On leur donna le choix : ils pouvaient devenir rois ou messagers du roi. Comme des enfants, ils voulurent tous être messagers. Ainsi, il n’y a que des messagers, qui courent de par le monde et se crient les uns aux autres des messages qui n’ont plus de sens, puisqu’il n’y a pas de rois. Ils mettraient volontiers fin à leur vie misérable, mais ils n’osent pas parce qu’ils ont prêté serment.

Es gibt ein Ziel, aber keinen Weg; was wir Weg nennen, ist Zögern.

Il y a un but mais il n’y a pas de chemin.
Ce que nous appelons le chemin, c’est l’hésitation.

Der entscheidende Augenblick der menschlichen Entwicklung ist immerwährend. Darum sind die revolutionären geistigen Bewegungen, welche alles Frühere für nichtig erklären im Recht, denn es ist noch nichts geschehn.

L’instant décisif du développement humain est toujours l’instant présent. C’est pourquoi les mouvements intellectuels révolutionnaires qui veulent faire table rase du passé ont raison : en effet, rien n’a encore eu lieu.

DAS NÄCHSTE DORF

Mein Großvater pflegte zu sagen: „Das Leben ist erstaunlich kurz. Jetzt in der Erinnerung drängt es sich mir so zusammen, daß ich zum Beispiel kaum begreife, wie ein junger Mensch sich entschließen kann ins nächste Dorf zu reiten, ohne zu fürchten, daß — von unglücklichen Zufällen ganz abgesehen — schon die Zeit des gewöhnlichen, glücklich ablaufenden Lebens für einen solchen Ritt bei weitem nicht hinreicht.“

LE VILLAGE D’À CÔTÉ

Mon grand-père avait pour habitude de dire : « C’est étonnant comme la vie est courte. Aujourd’hui, dans mon souvenir, elle se comprime tellement que par exemple je peine à comprendre comment une jeune personne peut se décider à partir à cheval pour le village d’à côté, et – sans même parler de la possibilité d’un accident malheureux – que cette personne puisse ne pas craindre que le temps d’une vie ordinaire, écoulée sans encombre, ne soit largement insuffisant pour un tel voyage. »

Ein Käfig ging einen Vogel suchen.

Une cage s’en fut chercher un oiseau.

Theoretisch gibt es eine vollkommene Glücksmöglichkeit: An das Unzerstörbare in sich glauben und nicht zu ihm streben.

Théoriquement, il existe une possibilité de bonheur parfaite : croire à l’indestructible en soi-même, et ne pas aspirer à l’atteindre.

Zur Vermeidung eines Wortirrtums: Was tätig zerstört werden soll, muß vorher ganz fest gehalten worden sein; was zerbröckelt, zerbröckelt, kann aber nicht zerstört werden.

Pour éviter une confusion dans les termes : si l’on s’efforce de détruire quelque chose, c’est qu’on a d’abord pu le tenir fermement ; ce qui s’effrite certes s’effrite, mais ne peut pas être détruit.

Es ist nicht so, daß du im Bergwerk verschüttet bist und die Massen des Gesteins dich schwachen Einzelnen von der Welt und ihrem Licht trennen, sondern du bist draußen und willst zu dem Verschütteten dringen und bist ohnmächtig gegenüber den Steinen, und die Welt und ihr Licht macht dich noch ohnmächtiger. Und jeden Augenblick erstickt der, den du retten willst, so daß du wie ein Toller arbeiten mußt, und niemals wird er ersticken, so daß du niemals mit der Arbeit wirst aufhören dürfen.

Tu pourrais croire que tu es enseveli dans une mine, et que des masses de roche te séparent, faible individu que tu es, du monde et de la lumière. Mais en fait tu es à l’extérieur et tu veux accéder à ce qui est enseveli, et tu es impuissant contre la roche, et le monde et sa lumière te rendent encore plus impuissant. Et à chaque instant, celui qui est dans la mine et que tu veux sauver étouffe, de sorte qu’il te faut travailler comme un damné, et jamais il n’aura fini d’étouffer, de sorte que jamais tu n’auras le droit de cesser ton travail.

Von einem gewissen Punkt an gibt es keine Rückkehr mehr. Dieser Punkt ist zu erreichen.

Passé un certain point il n’y a plus de retour. C’est ce point qu’il faut atteindre.

DER AUSFLUG INS GEBIRGE

„Ich weiß nicht“, rief ich ohne Klang „ich weiß ja nicht. Wenn niemand kommt, dann kommt eben niemand. Ich habe niemandem etwas Böses getan, niemand hat mir etwas Böses getan, niemand aber will mir helfen. Lauter niemand. Aber so ist es doch nicht. Nur daß mir niemand hilft —, sonst wäre lauter niemand hübsch. Ich würde ganz gern — warum denn nicht — einen Ausflug mit einer Gesellschaft von lauter Niemand machen. Natürlich ins Gebirge, wohin denn sonst? Wie sich diese Niemand aneinander drängen, diese vielen quer gestreckten und eingehängten Arme, diese vielen Füße, durch winzige Schritte getrennt! Versteht sich, daß alle in Frack sind. Wir gehen so lala, der Wind fährt durch die Lücken, die wir und unsere Gliedmaßen offen lassen. Die Hälse werden im Gebirge frei! Es ist ein Wunder, daß wir nicht singen.“

L’EXCURSION DANS LA MONTAGNE

« Je ne sais pas », criai-je sans un bruit, « non je ne sais pas. Si personne ne vient, alors personne ne vient. Je n’ai fait de mal à personne, personne ne m’a fait de mal, mais personne ne veut m’aider. Personne du tout. Mais ce n’est pas vrai. Oui, personne ne m’aide – mais des personnes du tout ce serait sympa. Je ferais volontiers – pourquoi non – une excursion en compagnie de Personnes du tout. Dans la montagne, bien sûr, où donc sinon ? Comme ces Personnes se poussent les unes les autres, tous ces bras tendus qui s’agrippent, tous ces pieds qui se suivent à pas minuscules ! Évidemment, tout le monde est en frac. Et on s’en va, lalala, le vent passe dans les ouvertures entre nos bras et nos jambes. Les gorges se libèrent dans la montagne ! C’est un miracle que nous ne chantions pas. »

Du kannst dich zurückhalten von den Leiden der Welt, das ist dir freigestellt und entspricht deiner Natur, aber vielleicht ist gerade dieses Zurückhalten das einzige Leid, das du vermeiden könntest.

Tu peux fuir les souffrances du monde, tu es libre de le faire et c’est dans ta nature, mais cette fuite est peut-être justement l’unique souffrance que tu pourrais éviter.

Certains des aphorismes traduits apparaissent, en miroir de l’original, dans la micro-série réalisée par La Chambre aux échos Rien n’a encore eu lieu (2020)

RESONATING WITH THE UNIVERSE

Liner notes for the CD Circle Map, Graal Théâtre & other works by Kaija Saariaho (composer), Clément Mao-Takacs (conductor), Peter Herresthal (soloist) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, published by BIS records.

A strong object of fascination in modern mathematics is the study of dynamical systems, that allows us to formalize and predict complex phenomena, and create models that can be explored with increased precision through the processing power of modern computers, unfolding levels of reality previously unavailable to mankind. The behavior of fluids, the mutations of a growing organism, the stability of a market, or the weather are just some of the occurrences that dynamical system theory models in “evolution functions” called maps. When several dynamical systems interact and influence each other’s evolution and “lock”, meaning their frequencies become co-dependent, such as the processes of breathing and the beating of the heart within the human body, the mathematical function that describes them is called a circle map. There are many layers to why Kaija Saariaho picked this image as a title for one of her pieces, layers fundamental to her musical discourse.

When the tonal system was deemed outdated by many leading classical composers in the early 20th century, what was at stake was not simply the idea that music was not anymore to be written solely within a limited amount of keys, structured around a tonic note. A lengthy history had installed the idea that the organization of the tonal sound world was a reflection of the broader organization both of the universe and of man, a transposition of the harmony of the spheres echoed in the humors and emotions within ourselves. Hence, atonality did not only leave composers with unprecedented and vertiginous freedom; most importantly they had to face the fact that the cosmos is complex and messy, that their craft no longer grants them direct access to its fabric, and that humanity’s place and role in the big picture is anyway rather marginal and negligible.

But new horizons opened up. Composers of the generation before Saariaho’s submerged themselves in dynamical systems theory, realizing that mathematical descriptions of reality, when applied to sound parameters, could also be used to generate musical gestures and structures, while reconnecting music with the secret inner workings of the universe, in the same way that Debussy was interested in imitating the very movements of nature, its ‘curves’ and ‘arabesques’, in his ‘harmonic melodies’. Some, like Iannis Xenakis, used mathematics and probability extensively to generate musical complexity, and not just to create series of notes: after the revolution of Integral Serialism, the pitch of notes had ceased to be the main parameter as in melodic tonal music, and much attention was also given to duration, loudness, location in space and timbre, i.e. sound color. The latter was a major source of fascination for Spectral composers, Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail using electronic tools to analyze the nature of sound itself, and the following generation studying its perception with the input of psychoacoustics, all means to learn how to sculpt it with new insight. Instrumental in mathematics, the computer consequently became a crucial device in musical creation too, and gave birth to new tools to analyze, synthetize, organize and notate sounds.

Much of this research was happening at the IRCAM in Paris (the Institute for Research and Acoustics/Music Coordination), which Kaija Saariaho, at the age of 29, joined for training in 1982, just five years after its creation by Pierre Boulez. In this hive devoted to the collaboration between musicians, scientists and programmers, Saariaho did not simply gorge herself on intellectual debate and artistic invention, but came to play a major role in them. Her work at the institution produced many groundbreaking pieces mixing live instruments and electronics, greatly informed her writing even in purely acoustic music, and contributed to the development of software and technology that she, like many other composers, still uses.

 Saariaho’s oeuvre, which brings together many techniques prevalent in her student years, is remarkably explicit in its project of recreating through the means of music that lost connection between us and nature, cosmos, the greater scale, depending on how one prefers to name it. Many of her pieces are named after natural phenomena that serve as a starting point to her compositional process, including major early works such as her string quartet with electronics Nymphéa (1987), inspired by the symmetries and transformations of water lilies on the surface of water, or Lichtbogen for orchestra and electronics (1986), triggered by the spectacle of the aurora borealis in the sky of Lapland, and based on harmonic material stemming from the spectral analysis of the multiphonics of a cello – making the tissue of sound scintillate in a manner similar to how the earth’s magnetic field affects the charged particles brought into our atmosphere by solar winds, made visible in the form of Northern lights. Written a decade later, Neiges (1998), which is performed on this recording in its version for twelve cellos, stems from a similar type of inspiration – in this case, various qualities of snow – and explores instrumental languages and colors similar to those found in Saariaho’s earlier works, this time without the help of electronics.

However, like the other works on this recording, which are from a later, more mature period of the composer’s output, Neiges was written with the help of computer analysis and has all over it the fingerprints of Saariaho’s earlier electronic research: its consummate savoring of color shapes a soundscape immediately recognizable as personal to its maker, created by the permanent interplay between one instrument and the other, pitched sound and noise, harmony and dissonance, and musical parameters interpolated to blur and taunt our perception, as bow movements teasingly take us slowly from soft harmonics and notes to scratching noises and back. Between the larger works recorded here, Neigescan be enjoyed as a meditative contemplation, five sketches or etudes to which one can listen, rather than as fully sketched pictures, as five beginnings that, like walks into a snowy landscape, don’t lead anywhere but silence.

The other pieces on the program deal with the same artistic premise, but incorporate an added level of complexity and drama. The orchestra, rather than relishing in its own sound and exploring it, has to deal with a foreign body and be influenced by it. We witness three forms of interaction between two dynamical systems, in which Saariaho’s familiar paradigm of electronics echoing and transforming a live instrument is not realized but transposed to new levels.

Saariaho’s first concerto Graal Théâtre (1994) and her recent Vers toi qui es si loin, which is a transcription for violin and orchestra of the final aria of her first opera L’Amour de loin (2000), were born from similar sources and gestures: musically, from her exploration of the interactions between a soloist and an orchestra without electronics –and thematically, from the corpus of medieval literature, respectively the legends of the Grail and the story of the troubadour Jaufré Rudel, both brought to the composer in French rewritings by poet Jacques Roubaud (born in 1932). The narrative content has little musical bearing other than distant inspiration, similar in that respect to the exotic medieval and Persian modes and colors that one could be tempted to recognize on this recording, and similar to the images of nature that inspire some of Saariaho’s other works: the adventures of knights, like the experience of snow, helped unify the compositional process, but they also dissolved in its course, leaving in the end only a couple of words in the title with the hope of inspiring, in turn, the performer and the listener. We should be warned not to expect a detailed expansion of the idea expressed in the title, but an invitation to make free associations. In the background of these works does however lie the Christian mysticism of the original sources, realized musically: Graal Théâtre is the quest of a violinist working his way through musical landscapes and battling the orchestra and its various sections, trying to impose rhythm and colors and mimicking theirs, and finding in the second part a way to create with them an integrated, organic musical whole. Originally a prayer to the dead lover identified with a God whose name can only be Love, Vers toi qui es si loin, on the other hand, displays the soloist against a delicate, ethereal orchestral texture into which he blends seamlessly, and where the unity of the self and the universe is realized without putting up a fight, for one fragile moment.

Circle Map (2012) turns this entire traditional setting that is customary in operas and concertos upside down: the human character, the individual self, personified by the voice of the poet Rumi (1207-1273), is not showcased in the musical and visual foreground, but dematerialized as an invisible and absent figure that only makes occasional appearances, through a processed recording of Rumi’s poems in the original Persian in the electronics. Clément Mao-Takacs, who has conducted many of Saariaho’s orchestra and stage pieces, describes how unusual this situation is in the composer’s output, and in a concert context in general: the piece is performed like a work for orchestra alone, and – without any need for the conductor to cue the voice and perform in dialogue with it as he would do in a piece featuring a soloist – the electronics emerge, seemingly from the musical fabric itself. In Graal Théâtre, it is clear from the opening bars of each movement that the orchestral material is born from the sound of the solo violin, as displayed nakedly in pure harmonics and scales: we understand the self is embarking on a journey within his own inner world; the landscapes and demons come from himself. Circle Map uses very similar devices: as in Saariaho’s concertos and operas, rhythmical cells and sound colors are all built from the material of the ‘soloist’, in this case the spoken voice whose very breathing and harmonics are echoed by the woodwinds. But rather than making this origin clear in the exposition of the piece, the composer suggests to the listener that the voice is only something fleeting that emerges within the orchestra, an ephemeral phenomenon. And so the speaking voice doesn’t have to struggle to find its place within the cosmic whole: the voice only has to realize that, proceeding from the same material, it is not an alien component but organically belongs to the broader musical fabric from the beginning, is only one of its many manifestations, like the solo flute that discretely opens each movement but is not revealed as a key image to the text until the end. That is also the Sufi mystical message of Rumi: the soul suffers from the feeling of its separation from its source, until itmakes the journey to understand the greater unity of the universe to which itbelongs.  

In this sense, the circle map image of two systems synchronizing is unified with the circular dance of Rumi’s Whirling Dervishes, who by spinning try to join the greater dance of planets. “Turn as the earth and the moon turn / circling what they love”: it is perhaps no coincidence that the never-repeating but mutually interfering and synchronizing orbits of the earth, the moon and the sun are the classical illustration of a fundamental case of dynamical systems theory, the three-body problem. There is, in Kaija Saariaho’s music, no discontinuity between the scientific ideas that irrigate her craftswomanship on a conceptual and technical level, and the mystical thoughts that inspire her and which her works so purely express: all hail the fundamental unity of reality by exploring its processes from the cosmic scale to the microscopic scale, and place the listener in the middle of it.

In the words of the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil (1909-1943), to whom Saariaho devoted an oratorio that she has described as her spiritual testament, this is the ideal of a vision that reconciles the mind and the heart, a science not leading to dehumanizing barbarity, but attempting to be something “that a human mind can love”: “the study of the beauty of the world”.

IRTI

arvatenkin kesä on tullut
mikä muu puissa muka rallattaa ¿

(( hidas helle arkailee ja ihot karsiutuu
lehdet sanotaan irti tai sanoutuu ))

uutisia ei ole -.-.- mitään ei kuulu kiitos
entä sinä kesäromaanit täynnä hiekkaa ……
/ tapahtuminen on kielletty \ pelkästään
kostean avotulen tuoksu vuosien ta-ak-kaa

varjossa lomien lomitse juosten lapset
/ suudeltavat ja suutelemattomat //*
huutelevat laajaa sanakarjaa !
aakkosellisuudetonta ehkä onnellista
… joo ja no nälkä on jo ja jano… 
(oi) maamme suomu kämmenissä kiiltää

~ruoh-ossa vanh-empien 
sanomalehdet kaha-ha-ha-hahtaa
hyvät vitsit ja ydinlaitos -sota -perhe
( hillot poskissa ) ja surisee
mehiläisten lounaamme louhinta
ja kaukaa jäätelö- ja muutkin kuormat

p-pp-päivien ontuminen on tiedossa kas
>päivät ovat luetut>päivät ovat luetut>
siinä koivun lehden sanoma

NOMINATIONS ET INNOMMABLES DU THÉÂTRE FRANÇAIS [billet d’humeur]

Les nominations de directeur.rice.s des théâtres publics français relancent un vieux débat toujours suivi de vœux pieux et de peu d’actions concrètes. Pour commencer, il y a bien sûr que lorsque j’observe les directions des CDN et théâtres nationaux, en tant que metteur en scène blanc de sexe masculin, je devrais m’y reconnaître, mais qu’à vrai dire non, je n’y reconnais pas le théâtre tel que je le connais en France, tant ma génération de créateurs reflète mieux la diversité de la population réelle de ce pays, et tant, entre autres, les grandes artistes qui sont des femmes y comptent pour bien plus de 25% du total (c’est la proportion de femmes directrices de CDN). C’est d’ailleurs aussi une question de génération, justement, car le Ministère ne semble pas apprécier beaucoup les directeur.rice.s jeunes, et il faudra donc attendre encore dix à quinze ans pour que les talents de mon âge et plus jeunes qui auront survécu à l’usure et à la difficulté de réunir des conditions de production adéquates deviennent – pour celleux qui s’en sentent la vocation d’ailleurs – les nouveaux visages de l’institution.

L’autre question, c’est de savoir s’il faut absolument que ce soient des metteur.se.s en scène. Poser la question ne revient pas à abdiquer l’utopie de lieux qui ne soient pas dirigés seulement par des administrateurs, qui au demeurant sont des acteurs essentiels du processus créatif, dont on tend à les éloigner. Au contraire, il s’agirait là encore de diversifier. La mise en scène est un art curatorial, de médiation et de gestion du collectif, alors bien sûr on comprend l’idée, quoique la direction d’un théâtre soit bien sûr un métier bien différent quand même. Mais si je demande à un.e collègue metteur.se en scène combien de spectacles d’artistes différents il ou elle voit, avec combien de collègues il ou elle a travaillé dans sa vie, etc., j’aurai bien souvent des réponses beaucoup moins riches que de la part d’auteur.rice.s, de scénographes, de comédien.ne.s, régisseur.se.s, d’universitaires (qui de plus en plus se rapprochent des plateaux)… bref celles et ceux qui tout en poursuivant des trajectoires singulières, ressentent un besoin constant de s’irriguer d’expériences et de pratiques diverses et plurielles, et vivent dans leur vie plus de façons différentes de faire du théâtre, de l’intérieur, qu’aucun.e metteur.se.s en scène, et avec beaucoup moins d’ornières de surcroît. Sans parler du rapport aux frontières entre les disciplines, miroir exact du rapport à la diversité sociale, où le théâtre français ne semble pas savoir faire, et c’est en grande partie dû à la formation (et à la curiosité) de ceux qui le font.

Mettre des metteur.se.s en scène à la tête des théâtres, c’était censé permettre à ceux-ci de penser différemment, de s’ouvrir à d’autres logiques, au plus près de la création vivante. Or, un contexte économique contracté a conduit à une uniformisation incroyable de la production théâtrale française, réunie autour d’un milieu homogène, à l’image de ses méthodologies, de ses sujets et des transdisciplinarités dont elle est (in)capable. Inviter à la table les autres métiers de la création, en solo, binômes ou collectifs, semble aujourd’hui vital pour rester fidèle à cette ambition originelle. Et puis, ce qui ne gâte rien, ces métiers connaissent beaucoup plus de parité et de diversité, sociale et autre. Donc, vous qui fabriquez du théâtre et à qui on ne propose jamais ces carrières, allez-y voir, s’il vous plaît – vous qui n’y êtes jamais invité.e.s, appropriez-vous les problématiques de ce que peut être un « théâtre public », formulez des projets, postulez, donnez à cet univers-là sa substance comme vous le faites aux spectacles que signent les metteur.se.s en scène. C’est ainsi qu’on fera du théâtre au-delà de quelques uns, et c’est urgent, car c’est notre vocation et notre mission.

TWO EXPRESSIONS FROM EDVARD MUNCH

The dead mother and her child. Life and death are incomprehensible when you are forty inches tall. The dark, faceless figures of the grown-ups’ world bring no more sense to it. They are not trying to anyway, they only mind their grown-up-business. And so the world is collapsing to a muffled litany of useless condolences and childhood is a bloodstain on the soul. A long journey is starting of extricating oneself from the inexplicable –for the time being the whole wide world is suffocatingly narrow like a coffin. The faces of those we lost are left in us like penciled sketches, threatened by erasure and yet so clear. Loss is the gray fourth wall beyond which we cannot see, and feel that the universe is there breathing.

Edvard Munch obsessively recreated the same stories and compositions over and over again. The Scream exists as four paintings and pastels, a lithograph and a drawing. The same is true about The dead mother and her child. In his most famous work, the painter of open wounds had depicted existential anguish in colorful, metaphysical simplicity, but here he grounds the same feeling and helpless gesture into the real world of the theatre of a child’s mind. Munch lost his mother to tuberculosis when he was 5 years old. But expressionism is the opposite of egotism. The self, much like art, is a mere tool to access substance, though hefty and cumbersome when you don’t know how to use it, and let it get in the way. In that, the Sufi and the Buddhists say, grief is a humbling teacher.

Edvard Munch, Den døde mor og barnet, 1897-1899, Munch Museum, Oslo

Summer Night. The Voice. What we abstrusely call metaphors and symbols is just the way reality sometimes hits us deeper, with full force, and shakes our souls like a dream. Edvard Munch’s rendition of this Summer Night is eerie, but that is because the ‘midnight sun’ of nordic summers (what we Finns call the ‘nightless night’) is an eerie thing for the mind and the senses, a peculiar, uncanny atmosphere and lighting in which the worlds of day and night coexist in sleeplessness. And so the scene the painter sets (which like all his major works he repainted many times) is like a memory, at the same time misty and shady, and excessively real. Textures are simultaneously sketchy and rough and so detailed, almost palpable. And she’s standing there, her hands behind her back, taunting you softly, not quite innocent and not quite a seductress, with the combined lightness and gravity inherent to flirting, and what we see captured here is the tipping point when everything is about to change, or could have changed if no later than at that precise moment you turn your back. That is what truly feels unreal: how clear and obvious everything seems, and yet how inconceivably life-changing the consequences are. This is not about nostalgia, regrets and remorse, it’s about one of those rare moments of absolute naked truth with which Munch was obsessed, those moments we crave for so badly in our inner, intellectual, sentimental, political lives, moments that also terrify us, and that art only is able to capture and create, serving its purpose of making life alive. The painting’s other title is The Voice, but the young woman’s mouth is closed, defiantly closed, into a silence that means: your move, if you dare. Everything is silent in the forest and the voice you hear is your own voice. Why don’t you listen.

Edvard Munch, Sommernatt. Stemmen, 1896, Munch Museum, Oslo

PETER SELLARS : LA LUMIÈRE COMME OUTIL ET COMME MÉTHODE [recherche]

Communication dans le cadre du colloque Lumière et musique : appropriations, métaphores, analogies, organisé par le CNRS-IReMus à la Fondation Singer-Polignac à Paris, en novembre 2018.

Peter Sellars est un metteur en scène qui a donné à la musique un rôle central dans son travail. Ce n’est pas seulement qu’il a défendu l’idée que les moyens de la mise en scène peuvent nous faire mieux entendre les œuvres du passé et du présent en leur offrant un contrepoint visuel et dramaturgique, ou pour utiliser son propre terme, un « contexte ». Ni seulement qu’il a contribué au renouveau baroque et à la redécouverte d’opus classiques, autant qu’à la création de nouvelles œuvres de compositeurs tels que Ligeti, Adams, Saariaho ou Tan Dun. Ce sont là presque des effets collatéraux de son travail, et de son besoin de l’alimenter de musique. L’esthétique de Peter Sellars est en effet guidée par la conviction que la musique irrigue le théâtre, le met au défi de se renouveler, et lui propose constamment de chercher son propre dépassement, lui ouvrant des possibilités et des dimensions qui ne lui sont pas accessibles par ses formes supposées propres. La démarche de Sellars avec chaque partition d’opéra se laisse formuler assez simplement : « mettre en scène la musique ». Non seulement donc, un élargissement du texteau-delà du verbe et du drame, mais un rôle central et matriciel donné à la musique, qui évoque la définition que Wagner donne de ses propres « drames musicaux » : « des actes musicaux rendus visibles[1] ». Chaque œuvre musicale se présente au metteur en scène comme une gageure : quelle expression théâtrale peut lui rendre justice, lui répondre à la mesure de son invention formelle ? À chaque fois un nouveau théâtre est à inventer, et Sellars convoquera tous les moyens disponibles, dramaturgiques et plastiques notamment, pour faire éclater les conventions naturalistes (et à travers elles le monde qu’elles prétendent mettre au scène), auxquelles la musique résiste, par son caractère stylisé, sa temporalité, et en ce qui concerne le travail de l’acteur, les formes de vocalité qu’elle met en place.

Deux outils privilégiés en particulier se distinguent pour rapprocher le théâtre de la complexité formelle et de la ductilité de la musique : la chorégraphie et la lumière. C’est-à-dire, la composition, la rythmique illimitée des corps et des espaces, ouvrant le théâtre à son plein potentiel artistique. De fait, ces deux éléments sont deux outils majeurs de Sellars. Pour la lumière, le sujet est central au point qu’il fait l’objet d’une collaboration quasi exclusive avec l’éclairagiste James F. Ingalls depuis bientôt quarante ans. Au-delà des ressemblances entre musique et lumière, sur lesquelles je ne reviendrai pas à un niveau général puisqu’il en a été et sera beaucoup question dans ces journées que nous partageons, postulons que tout comme la musique, qui s’offre comme chez un Kandinsky comme un modèle formel et un idéal esthétique[2], la danse et la lumière ne se présentent pas simplement comme un ensemble de techniques, elles charrient leur contenu de médiums propres, leurs liens avec l’histoire de l’art et celle des représentations, leurs réseaux de sens, historiques et symboliques – des métaphores inévitables par leur concrétude. À ce titre elles offrent des pistes et des modèles, elles font paradigme, et ainsi ne se contentent pas de servir une réalisation artistique, mais la nourrissent à plusieurs niveaux. C’est ce balancement d’un même objet entre le statut d’outil et celui de paradigme, dans lequel la partie offre des modèles au tout, qu’il nous intéresse d’explorer, tant il nous semble un mécanisme essentiel de la rencontre des arts. L’exemple du travail de Sellars sur des œuvres musicales nous offre à cet égard des points d’entrée, dont nous présenterons ici une première approche.

1. Avant-gardes contre naturalisme

Pour comprendre la démarche de Sellars, il nous faut en percevoir la dimension synthétique et dialectique, sur laquelle je voudrais donc rapidement revenir. Comme tous les créateurs, et en particulier les créateurs de théâtre américains du XXe siècle (Sellars est né en 1957 à Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanie), l’identité artistique de ce metteur en scène repose sur l’invention d’une généalogie. Au gré d’une formation de marionnettiste, d’études éclectiques à l’université de Harvard et de séjours en France, en Russie et en Asie, cette généalogie est la revendication de tous les héritages qui rejettent le naturalisme comme une esthétique inféconde, centrée sur l’individu et la psychologie, et donc impropre à rendre compte de la complexité de l’expérience humaine[3]. C’est le propos des avant-gardes théâtrales, de leur formulation d’un théâtre qui déploie sa grammaire au-delà du texte et de l’imitation de la conversation, de cette fausse imitation du réel qui n’est que l’imitation d’une imitationconventionnelle de son apparence. Ces avant-gardes ont historiquement eu en partage leur fascination pour toutes les formes de « drame musical », dont les précédents sont à trouver dans des « ailleurs », des réalisations – connues ou fantasmées – à découvrir en d’autres temps (tragédie grecque, théâtre et opéra baroques) et d’autres lieux (théâtre asiatique, pratiques rituelles). La musique jouit dans ce cadre du prestige de dire de la vie autre chose que l’imitation de son apparence, ne serait-ce que parce que sa nature lui interdit à la fois la description et le discours stricto sensu, quoiqu’elle soit en constante tension avec ceux-ci. 

Les deux principaux courants avant-gardistes qui intéressent Sellars ont vécu des trajectoires parallèles, et il s’est efforcé de les réunir. Quoique apparemment contradictoires entre eux, ces deux courants revendiquent à part égale la musique et la lumière comme outilsmajeurs, et s’inspirent des théâtres d’Asie. Je vais les évoquer à travers les noms de leurs représentants les plus célèbres, qui ont formulé leurs programmes artistiques dans l’entre-deux-guerres, et dont se sont réclamés de différentes façons, généralement séparément, tous ceux qui les ont suivis. Notons aussi qu’en sus d’être des théoriciens cités par Sellars, ce sont aussi deux auteurs qu’il a mis en scène.

1) Le premier courant peut être rattaché à l’esthétique formulée par Antonin Artaud dans Le Théâtre et son double. C’est un théâtre mystique, qui agit physiquement sur le spectateur, par la mobilisation, dit Artaud, des qualités « vibratoires » du son et de la lumière[4]. Artaud veut repenser l’esthétique de la lumière, la sortir de sa fonction utilitaire ou illustrative, et en développant un matériel technique qui augmente les possibilités de types de lumière et de couleurs, mobilise « l’action particulière de la lumière sur l’esprit[5] ». Ce théâtre puise dans les rituels et dans l’histoire de la peinture, il est une poésie de tous les médiums conjugués, seul moyen de rendre compte de « l’homme total ». En bref : « À la visualisation grossière de ce qui est, le théâtre par la poésie oppose les images de ce qui n’est pas[6] ». Par commodité appelons le paradigme de la lumière qui est invoqué, d’essence métaphysique, celui de l’illumination.

2) Le second courant qui nous intéresse est celui du théâtre épique et didactique de Bertolt Brecht. Ce que celui-ci souhaite opposer à l’individu psychologique du théâtre naturaliste, c’est « l’homme social », aperçu dans la complexité de ses déterminismes. Selon son manifeste inachevé L’Achat du cuivre, son théâtre se veut au théâtre occidental ce que la chimie est à l’alchimie (là où Artaud revendique un « théâtre alchimique »), un « théâtre planétarium » démonstratif, qui signifie qu’il déconstruit en exhibant constamment sa propre fabrication sous nos yeux, sans jamais nous laisser oublier que le commentaire importe plus que la fable[7]. Brecht réclame le contraire d’une lumière hypnotique (à l’image de son théâtre qui appelle un spectateur distant et décontracté, à l’opposé de la mise en vibration souhaitée par Artaud) : il veut une lumière blanche et crue, des projecteurs visibles du public, qui nous rappellent constamment par leur artificialité que nous sommes face à un dispositif qui s’adresse à nous pour nous démontrer quelque chose, de la même manière que les numéros chantés nous empêchent de croire que nous ne sommes pas au théâtre. Citons son poème « L’Éclairage », écrit pour le même manifeste :

« Mets-nous donc de la lumière au plateau, éclairagiste ! Comment pouvons-nous,
Dramaturges et comédiens, dans la pénombre
Présenter nos images au monde ? Le crépuscule sombre
Endort. Nous demandons de nos spectateurs
L’éveil, et même la vigilance[8]. »

L’image est prolongée dans le contexte de ces dialogues de L’Achat du cuivre, où l’Éclairagiste est dans la fabrique du théâtre, face aux « artistes », la figure du prolétaire, ainsi réinscrit dans le processus de création dans une fonction à la fois concrète et symbolique.

Ce paradigme brechtien de la lumière, qui s’inscrit dans le réseau de sens qui lui est propre, nous pouvons l’appeler celui de la lucidité.

L’originalité de Sellars, que je voudrais souligner par ce détour historique, est justement d’avoir cherché à réconcilier ces deux courants apparemment contradictoires, et donc aussi ces deux paradigmes de la lumière dans lesquels ils trouvent de façon si exemplaire à s’illustrer et à se réaliser. Une vision politique mais qui ne réduise pas l’homme à l’homme social, et une vision spirituelle qui ne dépossède pas l’homme de sa capacité à agir sur le monde. Un théâtre de l’illumination etde la lucidité, dans lequel la lumière soit rendue à la polysémie de ses symbolismes et de ses fonctions afin, comme la musique, de servir à tous les niveaux une lecture complexe du monde et de la place que l’homme y occupe. Dès ses études à Harvard, Sellars a trouvé l’expression de cet idéal dans la formule du metteur en scène russe Vsevolod Meyerhold, le « réalisme musical », à laquelle il a consacré un mémoire, avec ce mot d’ordre mystérieux qu’il faut être réaliste comme la musique est réaliste – une mission dans laquelle la lumière est amenée à jouer un rôle fondamental.

2. Symboliques de la lumière

Remontons un peu plus loin. Ces deux usages de l’éclairage nous renvoient à des connotations symboliques plus larges de la lumière, qu’ils sollicitent selon des réseaux de sens distincts quoique partiellement coextensifs – tous deux explorés par Sellars.

Précisons à cet égard la distinction entre symbole et métaphore. Le symbole n’opère pas ici dans son sens restreint, comme un signe, éventuellement caché, qu’il faudrait débusquer dans l’art pour décoder les strates ésotériques de celui-ci, un signifiant offrant son signifié à qui en détient la clef. Il fonctionne comme un signe dans la mesure seulement où son assignation relève de l’arbitraire culturel, mais n’accole pas un sens à un phonème, mais bien plutôt un concept abstrait à une figure qui trouve à s’incarner dans l’ordre sensible. Il relève davantage, pour citer des descriptions incompatibles entre elles, de ce que l’anthropologie appelle un mythe, de l’archétype théorisé par Carl Jung, de l’imagedécrite par W.J.T. Mitchell, ou de ce monde imaginal que Henry Corbin décèle dans la philosophie soufie. Un tel symbolefonctionne comme un objet distinct, qui lorsqu’il apparaît permet chez le récepteur la lecture d’une situation singulière comme un cas particulier d’un concept abstrait (schématiquement, l’idée/forme de Platon). Le symbole se distingue donc de la métaphore, en ce que celle-ci est un rapport d’analogie partielle établi entre deux objets, généralement de façon transitoire (sauf à entrer dans le langage courant par le biais d’une catachrèse), avec pour finalité d’en faire voir certains aspects plus clairement à travers la comparaison, et avec la conséquence de faire émerger d’autres associations libres. Le symbole est mythologique et collectif, la métaphore est poétique et individuelle. Le symbole remet verticalement de l’ordre dans le monde en réassignant chaque particulier à son universel. A contrario, la métaphore produit du désordre en connectant des choses qui ne sont en apparence pas liées entre elles génétiquement ou rationnellement, mais dans le processus n’en fait pas moins émerger des liens et des significations.

L’œuvre de Peter Sellars révèle un intérêt poussé pour ces symboles en tant qu’archétypes culturels agissants, et Sellars les étudie par exemple dans les travaux des mythologues Ananda Coomaraswamy (qui emploie largement un vocabulaire platonicien) et Joseph Campbell (qui se revendique de Jung), tous deux s’étant attachés à montrer que certains de ces archétypes se retrouvent dans toutes les cultures, dans toutes les mythologies, qu’ils sont sinon universels, du moins la trace – et pour ceux qui en doutaient, la preuve – de la chaîne historique qui lie entre elles les civilisations et les hommes[9]. C’est dans la passion sellarsienne de l’interculturalité qu’il faut chercher la clef de son intérêt pour ces symboles, qui lui permettent de mettre en lien des œuvres et artistes issus de différentes cultures, autour d’archétypes généraux, voire primaux, qui connaissent des manifestations culturellement singulières : l’amour maternel, le conflit des générations, le renouveau du printemps, etc. Mais la même méthode s’applique aussi bien à son travail avec les plasticiens et les musiciens, ou à son rapport à la gestique, qui repose sur une grammaire développée à partir de traditions iconographiques et chorégraphiques variées, mêlées en une sorte de substrat synthétique, moins par accumulation que par recoupement et croisement. Car si ce projet intercuturel est un appel à la connaissance de l’Autre et au dialogue, il se donne aussi un horizon ultérieur qui est la remise en cause dans ce contact à la fois de l’identité et de l’altérité, dans cette étape nécessaire du vivre-ensemble qu’est la créolisation – manifestation, là encore, d’une inclination à la synthèse. 

La lumière, particulièrement chargée culturellement, est forcément amenée à jouer un rôle central dans cette démarche de par son statut de symbole universel et versatile. À un niveau très général, la lumière est bien sûr associée au soleil, et à travers lui à la chaleur et à la vie, dans leur inépuisable abondance que chante Georges Bataille. Ce sens très général est fréquemment convoqué tout à fait littéralement au théâtre, et même dans un éclairage naturaliste, il opère aussi symboliquement de façon sous-jacente, ce dont Sellars a tiré profit dans des spectacles qui jouaient de la frontière entre l’hyperréalisme et la stylisation : son Don Giovanni de 1987 était situé par la scénographie dans le Spanish Harlem de Manhattan, et le fait de ne jamais montrer que des extérieurs permettait de souligner que le livret situe l’intégralité de l’action la nuit, avec ce que cela permet en termes d’éclairages : une constante et menaçante obscurité, percée par des lumières artificielles qui aveuglent et étirent les corps. Spectacle complémentaire, ses Noces de Figaro (1988, au PepsiCo Summerfare de NY comme le précédent) tiraient également pleinement profit du sous-texte, ici celui d’une « folle journée » rythmée par des tableaux lumineux qui rendent à chaque « heure » ses connotations, du petit matin qui est le moment fruste où s’activent les domestiques au crépuscule des cocktails mondains et la nuit obscure où les âmes se montrent nues. Ici la symbolique devient ambivalente et rejoint celle mise en place explicitement dès le texte dans Tristan et Isolde (monté à l’Opéra de Paris en 2005), où dans un renversement romantique propre à Wagner le jour devient au contraire symbole des mensonges de la société, et la nuit le temps illicite de la vérité, d’un ordre social alternatif qui met l’amour plus haut que les conventions – conjugales, notamment. Précisément parce que le culte du soleil est universel, cette inversion de la symbolique traditionnelle est, chez le compositeur anarchiste, agissante en tant que subversion, et Sellars la réalise en plongeant le plateau dans une constante pénombre. Double fantasme wagnérien : faire l’éloge symbolique de la nuit, et concrètement instaurer l’usage d’éteindre la salle pour concentrer au mieux l’attention sur le drame au plateau. La principale lumière est alors la luminescence de la vidéo de Bill Viola qui surplombe et domine de ses images la scène pendant toute la durée du spectacle, et qui donne à voir, plutôt que la réalité narrative (I trompe M avec T), un monde de symboles et une odyssée intérieure qui se veut une réalité plus intérieure et plus profonde que celle des apparences.

L’autre symbolique évidente de la lumière est celle de la vérité, du « jour qui se fait ». C’est ici la racine commune des deux paradigmes que nous évoquions : à la fois le geste brechtien de « faire la lumière », d’être un veilleur lucide et vigilant, et la symbolique commune à toutes les traditions mystiques du monde – Sellars aime à la souligner quand il parle d’éclairage – qui appelle à laisser entrer en soi la lumière : l’illumination donc. Cette lumière a aussi ses clichés musicaux que l’on connaît : mode majeur, harmonies résolues, gammes montantes, certains registres et instrumentations. Il en va de même en lumières : un éclairage descendant (mais englobant), d’une grande intensité, se rapprochant du blanc neutre – en somme, de la lumière du jour, et ne dévoilant pas seulement une partie des formes et du spectre des couleurs – possède une connotation similaire. Sur ce point, comme sur l’usage particulier de la couleur souvent présente à l’état pur, sous forme d’aplats, une analyse plus longue est à entreprendre, qui ne se limite pas aux référents symboliques, dans lesquels le geste artistique ne se dissout pas[10].

Deux spectacles récents de Sellars illustrent en particulier le mouvement par lequel la lumière se fait : Iolanta/Perséphone, qui réunit les œuvres éponymes de Tchaïkovski et de Stravinsky (Teatro Real de Madrid, 2012), et Only The Sound Remains, un diptyque de Kaija Saariaho (Opéra d’Amsterdam, 2016). Dans les deux cas, une première partie placée dans une pénombre où la lumière peine à se faire (dans un cas pour une princesse aveugle, maintenue par sa famille à l’écart du monde, dans l’autre pour le spectre tourmenté d’un soldat mort au combat) est suivie de l’explosion printanière de la couleur, de la lumière et de la vie. Si l’opposition mineur/majeur devait signifier quelque chose en lumière, on en trouverait sans doute ici l’illustration littérale, et l’éclairagiste James F. Ingalls en déploie toute la palette, dans l’opposition entre points de lumière manipulés au plateau par les interprètes et washesabondants, entre limitation soustractive à des teintes étouffées (bleues, rouges) et spectre élargi équilibré autour du blanc qui en est l’addition, entre ombres étirées et grands cycloramas bigarrés de peinture et de lumière. De tels spectacles illustrent dans toute sa force ce qu’est le symbole, campé à cheval entre la matérialité et l’archétypal, sans basculer décidément dans l’un ou l’autre monde, et signifiant par là même leur interconnexion profonde qui, à défaut de réenchanter notre monde, contribue à y construire du sens et du lien.

Il faut relever un élément scénographique récurrent des spectacles de Sellars, présent au-delà de la discontinuité de ses collaborateurs au décor, et qui nous en livre pour ainsi dire la poétique : le verre et le plexiglas, face aux interprètes de chair et de sang, se confronte à eux comme un rappel de l’état auquel ils ne peuvent que rêver d’atteindre : la transparence, la pénétration totale par la lumière, que décrit notamment la philosophe et mystique Simone Weil, un des « phares » de Sellars auquel il a consacré avec Kaija Saariaho un oratorio là encore centré sur le leitmotiv du feu et de la lumière (La Passion de Simone, Festival New Crowned Hope de Vienne, 2006)[11]. Cette métaphore, et non symbole cette fois, auquel les personnages se mesurent, se retrouve dans nombre de spectacles de Sellars tout au long de sa carrière, comme analogie d’un idéal inatteignable, sinon justement par analogie, effleurée diégétiquement par le dessillement des personnages et musicalement dans la vulnérabilité de l’expression vocale conventionnelle du dernier acte. « La lucidité, écrit René Char, est la blessure la plus rapprochée du soleil[12]. » C’est dans cet état de blessure nécessaire que Sellars veut nous montrer ses personnages, état dans lequel la présence active au monde du résistant Char rencontre l’imagerie mystique de Weil et de Rumi, et qui est le terrain de conciliation de la lucidité rationnelle et de l’illumination vibratoire qui paraissaient appartenir à des univers différents, tant elles semblaient respectivement active et passive. Mais toutes deux se présentent comme des processus à la fois ascétiques et sensuels, le vibrant théâtre de la cruauté d’Artaud étant un « théâtre difficile et cruel d’abord pour moi-même[13] », et la dialectique que Brecht propose au spectateur de vivre en temps réel « une jouissance[14] ». La lumière en offre les symboles et les métaphores, et ainsi à la fois l’outil et la méthode.

3. Prendre le parti de la lumière et de la musique

Au moment de présenter sa mise en scène de Theodorade Haendel à Glyndebourne en 1996, Sellars argue que ce compositeur d’opéras à succès s’est tourné vers l’oratorio pour imaginer un « théâtre de l’esprit »[15]que les conventions scéniques de l’époque ne permettaient pas encore de monter, mais que notre époque serait enfin capable d’imaginer et de réaliser – de la même façon qu’Adolphe Appia ambitionnait de créer un théâtre qui soit à la hauteur de celui contenu en puissance dans la musique de Wagner mais que celui-ci n’avait pas su inventer au plateau. Cette déclaration vaut pour tout le théâtre musical du metteur en scène. Quelle est cette dimension de l’esprit enfin devenue accessible ? De façon complémentaire, je citerai comment il décrit les opéras de Kaija Saariaho dont il a été co-créateur (L’Amour de loinAdriana MaterLa Passion de SimoneOnly The Sound Remains, dans une collaboration qui s’échelonne de 2000 à 2016) : ils semblent selon lui placer les personnages face à ce fond doré uni des icônes byzantines, ou le fond rouge des tapisseries de la Dame à la licornechères à la compositrice, c’est-à-dire dans un espace mental et métaphysique qui les extrait à la reproduction du quotidien, pour nous les montrer dans leur dimension la plus essentielle. C’est la création de cet espace mental non-naturaliste, frontal, pictural et musical qui l’intéresse, et avec la musique la lumière en est le principal outil. Sous quelle forme ? Citons quelques exemples concrets qui révèlent la centralité de l’éclairage dans le dispositif même, au-delà de ses emplois symboliques.

Outre également le cyclorama qui traduit littéralement ce fond uni, et permet la stylisation par la couleur et les silhouettes, deux procédés anti-naturalistes par excellence se retrouvent fréquemment dans les créations de Sellars – encore une fois, par révolte contre la réduction du monde à son apparence superficielle et sa représentation conventionnelle : la contre-plongée (une lumière de rampe qui creuse les visages et projette des ombres sur le mur du lointain) et les aplats de couleur pure, qui par nature estompent les traits et la perception normale des objets. Ces effets placent les images expressives ainsi créées à la fois sous le signe de l’histoire de l’art, et sous celui d’une théâtralité anti-naturaliste exacerbée, puisqu’ils magnifient précisément ceux des outils théâtraux qui n’existent pas dans la nature ou dans d’autres types d’éclairage : respectivement, la rampe et les filtres colorés, ces derniers de plus en plus souvent remplacés par des projecteurs à LED. S’y ajoutent la lumière des écrans vidéo, qui reviennent régulièrement dans ses créations dans les années 90 notamment, et plus récemment les tubes fluorescents, qui sont au cœur des dispositifs élaborés pour lui par le plasticien et éclairagiste américain Ben Zamora, qui a remplacé James F. Ingalls sur quelques spectacles récents. Tous ces différents procédés s’offrent comme des instruments rythmiques, à la fois dans l’espace et dans le temps. 

Si ces éléments font partie de la grammaire développée par Sellars et Ingalls depuis le début des années 80, ils sont exposés de la façon la plus démonstrative pour la première fois dans le Saint-François d’Assise de Messiaen (en 1992 au Festival de Salzburg). Comme on sait, c’est une œuvre dont la partition elle-même appelle des ambiances colorées très précises, que le compositeur a systématisées en relation à sa musique sur la base de sa propre synesthésie. Or, c’est là aussi que se fait jour a contrarioun fait important du travail sellarsien sur la lumière : l’absence de correspondance systématique et stricte entre les deux partitions, la musicale et la lumineuse. Je ne ferai pas de développement hasardeux sur la correspondance entre telles harmonies, tels modes, et telles couleurs : précisément, notre objet d’étude y résiste de façon consciente et volontaire. 

Car de la même manière que le théâtre musical s’est émancipé du chiffrage systématique, qui a longtemps sévi, des émotions et des mots dans un langage musical qui chercherait à lui coller par un encodage strict, le rapport de la lumière à la musique que nous retrouvons ici est celui d’un transfert de paradigme lui-même paradigmatique de la collaboration des médiums et des arts dans le théâtre musical : la lumière est un outil musical qui déploie sa propre partition en réponse à la musique sans chercher à en faire la traduction juxtalinéaire. Seule l’indépendance, l’absence de synchronicité stricte, permet l’écriture contrapuntique à l’échelle du spectacle. Dans chacune des réalisations dont il est ici question, la superposition des diagrammes – si on les réalisait – des deux partitions, musicale et lumineuse, indiquant selon l’axe du temps les variations d’intensité, « l’instrumentation » (ainsi que l’on dit aujourd’hui aussi en éclairage), etc., révélerait une tension entre des points et plages de superposition et des effets de décalage qui sont précisément l’apanage du contrepoint, dans un théâtre qui est musical non seulement dans sa forme mais aussi dans sa méthode. Le « réalisme musical » est bien à comprendre ici non seulement comme faisant appel à la musique, mais aussi à une logique musicale indépendante de la musique elle-même, de la même manière que ce théâtre convoque la lumière comme technique mais aussi comme symbolique et comme méthodologie. Ces transferts d’un champ à l’autre se font par analogie, c’est-à-dire à la faveur de métaphores nécessairement imparfaites, et donc de transformations qui restent à explorer dans leur complexité.

Développer une grammaire mais refuser la systémique, comme le fait le poète : c’est sans doute un axiome nécessaire de ce « théâtre par la poésie » fantasmé par Artaud, si l’on file, là encore, une métaphore, celle qui déplace la poésie en-dehors du strict domaine des mots. De la même manière que la musique se laisse structurer par la résolution d’un accord, la construction d’un climax ou le dépouillement jusqu’au silence, quand il est musicien et dramaturge l’éclairagiste met avant tout en scène le mouvement par lequel la lumière se fait. C’est cette dialectique du dévoilement qui réconcilie les esthétiques de la lucidité et de l’illumination, sans briser le mystère de leur imbrication : n’étant strictement ni décor, ni force diégétique, ni reflet des états mentaux et des situations, ni commentaire, et dans le même temps un peu tout cela à la fois, décollé de la stricte illustration, l’éclairage nous donne à voir quelque chose qui sourd et que la musique nous donne quant à elle à entendre, et tous deux nous font comprendre l’imbrication des moments dans la chaîne des causes, des parties dans le tout, mais aussi des ruptures entre le continu et le discret, du visible balloté dans l’océan de l’invisible, en posant un regard diachronique et critique sur ce qui nous est présenté comme des « événements », et dont la Gestaltpsychologie dit que nous l’appréhendons comme des formes.

Conclusion. La métaphore et sa méthode

Le rôle particulier que le théâtre de Peter Sellars propose à la lumière, comparable de tant de manières à celui qu’il donne à la musique et auquel il est comme nous l’avons vu intimement lié, ne nous offre pas uniquement sa singularité artistique, mais également un terrain de pensée plus vaste. Nous y trouvons, nous l’avons vu, des outils techniques provenant de médiums variés, et des symboles, outils de mise en relation matérielle d’intelligibles. Mais nous y observons surtout des continuités étonnantes entre technique et symbolique, et de médium à médium, le long de (court-)circuits métaphoriques, et qui nous mettent en demeure d’observer non un groupe de données fixes, mais un mouvement vivant, une constante porosité, une réalité qui ne fait pas que se dévoiler, mais qui se construit sous nos yeux. La manière dont le théâtre se saisit de la lumière ou de la musique n’est pas simplement l’adjonction de médiums à un art, de sous-ensembles à un ensemble, mais une écologie sensible et complexe de formes que nous chargeons de sens tandis que nous les manipulons. Ces métaphores vives, entre « analogues » mais surtout par synecdoque entre des échelles incommensurables telles que les visées du théâtre et les moyens qu’il se donne pour les réaliser, ouvrent des chemins, et doivent s’appréhender dans leur mouvement comme une véritable méthodologie(littéralement, une science des chemins au-delà). Le théâtre, parce qu’il relie les échelles et les médiums, a vocation à être le lieu où cette méthodologie peut s’observer, se fabriquer et se transmettre – tant nous avons à apprendre en lui à penser, et à découvrir que les paradigmes et les outils qui les servent, loin de suivre la génétique impliquée par la hiérarchie fonctionnelle qu’on leur donne, peuvent contribuer de façon récursive à leurs élaborations respectives, au contraire des modèles simplistes, dans un monde dont nos schémas ne nous permettent encore qu’imparfaitement d’appréhender la complexité.


[1]« … da ich meine Dramen gern als ersichtlich gewordene Thaten der Musik bezeichnet hätte. » Richard Wagner, Über die Benennung ‘Musikdrama’, in Musikalisches Wochenblatt, 8 novembre 1872.

[2]« In Anwendung der Form kann die Musik Resultate erzielen, die die Malerei nicht erreichen kann. » Wassily Kandinsky, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Munich, Piper & co, 1912, p. 38. 

[3]Il est question ici d’un naturalisme délayé, celui qui est aussi la koinè cinématographique contemporaine, et qui ne rend pas compte de la singularité de ce qu’a été le naturalisme théâtral au XIXe siècle, quoique ce soit contre le réductionnisme de ce dernier que se sont soulevés le symbolisme et les avant-gardes.

[4]Antonin Artaud, Le Théâtre et son double [1938], in Œuvres, Paris, Gallimard, coll. Quarto, 2004, p. 554. Relevons cette notion de vibration par laquelle Artaud lui-même met en relation musique et lumière, renvoyant autant à leur identité de nature physique (ondulatoire) qu’à la manière dont elles affectent par suite le spectateur, modalité de perception/réception qui pour Artaud fait paradigme pour tout son théâtre.

[5]Artaud, Le Théâtre et son double, p. 562.

[6]Artaud, Le Théâtre et son double, p. 565.

[7]Bertolt Brecht, Der Messingkauf [rédigé à partir de 1937], in Schriften zum Theater 5, Francfort, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1963, en particulier le chapitre « K-Typus und P-Typus », pp. 60-69, où est exposée l’image du planétarium.

[8]« Die Beleuchtung », in Brecht, Schriften zum Theater 5, p. 265. (Nous traduisons.) Le champ lexical allemand de la veille permet le glissement de l’éveil (Wachheit), provoqué matériellement par la puissance de la lumière, à l’état intellectuel de vigilance (Wachsamkeit) – assurant dans le langage le continuum de la métaphore filée.

[9]Voir notamment Ananda Coomaraswamy, « Imitation, Expression, and Participation » in Rama P. Coomaraswamy (éd.), The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Bloomington, World Wisdom Inc., 2004, pp. 181-191, et Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, Novato, New World Library, 2003. Il faut ici renvoyer aussi aux travaux de Claude Lévi-Strauss et de Philippe Descola, dont Peter Sellars est également lecteur.

[10]Sans compter, dans ce champ particulier, la versatilité des symbolismes, qui ne les neutralise pas pour autant : un même vert peut connoter/suggérer aussi bien la vie que la maladie, le printemps que la nuit, et cette ambivalence elle-même est productrice de sens.

[11]« Pour du verre il n’y a rien de plus que d’être absolument transparent. Il n’y a rien de plus pour un être humain que d’être néant. » Simone Weil, La Connaissance surnaturelle, Paris, Gallimard, 1950, p. 326. « L’attention consiste à suspendre sa pensée, à la laisser disponible, vide et pénétrable à l’objet… » Simone Weil, Attente de Dieu, Paris, Fayard, 1966, p. 47.

[12]Aphorisme des Feuillets d’Hypnos, écrits au maquis, in René Char, Fureur et Mystère, Paris, Gallimard, coll. Poésie, 1962, p. 130.

[13]Artaud, Le Théâtre et son double, p. 552.

[14]Bertolt Brecht, Kleines Organon für das Theater, in Schriften zum Theater 2, Francfort, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967, p. 38.

[15]Retranscription d’une interview télévisée du 15 juin 1996, consultée en ligne à l’adresse : http://gfhandel.org/recordings/reviews/theodorasellars.htm

NOT A KNIGHT (marginalia)

Monologue written to be spoken inside the music of Kaija Saariaho’s concerto Graal Théâtre.
Premiered by Thomas Kellner (actor), Peter Herresthal (violin) and Clément Mao-Takacs (conductor) at Sentralen in Oslo on May 21st, 2018, with the Oslo Filharmonien.
Stage Direction and Video by Aleksi Barrrière, Stage Design by Étienne Exbrayat and Aleksi Barrière.

The mouth speaks:

I have great admiration for people who are able to organize a tree into a book
And number the forest

But I speak of a time when books and stringed instruments had one thing in common, they were made out of the carcasses of animals, their skin and their guts

Such was the medium in which God was praised : )

Deserving of the most serious stories. However, the monks who copied them with utmost care also adorned the margins with colorful illuminations, jesters, tricksters, baboons, drolleries, that wouldn’t let the black letters stand still.

<A heap of broken images> and mirrors
Unrelated to the story
Or maybe forcing us to ask what the story really is
?

The curved line of a question: a quest
A detour around the world on the way back home
A thousand-year-old caravan

All stories can be told in one sentence
But then where is the pleasure?

Three-times-a-knight comes to the castle of the wounded king
He is treated like a guest, offered dinner,
A procession presents a hollow dish
Only if the knight asks the question will the king be cured of his rotting wound:
What ails you?

Beginning of movement I

The drum, the sound parchment, keeps watch in the night
The silverpoint forest stands much taller than me or you
You see The armor of innocence sparkles darkly
Heavy with dreams of conquest 

I-A.
[Adventure 1]

I-E to m. 37 
Bless— Lead and follow
Dance with that beast
Lead and follow
How hard is it to listen?

I-m. 56 repeat colla voce 
The forest is burning / Saffron storm / Weightless ashes fly

I-m. 93-95
Learn the art of falling
Learn how to take a fall

I-m. 128-130
Breathing is not a matter of experience
But it can be unlearned

I-m. 140
You converse and
The castle cracks open like wood in the winter

I-m. 162-164
Why can’t you act on what you see?
You want to ask the question but you dare not

I-m. 174
This is not a quest at all

I-m. 195. Fermata on piccolo trill / repeat violin 1 motive colla voce
Let us resume

I-R
[Adventure 2]

I-m. 198-200 
“Scene of love interrupted by the clamor of battle”

I-m. 212-216
The sheets are warm Metal against naked skin
Heavy seats Embroidered something Thirsty flowers in a vase
War is calling It is the hour of the drum

I-m. 250 colla voce
How well he falls!

I-m. 255-256 on trill
<That corpse you planted last spring in your garden, has it begun to sprout?>

I-m. 264 on trill 
[Dream: Adventure 2.1]

How well he falls
He falls in love
He falls asleep
A dream of endless falling
A garden that is a labyrinth

I-m. 293-297
Electric lights flashing in the branches
The sound of a party far away
In the darkness you recognize a familiar foreign face
And the dance is never too much on your limbs
And then you know the feeling of royalty

I-DD on fermatas:
[Waking Up: Adventure 2.1.1]

– You wake up into another dream
– We stare into each other
– Who is who’s Commentary?
– Are you mine or am I yours?
– We begin to understand who our enemy is in this war

I-m. 383-387
And we wake up all over again
She with carmine smile gone
Sea of blood washing your head

I-m. 395-400
This was not fall this was loss
<Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit>

Freely between m. 406 and m. 424:
– Indigo water lilies
– Winding around your legs in the pond where the castle stood
– Shadows swimming in muddy waters
– Juggler. Juggler walk the tightrope.

End of movement I. Silence.

¡What a silence Listen!
It’s upon impact only that you know
Whether you have mastered the art of falling

I wonder As you go
Do you not wonder sometimes why you are there
Not because it’s meaningless but simply because you forgot?

I walk the world with very little wisdom
And like a swimmer without leaving traces
Soft and fierce
Like someone’s scream in the palm of my hand
Like the cracking of black ice under my foot

Atmosphere piled up on us into hazy cobalt mountains
Heavy body surface pressure
Body useless if not taken apart to make an orchestra

Do you think
I cannot speak the language of birds too?
Do you think
I cannot make the thin air sing? 
Well you are right

Read me You can feel how words make my skin blush
They won’t carve my flesh away
This is no instrument yet

Look at this parchment full of eyes
Look at this drum that breathes and listens
Look at these strings Bowels still
How they read how they sound
Ink me

What ails you.

Beginning of movement II
[Adventure 3]

Before II-A: text on fermatas between violin phrases
What ails you?
We embark on a boat without sails
It takes a cathedral of cartilage to play an eardrum
Laughter Hollow hollow

II-m. 459-460 colla voce
The Dark Ages have ended so they say
Symphonies Printing press All meridians crossed

II-m. 473-480
White rhinoceros White lead White dust on your hand
Mind the backwash brothers sisters as you drift
Shipwreck of a colonial ship in a tropical storm

II-m. 490 (fermata)
Ochre cloud on the black ocean for a useless war

II-m. 507 (fermata)
Burnished nameless faces and shiny eyes watching

II-m. 524-526
You belong to the same world of terror as me:
We tell the same stories about it

II-G
/Actor sings along with violin/

II-H-m. 547
Take me to the silence
Talk me through the silence
Be my hollow and let me grow

II-m. 564/566/570/572
We / relinquish / all / destination

II-m. 580-581, colla voce
Hundred ways and lives all lived at once
Behold the transformation of the knight into the thousandfold tree

II-m. 620, fermata colla voce
Oh the precious two thousand nerve terminals in each square millimeter of your fingertips

Here comes the song of the beast with a hundred mouths

II-m. 697, fermata colla voce
What more? Whereto now?
You wish you could read from the morning stars

II-m. 703-704 colla voce
Your own shadow dancing among shadows:
The echo of what you were looking for
Hush
Bless

And ink the silence

FORM ECOLOGY: A TOOL FOR INTERDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH AND CREATION [essay]

Presentation at the Theater and Performance Studies workshop of the University of Chicago, on February 19th, 2018.

When poetry mimics musical forms, when literature imitates pictorial composition, when visual arts turn into performance, we witness transfers, or translations, of paradigms from one medium to another. Are these transpositions purely metaphorical? On what terms do they occur, and why? How do they affect the target medium and the way it defined itself previously? And, on a broader scale, what do they tell us about the relationship between ‘art and the arts’? To start answering these questions we offer to discuss a theoretical model, ‘form ecology’, understood as the translation of parameters from a given medium into the framework of another medium. 

Drawing from the translation analogy, let us quote Ezra Pound, for whom translation was, in theory and in practice, a key paradigm: he asserts that since the end of the age of The Seafarer, Beowulf and other examples of early Anglo-Saxon poetry, ‘English literature lives on translation, it is fed by translation; every new exuberance, every new heave is stimulated by translation, every allegedly great age is an age of translations, beginning with Geoffrey Chaucer, Le Grand Translateur’[1]. Pound’s case is not simply one for translations of literature as a means to access a broader range of writings[2], and he illustrated himself the extent of his paradigm as a poet by offering his own versions of texts written in Latin, Greek, Chinese, Japanese and many others, his motivation being not only erudite knowledge of other cultures but also transformation, rekindling of his own thanks to alien material, by which he obviously didn’t simply mean ‘subject matters’ or ‘content’ that could have been paraphrased, but a deeper process of fertilization.

Hence, rather than simply as an analogy to the previous, but rather expanding Pound’s already broad understanding of translation and its function, we shall argue in the following that: Every artistic medium lives on form ecology, it is fed by form ecology. Emboldened by Pound’s peremptoriness, we might even dare to postulate: Every allegedly great age of a given medium is an age of form ecology. Whether this is a sustainable postulate will be the subject of the following inquiry. After trying to orientate within the available lexical tools to offer a better definition of form ecology, we will put it to test in the analysis of three contrasted examples where it has appeared to be relevant.

For the sake of method we will focus here on seemingly linear cases of form ecology, i.e. pertaining to translation from medium A to medium B, although one of our further goals, being rooted in theatre and performance studies, would be to have tools to study the action of form within complex art objects that involve multiple media such as opera and cinema, where form ecology operates in a layered and intricate way. As we shall see, in the understanding of media in play here, theatre and performance have a specific status, since they have been formalized fairly recently and have repeatedly been used as tools to aggregate or articulate media, or even defy the definition of ‘medium’ itself.

Why ecology? ‘Form fluidity’ for instance could seemingly appear as a strong enough description, but what we are looking at here is not simply movements between media, or the general possibility of such a movement, but rather the pattern that emerges from its observation: the understanding of a given ‘artworld’ as an ecosystem that needs to be comprehended in a more holistic way. If the old vocabulary that creates categories within art can still be of any use, it is by helping us name the phases of the inner workings of something that is actually organic. Even the existence of categories, or in the case of media of disciplines and genres, needs not to be negated, but understood as part of a process of its own that belongs to this broader ecology of the arts.

This text, that presents an on-going research, operates through forays and questions. We hope it will be answered with suggestions of examples and references that can broaden it, since by its ‘very nature’ the study of form ecology is an object that requires broad inter- and transdisciplinarity, and since by his own ‘very nature’ the author will be hindered by his own limitations while facing the challenge. 

1. Lexical Toolbox

Given the layered meanings of the vocabulary at use here, let us first make sure we are aware of them in order to operate them correctly.

Medium. This highly problematic old world has often been criticized for being confused and inducing confusion. Back to its most narrowed down meaning, it refers to the concrete material out of which an artwork is made, such as ‘written words’ or ‘oil on canvas’. The word’s theoretical use has then been widened, because the material usually comes with a way it is presented to its audience, a technique, a history and a set of conventions (called a discipline), that will then be considered as intrinsic to any given medium, to the point that the word medium comes to designate these other aspects of it, too. Just how much of the discipline-medium (e.g. painting, music) is considered to be embedded into the material-medium (e.g. paint, sounds) reflects on the state of art criticism at a given time: no definition of that notion can by any means be used as universal and anhistoric.

We shall not, for now at least, enter the lasting debate about the ‘purity of media’, this idea that they are media that speak to one of the five senses only and that this is their chief characteristic (painting to vision, music to audition), putting other media in the awkward position of being ‘mixed’ and ‘impure’. Let us rather recognize such an idea as a historical construct valid in some of the theoretical frameworks that have crystallized on media, namely disciplines. We need to understand media only through proper contextualization of these disciplines.[3] From here on we can work from the broad definition offered by W.J.T. Mitchell (see note 3), expanding Raymond Williams’s comment on language, of a medium as ‘a material social practice’.

In What Do Pictures Want?, W.J.T. Mitchell establishes a picture-based model of articulation (a metapicture in his vocabulary) in which a medium is the technique that allows the binding of an image (an immaterial figure) to a material object, thus producing a picture. Within this broad description of medium that is close to what we previously called discipline-medium (as opposed to material-medium), let us isolate a more specific tool, which is form.

Form. This word that also has a lengthy history in art theory has the advantage of having a very concrete, straightforward meaning in everyday language: it describes the shape of any given thing, and its use in the context of art can seem self-evident. Nevertheless the word also comes with a history and conventions, which we should try to narrow down. We shall not use the noun ‘art form’, which appears to be too blurry and, depending on the occurrences, refer to discipline, medium, genre or form as we will define it below.

(Let us also dismiss an opposition that is considered common sense but is of no help to describe artistic objects or artistic creation: the opposition between form and content. This theoretical straw man had already little intellectual bearing before the writings of Marshall McLuhan, and we mention it only to clarify that by no means is the word form used here as the opposite to contentdiscourse or message. Form is not a kind of mold into which content is cast. It is assumed that the many components of a work of art are closely entangled and that none of them can be isolated as ‘the content’, other than by interpretation and paraphrase.)

Form could be defined as the bridge between the previously mentioned concept of shape and the more specific concepts of design or composition, in the sense of a pattern pre-existing to a work of art, and that also informs our reception of it in a more or less conscious level. It is useful here to refer to the German word for this denotation of form, Gestalt. It is fitting to describe the double-ended understanding of form that we are trying to formulate, which is not concerned only with the working process of the creator but also with the reception of the resulting work by the spectator, insofar that form is not only the way in which the creator organizes his material for himself but also the way in which he organizes its reception. Gestalt psychology as a school has precisely been interested in studying the mechanisms of how we perceive forms (organized, coherent percepts) instead of random non-related stimuli. We shall not delve deeper here into the background of Gestalt psychology and its situation in the agitated debate about perception in cognitive science in general[4], but let us barrow its description of form as that perceptual pattern, that allows us not just to organize our perception of reality but also, in the case of art, to make sense for instance of a hierarchy of figures in a painting, or to recognize a tune transposed into a different key: the notes are different but the pattern is detectable.

A form is a pattern in which material is organized and perceived. Or to put it differently, it is the method according to which material is structured in order to condition its reception. Therefore a broad range of means can and must be used to comment on it, tools that enable us to perceive the workings and implications of forms from perspectives of both emission and reception but also context, which has historically been the task of aesthetics and has been explored for instance by Hans Robert Jauss or Stuart Hall in the context of reception theory.

Form/medium ecology. If we are to articulate these two concepts, it appears that by definition this organization of material that is a form occurs and develops in a context of traditions, techniques and theories, an environment, corresponding to what we call a medium, sometimes organized into a set of forms-conventions called a genre. Our hypotheses based on these definitions are the following:

1) In the ecological metaphor, all media are interconnected ecosystems belonging to a larger whole that is an artworld, meaning a cultural entity sharing equivalent aesthetics values.[5]

2) A form is typically formalized within a specific medium that informs its parameters and the way we talk about it –let us call this process form individuation.

3) Due to the conceptual bonds that seal the unity of any given artworld, and the bridges existing between its various media, a form has the possibility to circulate from one medium to another –let us call this circulation form ecology.

The use of the concept of ecology here intends to translate the assumption that all cultural practices in a given historical framework can be described as belonging to one dynamic system, however strong the way in which conceptual and pragmatic divides between various media have been organized, and that the circulation of those patterns called forms within that system are an inevitable and complex part of its organic life. The conditions of such an ecology are what we still need to determine.

It is inherent to this observation of the “life of forms” that a condition for their circulation (at least in a recognizable way) is their previous development within one specific medium. We borrow the useful concept of individuation from the writings of Gilbert Simondon[6]: it helps him describe the process of how ‘living organisms’ (both biological individuals and social groups) are produced rather than given or preformed, a process that is ever-continued as the organism conserves ‘a permanent activity of individuation’. In this perspective, there is no ‘substance’ of an individual that had been waiting to realize itself, and really no individual per se, but only processes of individuation. Moreover, individuation is always only ‘relative to the milieu associated with its existence’, and one aspect of it is interaction, meaning that individuation is also how the others come to perceive an organism as an individual –it has much to do with the theory of form perception of Gestalt theory we were referring to earlier. Such a model, built not only to describe various types of organic processes (namely, biological, psychological, social), but to demonstrate their interconnectedness on a deeper level, seems to be more than fitting to describe artistic phenomena as we have set out to.

This is especially crucial to the relationships between forms and media, too: it is this medium-borne nature of form individuation that has led to the conceptual blurring of form and media and led to exaggerate identification of both, and hence also to the whole Western ‘system of the arts’ based on a strong compartmentalization, and even hierarchy, of disciplines. Only by highlighting the tensions between individuation and circulation within a global form ecology can we begin to understand in a dynamic fashion the history of ‘the arts’.

Open questions. This set of tools leaves us with even more questions than previously. In which context does form circulation occur? Does a specific set of conditions have to present themselves? Can it be willed by an individual artist? What would be his impetus to do so? Mere exposure to other forms beyond his medium, or a more formalized assessment of the limitations of the forms available to him within his medium? And when proceeding to circulating a form, what tools are at his disposal to select parameters of this form to import it? What are the ‘translatable’ parameters? Is this translation really successful, or consistent? A lot of form translations we will describe operate on the level of what can only be termed as ‘metaphor’, meaning a selective and imperfect transposition that relies sometimes on imperfect analogies, a necessary liberty in approaching the areas objectively shared by two media and then the areas beyond, to which the transposition also needs to be expanded to be complete. Let us see this not as an imperfection but as a necessary condition to circulation.

This model also is an invitation to consider parameters/forms that do not intuitively belong to the scope of an artworld, or rather to expand our understanding of the artworld to the more global cultural framework that of course also informs our perception of art as art and our decoding of it. There seems to be no reason not to consider that a form cannot be found in the medium of philosophical, scientific or political speech, and imported into an artistic medium[7]. Theatre dialogue, naturalistic or not, is the translation into the medium of dramatic writing of ‘conversation’, a form found in the medium of speech, and the history of Greek drama shows it has been a slow development, a conscious artistic choice requiring a process of formalization to implement it within a medium that was ritual, lyrical and choreographic, rather than a self-evident imitation of life. The dodecaphonic and serial systems of musical composition, that rely on the idea that all tones of the chromatic scale (and later all other musical parameters), rather than being hierarchized by the previously dominant laws of harmony and tonality, are of equal value and should be treated as such, can be understood in historical context as the importation of the political form of ‘democracy’ or ‘egalitarianism’ into the musical medium, which is also how for instance Karlheinz Stockhausen describes them[8]. The opposite circulation, from the artistic field to the political field, is then also logically possible, and serves its own purposes: for instance, the form of unison choir singing (or limited to a division into only a small number of parts) has been repeatedly used by churches, parties and regimes as a tool to create a sense of internal cohesion and, by staging the expression of uniform consense of the masses, staged effective consense and tried to implement it. Such an example demonstrates how useful it would actually be to consider critically the ecology of form in the entire cultural realm, in order to understand the mechanisms of the ‘aestheticization of politics’ analyzed by Walter Benjamin. Our area of study would then be the entirety of what W.J.T. Mitchell calls in his field ‘visual culture’, or generally speaking what Jacques Rancière has termed the ‘division/distribution of the sensible’, which works on the assumption that political space is being organized aesthetically and that there indeed is no separation between politics and aesthetics, that they belong to the same realm[9] –he also explores how in the age of aesthetics arts can be a laboratory of political forms, which would be an example of global form ecology, open to later discussion.

2. Example 1: Text/Music interplay

The most common occurrences of form circulation are also those, like mainstream translations (see note 2), that are forcefully made invisible. The example of book-to-film adaptation is the most typical: when one sees printed on the cover of a novel the ritual words “Now a Major Motion Picture”, often adorned with pictures of the film’s actors, one could think it is a feat of prestidigitation one is treated to –as if that very object, the book, had magically been trans-formed into another object belonging to an entirely different medium, a film, and as if this metamorphosis had not required extensive processing from (probably numerous) screenwriters and other makers, of course filtered by intricate theories or prejudices about the target medium and what ‘translates’ best into it.[10] That process is so unreflected that one is commonly able to simultaneously speak of it as if the novel itself had been entirely transformed into a film, and unconsciously assume that what really has been transposed is simply the synopsis or plot, i.e. the elements of the storyline that are easiest to isolate and name. What the Russian formalists and other narratologists call the ‘fabula’ (the organization of the storyline) is of course a form in the present meaning and subject to transmedia circulation, but so are other components such as dialogism, viewpoints and other semiotic elements. At any rate each case ought to be assessed with the awareness of the problematic dimensions of form individuation and circulation, which would also include the long-term in-formation of cinema by literature, and its feedback.

Similar points could be made about another common case of circulation, so common that it has a specific expression in the English language: the ‘setting’ of text to music (in German it even has its own word, Vertonung; literally, transformation into notes). In terms of common vocabulary, no process could possibly be described as more im-mediate and uncomplicated than that of ‘setting’ something (an object on another, or a table, or an alarm, or a fire). And this specific type of setting does indeed have the particularity of leaving the source material (the text) intact, in the sense that nothing seems to be removed from it, as in the adaptation of a novel into a film. But this appearance clouds the fact that many things have then been transported from one medium to another, with immense implications for the target medium. This transition into music is facilitated by the aural components of words as codified by their pronunciation, and depending on the type of setting by the already melodic components of phrasing inherent to their use in spoken language, in other words, elements that are already adjusted to music as a medium –but it also carries along forms that belong to its original medium, text, and which may enter in conflict with the forms indigenous to the medium of music.

The musical quality of language –more specifically, correlation between emotional effect and the sound and rhythm of speech– is one of the chief devices of poetry according to Ezra Pound, who named it melopoeia.[11] Pound’s history of it in Western poetry is worth quoting, as a narrative of the relationships between music and poetry whose outline has come to be consensual. Like all narratives of decadence, it starts with a golden age of unity: in the Ancient Greek language, quantitative meter and the complex patterns it allows are the height of the possibilities of interplay of sound and meaning, but in general languages have tended to lose this quality, a very Rousseauist but linguistically correct assessment. And then in the Provence of the troubadours –which Pound had extensively studied and written about–, within a broad linguistic and cultural continuum that covered the entire European continent, the chanson/canzone illustrates the perfect unity of a medium whose authors were simultaneously poets and composers, and they created forms that were intrinsically both literary and musical, based on complex rime and rhythm patterns, such as the sestina and the villanelle, but also patterns of equal complexity created by the author specifically for the purposes of his creation. Such forms culminated in the Renaissance in such works as the complex compositions of Clément Janequin and the genre of the madrigal, whose “words were not published apart from the music in their own day”. Another telling point: “In Provence it was considered plagiarism to take a man’s form, just as it is now considered plagiarism to take his subject matter or plot.” But gradually the parameters of music and of poetry were cultivated separately, for their intrinsic refinements –sounds and rhetorics respectively– and lost touch of each other, in other words became entirely separate media into which separate forms individuated. This moment is called classicism and for Pound it belongs to a history linear enough: “European civilization or, to use an abominated word, ‘culture’ can be perhaps best understood as a mediaeval trunk with wash after wash of classicism going over it.” In the realm of poetry: “In all this matter the sonnet is the devil. Already by 1300 the Italian sonnet was becoming, indeed had become, declamatory, first because of its having all its lines the same length, which was itself a result of divorce from song. (…) The sonnet was next used for letter writing, used for anything not needing a new tune performance for every new poem.” On the long run: “French verse went soggy and leaden, and (…) tumefied when some literary lump was too dull to finger the lute.” And on the side of music, “you get to the last deliquescence, where the musician, despairing, possibly, of finding an intelligent author, abandons the words altogether, and uses inarticulate sound” –and rigidifies modal compositional tools into stiff tonality, one might add. Let us quote out of ‘pure literary’ pleasure the dark view Pound paints of the world of medium separation in which this history leaves us:

In an age of musical imbecility we find the aspiring poet in his garret, he never goes to a concert either from lack of curiosity, or because he can’t afford to buy concert tickets, that being the fault of a carious and wholly filthy system of economics, but in any case the level of general culture is so low that the poet’s impecunious friends are not musicians, or are accustomed only to an agglutinous or banal substitute for good melody.

 For Pound it is a matter of principle: “Music rots when it gets too far from the dance. Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.” While one might not share the somewhat dramatic understanding Pound has of this history and its programmatic implications, the evolution and drifting of poetic and musical forms is indeed observable. In French verse the lengthening of verse can be followed over the span of a millennium: multiple internal rimes, then octosyllables, then decasyllables, then alexandrines, then even longer verses and free verses. Both less repetitive rime schemes (seen in any given era as liberation from models that are perceived as too restrictive for purely literary creativity) and longer verses make poetry ostensibly drift away from the chanson forms, and closer to prose, discourse and rhetoric. ‘Rondeau’, a chanson form emanating from a dance song, which derived into both a written poetical form and a purely instrumental form, could be a textbook case –if such textbooks were written– of form individuation, bearing the geological trace of the individuation of discipline-media.

It is however also necessary to put this linear reading into the context of a more complex ecology. The individuation of the sonnet, which allowed its developed free from a certain restrictive understanding of musical forms and of text/music relationships, then returned to music for instance in the Petrarch settings of Adrian Willaert’s landmark collection Musica Nova (1559), inspiring the renewal –of course not purely literary in its sources, but also indebted to the importation of new literary patterns– of madrigal in Italy, its new formal possibilities, and enabling the development of the new more discursive form that came to be known as opera. For Pound the difficulties of musical setting merely reflect the disastrous consequences of the divorce of poetry and music, and could only theoretically be achieved beyond what could be called form dissonance or on the contrary unsatisfactory submission of one medium’s forms to the other’s (what is usually termed dismissively ‘illustration’), if both disciplines were to return to a mutual understanding in line with his model of lost unity. But in a form ecology model, separate form individuation and subsequent circulation attempts such as musical setting offer the possibility to challenge a medium with new possibilities and leads to innovative forays. Musical setting being of course only one possible combination: Bach, by writing, as instrumental music, dance movements that were not meant to be danced, and ‘arias’ that were not meant to be sung, offered paradigmatic illustrations of the fact that music has the ability to gorge on extra-musical forms. In many ways multiple circulations short-circuit any linear understanding of form history: in search of musicality in the name of modernity, Verlaine and Rimbaud came back to short verses and repetitive rime schemes precisely inspired by chanson, which belonged to their preferred set of references, while Mallarmé by exploring pure literary forms later suggested yet unheard solutions to Debussy and Boulez when they set his poetry into music, and both Baudelaire and Ravel could draw on the Malaysian verse form of ‘pantoum’. Pound’s understanding of what at a given time can be understood as a poet’s lack of ‘musicality’ could, in many cases, more aptly be described as this poet’s secession from the field of the music of his time, within a process of individuation.

His comment on classicism, which can be defined as strong form individuation within appropriate media, is nevertheless important to the understanding of the history of Western artistic media. The separation and hierarchization of discipline-media, the need to develop a discourse to implement and justify it, and the consequences of the resulting ‘system of the arts’ in further art practices, is perhaps the single most defining moment in the development and theoretical discussion of art in modern Europe and belongs to its defining traits (the Greeks had nine Muses, but none of them was devoted to visual arts for instance). By correlation, attempts to challenge these separations have all been defined by the prior ‘classical’ worldview –attempts that are not new, as is testified by the classical genre of the ‘comparison between arts’ that tend in particular to explore the grey areas shared by poetry and painting, and the nature of the discussion of aesthetics (a field of studies born from this history) by Lessing, Kant and Hegel.

The separation of music and poetry, or in the same time period of architecture and sculpture to which it could be compared in many ways, obviously exceeds the boundaries of form individuation: in them we witness the birth of the very idea of artistic medium in the modern sense, which is the focus of a discipline on a certain type of material and the assignment of one of the five senses. But a more thorough study of this process through the lens of the individuation and circulation of forms could help us understand it better, the aspiration towards form individuation/development appearing to be a defining matrix of the drifting apart of media in artistic theory and practice.

3. Example 2: Perspective as a Form

Kant’s Critique of pure reason opens with a ‘transcendental aesthetic’ that examines the conditions of the process of perception, assessing that it operates within a predefined framework: our senses only ever perceive objects and the qualities they attribute to them through the grid of two fix hard-wired parameters, space and time, i.e. extension in area and duration. They exist a priori, and are described as the ‘pure forms of sensibility/sensation’ (reine Formen der Sinnlichkeit). Kant’s method in isolating these two ‘pure forms’ relies on his observation of the very possibility of existence of mathematics and geometry, that appear to be the consummate abstract formalizations of the framework of human perception existing outside from experience. We can easily imagine any mathematically described three-dimensional figure and its movement in time, but cannot imagine an object existing outside of space and time, in the same way that we cannot imagine a process that doesn’t submit to the principle of causality, which Kant later establishes in his ‘transcendental logic’, his study of the a priori conditions of understanding that complements his study of the a priori conditions of sensibility/sensation, as a pure ‘form of the intellect’ (Form des Verstandes).

This influential view has been challenged in subsequent research, both as a matter of principle by empiricists arguing that there is no such thing as the a priori, and on the scientific level by psychologists and neurologists studying the functioning of cognitive processes, arguing that there may be more than two fundamental ‘forms of sensibility’ and that their development in the individual (and in history) may be more complex.[12] Let us however take Kant’s view for what it is: the proposition of a model, grounded in the context of its time. Paraphrased in our vocabulary, this model consists in the idea that there are two a prioriforms that in-form all the other forms that we perceive, that indeed everything we call forms is not just patterns in which material is organized and perceived, but necessarily the organization of such patterns along coordinates of space and time. Space and time are, then, the meta-forms that condition and define all other forms.

It follows that all forms dealing with space in one way or another are bound to be limited by the space-meta-form, or to be interpretations of it. One interesting case in this respect is the technique of perspective in Western art. This ‘technique’ could actually, in our context, be described as a form. Let us remember that one of the appeals of the concept of form as a tool is that it doesn’t operate only on specific scales or dimensions, that it puts in correlation –and therefore binds in a holistic manner– microforms (e.g. rime patterns) and macroforms (e.g. the grid layout of a city, the fabula of a novel).

Within the tradition of Western graphic arts, perspective does truly function like a form: it operates like a pattern, actually in its most literal sense: when it is made visible in the sketching or analytical breakdown, it appears as a grid that converges towards a vanishing point, and to which everything that is depicted is ‘set’, to the point that draftsmen had grid-tools that facilitated the translation of any real-life view into this grid form. This is how it was formalized already in Leon Battista Alberti’s 1435 treatise De pictura, the first scientific study on the subject, grounded in optics and geometry, and displaying the famous grid model. It is therefore firmly drawn from the understanding of space as a perceptual meta-form, what would then become Kant’s a priori form of sensibility, also based on the paradigm of geometry as formalization of pure space. Interestingly, the study of this meta-form is both inspired by artistic practice –Alberti, an architect, also credits Brunelleschi for the first formalization of geometrical perspective in his work– and intended as artistically programmatic, since it offers guidelines for the making of new works in the medium of painting. The bond between the inception of the meta-form and the individuation of the artistic form could not be clearer.

Apart from this connection to the meta-form, perspective as a form also bears the trace of its relationship to architecture from which it originated. Mantegna’s illusionistic frescoes for the Camera degli Sposi of the Ducal Palace in Mantua (1465-1474), a work born in the moment of highest virtuoso perspective work of Renaissance Italy within the generation that followed Alberti’s, are a masterful blending and interplay of actual architecture and perspective painting. It relies entirely on the continuity between the space-meta-form and perspective-as-a-form.

The growing taste for illusionistic perspective and the development of such a genre as trompe-l’œil are testimonies of strong form individuation within the medium of painting, they are very much akin to the sonnet as described in the previous case study. And in this case too, form individuation appears to have set the objective of the medium of which it was considered to be the most technically meaningful example, leading to the trend of growing ‘realism’ in Western painting, ever more sophisticated, stopped only by the invention of photography in the 19th century. It is not only, as is commonly asserted, that ‘realism’ (a very vague aesthetic value) had been overtaken and had become obsolete: one could simply observe that technology had finally allowed to transcribe directly the image of the camera obscura, which is only a variation of the perspective-grid device, and hence left useless perspective-as-a-form in its original purpose.

In the meantime, perspective had a productive career as a circulating form. First as a driving force of baroque aesthetics, which shouldn’t be obscured by the taste for ornamentation, ornamentation being always structured by grids of strongly emphasized perspective plays. To take even the most pared-down example, the paintings of Caravaggio are based on exaggerated perspectives, amplified by his dramatic use of lighting. The model for Italian baroque theatres, the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, makes pompous use of the architectural paradigm that was later stylized in the aesthetics of theatre wings, painted flats and periaktos (two competing techniques), and stage machinery that prospered in the following centuries. Thus perspective-as-a-form became the main tool of theatrical design, and also of staging of the actors and singers, until the slow rise of naturalism. As a generic tool to create relief, it also became an increasingly important device of musical composition, as dynamic nuance (from pianissimo to fortissimo) entered the classical instrumental and vocal palette in the baroque era as a means for layering and contrast.

One crucial moment in the circulation history of perspective-as-a-form was the 19th century, due to the interest of Romantic artists for landscape as a genre, for the first time extended beyond the limits of painting and architecture. This interest grew probably organically from the golden age of landscape drawing and landscape gardens that the late 18th century had been, and it was fueled by a rising fascination for the dark forces of nature that had maybe not be entirely tamed by man after all. Goethe, typically, was an amateur artist and left thousands of landscape drawings, as was the convention at the time technically very scrupulous in their use of perspective (to the point of seeming to be exercisesin that technique), and he believed this granted him contact not just with the meta-form, but with the medium of nature itself[13]. His novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), which already on the macro-level uses the epistolary form in order to place emphasis on direct subjectivity, makes also significant and creative use of landscape as a genre, and perspective as a form. Ekphrasis is a typical attempt to transform a visual form into a literary form, but such transformation doesn’t always retain distinct formal characteristics from the original, which one could argue is the case in the transposition of perspective-as-a-form in literature through the imitation of the structure of perspective itself. The description of the peacefully designed garden and of the large canvases of the landscapes that Werther as a character describes first-hand (at first harmonious, then threatening), are beautiful examples of the translation into the literary medium of the plays of perspective and organization of perception around the observer, with the intent of mirroring the latter’s mental state. Similar use of the form can be found in large poems by Hölderlin structured like landscapes, such as “The Ister” (1803), where the view on the eponymous river becomes, like in ancient perspective maps, a glimpse into the continent and its limits, matching the author’s wider civilizational project. Later in his life, Hölderlin kept on resorting to the form of perspective in shorter poems describing a view, some of them actually titled “Perspective” (Aussicht). In the same years, perspective-as-a-form makes its way in a similar fashion into the medium of music beyond the previous associations with genre (e.g. baroque pastorale) or singular illustrative tropes (e.g. music suggesting a tempest), with the concomitant rise of larger orchestral textures, longer symphonic forms and the taste for program music. Some famous examples are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (1808) that draws from conventional precedents in a highly unconventional way, or Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides (1830) based on the composer’s visit to Scotland, both of which can be said to formally construct perspectives, by creating an interplay between a background and motives to convey the feeling of a layered, structured landscape[14]. Mendelssohn was, like Goethe, a keen landscape artist.

It is interesting that the circulation of perspective-as-a-form became wider in the arts in the 19th century, in a moment when there was wide interest in depicting precisely the ‘play of perspectives’ between individual humans and huge landscapes, in the fashion of C.D. Friedrich’s programmatically Romantic paintings. The matter of man’s place in nature from a critical point of view –literally, the putting of his previously assumed dominant position ‘in perspective’– became an important theme, and this is precisely when the formal technique of perspective became widespread in many different media. The timing, coherent with both the preoccupations of that generation and the newly established predominance of the aesthetic paradigm of Kant’s theory of perception and judgment within objectivated meta-forms, is telling both about the slow temporality of form circulation in general, and about the history of Western arts in particular, as we are able to analyze it with the tools of form ecology.

4. Example 3: 20th century: Medium over Form vs. Form as Medium

The model of form and medium we are trying out on the previous examples could make us doubt whether it really has any validity beyond the artworld we named as our starting point, namely classical aesthetics based on a rigid ‘system of the arts’ with fix and fairly compartmentalized discipline-media, that culminated in the Kantian model. Already the evolution of art in the 20th century seems to make our concepts obsolete, because the articulation of both medium and form moved into a distinctly different direction. One of the most radical views is Yves Klein’s claim that not only artistic forms, but even meta-forms that organize perception, are alienating, and should give way to a pure experience of sensitivity/sensation, best exemplified according to him in the total enjoyment of one color’s vibration:

… in front of any painting, figurative or non-figurative, I felt more and more that the lines and all their consequences, the contours, the forms, the perspectives, the compositions, became exactly like the bars on the window of a prison. Far away, amidst color, dwelt life and liberty. And in front of the picture I felt imprisoned, and I believe it is because of that same feeling of imprisonment that van Gogh exclaimed, ‘I long to be freed from I know not what horrible cage!’[15]

It is worth noting that Klein, rejecting in passing both figurative and abstract painting, aims at no less than rejecting the entire artworld he is supposedly operating in as a painter, taking the common trope, which we previously found in Pound, of dismissing the categories created by classicism to an entirely new level. In the world Klein is calling for, it appears the very concepts of medium and form are altogether useless, as they belong to an antiquated past, to art history.

Let us put Klein back into the context of the more general debate on which the 20th century art discussion has been centered (starting in the visual arts but ultimately propagated throughout all discipline-media), a discussion in which he undoubtedly belongs, although he is here subtly diverting our attention onto the abstract/figurative question. This discussion gave birth to two distinct trends or sides that have come to construct themselves in opposition to each other, and we shall argue that their relationships to form and form individuation are actually pivotal to the debate and the understanding of recent art history.

The first trend, which we will call modernism, is art practice that constructed for itself a narrative in which new art is the realization of a process where media have ceased to be used as means for reproduction of reality and now explore themselves, a turn presented either as the result of a long-term evolution of art or as a sudden revolution. Its mythical founding father in painting is Kandinsky (as Schönberg is in music), both as a painter and a theorist, and interestingly his advocacy for a liberation of all discipline-media stems from his advice to look into music for a paradigm, an inclination common in the Symbolist circles: “In manipulation of form music can achieve results which are beyond the reach of painting.”[16] He develops a method of painting described as ‘composition’, divided into ‘melodic’ and ‘symphonic’ styles, clearly described as form circulations but also largely metaphorical. But although he wishes that, based on this model, all disciplines emancipate themselves from imitation to become more ‘abstract’ and fulfill their role in a ‘spiritual revolution’, Kandinsky does remind that they are ‘peculiar languages’, and in his belief in a possible combination of the arts in a Wagnerian total ‘art of the future’, permitted by their shared parameters, he is not oblivious of their unsolvable differences. Much of the modernist trend that followed Kandinsky, even though coming from vastly different theoretical backgrounds, has agreed to this status quoof disciplines united in their aim under the umbrella of an unique ‘Art’, open to collaboration with each other, but firmly autonomous. “Equitable and friendly neighbors” that should respect each other’s privacies, as Lessing put it in his study of painting/poetry relationships[17]. Two generations later Clement Greenberg has come to be considered the foremost theorist of this paradigm: he too lauds music as a paragon for all disciplines, showing them the method of concentrating on their own medium. The underlying idea of the exploration of media by themselves is ‘the purity of media’, a topos we have already shortly mentioned in the first part of this essay, along with W.J.T. Mitchell’s argument against this purity, if understood as the identification of discipline-medium with material-medium and one of the five senses. Greenberg is one of the champions of this idea. “It is by virtue of its medium, he writes in a famous Lessingesquely titled paper, that each art is unique and strictly itself. To restore the identity of an art the opacity of its medium must be emphasized.”[18] We already see here a firmer tone compared to Kandinsky: the discipline-media have not only to protect themselves from the danger of the old paradigm of representation, but also from the intrusion of each other. This has become an increasingly important issue, as the Wagnerian influence has faded and the second trend we will now speak about has gained momentum.

This other trend, which we will call anti-artworld, is illustrated by avant-gardes as defined by Peter Bürger who himself opposed them to ‘modernists’[19]: artists and movements who refuse the existing system of the arts and the institution that embodies it, in short the dominant artworld, seen as a realm that has artificially separated itself from the other dimensions of life. Its most distinctive model is Dada, and it commonly advocates not for the Kandinskian spiritual mission of art, but for the ‘blurring of art and life’ and of the borders between disciplines. It creates ‘experiences’, is a resistance against society and in favor of freedom, but “signifies nothing” in the words of Tristan Tzara in the 1918 Dada Manifesto. Its favorite paradigm is not music, but collage, which brings together into one continuum (possibly also randomly) heterogeneous material, and performance, which is the unifying factor of everything that can happen between an artist and an audience member through the mediation of artistic creation, resulting in something like an artwork or not. In the second half of the 20th century, this trend has most importantly been illustrated by the Fluxus group, that had an international and interdisciplinary scope and claimed Dada and John Cage as forerunners, other examples including Viennese Actionism, Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, and many others that came to be associated to the lineage of ‘performance art’, although the importance of visual arts in this history shouldn’t hide the fact that the paradigms in play here have also been more specifically transposed into the fields of music, literature and theatre itself. In light of such a description, Yves Klein, whose point of view we quoted earlier, clearly belongs to this trend. Minimal art and conceptual art are derivations from its main concepts, although these movements, that have come to a dominant position in the institutions and the art market in the postmodern age and crystallized into something like a discipline, do not really fit the values of this hardcore avant-garde. In any case, the anti-artworldtrend is by definition in a relationship of antagonism with the modernisttrend, which for them belongs to the artworld that they are set to destroy, or simply disregard. And for a defender of the modernist cause, such as Adorno, these makers of happenings and advocates of the “erosion” of arts that “eat each other” as they blend are relishing “ostentatious meaninglessness” and the destruction of the spiritual and utopian mission of art, an act that is nothing less than “sabotage” as, because of these creators’ fascination for everything “extra-aesthetic”, art loses its special status and “becomes virtually a thing among things”, ironically fulfilling the culture industry’s plan of destroying “high art” and creating a world without aim and values.[20] In the same years, ‘formalist’ critic Michael Fried also sides with the modernists against the other trend, which he sees as obsessed with ‘events’ and with objects taken at their “literal” face value that threaten the concept of the artwork, in an attitude that is “corrupted or perverted by theatre”, which becomes the designated foe, “the negation of art”[21]. Not only “art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre”, but this degeneration is creating the impression that the “crumbling” of the “barriers between the arts” is both close and desirable, “whereas in fact the individual arts have never been more explicitly concerned with the conventions that constitute their respective essences”.

Although the terms of this lasting feud are consistent and increasingly polarized and radical over time, this divide between two trends could of course be debated at length. Movements like Bauhaus and Russian constructivism had a strongly ‘modernist’ conceptual basis (especially in their functionalist inspiration in the field of architecture), but also gave birth to strong interdisciplinarity and emphasis on performance as the uniting medium, and advocated for proactive intervention of art in life and conversely. A finer observation of their history and dynamics would show that such movements were no unified blocks, and that they were actually made up of individuals both more inclined towards the modernist direction or the anti-artworld direction, their collaboration resulting in interesting intermediate solutions, even when the movements themselves were only short-lived (if decisive) moments in the career of these artists –in many instances, it is not only a question of programmatic tools, but also of analytical ones, and both say Hemingway or Updike and Nouveau Roman novelists could be understood as concentrating on the medium of novel in itself, although they understood it differently. Finally, most artists themselves do not belong to a singular ‘family’, and when they do they may simply define it differently, such as a mix-media artist who would simply consider that her classical discipline-medium has extended, rather than questioning its validity. The trends we describe are ideas and directions, geographical poles in between which the artist navigates according to the immediate and the general contexts and multiple other factors.

In order to navigate by ourselves the issues at hand, it would be necessary to have a closer look at the components of these various discourses that operate with concepts that are not as foreign to those analyzed in previous time periods, as both appear to result from an original awareness of form ecology. One way to rephrase the claims of the modernisttrend would be to say that form has been recognized as a possibly transmedia component of art in its new abstract and unifying understanding (all ‘external’ forms related to representational or illusionistic art having been singled out), and therefore has no more reason to be a defining feature in categorization of art; instead, precedence is taken by each individual medium that can devote itself to its specificity, by exploring of its own intrinsic possibilities. It should be emphasized that the logic in question is not a creation of the intellectual framework of modernism. Rather, it must be understood within the context of a much broader tradition of advocacy of the ‘separation of the arts’, that can be witnessed in the classical comparisons between the arts, in the ‘art pour l’art’ fashion and in the intensive debates that followed the trend of Wagnerism all over Europe. Let us not, either, be confused by the name ‘formalists’ that Greenberg and his followers gave themselves: the work of Jackson Pollock, championed by Greenberg, is precisely an eloquent illustration of form being negated by the medium, the texture and physical behavior of paint becoming the designing parameter, in place of an organizational pattern or structure. On the other end, the anti-artworld trend can be described as striving towards the abolition of media, according to the idea that no limits of disciplines, or materials for that matter, should anymore be recognized. Fluxus artist Dick Higgins’s use of the word ‘intermedia’, that encompasses also so-called extra-artistic media, is rather than a recognition of the persistence of said media, a farewell to them. Forms, on the other hand, are all over this trend: the one material trace of happenings is their scripts, usually consisting in simple patterns, and all objects produced by this form of avant-garde are saturated with formal organization and use of forms, in some cases in a ‘found object’ spirit. Even the most extreme example, the use of chance, is the use of form: aleatory form, here form being precisely the set of parameters that are to be defined by chance.

Hence, form being understood as the structure of reception of art by the viewer, one could argue that, in the same way that modernism is the negation of form in favor of pure exploration of the medium, in the artistic movements where performance is the paradigm, form is not rejected but on the contrary becomes the very medium that is being operated. This becomes particularly salient in any Fluxus happening where elements of text, visual arts and music are blended: the structuring and driving force is the way in which the art presents itself to the viewer, anticipating reactions it is trying to provoke, in a close interplay of emission and reception. There is then only one total medium, which is form itself.

The idea that form is the actual medium of performance in general would open multiple possibilities that are yet to be explored. Beyond this specific paradigm, the reading we are offering of the discussion on the opposed directions that polarize the many diverse contemporary art practices can offer bridges to create communications between seemingly scattered attempts to solve the problems of medium and form, always at threat of either rejecting these concepts because their association with the ancient artworld has bestowed a taboo upon them, or retreating into uprooted conservative paradigms.

(Temporary) Conclusion

Rather than an illusory demonstration that would claim to be holistic in any other way than in its intents, we have here attempted to offer explorations of typical examples and problems of the field of aesthetics with a tool to which we hope to give both analytical and synthetic value. We hope this model can be expanded with other theoretical tools from other fields of study to become ever more comprehensive, and closer to its goal of offering a coherent approach.

Form is of course not the ultimate entity through which art must be understood, and must not be mistaken for anything other than what it is: a structural element, fundamental to the workings of artistic creation and other cultural phenomena, but a means and not an end. Nevertheless it appears clearly upon careful study that it is not, either, antiquated, and that we do not live in a ‘post-form’ age. Rather, form seems to be the only tool that allows us to analyze as a coherent ecosystem various aesthetical practices, including extra-artistic, and both the products of the culture industry and those of artistic modernism and avant-garde, all of which can be understood in their relationship to form.

We have observed that there are strong ties between the concept of form and the field of ‘aesthetics’, a field that has endured severe criticism. Aesthetics is rooted in a specific socio-cultural context: the study of the relationship between individual and collective ‘judgment’ in the 18th century. It needs to be contextualized as such, i.e. as belonging to a moment when a theory was required for the rising ruling class, the bourgeoisie, to create an intellectual framework for its own artistic production and reception, based on the notion of ‘taste’ as defined within a class as Bourdieu analyzed it. This is the cradle from which the modern ‘artworld’ was born. We have incidentally seen that it has been challenged, and we need to acknowledge that aesthetics is not the science of form in general, but the science of form within the Western art world of the classical and bourgeois eras. What we now need is a clear secession: either enlarge tremendously the scope and tools of what has until now been called aesthetics, which as a field has been put to trial by art history, sociology, cultural studies and visual studies in particular; or recognize that aesthetics can only be the limited version of the ‘studies of form ecology’ of an era that has, in the face of its failure to describe the entirety of artistic and cultural practices in a satisfactory way i.e. offer a satisfactory paradigm of artistic creation and discourse, come to an end. 

Back to where art is being made, the awareness of form ecology, the study of it, bears the promise of a creative fertility akin to that of those key moments we have started to explore in the limited scope of this paper. It is, we may now be bold enough to offer it as statement, in moments when the gateways to transmedia circulation have been understood to be ajar that artists have most profoundly renewed or indeed redefined their own fields. On a more global level, in the same way that scientific ecology has led to awareness to environment translated into political action, thus blurring the lines between objective research and moral stands, the study of form ecology, too, must be seen as a matrix for values, principles and action. It is therefore to be hoped that a more systematic deepening of form ecology as a field of study will not only provide interesting models for research, but also be an incentive for bold creation in the arts, whether those making it operate within a field and discipline or not.


[1]Quoted from E. Pound, “How To Read”, essay for The New York Herald Tribune Books 5/17 (13 January 1929).

[2]About the method: the tradition of translation theory referred to in our analogy is not the one about which, according to Walter Benjamin, we commonly “say that it reads as if it had originally been written in that language” (“Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers”, 1923) and which thus artificially fakes the comfort of reading a text without the help of a third party, but the one, illustrated despite their differences by Benjamin and Pound, where the process of the translation is critically aware of itself and made visible in the final product, and where both original and target languages shed light and broaden each other. 

[3]For a discussion of the purity of media, see W.J.T. Mitchell (“There Are No Visual Media”, in Image Science, University of Chicago Press, 2015), where it is argued that for instance both modernist and classical Western painting are more than purely optical: they contain words (in the sense of allegory or discourse), and the insistence on the visibility or invisibility of the painter’s brushstroke speaks to our understanding of touch, its sensations and its connotations: “seeing painting is seeing touching”. From the conclusion that “all media are mixed media” we must infer that the senses they speak to or the use of a specific material are not what define them, and they must be understood as more complex constructs.

[4]For a general introduction and exposition, see the 1938 classic by Willis D. Ellis, A source book of Gestalt psychology.

[5]We operate here within the framework of an ‘institutional theory of art’. The concept of artworld was further developed by Arthur Danto (“The Artworld”, 1964) and George Dickie (“Defining Art”, 1969). 

[6]G. Simondon, L’individuation psychique et collective, Aubier, 1989.

[7]Such were for instance the attempts in the 1960s to transpose kinetic theory of gazes and mathematical models into musical composition.

[8]“Use all the components of any given number of elements, don’t leave out individual elements, use them all with equal importance and try to find an equidistant scale so that certain steps are no larger than others. It’s a spiritual and democratic attitude toward the world.” J. Cott, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer. Simon & Schuster, 1973, p. 101.

[9]J. Rancière, Le Partage du sensible : esthétique et politique, La Fabrique, 2000. Rancière highlights in particular how in The Laws, Plato refers to artistic forms as political paradigms and offers as the ultimate positive model ‘the choreographic form’, based on unity and synchronization.

[10]‘Adaptation studies’ have however developed recently into a field of research, focusing on this specific type of circulation. See e.g. R. Stam, Literature through Film, Blackwell, 2005.

[11]Alongside two other ‘means’ of poetry that are the ‘casting of images upon the visual imagination’ (phanopoeia) and ‘the dance of the intellect among words’ (logopoeia). This divide, highly dependent on the intrinsic values of a given language, is also instrumental to his theory of translation mentioned in the opening of this text. These concepts and all following quotations are taken from Pound’s historical and programmatic essay ABC of Reading (1934). 

[12]Among the extensive literature stemming from this part of Kant’s legacy, see for instance Jean Piaget’s inaugural lecture at the Department of Philosophy of Science and Psychology of the Université de Neuchâtel, “Psychologie et critique de la connaissance” (1925), an invitation to put Kant’s paradigm into the context of the science of his time. This allows Piaget to present his ‘historico-critical method’, which is bound to replace Kant’s Transcendental idealism with proper contextualization and understanding of the variability of historically rooted systems of scientificity, what Kuhn would later call paradigms (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962) and Foucault epistemes (in Les Mots et les choses : Une archéologie des sciences humaines, 1966). As is probably clear by now, we also operate here on the assumption that artworlds are historical paradigms subject to change and replacement.

[13]“We talk too much. We ought to talk less and draw more. For my part, I should like to lose the habit of conversation and, like nature, express myself entirely in large drawings (Zeichnungen).” (Letter to J.D. Falk, 14 June 1809)

[14]A later version of this form could be said to be realized in a very literal fashion by Steve Reich in his piece City Life for small ensemble and digital samplers (1995), that creates planes out of musical cells and sampled sounds recorded in New York City to convey a composed urban soundscape with effects of perspective. Many other examples could be listed to illustrate the idea of the soundscape as a form that individuated itself within the medium of music in the Western tradition.

[15]Yves Klein, lecture at the Sorbonne, 1959.

[16]W. Kandinsky, Über die Geistige in der Kunst, inbesondere in der Malerei, 1912. Also: “Whatever truth there may be in [the comparison between Debussy and the Impressionists] merely accentuates the fact that the various arts of today learn from each other and often resemble each other.”

[17]G.E. Lessing, Laokoön oder Über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie, 1767.

[18]C. Greenberg, “Towards A Newer Laocoön”, Partisan Review, VII, no. 4, New York, July—August 1940, pp. 296-310. Referring to defined ‘identity’ rather than different ‘languages’ that can communicate is a shift that is also to be observed in political discourse in the 20th century. 

[19]Peter Bürger, Theorie der Avantgarde, 1974. We quote Bürger mainly as an example of how the anti-artworld trend defines itself as opposed to the modernist trend, not for his overall analysis of recent art history.

[20]T.W. Adorno, “Die Kunst und die Künste”, 1966. Thirty years after he started his crusade against ‘culture industry’ and its minions (such as jazz musicians), and up to his death, Adorno has maintained his purist stance against, among other things, hybridization, that has made him a somewhat overzealous theorist of an extreme subcurrent of the modernist trend, to which it would be difficult to associate any actual artist.  

[21]M. Fried, “Art and Objecthood”, 1967.