Doing While Doing

Transcript from memory

Sarma Feb 2013

item doc

Contextual note
Written in December 2012, this text was first published on Sarma as part of the Anthology walk+talk in February 2013.

Today is December 2nd, 2012. Last week, on November 24th, the author presented a solo lectureperformance in the muziekstudio at deSingel in Antwerp, a solo which he called, 'Doing While Doing.' This solo was based on another performance that he had presented as part of the 'walk+talk' series at Kaaistudios in March 2011. Many of the same actions of his walk+talk were re-performed in 'Doing While Doing,' but the text had been entirely re-worked, and almost none of the text from the 2011 performance survived in the 2012 performance.

There are no audio or visual recordings of the November 24th performance, and no written script either, since all of the text was developed during un-recorded rehearsals in which the author talked to himself alone in an empty room. Since no documentation of this performance exists, the author has determined to record from memory a transcript of the performance which took place on November 24th.

These writings are meant to allow some of the traces from this performance to be recorded, but this is not meant to be a definitive account of what was said in that room on that day. Memory has surely distorted the event, and one cannot be sure which words were spoken in the public performance, which words were spoken alone in the privacy of a rehearsal studio, and which words were never actually spoken but only imagined.




[Dance with forgotten words.]




Okay, we need to talk about the just-past, which is to say, recent history, because today... there is too much emphasis on today, today. There is too much emphasis on what's happening now, you know, whatever is hot, new, fresh, whether it be a technological innovation or invention, or something artistic. And you know, it's not only about the present, it's not only a matter of 'Destroy the past; create the future.' There is a certain regard for History, a respect for, you know, the great classics of the Western cultural canon. But in between these two poles, in between 'today' and 'History,' there is something called the just-past, which is a region which has really been neglected. You know, we revere the great masterpieces from the past, but nobody's revering the out-of-date fashion from four years ago, you know, no one's talking about what it was fashionable to talk about four years ago. And we—I mean think about it, what was four year ago? 2008? We need to talk about 2008. Now is the perfect time... to talk about recent history because we can talk about it with a certain degree of clarity, you know, it's not too close to us and it's not too far away. We don't look at it yet through all these layers of historical interpretation which have built up over the years, which influence our way of thinking about the past. You know, it's like, now when we think about the 60s, we look at it through this filter of... nostalgia. Or, I mean, now we don't look at it with nostalgia, because it's a bit passé to be nostalgic about the 60s. I mean, looking at the 60s with nostalgia is kind of like, so four years ago.”



[Thought 1, Pain]:

I'm six years old and I'm on a slide, and the kids are pulling my arm in one direction and my feet in another direction, and they keep pulling until my arm breaks, and I don't have such a strong memory of that moment as much as later at the doctor's office, when he asks me to turn over the arm so he can take an X-ray, and I'm in such pain that I can not will myself to turn over my arm because it hurts so much and I can't take...”

[Thought 2, Heat]:

And there's heat coming out of the lights up there, and heat coming out of my computer there, as it's going through its processes, and I sense heat coming from my body, especially inside my shoes there's a lot of heat coming from my feet and it's hot in between my toes. And there's heat coming from the bodies in the seats out there, the people in the...”

[Thought 3, Sex]:

And I'm kissing you and running my fingers through your hair, and holding the back of your head, and holding your head close to mine, and we're kissing, and I bring my fingertips down your back and down to the tip of your T-shirt, and I start to lift up your T-shirt, and it's hot and sweaty at your lower back, and I take your shirt off, and I reach my mouth down toward your nipple and start to bite...”

[Thought 4, Math]:

And forty-eight times thirty-two, let's see, eight times two is sixteen sixteen four times two is eight plus one is nine, so that's nine six, ninety-six, wait, yeah, of course forty-eight times two is ninety-six, then times the three, eight times three is twenty-four, four times three is twelve plus the two is fourteen, fourteen, one four four zero, one four four zero plus, what was it plus ninety-six, one four four zero plus ninety-six is two – no! – one five...”



[Looping movement]:

One, two, going to six, four, five, six. And One, two, going to ten, four, and we're going to talk about change, there's this cliché, eight, nine, ten. There's this cliché that change is the only constant –“

['Paralyzed Journey']:

But we'll get back to that later 'cause now I'm going up the stairs of my old apartment building, and taking out the key... I'm just going through a ghost of these actions that I would perform habitually, every time I would get home to my old apartment, the apartment I lived in four years ago. Now I'm taking the computer out of its case. Unwrapping the cable... And just performing a kind of ghost of these daily actions. Getting out a pot 'cause I'm going to steam some broccoli. Trying to re-create some of the same combinations of muscular effort that I had when I performed these actions four years ago. Of course, it's not the same now because I don't have the resistance of the objects –”

['PacMan' pattern]:

There's an essay by Dolar where he talks about the close proximity of tragedy and comedy, that tragedy and comedy are actually very close to each other, and the only thing it takes to turn a tragedy into a comedy is –”

[Looping movement]:

One! Two!, going to six again, four, five, six. One, we were talking about change, four, five, and this cliché that change is the only constant in the universe, nine, ten. And one, two, going to twenty, four, but I think we need to be very careful about this because change—what does that mean that change is always constant, I mean, where am I? Eleven, I think, twelve. Because what do we mean by change? I mean, change can have such radically different definitions, can have such radically different qualities, that, how do we know we're talking about the same thing when we talk about different, nineteen, twenty. One, two... to twelve, I mean to sixteen, five, are we saying the same thing when we talk about different kinds of change, I mean, imagine geological change, continents drifting, twelve, thirteen, a process that takes millions of years for change to occur. Sixteen! One, two, going to twenty, and think about the quality of that slow, geological change and then think about the quality of change when you flip on a light switch, and the change happens like POW, like faster than the speed of sound, the room fills up with light, where am I? Sixteen, I think. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. One, two, or imagine the kind of change that happens when you have an unconscious reaction to something and the change happens before you've even realized that a change has occurred. Or maybe you never realize that a change has occurred. One, two, three, going to twelve, or imagine the kind of change, eight, nine, the kind of change that happens in the transition from speaking to not speaking...”


[Then, PacMan pattern]:

...the essay where he writes that the only thing it takes to turn a tragedy into a comedy is to multiply the number of tragic figures. Because with a tragic figure we're dealing with an incredibly unique individual, but with comedy we're dealing in generic types, like the proud one, or the jealous one, or the stupid one... You know, imagine Hamlet for a moment, who has this incredibly unique subjectivity, which the audience relates to, because they also imagine that their subjectivity is incredibly unique, but then imagine another figure right next to Hamlet, a double of Hamlet, who speaks all the same words in unison, and who performs all the same gestures as Hamlet, and suddenly what you've got is no longer a tragic figure but actually a very comic figure. It would be a very funny kind of Hamlet because he would lose all sense of individuality...”



And there's heat coming out of my mouth as I exhale, a warm, moist heat, filled with carbon dioxide and water vapor. And there's heat in between the crevices of my fingers and my armpits. And still heat coming from my computer over there and from the people in the seats over there –”


We agree that there's a difference between speech and writing, that these are two very different forms of language. But where is the difference located? The obvious first response is that writing is something physical, it's tangible, like if you think of a book for example, it's something you can hold in your hand, and refer back to later if you want to check that what you thought the author had written is really what was written. Whereas speech is more... floating, it kind of floats in the air and has no physical reality, you can't refer back to it later unless it was recorded, but normally speech is in its nature... not physical. But we should really re-examine this first impression, because in fact speech is a deeply physical, bodily process. I mean, when I speak to you, for example, it starts with vibrations that begin inside my body, which are then transmitted into vibrations in the air, which then cause vibrations inside your body, so when I speak to you, there is a physical, bodily, vibratory connection between us. It's almost erotic, really...”



[He spoke a long sequence of nonsense from 'The Sun Came,' a text which has been transcribed elsewhere. The text consists of little snippets of phrases that keep interrupting each other, from news, radio, books, his imagination, etc. Meanwhile, he was seen writing something on a piece of paper. The nonsense speech ends. Then...]


So I'm going to read to you what I was writing while I was speaking those words. It says:

Dear You,

I would give an impression of my inner thoughts which are spontaneous unlike the memorized words simultaneous with this writing – but what is this interiority outside all these external forms, spoken or written? If I never wrote these words down – what would ever attest to my internal life? Does it exist, Does anyone other than me care? Well, if I extrapolate to other individuals in the – And then I break off...”

Yeah, I don't really know what to say about that, so I'm going to change the subject and go into a different speech that I was preparing earlier. I mean thinking again about Hamlet, he has this quote, he said something kind of interesting which was, wait, yeah, he said that nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. It's kind of an obvious truth, but I think it's good for us to think about it some more, you know, this idea that there is no problem that exists in any objective sense, but every problem is a problem for somebody. For a person or for a group of people or for the whole population. Which is not to say that it is all just a matter of perception, and if you just change your perception the problem will go away. No, there are real problems, serious problems that really do exist and do need a solution, but it's important for us to recognize that every problem is a problem for consciousness, is a problem for people. Or for other living beings if you consider that they have a consciousness. But yeah, just to keep in mind that every problem bears a relationship to consciousness.”



Yeah, so there is this novel by José Saramago called 'Blindness.' And he wrote a sequel to this novel, and called 'Seeing.' The novel was called 'Seeing.' And in this novel, the whole population – I mean a large majority of the population casts a blank ballot. There's an election in a country, and a large majority of the people cast a blank ballot, basically voting for...nothing, voting for...nobody. In a way raising their voice against the current regime, voting against the way that power is currently distributed in the country. Not proposing a positive alternative, but being sure, at least, that the current system is broken, and needs to be undone before any real change can occur.

This book was written around 2004, but it could make you think of the protests against the Mubarak regime which took place later in Egypt in 2011. In a way, the protestors were also casting blank ballots, they didn't have a consensus about who should replace Mubarak, but there was a consensus that Mubarak had to go, the current regime could not keep holding onto power, their time was over. And, I doubt there is any causal connection between the novel by Saramago from 2004, and the protests in Egypt in 2011, but there is something about imagining an event, imagining a future which seems impossible. It was said that the protests in Egypt were unthinkable before they happened, they were not possible, but then they happened. But somehow, this massive casting of a blank ballot had been imagined by Saramago. In a way he's a prophet.

There's this whole genre of prophetic fiction. There's another novel, also written in 2004, or around 2004, by Don DeLillo, called 'Cosmopolis,' which basically predicts the massive financial meltdown that happened later in 2008, and which also predicts a kind of Occupy Wall Street type of protest, although he links these two events so that they start on the same exact day. But—and actually, if you think about it, the Occupy Wall Street protests were also a kind of casting of a blank ballot, a voice of negation against the way that power was distributed—the way it still is distributed—without a consensus about what positive policies should fill in the void after the negation. There's a question about how do we come to consensus after the negation has been achieved, if it is achieved? It's a seeming impossibility, to find a large-scale common consensus.

You know, though, there was this group in America in the 1800s, a religious group called the Quakers, actually they're still around today, but their policy was that any decision in the group had to be made through consensus, every individual had to agree before any change could be made. And, you know, this would seem to be a very conservative mode of operation, that everyone has to agree...”



... before any change can happen. But in fact, the Quakers were one of the most progressive groups of their time, you know, they were one of the very first groups in America to call for the abolition of slavery. And this seems obvious to us now, but it was a really divisive issue in its day, and you know, it took years and decades of talking about it, and the Quakers were not against it at first, but after a lot of talking and a lot of discussion, they came to the conclusion, all of them were convinced, that slavery was not acceptable.

But you know, maybe it doesn't seem so impossible for them to come to a consensus about this because they were a small—a relatively small group of people, a like-minded group of people. And if we think about some of the issues facing us, you know, there are real, serious problems that do exist and that do need a solution, some of these problems are going to require consensus on a global scale. Climate change being one example. And it's really impossible to achieve this, but the problems won't find solutions unless we do. The question is, how are we going confront this impossibility...this impossibility of reaching consensus on a global scale?”

[End of Part 1.]



[The text of Part 2 has already been transcribed and recorded elsewhere, because it was the exact text of the performance of 'Way Past Tense' performed in New York in March 2012.]

[Part 2 was the part about endings.]