Impro Aphro 43.1 +

"Lossless energy is exchanged on an actual field."

This is one way of describing the activity of improvising in an improvising ensemble. And the making of an ensemble. It is a kind of work in a particular setting and involving particular actants.

The ensemble is NOT some metaphysical entity waiting to be actualized. Maybe one agent in the ensemble — the director/teacher — is hiding their idea of a final result behind their back and only pretending to let the ensemble discover a way of working together. But the true creative facilitator is allowing the actants to ally themselves in ways they never have before. Actants are testing the resistances and building alliances as they work. This work is no more and no less than what all work, including the work of philosophers, accomplishes. Harman:

Thinkers do not deduce, critique, or build reality out of first principles or foundations. Instead, they simply work, negotiating with actants in the same way as butchers, engineers, technicians, carpenters, and clowns. (30)

The supervisor or director or teacher is no closer to the potential or latent unity of the "whole" than any improviser. 

Every actant can serve any of these roles (matter or form, whole or part) in different situations. (30)

Spolin focuses on the here-and-now activity of people in an actual field. She is not trying to serve some story that is waiting to be acted out. She does not want any one performer to impose some pre-existing schema onto the alliance-building activities of all the other performers. The creation of an unprecedented network of mutually-engaged creators is the aim. Pre-existing schema or cliched gestures and attitudes are resistances to be overcome.

I'm seeing a convergence between Spolin's actual and that of Latour/Harman. 

Caveat on "Actual"

  • The "actual" (A1) in Critical Realism one of a three-level ontology. The "actual" consists of the changes brought about by the activation of causal powers and liabilities of objects (which are "real"). The "empirical" is the subjective experiencing of those changes.
  • The "actual" (A2) in Harman is quite different. There are no layers. Everything that that is or happens is produced by the networking of objects. Objects are assembled or joined together as pieces of wood are in carpentry.

I am committed to a basic realism and to the reality of change. I am also committed to pushing myself and creative people to explore what lies outside of commonsensical or received notions of what humans are. To take seriously the question that Butoh dancers ask themselves: what is it like to view the world from the perspective of a corpse. Butoh dancers actually (A1) change themselves and get themselves to do things most people cannot when they respond to this question. The question prompts them to suspend as far as possible interior reflection or self-consciousness and take their place among things (A2).


Impro Aphro 41.1 +

"You are becoming one body.

One body through which all are directly involved."

Relating Spolin to Merkel

Games and story are non-egoic, Spolin holds. Merkel holds that play, as well as phantasy and narration, are the externalization of individual inner worlds. Improvisation does come from individual inner worlds but it is not the imposition of the ego on other improvisers. There is more to a person's inner world than their ego and what it owns, or lays claim to. This inner world allows people to set and carry out intentions, and the ego, and the deliberation it carries out, are part of this intentional action. But intentions can only be completed when they have effected changes, That means intentions have their success or failure determined by the conditions, including the intentional activity of others, into which that intention is introduced. 

Impro Aphro 40.1 +

"Getting out of the head makes you an organic part of a whole."

Impro Posts on Heads

  • Impro Aphro 3.1+      "Getting out of the head and into the space"
  • Impro Aphro 4.1+     "[G]et players out of their heads and into the space and thereby allow methexis to take place"
  • Impro Aphro 6.1+     "Organism means ONE and BODY. What of many – an organism made of many?"
  • Impro Aphro 9.1+     "Out of your head but not into a mass"
  • Impro Aphro 31.1+     "[S]ubjectivity is  in the world and not locked up in a private interior space, in the centre of the head"
  • Impro Aphro 37.1+     "Fantasizing is not something happening in the head: it occurs in and through play figures shared with others"

Other Relevant Livejournal Posts

  • Algorithmic Comparison of Representations     "Treating thought as an  [embodied] activity"
  • Neural Nets     "Cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life — is subtended by an 'intentional arc' which projects round about us our past, our future, [and] our human setting"
  • Acting without Intentions     "[T]he subject must experience the causal connection between the intention in action and the bodily movement" 

Merkel 2.0

Research on Children's Play Activity

Original Post, Revised

Merkel's Spielen, Erzahlen, Phantasieren describes current research (c. 2005) in children's play, narration, and fantasy. But it is not a philosophical analysis of the ontology or the phenomenon of play.

Play has been accorded utilitarian value — it prepares children for adulthood. Merkel finds clever ways to make empirical research support some of the tenets of depth psychology, and play derives a greater significance by facilitating an individual's involvement with the archetypes. But most of the time he too depicts play as a rehearsal for adulthood. He does not want adult's misconceptions of children's play to interrupt or deform this rehearsal.

Merkel argues against the Freudian notion that play is a sublimation of libidinal energy. This is a predictable enough position, given Merkel's debt to Jung. He argues for his position by drawing on empirical research that suggest play is not an expression of unconscious wishes but an energetic involvement in the here and now, and that contributes to the growth of language, fantasy, and social relationships. It is not a retreat into the infantile or a displacement of individuals' psychosexual development — it is primary activity unfolding in the present tense and in a social space, an activity that is essential in the development of a sensibility open to and prepared for the future.

Merkel's integration of new research into daydreams is especially interesting in this regard.

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Impro Aphro 39.1 +

"What's an organism?"

Previous Livejournal Posts on Organism

  • Impro Aphro 1.1 +     "Organic part of the whole = becoming one body."
  • Impro Aphro 2.1+    "What is organic? It is not the mechanical combination of simple, discrete parts."
  • Impro Aphro 5.1+     "One and Body and Organism"
  • Impro Aphro 6.1+     "Organism means ONE and BODY. What of many – an organism made of many?"
  • Impro Aphro 7.1+     "ONE and BODY are the qualities of an Organism."
  • Impro Aphro 29.1+     "The body of the ensemble asks the player for their transformation"
    — [Organism & body overlap]
  • Impro Aphro 30.1+     "A body of work asks for the transformation, movement, interaction."
    — [Organism/body overlaps with interaction & transformation notes]
  • Impro Aphro 32.1+     "Organism & effort ..."
  • Impro Aphro 35.1+     "Will does not equal organism."
    — [intention is part of improvisation but needs to be distinguished from will]
  • and the previous post too

Tangential Livejournal Posts on Organism

Impro Aphro 38.1 +

"Games and story, unlike some activities, do not _____ of ego.

Organism directs towards structure maintenance by the will.  

In a way that doesn't suck."

I think "____" was supposed to be "give," in the sense that Wallace Stevens gives it in  "Anecdote of the Jar."

It took dominion everywhere.   
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,   
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Games and story stand apart from the ego — if they are done right!

"Will" and "structure" are not major keywords in Spolin. 

I would rephrase the second point to something like 'the unfolding improvisation can persist if the players are assembled in a functional manner, with this assemblage enabling and constraining the appropriate intentional action.'

Not pithy but truer to Spolin.

Impro Aphro 37.1 +

"Games and story bring me out of myself."

On my old Typepad blog I made a few notes on Merkel's Spielen, Erzählen, Phantasieren. The page is inaccessible now. But the book deals examines the interpersonal, performative, spatialized activity of playing, narrating, and fantasizing.

Yes, they are "subjective" in the sense used in Impro Aphro 31.1 +: experienced by a subject but a subject entangled in a social world. They are not private experiences.

Children, according to Merkel, extend their imagination into the world by arranging and manipulating objects. Their storytelling begins by improvising the actions and the speech of play figures imbued with personas. Fantasizing is not something happening in the head: it occurs in and through play figures shared with others. Maturation requires introjecting the space of fantasy. Public expressions of one's fantasies and impulses is turned into private daydreaming. One steals a few minutes from one's responsibilities and lets the figures play and speak, but in an internal theatre only.

Merkel wants children to hold onto their capacity to playfully narrate public fantasies even as they mature. And adults to create spaces where they can hold onto and elaborate this capacity. 

Improv requires that performers recover or discover this capacity. Yes, games and story do open up the "self" that carries a private internal theatre around. But the exercises require students to get out of that interior space so that they can create story and games through the employment of public fantasizing. We want fresh creation and not clever manipulation of cliches familiar to jaded adult audiences.

That's why Spolin is set so strongly against "storytelling" in the exercises. She sees the temptation to play with safe material that the improviser has already used. Like children, improvisers are supposed to be unselfconscious public fantasizers.

Plug the publisher's blurb into Google Translate to get an idea of what Merkel is on about.

Old Typepad Links on Merkel

Some of these posts point to C-maps or concept maps. The software is still available. I need to download it and recover those maps.

Impro Aphro 36.1 +

"What is the genuine passive attitude?"

Part of the old post "What Does it Mean to Declaim" deals with this.

The genuine passive attitude means waiting for a call to do something rather than planning what you will do on stage, or defaulting to one's prepared bag of performance tricks.

Grotowski said the actor follows a via negativa: dropping what impedes an authentic performance and letting something stronger than habits, gimmicks and "schtick" emerge on stage. It is an awful long way from theology to actor training.

Daniel Jugrin holds out sculpture as the paradigm for theologia negativa and painting as the paradigm for theologia affirmativa. Acting that proceeds by accumulation of details is akin to the accumulation of layers of paint; acting that proceeds by removal of obstructions is akin to the sculptor chipping away at the block of stone until the figure inside is released.

Jurgin insists that the path of the negativa is not a philosophical concept but a religious activity. All I'll say for acting is that both ways of proceeding are more than concepts. They are an activity — of a kind to be characterized later, elsewhere, or never.