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Cover of the printed version of "The Rhythm of Thinking"

The Rhythm of Thinking. Immanence and Ethics in Theater Performance

Research project
Inactive research
Project owner
Academy of Music and Drama

Short description

Dissertation by Johan Petri, 2016.
The dissertation The Rhythm of Thinking: Immanence and Ethics in Theater Performance is an artistic research project in the field of theater, with directing and theatrical composition and dramaturgy as its main points of focus. The critical exploration is based on the experience of conceptualizing and directing three different theater performances, all built around material that in one way or another originated from the American composer and artist John Cage (1912–1992). These performances function as the main references throughout the investigation.

The project is an attempt to explore the implications of the concept of immanence in the collective creative process of theater making. In particular, it is an effort to illuminate what might be called "processes of immanence" or "theater of immanence". The research presents a net of questions, observations and thoughts ranging from the experiences of collective creative processes and collaborative work with the performers, to academic criticism on discourses related to the fields of performance studies, philosophy and performance philosophy, perception theory, and musicology. The unfurling of this net is intended to contribute to the ideas and theories surrounding the relationship between the structural specifics of theater – dramaturgically and compositionally – and the aspects of meaning and affect. Though, that formulation also encapsulates a number of sub-areas to which the investigation aims to contribute with problematizing insertions, areas that can be broadly defined as: transforming theories into concrete compositional and processual measures; developing dramaturgical discourses beyond semantic language; problematizing a binary relation between composition/conceptualization and an intuitive, emotional creative force; discussing how to enhance a readiness for variation in the performers; problematizing hierarchical structures, both in regards to the hierarchy of expressions, as well as creative influence; mapping out a thought process for a directorial practice; and finally, searching for a possible reciprocity between compositional structures and ethics.

There are three important aspects that the three performances share, and that illuminate the questions that are being problematized. The first and most crucial aspect is what alternately are labeled multiplicities, individual expressive trajectories, superimpositions, expressive polyphony, and an overload. These are terms and phenomena descriptive of an expressive instability and convergent with the idea that the expression consolidates through the indeterminate unfolding of multiple expressive relations and not through thorough composition. The second aspect is that they are dependent on a strong creative investment by the performers – on their capacity to improvise and invent – since the conceptual setups place, at the center, the creative responsibility of the individual performer. This circumstance, which is thoroughly explicated in the reasoning, is formulated in order to set an immanent creative movement in motion. The third aspect shared by the performances, in different ways, is that they are all formed around musical compositions, and embedded in musical movements. This is not only crucial to the structure and intensity of the performances, but it also influences the critical gaze and the concepts and terms that are used in the investigation. The titles of the performances are John and the Mushrooms, vorschläge and Ryaonji – A Meeting.

Three different types of texts are presented in the project: descriptive texts, essays, and interviews. They intentionally unfold in somewhat different modes, and, therefore, meant to create a juxtapositional dynamic. The descriptive texts document the making of the three theater performances, going into detail, regarding material, dramaturgical organization and conceptualization, rehearsal processes, and the performance situations. These texts are linked to filmed documentations, still pictures, side texts of an explanatory quality, sound/music recordings/documentations, to interviews with the performers, and to musical scores and manuscripts. The essays pull the work with the performances into a more taut reflective apparatus. They are developed to elevate the tactile experiences and the structural observations into an esthetic-philosophical reasoning, by investigating the connections between the performances and a broader existential/philosophical outlook on life. As such they enclose the practice, by revealing what reverberates underneath the esthetics of the performances, as well as indicating what hovers above them, as possible prolongations.
The interviews that are included in the project are conducted by the Institute for Unpredictable Processes. They are placed in conjunction with the themes reflected on in the texts surrounding them and should be seen as critical expansions, but in a different mode.

The investigated materials are theater performances and the questions stem from situations when making and perceiving theater. Though, in the critical treatment the research activates philosophical discourses rather than performance studies perspectives. This philosophical approach is mainly represented by the French philosopher Gillez Deleuze (1925–1995), but also by the Canadian philosopher Brian Massumi (1956–), and the Italian/Australian philosopher Rosi Braidotti (1954–). A number of secondary sources and critical extensions that utilize Deleuze’s theories in discussions on art and theater are used, as well as some within the field of performance studies. Among these are the philosopher and performance studies scholar Laura Cull, the philosopher and Deleuze-scholar Claire Colebrook, the art theoretician and Deleuze-scholar Simon O’Sullivan, the performance studies scholar Erika Fischer-Lichte, and the philosopher and Deleuze-scholar Manuel Delanda.

The dissertation The Rhythm of Thinking; Immanence and Ethics in Theater Performance is published as a book but also as a multimedia platform. This complete format will give the reader access to filmed documentations and audio examples of the different performances that are being discussed and critically treated in the text, as well as additional material like images, scripts and music scores.

Johan Petri
Photo: Gunnar Nehls