The language of a performing performer is a lived language.

A performer’s identity is embodied in her language.

She exists in the moment.

Hers is an immediately experienced reality.

She has no illusion or re-creation.

The performing performer does not describe her experience: she lives it, live.

(Jo Cripps, 2001)

 Something in the way “she” moves

Extract from the PhD thesis Something in the way She Moves. Politics of Presence in the Performance Act.

I write through Luce Irigaray's essay This Sex Which Is Not One (1985) extending into a dialogic play between site and body(s). Theories of liminality, performativity and the practice of improvisation all pertain to the collaborative or rather to 'author' as a collective idea.


I am writing towards a pluralistic self(s) (she has a relationship with that thing, and she has a relationship with herself relating to that thing). I write the body as part of site through Irigaray, to discuss space occupied by body(s) and eventually time (the here-and-now) as a dynamic player within site.


The political, cultural and social effect of one's body performing is overlooked due to the allusive nature of presence and its slippage through language.  I will scrutinize how this correlates with Irigaray's notion of the feminine imaginary as constructed within the 'negative' spaces of language itself. Also, I will discuss how Irigaray's theoretical analysis of No Thing gives voice and reason to our relationship to site itself, as it refers, particularly for practitioners of performance, to the very site of their enquiries: The real time and social space of the live event.


I hope that through this critical consideration, the practice of presence gains weight as an essential craft for the performing artist in training. To practice presence is to develop a consciousness that functions in the present tense. It is the practice of being a coalition of parts, a body in the 'condition' of being 'one'. I use the term present-ness to describe not just one's visible presence in a space, but a state of play achieved through a dynamic presence, which succeeds in stirring up, and presencing site. Present-ness is a state of being that we can practice. I search for an inversion of the negative position in which this presence presently sits both in performance theory and in the institutions, which house the training of performance. Present-ness is feminine. Its lack of status, through Irigaray, is due to its 'none' sense of authority.


Irigaray offers us an insight into the problematics of presence through the dominant structures of the singular: the masculine.


Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the opposition between 'masculine' clitoral activity and 'feminine' vaginal passivity, an opposition which Freud - amongst many others - saw as stages, or alternatives, in the development of a sexually 'normal' woman, seems rather too clearly required by the practice of male sexuality… The vagina is valued for the 'lodging' it offers the male organ when the forbidden hand has to find a replacement for pleasure giving. Woman… is not comparable to the noble phallic organ (she) is a hole-envelope… a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back on itself, self-embracing (Irigaray,1985: 23).


 I set-up the concept - the site of performance is feminine. How one enters, occupies and converses with space as a performer places oneself politically towards or away from an image of oneself as Author. The Author becomes masculine and is one who enters space as though that space has nothing to say. Through this analogy we are reminded of how theatre functions still.


The audience plunged into darkness/silence/stillness, all reference to the here and now, like an ocean, suspended, locked outside the Theatre's watertight doors, sits only in anticipation of 'what is to come'. And, come he does, the actor, tiny, picked out by a follow spot. With the greatest, most acrobatic skill he will write his space, 'bring it to life'. Nowadays, as well as traditional theatres persistent and abundant economic richness, we have the alternative, the contemporary: the black Box: 'neutral' spaces, hidden in the corners of most performance studies courses. These spaces are small, airless and acclaimed for their transformability, their pliability. It is these that I now critique: the 'empty' spaces.          

Irigaray reapproaches 'none' as 'at least two' through a description of woman's autoeroticism.


In order for a man to touch himself he needs an instrument: his hand, a woman's body, language… And this self-caressing requires at least a minimum of activity. As for woman, she touches herself in and of herself without any need for mediation, and before there is any way to distinguish activity from passivity... her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact. Thus, within herself, she is already two - but not divisible into one(s) - that caress each other (24).


This blurring, a mixed-up-ness, is indicative of the essential state of the performer. The text-act penetrates and fragments the w(hole). It takes space. It takes place. This intrusion must, to a physical extent imply the physical bodies of both performer and audience. All that is not space is taking space - is the absence of space or rather where presence is occurring. A performer is active to the extent that she is taking space. She is the absence of space. Attention to one's presence can succeed in making dynamic this absence. This is present-ness. It is annihilation, a death if you will, but only of the singular. One is simultaneously an active subject and a conscious object; both reader and writer of one's own actions. When we look for the author in a lived event, we can understand that the very word 'author' has no place here. It is necessary to reaffirm an image for the author as a presence, as present but not singular - as an interlocutor - as a person who takes part in a conversation. She is always in dialogue, both with herself and with her site (her company).


How the social space is 'entered' by the performer has to be the most political statement the artist can make. And yet, its paradox is that the performer herself must author her own (express) self-falling. She must live to die. The author is the first subject to “slip away”. I suggest that when the artist's body is present in an artwork, this body is the first point of reference/contact, of the spectator's gaze. Therefore a performer must understand how to shift, 'construct' and negotiate this gaze. One authors, or now, rather allows death, and so presence is again the oscillation, the fluid suspension of the in between, the no-thing.


Woman takes pleasure more from touching than from looking, and her entry into a dominant scopic economy signifies, again, her consignment to passivity. While her body finds itself thus eroticism and called to a double movement of exhibition and of chaste retreat in order to stimulate the drive of the 'subject', her sexual organ represents the horror of nothing to see (26).


Performance Studies is imbrued with practitioners in training who are experimenting in local ways, procuring the subtlest of interventions, enduring physical challenges over long periods of time, physically blurring the line (their flesh) which saves (spills) their blood from the contaminating outside. These artists are hoping to show their body as-it-is (this body, my body). These artists who try to make some kind of contact with the 'real' or who wish to open the text of their bodies into their artwork, need to cope significantly with a crisis of nothing to show both in respect of their selves inside their work (they display no overt technical skill) and also, in how that work might move, on a macro level, within the art world; they have nothing to sell. Radical experiments, investigations or interventions into local, temporal spaces surely merit (then nurture then revise) from being conveyed in local, temporal ways: from within and about the site of their performing.


In his book, The semiotics of Theatre and Drama (1980), Keir Elam makes this statement about theatrical communication.


It is clear that the unifying on non-uniform messages… kinetic (physical), proxemic (spatial, linguistic, paralinguistic (vocal), etc. - is very much dependent on the actor in his or her role as multi-channel transmitter-in-chief. Over and above the mastery of specific codes and sub codes attached to each system, the actor imposes histrionic sub codes regulating his or her performance as a whole and so his or her combining of messages into discourse. The actor, from this point of view is the main agent of trans-codification on stage (Elam, 1980: 85).


In contemporary society the person of the 'D.J.' (disc jockey) has become at least as important as the people who write/perform the music he/she plays. Johannes Birringer describes the D.J. as “the contemporary troubadour”, working amongst discourse networks (Birringer, 6). In relation to authorship and to live performance, it is not so much a case of which the 'me' is, either the 'me' of the D.J., or the 'me' who composed the music. The job of a D.J. is to mix and blend variant tracks and beats, making (creative) choices out of an observation of and participation within a gathered crowd. Her event is a coalition of parts. It is the condition of being one: one body. The person of the D.J. is made manifest through their mixing of music that is not their own. We can correlate the role of the D.J. with the role of the contemporary performer; her life, tastes and passions are present in her choice making. Her choices are being made from an attention that is mentally and physically present in the movement between the music and the gathered crowd. It is not so much that the D.J. has authority. It is more that the D.J. (a 'good' D.J.) has her consciousness in real time, in the room. There is a presencing, but it is contaminated or rather it is not 'pure' or total.


Space and time are not elements that we control to a spectator's delight, they are elements which we behold, permit and allow and which we can follow to Jouissance, to Transformation. Moving beyond control it is possible to encounter a not-self, a space of freedom. To clarify, this self is not a private interiority to be explored or discovered, but an attempt to realise oneself by cultivating a kind of transcendence of origins, something that is achieved relationally through multiple interventions with the present and imagined futures. 


Henri Bergson writes:


A moving body occupies successive positions in space, but the process by which it moves from one position to another is one of duration which eludes space”. The act of motion itself is not devisable, only an object is space that is motionless can be measured but the motion of bodies cannot. Movements cannot occupy space, they are duration. To think of a body occupying points in space is to do so from a perspective outside the body, not from the perspective of the moving body... to be in the body is to be in time (Bergson,1999: 33).


Bergson's theory of time is compatible with positive desire, reproducing itself for its own sake, moving for pleasure. There is an attitude of openness that infuses it. It is an entering of time, rather than a measurement of it. If we consider time, we can say that the subject is unified in the sense that the subject is a processual 'unity' that does not cease to exist. And, from moment to moment is occurring, to exist, in snapshot. This is not ever a composed image. It is blurred and out of focus.


The present tense is always site-full. She is un-penetrated. She is untouched, not yet cultivated, explored or exploited by man. When space (site/company) is treated as a force to be reckoned with, to conquer, we could playfully imagine the defensiveness of the site. My sight, I am very sensitive to 'showing off'. I literally cannot look. Irigaray (1985: 26) asks whether the alternative for woman is “a body open to penetration that no longer knows, in this 'hole' that constitutes its sex, the pleasure of its own touch?”


To fragment the subject, or to have a relationship with oneself as at least two; both active and passive, both performer and spectator, one is entering space and engaging with the pleasure of one's own touch which is more erotic than subjective because it is self-caressing, but this self is touching another all the time, “she is not divisible into one(s)” (26).



Activity: the number of disintegrations of a radioactive substance in a given unit of time.

Passivity: not participating perceptibly in an activity.


When I perform with an attitude of passivity, beyond my will, my compulsion to act, within the real time of a performance act 'I' am capable only of attenuating a signal and amplifying one. 'I' am not capable of controlling its destination and as Barthes says, writing begins with the reader. To be passive must be approached by the performer as an active state.  To be passive is not to be inactive, as during sleep - but rather active in an idea of 'receiving'. As a receptor she is not latent or inoperative. She is not in a resting condition. She is alert in reading and sending signs and signals. Writing the text-act is both active and passive. This is a process of transformation into the presencing state of being neither active nor passive or of not knowing one as distinguishable from the other. The subject knows she cannot know herself fully and moves away from a notion of self as a 'point'.


She cannot know herself because she is not (simply) herself. She is not being herself. This presencing brings the (w)hole into play. There is a blurring of 'the point'. It gets us all inside the (w)hole. All points (all 'point') within this (w)hole touching and being touched, and not distinguishing one from the other.


The one of form excludes the at least two and replaces it with a 'no-thing'.  It is not possible to correlate presence into notions of the singular or of binary oppositions.  What gets in between these two 'lips', is O to its binary opposite I. It is absence. An absence of the singular makes present not 'no thing', but an uncompromising infinity of relations which upset 'thing-ness'. The economic status of presence reflects a society's dominating desire to fill that (w)hole in. Irigaray's theory equates with the presence of the performer, the gaps; the presencing of 'holes' - without filling them in through a want to take pleasure in what is already there.


I must visualise my state of being then, not as an irreconcilable state of opposition, but as hyphen, quite literally an alliance of both. Is this the conspiracy of language, to keep 'me' apart, in pieces? The hyphen: punctuation, a mark. It separates, gets in between. The hyphen is 'I” turned on its side: '-'. In language we place a hyphen between words that we hold in opposition. The hyphen separates and we discuss the states of active and passive as separate and oppositional. To hyphenate though is to bring together, to combine these 'opposite' states. In my practice of presence activity and passivity are overlaid one on the other. There is no way to distinguish one from the other. A performing body, fully attentive, committed to its act, cannot analyze. It has to be. In the state of active-passive, I see the hyphen as the place where presence sits. Externally, both the performer and the witness are in the position of the hyphen. The witness too has to be with the text-act. Internally, for the performer and the witness, there is a plural state of active - passive.


Through speaking of site as feminine I want to change the graphic of the hyphen: activeOpassive. The words cannot penetrate the O.  The author of the live text is plural and never divisible into ones. She must understand she can never know her self fully. This is the politic of presence that I prefer.


There is no mark inside the O.

O is the inside.

O is everything that is not the other.

O is a constant state of transformation. It never knows

O is silence (there is no such thing as silence)

O is empty (there is no such thing...)

O is no thing not knowing.

Presence is a making manifest the negative space, changing the graphic from a line to a hole.



The feminine imaginary turns the binary I into O, it shows us the 'hole' in language where presence is.  Present-ness is a state of being which by its very nature cannot fully know it’s self within the masculine singular. Presence is not the 'person' of the performer-receptor, it is also not the text-act and it is also not the 'person' of the reader-receptor. It is none of these things. Presence and the feminine imaginary emerge from within. Through a 'self(s)' consciousness she reveals this, incites a more active consciousness of it. Presence in dint of its occurring lacks definition and is rendered inarticulate. Barthes' author has no place here. There is no originator, no 'creator'. Present-ness is a socio-spatial consciousness that enables 'writing' to occur.


The paradox, or indeed a self-contradictory state of performance is described through autoeroticism. As Irigaray asks, “how, in the classic representation of sexuality, can the perpetuation of autoeroticism for woman be managed”? Irigaray(1985 p.24) When I perform I must enter, and I must be entered. I enter space and I become it. I touch and I am touched. I am part of the (w)hole that I enter. In this moment I decrease, by conscious choice, through my own politics, my ability to 'speak', or I relinquish a state of autonomy as soon as I enter because I refuse to penetrate as much as I desire to dissolve into the (w)hole space of site.


How information is let-in by the subject who is making choices in real-time, is quantifiable if that subject has spent time practicing awareness of her conscious and sensual processes. If we wish to invest only in critical theories of a 'me' as a cultural signifier and not in a 'me' that is off my body and in the room, in time, out there becoming you, infected by and infecting an-others, then why do we gather a crowd? Why do we make particular investigation into the live, into a public, social site if it is not to momentarily make positive the negative space of experience; of presence: of the live? In the live domain 'what' we do is only as important as 'how' we do it. This opinion postures Irigaray's feminist project because it functions on the premise that a conscious, imposed autonomy is destructive as it is agoraphobic. A singular 'I' in the consciousness of the contemporary performer reflects a fear or a mistrust of site and it's unpredictable, irrational possibilities. The singular 'I' emits defensives, as though against humiliation of being exposed, soiled.

The more or less exclusive - and highly anxious - attention paid to erection in Western sexuality proves to what extent the imaginary that governs it is foreign to the feminine. For the most part, this sexuality offers nothing, but imperatives dictated by male rivalry: the 'strongest' being the one who has the best 'hard-on', the longest, the biggest, the stiffest (25).


It is simple to see how the virtuoso, the consummate master of technique and artistry equates in theatre with the masculine and how virtue itself, for the feminine suggests chastity, “a defensive virginity, fiercely turned in upon itself” (24). In respect to contemporary live artwork, and a mode of presence, un-revised throughout its post-modern deconstruction, this strikes me as an uncomfortably fitting analogy for the state of our culture's ability to be open: to let-in and experience (the reality in here) the transformative potential of site.


Irigaray's' feminine imaginary cannot be imagined without we fall into it, identify with it, and so contaminate it again with our 'self lost', defiled. The purity of identity involves the splitting off of 'good' and 'bad' objects, an anxiety based on the idea of self as essence, and loss of self as defilement. We can see how this procedure is grounded in the masculine reification of insulate segregation, singularity, and autonomy.


I am entertained by a writing of presence into the feminine imaginary. When we continue Irigaray's theory, as an analogy, penetration, or activity will never fill in space, only divide space into more spaces (shifting and multiplying and overlaying the holes). The phallic implications are humorous to me. The phallus, the point, can only divide into more and more. It cannot fill. This is the politic of presence that I prefer. When we reconsider the (w)hole as plural, never divisible into ones, the significant phallus is reduced to only ever being in-significan(t)ce - only ever part of the process of signification.


She is indefinitely other in herself. This is doubtless why she is said to be whimsical, incomprehensible, agitate, capricious… not to mention her language, in which “she” sets off in all directions leaving “him” unable to discern the coherence of any meaning (29).


In becoming, in writing the text-act a subject cannot know or presume to know fully her self or her text-act. I suggest a reconsideration of subject and subjectivity in performance is made through understanding death (of the author) not as a diminishing of the subject in a way which erases the subject or silences the subject through a fear or shame (even intellectually) of her own instability, her inability to 'form' her self, rather the subject embraces formlessness. We are not less; we are more. Site is part of our body(s) language.


She must see her body as a text, and then weave that text into the fabric of the multiplied line, the (w)hole space and this demands of her a passivity. If she sees herself as writing a singular line, she is actively filling in space, making space absent. If she understands that her text is only one within a multiplied line, she is making space present, the spaces in between the lines: the 'silent', the 'empty'.


This organ which has nothing to show for itself also lacks a form of its own. And if woman takes pleasure precisely from this incompleteness of form... this pleasure is denied by a civilization that privileges phallomorphism (26).


When an artwork seeks to foreground the signifying presence of its receptor-audience it is seeking to open the text, to make it active by identifying the (w)hole space of the theatre as significance. Traditional criticism places value not on the space of the theatre, but on what is put inside that space. If the artwork seeks to open a space by framing it in a certain way which simply evokes an enquiry of that space as lived in a present, in the live, there is no longer any reason for the critic to apply existing value structure upon that artwork. If they do so, they will find 'nothing', and will be subject to the horror of nothing to see.


When an artist's body is committed to presencing the live in a public act, it is holding primary not the extent to which it can 'activate', (be capable, make active) but the extent to which it can deactivate, (be less 'effective, more inoperative -as the writer of the text). She is consciously attempting to deflect attention away, off her own body, back towards her spectator, through the (w)hole space of the 'theatre'. She has no 'thing' to see. There is a kind of poverty in the structures of representation and desire. A (w)hole in its “phallomorphic lens”. (ibid) This no-thing - to see, this feminine as opposed to masculine is excluded from the seen/scene of representation.


Peggy Phelan reminds us that performance is a matter of life and death, “a psychic need to rehearse for loss, and especially for death… the desire to preserve and represent the performance event is a desire we should resist” (Phelan,1997: 3). It is the fear, and the promise of death, which is also just a matter of time, upon which the empirical subject is built.


The performing body needs to practice, within and without herself a mediation of her desire to preserve and represent through an appropriate relationship with herself. She must attend to this with her present-ness and construct her audience to do this also. If performance work is a rehearsal for death, it is a fear of death and an atmosphere of death that propels us, collectively, to preserve and represent. The undernourished state of our culture in respect to space and time contribute to a posture of fear and negativity towards the multiple subject(s). And yet, to do so is indeed to affirm and to make more (w)hole the subject. The subject is herself an event in the sense that she is a unity of being, made up of constantly evolving parts. In the same sense I propose that the double-bodied state of my performing body, is not a breaking down of my self as a unity-force, but a transformation and a shift in my own experiencing of 'me'. A mobilization, to enter into and move through my own identities; a coalition, a 'condition' of being 'one' which is a processual bringing together of 'parts'.


Through a folding of the feminine imaginary over the site of performance we must scrutinize the body's corporeality. There is a demand for a peripheral vision and a democratization of both sense and the senses. There is a decentralization, a conscious shift of one's own center of how and where information is received by the body and of how and where the 'body' begins and ends. This demands a conscious placement-dispersal (a formal formlessness) of awareness for the performer. To increase her own sensitivity towards the site of performance, she has to 'let go' of an empirical subject (the one she is always holding) in order to get out there, and to get here in.


Language leads me here, to the image of my sex organ covering and stimulating my body's surface; the soles of my feet, the back of my neck, behind my knees, the base of my spine, to say nothing of my beating heart, my shallow breath, my dry mouth. Space getting in. Inside turning outside.


Woman has sex organs more or less everywhere. She finds pleasure almost anywhere. Even if we refrain from invoking the hystericization of her entire body, the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is commonly imagined - in an imagery rather too narrowly focused on sameness (Irigaray, 1985: 28).


A politic of presence is found in a performer’s movement towards or away from this feminine imaginary. Does she use performance as a process through which to cure (her self unified, sterilized; her spectator, a question answered) or to touch upon the excess, the temporal visceral state of life for which there is no cure (her body lost, defiled). We must consider on the one hand a pleasure likened to cultural enjoyment and identity, to the cultural enjoyment of identity, to a homogenizing movement of the ego; and on the other a radical and violent pleasure (jouissance) that shatters - dissipates, loses - that cultural identity, that cultural ego. For the liminal subject, to mobilize her physical pleasure, to optimize its potential she herself (must) enter into a ceaseless exchange of herself with the other without any possibility of identifying either. This puts into question all prevailing economies: “their calculations are irremediably stymied by woman's pleasure, as it increases indefinitely from its passage in and through the other” (31).


Presence is not 'a' being, it is being. Presence is not then the presentation of self it is a revealing of selves. To be the body 'as-it-is' is to be exposed. I am myself but I am not authored, I am not secure. I am certainly not a pure identity and I embrace loss. I fall and submit. The fall activates this presence and presence occurs through this submission. Presence is not just a concept for the performer, and the performer is not engaged with her presence by default. Presence, or present-ness is a process: a coping, a 'dealing with', and a managing. It is the condition of being subject(s). To make primary this presence is to present one's self as part of.  I commit. I act. I control. I observe. I react. I surrender. She is a line, an edge within. She destabilizes but only one who considers self to be stable. She negotiates the structures and the structured of language. She presences the hyphen and invalidates opposition: private - public, you - me, me - me. When she is heard it is not as if hers is a voice we have never heard before. Hers is not an image we have never seen. She is making visible - by her mode of presence, her occupancy within, making manifest something that we already know for it has always been part of who we are. It touches us. It touches upon. We recognize something common. She seeks to make common - to behold, not to hold, the story of 'what happens'.


Her book might succeed to exist and function, and to its economic advantage speak the language of her fathers.

When she is writing she is 'not' thing.

She has no 'thing' status.

She appears how things fail.

She is erotic - always 'cruising' always touching, you and herself.

She is negative space, rubbing you out.


An intense transaction such as that which the state of performing brings momentarily folds the negative into the positive, transcend the 'text', be the text. This flash effect casts light upon the (w)hole.

 Irigaray L (1985 ) This Sex which is not One, Cornell University Press




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