2 Jan 2009

Deleuze, One Manifesto Less (Un manifeste de moins), §1 The Theater and Its Critique (Le théâtre et sa critique)

by Corry Shores
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[Other entries in this Un manifeste de moins / One Manifesto Less series.]

[The following is summary; my commentary is in brackets.]

Un manifeste de moins
One Manifesto Less

§1 Le théâtre et sa critique.
The Theater and Its Critique

Carmelo Bene’s Romeo and Juliet critiques Shakespeare. Deleuze wonders what is theatre’s critical function, and how we are to understand the relation between the original play and its critical adaptation.

(87bc/201c) [Citations give French version first, then the English translation.]

Bene subtracts elements from Shakespeare’s plays. He “amputates” some critical element. He removes from Hamlet the title character, and thereby

the whole play, because it now lacks a part chosen nonarbitrarily, will perhaps tip over, turn around on itself, land on another side. If you amputate Romeo, you will witness an astonishing development, that of Mercutio, who was no more than a potentiality [virtualité] in Shakespeare’s play.


toute la pièce, parce qu’il y manque maintenant un morceau choisis non arbitrairement, va peut-être basculer, tourner sur soi, se poser sur un autre côte. Si vous amputez Roméo, vous allez assister à un étonnant développement, le développement de Mercuzio, qui n’était qu’une virtualité dans la pièce de Shakespeare.


[In drama, forces push-and-pull the narrative development in many directions. Events could go one way, dramatic changes pull it another. A character expects one outcome, but fate deals the dramatic opposite. There is a complex play of forces waged between characters and gods. Like threads of a web, removing one part unravels the network of influence-relations, thereby producing a wholly different story. The forces pushing-and-pulling a character one way are virtualities, because she really is tending implicitly in some way or another. This is dramatic intensity: a quantity of force pulling the character or events in one direction. But then, other forces intervene. The gods spoil men’s devices. Intrigue fells swiftly whole royal families. But if we remove that force of fate or the character’s influence, what was previously an unactualized virtuality now becomes realize. That is to say, the character who was thwarted from tending one way will actually go that way when we remove the thwarting force. So in the first case, the virtually-real in-tending did not actualize, because forces pulled events another way. But when we remove those interfering forces, events will go that way. That prior implicit intensity will extend explicitly into the dramatic states of affairs.] So when we amputate Romeo, Mercutio’s fate changes dramatically.

Mercutio dies quickly in Shakespeare, but in CB he does not want to die, cannot die, does not succeed in dying, since he will constitute the new play.


Mercutio meurt vite chez Shakespeare, mais, chez CB, il ne veut pas mourir, il ne peut pas mourir, n’arrive pas à mourir, puisqu’il va constituer la nouvelle pièce.


Critical theatre must firstly constitute characters. Each character’s tendencies influence the destiny of all other things on stage –people and props alike.

This critical theater is a constituting theater, the critique is a constitution.


Ce théâtre critique est un théâtre constituant, la Critique est une constitution.


The theatrical creator is author, actor, and director. And although Bene performs these functions, they are not his critical functions. Bene critiques through surgically-precise excisions.

By operation, one must understand the activity of subtraction, of amputation, but already masked by another activity which gives birth to and multiplies the unexpected, as in a prosthesis: amputation of Romeo and immense development of Mercutio, the one within the other. This is a theater of surgical precision.


Par opération, il faut entendre le mouvement de la soustraction, de l’amputation, mais déjà recouvert par l’autre mouvement, qui fait naître et proliférer quelque chose d’inattendu, comme dans une prothèse: amputation de Roméo et développement gigantesque de Mercuzio, l’un dans l’autre. C’est un théâtre d’une précision chirurgicale.


[Mercutio plays a greater role when Romeo’s influence is removed. This greater role was already there in the original form, but just there intensively, as a virtuality. Bene does not give Mercutio something he lacked before. Rather, he changes the way Mercutio expresses his forces. When Romeo is removed, some of Mercutios forces are expressed more explicitly.]

So Bene’s critically modifies original texts neither to make parody nor to “add literature to literature.” He subtracts something explicit in the text to bring out something implicit. He raises the text to a higher dimension of expression.

This is a theater-experimentation that involves more love for Shakespeare than all the commentaries.


C’est un théâtre-expérimentation, qui comporte plus d’amour pour Shakespeare que tous les commentaires.


For example, in S.A.D.E, the master is paralyzed, allowing the masochistic slave to seek and develop his identity. He thereby “constitutes himself on the stage according to the inadequacies and impotencies of the master.” (89d/205c)

The slave is not at all the reverse image of the master, nor his replica nor his contradictory identity: he constitutes himself piece by piece, morsel by morsel, through the neutralization of the master; he gains his autonomy through the master’s amputation.


Le Serviteur n’est pas du tout l’image renversée du maître, ni sa réplique ou son identité contradictoire : il se constitue pièce, morceau par morceau, à partir de la neutralisation du maître; il acquiert son autonomie de l’amputation du maître.


Or consider Richard III where Bene subtracts the who royal system leaving just Richard (Gloucester) and the women [see entry on Shakespeare’s Richard III, and see entries on Bene’s version.]

But as a result that which existed only potentially [virtuellement] in the tragedy appears under a new light.


Mais alors apparaît sous une nouvelle lumière ce qui n’existait que virtuellement dans la tragédie.


Deleuze notes that Shakespeare’s Richard the Third is his only play where the women “do battle for themselves” (ont pour leur compte des rapports de guerre) (205d/90bc). And according to Shakespeare, the title character has a “secret goal” that has little to do with obtaining his own power. Deleuze writes that Richard wants to

reintroduce or reinvent a war-machine, even if it means destroying the apparent equilibrium or the peace of the State.


réintroduire ou réinventer une machine de guerre, quitte à détruire l’équilibre apparent ou la paix de l’Etat.


Bene subtracts the characters of State power. Richard now is free to constitute himself as the

man of war on the state, with his prostheses, his deformities, his outgrowths, his defects, his variations.


l’homme de guerre sur scène, avec ses prothèses, ses difformités, ses excroissances, ses malfaçons, ses variations.


Richard must deform himself to amuse the children and attract the women’s attention. To do so, he uses as prostheses random props from dresser drawers.

He constitutes himself a little like Mr. Hyde – of colors, of sounds, of things. He forms himself, or rather deforms himself, following a line of continuous variation


Il se constituera un peu comme Mr Hyde, avec des couleurs, des bruits, des choses. Il se formera, ou plutôt se déformera suivant une ligne de variation continue.


Bene’s plays are brief: they end when the character constitutes.

It ends with birth, whereas customarily one ends with death.


Elle s’arrête avec la naissance, alors que d’habitude on s’arrête à la mort.


But the characters never obtain an “ego.” Rather, they

only come to life in a continuous series of metamorphoses and variations. The character is nothing more than the totality of the scenic assemblages, colors, lights, gestures, words.


ne naissent que dans une série continue de métamorphoses et de variations. Le personnage ne fait qu’un avec l’ensemble de l’agencement scénique, couleurs, lumières, gestes, mots.


And Bene himself plays these title characters, but his role is not merely acting. For, he is the controller, mechanic, or operator of the character’s constitution.


Although Bene makes cultural commentary in his plays, they are not primarily critiques of societies. To uncover the real critique, we must determine Bene’s subtractions. In Romeo, S.A.D.E, and Richard, he subtracts the essential elements and symbols of power systems. (93b/206-207)

The theatre’s power is much like the State’s power: both are obtained by the coherence of representation. When theatre represents coherently, it attains power; it is a powerful play. So when the theatre represents the coherence of State power, it attains its own power no less. So even if Bene critically represents the coherence of State power, his play itself becomes more powerful.

But if Bene attains power by representing it critically, he has not attained the highest critique. So Bene instead amputates the play’s representative power. By removing the depicted State power’s representative coherence, his play itself loses power. But it also frees the actors, no longer bound by commitments to consistency. [Richard virtually did not want to kill off his competitors for the throne. His in-tending was to actualize his forces of self-creation, to be who he would be without their power systems’ coherence inhibiting his virtualities from actualizing.]

So when Bene depicts a play revolving largely around power relations, but subtracts essential elements of that representation, he also changes the form of theatre. He makes it unrepresentative. Other theatrical creators are doing so too, but Bene in his own unique way. By subtracting the stable components of power, he releases a nonrepresentational force set always in disequilibrium. (94c/207c)

Deleuze, Gilles. “One Manifesto Less.” in The Deleuze Reader. Ed. Constantin V. Boundas. Transl. Alan Orenstein. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Deleuze, Gilles. “Un manifeste de moins.” in Superpositions. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1979.

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