3 Jan 2009

Deleuze, One Manifesto Less (Un manifeste de moins), §3 "The Theater and Its Language" (Le théâtre et sa langue)

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

Un manifeste de moins
One Manifesto Less

§3 Le théâtre et sa langue

The Theater and Its Language

Bene rejects such avant-guarde terminology as “theater within the theater” or “theater which denies theater” (103a/211-222) [Citations give French version first, then the English translation.]

It is a question of a more precise operation: you begin by subtracting, taking away everything that comprises an element of power, in language and in gestures, in representation and in the represented.


Il s’agit d’une opération plus précise : vous commencez par soustraire, retrancher tout ce qui fait élément de pouvoir, dans la langue et dans les gestes, dans la représentation et dans le représenté.


Most importantly, this is not a negative process. For, it sets in motion positive processes, namely, virtualities that were not yet liberated. In a way, leaving those power representations was more negative, because it limited the developmental freedom of the text’s implicit potencies.

We noted before that Bene’s technique involves amputating elements of power representation in the play so to deform its coherence [see entries for previous two sections for more on Bene’s technique.] By means of this method, we remove certain relations among variables which provide temporal power markers, and thereby we amputate history itself. [Previously Deleuze described how Bene places power families in alternate social and historical contexts.] Along with removing the historical temporal markers that locate the play in some determinate historical era, we also remove the markers keeping consistent the temporality within the play itself. And in this way we remove its structure. We noted also that constancy is a tool of cultural power-majorities: by making a language rigid and stable, minor voices are suppressed. So when we subtract the symbolic constants from the script, we also subtract the stabilizing elements of the text’s major usage. In fact, text itself suppresses the developmental freedom of speech, so by amputating the script, we liberate speech from the dominant language’s homogeneity and invariance. And because we cut back on the dialogue, we strip the major voices of their ability to verbally code their power through coherent representations of their supremacy. So much is subtracted, but what remains?

Everything remains, but under a new light, with new sounds, new gestures.


Il reste tout, mais sous une nouvelle lumière, avec de nouveaux sons, de nouveaux gestes.


[This is Deleuze’s Spinozistic expressionism. Even when forces of variation are suppressed, they are still expressed, but only implicitly. Subtracting from power relations brings out tendencies already present in the language, what was intended in it: this is language’s intensity.]

So the aim is to free language from confining power influences. We could take a phrase, Deleuze’s example is “I swear it.” This phrase has many virtualities and implicit meanings, depending on the given context’s power relations. So we know that if you subtract contextual power relations, you bring out the phrase’s potential for richer meaning, because it is less hindered to take on variations of meaning. The tactic could be inverted as well. Force can be added to the phrase to push it through greater variation. It would not break from the major language. Major and minor are uses of the same language. So when we apply force to the phrase, it has more power to break from the major language’s enforced consistencies. So Bene tries to push his characters through the quickest continual variation by running their speech through variations. The text is not the only important element. Even more important is the way the actor’s utter their dialogue. For example, they vary their pitch as they speak (as with Sprechgesang). We know first-hand how vocal tone plays a fundamental role in determining role in giving utterance’s meaning. The slightest variation in tone can reverse the logic of a statement; for, the slightest hint of a sarcastic tone inverts the utterance’s truth-value. Bene uses this property of speech in a radical way, because he does more than just have his actors recite Shakespeare’s lines sarcastically so to tacitly critique the play. He runs the language through so much tonal variation that its meaning is in rapid continual variation. (104a-105c/211b.d) In fact, Bene ‘weighs down’ his script with these tonal variations, as though it were subject to an independent music score. These cues are not stage directions. They are “operators” which perform operations on the text, by processing them through tonal variation. So it is necessary to critically modify both text and delivery. Hence Bene’s dissatisfaction with Brecht, who operates critically only on the written text.

Deleuze summarizes the critical operation, which consists in

1) deducting the stable elements,

2) putting everything in continuous variation, and hence

3) transposing everything into the minor by means of operators, whose role corresponds to the idea of the “minimal” interval (106-107/212b) [Perhaps this minimal intervals are intensive differences. See Deleuze’s white wall example in the Expressionism Chapter 12, Chapter 13, and Cours Vincennes: 10/03/1981 entries).

Deleuze offers different ways to express minorized variation:

1) bilingualism in one tongue

2) being a foreigner to one’s native language

3) stammering not the speech but stammering the language itself, that is, making the language stutter [Bégayer, mais en étant bègue du langage lui-même], or

4) Bene’s description, talking to oneself, but in one scene, and another, and so on. (106d/272bc)

One must impose a heterogeneity of variation within one’s own language so to “carve away the elements of power or of majority.” (107bc/212c) This is what Kafka, Beckett, Pasolini, Godard, Gherasim Luca do. Bob Wilson makes language whisper, that is, give it intensity without definite pitch.

Deleuze then offers a compelling example of making language stutter: Gherasim Luca’s “Passionnément.” Deleuze recommends we listen to this poem, and when you hear it, you will see why. Deleuze writes:

One has never achieved such an intensity in the language, such an intensive use of language.


On n’a jamais atteint à une telle intensité dans la langue, à un tel usage intensif du langage.


The continuous variation affects as well such nonlinguistic theatrical components as actions, passions, gestures, attitudes, objects, and so on. This places the continuous variation of variables intrinsic to language into relation with continuously varying extrinsic variables. By doing so, Bene places language into a movement that escapes the power system that confines and organizes the language. Hence we see, for example, Richard never ceasing to lose his balance and slip from the dressers supporting him. [for video illustration of Bene slipping, see this entry and this one too.’]

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

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

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