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Syngram – for an ethics of technique

This paper will focus on the body and its relation to subjectivity and practices, taking on Foucault’s and Deleuze’s philosophies, and through the presentation this newly created concept, the syngram, one that helped me rethink actor’s/performer’s conscience and how a technique may lead into a mode of subjectivation. So, I shall begin with some statements before addressing the main issue in this paper.

The human body is one of many effectuation and counter-effectuation of the Event that is Life, it’s a complex of forces enclosed in multiple layers of surfaces, a palimpsest; it’s an exhibitor – a surface of inscription and exposition, which stands for a certain position in space and time where several events corporeally and incorporeally mark the body. But what is exposed? What is inscribed? And is there a particular surface where the events are written?

What is written is experience but as a singularity, a block of sensation that affects the whole body leaving a mark on it before any reasoning of what has happen to the body. As a singularity any experience is impersonal and a-significant, and when inscribed on the body it stays there vibrating, linked to a series on which multiple percept-affect blocks keep on echoing. Hence, we can state that a body is not only a chord – consonant or dissonant – but a knot of strings or a sole string vibrating in a certain tone and rhythm which can more or less harmoniously connect to another. An experience is an unrepeatable, unspeakable effectuation of an event, a kind of quality and intensity that differentiates from another only by a fluctuation in intensity, and it’s left to the laws of Derridean différance. Telling someone of an experience one has had is to pass that block through a language-crible, one that never ceases to leave an unspeakable residue, and it entails the endless production of an imperial I or Me, which is by itself, a production of several devices forced upon us; in other words, a mode of subjectivation according to Foucault. From this point of view, this inscription is very similar to the process of the desiring machines proposed by Deleuze and Guattari: from each and any Event/experience that passes through our body there’s an extraction(cut)-registration-production of a percept-affect block and connections are aleatory, a block relates to an adjacent one or the most distant, because one block can be crossed by multiples series. A body-of-experience means that a body is an intricate net of series, on which impersonal and a-significant singularities vibrate.

This line of thought has lead us to dismiss the idea of essence or rigid identity, or even of a transcendental origin, as the inner part of us that makes us unique, one which seems to give us a telos. If anything imprisons something is the essence, the identity, the soul that imprisons body and Life, as so poignantly Foucault pointed out in Surveillance and Punishment. Nevertheless, if we are to make a history or genealogy of the body and the construction of the soul we must call upon Nietzsche’s concepts of provenance (Herkunft) and emergence (Entestehung) analysed by Foucault.

In this foucauldian reading provenance indicates a branch out of which ramifies a lineage, a mark or bond of belonging to a group, yet not recognizable, not identifiable. It’s more as a reunion of intensive points in a dense net of multiple and dispersed possibilities, similar to deleuzo-guattarian rhizome than of a root or tree. According to Foucault, to follow those multiple paths in order to reach provenance‘s nucleus we engage an initial destructive and violent gesture towards what is unite, stable, fixed. At provenance nucleus lies the “exteriority of accidents”, not an essence, pure, untouched, unscathed, but a place of confrontation and of relations of forces: the Body.

If provenance presents the complex configuration of forces, its selection without annulment or destruction, emergence in itself is a synchronous mode of selection. Provenance indicates the quality of one force and the mark on the body, while emergence is the proper space of confrontation, of conflict, “a «non-place», one pure distance, (…) it produces itself always in the interstice”1. What Foucault is telling us is that the body is the real matter of history, an unfinished form, a «becoming», one that can give us a deeper sense of history rather than the illusion of an origin and its ghosts. We are all a construction. So, what is that duration so present to oneself, that somehow crystallised form that we call our own subjectivity, our identity?

Once more I will propose to rethink one particular concept, conscience, in order to clarify the concept advanced on the title of this paper, syngram. The body is plural, it’s a mixture; and we take conscience more as a state of attention that comes forth from a relation of forces that composes, unites, selects, orders, guides all affects, percepts, events, singularities, determining each and every relation; and whatever perceptive distance may be a body and its state of attention always knows how to adequate and bring forth to presence an identity at every instant. Identity and conscience are, in fact, ordering and orientating produced positions, created upon the encounter of bodies. Beside being already an encounter of different bodies, events, affects and forces, a Body is always thrown in to an encounter of various qualities. A Body is never outside an encounter because it is never outside a world of affects and percepts, what differs in fact is «one’s» state of attention. The encounter which bears no truth nor identity, no essence, is neutral; it’s a provenance and an emergence that constructs one Body and proposes at each time an ethôs, a mode of existence.

This state of attention can be better understood if we regard it just like that intensive point presented by Deleuze in his Logic of Sense, a point moving along through all and every series, overflying a surface while connecting singularities. On the other hand, this surface, as we see it, is mainly that fold which is the inside (le dedans) of the outside (le de-hors) described by Deleuze in his analysis of Foucault’s thought. To simply put it, for Foucault the construction of one self is evident if we regard both subject and subjectivity in light of relation of forces. Each force is by itself a relation of being affected and to affect, and therefore a subject will signify someone that is always in a relation of forces, submitted, subdued, while subjectivity can be regarded as a proper relation, oneself to oneself, an auto-affection, but also the relation one has to knowledge strata, power diagrams and others. The line of the outside present in the fold, which is our subjectivity, is fulfilled by three types of singularities: of power, resistance and salvages.

Taking subjectivity by its etymological root its meaning suddenly changes; subjectivity is something that is thrown (jet) under (sub). If we take all that has been said earlier, subjectivity becomes the result of an unique surface from where the point of state of attention begins to construct one’s identity. This particular surface, the only one coextensive to the outside where all salvages singularities rest, is the syngram. It’s a flat surface opposed to any striated surface (that construes a fixed identity and the subjectivity one presents to another). In it two forces are present, Life’s (organic and non-organic) major forces, ordering, organizing and distributing all singularities: poiésis and mimesis. Poiésis indicates the creative quality and establishes differences, while mimesis signals repetition and coordinates those differences. The first determines which singularities are to be chained according to mimesis scheme in relation to any event that affects the Body. As such, poiésis is like provenance, and mimesis emergence. In other words, mimetic force is not only the one that extracts from the world and events experience data, but also schematically repeats the relations of the world or events as that which produces habits; while, on the other hand, poietic force acts over the mimetic scheme extracting and engaging new relations of forces, new chains of singularities and by that action constantly installs differences in every habit. This two forces are the point of state of attention. Well, if we are mere products of modes of subjectivation and of normalization, as well as in our own relation to oneself we continually engage in experimentations, more or less sensed, more or less seen, more or less intentional, how or where can we really call for this kind of syngramatic action in a more clear or perhaps straightforward way?

We conceive every and any artistic practice that contemplates in its creation act experimentation articulated with particular techniques a work on and of the syngram. A thought or a body runs through several subjectivation diagrams, captures resistance singularities and redirects them “into” the syngram where it puts them in circulation in proximity with salvage singularities, or with not yet diagrammed singularities or new ones from a novel experience, therefore providing the kick-off to a subjectivation. Now, if we observe many of xxth century theatre documentations we will find that much of actors’ techniques are similar to disciplinary techniques or Stoic and Christian ascetics. As Foucault pointed out, punitive techniques, as well as all normalization devices, acted upon the body creating a moulding choreography structured on optimization and efficiency concepts. The body was and still is formatted according to ethico-economic criteria; each and every «natural» movement is substituted by an organic mechanicism and thus freed from any aesthetic, emotional, sensitive relation to the world or other bodies. Yet, a very interesting example, during October Revolution and the great industrialization in the Soviet Union, integrating much of Taylor’s ideas, was director Vsevolod Meyerhold’s Biomechanics. Biomechanics is a technique centred on the control and training of the body, in the efficiency of movements, in potentiating expressive means, as well as all emotion’s instigating and conductive components, such as breathing, voice, chant, diction, gestures, etc. Rapidity, optimization, rhythm and efficiency, these concepts taken from an ethico-economic scheme and adopted in an ethico-aesthetic one not only gives us a different body but also a different mode of subjectivation. It is this renewal of a power and subjectivation diagram – mimetically the kind of relation is the same but poietically it is completely different – that the syngram executes as experimentation, as a work on a technique, reorganizing all singularities at stake in the body, its movements, affects, etc. As such, not only the syngram is a subjectivation process but also it acts on every diagram, technique, practice: a de-subjectivation strategy. Each time during experimentation re-activating resistance singularities we initiate the dismantlement of identity’s rigidity, while at the same time a new subjectivation process begins, a mode of existence that answers to that life’s experience moment. Another example can be seen either on dance or theatre during warm up, the particular alteration of one’s state of attention regarding movement and the body, how one deconstructs habits, the most banal aspects of one’s body, the walk, or going down, jump, run, falling down, etc.; and how even then we engage in that encounter: how two bodies meet in space, how they find a common rhythm, how that particular power relation affects or is affected with the same intensity, the same quality.

All this leads us to affirm that the syngram is an actualization of an ethico-aesthetic existence. Which means that we should act upon our body – for us a synonym of Life – as if we were in an artistic practice; create a oneself to oneself relation with the same impetus, passion, experimentalism, insistence, practice, work, all time and daily. Create one’s life as a work of art also giving attention to our relation to death, those partial deaths that compose one’s life, similar to master Hagakure say quoted as an epigraph in Yourcenar’s book on Mishima: “If you die every morning in thought you won’t be afraid of dying at all”. Notwithstanding, this aesthetic existence is also political; it’s a process of creating lines of flight to power and knowledge, knowing and experimenting ways of resisting diagramatizations and stratifications. We must know how to apply the syngram to every technique and practice because in the end we can be diagrammed by one.

1Ibid.: 145, “un «non-lieu», une pure distance, (…) elle se produit toujours dans l’interstice ”. Our translation.

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