At The Beginning of Spring War Was Over, performed by Trimukhi Platform on the outskirts of Borotalpada Santhal village, West Bengal, March 2020, during Night of Theatre No. 12
Fabricating Texts for Theatre from a Tribal village in Bengal
Imagine a street, or better still – this one being less than four metres wide – imagine a narrow road made of hard-packed reddish soil stretched over about a kilometre, and lined on both sides with one or two storey mud houses shaded by majestic trees. Often, chickens, buffaloes, calves, a few goats and some blackish-muddy pigs roam it. Early morning, as well as late afternoon, scantily clad children, especially boys, play marbles, bows and arrows or – with old inner tubes recovered from their parents’ cycles – roll the hoop. All day long, girls in brightly coloured tunics and women in garish sarees wind up it, carrying newborns on their hips, or the water they have just drawn from the well. Late at night, between October and March, elephants cross it in search of paddy delicacies and fermented drinks.
This street is Borotalpada,1 a remote village in Bengal whose denizens speak Santhali.2
The Santhals are the largest Aboriginal group in India. In the state of West Bengal, there are about two and a half million. In Borotalpada, there are exactly half a thousand.
Almost every Borotalpadian is a ‘BPL’ (below poverty line) card holder entitled to some subsidies both in kind and cash in return for accepting the implementation of policies half the time inaccurate. However, the young go to school, the teenagers to boarding school, while to continue studying girls received from the local government small monthly stipends insofar as their parents don’t use the money for covering the remaining expenses of their brothers’ marriage. Each family owns plots of land to grow paddy, producing enough rice at least to feed themselves throughout the year. Many sell about twenty percent of their harvest at the local weekly market. Hospital admissions are free (the recently built establishment being six kilometres away) but not the medicines.
With a dozen families from Borotalpada, art producer Sukla Bar and I have been, since 2008, preparing and showcasing performances and installations. They take place in the open, inside the village itself or on its outskirts. They combine dance-theatre, video and sound arts, wall, facade, esplanade, path, jungle, grove, lake or stone quarry.
In these artworks we composed together, often text is involved. Text that we can put under the category of ‘literature’: first because it is composed with words and second because it is composed with an artistic purpose in sight. A simple definition of ‘literature‘ being: a combination of words, often written, used with an artistic purpose.3
Speaking about ‘literature’ is a way to say that we haven’t been preparing pedagogical texts to read in a conference, treaties to print in a book, sociological studies for academic purposes or welfare policy implementation.
Claude Simon insisted, in his acceptance lecture for his Nobel Prize in Literature (1985), that when writing a novel, he has nothing to say. And he added:
Even if some important truth of a social, historical, or sacred nature had been revealed to me, it would have seemed to me a burlesque proceeding, at the very least, to have [used literature] to express it, rather than by a reasoned philosophical, sociological, or theological thesis.4
Some years later, he shared an amusing and clarifying anecdote:
Invited to Moscow by the Union of Writers of the USSR (it was before Gorbachev), I underwent a strange type of interrogation at their headquarters, during which, among other questions, I was asked what were the main problems that I faced [as a writer]. I then replied that I could count three such problems. The first, starting a sentence; the second, continuing it; the third, ending it. [A replied] which, as one might guess, cast a chill around me.5
For example, when writing the novel L’Acacia, Claude Simon had to spend a long time looking for a proper way to complete a sentence which dealt with a pyramidal pile of objects and bodies. He finally managed to find a term that combined efficiently with earlier words. To his surprise, this term was ‘bicycle’ and had very little to do with the beginning and middle of the phrase. On the contrary it was introducing a quite huge distance.
In Borotalpada, we are operating in the same way: rehearsing different texts, composing new parts when some previous ones are not efficient enough, modifying sentences, words, punctuation, even languages: this paragraph in Santhali instead of English, that phrase in French instead of Bengali. We increase or decrease verbal distances and observe what then is produced or not produced. We arrange, rearrange, change the layouts of words until getting finally an artefact that we hope may work.
With the years passing, it appears that of such a strange ‘literature’, of this tinkered with, unstable, non-definitive and moving ‘literary’ practice that is ours, we can propose a typology. A typology that would distinguish between both the effect each kind of text may produce on the spectators-listeners or readers and their respective roles within our art pieces.
Of course, as it’s all about today’s arts, senses are involved.6 But it’s more: once fully unfolded, my typology will highlight a gradation of the literature towards the nonsense – a cheerful, stimulating, uplifting nonsense which consists in arousing, through words, a diversity of unmainstreamed desires.
[With a microphone; the performer, sitting on a bicycle, is wearing sunglasses.] We are faced with a problem: usually, when we put on a theatre performance, we have nothing to express, no message to convey nor history to tell. But this time the situation is different: twelve months ago, Chumki went to Paradise. Five months ago, Kajol joined her. For this reason, here and now we would like to try building things a little differently. 7
[With a megaphone; the performer is standing in the middle of huge open field and wearing a diving mask.] Please do come and sit near the water. We need the dusk light to begin. Thank you.8
Here you have two texts that you understand from beginning to end, texts that seem to have been composed only for that purpose: to be understood. They could be called announcement-texts: texts that, by announcing something, create expectations in the mind of the audience. Expectations that, of course can be thwarted, deceived or twisted; otherwise there would be no point in resorting to these poorly made texts. By generating expectation, the words create an attention towards what is coming next though it has nothing to do with what the announcement-text seemed to have been announcing.
In the sequence that follows the saying of the first text, four Santhals, aged 9 to 18, eat Chinese noodles – which they usually do not do – first using chopsticks as in East Asian countries and then forks as in Europe or North America – which they normally never do. In Borotalpada, you eat with your right hand!9 And during the sequence that follows the saying of the second text, night has already come.
Both texts are signals that do not signal anything, or at least very little. They give indications that indicate almost nothing but that help the spectators not only not to worry about what is happening next but also to look at it with an active attention.
With the help of Sukla Bar, I drafted these texts in Bengali a few days before starting the rehearsals in the village. On other occasions, we take from texts that I wrote ten or twenty years ago, in Paris for example, or in Calcutta more recently, that is to say writings which weren’t originally meant to enrich one or the other of our dance-theatre performances.
Whatever the way, during rehearsals in Borotalpada, because these texts are likely to be of some use for us, we translate them into Bengali and Santhali. Then they are ‘said’ by several performers from the team. They are put in different mouths, tried in a diversity of textures, tones and rates of voices. If a text thus put to the test seem finally to ‘fit’ in the artwork we are preparing, then all that remains to do is to re-specify certain expressions, remove others, or change the sentence order. What mainly guides us are questions of sound and rhythm.
[The actress with her back to the lake is facing the audience.] In the dark, do not think without stopping to think for your children, that your children, only your children, are your children. Otherwise everything would go from bad to worse and it would be too bad for you. Don’t die tonight. You could lose your teeth and that would be too bad for you. Don’t leave without telling me why you were staying.10
[With a microphone; the actress’ bust and face appear through a window a few meters above the spectators whom she is looking in the eyes.] I would like you to make a hole in you, with water and salt, for me, and from the ground with your key, to open the door of your room. 11
Here again are texts that everyone can understand: they are said in Bengali, a language known by the Adivasi villagers as well as by the audience from Calcutta. But, though everyone can understand them, these texts do not convey a clear meaning. On the contrary, it’s their strangeness and inchoateness that first strike us. There is a sort of bizarre arrangements of words which – as we do not fully comprehend them – put us in an unstable position where somehow we are forced to think.
I call them question-texts: series of words that invite each member of the audience to question herself or himself. The questions one asks oneself may concern the text that one is listening to or reading. It may well concern what one is experimenting with at that moment. And it may concern something that has nothing to do either with the text nor with the performance. Because the interrogations at stake here are personal ones.
About two months after having seen Guignol’s Dol (from which the first series is extracted), Indrani Mallick gave me interesting details about her experience:
It is very difficult to foresee what the future holds. Certainly, there is a halo of light, at a distance, that one hardly perceives, but this light is shrouded by darkness: there is no distinction in the features. What will happen to us can be good or can be bad, we can’t know. Such an uncertainty produces a disturbance which becomes a distress. When I listen ‘You could lose your teeth’, I understand that one is always in danger of losing the aesthetic of life: to be without teeth is to be without beauty, it’s to continue living but with a spirit already dead.12
Here the spectator is doing something other than identifying a pre-established signification. The text doesn’t communicate a meaning but produces inner sensations. What seems to be relevant for Indrani is what she experiences and feels while listening: what she says to herself while experiencing and feeling what she is experiencing and feeling while hearing this series of words.
Nevertheless, when Indrani hears ‘do not think without stopping to think for your children, that your children, only your children, are your children‘, the course of her thinking bends. The open uncertainty she was experiencing now concerns exclusively the education of her children – young adults studying graphic arts – ‘was it a good thing’, she asks to herself, ‘to have pushed them to spend their days painting and drawing?’ The trouble is no more multiple but focused on that one question; it is reduced to it.
Is the sentence encourage over-orienting feelings and thoughts? For it took a few words to steer Indrani’s reflexion in a given direction, disregarding other possible courses.
Sometimes the performance title itself imposes. In eleven of the fourteen testimonies collected from the audience after the première of My Body is Another Landscape, the ‘landscape’ was mentioned. Was this a proof of the great accuracy of the name we gave or a sign of a drastic limitation in the number of ways that there would have been to experience the artwork?
questioning literally or distracting
To avoid this pitfall, sometimes we literally compose a series of questions: a succession of interrogations that invites thought to be set in motion, but playing with variations so as not to assign to it any identifiable goal.
[With a microphone, in front of the smoke from a fire of dried leaves; the actress sits on a bed of rope, her face turned towards the audience, and an actor rests his head on her knees.] Did you even hear Kajol talking in French with Jean-da? When you were two years old, were you already thinking about marriage? Did you ever see a pig riding a motorcycle? Would you prefer to eat beef or to eat yourself? Do you really want to live?13
This time, the text is composed when we have already begun rehearsing. The first part of the performance is more or less defined and we are wondering how to continue. After a few trials in Santhali, we discover that asking strange questions could work. So we needed to choose what questions to keep, what questions to modify, what questions to add, and in which order.
I elaborated one part, let say the ‘speculative’ one, and Dhani Hansda (she was at that time 17) put on the part sounding more ‘down to earth’. We translated and retranslated everything together, from Bengali to Santhali and from Santhali to Bengali. Passing from one language to another helped us to sharpen the formulations and to ensure both their diversity and the intriguing dimension of the whole. Once or twice we mixed Dhani’s series with mine. In this line for example: ‘Would you prefer to eat beef or to eat yourself?‘14 Ultimately, the disturbing strangeness of the assemblage would provide, we hoped, a multitude of possibilities.
densifying so to send thinking elsewhere
In seeking to guarantee a diversity of experiences, sometimes we didn’t operate through dispersion but through extreme densification. A theatrical intervention carried out in the gardens of the French Institute in New Delhi has for a title the following sentences:
You feel the flow stopping, then starting again, going straight, bending, turning and drawing circles, and finally being appeased. These are neither images nor sounds, but a rhythm that, in moments, simulates both at the same time. Then, only then you begin to perceive a city, a village, a home. [Projected left side on a wall at the Institut français, right side on a large screen, the dancers moving under the arches in between.]15
I would call such a combination of phrases a words wall: a composition of sentences so strongly full (neither uniform nor daunting but with no cracks and no hole to slip into) that hearing it, the spectator almost immediately will feel not weary but compelled to leave and go thinking elsewhere (figuratively speaking). The text is taken from Short Letter for a Long Farewell by Peter Handke16 and slightly modified: I replaced ‘I’ with ‘you’ and added ‘village’ and ‘home’. A month later, when this first stage draft became a complete dance-theatre performance to be premiered in Borotalpada, another extract, this one taken from ‘Of the Refrain’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, was transformed at a much greater range.
[Speaking into a microphone, the actress twirls a low-intensity light bulb.] You are a child. You are in the dark. You are gripped with fear. You comfort yourself by singing. You sing under your breath. You walk and halt to your song. Lost, you take shelter and orient yourself with your little song. You are at home now. Your home does not preexist. You had to draw a circle around that uncertain and fragile center, to organise a limited space. Many, very diverse, components have a part in this. You are a sound artist: you combine sonic bricks. You are a child: you hum to summon the strength for the schoolwork you have to hand in. You are a housewife: you sing to yourself, or listen to the radio, as you marshal the anti-chaos forces of your work. Before destroying your home, you have to build your house. Go on moving, with your eyes blinking. Listen to the song you sing. Because you sing a song that is not a song. Bricks after bricks, layers after layers, it is your home.17
In view of the original, the above series has been shortened, diverted and extended. The process was gradual. For the draft in New Delhi, while ‘you’ substituted for ‘he’ or ‘she’, cuts and additions remained limited. It was in passing from English to Bengali, and from one mouth to another, that the textual composition started to be really transformed. A Tribal actress from Borotalpada (who expressed the desire of proclaiming Deleuze and Guattari’s phrases) took over the ‘role’ played in New Delhi by a Calcuttan dancer. The rewriting took into account the villager’s speech flow and the importance she attached to being understood by her fellow villagers (who, Bengali not being their mother tongue, have a limited vocabulary). It took also into account my concern for the rhythm of the Bengali grammatical structures as well as the sounding of certain substantives and adjectives in this language. It was not a question of simplifying the series of words but of passing it through a process which in chemistry would be called reduction18. It was important to ensure a maximum philosophical density and to reach a kind of stimulative hermeticism that would be welcoming because exciting. In this sense, the words wall is the exact opposite of a focus point. With the wall, each member of the audience is focusing on a series of words that cannot be focused on. By doing so, one is carried along towards defocusing and then refocusing, at will and taste, in other directions. Instead of thinking about ‘refrain’, one thinks of what one wants. Obviously, the literary plasticity of the original text (let’s say the Deleuze-Guattari’s style) greatly facilitates these unforeseen changes in usage.
And it seemed to have worked quite well: among the many spectators who shared their impressions, only one (Aheli Halder) made reference to the notions of ‘house’ and ‘home’.19
Important point: while Dhani Hansda was enumerating questions in Santhali or Sumita Besra uttering in Bengali a reduced passage inspired by A Thousand Plateaus, translations were projected, respectively on the ground in front and on the wall behind the performer. Thus, each one in the audience, whatever the languages she or he was comfortable with, had the opportunity to weave her or his own lines of flight.
troubling / differentiating / linking
There are cases where not everyone can grasp the meaning of the words. Only a part of the audience is able to do it.
OKOYAG CHÈD ÉIDARI. AKODOKO MONÉ KA AA ALEYAG NOWA DO. APEYAG DO JIBON RE BANG. BANG HUYUG AA AR BANG HUYUG AA. CHED ÉIDARI TAPÉ NODÉ AR NODÉ. INJ DO ADIVASHI SANTHAL KURI KINJI. MENKHAN EKDOM APE JHOTO CHITI BITI PEYA. INJ THE DO NOKAN AASPORDA BANG BARAG TAPEYA. EKAL BANGA. EKAL BANGA. EKAL BANGA.20
The purpose of the transcription in capital letters in Latin alphabet is to give you an idea of the sounds of the Santhali. Some indications of pronunciation: E corresponds to the sound ‘é’ in French and ‘e’ in Bengali, U and R respectively to the sound ‘u’ and to a rolled ‘r’ in Bengali and Spanish. I further suggest interrupting your reading for a moment and watching twenty seconds of the following video clip:
This is another case of a text made during rehearsals on the same principle as for Dhani’s one: something seems to work so we develop it, unfolding it until we get a text whose structure, duration, rhythm are suitable for this or that moment of the performance. It is Kajol Hansda who composed this word series and it is she who says it. If she did not write it (not knowing how to write), she memorised it while she was elaborating it. As her composition is in Santhali, and we purposely don’t project any subtitles, only one part of the audience understands it. In February 2013 in Borotalpada, around hundred and fifty people got what Kajol was saying: the audience from the village and from the surrounding Santhal area. And hundred people approximatively did not understand anything: the audience from Calcutta, the guest artists from abroad involved in the festival and the Bengali inhabitants of the local area (there are also Bengali villages in the ‘tribal area’ from where we operate).
What is the point of sharing words if they cannot be understood by everyone?21 It is that, behind the apparent aberration of the gesture, there is a bet. If what is called ‘audience’ or ‘public’ does not consist of a whole in the sense of a closed, uniform and coherent entity but of a heterogeneous assembly, an agency of dissimilar people, then the function of such a text would be to activate, to accentuate, to enhance some of their differences. A differences-accentuator-text. Differences that disappear when the text finishes. When, after her proclamation, Kajol moans, rubs her face, and sits down, all spectators witness the same series of actions: there is no difference at all among the audience. But before, while she is speaking, there are huge differences between those who can employ the language she is using and those who, somehow unoccupied, are helpless in doing so. This difference in positions leads to different ways of being present.
Obviously, to get such a text to work properly, it’s preferable to have a diversity of people among the audience, people from different geographical origins, habits, social backgrounds, etc. Maybe such a kind of text only awakens differences already present among the audience. Anyway, it is thanks to this combination of differences that the text produces a second kind of effect: inviting to build links between different presences. Because Kajol’s text is of a special kind: it’s an affective manifesto. She is telling (almost shouting at) her fellow Tribal villagers:
Who has the right and what right? You said to yourself ‘this is ours!’22 but it’s not up to you. Nothing, ever, is yours. Nothing. What is yours here today? Me, I am a daughter of Santhals. And I will tear you to pieces. I will not let grow your claim to own and to exclude. I won’t let you do that, never. These people from abroad and from Kolkata who are now present among us, they will be always welcome in my house. Welcoming them in our homes is being true to ourselves.
As you can imagine, that night, such a declaration had a strong effect on the Santhal audience. Partly because of the way Kajol was performing, partly because she was an elderly person to whom, following Santhal traditions, one has to listen and whose views one has to respect.
So here is a text that not only works on creating different ways of being present but also works on putting into relationships these different presences. A relation-text. A text requesting part of the audience to enter into relationships with another part of the audience, a different part. A text that invites us to focus attention on the issue of co-presence. Because, obviously, even for those who didn’t understand Santhali, something among the audience around was changing and they could easily perceive it.
As director of the piece, I never asked for the meaning of the text. It never came to my mind to do so. As we rehearsed, besides Kajol trusting my choices and me trusting hers, I heard that the text had found its form and rhythm. I knew well enough that something deep was happening. I did not need more to do my work. And if finally I got it translated, it was after the première, and because the impact on the villagers had been so strong that one of them felt that he should share it with me.
The fact is the tirade would not have produced its effects if all the audience had understood it. It would have become a life lesson or lecture imposed on an artificially homogeneous public. If the perception of words becomes the same for all, the text loses its literary characteristics and fails to produce its aesthetic effects.
It’s true also that these words were specially troubling. It was this trouble that was activating the differentiator behaviour.23 It was because some spectators were first troubled that they worked on differentiating and then on weaving relationships.
Here is, maybe, an even more explicit sample. During a lightning stage work designed with a group of students from Calcutta, I suggested to Abhirupa Haldar, Ananya Kanjilal and Indrasena Mukhopadhyay to whisper in Bengali in the ears of a few city spectators whom each girl would choose, the following sentence:
If you would be me and I would be you, what would you do if I would tell you that I want to sleep with you otherwise I would die… because my desire for you is so great that it cannot deceive you neither can you go wrong on my intention which is to see you at the peak of joy in my arms?24
Regarding the dynamics at stake in the usage of words, there are, as in Kajol’s text: 1.) a partiality, 2.) an ‘us’, 3.) a trouble, 4.) a differentiation or activation of the differences (a disassembling by underlining dissimilarities), 5.) an increase of the trouble due to this activation and, from there, 6.) a duplication of the differentiating process, leading to 7.) a deep concern for weaving relationships.
A partiality because the words are addressed only to certain spectators: those living in a Santhal village or those to whom an actress whispers. An ‘us’ because the words establish a ‘you people and me’ or a ‘you seductive one and me’. The ‘us’ includes the person who speaks and each of those who hear her, in the double sense of perceiving sounds and understanding. A trouble on the one hand because the constitution of this ‘us’ establishes both an exclusive intimacy (with regard to other spectators who do not know the language or to whom nobody has whispered in the ear) and an intimacy without proximity (particularly in the second case). A trouble on the other hand because the wording is destabilising (‘nothing, ever, is yours […] and I will tear you to pieces‘) or abruptly opened (‘what would you do if I would tell you that I want to sleep with you‘).25 A differentiation follows which leads those who are now troubled to see others differently: ‘What would this man from Calcutta sitting next to me on the plastic tarp think if he knew what has just been yelled at us villagers?’, ‘What would my lover say on learning what this pretty girl was whispering to me?‘ A dissimilarity is posited, almost imposed, but in a strict and broad sense. There is neither opposition nor conflict between the dissimilar. Simply, as one would easily be able to distinguish between those who perceive infrared or ultraviolet and those who do not, the former suddenly realise that the latter have seen neither of these two colours. The process of differentiation is redoubled when those who have not been troubled by the words nevertheless perceive in those who have been the symptoms of their trouble and in return see them differently: ‘What is happening to them?‘, the last ones will ask. The process ultimately offers the possibility of weaving relationships: ‘These other dissimilar people who, by differentiating them from us, have been given back their distance from ourselves, well, we also want to be in a relationship with them.’
delaying the moment of understanding
The strategy can gain in complexity so as to build a text that everyone ends up understanding, but later. Not that the formulations are abstruse and that it is necessary to take time to assimilate them to later deduce their original meaning, but because the wording would be organised in such a manner that comprehension cannot but be delayed, for some people or for all. In Jol I Jibon / La Vie dans l’eau, spectators will first hear in Santhali:
[With a microphone; the actress is half kneeling on a large wooden table arranged in a lake.] GNÈL-MÉ. ALOM GNÉLA. TANGUÏMÉ. OKTO ALOM BILOMA. TANGI ALOM TAHÉNA. KUHU KUHU MÉ. CHÉRO BÉROMÉ. POT POTAMÉ. LANDAÏMÉ. DJALKAOMÉ. KULIYMÉ. [With a microphone; the actor is lying under the table, his body partially in the water.] ALOM KULÏA. ALOM KULI KOA. LANDAÏMÉ. NITOHO LANDAÏMÉ. INEGÉ. NASÉ TCHAHABMÉ. INE KHAN BITIRKO GNÈLA. INE TAÏOM SAHAMÉ.26
Here again, those among the audience who are Santhalophones listened to words, and those who are not, heard sounds. But, ten minutes later, two actors say in Bengali:
[Through microphones; the actress sits under the table, her legs in the water; the actor is seated on a stool at the right side of the table.] Look. Don’t look. Wait. Don’t waste your time. Don’t wait. Coo. Babble, chatter, smile, give light. Ask. Don’t ask, don’t ask anything. Smile, this time yes, smile. Stop smiling. Open slightly your mouth, the lips with your fingers. Let them see inside. And then get out.27
Now, in addition to the Santhalophones, there are also the Bengalophones who understand what has been said. And, the former speaking roughly the language of the latter, they easily see that it is the same text, but translated. So far only those who do not know Santhali or Bengali remain without having understood anything. About ten minutes elapse and subtitles appear in French and English. At that point, everyone from the audience understands.
Here, the series structure imposes a delay in the understanding. Short or long, the delay is sometimes necessary as it is a condition so something significant may happen to the audience. In his essay, Post-dramatic Theatre, Hans-Thies Lehmann insisted on it:
It’s important here that we don’t understand everything at once. We go by the principle that the meaning remains deferred. The accessory and the apparently non-significant are exactly recorded precisely because in their apparent meaninglessness, they can become heavily meaningful.28
It is not, as it was the case with the words wall, that audience is looking away; it’s just that one looks and listens differently. It is the quality of the spectators’ attention, their availability as much as their sensitivity to the present moment that are sharpened: not only do we see differently the one who says words when we do not understand him or her straight away, but we also see differently what surrounds him or her. As philosopher Vinciane Despret pointed out:
The visual [what we are able to see] participates in the order of certainty (as in the saying: ‘you have to see it to believe it’) whereas with a sound, an enigma is created: sound pushes you to go and see, to go see further, it puts you in search. […] The quest for sound is a quest for curiosity that respects the fact that we do not know everything and that we do not have access to everything. With sounds, we must remain apprentices.
And she added that by welcoming sounds this way, ‘we also allow the visual to regain fragility, to lose certainties: everything regarding our relationships both fails and is replayed.’29
To make this clearer, let’s take an arrangement of sentences composed during rehearsals at my request by Pini Soren, then 9 years old. Budhray Besra, 24 years old, helps her structure the text. From what she says about her day routine, he chooses the most salient passages and puts them in order in writing. He then translates them into Bengali for me. The preparation of the English subtitles leads me to modify the text, its structure, the lengths of its parts. Budhray carries over these changes to the Santhali version for Pini. Here are the subtitles, shown twelve minutes after the sequence began:
Her name is Pini. She lives in Borotalpada. She is 9 years old. She is the one speaking in front of you. Early morning after waking up she brushes her teeth with a neem twig. She plays a while with her friends then goes to the pond and bathes. When she comes back home to eat, the plates are not washed. She asks why. Her sister-in-law gets angry and sends her to do the dishes. Pini is a little scared. She is sad too but remains silent. She eats alone, talks to no one, takes her books and notebooks and starts for school. On the way she calls her friends so they can go together. They see a snake. Not a big one. Pini says not to kill it. Her friends say to kill it. In the time they spend discussing the matter, the snake takes the opportunity to escape.
They reach school and sit in the class room. Pini didn’t do her homework. The teacher scolds her. She doesn’t answer but thinks that whatever the guy says doesn’t matter. The teacher asks her to have this homework ready for next day.
The teacher calls for the midday meal. Everybody sits down to eat rice and curry. Beside Pini there is a little boy. He is crying. The teacher asks Pini what’s going on. Pini explains that the reason he’s crying is because he doesn’t have enough vegetables to eat. The teacher orders that he be served another spoonful but, once refilled, when the boy starts eating again, he overturns his plate and all the curry falls to the floor. So he cries even more than before.
Pini goes back home, puts away her books and goes to play in the field. At home her little niece keeps moaning. Pini’s sister-in-law cannot cut vegetables peacefully. She goes to the fields and calls Pini back. Pini returns from playing in the field and organises other games with her little niece in front of the house.30
What was happening when the performances took place in Calcutta, where nobody understands a word of Santhali (considered, in town, a ‘dialect’ even though it’s a language in its own right)? The meaning remains deferred. During the first twelve minutes, Pini was talking heartily, suddenly pausing to sing or dance, quench her thirst, eat a cookie, approach the spectators, whisper something in someone’s ear, stroke the hand of another, etc. During those first twelve minutes, the audience heard the text in Santhali, the sound of it, but did not have access to the translation.
If the subtitles had been given from the start, the effect would have been quite distinct; it would have simplified what is only comprehensible through intimacy and experience.31 Reading in English about a little Santhal girl’s day routine is much more significant after one has been lulled by the sound of her voice, gazed at her face for a long time (doubled on the wall behind, where her image, filmed live, was projected), taken pleasure in her movements, her approaches, withdrawals and glances. The experience is then more meaningful in the sense that this experience is now deeper: the depth of it being a consequence of the twelve minute delay in the subtitle’s appearance. The time spent not understanding gave time to dig into the present, to make the moment more relevant and more personal. As proof, here is what a spectator (Payal Trivedi) wrote to us:
When the English subtitles appear on screen facilitating the process of understanding Pini’s speech, it certainly gives a direction in which to speculate. Primarily, I deconstruct the stereotyped understanding of the girl performing on the stage and interpret Pini’s attempt as a carefree, playful, innocent gesture of enjoying and entertaining together which grabs our attention and gathers our admiration. When the subtitles appear, they certainly give me a route and I start construing the fact that it is Pini’s story about her sister-in-law and the school boy who cries for curry. Now, at the basic level, understanding her language undeniably does give me the literal sense of what is being spoken which is important but it together opens up a possibility to interpret it in my own way, it becomes another avenue of exploration. As we begin understanding that Pini is talking about herself we wish to interpret in a different light based on what she speaks but without adamantly adhering to her words and the dictionary meanings they bear. In its use of Tribal idiom and English subtitles, Bachchader Experimentum admirably gives us an interesting paradox. It provides the opportunity to dispense with the mandate of understanding language literally. Simultaneously, it also attests the need of language for generating the possibility of newer meanings. In both cases, logocentrism is undermined.32
For the possibilities offered by a delay in understanding, we often have recourse to such a strategy. In At the Beginning of Spring War Was Over, the text is first spoken by an actor in English, then, shortly after and only partially, by another in Santhali and, finally, more than twenty minutes later, by an actress in Bengali.33 Giving duration to incomprehension, it’s giving depth to apprehending – the last term coming from late Latin apprehendere which translates as ‘‘to seize, to grasp’’. The duration causes changes in the nature of what was initially considered.
gradations in the incomprehension
Following me until now, you have realised that I am proposing a kind of amusing gradation:
– first, an announcement-text that everyone can understand at first sight but that creates expectations which can then be thwarted in order to keep open (even catalysed) the attention and enlarge its spectrum;
– second, a question-text that everybody can understand but which, for its strangeness, is not plainly understandable so inviting thinking and questioning oneself in a more personal manner;
– third, a densified thought text or words wall which, the reasoning it expounds being curled in on itself without producing the sensation of rejection, warmly invites us to go and think elsewhere;
– fourth, a combination of a differences-accentuator-text and a relation-text which must be understandable only for a part of the spectators so as to enhance (throughout troubling) the differences among the audience and invite (by redoubling the troubling) the weaving of relationships between these co-present differences;
– and fifth, a delaying-text whose dynamic of enunciation delays the moment of ‘logical’ comprehension and, by doing so, invites each spectator to deepen and enrich the experience lived meanwhile in the present moment.
Put end to end, these tropisms form a spectrum of possibilities, a polarised continuum of ways to play with literature. And, this is a point that I haven’t detailed, mixed forms abound. Imagine for instance a question-text that is also a delaying one.
that there is no need to understand
Let’s go few steps further. Do interrupt again your reading to watch – and of course to listen to – the following video extract: <https://youtu.be/Z3qqCtrwjjk>, starting at the sixth minute and fifty-third second.
This is the last sequence of Bachchader Experimentum during one of the presentations in Calcutta. Four young people are perched on a tree. Continuously addressing the audience, they converse in Santhali, quietly at the beginning and almost shouting towards the end. Here is a text which does not meet any expectations regarding comprehension. On the contrary. Composed during rehearsals by the four actors (Joba, Ramjit, Surojmoni and Sukul Hansda) from indications I had given them, this words series was helping the city spectators to understand that there was nothing to understand, at least nothing imposed from the start regarding meaning. The sentences and the gradually increasing volume of voices were modifying the quality of the audience attention. As a kind of insistent invitation whose insistent character increases.
In Spanish, there are the verb ‘presenciar‘ and the substantive ‘presentificación‘. Perhaps we presenciate better, perhaps we appreciate more the presence of both what is there and what is coming, perhaps we are more attentive to what is presented and what is about to arise in the present, when the words we listen to seem at first glance to say nothing to us. Because, in a way, what they then say to us is: ‘you don’t have to understand anything‘ if you want to appreciate the presences with which these words compose. And then: ‘if you understood us, or if you spent your time wondering what we supposedly wanted to convey, you would immediately stop listening to us and we would no longer move you.’ But when it works as on top of the tree, the series of words helps to prevent the spectators from settling in a situation of communication, immobilising themselves for the rest of the performance in a lackadaisical intellect operation that they would be repeating in a loop.
Words are incentives to stop thinking of indifference to meaning as the loss of something. The lack is no longer a lack: it is a space to inhabit, a place to forge relationships in a different way. Payal Trivedi observed:
My incapability of comprehending the [Santhali] language saves me the predicament of applying obstinate meanings to words which is a habit of logocentric sign for thing signified, which we humans are subject to.34
It is what philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy and choreographer Mathilde Monnier called ‘the stake of non-significance‘.35 If texts help in this task, it is precisely because they are made with words – words being what one is supposed to first be ‘applying obstinate meanings’ to. When words invite us to consider their successions as a-signifying,36 they become energetic tools to ensure practically a deepening and a widening of the experience that one has while listening to them. Their efficiency is libidinal: they sharpen the senses of the spectators and set them in motion, in inner movements.37
(Probably, this would be true only if one is expecting to understand the words. If we were, for example, watching a gathering of baboons ‘talking’ to us, we would expect not to understand, and therefore there would be no shift in our inner presumptions.38)
strong or weak
And we can be more specific. The tree text participates in a process of intensification. The audience has neither time nor space to rest. Everyone is flung forward and constantly obliged to proceed, continuously pushed ahead. Driven by the flow of words spoken in a foreign language, no one has the possibility to halt and focus on their meaning. It is a question of a rhythm that the multiplication of voices accentuates and fortifies. Here, the combination of words forms what I call a strong-text. It’s the strategy of the host who hits on the shoulder his guest and, making him or her lose balance, forces him or her to move forwards and rush inside.
Or well, the process will participate in a sort of weakness, this time as a benevolent host would do for his guest at the threshold of his home: withdrawing to allow the spectator-guest to enter at his or her whim, letting him or her wander as he or she pleases. It’s the seat left vacant at the table in Poland, as well as according to nomadic hospitality customs. In this weak-text , there are neither fullness nor forces but silences, gaps, breaks and breaches. Their function is to manage empty spaces inside the flow of words so to make it easier for the listener to enter and start inhabiting the area. Here is an example:
[Records played as four dancers fall, get up, fall again while a fifth one leans on a tree.] Als dit de aarde is zou ik het anders noemen. Niet dat er iets mis mee is. Het is enigszins beschimmeld. Er zitten rauwe randjes aan. Niet dat dat ook erg is. Maar ergens heeft het iets vies. Het borrelt en bruist. Alsof er geen begin en einde is. Maar ergens in het midden. Zag ik dat het anders kon zijn. In den beginne was de aarde. Een wereld die borrelde en bruiste van energie. Maar misschien was het ook wel een wereld van regenwormen. Die zich door het duister drongen. En langzaam gaatjes prikten in het heelal. Alles daartussen zou je kunnen noemen een vorm van zijn. Een vorm van zijn die nog geen vorm mag hebben. Zachtjes alsof god niet bestond. En alles godvergeten verlaten was. Regenwormen, blubber, rauwe randjes, gras, het idee van een boom, viezigheid. Viezigheid is eigenlijk als je alles nog niet hebt opgeruimd. Een rommeltje, deze wereld is een rommeltje voor dat die bestond. Er waren nog geen categorieën. Er was geen onderscheid tussen donker en licht. Geen onderscheid tussen goed en kwaad. Tussen man en vrouw. Tussen kind en volwassene. Tussen dier en mens. En daartussen een wereld van stenen, gas, energie en planten.Wat zou het kunnen zijn een wereld die nog niet de juiste vorm had gevonden. Als dit de aarde is zou ik het anders noemen. Alles van waarde is weerloos zeggen ze. Maar ik weet het nog niet. Je kunt het eindeloos herhalen. Maar in den beginnen was er niks. In den beginne was er geen licht en donker. Was er geen heel al. En toen ik hier aankwam dacht ik wat is het hier smerig. Er zitten wat rauwe randjes aan. Heel veel modder. Heel veel wormen die zich langzaam door je lichaam bijten. En alles verteren. Het kan verkeren dacht ik. Het kan anders. Als dit de aarde is zou ik het anders noemen. Vuurvliegjes die zich langzamerhand door het zwarte heelal boren. Alles borrelt en bruist. Als een soep die nog geen vorm heeft gevonden. Op de achtergrond het gezang van krekels. Een vieze smerige soep. Ik roer en het borrelt en bruist. Als dit de aarde is zou ik het anders noemen. Alles bij elkaar is meer een optelsom. Dan dat het echt een vorm heeft gevonden. Ik voel de aarde onder mij. En achter mij is het heelal. Ik zie rond in de wereld.Waarin de stenen rusten. De planten levend groeien. En de dieren voelend leven. Waarin de mens bezield de geest een woning geeft. En daarna wist ik het niet meer. Het was het begin van het allereerste soort gebed dat ik leerde.34
No need to say: for this text to bear all its fruits, for its moving and inspiring powers to be properly exercised, it is necessary that you do not understand anything of the Dutch language…
… And even if this condition is fulfilled, it is likely that you do not see yet why this text would be a weak one, participating in a sort of recess, withdrawal and welcoming gap. There are two reasons. First reason: reading written sentences or listening to them spoken are different activities that call for different attention spans. If, when we were preparing At the Beginning of Spring…, this series of words seemed to come very aptly, it was when all of us heard it pronounced by Ruchama Noorda – who had composed it – and not while reading it. Especially since, like those authored by Kajol Hansda or the actors in the tree, this series was composed orally, i.e. without going through a written process.
Listen to it now: <https://youtu.be/QFza22qlomo> (starting at the fifteenth minute, thirtieth second).
The excerpt will have enabled you to infer it: the operating mode of such a words series is similar to that of a weak-text for this second reason that it is part of an arrangement in which are inscribed dancers in movement, trees, insects, birds sounds, etc. Taken on its own, the series does not have these effects. And this observation applies for all the literary texts we studied. The series that begins with with ‘If you would be me and I would be you‘ was not producing the same effects when the actress who was saying it (Émilie Leconte, in France in the second half of the 1990s) performed a score of movements while a video projection showed her in rehearsal or when another who was also saying it (Dulce Sanchéz, in Mexico in the mid-2000s) was almost motionless in the semi-darkness, holding at arm’s length a lighted light bulb. The modus operandi was still different if the phrase, pronounced later by the same actresses (in French and in Bengali) was part of a purely sound artwork; and still different if part of a film: compare the Poetry track elaborated for our series #HomemadeJoy by Rogelio Sosa (soundcloud.com/trimukhiplatform/poetrytrack7) with the Video-poem, which I subsequently edited (youtu.be/Q5MvzF028II). Since the artwork including the same text is not the same, the text has different effects depending on the different arrangements it is part of.
More generally, calculating the effects produced by a literary text is a completely utopian operation: it is u-topos, etymologically without-a place to take place. It is an assumption with no real area of application. It is, however, a necessary hypothesis since it is a strategic one. Of course it would seem quite absurd to qualify as a strong text the series of sentences pronounced from the tree while a spectator (Payal Trivedi) insists on the ‘feeling of ethereal bliss’ she experienced, details the expansion within her of a ‘joy that art of dance brings’ and describes the ‘ecstasy’ that it entails. Having an airy and ecstatic feeling has nothing to do with experiencing the density of a strong push. No matter: it is not that my hypothesis could have been false, it is that the place where what takes place finally does take place is the heart of a specific spectator. And this is an area the exact coordinates of which, as a director, I will never have. But the hypothesis, however u-topical it may be, is for me necessary to glimpse at the diversity of what would eventually arise, for others, while we compose with words. Naming this kind of text precisely in this specific composition helps to differentiate it from another kind in another composition. Saying this (strong-text) is different from that (weak-text), it is already counting two sorts of series. Then to say this one is distinct from that other one (announcing-text) is to count a third one. The names I give to these series are tools at my disposal to diversify diversity. Naming differences is a way of opening the range of possibilities.
And I am not alone: during rehearsals, we are several ‘others’ operating together. This is how diversity becomes unpredictable, huge and even incommensurable.
The texts we use in our contemporary dance-theatre performances, sound art pieces and video installations displace, question, delay, and even cancel out the possibility of logical understanding. They force the odyssey of senses to deepen and sense to be fabricated differently, in a more singular and deeper way. In this, our literary texts decentre each spectator. They work to broaden his or her own experiences, opening possibilities for these experiences to occur elsewhere than in such or such centre that one would have believed to be the main and only one.
These texts are texts for theatre (or for film-theatre, screen dance, etc). They are fabricated before or during rehearsals. But, there are also texts fabricated after the performance has happened. Payal Trivedi’s is one of these. Here is another one written by Marie-Laurence Chevallier (story-teller and French editor of Fabrique de l’art) after watching My Body Is Another Landscape:
Crossing of bodies in water, on water, on earth, in trees, around trees, in the landscape. Body as an integral part of nature, in one direction or another. Crossing water with animals. Like a mandatory passage or the animal carried or washed as a child. The woman who puts on and off her sunglasses. What glasses to wear? The older couple who show us how to watch. Are they a threshold of what we are going to see? Movement of water, in water, of nature, bodies that appear, disappear. The movement of a young girl’s hand towards the sky. The boy who does the same. Face projected on the tree trunk. A tree that has become a mirror of another ourselves. And then, an everyday element: the stool, to sit on and… the gestures of the boys who caress their own face and rise to the sky. The top of the sky and the bottom of the earth, feet, on and under water. Movements, displacements and absence of movement, observation, gaze. Lying down, standing. I have myself too made a crossing. I’m not sure which one, but it was a beautiful crossing.39
Marie-Laurence’s writing was about a page long while Payal Trivedi’s totalled 3,814 words. In their turn, both of them decentre the very idea of ‘literary text’. They are not texts for theatre but texts from theatre, not being written before the artwork but after, not deconstructing the comprehension but constructing another one, not questioning but answering, bringing meaning in a personal way by making sense out of an aesthetic experience.
Payal and Marie-Laurence are in the same situation as Marcel Proust who, at the end of In Search of Lost Time, because a spoon hits a plate, feels ‘the joy of the real found again’ and decides to start writing. Proust decides to compose a long series of words because ‘it was necessary to try to interpret the sensations […], to try to think, that is to say to draw out from the penumbra what [he] had felt, and to convert it into a spiritual equivalent.’40 And nobody will deny that what Marcel Proust will write, In Search of Lost Time, is an eminently literary text.
So, let’s insist: there is a literary text that is not the starting point of a theatre or a video-dance preparation but its point of arrival. Not at first but at last. Not the cause but the consequence. Not literature becoming theatre or film but film or theatre becoming literature. That is to say: the place where literature is fabricated is also decentred.
But extending the scope of literature does not mean going back to the idea that everything would be in one way or another a ‘text’ (or a ‘textuality’) and that all lively experiences should be understood as a ‘language’ that semioticians would dissect.41 No way: in the arrangement in which it is taken, the text is not everything but one specific element, and often it is nothing. For instance when whatever important is happening doesn’t depend on words: one of the texts from My Body… has no effect at all on Marie-Laurence’s experience, not even a musical one.
multiplying the authors
in order to multiply the ‘with’
Decentring the place where literature is fabricated also means multiplying its ‘authors’. Because who is the ‘writer’ now? Who are the ‘composers’ of these ‘literary’ lines? A rural farmer (Kajol Hansda), a city-dweller (Indrani Mallick) or a Nobel Prize for Literature winner (Peter Handke)? A French director over-graduated (me) or a very poorly educated Santhal girl (Pini Soren)? An art critic from the ‘traditional high castes’ (Payal Trivedi), a philosopher coming from an ‘average’ middle-class (Gilles Deleuze) or members of ‘scheduled tribes’ (Ramjit, Sukul, Surojmoni Hansda)? The answer is: all of them, all of us. Because without this diversity of people, these texts would not have come to life. Without Pini, Surojmoni, Joba, Sukul and Ramjit’s texts, Payal’s texts would not have been written. Payal would not have felt such a strong desire to do it. In fact, she would not have felt any desire at all.
Being a literary composer nevertheless does not position one as hanging above the others (above the ‘rest’ of the public let say) but as irremediably immersed among them. Becoming an ‘author’ means playing more and more the weaving relationships game. It is not a sign of election but a proof of oddity. It is accepting the imperative of abnormality, of constant changes. In the same way there is no general and permanent typology for characterising literary compositions, there are no standards in literature. And there are no a priori rules to compose with diversity.
Even more since today, from North and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, from Africa as from Asia, we are told that racism is a must and that making money is the best. That’s why my locally circumscribed literary typology is fare less innocent than what it seems. Its dynamic consists in proposing to work with warmly meaningful nonsenses, nonsenses radically different from the double meaninglessness ruling our marketed and right-winged societies.42
And here is the why to fabricating literary texts as we do in Borotalpada: to give the desire to others to write other texts. That is to say, yes, to extend the field of literature, not as an invasion but as a space for sharing, and sharing something other, other even than literature itself: a sense of agency. If only this one: the joy, more than compelling today, of gathering and weaving together.
1 Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/borotalpada
2 Santhali belongs to the Munda subfamily of Austro-Asiatic languages. It is spoken by around 8 million people in India (in the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal), Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal.
3 Having in mind, of course, that ‘neither Virgil, nor Shakespeare, nor Cao Xueqin, the Chinese author of The Dream in the Red Flag, have the word literature or at least an exact equivalent, and [that] bringing together texts as distant as the Assyro-Babylonian “literature”, troubadours’ poems, Wattpad fan-fictions and Baudelaire’s literary programme is not an obvious gesture, the distorting effects of which cannot be underestimated’ (Alexandre Gefen, L’Idée de la littérature. De l’art pour l’art eux écritures d’interventions, Paris, Corti, 2021, p. 77).
4 Nobel Lecture December 9, 1985. Claude Simon, Discours de Stockholm, Paris, Minuit, 1986, p. 24.
5 Claude Simon, “Littérature et mémoire” in Quatre Conférences, Paris, Minuit, 2012, p. 123.
6 I have developed this point in “From Senses to Sense: The Arts of Presenting”, Fabrique de l’art, n°2, Calcutta, Trimukhi Platform, 2016, p. 26-41.
7 Essay on Seasonal Variation in Santhal Society (2016-2017). It’s a text that I was saying. Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/essayonseasonalvariationinsanthalsociety and https://youtu.be/9idq234fd0w (0:38).
8 Jol I Jibon – La Vie dans l’eau (2018). Text said by Ramjit Hansda. Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/jolijibon.
9 Cf. Jean-Frédéric Chevallier, “Theatre Relations: from a Tribal Village in India”, Fabrique de l’art, n°3/4, Calcutta, Trimukhi Platform, 2017-2018, p. 148-153.
10 Guignol’Dol (2012). Text written by me and said by Surojmoni Hansda. Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/guignolsdol and https://youtu.be/EPeknG5MleE (1:26).
11 Homemade Theatre (2019). Text written by me and said by Sumita Besra. Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/homemadetheatre. Version, slightly different, at Goethe-Institut Calcutta : https://youtu.be/qAuZoDF9jnM (39:32).
12 Testimony shared with me during a phone conversation in March 2012 in Calcutta.
13 Essay on Seasonal Variation in Santhal Society (2016-2017). Text said by Dhani Hansda. Cf. https://youtu.be/NeoBcl8vQI8 (3:41).
14 It’s a question which, we didn’t know at that time, echoes a famous one formulated by philosopher Donna J. Haraway: ‘Critters interpenetrate one another, loop around and through one another, eat each other, get indigestion, and partially digest and partially assimilate one another, and thereby establish sympoietic arrangements.’ (Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, London, Duke University Press, 2016, p. 58.)
15 It was on January 31, 2019, on the occasion of the Nuit des idées 2019. Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/youfeeltheflow and https://youtu.be/nICiYya6h3Y (1:32).
16 Cf. Peter Handke, La Courte lettre pour un long adieu, Paris, Gallimard, “Folio”, 1997, p. 45.
17 Partly modified extracts taken from Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London, University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p. 311-312. My translation.
18 In chemistry, a reduction is any of a class of chemical reactions in which the number of electrons associated with an atom or a group of atoms is increased.
19 Cf. http://youtu.be/bNs4pxP82HA (2:54).
20 The Thing That Exists When We Aren’t There (2013): https://trimukhiplatform.org/thethingthatexistswhenwearentthere.
21 Students from Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University once complained to me: ‘When you are trying to use language you are actually trying to produce some meaning. Those are not nonsense words. They have some meaning, in French or in Santhali. But we cannot understand the language so the meaning is not coming through to us.’ (Ariane Mnouchkine, Jean-Frédéric Chevallier, Samantak Das, Budhray Besra, “Theatre Today”, Fabrique de l’art, n°3/4, op. cit., p. 167.)
22 Translation by Dhananjoy Hansda and Chandrai Murmu.
23 Here also it would be interesting to enrich my analysis with the conceptual propositions made by Donna J. Haraway in Staying with the Trouble (op. cit.): ‘Each time I trace a tangle and add a few threads that at first seemed whimsical but turned out to be essential to the fabric, I get a bit straighter that staying with the trouble of complex worlding is the name of the game of living and dying well together’ (p. 29).
24 R/T Poetry 1 (déduction du corps volumineux) (2011). Cf. https://fr.trimukhiplatform.org/rtpoetry1 and https://youtu.be/9VJbVllciFU (8:40). I wrote these lines in the middle of the 90’ for two different performances I was directing at La Grande Bouvêche in Orsay, France. The same text was then used, in French and Spanish, for another performance I directed and which was showcased in Mexico city from 2005 to 2007: see infra “Diversifying experiences”.
25 The trouble is in reality of more than two sorts. After watching three of our performances (one in Borotalpada and two in Calcutta), another student from Jadavpur University shared with us the following: ‘There seems to be a conscious playfulness with meaning, with the semantic meaning of the performance text that you create. […] Is that not a problem? You are moving away from the symmetry of meaning, you want everybody to interpret things in their own way, so… […] sometimes the ambiguity is disturbing because it doesn’t match with logical reasoning. […] Sometimes it disturbs me.’ (Ariane Mnouchkine, Jean-Frédéric Chevallier, Samantak Das, Budhray Besra, “Theatre Today”, op. cit., p. 163-164.)
26 Jol I Jibon – La Vie dans l’eau (2018): cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/jolijibon et https://youtu.be/RpV0VKWhYmI (6:51).
27 Text said by Chintamoni Hansda, Ramjit Hansda and Surojmoni Hansda. Cf. https://youtu.be/RpV0VKWhYmI (10:53). I composed the text with extracts from poems I had written long before. Sukla Bar and I translated them into Bengali, then with the team in Santhali. To read the full text, cf. “জল ই জীবন । La vie dans l’eau”, Fabrique de l’art, n°3/4, op. cit., p. 180-189.
28 Hans-Thies Lehmann, Le Théâtre postdramatique, Paris, L’Arche, 2002, p. 137.
29 Vinciane Despret, “La grande table des idées”, France Culture radio, February 23, 2021 (January 2019 replay).
30 Bachchader Experimentum (2015-2016). Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/bachchaderexperimentum and https://youtu.be/0N3ALI58MsU (19:50).
31 Thai film-maker Apitchatpong Weerasethakul explained recently: ‘It’s a good thing not to understand; a good thing to be content enjoying a place, a moment, and synchronising with it to enjoy it’ (Libération, Novembre 17, 2021).
32 Extract of the testimony-analysis that Payal Trivedi sent to me by e-mail on January 24, 2016.
33 At the Beginning of Spring War Was Over (2020). Cf. https://trimukhiplatform.org/atthebeginningofspringwarwasover and https://youtu.be/QFza22qlomo (English: 4:05; Santhali: 6:22; Bengali: 30:31).
34 Another extract taken from Payal Trivedi’s testimony-analysis.
35 Jean-Luc Nancy, Mathilde Monnier, Allitérations. Conversations sur la danse, Paris, Galilée, 2005, p. 34.
36 Cf. Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus, Paris, Métailié, 2000, p. 23.
37 Cf. Jean-François Lyotard, Économie libidinale, Paris, Minuit, 1974, p. 306-307.
38 This last observation is the fruit of a conversation with Anjum Katyal.
39 Written testimony received by e-mail on December 13, 2020.
40 Marcel Proust, Le Temps retrouvé, Paris, Gallimard, “Folio”, 1990, p. 186, 185.
41 The date of death of the semiotic is September 1972 with the lecture “The tooth, the palm” that Jean-François Lyotard gave in Venice.
42 On the one hand, ‘young people in Europe and North America in particular, but increasingly throughout the world, are being psychologically prepared for useless jobs, trained in how to pretend to work, and then by various means shepherded into jobs that almost nobody really believes serve any meaningful purpose. […] Economies around the world have, increasingly, become vast engines for producing nonsense.’ (David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs. A Theory, London, Penguin, 2018, p. 143, 146.) On the other hand, racism ‘is an imaginary structure that escapes the limitation of the concrete reality, of the senses.[…] For a racist person, to see a ‘Nigger’, it’s not to see that he is not here; that he doesn’t exist; that he is only the pathological fixation point of a lack of relationship.’ (Achille Mbembe, Critique de la raison nègre, Paris, La Découverte, “Poche”, 2015, p. 57, 58.) Assigning someone a racial identity is only possible if you don’t really look at him or her or look at him or her without seeing him or her. It’s to be blind to reality. In this sense, it is also nonsense.
Jean-Frédéric Chevallier is a philosopher, dance-theatre director, and video artist. A professor at the National University of Mexico for seven years, he radically changed course in 2008 by choosing to operate from a tribal village in Bengal. In French, he has published the essays Deleuze and the Theatre (2015) and The Theatre of Presenting (2020).