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Performance, Technology, Anamnesis Alexander Wilson

In his quest for pre-subjective forms of embodiment, the Polish avant-garde theatre director and thinker, Jerzy Grotowski, explored collective ancestral memory as a means of accessing the origins of movement. Grotowski evoked the reestablishment of a connection with the reptilian brain, which still subsists in the more primitive parts of the human nervous system.1 He was looking for Yantras, tools for accessing these presubjective forms and harnessing their potential for rediscovering an essential existence. He writes: You finally discover that you come from somewhere [...] "Tu es le fils de quelqu'un" (You are someone's son). [...] It's you 200, 300, 400, or 1000 years ago, but it's you, the same you. Because the person who began singing the first words was someone's son, from somewhere, from some place. So if you discover all this, you too are someone's son. If you don't you're not anyone's son; you are cut off, sterile, unproductive.2 Grotowski was here insisting that to be productive, one must establish a link with the horizon of the forgotten: to learn, to create, one must recall, remember, reminisce. He was saying, though perhaps only implicitly, that creative performance depends on anamnesis. The late Kazuo Ohno, who, with Tatsumi Hijikata, founded the Japanese tradition of butoh, also sought naive, pure and unrestrained movement. He insisted that the fetus “lives the experience of all the time that has gone by since the creation of the world, from the first living cell to the human of today.” 3 Butoh explores every prospect of death and rebirth, the dancer being incessantly reincarnated as various animals, plants, stones, objects, in a constant flow of becoming. Death here is not morbid, but simply an affirmation of life through an acceptance of decay and process. Butoh is also concerned with the bridge between the inside and outside, with the boundary that separates one soul from another. The dancer attempts to turn the body inside out, having the space move through the body as the body would move through space. The body’s inside and outside unfold into a continuous field. Performers in general often describe the mind-space they enter in the moment of performance as a different level of existence from that of the everyday, similar to the
1 Richard Schechner also later related the semi-autonomous neural networks surrounding our vital organs to various eastern philosophies’ insistence on harnessing the life force found in the Hara, abdomen, or bodily center. 2 Grotowski, J., Chwat, J., & Packham, R. (1987). "Tu es le fils de quelqu'un" [You Are Someone's Son]. The Drama Review: TDR, 31(3), 30-41. doi:10.2307/1145800 p. 40 3 Ohno quoted in Butô(s), p.81 (my translation from French)

acute level of awareness that arises in states of emergency, when our intentions and actions synchronize, when thinking and doing become one. In my own work, I often ask myself how to harness the intensity and aura of the event and repeat it or recall it in the moment of performance. How can the performing body attempt to establish a continuity between the ghosts of memory, the incessant flow of the now and the infinite potential beyond the event horizon? Recently, my approach to answering this question has revolved around a very specific reinterpretation of the concept of anamnesis. In this paper I describe how I have come to this interpretation of anamnesis and, along the way, cover several concepts I am working on as part of my forthcoming doctoral thesis.

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In the platonic dialog of Meno, Socrates insists he knows nothing about virtue, but claims that through dialog and interrogation, by asking the right questions, the nature of virtue can reveal itself. To this Meno objects, having caught Socrates making what seems to be a logical error: Meno: How will you look for it, Socrates, when you don’t have the slightest idea what it is? How can you go around looking for something when you don’t know what you are looking for?4 This has come to be known as Meno’s paradox. Socrates’ response to the paradox describes the mechanism that allows for communication between his realm of ideal forms and the earthly, mortal realm of particulars: the doctrine of anamnesis. The concept is based on a metaphysics of reincarnation. Socrates: As the soul is immortal – as it has been reborn, time and again, and has seen both the things of this world and those of the underworld, and all matters – there is nothing it has not learned. So it is in no way surprising that it can recollect that which it knew before, about virtue and other things. [...] for searching and learning are entirely recollection.5 And so, for Socrates, the experience of novelty is a remembering of that which our souls have forgotten in the amnesia induced by rebirth. With each successive reincarnation, the soul forgets the universal truths it has access to. But though Plato relies on a metaphysical explanation, this need not be the only way to understand anamnesis.6

4 Meno. Plato. trans. by J. Holbo & B. Waring (©2002) http://homepage.mac.com/jholbo/writings/pdf/meno.pdf p.12 5 ibid p.13

When Socrates goes for a walk with Phaedrus he has another important discussion about memory, but this time, about memory’s relation to writing. This famous argument pits writing against the oral tradition in terms of what they each allow to record and recollect. It is here that Socrates compares writing to a pharmakon, the Greek word meaning both medicine and poison. This was deeply invested in recent decades by Derrida and his followers, among whom we find Bernard Stiegler, who expanded the concept of pharmakon to the whole of technology. For Stiegler, all technics arise as a solution to a certain technical problem and are thus a remedy in this sense, yet all technologies are also poisons inducing various amnesia on their users. All technologies, for him, are hypomnemata: artificial memory supports. These two concepts, novelty as the product of recollection and technology as pharmakon, need to be looked at together, and much of Stiegler’s work is poised to interpreting the intricate relationship between the two. To this effect he identifies three successive levels of memory which are relevant to the human organology : 1. genetic memory, the memory of the genome, recorded in DNA and in our biological existence as species; 2. epigenetic memory, the memory of the human individual who has subjective experiences which are recorded in his own mind or neural network; 3. what he calls “epiphylogenetic” memory, the memory that defines humans as social animals, the cross-generational and trans-individual memory that we externalize in our technologies, in our hypomnemata. 7 I’m interested in how Stiegler relates these distinct mnemonic levels compared to how the Socratic doctrine establishes the continuity of the soul with its past, present and future incarnations. If we replace the Socratic metaphysics of reincarnation with Stiegler’s “pharmacological” theory of the evolution of technology, the amnesia of rebirth becomes the amnesia inflicted on individuation through successive evolutionary and technical stages; and we begin to see the vast conceptual landscape Stiegler has been describing for twenty years. Humans are defined by the social externalization of the individual’s memory in shared artificial devices and practices. According to André LeroiGourhan, who greatly inspired Stiegler, it is the progressive prosthesis of the hand through tools and the mouth through language that led to the human species’ particular mode of survival, constituting both the social realm and the subjective, psychological realm. On this issue, Stiegler also draws from Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy of individuation, for which society and the human psyche are transductively constituted through the development of the technical. Simondon also substantiates a continuity
6 The Greeks also maintained that inspirations came to them from the realm of souls, from the afterlife, or from the ghosts of their ancestors: they attributed the creative act to the Daimon, a spirit that temporarily possessed the artist or hero in the moment of inspiration. Socrates himself attributed his own inspired moments to his Daimon. 7 Stiegler, B. (2004). Philosopher par accident : Entretiens avec Elie During. Editions Galilée. p.48

between biological prosthesis and artificial prosthesis, by describing the transductive processes shared by self-organizing individuations, from crystals to biology to the psychosocial. From a system’s point of view, we should understand the progressive hominization of our evolutionary phylum, characterized by the externalization of memory into artificial objects and practices, as the emergence of a supplementary level of complexity founded on the biological but continuing its course through artificial means. All individuations work within a mnemonic economy consisting of information exchanges between sentient systems and their environment. From the development of the bacterial flagellum to the bird’s wing, from the eye to the opposed thumb, from the standing position to the development of the larynx, from the flint tool to the invention of writing, the printing press and the computer database, whether evolved through biological means or in the artificial realm, each prosthetic supplement constitutes a new way for the sentient self-organizing system to select, retain, and interact with its surroundings. Though each new technology allows the total system to store more memory through higher degrees of variational freedom, the human individual finds himself exporting his memory into a distributed delocalized system, which means that if technology is both remedy and poison, we are at once victims of its conditioning influence and actors in its constitution. The ant colony and the termite mound are obvious examples of non-human biological systems whose organizational structure also relies on information that is stored elsewhere than in the individuals of the species. The features and topology of the termite mound is a hypomnematon for the termite, as it supports a kind of transindividual and cross-generational memory, which in turn conveys instructions to the termites about how to deploy themselves individually. Humans are, of course, also born into environments that condition the expression of our predispositions. We have built our technological environment ourselves, and so call it artificial, but it is, of course, no more artificial than the cathedrals termites build. In the thermodynamic version of “survival of the fittest”: an organism survives if it’s structure dissipates the excess energy or stress induced by a changing environment. Evolving a flagellum will allow an organism to swim away from its predator or find food. Evolving an eye will allow it to swim more efficiently. It is this capacity to redefine its relation to its environment that distinguishes the biological system from other dissipative structures. Along these lines, the recent research of neuroscientist Karl Friston tries to describe the brain, with its mechanisms for learning and inference, in terms of the thermodynamics of evolutionary selection. He provides an interesting heuristic:

Here, we have taken a paradigm example of a non-biological selforganizing system, namely a snowflake and endowed it with wings that enable it to act on the environment. A normal snowflake will fall and encounter a phase-boundary, at which the environments temperature will cause it to melt. Conversely, snowflakes that can maintain their altitude, and regulate their temperature, survive indefinitely with a qualitatively recognizable form. 8 All biological systems are defined by what they select from their environment, and evolution over-selects those systems that select from their environment in a manner that maintains homeostasis. So it follows, according to Friston, that there should be some energetic principle that selects systems in terms of successful expectations, anticipations, inferences, what Stiegler generally calls “protentions”. Friston describes a biological selection principle of selection principles. However, what his example does not show is the improbability that a system could simply “grow wings” while maintaining its initial structure. For, as suggested by the “pharmacological” view of prothesis, something is forgotten with every “rebirth”, that is, with every prosthetic supplement: a supplement is both an addition to the system and its replacement. In order to have wings, a snowflake would also need some way of sensing when the temperature is approaching a phase boundary. The winged snowflake would need to know that “too hot” means “flap your wings”. In order for the system to select cold versus hot, it would need some
8 Friston, K., Kilner, J., & Harrison, L.A free energy principle for the brain. Journal of Physiology-Paris, 100(1-3), 70-87. doi:10.1016/j.jphysparis.2006.10.001

“knowledge” of what heat is, some memory to which compare incoming stimuli. This memory would have to be encoded in the system’s variational degrees of freedom, and so in order to have wings, the structure of the snowflake would have to be drastically different, being organized around remembering what “too hot” means and identifying the phase transition. Selective retention is the basic process by which a system identifies what it needs in its surroundings, to absorb, retain or defend it. In systems theory and cybernetic theory, not to mention in darwinian evolution, it is coupled with the concept of blind variation, which produces the environmental variety (the gene pool in genetics) that is to be selected by selecting systems.9 If, as we have just briefly seen, retention requires some sort of memory to be stored in the variational degrees of freedom of the system, then the concept of selective retention must be understood as pertaining to the three levels of phenomenological retention described by Stiegler, who draws from Husserl in this respect.10 Retentions, according to Stiegler, are always coupled with protentions, that is, memories are always biased and selective. But since selection is necessarily articulated on some kind of memory, and memory must be structurally embedded in the selecting system, memory amounts to a routing of inputs to outputs.11 Like a sieve or a filter, the organism’s memory is its system-structure, for memory is a topological mapping of possible sensory inputs to possible reactions to those inputs: if A then B, if C then D, an so on. This means that memory itself is inherently pharmacological, for all selforganizing systems, by definition, will tend to be structurally organized around knowledge of “good” and “bad”, of remedy vs. poison, because the very fact that they self-organize will have selected for those system propositions that are better at identifying and retaining environmental features that help them continue self-organizing. Just as in Stiegler’s three levels of retention, the protentions of one level operate a selection on the retention of the lower level. Or again, just as is systems theory, the whole influences the parts. Why does fresh food smell tasty and rotten food smell nasty? Why do plants move toward the light in phototropism? Why do taboos form in primitive tribal cultures to exclude incest, violence and hierarchy? Because a higher
9 Following the Darwinian model, this was first proposed as a mechanism for creativity in : Campbell, D. T. (1960). Blind variation and selective retentions in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67(6), 380-400. doi:10.1037/h0040373 10 Drawing from Husserl’s Phenomenology of internal time consciousness, Stiegler describes three successive levels of phenomenological retention: the primary level is the one that keeps track of the flow of incoming sense data, recognizing the beginning and end of events; the secondary level is where these events are combined to form objects of memory, for example, the melody, which also create protentions, anticipations of the incoming flow of sense data, causing the primary retention to be overcoded and selected in terms of what is expected; then the tertiary retention, which Stiegler himself adds to the equation: the tertiary retention is the level where objects of memory from the second level are uploaded to tekhné, recorded into hypomnemata, where they escape a single mind and join the traditions and technologies we are born into. 11 See: Ashby, W. R. (1962). “Principles of the self-organizing system,” in Principles of Self-Organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium, H. Von Foerster and G. W. Zopf, Jr. (eds.), Pergamon Press: London, UK, pp. 255-278.

order selection principle, a protention, selects those individuals that selectively retain in such a way as to maintain homeostasis. If all memory is thus pharmacological, we can suggest further, in the footsteps of Simondon, that the automatization of tasks in habituation or learning and the externalization of memory in technology, can be understood as two expressions of the same underlying process of individuation, which constantly renegotiates an interior and exterior. Just as technologies become implicit to our lives, habits and procedural memories are acquired as one becomes “ignorant” of them, that is, as one delegates cognitively demanding tasks to automatic reflexes. We thus learn new skills by the same process that leads to our hypomnematic amnesia. So whether memory is uploaded to the overarching techno-logical system of hypomnemata, or encoded in the individual’s capacity for structural variation, the boundaries between the levels of retention and protention are constantly being decided, opened up, pulled back. These boundaries that define one system from another are where symmetries are broken, where time incessantly pushes individuation into the future, irreversibly.

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But how does art practice and performance fit into this landscape? I can here only provide an allusion to how one might proceed to answer this. Though always technical and requiring skill, practice and the formation of habits and implicit memories, we know intuitively that art, understood here as a poietic endeavor, is somewhat different from the purely dissipation-driven evolution of prosthetics we have just described. Poiesis, defined as a revealing of that which is hidden, or as a presencing of that which is absent, expresses a wholly different kind of process than the implicitation that characterizes the pharmacological evolution of prosthetic supplement. As I mentioned in in the opening preamble, performers know that they must enter into a higher intensity of alertness or awareness in the moment of performance, if they wish to harness and convey the aura of the event. This suggests to me that, as poietic agents, performers are not simply decoding the features of their environnement through the negentropic processes of selection we have seen, but rather attempt to adopt another ethic or attitude toward their surroundings. It is my contention that this ethic is intricately associated to the concept of anamnesis. For anamnesis implies a certain ethical hospitality to that which would otherwise be rejected by the filtering tendency of the negentropic program. Donald Campbell, who was in 1960 the first to clearly define the concepts of selective retention and blind variation, was already suggesting that the advancement of knowledge, through “repeated “break-outs” from the limits of available wisdom”12 were
12 Op cit: Campbell, D. T. (1960). p.380

instances where the system, though still obeying its negentropic program, would actually be overdetermined by the potential in blind variation to produce novelty in the system. Along these lines, I speculate that by attempting to enter these increased levels of awareness and receptivity, poietic performers are attempting to somehow circumvent their system’s propensity to simply dissipate excess stress, as would be dictated by their system’s pharmacological memory of good and bad, or remedy and poison. Campbell’s theory of creativity as a drawing forth of variation into the patterns of selection has much in common with the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari, who in What is philosophy?, describe art practice in similar terms: they posit art as a production of “chaoid objects”, which implies that art practice somehow circumvents the self-organizational tendency for homeostasis, that is, for merely selecting that which our system’s memory, its definition of wanted and unwanted, would have us select : the artist produces a chaoid object in the sense that the work retains its undecidability for the system: it remains pharmacologically vague. As bodies, we are composed of an infinite number of levels of retention and protention. Every organ, and within every organ, every cell, and within every cell, every organelle, is itself a small selection machine, absorbing and rejecting its surroundings. It may be, then, given what we have just exposed, that art has more in common with genetic mutation than with the ordered decoding and copying of DNA within our cells. For Deleuze, each little fold in the fabric of sensation is a soul drawing in difference, resynthesizing repetitions, selectively retaining the blind variation of chaos, producing new rhythms to be decoded and recoded by other “souls” on other levels. Yet he and Guattarri were attracted to Antonin Artaud, finding in his concept of the “body without organs” a method to unfold these layers of selection and uncover the flows of desire that traverse them, reestablishing a continuity between souls, between reincarnations. The body without organs brings us back to anamnesis. For anamnesis and the body without organs both establish the continuity of a soul with its past and future lives. But, rather cryptically, Deleuze and Guattari suggest otherwise that the body without organs is rather constructed through amnesia: Remplacez I'anamnèse par l'oubli, l’interprétation par I'expérimentation. Trouvez vore corps sans organes, sachez le faire, c'est question de vie ou de mort, de jeunesse et de vieillesse, de tristesse et de gaieté. Et c'est là que tout se joue. 13 Deleuze and Guattarri, of course, opposed anamnesis in the platonic sense because they aimed to give the realm of singularities and events the primary productive role rather than some realm of ideal forms. They were directly opposed to the psychoanalytic requirement for an anamnesis of origin, of the I or of the trauma. They simply were not considering the same pharmacological amnesia we have been exploring here. The
13 Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1980). Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, tome 2 : Mille Plateaux. Editions de Minuit. p.187

rereading of anamnesis I am interested in, owing much to Stiegler’s reinterpretation of anamnesis as a celebration or affirmation of an essential default or lack of origin, is more in line with the Deleuzian primacy of difference than with the Platonic primacy of identity. For if we consider the structural organology of boundaries and conjunctions between levels of organization from a pharmacological perspective, there are no eternal forms, nor any origins, but only an infinite series of provisional propositions of supplementary forms, characterized at once by a memorizing and a forgetting. If we follow the Deleuzian view, forms are not eternal but rather subordinated to the univocity of difference. Anamnesis is thus a drawing forth into immanence of that which has been forgotten through successive layers of prosthesis. It does not imply a primacy of the ideal, pure, immutable origins behind the amnesia of reincarnation, for anamnesis is here understood as a productive endeavor: it is the mechanism that produces new contractions of chaos. It is not a recalling of eternal forms but rather a re-calling or recasting of the pre-hylemorphic difference from which all forms are constituted. To conclude, Artaud’s writings themselves suggest that he saw the body without organs as a method for dissolving those forms that crystallize as static structures, separating one soul from another, one organ from another, according to function. Artaud writes: We participate in all possible forms of life. On our human unconscious weighs a millenary atavism. [...] A bit of what we have been and especially of what we must be lies obstinately in the stones, the plants, the animals, the landscape and the woods. Particles of our past and future ego wander through nature where the very precise laws of the universe work to assemble them. And we are right to search for responses, for active, nervous, even fluid responses, in all the disaggregated elements. 14

14 Artaud, Messages révolutionnaires, Œuvres complètes, Tome VIII, p.227 (my translation from French)

REFERENCES: Footnotes have been recopied here for easy reference
1 Richard Schechner also later related the semi-autonomous neural networks surrounding our vital organs to various eastern philosophies’ insistence on harnessing the life force found in the Hara, abdomen, or bodily center. 2 Grotowski, J., Chwat, J., & Packham, R. (1987). "Tu es le fils de quelqu'un" [You Are Someone's Son]. The Drama Review: TDR, 31(3), 30-41. doi:10.2307/1145800 p. 40 3 Ohno quoted in Butô(s), p.81 (my translation from French) 4 Meno. Plato. trans. by J. Holbo & B. Waring (©2002) http://homepage.mac.com/jholbo/writings/pdf/meno.pdf p.12 5 ibid p.13 6 The Greeks also maintained that inspirations came to them from the realm of souls, from the afterlife, or from the ghosts of their ancestors: they attributed the creative act to the Daimon, a spirit that temporarily possessed the artist or hero in the moment of inspiration. Socrates himself attributed his own inspired moments to his Daimon. 7 Stiegler, B. (2004). Philosopher par accident : Entretiens avec Elie During. Editions Galilée. p.48 8 Friston, K., Kilner, J., & Harrison, L.A free energy principle for the brain. Journal of Physiology-Paris, 100(1-3), 70-87. doi:10.1016/j.jphysparis.2006.10.001 9 Following the Darwinian model, this was first proposed as a mechanism for creativity in : Campbell, D. T. (1960). Blind variation and selective retentions in creative thought as in other knowledge processes. Psychological Review, 67(6), 380-400. doi:10.1037/h0040373 10 Drawing from Husserl’s Phenomenology of internal time consciousness, Stiegler describes three successive levels of phenomenological retention: the primary level is the one that keeps track of the flow of incoming sense data, recognizing the beginning and end of events; the secondary level is where these events are combined to form objects of memory, for example, the melody, which also create protentions, anticipations of the incoming flow of sense data, causing the primary retention to be overcoded and selected in terms of what is expected; then the tertiary retention, which Stiegler himself adds to the equation: the tertiary retention is the level where objects of memory from the second level are uploaded to tekhné, recorded into hypomnemata, where they escape a single mind and join the traditions and technologies we are born into. 11 See: Ashby, W. R. (1962). “Principles of the self-organizing system,” in Principles of Self-Organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium, H. Von Foerster and G. W. Zopf, Jr. (eds.), Pergamon Press: London, UK, pp. 255-278.

12 Op cit: Campbell, D. T. (1960). p.380 13 Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1980). Capitalisme et Schizophrénie, tome 2 : Mille Plateaux. Editions de Minuit. p.187 14 Artaud, Messages révolutionnaires, Œuvres complètes, Tome VIII, p.227 (my translation from French)