What is Stand Up Philosophy

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This blog charts my attempts, in whatever way I can, and whenever I can, and as honestly as possible, to stand up for thinking - real thinking, whether in philosophy or politics, or maths - Because thinking needs standing up for!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Being Mary, (or George, or Immanuel, or Baruch...)

With my philosopher's head on, the really interesting part of performance is to explore the gamut of emotions (well really 'Affects', if I am being technical) that underpin, overarch or perhaps infuse thought in general and certain thinkers in particular.
   And yet that statement gets it wrong (slightly). We are all so used to the emotion/thought dichtomy, that we tend to assume that the emotions are either explaining thought or else clouding it (and so somehow ought to be absent). This Dichotomy would have us believe that either emotions help us therefore 'know the thinker' and 'explain his thought', or else have no place in any rational thought - and if this was the case then performance philosophy would, I think, be as pointless as it was impossible.
   Luckily (for me) the real relationship between emotion and thought is so much richer than this, and performance offers an opportunity to explore this richness. In making this argument I understand myself to be drawing on Deleuze (but also Foucault) who argue that great thinkers are great stylists. More than that, they are writers and explorers of the human soul for their method involves catching up their affects in their thought - sometimes using them as topics, at others dismissing them (and so arguing openly against them or pitching them against logic), while at other times riding them like a breaking wave. A work such as Wollstonecraft's 'The Vindication of the Rights of Women' or Spinoza's 'Ethics' is therefore a witch ride like nothing else in literature, for one never really knows where the affects which it conjures up or shares, and the argument of the book is taking one. That is, to read such works is to be taken on an emotional journey, where one is infused with feelings, but those feelings are then the topic of discussion, and reforged in the light of the very fiery words that inspired them.
   Or to put it slightly differently, a truly great philsopher is one that reaches into our mind, and makes it jangle, but then from the discord of rational thought and feeling, plays some kind of new tune, a new melody, in our minds: This tune is like no other for its effect is that in singing it, our natures themselves become re-thinkable. It is this facet of reaching out, and allowing a chink of thought, that makes both philosophy and performance great. It is why then they can be so easily combined. - That is, it is why philosophy makes great drama.
   But more than that, it is this emotional lexicon that makes performing thought easy and fun: It you get the thinker right, then the argument and the actions follow. When people ask then, as they do, 'how do you remember all that', I always feel like saying, for me it is like simply remembering who one is: For the philosopher I perform (and their arguments) are stalwarts in my mind (and in a sense, as they are part of the tradition of thought that gave us so many of the ideas we all live by, of  all our minds). All I do is find then the affects that infuse those individuals, and the thoughts, and their arguments follow.

   It is therefore this idea of combining passion with argument (a method which she pioneered), that 'makes' my recent performance of Mary Wollenscraft. I had not had much time to work on the exact words, but I got the affects right, and everything else followed when I was in front of the audience, and the fiery power of the Vindication coursed though me: Next time I perform this piece (and there will be a next time), it will be more polished -  but I hope I will keep that level of emotional intensity....

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Standing up for - Freedom - thoughts after the first Show

Performer's Notes on the 'Standing Up for Freedom' Show.

   Hegel is certainly right (not a sentence I have much use for normally). Ideas are strange slippery things, and in thinking them we are transformed beyond any one time, and somehow caught up in the drama, in the struggles and in the language of the past. What is more, Hegel is surely quite correct when he suggests that there is a difference between those ideas that we are silently thinking without realising it, and which infuse both our assumptions, and feelings, and those ideas which we are enacting consciously and deliberately. I mean, both are silently thinking their history in us, but in a different ways, and at a different rhythm.
   To follow an idea, which is so central to our modern self, such as freedom, across time, is to watch that idea (and so the modern mind) emerge, through many stages and epochs: Ideas that are at one time just silent and implicit becoming explicit, but then are lost again, or found in a different context and in different places. The very ideas one lives by are thereby opened out, and become, in a sense, characters in their own drama, with their own story to tell. The aim of this show is therefore to catch the audience up in this drama, which is after all, also their drama, for it speaks a lot to and with, the ideas that fill and reverberate around all our minds.
   In addition there is a real fascination in going backwards through history, one akin surely to following a river back to the source. Now I am not an essentialist, and do not believe that the past is 'purer', or that freedom was more 'free' there, but as a performer I know the gathering power of going backwards in time. The audience feels the urgency build, as we come closer and closer to the finale of the show - in this case the Trial of Socrates, a moment when the main threads of Western thought were first clearly enunciated, and the adventure really got going. To ride piggy back on that energy, that power of flowing the wrong way in time, is a delight. For it gives a pattern and power to the ideas. More than that, it provides a strong framework for the pieces, that by themselves might be hard to place, however good the ideas (and their performance) are. In short to run backwards in time, is to already have caught up the audience on the journey.

But if you want to judge for yourself whether it works: A playlist from my first performance of my new 'Standing Up for Freedom' show is here: