Soon, a grizzly bear enters the clearing, snarls at the rabbit, and opens his mouth to eat her. The rabbit says to the bear, “Excuse me, you can’t eat me.” The bear, dumbfounded, exclaims incredulously, “Why not?” The rabbit answers, “Because I’m writing a thesis on the naturally superior fighting habits of rabbits over that of bears.” The bear, astounded, says, “What rot! I’m going to eat you.” The rabbit calmly responds, “Okay, but before you do that perhaps you’d like to accompany me to the cave where we can discuss it further.” The bear agrees, and the owl watches them both disappear into the cave. There is a brief silence, followed by the sound of screaming and yelling, several loud thumps, and a tearing sound. A cloud of dust, fur, and bones issues from the cave and, as it settles over the clearing, the rabbit walks from the cave, brushes her fur, cleans her glasses, sits at the notebook, and recommences typing.
And so it goes on, ferocious animal after ferocious animal approaches the rabbit and each time is sent into the cave never to return. The owl is extremely interested. She flies down to the rabbit, and politely says, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing all that with the fox, the bear, and the other animals. And I was wondering…” Here the owl broke off, suddenly embarrassed. “Yes?” says the rabbit, looking at the owl mildly.
“Well, I was wondering,” continued the owl, “if I could look inside the cave?” “Certainly,” says the rabbit.
So, the owl crosses into the cave. It’s cool inside, and very dark. A slight breeze ruffles the owl’s feathers. As her eyes adjust to the extraordinarily dim light (which is quickly because she is an owl), the owl notices blood around the walls, piles of bones, rotting fur, and at the back of the cave a faint shape stirring. Walking slowly to the back of the cave, she eventually makes out an enormous and vicious looking lion. The owl stays long enough to see the massive chest and muscled forearms, the drool dripping from the lion’s fangs, and its hideous claws. She then edges slowly out the cave back towards the rabbit, who is still typing at her notebook. “Very interesting,” says the owl, “but what does it mean?”
“Ah,” says the rabbit, “it means it doesn’t matter how ridiculous your thesis topic is so long as you have a strong supervisor.”
There are no more jokes in this talk. I include this one because it hints at a possible truth: research is inevitably a social practice that involves more than disinterested knowledge, it also, perhaps mostly, involves relationships of power. I’ll say nothing more about that now.
Despite already citing Said twice, I really want to start with Gilles Deleuze in and on conversation:
Possibly we all feel this tear, this crack, this fissure, I don’t know. Of course, Deleuze (1990) and, following him, Lecercle (1985, 1990 & 1994) have demonstrated in some detail that all speech, all writing (and all research?) is riven with desire, with a delirium that is only faintly masked. And here am I at yet another conference on artistic work in the academy. How to have a conversation? How to move? How to get beyond discussing protocols and procedures and other institutional regimes? How inspire you? To what? For what? How to acknowledge my own delirium? What follows is partially a confession. (It’s the only way to do philosophy. Or performance. Or research.)
I come to academe from a radically different background than do most academics: my working life has been mostly spent as a performer and performance maker, an ‘untrained’ one at that, who emerged, however unconsciously, from the radical tradition of the Australian Performing Group and the Pram Factory. This tradition fostered in me a belief in the unavoidable and necessary interweaving of art and politics, and, further, in the efficacy of performance, of art, as political action. I carry that heritage with me wherever I go. Coming first as a doctoral student and later as a lecturer into a university system struggling with the Dawkins’ reforms, a system dealing with a much wider range of disciplines than those traditionally found in universities, I have been amazed to find in many of the institutions I have attended or worked an indifference or blindness to the (political) implications of traditional pedagogical and research conventions.
In my academic writing and teaching, I have tried to operate from the premise that research and pedagogy are not neutral tools used to discover and transmit ‘facts’ about the world and performance, but machines that intervene in and construct the world and performance (see, for example, Minchinton (1994) & (1997)). Not tools, but weapons. Writing about improvisation and theatre making practices, I might consult workbooks, interview fellow participants, and write ‘authoritatively’ about them. However, I do not see myself as presenting the facts or the truth about those processes, but a version of them.
Firstly, I don’t do cut-ups, cannibalise writing or crypto-fiction (attempting, for reasons of personal psychology lost to me, to move, if not fully into, at least towards the often impersonal and apparently logical register of academic prose). When writing, I see myself engaged in an experiment, that is, in a performance (and I will come back to that connection later). The idea for me is, in the words of Deleuze, not to find out “whether an idea is just or correct,” but to “look for a completely different idea, elsewhere, in another area, so that something passes between the two which is neither one nor the other” (Deleuze & Parnet (1987: 10)). I aim, but not always succeed, to ask:
Secondly, I see myself at all times as someone with an agenda, certainly not a neutral observer gathering the facts; someone who has a history which must be acknowledged (as I’m doing now); someone whose opinions may have some effect in the world; someone who speaks for someone, and who recognises that “[e]ven when we are speaking for ourselves, we always speak in the place of someone who will not be able to speak” (Deleuze & Parnet (1987: 20)).
In summary, I see myself operating not as a researcher, but as an intellectual/artist (however you want to read the solidus between that pairing). I’m not sure when the terms ‘research’ and ‘researcher’ started to have currency. I suspect they really came into vogue after World War Two, but there is quite a big difference between seeing yourself as a researcher and as an intellectual/artist. Yes, you might say, that is obvious; but not to make too fine a point of it, I suspect one effect, if not intention, of research regimes is to transform intellectual/artists into researchers. And to be a researcher, rather than an intellectual/artist, is to be subject to a whole range of increasingly professionalised disciplinary mechanisms. On the artist/intellectual, Edward Said quotes C. Wright Mills (and I admit I have not read Mills in his entirety): “[t]he independent artist and intellectual are among the few remaining personalities equipped to resist and to fight the stereotyping and consequent death of genuinely living things” (Mills cited in Said (1993: 16)).
My experience of university research committees (and I have sat on them at various levels), and through them of Australian Research Council committees and the like, is that fighting ‘the stereotyping and consequent death of genuinely living things’ (while acknowledging that there may be some definitional problems with that phrase) is not what they see their task to be nor the task of research. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps the task of research is unproblematically to uncover ‘knowledge.’ I guess there are those who would argue that research provides the ‘basic knowledge’ on which artists/intellectuals’ interventions and commentaries are built and who might argue that intellectuals and artists are diseased with partisanship and questions of style. ‘Research’ is more respectable, more reliable, than art; more objective than informed intellectual opinion and writing; it has a reassuringly professional ring to it. But this is to ignore the social dimensions of knowledge and begs a number of questions about the exemplar of knowledge, science, which occupies such a space inside our heads and certainly the heads of research committees.
Now, there is a line of flight I could take in regard to the constitution of science as a body of knowledge (my metaphor is deliberate) concerned not with episteme (“pure or disinterested contemplation of general rules or principles whose intellectual process is demonstration and whose objects can be otherwise”), or techne (“craft”), but with phronesis (“or practical wisdom…being wise in the world through activity”) (Crease (1993: 114-117). But I do not want to pursue this line of inquiry too far because it takes me too close to an engagement with debates that in the end can really only distract me from the essential point which is, as Deleuze and Guattari have remarked, that “the way in which a science, or a conception of science, participates in the organisation of a social field, and in particular induces a division of labor, is part of that science itself” (1988: 368). My experience of research committees is that the arguments about the status of different forms of knowledge and the need for coherent methodologies, documentation, and so on, are always tied somehow to the exercise of power (over money, resources, position, status, and so on). Until that nexus is broken, I can only think of debates about methodologies as masks for unspoken desires, usually the desire to tear someone apart, or, in more polite terms, the effort to hold on to positions of privilege, to establish disciplinary compliance, through invoking a rhetoric of professionalism. This, as Edward Said has asserted in another context, is the greatest threat to the intellectual today, and always involves specialisation, certification, and a drift towards power and authority (see Said (1993: 59-60)). Or, to deterritorialise Greg Dening writing in another context,
The mythic view privileges Aristotle’s episteme theoretike, “the mind’s beholding of fixed and immutable forms” (Crease (1993: 22)), and denies the social dimensions of science, refusing to recognise that science is the product of particular historical, cultural, and social (including personal) contexts. This leads to two conclusions for scientific mythicists: “First, science is essentially theory making….[e]xperimental methods and practices, which are historically and culturally bound play no constitutive role in them” and, secondly, “experimentation is essentially theory testing…[so e]xperiments are not to be thought of as creations, as constituting or making things, as bringing things into the world” (Crease (1993: 17)). The mythic view of science denies the centrality of experimentation, which obviously occurs in material, historical, cultural, and social circumstances, to the creation of scientific data.
For Crease, experimentation far from being mere “theory testing”–the gathering of preexisting data like the turning over of card-pairs in the game of Concentration–is the defining activity of science, and a form of performance or “poesis…a bringing-forth of some phenomenon through praxes” (1993: 167). In experimentation, “scientific entities are brought into the world through an artistic process” (Crease (1993: 70)). Traditional accounts of science overlook the importance of these creative processes and assume that the laboratory is a place where the scientist “eavesdrops…on a scientific world of imperceptible entities that govern the events that take place in our own world” (Crease (1993, 105)).1
Crease, however, recognises that experiments are performances and, like performances, may take four forms:
* repetitious in which the encoding of the performance ensures that the same thing appears with predictable regularity (as in a player piano or video)
* standardised in which what appears can be predicted because the performance itself “cleaves to accepted practices” (in art this is a negative outcome; in science this is a positive outcome since experiments that have previously only been possible for particular practitioners become accessible to other practitioners); and
* artistic which “coaxes into being something which has not previously appeared. It is beyond the standardized program; it is action at the limit of the already controlled and understood; it is risk” (1993: 110).
* “we are ‘diverted’ from the truth…by forces which are foreign to it (body, passions, sensuous interests” (for which read, by the nonsense of desire involved in the making of art); and
* “We are told forcefully, that all we need to think well, to think truthfully, is a method…” and through method we enter the domain of that “which is valid for all times and all places” (Deleuze (1983: 103)) where “when knowledge becomes a legislator, the most important thing to be subjected is thought” (Deleuze (1983: 100)).
If I want to see artistic work recognised as research, it is not because I fully believe that it is research, but because to put that proposition is fun, is provocative, is life-affirming. Do I ‘really’ believe artistic research should be in the academy? I do not know. But what does it make possible if I act as if I believe it?
I acknowledge there is an element of perversity in this.
Psychologist Frank Sulloway (1996) has argued persuasively in a respectably scientific and meticulously documented study of thousands of scientific advances, voting patterns in post revolutionary France and Russia, and so on, that birth order is statistically a more significant factor than race, gender, and class in determining people’s attitudes to new ideas, their likelihood of making conceptual advances, and to the probabilities of their making revolutions. According to Sulloway, later-borns are statistically more likely to instigate, further, and embrace new ideas and social formations than first-borns. If first- borns make contributions to new ideas, they tend to be elaborations within existing paradigms. First-borns also tend to utilise violence more willingly than later-borns. This is because, in evolutionary terms, first-borns learn that violence works; later borns have to be more imaginative in the ways they get parental attention or protect themselves. The late-born Charles Darwin is a case in point.
It strikes me that science as an institution, the A.R.C., and the academy are first-born institutions: socially conservative, determined to allow advances only within existing paradigms, and quite ruthless in the exercise of institutional violence against new ideas. (Of course, I’m exaggerating, aren’t I?) I am not Charles Darwin, but I am a late-born. I cannot help myself; it just seems that having artistic research in the academy is good because it is provocative, because it does not easily fit the existing paradigms, because it is troublesome, because it is fun.
If I seem to be being flippant, let me tell you that being flippant is a serious business. It is an era when, as my partner (a lawyer in Community Legal Centres regularly exposed to the ravages of the new economic order) says, “the world is turning to pus.” It is an era, in more sober terms, when:
Discussing Nietzsche, Deleuze points out that:
There is a real danger in building specialists and experts whose specialisation and expertise endorses only certain kinds of art, certain kinds of performance and performance making (whose ephemerality seems to cause the greatest anxiety). An approach built upon detailed note-taking, documentation, and exegesis largely favours only certain kinds of performance and performance making–precisely those that most appeal to academic canons of coherence, mastery, globalised, and centralised control–and also to encourage conservative writing. Peggy Phelan has written that performance theorists and critics, confronted with the challenge that the object of their meditation, performance, “disappears”
Don’t artists document and analyse the creative process and audience reception in practice? Don’t artists accumulate and possess detailed knowledges and understandings of their art? Don’t theatre practitioners already observe, record, document, analyse, and theorise through theatre itself? What is at issue here is what constitutes valid knowledge, ways of knowing and ‘expressing’ it. As Melrose comments, “only certain kinds of knowledge about theatre are transmitted through language” (1994: 49) and
Clearly, all researchers are involved in a set of performances for various communities. We should not let the quest for certainty that Dewey identified many years ago undermine us. Robert Crease writes of this quest that it
A first corollary of this view, according to Dewey, is that genuine acts of knowledge cannot be originative, for if they altered or created the known it would not be eternal and immutable. Instead, knowledge consists in the formulation of ideas that agree with some pre-existing state of affairs. Knowledge is thus necessarily a discovery, not a making, and what is discovered is antecedent to and unaffected by the inquiry that discovers it… A second corollary is that knowledge involving the practical realm– the world of the changing and temporal–is an inferior kind. This view therefore leads to the separation of the realm of knowledge and practical action and the elevation of the former over the latter (1993: 23).
In an early anthology of his essays, Félix Guattari distinguishes between ‘subjected or subjugated groups’ and ‘the subject group.’ Subjugated groups, according to Guattari (1984):
* enforce traditional rules, concepts and modes of exclusion, constructing or offering the individual a parasitic immortality in exchange for or through horizontal (roles) and vertical (hierarchical) organisation; any breach of roles or order will be met with a tightening of roles and hierarchy;
* perpetually struggle against every possible inscription of ‘nonsense’ so that content precedes expression (‘nonsense’ here can be taken to mean anything that results from (a) any concept of research or practice that falls outside authorised concepts;
* refuse to face “the ultimate signification of the enterprises” they are involved in by adopting ready-made models of social organisation and representation (the group accepts the need for a hierarchy and does not question the research models used); and
* construct a “group fantasy” around “institutional objects” which are never called into question.
In contrast, I want to suggest that researchers should form not subjected groups but ‘group subjects’ that put in place a complex series of practices whose effect, if not aim, recalls translator Brian Massumi’s description of Guattaris project at the La Borde psychiatric clinic: to abolish the hierarchy between researcher and practitioner, researcher and spectator/reader in favour of an interactive group dynamic that will bring the experiences of both to full expression in such a way as to produce a collective critique of the power relations in society as a whole. The ‘group subject’ “endeavours to control its own behavior and elucidate its object…[and] can produce its own tools of elucidation” (Guattari (1984: 14)). The group subject proposes to:
* make transverse connections ‘across’ roles and hierarchies;
* question its goals and attempt to articulate new significations and form new modes of interaction; and
* construct ‘transitional’ fantasies “connected with the internal process of subjectivation corresponding to various reorganisations within the group” (Guattari (1984: 39)).
Dalaruelle, Jacques (1997) “Artists, Poets and Other Thinkers,” in Double Dialogues: Conference with a Difference, ed. Ann McCulloch (Geelong: Deakin University), pp. 7-12.
Deleuze, Gilles (1990) The Logic of Sense, ed. C.V. Boundas, tr. Mark Lester & Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University Press).
Deleuze, Gilles (1994) ‘He Stuttered’: Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy, ed. C.V. Boundas & D. Olkowski (New York: Routledge), pp. 23-29.
Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, tr. Brian Massumi (London: Athlone Press).
Deleuze, Gilles & Parnet, Claire (1987) Dialogues, tr. Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Habberjam (London: Athlone Press).
Dening, Greg (1996) “A poetic for Histories,” in Performances (Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press), pp. 33-63.
Guattari, Félix (1984) Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, tr. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Penguin Books).
Huston, H. (1992) The Actor’s Instrument: Body, Theory, Stage (Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press).
Lecercle, J.-J. (1985) Philosophy through the Looking Glass: Language, Nonsense, Desire (La Salle: Open Court).
Lecercle, J.-J. (1990) The Violence of Language (London: Routledge).
Lecercle, J.-J. (1994) The Philosophy of Nonsense: The Intuitions of Victorian Nonsense Literature (London: Routledge).
Massumi, Brian (1992) A User’s Guide to ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge: The MIT Press).
Melrose, S. (1994) A Semiotics of the Dramatic Text (London: Macmillan).
Minchinton, Mark (1994) “Saboteur, Guerilla, Pedestrian,” Writings on Dance, no. 10, Autumn, pp. 12-21.
Minchinton, Mark (1997) “Dancing the Bridge: Performance/Research – A Polemic,” Writings on Dance, no. 16, Winter, pp. 58-64.
Phelan, P. (1997) Mourning Sex : Performing Public Memories (New York: Routledge).
Said, Edward (1993) Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (London: Vintage).
Saul, J.R. (1992) Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).
Saul, J.R. (1994) The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense (New York: The Free Press).
Saul, J.R. (1997) The Unconscious Civilization (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books).
Sulloway, F.J. (1996) Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (New York: Pantheon Books).