Correspondence from Daniel Linehan: Thoughts About "Not About"


The following are excerpts I’ve selected from my journal, writings that I have made while working on creating my solo, “Not About Everything.” They are not about my creative process so much as a way of navigating through some of the ideas that have come up during my process. My very first thought about this piece? 12-28-06: This is for nothing about nothing. If so, what is it? What it is. If it feels good, what should I do about it? I won’t become an intellectual. I will become a writer. I believe in borrowed ideas, and I believe in the first try ALWAYS being a failure. I believe in the depths of my heart in mortality, and I’m scared shitless about it. I believe in spending $ and making $. I believe in incurable sadness. I believe in trying and failing. I believe in too little, too much, too overly trying to impress. Are you tired? Sleep! Are you doing too much? Stop! Hungry? Eat! Horny? Fuck! Satisfy your desires or create false ones. I don’t care. I’m not a moralist any more. Give and take what you will. I think it’s time to be alone alone all alone and stop worrying what you are talking about. And do not try to entertain or impress or even communicate or experiment. Instead, just create a distillable or a permeable form. This is for you. Words I’m concerned about getting lost in my words, words, too many words about this project. Self I’ve never seen things very far outside myself, or outside myself at all, for that matter. It’s all processed internally, internal to myself. What if the process is invisible? What if you/I/we can’t even tell if it’s a process? What if it’s not always a name-able thing? What if I don’t have to talk about it or think about it or formularize it or formalize it or familiarize it or vernacularize it? What if it’s vomit-like? Nothing-like? Like nothing? Else? What do I need from it? What do I need to do with it? What if there is no talk of need/necessity/my desire/my interest? Conceptual rigor. The word rigor always makes me think of rigor mortis. Conceptual rigor mortis: adhering to a dead, stale, immovable set of concepts. Perhaps my true goal is conceptual fluidity. It’s simple – I exist and something is happening. I don’t want to distract the audience from that. There are parts to like and parts not to like. Minimal Action Minimal Change Why minimal? To say “fuck you” to the culture of Bigger is Better? Minimal change is a statement against TV-commercial-trained minds. This is what minimalism is against, but what is minimalism for? For leaving a mark, making something that will be remembered? Freezing time by repetition? Expanding time through repetition? Everything is more important, potentially, in minimalism. You cannot make trivial choices because they will get expanded through repetition and made more durable. Do I want to canonize the trivial? How bored do I want people to become? What is my block to figuring this out? That I don’t want to “figure out” anything… Actively generating possibility It almost seems pointless to “generate” possibility, when so much possibility already exists in the simplest, the smallest of actions. Generating possibility is less interesting to me now than it once was. Seeing possibility in what is already there: that is the exciting challenge. Seeing what I “have” not as a rigid fact but as change. Is this an artistic process or is this therapy? Is there a difference? Yes and no? I mean, you allow for this shit to pour out of you, but in the end you shape it so that it may be palatable to the outside world. Both the artwork and the self; both in creative process and in therapy. But-but-but art is an extension of the artist’s self which has gone through a period of being shitty emptiness before it goes through a therapeutic period and then emerges as something palatable to the viewer. Art is a form of individual therapy, yet it does contain also some sense of empathy and/or generosity, since something is being formed for someone other than the self. But wait, I’m still having trouble drawing a distinction—because traditional therapy is also concerned with forming the self for someone other than the self—preparing the individual for social interaction—a hermit is in no need of therapy, for example (also in no need of art...). Maybe there’s a reason why it’s difficult to draw a distinction. Maybe there’s a reason why so many therapists use art and artistic techniques as therapy… Annihilating the ego Somehow I want to annihilate my ego within a solo form. But why? If you annihilate your ego by joining in communion with others, what do all of the nothing-egos in the community add up to? 0+0+0+0+0+0=0. In order for the community to have value, the ego must have value. What would a solo, value-less ego be? The list… sex transcendent experience egotistical experience/pleasure beauty and change swimming in flow feeling loved perception/sensation being seen/heard/sensed, or other affirmations of my existence giving myself up to the mysterious finding truths asking questions newness having thoughts feeling comfort feeling exhilarated knowledge of self’s existence moments of absence of pain/absence of suffering creating judging what is good and what’s not making decisions exercising power/will having myself …fragmentary, or why I don’t choose to die [Today, I want to add some oppositions to what’s already on it: “seeing/hearing/sensing, and other affirmations of my existence” and “moments of pain/moments of suffering.” I want to also affirm suffering and not only negate it…] My interest My interest My interest Whothefuck cares what I’m interested in? I don’t want to create something that demonstrates what I’m interested in, or that is a presentation of my hermetic research. I want to create a permeable form. What do I mean by that? I want to create an experience for the viewer in which they can say: This is what I’m watching. This is what I’m experiencing. I am experiencing rhythm and pattern and surprise. I am responding in these ways to these things. I am having a history and a memory of my own history. I am tracking my relationship to “taste,” to what I like and what I don’t like…. What is unique about this? Can’t a viewer do this with anything they watch? What do I mean? And I am following my interests. Why do I think that I am avoiding them, and why would I want to do something I wasn’t interested in? Why would somebody want to watch me do something I wasn’t interested in? Why say no to interest? Because interest is boring, based on habit, pattern, and history. But why say no to the personal? Isn’t interest the same thing as the personal, and does not the personal have validity, in fact an important counter-validity to the imposing validity of the global? And isn’t this piece based on people’s experience of pattern and history, i.e. “boredom”? What is it I am truly rejecting, if anything? This is nothing other than an affirmation: This is this = this is not about this = this is this. Is there any real rejection in this piece??? (Am I more interested in “experiential” ideas than linguistic/language-based ideas? The self is the body…) What is the end? The end can be sexy. The end can be thrilling. The end can be nonchalant. The end can begin a story. The end can undo or redo. The end can erase. The end can multiply. The end can restart. The end can confound. The end can be pleasurable. The end can be straightforward. The end can cut off. The end can ascend. The end can depart. The end can arrive. The end can be a question. The end can be forgotten and remembered. The end can enter into [an agreement]. The end is not all there is. The end has value. The end is like a clattering to the floor. The end suffocates. The end is a different space. The end reminisces about the beginning. The end shuts down. The end ends in quiet sorrow. The end is hilarious, too, laughable. The end is spooky. The end happens over and over again. The end / The end is familiar. The end is human/robotic, human as robot, each day giving less of yourself. The end is an ode to the saddest stage in humanity. The end is spiritual bankruptcy. The end is like the end of time and space. The end demolishes. Quietly. I remember beginning: I wanted to do something different that I’d done before. I wanted to spend less time being generative, generating unimportant things based on my passing interests of the day. I wanted to establish a structure early on in the process, so that it didn’t become a distracting obsession for the rest of the process. I was tired of placing so much value on the order of events. What are the events? Not: what is the relationship between events? But: What are the events? I was tired of “sections.” I was tired of totality. I was tired of full-evening-ish-ness. Variety and diversity achieve nothing in and of themselves. I was tired of my habits. Part of me didn’t understand why I would introduce multiple episodes, multiple performers. I wanted to generate one experience. I didn’t want to become so so so so fascinated with newness newness newness. I wanted some sense of singularity, a sense that this is an event, not because I’m interested in being monothematic, but because I wanted some kind of limit to my habit of trying to address every formal concern imaginable. I wanted to do something that was a physical feat, that required training and repetition, like an Olympic athlete. I was also interested in negation as a highly effective form of affirmation—what the defensive individual betrays about themselves in their defensiveness. “This is not about everything” = “This is an attempt to be about everything, and I really desperately want it to be, but I am afraid that I must fail.” Two Trends I feel like there is an old trend of making work with too many ideas in it, each idea being investigated quite shallowly. This is the trend that I used to embrace. It comes from an inundation in TV-commercial, music-video, low-attention-span contemporary culture and a fear of being boring. So we try to replicate filmic jump-cuts in choreography when that is not the nature of live performance. So, now there is a trend of returning to slow development and fewer ideas, to let a handful of concepts be central to the piece and to try to give them plenty of time to develop—both in the process and within the actual work itself. This is the bandwagon I’ve jumped on as of late. It feels more satisfying, more clear? It allows me to think deeply? It gives me less to do, less to work on—or maybe less extraneous stuff to worry about, so that I’m still working as hard, but my work is focused on trying and trying again to more deeply understand what it is I’m working on. And at times, it feels so empty. This is what I’m working on, and there will never be any way to understand it to the utmost. There is no complete understanding. There is no completion. It could keep evolving indefinitely because there is no final. There is no end. There is no perfection. As humans we often feel that we are the end of evolution, but that’s impossible—evolution has no end. We’re just looking at a tiny slice of millions of years of history and millions more to come. On a much smaller scale, the making of a work of art is the same. The idea of final touches, final polishing is a myth. The work never can reach an end, it can only have an artist who stops working on it. And that’s fine. But can you imagine a work that was never finished being worked on? It would evolve eternally. It would be different each moment. There would be no end, no real improvement or decay. Just change. Just a new context for a new time. There would be no purpose, because you wouldn’t have to make one up as you do for everything that is finite. It would need no justification. Working on this piece is an endless task. The “product” has been there from day one, yet there is no product, there is only the process of doing it and working on it—which is an endless task—there is always more I could do. I can either continue to work on it or stop. And I can evaluate what I’m doing—and that is what gives me…my humanity? And if I want knowledge, how do I know when I have arrived at knowledge? By never resting. There is always more to do. I can either continue to do the work, or stop, and rest with what knowledge I have so far gained. To try to “get” knowledge means to never stop pursuing it. Does this make possession of knowledge…impossible? But then this becomes a paradox, because I have at least arrived at one certain piece of knowledge…I possess one piece of knowledge, which is that knowledge is impossible to possess—in an eternal sense anyway. But how can any notion of “possession,” or “having something” be accurately applied in the real world independent of time? Following that vein of thinking, any present possession is acknowledged to be fleeting; anything possessed by me has an origin and an end. So it is with my possession of knowledge. This is why I cannot arrive—there is no unmoving, immovable point to arrive to. I possess a knowledge of my knowledge’s transience and ephemerality (in this way, knowledge is like a dance). Knowledge is generated by generating values. Knowledge is time-based/time-dependent and human-based/human dependent. What other knowledge can I possess, other than a knowledge that does not rest, a knowledge that does not remain still? I have no desire to make large, sweeping changes to this piece. At least, not for the sake of showing those who have seen it that I have been working hard on it. I prefer the small changes—that change everything. I decided to answer the question of “product” early on so that I could immerse myself in the luxury of not working toward a product, but simply working toward…or simply working. To deepen. To strengthen. To know more. To love more. To become more. To become more interested. To… 07-07-07 I showed the piece today. A tiny bit depressed because nobody really talked to me about it. This makes me wonder to what extent I rely on external feedback to feel good about what I do. I probably rely on it a little, but let me justify this—I don’t make my work in a vacuum, and I don’t make it for a vacuum—I want people to have responses to it, and I want to hear them. So it does depress me when people aren’t moved enough to talk to me about it. Granted, tonight, I didn’t necessarily make myself available to be talked to, and also, there are many audience members, like myself, who don’t talk to people they don’t know after a performance—and nobody in the audience knew me tonight. If I have enough confidence in the work, I won’t need external validation, but I can just trust that some people did respond to the work. But that just brings up the question: Is that enough? Why, in the context of this fucked-up world that could really use my help, why am I doing this? What is it for—what does it do to people? Or do I need to worry about purpose or justification—is it all nonsense? Or do some things have sense and a purpose yet at the same time don’t have a clear language-based explanation? My ontological dilemma and my ethical dilemma are butting heads. My ontological dilemma is that I’ve been given no direction in this life and I have to choose what to do, but there are no inherent “shoulds”—and there is no way for me to ever know why I exist or what I should do. Nor does the “objective” reality I know of seem to contain an answer these questions. My ethical dilemma says that there are “shoulds,” and that I should spend at least some of my time on this planet doing a little bit to help those who by sheer chance were born into far less advantageous circumstances than my own, because I want to believe that there is ultimately nothing that separates me from them, that humanity has a one-ness that imposes on me a duty to try to help those in the world suffering from unnecessary injustices. So—since my ontological dilemma denies “shoulds,” it encourages me to be self-centered and follow my proclivities and to seek no justifications because none exist—and all I have is myself. Whereas—my ethical dilemma tells me that there are “shoulds” which I could be engaged in that I’m not doing right now which are about how the energy I expend in life can be directed toward the betterment of humanity (even if only in a small way). The easy way, the deceptively simplistic way to reconcile both dilemmas is by following the intentions of the ethical dilemma, because if choices are arbitrary according to the ontological dilemma—what’s the harm in choosing what seems to be the ethical choice?... I am not a model to be followed, and I am not proposing that I am. So much time I feel a bit confined by how much time I have to work on this piece. It’s like a pressure. Like: now I have to do something good. What is this need to impress? What is this need to impress that I look down upon condescendingly and yet still feel a desire to employ in this work? Virtuosity…. It’s like I feel a need to convince people that this is hard to do, but I am good enough to do it: I’m up to the challenge. It’s what so many artists strive for: to convince the viewer that they are good. What artists strive to be good, and not merely convince? And what is the point of trying to be good in the artistic sense? What’s wrong with just convincing the viewer that you are good? What does it mean to be good? What have you achieved when you’ve done this? “I thought my aim for this work was to be good…to be a good artist…to make a good work. Upon further introspection, I realized that I wasn’t trying to be good, I was merely trying to convince…” Well, that seems empty…What now? Language, Movement, and “Honesty” Antonietta talked about the language of the piece as being honest (yet paradoxically so). Juliette talked about the piece bringing up the issue of the bastardization of language—the fact that language can be dishonest whereas movement cannot. Can language ever be truly honest? Maybe language can be honest, even as it also reveals its own disjunction, the disjunction between language and reality. Language is approximate and provisional, yet it was created by reality and so is rooted in reality. We can, with some accuracy, attach certain meanings and certain things to certain words spoken by the same group of people. Language need not be 100% accurate and 100% “objective” and 100% absent of connotation in order to have the capacity for integrity and honesty, in order to have the capacity to convey and communicate reality. Of course language and communication are “subjective.” So is reality. Out of subjectivity springs one’s capacity to have an ego, to experience life at all. I value subjectivity, I value the ego. The viewer’s experience of my piece will have its own “honest” subjectivity. My desire is to maintain integrity and to offer up my own honest subjectivity as a distinct kind of performativity that may speak to the viewer’s subjective experience in a way that deceitful, put-upon performativity cannot. Deceitful? Yes, if the performer tries to deceive themselves and/or the viewer about what they are actually experiencing, if they try to feel more than what they are really feeling. There is a place for that. My investigation is not the place for it. I am engaged in a task, and that task will make me feel things, and I don’t have to feel any more than what my words and physicality and breath and intense effort cause me to feel. I hope this may give the viewer space to feel in the same kind of way, that they don’t have an expectation that they need to feel anything beyond what my words and physicality and breath and effort cause them to feel. This is the goal… My physicality is honest. Does this create and antithesis to virtuosity? What is the matter with virtuosity? There is some part of me that does believe that my task is a defiance against virtuosity. Anyone could do what I’m doing, if they wanted to, and if they practiced for a while. I think most people looking at me could imagine themselves doing the same task, although they might acknowledge that it would cause them discomfort. Yet there is something of virtuosity in it. There is a will to impress (or entertain). There is a will to execute “well,” to perform “well.” What is that about? Gaining the confidence of the viewer? …How so? Can I justify that my task is a “physical feat”? I suppose I might say that this physical-feat aspect of my task allows me more physical honesty. If I were simply running a vacuum cleaner, that would be a bit of a lie…I don’t want to clean the performance space, and I don’t want to represent domestic chores. The vacuum-cleaner type of task would be so easy that I would be too conscious of the fact that I’m performing it. In my piece, I am conscious of the fact that I am performing—there is no escaping that—but the difficulty of my task means that a huge part of my conscious mind must be immersed in the physical action that I am doing. I have to hyper-conscious of my actual non-representative action in order to even do it at all. And this helps me to achieve physical honesty? The fact that my feat may be “impressive” is important in this performative context, because part of the point of the performance is to make an “impression” on the viewer. I can justify my virtuosity by saying that in order to make an impression, I have to “impress,” in some sense of the word, even if it means by using a subversive form of virtuosity. (There are so many kinds of virtuosity… I have seen virtuosic stillness that blew my mind…) I don’t love art. I don’t love dance. This has come as a dramatic realization to me, but it should have been obvious to me the whole time. There is some art, and some dance I love (and this I refer to as good art/good dance) and some that I don’t care for (bad art/bad dance). So that makes me wonder—is there anything I love categorically? …It seems like it would always depend on what I perceive to be the quality of the specific thing… I love what is good?—but right now I am defining what is good based on how much I “love” something—and so saying, “I love what is good” is circular logic, like saying, “I love what I love”…it means nothing. I love my ego?—I love I?—no, there are parts of myself that I don’t love. I can aim to love what I don’t love—taking a fatalistic approach and seeing necessity in everything that exists—I love the serpent’s venom, I love bad art…This love-of-everything, affirmation of everything seems to encourage me to do nothing, to not act. I love existence? Saying yes to existence seems possible, and vitally important even. “This is…”: That is existence. “This is about…”: That is non-existence. About-ness is not a thing—it doesn’t exist—it is an approximation and a nearness. But what is? What is? … Limits and Limitlessnesses I keep shifting in my mind the philosophy that this piece expounds, or if it expounds no philosophy…then the philosophy that drives it. That philosophy is me and my experience. Need I elaborate? Well there is no need unless I manufacture it, which I very well could do. But perhaps I won’t—I could allow me, I, and all the diversity and contradiction that this implies, I could let this be what drives the work, and this is essentially what I’ve been doing. I have not ascertained what I believe and striven to make a work that grows out of that. I have simply created and reflected and created and reflected. There is confusion; there is nonsense; there is all of it; all of this. There is clarity? There are moments of it perhaps, and there are also moments that are far from lucidity. This is what I experience—moments—and this is what I create. It’s so difficult to reason or to want to reason about these things—Everything is permitted. Therein lies the dilemma, and the freedom. I can be as bold as I deem necessary. Whether my piece is brazen and runs over boundaries and is memorable, or whether it is meek and forgotten in a day matters not at all. I can follow my interests. I can adhere to a sense of inner integrity. That is a comfort I haven’t considered—I don’t need the piece to be striking or memorable. I don’t have to be new; I don’t have to be appreciated; I don’t have to be well-liked. I don’t have to have changed anything in the piece since when I performed a work-in-progress at Danspace in March. I have permission; I have freedom. The piece will come to nothing. I guess that’s not necessarily a comfort. Freedom isn’t comfortable. With it comes responsibility? Is that true? Who am I responsible to? Am I responsible for the audience’s experience? Not at all, really. They are each responsible for their own experience. I am merely a witness-ee. A looked-at person. Do I require their approval, or at least someone’s approval? Only my own? It depends on what my interests are. Am I interested in building an audience base…in attracting presenters to my work? Not if I’m not even interested in my own work! That is my first commandment: Be interested in your work. Is that my only commandment? Perhaps another things I’m interested in is for this work to create a platform for the possibility of lucid experience within the viewer. I am interested in their humanity, and I am interested in the attempt, my attempt to connect with it (?), to speak to it (?), in some way. These aren’t the right verbs: connect, speak, affect…I don’t know what the right verb is. I want what I’m doing to be witnessed, and I want it to enable to possibility of penetrating questions in the audience. Is what I’m writing true? I’m finding out, I’m finding out—in time. Partly, what I’m doing is relating an aspect of my experience, which the viewer can’t entirely understand, and letting that relating of it become a part of their experience in a way I can’t entirely understand. Partly? Maybe that is exactly everything that I am doing. Who am I? Who is this “I” that has these desires and interests? The paradox is that this “I” is also “Not-I.” It is formed, to a huge extent, biologically and culturally and experientially by what is outside of itself. It cannot create itself; it can only perpetuate itself. But the reason why it is not merely “Not-I” but is also “I” is that it can re-create itself. I can re-create myself. That is the hope anyway. And this is one reason I turn to art-making. To exist as “I” and not merely as “Not-I.” (I’m not saying art-making is the only way to exist as myself rather than as a pebble that has been washed ashore. I’m not saying that washing dishes, that breathing, that thinking are not also potential ways of re-creating oneself. I do not privilege any action…) Why must I perform every rehearsal? Why must I perform the piece every rehearsal? To prove that I do not require an audience. Prove to whom? To myself, of course. And the proof comes in the doing of it. Not in the having done it once, or having done it thirty other times. And it is not disproved by having failed in the past. The only proof or disproof is the present doing or non-doing of it. Why must I prove this to myself—that I do not require an audience? It makes it easier to perform for an audience if I know I don’t need them. I do better for them. That said, I love to perform this piece. Having one person come in to watch it—that is enough. It energizes me, and I feel energized afterward, instead of drained. I love rehearsing alone, too, (sometimes), because I don’t have to do or prove anything. Do I love it, also, for what it is for, for preparing me to perform for an audience? Of course. I love rehearsing, I love performing, in part, for what they are for (not purely “in themselves”). So, what is performing for?
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Daniel Linehan

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