Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"... find the heretofore un-mapped," says Richard Foreman

On November 19, 1988, my husband and I saw a production at The Public Theater in New York that kept us talking for the full three-hour-drive home, and most of the next day, and for days and weeks after that. The play was What Did He See by Richard Foreman. We began to track down all of his writings; my husband was writing poetry and experimental dialogues and I was painting, and his complex ideas, we thought, needed to be felt, taken in, understood, and acted upon as we worked. In his "Ontological-Hysteric Manifesto I," Foreman talked about art and life and a thing he called "the scanning mechanism" which "produces art ... when its rhythms dominate the scanned object."

[I should note that, as far as I can remember, this was well before the words "scan" and "scanning" referred to anything with a tiny, pricey chip].  Instead, Foreman is talking about the way the mind and the senses of the artist look, then take in, and repeat the action, and take in again, and thus "dominate" what is seen by focusing, instead, on the process, its movement, and what it says about our creativity and ourselves.  Art, he says, should "give courage to oneself and others to be alive from moment to moment, which means to accept both flux ... and an INTERSECTING process -- scanning -- which is the perpetual constituting and reconstituting of the self."  Accepting change is one thing... Foreman wants us to seek change, flux, interchange, and in this way wake ourselves to what matters, to movement and art and to recognize "imbalance," which we "most deeply" are.

This follows, I think, from yesterday's post on Freud and "minor differences," which keep us both within civilization and aware of our "selves."  We need "imbalance" -- even to pursue it if necessary --
because that working out of who we are against what we see is critical. Foreman says that art should expose us to "the true process of a certain kind of sentence-gesture (man's inner quest for style, for a way of being in the world) as it encounters the resistance of the real object (nature)."  We see something, we imitate it, or draw it, or speak it, we "scan" it, and the natural object... is up against what we see, say, draw. It doesn't change. We do. The art shifts to explore this, and we live ... more fully.

He suggests, then, in a work called "How to Write a Play," that artists have a job: "find the heretofore un-mapped, un-notated crevices in the not-yet beautiful landscape ... and widen the gaps and plant the seed in those gaps and make those gaps flower ... and the plant over-runs the entire landscape."  The thing that everyone draws, the thing that we always see, or respond to, the easy story, the thing we know ... those are not important in art and life, as we can sleep-walk our way through them.  We want to find the things we have not yet seen, the hidden, the behind-things, the hints and "crevices" and we want to throw our lot in with all that we have not already known.

Richard Foreman has his own website,, where he lists upcoming productions and opens his notebooks. Go look at it, and then tell me what you find there.... We still love his work.

Here is one of my old notebooks, and a manuscript that is clearly "in flux" --- and in need of planted seeds in its gaps. But it has value ... when I "scan" it, looking and repeating:

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