Rebecca Warzer: Geometry of FeelingOctober 23, 2016
Geometry of Feeling
by Rebecca Warzer
Christine played by Lauren GladingBrad played by Madison Velding-VanDam
Originally performed as part of Chez Bushwick’s 2Night Show “She Reconfigured”curated by Meredith Glisson at the Center for Performance Research, October 13 & 14, 2016; Brooklyn, NY.
Scene 1: Lecture
Christine gives a talk on Julia Kristeva and the structure of abjection as an object.
She introduces herself to the audience, thanks them for having her; this is
believable and the audience should feel that she as a person / “academic” is really
addressing them, as her, not her undisclosed ‘character’. She reads from a clear
lacquer podium. About halfway through her 5 min piece she starts peeing her pants.
If she acknowledges this, it is very subtle. There is no overt breakdown—there is
only the rapid betrayal of trust that the audience had placed in her on the grounds
of her very acceptable appearance, likable personality, presumed intellect. When
she pees, all of this is shattered and the ground is wet. Christine’s lecture ends by
her quickly thanking the audience—maybe it does seem like she is ending it early—
Hello! Thank you so much for having me—I’m so happy to get to be here,
and talk to all of you for a minute. I was going to read from one of my essays but I
think instead, if you don’t mind, I’ll just read a bit of this very rough sketch of an
essay I’m working on—pardon the fact that it’s very unfinished—but I thought it
might be more exciting than something that you can read of mine elsewhere.
If the abject were an object, it would be a braid. Specifically, it would be
the “rope” braid, which is composed of just two strands held together by twisting
them in opposite directions. We know from Kristeva that abjection is not an object
at all—it cannot be contained—but if it were, it would be the rope of schoolgirls’
braids and the rope of ships at sea. Rope is primarily used to hold things together
and to hold things apart.
Abjection is necessarily two: it is not whole. If anything, it is an absence, a
space in between that defines a polar relationship. Whatever the “abject” is, it is
held apart from itself, it is two, and yet it is necessarily held together by its
definition in opposition to each other. Already we have the problem of referring to
abjection in the singular. Is abjection an “it” or “they”? Appropriately elusive or
ungraspable by the English language, Kristeva’s abjection is the place where
A trauma is an abject state: its site is split and irreconcilable. Kristeva
describes abjection as “a vortex of summons and repulsion which places the one
haunted by it literally beside herself” (Kristeva 1982). The simultaneous existence
of irreconcilable states, especially when they both exist within one body and
psyche, creates complexity. The complexity of this plural trauma in a singular
body, which ceaselessly seeks homeostasis or center, is a complexity not supported
in modern society. (“This complexity is not supported on your current operating
system of late capitalism”). A family member dies, and maybe a week later, you go
back to work. Trauma is not just pain, or something bad, but any kind of souldeath;
any unthinkable veering from homeostasis or center. Surely, a trauma is a
wound, and a wound hurts, but wounds are also doors and sites of entry, and they
are fertile. What could trauma be without an assumed negative value judgment?
Can trauma be anything other than bad? What is a Traumatic Joy? I think an
example of a Traumatic Joy could be falling in love, whether with a person, or
with a thing you do, like paint, or with a really amazing book—anything that gives
you an experience of ecstasy and gratitude from which you never fully recover. I
will try and make a case for Traumatic Joy as a specifically feminine or feminist
The artist Cristine Brache has stated in interview with Zoe Koke: “I can
only offer what is inside me and how I feel, which often times can be very
contradictory”. In response, Koke stated: “I think a lot of the work we must do, as
feminists, is in embracing contradiction and complexity within how we have been
conditioned, which can feel like hypocrisy. I personally [Koke still speaking] find
myself existing awkwardly between ‘extremes’ not feeling comfortable at times with
complexity”… “[one] is shamed when [one] decides to be complicated” (Koke 2016).
End quote. A feminine state is one of complexity; complexity that arises from
trauma and dissociation. Its genesis is in this split, and this split is a sufficient
condition for the occurrence of a feminine state. One feminist “position” is in
perpetuating this split, and existing within irreconcilable complexity.
This state we’re calling complexity is actually a paleologic in which “A” and
“Not A” exist simultaneously, and multiple realities are true. In psychology,
paleological thinking is preconscious, prelogical, paradoxical thought; dream-like
and highly associative in its stream of consciousness. Chris Kraus says on
paleological thinking and schizophrenia: “Both are complex systems based on
paradox in which disconnected parts operate according to hidden laws” (Kraus
1997). Paleological thinking is a kind of schizophrenia—psychological
superposition—I am me and not me, both myself and other, and this, of course, is
pathological! But there is a way in which condemning this paleologic of the psyche,
the simultaneous “A” and “Not A”, is a pathologizing of a feminine subjectivity.
Thank you so much—I’m really looking forward to seeing the rest of the work here
Christine exits the direction she entered from.
Scene 2: Christine’s Diary
Lights up, Christine has changed, she is sitting in the pool of light / spotlight that
all of the play action takes place in, slightly SL, writing in her journal. The pool of
light is oval, and has a sharp border. Brad enters SR, shoulders off his jacket.
B: Hey love.
Brad kisses Christine on the cheek?
B: How did it go today?
C: I think it went pretty well actually.
Brad sits on the ground way too far away from Christine; the following exchange
should feel pleasant but a little empty, almost with an affect of ‘actors reading lines
on stage’!! Maybe they are sitting similarly, facing each other, maintaining steady
eye contact, but obviously far from each other in multiple ways.
I was kind of nervous. If there is a laugh here, say:
Unfortunately, I don’t think any of it was funny.
B: How did you feel, did the dizziness go away after this morning?
C: I felt pretty nauseous before I went up, which I’m sure was just from nerves.
When I first opened my mouth to speak all I could imagine was myself vomiting all
over the podium or something.
B: There’s that part in “Powers of Horror” about vomiting and expelling yourself
to define some border between yourself and other.
C: Right. That’s how I could’ve explained it. No but I really do think it went
well—one of my better performances of the text at least. How was your class?
B: Kind of tedious today. They all handed in their midterm essays so I’ve got my
work cut out for me.
C: Oh right. I forgot it’s almost Halloween.
B: Why don’t you read to me from your journal today.
C: Alright. It’s kind of relevant actually. I was reminded earlier of this small
episode I had when I was fourteen on vacation with my parents in Montreal, but
it’s kind of a dramatization of that.
Here, Christine gets up and starts “acting out” her diary entry, performing her
text, as if she is reading from a script. For instance: “dizzy, lightheaded”, she
stumbles slightly and catches herself on Brad’s arm; “floating above despair”, she
goes on relevé and raises her arms, creating a space beneath her, still reading from
“We were finishing dinner at a restaurant, sitting outside, when suddenly I became
so dizzy, lightheaded, faint, experienced vertigo, felt as if I could pass out right
there. And then a slow wave of nausea… it passed, and minutes later came back,
this time so much worse, was I going to throw up right here right now?? I excused
myself and went to the bathroom where the nausea had already passed but my
heart was racing, I had cold sweats, and this new sensation of doom. Suddenly I
had a despair attribute, it ebbed and flowed, the meter spiking and dipping too
rapidly and inconsistently for me to be able to anticipate: one moment I am
floating above despair, I am spared, I can look down upon it from above, I am
outside of it and I can sigh deeply in relief. But then, like a fake out in a horror
movie, the next moment I am plunged under water, ring the alarms, everything is
spinning and the scariest part is how helpless I feel in helping myself, I can always
help myself, care for myself and give myself what I need but what the fuck is even
happening to me right now?? Am I having a stroke?? A bit after this, the lowgrade
headache began, the sensitivity to light, suddenly I was a newborn baby,
squinting pink at the world. We left the restaurant in a car and I lay in the hotel
bed until dark, where even then, safe under covers, my doom-meter fluctuated still,
head still bobbing above and sinking below the surface. This, more than anything
that had happened in the restaurant, was the cruelty to me: that I should feel this
way, laying in bed with the lights dim and a cool washcloth on my neck, my
mother stroking my back”.
At this point Christine is lying on the ground, miming her migraine. Brad comes
over and strokes her back.
C: Sorry if that was a bit dark.
Brad looks like he is going to say something more, but instead this is just a
*moment*, they look at each other; lights out.
Scene 3: Christine’s Diary Again
Lights up and only Christine’s legs are visible, her body lying half in/half out of the
pool of light. The dialogue from the previous scene plays over speakers—none of
this dialogue is spoken by Brad or Christine live.
C: Hi! Christine sits up, her whole body in the light now
Brad enters, leans down and kisses Christine on the cheek, puts his hand behind
her neck and pulls her up gracefully; they cross to SR this way, Brad walking
backwards holding her head close to his.
Brad picks up Chris sack-of-potato style, she delivers “kind of nervous” to audience
by pushing herself up on his lower back and looking out
C: I think it went pretty well actually. I was kind of nervous. Unfortunately, I
don’t think any of it was funny.
Brad puts her down kind of rough and they immediately resume sitting positions
from the previous scene
On “vomiting”, Chris throws herself at Brad
Brad catches Chris; this is repeated a few times, getting a bit more violent each
time, until Brad catches her, holds her, and lets her down gently, on “Would you
read to me from your journal today?”
B: Would you read to me from your journal today?
Brad and Christine look at each other, doing the “talking-not-talking” we developed
in rehearsal together—basically they are making very subtle facial expressions
consistent with their dialogue, talking to each other, but not moving their mouths.
Brad acts out Christine’s dramatization, very tentatively at first, as if saying the
whole time, “Am I doing this right…?”
this time so much worse; was I going to throw up right here right now?? I excused
Christine has just been watching the whole time, now she crosses over to Brad and
takes his head in her hands/lap.
Scene 4: Math Lesson
No lights down / lights up here: for all staging purposes, this is a continuation of
the previous scene.
B: Did it feel dark to you?
C: No— I feel fine. Just fine.
Pause! Something is unsaid!
So I was reading this book by René Thom, French mathematician, called
“Structural Stability and Morphogenesis” which is all about a kind of math called
Catastrophe Theory. Um—let me find the diagram—it’s also in the program, so
you can follow along.
Christine crosses SL and goes offstage for a moment to get the book and flips to
find the Cusp Model. See Appendix for Cusp Model diagram. This diagram is
printed in the program, and the house lights are raised just slightly, allowing the
audience to follow along with Christine’s explanation.
So, you see this surface—with peaks and valleys, like a golf course or something.
When you place a ball on the surface, it will roll towards the lowest point. Where
the ball is placed in the first place—its initial conditions—is arbitrary. When the
ball moves anywhere along the surface, it corresponds to a particular x, y and z
coordinate on the axes that define the three-dimensional space. What’s special
about this particular dynamic surface is that when you’re near this ledge, or cusp,
a small step in the x or y direction will result in a giant leap in the z direction,
from the edge of the cusp to the bottom of the valley here. This moment is
actually called hysteresis, believe it or not. It’s the moment when these very
normal and linear changes cause this very nonlinear, dynamic shift in the entire
state of the system.
B: That’s really weird math.
C: It honestly feels like it was designed with me in mind—the way those dizzy
spells come out of nowhere and propel me into a slightly different world. Like going
to sleep in your own bed and waking up in a house that isn’t yours.
Brad takes Christine’s hand into his lap, and gently touches clothes, nose, hair, at
B: This is your house… that’s your bed. These are your clothes, and your nose, and
Christine interrupts Brad by kissing him on the lips.
C: Easy to forget sometimes!
Scene 5: Bed Geometry & Crumpled Tissue Dance
Brad and Christine are asleep together. At the beginning of this scene, the lights
are dim (~5%) and they get increasingly brighter (morning light) as the “bed
geometry” occurs, until they are both awake, at which point the light plateaus
(~40%). Bed geometry: Brad wakes up, takes a book lying beside him, starts
reading, Christine shifts so she is lying draped over him a little bit. Brad falls back
asleep. Christine wakes up and starts writing in her journal, still draped over Brad
so as to not move and disturb him. They fall into a pattern of waking, shifting,
reading and writing, and this happens over and around each other, for instance,
Brad laying on his back, Christine laying on top of him (“asleep”) and Brad
holding the book in the air, reading past her head. Finally they are “awake” at the
same time, Christine is writing and Brad is reading, and we hear from Christine’s
journal over the speakers:
“If my mind is too complicated to be contained, necessarily too complex to be
singular, then how should I know myself? What system, structure, architecture,
geometry do I employ to know my own mind? My journal is so comically varied
that sometimes it’s not even useful beyond the moment of writing, as a reference.
Math problems and heartache bleed together into a homogenous black ink scrawl! I
am always reminded of Lydia Davis’ story about the woman who has a very sharp
consciousness but Almost No Memory. I am her, my thoughts serve only to
consume paper; sometimes I float through my days like a crumpled tissue on the
sidewalk or a pebble in moving water…”
B: Morning love.
C: Good morning! My body feels like a crumpled tissue—still half asleep.
B: You feel like what?
C: A crumpled tissue.
B: Show me.
Christine commences her Crumpled Tissue Dance. It is too big for the circle of
light and there are moments when she falls into the darkness, segmenting her body:
sometimes she is whole; sometimes she is just an arm, sometimes only her feet.
Christine recites in broken speech, with so much space between each line fragment,
for her to move within:
Sometimes—when I am out in the world—
At the supermarket—walking down the aisle—
I feel like I am just floating— could be carried by any strong wind—
A crumpled tissue sitting in the corner made by the curb and the street—
next to the gutter—
Sometimes—it will feel like—
When you say a word—over and over—
So it loses its meaning.
Like that but for everything I see.
If only—I could be new—
When I wake up in the morning—
I could learn the world again every day.
After Christine recites this once, the recording of it is played back, and she recites
it again (still dancing), almost shouting over her own voice—maybe it repeats a
third time, sometimes her words line up with each other, sometimes she is an echo
of herself. The recordings accumulate so the third time it is recited, we are hearing
three layered Christine voices: two pre-recorded, one live. As Christine’s dance
gets bigger and takes up more space, Brad inches toward the edge of the circle,
until he is offstage. At the beginning of the last recitation, the lights get brighter
and brighter until the very last moment when Christine repeats the last line of the
play a few times, and then the stage goes dark immediately. At this point the dance
and recitation has escalated almost into a mania or hysteresis, and Christine
addresses the last line “I could learn the world again every day” directly to the
audience. This moment: she is wild, she is smiling, the play is over.
“A Conversation with Cristine Brache”. Interview by Zoe Koke. The Editorial
Davis, Lydia. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. New York: Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, 2009. Print.
Hansen, Vagn Lundsgaard. Braids and Coverings: Selected Topics. London
Mathematical Society. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.
Kraus, Chris. I Love Dick. Los Angeles, CA.: Semiotext(e), 1997. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1982. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. New York: Columbia UP, 1984.
Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. Wave Books: New York, 2009. Print.
Thom, René. Structural Stability and Morphogenesis; an Outline of a General
Theory of Models. Reading, MA: W.A. Benjamin, 1975. Print.
Widdows, Dominic. The Geometry of Meaning. Stanford, CA: CSLI, 2003. Print.
Zeeman, E.C. “Catastrophe Theory”. Scientific American April 1976, pp 65-70, 75-83.