Notes on Performance – Cruelty in Action

Antonin Artaud

Performance as an art does not hang like a pretty picture in the living room nor does it not fit on the wall of a middleclass restaurant. Damien Hirst’s Abalone Acetone Powder – his spot painting – fits too neatly into the house of a contestant on Come Dine With Me.

Not art but a brand, Hirst, stinking of the owner’s money like a pair of Westwood jeans. As a poet and performer, I have no interest in catering for such a market. I do not do panna cotta or blue cheese. I do blueness: that drowning disordering the senses – our senses.

Franko B says performance art works “when I come across something that I remember, either because it upset me or it made me happy.” He notes, “Art is about creating language and memories. Language is like a virus that can invade you, and I love that.” I love that too.

Hannah Silva writes,

In performance, the poet (whether consciously or not) works with language, music and the body simultaneously. An interdisciplinary process takes place within the performance poet, while a dialogic exchange takes place between poet and audience. This can give the impression of poetry being composed live in the space.

This is what I seek to do in performance – distill images into the audience like a virus injecting its DNA through the cell receptors. I use repetition to intensify the images to the edge of the breath. On the edge I cross one image over into another and back again. Allen Ginsberg writes, “Our heads are round so thought can change direction.”

In Theatre and Its Double, Antonin Artaud places an emphasis on cruelty. He writes that cruelty “means a theater difficult and cruel for myself first of all.” Cruelty begins with the self. My self. Lee Jamieson writes that cruelty means for the performer to embody and intensify “the underlying brutalities of life to recreate the thrill of experience.” He notes,

Artaud sought to remove aesthetic distance, bringing the audience into direct contact with the dangers of life. By turning theatre into a place where the spectator is exposed rather than protected, Artaud was committing an act of cruelty upon them.

I attempt to bring the audience into ideas – cruel ones – pulling away at the rug under them.

In my monologue, Another History of Nothing, nothing really happens. I stream thoughts around Sigmund Freud’s the Oedipus Complex. The aim – to bring the audience into the dynamics of the unconscious, turning one image into another to find the instinct to murder. Murder our mothers. Have we not all had this thought? The superego – the internalised parental voice – punishes us for it.

I attempt to highlight cruelty that begins with the self. What does Artaud mean by this? He may mean that the cruelty we experience is uniquely our own, in the way we experience the monstrosity of being alive. Artaud writes, “I myself am an absolute abyss.” I live in a city and cruelty is there on London streets. I feel it. I dream it. I think it. I scream it.

Samuel Beckett’s work is “the stink of mortality.” He says,

Yes, [my texts] deal with distress. Some people object to this in my writing. At a party an English intellectual—so-called—asked me why I write always about distress. As if it were perverse to do so! He wanted to know if my father had beaten me or my mother had run away from home to give me an unhappy childhood. I told him no, that I had had a very happy childhood. Then he thought me more perverse than ever. I left the party as soon as possible and got into a taxi. On the glass partition between me and the driver were three signs: one asked for help for the blind, another help for orphans, and the third for relief for the war refugees. One does not have to look for distress. It is screaming at you even in the taxis of London.

Franko B quotes from the Metro
Hannah Silva from her paper, Composing Speech, in Tom Chivers ed., Stress Factures: Essays on Poetry, Penned in the Margins, 2010
Lee Jamieson from his book, Antonin Artaud: From Theory to Practice, Greenwich Exchange, 2007
Samuel Beckett quote from Tom Driver, Beckett by the Madeleine, Columbia University Forum, 1961

Tom Bland, 2014


A Monologue

Another History of Nothing

I read a thief tried to steal the urn of Sigmund and Martha Freud’s ashes. The Greek urn portrayed Dionysius and one of his maenads, literally ‘raving ones.’ Bits broke when the urn fell but the newspaper didn’t say if the ashes scattered.

I was a white sheet Martha cut holes in to let my soul out. I never had a soul. I was always a white sheet. Into a body shape. Greek. He was a callous thief. I read soldiers twisted his silver intestines around his neck and they hung him to die, to die, to die. I resented Freud for I loved him. Was this strange? I was dead.

Scholars loved him. His radical ideas they so easily applied to the mundane attributes of life. I tasted melancholy even after brushing my teeth. They tended to fall back on his early theories whereby the soul became a person: the I, ego, in his own self-generated matrix of wife and child.

He wrote that the Oedipus Complex came out of his own self-analysis: to love and possess his mother but his father took control, ‘I’ll castrate you, my son.’ Freud felt his life in his thinking: those rubies of the unconscious: crystalline blood.

His father indicated but like Oedipus plucking out his eyes, he killed his own desire. Suicide or murder. Yukio Yamaji raped and stabbed two sisters. He said, ‘I could not forget the feeling when I killed my mother, and wanted to see human blood.’ I killed my mother. I couldn’t think outside of her circumference.

Before the sisters – how beautiful they must have been –  Yamaji swung a baseball bat and his mother dropped dead. I envied his reality. I killed her in a dream. Martha cut holes in me. I took my own eyes out.

Tom Bland, 2014

Anthony Joseph appears at Before I Die


Before I Die – Poetry & Performance is a monthly night I run with Sunshine Faggio. This month it’s happening Weds 12th Feb and we have Anthony Joseph featuring. I first met Anthony at a course he ran at The Poetry School entitled, First Thought, Best Thought, based on Allen Ginsberg’s lines, ‘I am a stenographer of my mind. I write down what passes through it, not what goes on around me. I am a poet.’ Anthony drew on exercises from surrealism with theory from Charles Olson to bring out our unique images. Olson writes,

Whatever you have to say, leave
The roots on, let them

And the dirt

Just to make clear
Where they come from.

Anthony’s last poetry collection was Rubber Orchestras (Salt, 2013) and his aim was in his words, ‘to make poems that possessed motion as you read them, becoming themselves in the process.’ He is also a great performer of his work and this is a rare London reading.

Tom Bland

Here’s a prose poem…

There’s no lack of void.

Not my line but Samuel Beckett’s. I stole it like so many lines. I have done a hundred lines in alcohol drenched toilets. I have often thought about truth and London streets like silences between words, cars, and cigarettes.

With every step I flushed truth down the toilet.

The toilet in The French House where I saw the residue of Georges Bataille’s face. He said, ‘You perhaps know that desire reduces us to pulp.’

Tom Bland