Copyright © 1999 by The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes within a subscribed institution. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically outside of the subscribed institution, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the JHU Press.
Theatre Journal 51.4 (1999) 383-394

The Screen Test of the Double: The Uncanny Performer in the Space of Technology

Matthew Causey

Your reality is already half video hallucination. Soon it will become total hallucination. You're going to have to learn to live in a very strange, new world.
Dr. Brian Oblivion, Videodrome1
And if I am anything in the picture, it is always in the form of the screen, which I earlier called the stain, the spot.2

Question Regarding the Virtual and the Real

There is nothing in cyberspace and the screened technologies of the virtual that has not been already performed on the stage. The theatre has always been virtual, a space of illusory immediacy.3 Yet the contemporary discourse surrounding live performance and technological reproduction establishes an essentialized difference between the phenomena. The difference is further concretized in the critical writings of theatre and performance studies that ignore such performative mediated forms as film, television, radio, and multimedia. Slavoj Zizek, in the introduction to Mapping Ideology, writes that it is a commonplace assumption that "virtual or cyber-sex presents a radical break with the past since in it actual sexual contact with a real other is losing ground against masturbatory enjoyment, whose sole support is the virtual other." He dismisses that assumption by suggesting that "Lacan's thesis that there is no sexual relationship means precisely that the structure of the real sexual act (of the act with a flesh and blood partner) is already inherently phantasmic--the real body of the other serves only as a support for our phantasmic projections."4 Lacan's argument thus challenges the assumptions inherent in the constructed binary of the live and the virtual, and [End Page 383] thereby disputing the claims of immediacy and presence in live performance.5 But it would be a mistake to imagine that what we experience in the theatre and recorded media is the same experience. It is the same, only different. 

The debate regarding the ontology of performance and the nature of liveness has been well rehearsed.6 Peggy Phelan argues that performance is defined through its non-reproducibility. The nature of performance deteriorates as it is enfolded in technological reproduction. Philip Auslander counters that the live is an artifact of recording media. Liveness exists not as a prior condition, but as a result of mediatization. Yet both arguments are problematic. Phelan disregards any effect of technology on performance and draws a non-negotiable, essentialist border between the two media. Auslander draws out a sophisticated legal argument whose dynamic materialism overlooks the most material manner of marking the live, namely death. Disputing the argument of Phelan and amending Auslander's I suggest that the ontology of performance (liveness), which exists before and after mediatization, has been altered within the space of technology. But, how? 

Question Regarding Performance and Mediatized Culture

Three basic arguments comprise the contemporary theory of subject construction in mediatized culture7 and help shape the aesthetic gestures of contemporary performance: 
1. The material body and its subjectivity is extended, challenged, and reconfigured through technology.
2. The televisual is the primary modality of contemporary technological representation dominating manners of thought and communication, cultural and subject construction.
3. There exists an unavoidable convergence of the human and machine wherein the "slave" machine dominates the "master" human subject.
The performance work of the classical postmodernist Wooster Group (US), The Desperate Optimists, an expatriate Irish company working in the UK (Ireland/UK), the altered medical body of Orlan (France), the obsolete body of Stelarc (Australia), and the post-colonial cyber-performance artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes (Chicano-American) are all in the process of embodying mediated subjectivity and articulating, representing that experience in performance. The developing art forms of web-based performance, interactive installations, and virtual environments are extending the boundaries of the theatre and our notions of what constitutes a performance. How do we understand the processes of performance which converge with mediated technologies of representation and represent and enact mediated subjectivity? [End Page 384]

I want here to answer my two questions by isolating a critical moment in new media performance works specifically and digital culture in general, when the presence of the Double is presented through mediated duplication, the simple moment when a live actor confronts her mediated other through the technologies of reproduction. I will suggest that the experience of the self as other in the space of technology can be read as an uncanny experience, a making material of split subjectivity. What I will argue is that the inclusion of the televisual screen in performance, and the practice of performance in the screened world of virtual environments, constitutes the staging of the privileged object of the split subject, that which assists in the subject's division, capturing the gaze, enacting the subject's annihilation, its nothingness, while presenting the unpresentable approach of the real through the televisual screens. Part psychoanalytic reading (Freud and Lacan), part textual analysis (Beckett and Genet), part film studies (Lynch and Weir), this paper focuses on the material object wherein and upon which these performance phenomena take place, both in the nowhere of the psyche and the lived space of the body: the screens.8 The goal of this tripartite strategy is to demonstrate how questions of virtuality and the real are being played out in both live and mediated performative work and across a variety of historical contexts. The critical issues of live performance are converging with the critical issues of mediatized culture and each is informing the other. 

At the Tone, Please Leave a Message

Avital Ronell, in The Telephone Book, writes of Freud's notion of unheimlich, or the uncanny, and how this phenomenon recurs through the subject's experience of displacement within technology. She remarks that "the more dreadfully disquieting thing is not the other or an alien; it is, rather, yourself in oldest familiarity with the other, for example, it could be the Double in which you recognize yourself outside of yourself."9 The confrontation with the Double, the recognition of yourself outside of yourself through the echoing voice on the telephone, the anamorphic projection on the television in freeze-frame, slow-motion, fast forward, and reverse, through "a kind of" being in cyberspace with morphing identities that exist within the fragility of the digital hypertext, present the technologically triggered uncanniness of contemporary subjectivity. The experience of the uncanny within the space of technology seems easily constructed. The first time your computer screen displays a message, a question "how are you?" from an anonymous chatroom participant, the experience is palpable. Who is it behind the text, on the other side of the screen? It is whomever I want. The pulsating cursor, like a heart beat, anticipates the streaming text that follows, unencumbered by the appearance of the body, offering a flat screen ideally suited to project our own desires, our desiring phantasms. The audio sampling of our voices ("at the tone, please leave a message"), the black and white surveillance video captures of our images ("is that how I look in line at the bank?") are now commonplace, but somehow unsettling. Why? In attempting to outline an aesthetic of the [End Page 385] uncanny Freud noted several literary examples that would elicit an experience of the uncanny. Freud writes, "this uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression."10 The ego does not believe in the possibility of its death. The unconscious thinks it is immortal. The uncanny experience of the double is Death made material. Unavoidable. Present. Screened. 

The screens of mediated technologies, now ubiquitous in live performance, like the dolls, mirrors and automatons which Freud suggests bring forth experience, construct the space wherein we double ourselves and perform a witnessing of ourselves as other. The uncanniness of mediatized culture is a technological uncanniness. David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the feature prequel to the television series, works through these issues of technological uncanniness. It is February the sixteenth at 10:10 A.M. when Special Agent Dale Cooper enters the office of FBI Regional Director Gordon Cole. The establishing shot of the FBI Building begins with an upside-down shadow of the Liberty Bell panning up to the actual Bell, which is then echoed in a print of the Bell in Gordon's office. "I was worried about today because of the dream I told you about," Cooper confides, kneeling at Gordon's desk. Gordon nods. Cut to: an empty office hallway with a single surveillance camera hung from the ceiling pointing away from the viewer. Special Agent Cooper enters the frame, stands in front of the surveillance camera and waits. Cut to: Close-up of the surveillance monitor with Cooper looking. Cut to: Medium shot of the hallway as Cooper walks out. Cut to: Medium shot of surveillance control room where a security guard watches three video monitors. The middle monitor displays Cooper just exiting the hallway as he enters the frame of the film and into the control room. He studies the monitor. Nothing. He repeats the sequence. Still, nothing on the monitor. The editing works to unsettle the eye between monitored video space and the real filmic space. An elevator door opens. Pause. Philip Jeffries, a long lost federal agent walks up the hallway toward Cooper, who is again looking into the surveillance camera. Cooper walks back in the control room and is astonished to see himself on the live monitor and that Jeffries is walking past his image. He calls out anxiously, "Gordon! Gordon!" Seeing himself see himself creates a startling chain of events. Jeffries, now in Gordon's office, speaks in a halting voice about an unknown Judy. The video noise of the dead TV channel, which later proves to be the sighting of the father as killer, fades in and out, superimposed upon the scenes. It is through the technological that we enter the dream space of Twin Peaks with its patented reverse speak. When Jeffries vanishes it is as if he does so along the electrical wires and through videated space as quick inserts of cabling and telephone poles are flashed. The front desk of FBI headquarters says that Jeffries was never there. Cole and Cooper confirm Jeffries presence and Cooper's visual doubling by reviewing the video. The video is the only evidence of presence, not unlike the chant that went out during many protest marches concerning the Rodney King verdict, "the video doesn't lie, the video doesn't lie!" The uncanny and videated doubling of Cooper is the signal, the crisis point, wherein the dream space of fragmentation via technology invades the real space. [End Page 386]

The issues of televisual and simulated culture are now commonplace Hollywood script fodder, depicting either the anxiety or desire that my life is, or should be, TV. The Truman Show and Edtv11 are recent examples. Both films offer a Baudrillard for Dummies, a Pirandello for those who missed modernism, through a dramatization of the theory of simulations. Pleasantville12 is a film whose twisted ideology narrates an attempted reconstruction of the televisual as flesh through a slow process of colorization. If we are trapped in the television, if our world has become televisual, then why not make the television our reality? The designing of simulated wars for political gain is played out in Wag the Dog,13 eerily reflecting what many thought was the cynicism that lay behind Clinton's militarism in 1998-99. Why this ubiquity of challenges and confrontation of the real and the televisual, the organic and technological in popular culture? The use of the technology of the screen in these films is telling. There is always a person behind the curtain, behind the screen or two-way mirror who can be isolated as the cause of the mediated invasion. The Director in The Truman Show, the TV repairman in Pleasantville, the media specialist in Wag the Dog, are the "men" behind the curtain. This recurring narrative device of a motivating cause that can be revealed from behind the screen is a distinctly modern notion. Zizek, in an analysis of mediated technologies, writes that "modernist technology is 'transparent' in the sense of retaining the illusion of an insight into 'how the machine works'; that is to say, the screen of the interface was supposed to allow the user direct access to the machine behind the screen." He goes on to suggest that postmodern technologies deliver quite the opposite with an "interface screen [that] is supposed to conceal the workings of the machine." The problem is that "the user becomes 'accustomed to opaque technology'--the digital machinery 'behind the screen' retreats into total impenetrability, even invisibility."14 The growing opacity of the mediated screens require of the user a certain trust. The ideology of capitalism operates in this manner looking to obscure understanding as to "how things work" while encouraging acquiescence to "things as they are." The television requests that we please stand by, and some do. 

Nothing to Do with Representation?

If theatre, performance, film and new media studies seem to share similar concerns and aesthetic gestures regarding the collapse of the real into the virtual and the construction of identity in the space of technology, are there common discourses to understand these problems? Lacan's writings on the scopic drive and modern drama's working through of the reality versus illusion question are two models I will put forth. 

The materialist critique of Lacanian and Freudian psychoanalytic paradigms in film studies asserts that many of the models of its discourse are totalizing, idealistic and ahistorical, relying on sexual difference to articulate its theory at the expense of race and class differentiations.15 Nonetheless, performance theorists continue to mine [End Page 387] Lacan's oeuvre to help explicate the field and several notions concerning the screen and the scopic drive from Lacan's Seminar XI will help focus my argument.16 I try here to employ these works not as authoritarian truth but as metaphors, or even "as if" they are dramatic texts, not to extend the psychoanalytic discourse, but to tease out structures of subject construction in mediatized culture that reflect upon contemporary theatre practice. 

The imaginary play ("The Scopic Drive") which I construct from Lacan's texts regarding the drama of the self and subjectivity plots a division between the gaze17 and the subject of representation, the gaze and the eye, the subject and the other. The mediators between the two sets are the image and the screen. The action of the plot follows two paths. The first concerns how the subject doubles itself as a result of the nature of being, being split18 and the fascination that grows for the determining factor in that division. Lacan writes, "the interest the subject takes in his own split is bound up with that which determines it--namely, a privileged object, which has emerged from some primal separation, from some self-mutilation induced by the very approach of the real."19 The determining factor of split subjectivity in mediatized culture is rightly sensed as technology. The televisual screen is that privileged object that emerges from the separation of the self, but is also the technology of the self-mutilation revealing the appearance of the double as the approach of the real. The question of the drama is not one of representation, of the thing and its reflection, but of the splitting of subjectivity. 

The second story of the plot concerns the nature of the screen and its manipulations at the hands of the subject: "Only the subject--the human subject, the subject of the desire that is the essence of man--is not, unlike the animal, entirely caught up in this imaginary capture. He maps himself in it. How? In so far as he isolates the function of the screen and plays with it. Man, in effect, knows how to play with the mask as that beyond which there is the gaze. The screen is here the locus of mediation."20 The screens are isolated, played with, and materialize as pictures to map visions of ourselves. The screens are the technologies used to reconfigure ourselves and to see ourselves as what we are: pictures, screens. Orlan's recent works in digital photography and facial reconstruction resonate here.21 The manipulations of the screens are [End Page 388] manipulations of our subjectivity, whether we are in control or not. The mediated screens in live performance are both the opaque border of the representable object trapping the gaze of the perceiving subject before it apprehends the object and the site wherein and upon which the subject places its phantasmic projections while seeing itself see itself. The televisual screen determines the split of the subject and becomes the trap for the gaze of the subject apprehending its doubling. 

How do contemporary theatre and performance artists stage this drama? Performers appear live and videated simultaneously. One image in the process of living, being-unto-death, one image held in abeyance, virtually present. The doubling occurs when Ron Vawter creates a lip sync to his own visage on the video monitors and takes on the voices for all the "guests" on a recreation of a nude talk show in a type of technological-ventriloquist act in the Wooster Group's "Frank Dell's Last Temptation of St. Anthony."22 The videated interviewees from the Desperate Optimist's deconstruction of Synge's Playboy of the Western World in which individuals fire guns on video which have "real" stage effects of exploding blood bags on the actors creates a unified field of the televisual and the stage. When Orlan's performative surgeries are video-conferenced to galleries across the globe, or Stelarc's body is offered up for manipulations from keyboards throughout cyberspace, the body of the performer is extended, challenged, and reconfigured through technology. When Gómez-Peña prepares his website for racist and misogynist confessions, he foregrounds the internet's inherent colonial structures and ethos of anonymity that promotes a disturbing honesty. 

Where does the site of these sightings of the Double take place? On screens. The technological screens of television, computer, and film. The biological screens of body and flesh. The phantasmic screens of perception. Lacan's well-known diagram of the scopic field maps the subject of representation and the gaze, as picturing one another through image and screen. The diagram reads the scopic field phenomenologically. The gaze is outside, so therefore, "I am looked at . . . I am a picture."23 The screens wherein we see ourselves seeing ourselves are not transparent, but opaque. The subject does not apprehend the object, whether that object is the other of her own subjectivity or the other of worldly objects, but her own phantasmic projections on the representational screen. 

Videated subjects maintain a unique privilege in mediatized culture. Rock concerts are routinely supplemented by video projections which become the evidence of a live act. In stadium concerts the "jumbotron" video screens are the manner in which audience members access the liveness. The competition between live performer and mediated representation of that performer for the perception of the spectator ends up as a draw at best since the mediated subject is that "which has emerged from some primal separation, from some self-mutilation induced by the very approach of the real."24 Does that mean that it is the split video image sourcing from a live feed that re-establishes the status of the real? Yes, the video image is more real than the live actor. [End Page 389]

The aesthetics of the combination of video and live images is a visual metaphor of split subjectivity. Lacan discusses this point in his lecture on anamorphosis. Anamorphosis, like perspective, is a mathematically derived distortion of an image that can be reconstructed with cylindrical reflection. The image is replicated, distorted and restored. Hans Holbein's painting, "The Ambassadors," is the best known example of an anamorphic image and Lacan makes much of the form. He argues that the image in Holbein's painting is unseen until one begins to walk away, to not look at it. Then the painting "makes visible for us here something that is simply the subject as annihilated."25 What is seen in the distorted doubling is the negation of the solidified subject. The televisual image is, too, anamorphic: it replicates, distorts and restores. It traps the gaze. It shows our nothingness. Yet, this is not the site of pure negativity, as the technological uncanny triggers the visitation of the other (in the guise of death) but is the ground upon where we dance the double in a renewal of being beyond the ego-centered and solidified subject: "It is through this separated form of himself that the being comes into play in his effects of life and death, and it might be said that it is with the help of this doubling of the other or of oneself, that is realized, the conjunction from which proceeds the renewal of being in reproduction."26 The doubling technologies of mediation act as a sparagmos, fragmenting the subject, displaying its fabrication, and remembering what is other. 

. . . Between the Screen and the Thing Screened Off.

At this point in the text I gladly forgo the social science discourse I have borrowed and move to the more problematic, jumpy texts of the theatre. I turn to Samuel Beckett's Film and Jean Genet's The Screens to build my argument regarding postmodern digital culture and the doubling technology of the screen. Is there an irony in using modernism to articulate postmodernism, or a testament to the fact that the theoretical borders between modern and postmodern are riddled with gaps? My assertions on performance in digital culture through a discussion of film, theatrical modernism, and psychoanalysis is, in the end, an attempt to widen those gaps. 

Beckett cites Berkeley in his opening to Film: "Esse est percipi," to be is to be perceived. Thus, by way of Berkeley, Beckett marks the terrain of the text and through a splitting of the vision of the protagonist between the eye and the object, the self and the other, the eye and the gaze, he creates a narrative of the struggle for and against self-perception. The dramatis personae of Film include E and O. E is never seen until the end of the film, yet the film is filmed via the perception of E through the use of POV camera shots, as he pursues the object O. There are restrictions to the perception of E as he must always remain in a 45 degree angle behind O. At 46 degrees O enters the "anguish of perceivedness." Beckett's scene direction reads, "All extraneous perception suppressed, animal, human, divine, self-perception maintains in being. Search for non-being in flight from extraneous perception breaking down in inescapability of self-perception. No truth value attaches to above, regarded as of merely structural and dramatic convenience."27 [End Page 390]

Traditional dramatic structure remains intact in Beckett's theatre no matter how impossibly reduced and condensed the work becomes: protagonist, antagonist, conflict, resolution. Film is no exception. Film is structured in three parts: street, stairs and room. The room section is itself divided in three: 1) preparation of the room wherein "all extraneous perception is suppressed"; 2) destruction of the photographs; and 3) the "final investment of O by E and the denouement."28 In the first section on the street, O is relentlessly tracked by E through a "dead straight" street peopled with couples only, all traveling in the same direction, "all contentedly in percipere and percipi."29 O collides with an elderly couple, but moves on. E pauses to view the couple. The woman carries a monkey under her arm. "She feels the gaze of E upon them and turns, raising her lorgnon, to look at him. She nudges her companion who turns back towards her, resuming his pince-nez, looks at E. As they both stare at E the expression gradually comes over their faces which will be that of the flower-woman in the stairs scene and that of O at the end of Film, an expression only to be described as corresponding to an agony of perceivedness."30 The agony of perceivedness is the experience of being the object of the gaze. The gaze has detached from the protagonist's eye and the couple see, or hear, only the gaze. What do they see in the gaze? The second section on the stairs repeats the detached gaze's desiring of the frail flower-woman and her collapse in the "agony of perceivedness." 

In the room we watch O's deliberate closing down of all extraneous perception. He cannot tolerate his position as picture. He sees from one point but is "scene" from all points. The eyes of dog, cats, fish, birds, windows, paintings, photographs, furniture, are all closed and hidden. Unseen, or so he might wish to believe, O drifts off to sleep. At this point E is released from the 45 degree confinement. The eye confronts the object. The other confronts the self as E is the double of O. O in perceivedness holds his hands to his face covering his eyes. To see one's self is to demolish one's self, to know one's nothingness. 

Film reminds us that the technologies of vision, and their will to representation have at their essence "no truth value attached," to be "regarded as of merely structural and dramatic convenience." The protagonist O sundered into objecthood, races through the streets under the surveillance of the eye, E in a "Search for non-being in flight from extraneous perception breaking down in inescapability of self-perception."31 Film articulates a revulsion to seeing oneself see oneself, what Deleuze called a quest to know "how can we rid ourselves of ourselves and demolish ourselves."32 The screen in Film is not only the material site upon which the actual work (the film) is projected but the optical and virtual space which hides the object from the eye and which challenges a metaphysics of discovery. Whatever is behind the screen or embedded within the screen is unknowable. 

Genet's play The Screens, which narrates elements of the Algerian struggle for independence from France, pictures the eternal recurrence of the screens as a material [End Page 391] site of subjugated peoples upon which are projected the virtual spaces presented for the use of the colonial power. The play follows Said, a poor thief, his Mother, who is a long time sufferer and survivor, and his wife, Leila, "the ugliest woman in the next town." They are the outcasts of the rejected, abjection personified, yet they know how to function in a colonial system: 

The Vamp: It's awfully hot.
The Son (to Said): Did you hear? Make some shade for Madame, and be quick about it.
Said kicks Leila, who approaches the screen and, very slowly and carefully, draws with green chalk a magnificent palm tree.
The Vamp: (admiringly): Oh! Palms!
The Son (to Leila): Make a little breeze for Madame. . . .
With her mouth, Leila simulates the sound of wind in the branches and with her skirt, the rush of air.
The Vamp (blandly): Thank you. I told you so: there are some lovely ones among the lot. Not everything's rotten. Those, for example, (pointing to Said and Leila) they're no doubt supporters of ours.33
The French colonialists in the characters of The Vamp and The Son demand that a world be painted for them on the eternal screens. Said and Leila readily submit their skills for the comforts of the ruling class. Why haven't they used those skills to better their own lot? The stage is composed of screens upon which are drawn the material objects that are struggled over and negotiated between ruler and colonial other. Genet's material screens, like the projection screen in Film, are the primary element of the mise-en-scène; they are used to stage the stage. In the narrative the screens are controlled by the Algerians through the demands of the French. The screens are a place, a location, wherein one can exit or enter, hide behind or be revealed. They are in essence each a tiny theatre with curtains and prosceniums where a world is created through the pictures drawn on their surface. The screens are each a sign of constructed subjectivities and personalities. They are sometimes opaque, translucent, breakable. Genet's play stages the world that is created through representations, which is the only world we've got. 

The colonial soldiers understand the power of doubling, of mirroring, to create the illusions of volume. One soldier should equal one million: "Let every man be a mirror to every other man. A pair of legs must look at themselves and see themselves in the pair of legs opposite, a torso in the torso opposite, the mouth in another mouth, the eyes in the eyes. . . ."34 The colonial power is looking to control difference, to kill the other, through the replication of the screens as mirrors reflecting their own subjectivity. The colonialist will not see who stands behind the screen, who moves them, or who paints them. To acknowledge their contribution is to share power and grant subjecthood. 

The screens in Genet's play also demarcate the space between the living and the dead. Breaking through the paper screens into the world of the death Kadidja (as do the other characters upon entering the new space) exclaims, "And they make such a fuss about it!"35 Kadidja is crashing through the material, falling through the abjection, toward being on the other side of the screens. The other side is the place outside the discourse of representations. The screen is the boundary at the closure of representation [End Page 392] and in that space laughter consumes the agony of subjugation, now finished. The Mother, having recently arrived on the other side of the screens, sees the world with new eyes: "Those are the truths . . . ha! . . . ha! . . . ha! ha! . . . that can't be demonstrated . . . ha! ha! (Her laughter seems uncontrollable.) Those are the truths that are false! . . . ha! ha! ha! ho! ho! ho!"36 The screens turned inside out through the subject's vanishing create a space wherein the fabrications of the other side are shown to be ridiculous, hideous, tragic. 

Genet's play situates the discussion of the screens in a political and material site, by asking who manages the screens, controls what is projected upon them, and imagines what they hide. The issues of hyper-mediacy and the ubiquity of the screens are not simply an aesthetic, a dense theory, a psychoanalytical model, but a material, political problem. The screens cover a large portion of the earth, feeding our phantasms to the world. The screens are creating postcolonial subjects from the comfort of a Burbank sound stage, projecting the images of war distanced from the reality of the conflict, creating history's largest trap for the gaze of the world spectator. 

The Rebirth of Tragedy

The marking of the uncanny and the performance of split subjectivity in technologically enhanced performance suggests much more than just a new aesthetic but a symptom or a way of thinking through the transitional phase Western subjectivity is undergoing as a result of mediatization. The transition can be constructed as a re-birth of tragedy. Like Nietzsche's model of the birth of tragedy rooted in the movement from the divine body to the body inscribed and reduced under the rule of societal law which finds representation in the sacrificial rituals of dismemberment (sparagmos), the ontological shift from organic to technological, televisual, and digital beingness is tragic. The tragic, in this case, finds representation and is projected in the fantasies of the fragmented and digital, medical and postcolonial body as articulated in the art of Stelarc, Orlan, and Gómez-Peña. Lacan writes, 
[The] fragmented body . . . usually manifests itself in dreams when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of aggressive disintegration in the individual. It then appears in the form of disjointed limbs, or of those organs represented in exoscopy, growing wings and taking up arms for intestinal persecutions, the very same that the visionary Hieronymus Bosch has fixed for all time, in painting, in their ascent from the fifteenth century to the imaginary zenith of modern man.37
The fragmented body appears at the vanishing point of subjectivity, when its nothingness is apprehended, when the double is dancing, when Pentheus' head is raised by his mother and proclaimed to be a lion, when in fact it has become the mask, the screen. When O meets E in the room shut out from all perception save one, when the screens of postcolonialism are pierced, when the other side of the screen is suggested and approaches, then tragic fragmentation is possible. Herbert Blau put it this way: "Or is that we've had along with talk of the death of tragedy a twisted version of an active forgetting: the invention of aesthetic strategies that would, indeed, [End Page 393] either anesthetize us against emotions we found intolerable, or, as eventually in body art, confront us in such a way that they could be absorbed or experienced again?"38 This is not a tragedy of Oedipal identity, agency or fate, but a tragedy of unremembered fragmentation of the real toward the virtual. Perhaps a rethinking of tragedy is possible now. Or necessary. 


I began with two questions: How has he ontology of the performance (liveness) which exists before and after mediatization been altered within the space of technology? and how do we understand the processes of performance which converge with mediated technologies of representation? In answer to the first query it is important to realize that performance, like the body and its subjectivity which embodies and enacts the performative, has been extended, challenged and reconfigured by way of its position in the space of technology. Performance has taken on the ontology of the technological. Nonetheless, one way to start to answer both questions is by conceiving of theatre as a medium that overlaps and subsumes or is subsumed by other media including the television, film, radio, print, and the computer-aided hyper-media. Such a process will change, considerably, our definitions of the boundaries of the theatre and the ontology of performance. 

Matthew Causey is Assistant Professor in School of Literature, Communication and Culture at Georgia Tech. A director and new media artist, he is the principal investigator of the Performance Technology Research Laboratory.


1. David Cronenberg, dir., Videodrome (Universal Pictures, 1983). 

2. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1981), 97. 

3. Herbert Blau writes in The Eye of Prey, "There is nothing more illusory in performance than the illusion of the unmediated. It can be a very powerful illusion in the theater, but it is theater, and it is theater, the truth of illusion, which haunts all performance whether or not it occurs in the theater, where it is more than doubled over." See The Eye of Prey: Subversions of the Postmodern (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 164-65. 

4. Slavoj Zizek, Mapping Ideology (London: Verso, 1994), 5. 

5. See Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (London: Routledge, 1999). 

6. See Philip Auslander, Liveness and Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993) for a complete discussion regarding the issues of liveness and performance in mediatized cultures. 

7. See Sue-Ellen Case, The Domain-Matrix: Performing Lesbian at the End of Print Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996) for a fuller explication of the nature of subjectivity at "the end of print culture." 

8. I am making reference to Merleau-Ponty's distinction between "physiological facts which are in space and psychic facts which are nowhere" in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), 77. 

9. Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book: technology, schizophrenia, electric speech (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 69. 

10. Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny" in The Standard edition of the Complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 17, trans. and ed. James Strachey in collaboration with Anna Freud (London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis, 1955), 241. 

11. Peter Weir, dir., The Truman Show (Paramount Pictures, 1998) and Ron Howard, dir., Edtv (Universal Pictures, 1999). 

12. Gary Ross, dir., Pleasantville (New Line Cinema, 1998). 

13. Barry Levinson, dir., Wag the Dog (Tribeca Productions, 1997). 

14. Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fantasies (London & New York: Verso, 1997), 131. 

15. See Michael Walsh, "Jameson and 'Global Aesthetics'" in Post-Theory: reconstructing film studies, ed. David Bordwell and Noel Carroll (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), 481-500, for further reading on the topic of post-Lacanian, post-theoretical film studies. 

16. See Herbert Blau, The Audience (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990) and Phelan, Unmarked, as examples of Lacanian theory applied to the field of theatre and performance studies. For an analysis of the scopic drive in theatre practice and spectatorship, see "The Most Concealed Object" in Blau, The Audience, 50-94. 

17. The gaze, or more specifically the male gaze, may be one of the most misused terms in the critical theory of performance. Lacan writes this of the gaze, "In our relation to things, in so far as this relation is constituted by the way of vision, and ordered in the figures of representation, something slips, passes, is transmitted, from stage to stage, and is always to some degree eluded in it, that is what we call the gaze." Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, 73. 

18. Lacan has this to say regarding the nature of the split subject, "In my opinion, it is not in this dialectic between the surface and that which is beyond that things are suspended. For my part, I set out from the fact that there is something that establishes a fracture, a bi-partition, a splitting of being to which the being accommodates itself, even in the natural world." Ibid., 106. 

19. Ibid., 83. 

20. Ibid., 107. 

21. See Robert Ayers, "The special and the unusual: listening to Orlan" in Live Art Letters (No. 4, March 1999). Website address: 

22. See Matthew Causey, "Televisual Performance: 'openness to the mystery,'" in Essays in Theatre/Etudes Theatrales (Vol. 13, No. 1. November 1994) for a complete discussion of the use of video in the Wooster Group's "Frank Dell's Last Temptation of St. Anthony." 

23. Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts, 106. 

24. Ibid., 83. 

25. Ibid., 88. 

26. Ibid., 107. 

27. Samuel Beckett, "Film" in Samuel Beckett: The Complete Dramatic Works (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 323. 

28. Ibid., 323. 

29. Ibid., 324. 

30. Ibid., 325. 

31. Ibid., 323. 

32. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 123. 

33. Jean Genet, The Screens, trans. Bernard Frechtman (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 110. 

34. Ibid., 119. 

35. Ibid., 143. 

36. Ibid., 155. 

37. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: a selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1977), 5. 

38. Herbert Blau, To All Appearances: ideology and performance (London: Routledge, 1992), 126.


El diseño de la página y las imágenes son
© 1996-2000, Universitat de València Press
© del grupo "mmm"
Comentarios a:
València  15th September 2000