When the printed word knows you

I pack for a long visit to America to explore improvisation, my chosen field of art.

A book picked from shelf, packed beside two blank notebooks. Hesse’s Glass Bead Game. A 30th birthday present never read, owned for four years next week.

I crack it open in the US. It describes a future society that has developed a system of organising thought, in which seemingly unrelated domains of academic thought are explored through dialogue between multiple players, each idea extended independently before interconnections are discovered and the theses join together.

I watch – first in New York, then Chicago – show after show based around the US long-form structure The Harold, in which distinct situations or themes are explored through multiple actors performing, each situation extended independently before interconnections are discovered and themes connect together.

Weeks pass. Learning continues, book opened in spare moments… it won’t speak to me. I am aware how intensely personal the work is becoming, within a group hot-boxed for weeks on end, training together and socialising together. Right now, the work doesn’t feel like an exploration of academic concepts. It feels like pouring ourselves out for examination. What’s more, I’m aware of how much we have become interconnected, problems, anxieties, tensions, and desires – and how the work that is happening on stage is pulling out and depicting these, naming and so transforming these often stifled energies.

I pick up a book I bought on a whim days before, Nozick’s Examined Life. In the introduction, he speaks simply about why we care about a portrait, made painstakingly from single brush-strokes over time, an examination of an individual that compresses emotion, thought patterns and cadence into visual shape. And the self-portrait is more significant still:

“since we can see the components of our life, including its activities and strivings, as fitting together in a pattern, when an additional and distinctive component such as reflection is added – like adding new scientific data to be fit to a curve – a new overall pattern then results…Therefore, examination and reflection are not just about the other components of a life; they are added within a life, alongside the rest, and by their presence call for a new overall pattern that alters how each part of life is understood.”  

Internet vomits so much synchronicity; it loses its bite. Despite this, somehow, the printed word that knows me awakens wonder.

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