Fillip — Folio B

Someone That Happens


The SHITE [shē-’te] . . . principal actor
The WAKI [wah-kē] . . . secondary actor
The JIUTAI [zhu-tay] . . . chorus
The HAYASHI [ha-ya-shē] . . . instrumentalists


Nō theatre1 begins and ends in the mirror room. Hidden from the audience by a five-colour curtain, the musicians tune their instruments and gauge a cadence, and the SHITE sits before a full-length mirror.

Hayashi – The mirror is an instrument; it is reliable because it has the properties of dematerialization and of aspect: the becoming species, spectacle, specific, of materiality, but also the offering-up of what can be said about the properties of things. Aspect is an alchemy of essences and existences. The shite dons his mask and, in perfect simultaneity, the creaturely presence in the mirror dons a mask. An other-face moves to the fore. This face is an other self. There is a living struggle between actor and mask that is the becoming-character of the role—this is what forms in the mirror, and she will be the last player to cross the bridge onto the stage.

Before SHITE appears on the stage, WAKI will address the audience and describe the conditions for the appearance of SHITE. WAKI’s first responsibilities include introducing himself, describing where he is from and where he has been travelling, and opening up the story so SHITE may enter in character.

Waki – We are currently considering our relation to artistic practice as a reworking of what continues to threaten artistic practice in general: the lingering of a traditional conception of aesthetics that presupposes the artist as prior and separate from artwork, audience, curator, polis, economy, world, language, and authorship. It is our experience that artistic praxis has more to do with negotiating the boundary between a system of signification and what it claims to signify insofar as it touches upon, struggles with, or bears witness to our living desires and their material realities. This text is an experiment across a series of paradigms familiar to forms of theatre such as the tragic and comic mask (or persona), the mirror and its image, the unmediated living being and the face, in which an economy of representation is played out to open up the possibility of a figure that does not willingly fit the tragicomic models of subjectivity. We are interested in the f-l-e-e-t-i-n-g distinctions we can generate between capturing subjectivity and producing a sense of self.

Artists address the world, a world, or a number of worlds in the radical split they experience in the presentation of their work. The moment of presentation represents a critical tension between artist and world in which both are at stake for better or worse. We suffer this split, with one foot in the realm of the political, the social world that we are addressing, and one foot hovering in something that is not yet a world, not yet articulated, and therefore not yet political. Like in the mirror room behind the curtain, in which the face of an other self presents itself, the life of the artist bridges and, in turn, is formed by its traversal of this separation, back and forth, forth and back, back and forth. The unrepresentable is an event within presentation. In the lingering proximity of this unrepresentable presence, presentation becomes representation. This perpetual exchange between presence and image is what we mean by an economy of representation—it is a movement that describes theatrical space and time in which we sense that we are sensing.

The most awful effect of trying to locate artistic responsibility is that it forces artists to stand on one side of the divide as incomplete persons, separated from their artwork and their own livelihoods. Such a mode of living could appropriately be called tragic. The “artist” identified, and thereby isolated, as a social or civic functionary faces only the responsibilities of an appointed office and the theatrical possibility of this dramatic persona. It is in a tragic mode that so-called reality and theatricality can be effectively blurred. This constitutes the artist as a character subjected to a drama written by, perhaps quite rightly, God knows whom! and not the one who creates artworks that in turn create the artist’s living sense of the world. The comedic persona, alternatively, is not properly a form of subjectivity; it is a manner or attitude that permits a simultaneity of subject and object, artist and artwork (critic and criticism), artwork and world. Artists are not managers of the economy of representation, but important members of its household who keep the exchange from settling. What is a critical relation to daily living, to culture? Is it a matter of creating an infinitely cool distance? Or will it also accommodate us when we fall madly into obsession, in spiralling turns? Why should criticality mean that one must find a way to isolate oneself from this pulsating rhythm of the art of living and the living of art? Who has the guts to offer the entirety of his or her own image, without reserve, to reflection?

SHITE emerges, carrying a fan and wearing the mask of a young woman.

Jiutai – “The that there is no essence, no historical or spiritual vocation, no biological destiny that humans must enact or realize. This is the only reason why something like an ethics can exist...[otherwise] no ethical experience would be possible—there would only be tasks to be done.”2

Hayashi – The shite is the last player to cross the bridge onto the stage. The arrival of this spirit­—the actor + mask + performance—marks the event of Nō, of someone that happens.3 This theatre plays out a process of subjectivity, the production of subjects, with the living being (the actor) coinciding with a persona (the mask) to create an image on a field of representation (the mirror, or stage). The stage, like the mirror, holds the image as aspect; the image found in these forms is subject to the perspective of its witness. The preparations of the mirror room are transcribed into the theatre, with the audience facing the paradigmatic struggle of someone against the destiny of the plot. The audience’s role of recognizing this process of subjection is part of the movement of mask-subject-actor to actor-subject-mask, back and forth. It is in this sense that “each person, not the audience as a group, has an intense, private encounter with the performer.” This is also the reason Nō plays are not performed in long runs—for, like the tea ceremony, “any ceremony can be encountered only once in one’s lifetime.”4

Jiutai – Half the audience is asleep.

Hayashi – The relationship between a Nō actor and his mask is special and severe. The face is considered to be the most expressive tool in a performance. Covering the face with a mask is thought to be simultaneously the denial of access to the actor’s normal repertoire of facial expressions and the production of the actor as an individual. Actor Kanze Hisao writes that in Nō an actor is “not even allowed to breathe as he pleases.”5 The living being is restricted to carrying out a highly formalized ritual, bound by the costume that restricts his movement, the mask that covers his facial expression, and the structure of the traditional form itself. The actor is subjugated to these formal elements but must fight to achieve them. Hisao describes the subjugation as reciprocal, a struggle of the actor against the mask and vice versa: “The Nō actor depends upon the mask to lead him to mindlessness while also struggling with it and throwing his energy against it.... The mask is an equal partner with the actor in accomplishing [true Nō acting].” The Nō mask does not obliterate the individual, but it restricts his access to methods of appearance that are too available—and thereby the “natural physicality, the pure life essence of the humanity of the actor is brought to the fore.”6

Jiutai – The audience is half asleep.

Hayashi – Nō is an example of theatre as a political and philosophical exercise.7 It is an exemplary exception in that it exercises the paradigm of being-in-a-mask or person(a) in such a way that all those involved, both players and audience, witness the process of becoming-image as well as the form that recognition can take within this process. Recognition itself is subtly altered as the audience senses the seeming of the act. Theatre involves the gathering of partici­pants to witness a playing out of processes of subject production. Thus, theatre can be thought of as an exercise in playing out what it means to be human; creating the sense of what seems to be is how an economy of representation is destabilized and put into play.

Shite – “If I pretend to see, I enter into visibility.”8

Waki – The mirror is an instrument through which the actor both splits from and merges with his self-as-image, a paradoxical production of the performing character that results from the sense of self an image affords its bearer.

Shite – I bare my image on the plane of a mirror, a stage, a face.

Waki – It is this paradoxical image, the resonant and fleeting subject, the tense and magnetic and vibrating constituent subject, that we want to hold up as an example.

Shite – It is a sense of self I am trying to learn.

Jiutai – On the third day, a piece of white cardboard with two holes cut from it had been moved from the back (mirror) room to the stage, where it was strapped to the top of a small evergreen tree, ostensibly giving the tree eyes.

On the twenty-first day, the tree had been moved to the periphery of the room, off the stage, into the dark. It had the following note taped to its branches where the mask had been: This is not about me.

On the twenty-eighth day, there was a soundtrack in the darkened room. A woman’s voice said: My life as a rock was good. But after some time, being visible wasn’t enough.... Eventually, I grew eyes. I wanted light to enter into me, and darkness as well. I needed an entrance space to blink open, a theatre space with curtains. This was because I had a desire to turn in on myself. I wanted to sense an emptiness that was full. Over time, this grew into an interior space that was both pathetic and dramatic, sculptural and theatrical. In this space was born love, poetry, and other romantic forms. Because of this turning in, this darkness, the groaning sound of criticism emerged. A beautiful dramatization occurred, it was like a war. The war allowed me to feel ecstasy....9

Waki – However—

Shite – The edge of language has promise for us, and it is a horror to lose it. Worse, it is a horror to abuse it. We can see its architecture best when it is reflected hypothetically in a full-length mirror. We can make out the entrances and exits of a model theatre, a spectral stage of uncertain dimensions—it shrinks when we back up, and it grows larger as we tread closer. Memory serves to make the space legible—or vertiginous, if the mirror is set at an oblique angle to the ground. I remember: Tooth, Door, Tour, Route, Gate, Truth, Ruth, but not how I acquired these names or how my tongue forms Dis- and Thud (our tongues form Kiss). In this aspectual space, thingly contiguity orders names spatially, though at first we encounter their ordering synesthetically and then in timely syncopation. In a mirror, names reveal their substantiality of pure continuity from inside to outside (through the back of the glass) of representation. We can discuss the status of the proscenium, but we will pass under this quickly. The stage will thrust forward and open into the round, through the surface of the reflective glass-to-image-to-figures unfolding inside. Blazing hot lights cast swaths of colourful attention across the floor, loudspeakers hum in cycles-per-second of textured electrical pulses, the strain of focused hearing channelled by the silent duty of microphones.

Jiutai – The audience is in the dark.

Shite – I lie.

Hayashi – The text is a script of the fear of forgetting: name, mask, persona, tooth, syn-. The text is before, between, and after the actor, the mask, and the audience. The actor the mask the mirror the stage the audience the slave the king the screen. The actor the musicians the prop the pope the rhythm the cadence the chorus the step the mask the fool the mirror the step the clock the stage the image the step the beloved the music the rhythm the audience. The etc. The creature the image the audience? Exigency is the texture of forgetting. Theatre happens only once.

SHITE exits the stage over the bridge. She is followed by WAKI.


An Unjustly Informal and Peremptory Treatise on the Fate of Tragedians and the Utopic Intimacy of Comedians after Dante, in Almost Bullet Form, Culled from Several Works by Giorgio Agamben

Nudity in the Garden of Eden was temporary, apparently, and by destiny, the human flesh succumbed to the groans of the libido that followed on the heels of that fated (and inappropriate) act of culinary curiosity. This resulted in the stripping of the garments of light the first couple wore in the earthly paradise. Yes, garments of light, whose removal revealed, or unconcealed, a corrupt animality; this describes the root of the Western structure of guilt (but also the familiar process of “truth telling” as an exposure of corruption). And so, if the natural guilt of the flesh was originally covered by grace, the Fall of mankind represents the loss of innocence to the experience of corruption of the flesh, meaning that (in this play, anyway) natural guilt underlies personal innocence. More to the point, corruption is a stain of the flesh, which is objectively attributed independent of the will of the person (remember, the first couple was destined to Fall). The Stoics entered the Greek concept of hamartia (meaning to stumble or fall while walking—or to err) into the structure of the Fall and original sin.10 Consequently, this is the moral structure of tragedy they handed down. In short, the Western concept of tragedy is the subjective experience of innocence lost to an objectively asserted guilt in the form of a law, fate, or destiny. Medieval scholars interpreted comedy as the post-Fall era of mankind11 in which the Passion of Christ inverts the tragic effects of nature and personhood by offering salvation via personal expiation. In other words, Christ transforms “the irreconcilable objective conflict [of the corruption of the flesh] into a personal matter.”12 One must be careful to note that the comedic persona is not simply the inversion of tragic subjectivity; the root of the relation to guilt (original sin) is denaturalized in the Passion, thereby personalizing the experience of guilt in the comedic relation. Even today, in great comedy, we encounter ordinary citizens and events as a universe of lovable fuck-ups. Dante’s cosmology is a comedy13 not simply because the human creature is born into a fallen state yet can overcome his fate and live happily ever after, but because he maintains the potential of a specific attitude of the innocent human being toward the persona or the mask as it was understood in ancient Greek theatre. The persona (in this case, Dante the sinner) is the figure that human innocence abandons to divine law. Comedic persona is not properly subjectivity; it is simultaneously mask and innocent actor that maintain a separation from a fated corruption insofar as they play a role but do not identify with it. The law then becomes an instrument of personal salvation. Tragedy, on the other hand, is marked by an attitude of complete identification of the actor with the person(a) or mask: Tragedians surrender to the fate of the person(a). Hollywood typecasting attempts to wed the identity of the actor to the face of the person, to the point where his or her on- and off-screen performances become indistinguishable. This is why tragedians experience guilt—whether it appears in the form of law, fate, or destiny—as a “Fall from grace” that they are subjected to and cannot overcome in their moral innocence.14 We are particularly interested in thinking two ways of living with our masks: identifying with the persona and making use of the persona. The tragedian wants to be the mask in order to become the object of a positive identification (this is evoked today when we say that one should take personal responsibility—the identification with the mask has become so totalizing that it has disappeared). The comedian makes use of the mask to live a sense-of-self as the actualization of personal human potential.15 The comedian uses representation to share the ability to relate, to permit one to act as someone (as Dante, for example). Or we could put it thus: the comedic persona is transitive; a sense of self occurs in the presentation of a form of human mediality itself.


WAKI returns to the stage to introduce SHITE, who emerges from behind the curtain wielding a sword and the red mask of a demon.

Hayashi – What are the stakes of unmediated human being?

Waki – We need to be recognized by others in order to appear, even to ourselves, as human.

Jiutai – “The new ID cards include retinal scans and forty-nine items...they won’t stop your identity being stolen, it just means when it is you’re fucked: I’ve left my wallet in the hotel—I’m going to need new eyeballs and a finger transplant.”16

Waki – Our relationship to recognition is currently in crisis as we shift emphasis from persona-identity to bio-identity. Our contemporary condition is one in which we are happy to be recognized by machines (the retinal or fingerprint scan) while we forget what it is like to be recognized for our “personality.”17 We are comforted by the idea that we can change our mask a hundred times and still have committed the same crimes.

Poets struggle with what it means to bring the word to its substantiation. This is the ethical concern of the artist whose livelihood it is to directly engage an economy of representation. Is there a proper attitude to adopt in this matter? War, in which blood is spilt in the engagement of humans face to face with one another, is the total substantiation of the meaning of the word in essence rather than the immaterial character of the word as idea. Drones with weapons, cyber “war,” wars that involve humans killing one another from a great distance using technological apparatuses to mediate the spilling of blood, involve the total substantiation of “war” in existence as word and idea. Why do we want to draw blood? Why do we say that this is reality? Why is suffering “reality” and joy some sort of madness? Have we lost all other sensitivities that would allow us to relate by other means? We substantiate our wavering ethical coordinates by debating governance instead of negotiating the relation between representation and what we consider real. We study the tyranny of global capitalism as if it were a demon instead of recognizing that we are under the spell of its theatrical apparatuses.

Shite – Crossing the stage, out the back door, and onto the street, we view wandering shoppers and vendors peddling their wares who are bored but not altogether indolent. Out the back door, things in this theatrical image turn inside out: mindless cameras register whatever passes by; gateless gates beep or remain silent as products from faraway lands of agreeable profit margins are conveyed through; spent chewing gum punctuates the sidewalk; swishes of emblazoned plastic cards release oily numbers that permit sanctioned (numbers of recognition) cash (quantified labour in numbers) to crumple the air at dizzying speeds in the name of the bearer. This acting is a becoming-keyword of our behaviours, accessible to smartphones, networks, and databases that grow smaller but still corporally stain the smooth sightlines of offices. The hyperpresent audience of this inverted theatre remains hidden—it is pure meta; its level of interest in this management of behaviours is in relation to capital interest on investment at stake­­. Equally person-less personas, obscured in shadows, watch from behind curtains or glass walls; their accumulations of tendencies-in-numbers benefit their interest in dramaturgy; they drive the plot from the thresholds of the obscene mirrored stage. Recognition is not reciprocated; we accept it as acknowledgment of the “I was here-ness and not-yet criminal” found in the unique arabesques of fingerprints, irises, and nucleic acids.

Waki – Artists specifically work inside the ethics of the difference between tragedy and comedy because they study, alter, and shift the media that enable human mediality. The presentation of an artist’s work makes it artwork; its appearance is the transformative moment, just like the Nō actor who appears in the mirror and then on the stage. Recognition (from the audience) is not knowledge production but an encounter of sense-ability, the recognition that something seems.

Jiutai – We do not know our friends; we love their attitudes.

Waki – Recognition of seeming is an ethics of sensing the living being coinciding with the persona, while not forcing the two into a fixed identity (thereby condemning the character to tragedy).

Shite – That’s why we smile when I say “I lie.” The paradox is perfect comedy: the announcement of the clothing hung on naked truth.

Waki – Recognizing the seeming of all things that are18 belongs to us reflexively in our sense of self, since we have an outside that appears, a threshold called the face. The outside must happen to us, and in this sense we are subject to it, but we are not reducible to any one of the qualities the outside presents as our own.

Shite – “In my face, I exist with all of my properties (my being brown, tall, pale, proud, emotional...); but this happens without any of these properties essentially identifying me or belonging to me.”19

Waki – What does it mean to be what you seem? Not to be subject to the properties of your face, but to own them insofar as they do not belong to you? It is this sense of self as the constant movement between essence and existence, between the creature and the persona, the body and the word...

Shite – ethics of representational economy that I practice in the mirror room by looking into her eyes.

SHITE drops his sword. The clattering sword is amplified by microphones beneath the stage.Jiutai – The audience jolts awake.

Hayashi – The text is a script of the fear of forgetting: name, mask, persona, tooth, syn-. The text is before, between, and after the actor, the mask, and the audience. The actor the mask the mirror the stage the viewers the slave the king the screen. The actor the musicians the prop the pope the rhythm the cadence the chorus the step the mask the fool the mirror the step the clock the stage the image the step the beloved the music the rhythm the audience. The etc. The creature the image the audience? Exigency is the texture of forgetting. Theatre happens only once.

  1. According to historian Kunio Komparu, Nō is a classical stage art of Japan that arose out of a variety of sacred rituals and festival entertainments that reached their “maturity” in the Muromachi period (1336–1568). Its present form, which involves the use of masks, chanting, and dance—with little dialogue—dates back six centuries and often uses tragic or spiritual themes. In a full day of Nō theatre, the serious plays are alternated with Kyōgen plays, which also use masks but are lighter, often comic or parodic, and, by contrast, composed primarily of dialogue. Kunio Komparu, The Nō Theater, Principles and Perspectives, trans. Jane Corddry and Stephen Comee (New York: John Weatherhill, 1983).
  2. Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 43.
  3. Paul Claudel, quoted in Komparu, The Nō Theater, 8: “Le drame, c’est quelque chose qui arrive, le Nô, c’est quelqu’un qui arrive.”
  4. Komparu, The Nō Theater, xxi.
  5. Kanze Hisao, “Life with Nō Mask,” in Nō/Kyōgen Masks and Performance, ed. Rebecca Teale (Claremont, CA: Mime Journal and Pomona College Theater Department), 70–73.
  6. Ibid., 71.
  7. It would be interesting to carefully follow the differences in the Japanese traditions of theatre and political discourse relative to those of the West. Our interest here is in the potential of this model to enrich our understanding of comedy in the Western tradition and to open it up beyond our tragicomic sense of subjectivity. The direct relationship between theatre and philosophy is exemplified in the West by “Stoic philosophy, which modeled its ethics on the relationship between an actor and his mask.” Giorgio Agamben, “Identity without the Person,” in Nudities, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pederella (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 47.
  8. Lisa Robertson, “Perspectors/Melancholia,” Improperties, SMART project space, Amsterdam (2010).
  9. Geoffrey Farmer, God’s Dice, solo exhibition, Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, Alberta (December 2010).
  10. Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem, Studies in Poetics, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 11–22.
  11. Ibid., 19.
  12. Ibid., 12.
  13. Ibid., 19–20.
  14. We are drawing from several works by Agamben: The End of the Poem, Studies in Poetics, as well as Nudities. We are also paraphrasing several videos on YouTube, including Liturgia and the Modern State, posted October 2, 2009,, and A Genealogy of Monasticism, posted May 12, 2010,, both taken from a series of public open lectures at the European Graduate School in 2009.
  15. This is worth comparing to the “reflective awareness as to the mimetic faculty” that leads to the ability to “live subjunctively,” as articulated by Candice Hopkins citing Michael Taussig (see endnotes 46 and 47 of “The Golden Potlatch,” on page 178 of this volume).
  16. Frankie Boyle, Live at the Apollo, YouTube video, 9:55, from a performance originally televised by BBC One, posted July 7, 2010,
  17. Agamben, Nudities, 46.
  18. Imagine, as a subtext, the poem “Description without Place” by Wallace Stephens (The Sewanee Review 53, no. 4 [autumn 1945], 559–65): “It is possible that to seem—it is to be, / As the sun is something seeming and it is. / The sun is an example. What it seems / It is and in such seeming all things are.”
  19. Giorgio Agamben, “The Face,” in Means without End, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 99.
About the Author

Hadley+Maxwell have been working together since 1997. They have performed, published, and exhibited their work internationally in solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), Kunstverein Göttingen, and SMART Project Space (Amsterdam), among others, and in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa), the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, La Kunsthalle Mulhouse, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam), Manif d’art 5 de Québec (Quebec City), and the 4th Marrakech Biennale. They studied media philosophy at the European Graduate School in Switzerland (2004), teach at the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, and live in Berlin.

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