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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

As Actors Prepare, so Should Critics Learn

Posted by Bill Benzon on 01/15/12 at 05:41 PM

Every once in awhile I like to listen to a bunch of James Lipton’s interviews with theatre and film people, mostly actors. They’re all over YouTube; just google “Inside the Actors Studio.” I’ve been doing so this weekend.

What I enjoy is the nitty-gritty sense of craft, of what actors do to prepare a role. For example, in this interview, starting at roughly 17:30 or so, Jeremy Irons talks about playing twin brothers in Dead Ringers about playing twin brothers in Dead Ringers (a film I’ve not seen):

He says that, in order to differentiate the two, he thought in terms of “energy point” (his term), acting one brother from the forehead and the other from the throat—but, note, that Irons didn’t use those terms. Rather, he pointed to the points on his body. I don’t know whether or not he was using “energy point” as a synonym for “chakra,” but I’d guess the idea is the same. In any event, his remark was immediately and intuitive to me, perhaps because I’m a musician and, as such, understand something of what’s involved in performing.

Whatever you think, however you think, it all MUST come out in how you use your body. Performance is physical. It’s easy enough to talk about embodiment—such talk has been fashionable in a number of disciplines for over a decade—but you can’t merely talk a performance. You must execute it.

More and more I think listening to such interviews could be more important for academic literary critics than learning philosophy or psychology or even literary theory. That’s all abstract, learning it always moves you away from the work, from the text, off into greedy meaning and abstraction. That’s easy and, at this point, it’s in the way of making intellectual progress.

Critics need a much stronger sense of literature as craft, of texts as things constructed, to precise and rigorous, if flexible, standards. Listening to good actors talk about their craft, and figuring out how to take such talk seriously, deeply, that might begin pushing our minds in the right direction.


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