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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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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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Monday, January 16, 2012

Listening is All

Posted by Bill Benzon on 01/16/12 at 06:19 PM

One of the motifs that returns again and again in these “Inside the Actor’s Studio” interviews is listening. Most recently, the interviews with Michael Caine, Meryl Streep, and Juliette Binoch. Listening is all, listening is everything.

The first time I heard that it surprised me. And then became utterly obvious. I am, after all, a musician. To perform music, you must listen to your fellow performers. And it makes no difference whether the performance is more or less fully notated on a score or there is no score at all. In either case you MUST listen to your fellow performers.

For that matter, you must listen to yourself as well. The point of practice and preparation, in a sense, is that that, in performance, you play your instrument, sing, speak, by intending to HEAR something. The muscular stuff is subordinated to what you hear.

Now, I suppose I don’t have anything very specific in mind when I’m wishing that literary critics listen to actors talking about their craft. The thing is, if you take that actor talk seriously you have to accept that there is a deep and subtle process involved in simply speaking the words “as they are written.” And coming to grips with that process, whatever it is, is what we must do as critics.

And it is precisely what WE EVADE when we look for meaning. Whatever actors may think about if and when they think about meaning, they cannot be thinking about THAT when they’re listening to another actor, or actors, and summoning their lines in response to what they’re hearing.

That is, this actor talk is a way to get some sense of a process involved in simply and only speaking the words as they’re written. No hidden meanings required. The only other way to get that sense is to go more deeply into the cognitive sciences than, as far as I can tell, any of the literary cognitivists have been able or willing to go. You have to think, explicitly, formally or almost so, about computational process.

Ideally, both avenues. That is, if I could dictate the ideal undergraduate training for someone who wants to study literature at the graduate level, that training would include both a performance component, e.g. take acting classes and participate in performances (or music), and a deep cognitive science component, where you learn about computational cognition, and perhaps even do a bit of programming. Those two things are, obviously, very different. But someone who has done both has at least a ghost of a chance of understanding that ‘the text’ is something real, and something that we must learn to describe.

The idea is to foster useful intuitions. As things stand now, there are now useful intuitions. Just some version of signs pointing to signs pointing to signs in a godalmightlybuttfuckdaisychain of arbitrary signification. Those intuitions have failed.

Getting back to acting . . . 1) What does it mean to speak preset words immediately and spontaneously in response to someone who is speaking present words to you? 2) Recall that Shakespeare is at the canonical heart of the English-language literary tradition. He didn’t write novels to be read in the comfort of an armchair. He wrote scripts to be performed on the stage by actors he knew, and knew well. 3) What about novels, that aren’t written to be performed? What’s the process there?


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