by Peter Handke
Directed by Jane S. Armitage and Nusha Martynuk
Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH
+You Are The Lucky Owner of a Sentence+;
A Review by Linda Eisenstein
The true peak experiences in theatre are oh-so-rare: not just the competent or even brilliant productions, but those special few which engage intellect and emotions, which juxtapose and knit together text, image, sound, movement, space, objects, and the body in such consistently surprising, beautiful ways that they seem to peel open up the fabric of human experience itself to illuminate a profound truth. For me, these intense revelations have nearly always occurred in experimental theatre -- Richard Foreman's +What Did He See?+ and Lee Breuer and Bob Telson's +The Gospel at Colonus+ -- but until now, I never expected to have one in an undergraduate college production. A third experience now joins my personal theatrical canon: Jane S. Armitage and Nusha Martynuk's production of Peter Handke's +Kaspar +at Oberlin College.
Handke's 1967 language play is a text worthy of a revelation. It is a tour-de-force assault on one of the metaphysical Big Ones: the inherent authoritative power of language itself to shape, twist, expand, delimit, and mediate human experience, the ultimate tragicomic story of socialization and civilization. Handke's meditation is loosely based on the +wild child+ Kaspar Hauser, an early 19th century media sensation. Raised in a dark hole, at 17 he wandered into a 1824 German town knowing only a single sentence and became a scientific curiosity: a nearly-adult human without language and external influences, a tabula rasa upon which society and its scientific teachers could write with impunity.
The text presents one on-stage character, the singular Kaspar (today, he'd be labeled autistic), as he is interrogated, taught, lullabied, bullied, coaxed, tortured, and controlled into +normalcy+ by a group of authorities -- the Prompters -- represented only by off-stage voices. Read through the lens of 1967, a year I remember my own blood ringing with revolution, it seems a classic rendering of Rousseau meets the Oppressors -- a gentle, pure, bemused, child-like original Adam (+Kasper+ being the German word for clown) pounded into tenderized meat with the hammer of language and authority.
Read today after decades of deconstruction, through Armitage and Martynuk's production, Kaspar spills over and multiplies itself beyond a simple us-and-them. In their interpretation, the Kaspars and Prompters are squared and cubed to become an evenly matched 16: 8 Kaspars, 8 on-stage Prompters. The multiplication allows for marvelous moments of theatrical spectacle -- 8 Kaspars in chairs stretched along the proscenium in identical outfits of various colors, a repetition like Warhol's Marilyns, each obsessively miming a different hand gesture, while behind them helmeted Prompters in grey uniforms stand at attention and begin to manipulate their bodies, a pas de deux with variations that is the stunning opening image. But the multiplying of Kaspars and Prompters across gender, age, and ethnicity also dynamites open more gaps in the text to allow a world of associations to whirl through the rich succession of images.
And what images! This +Kaspar+ is as visual and operatic as a Robert Wilson creation, a model collaboration of theatrical elements. Armitage is a long-time director of plays, operas, and new works based on shaping actor/participant material; Martynuk a compelling award-winning choreographer who directs the Oberlin Dance Company. Together these two women artists took a group of undergraduate students -- actors, dancers, musicians -- through a semester's process of working and improvising through Handke's text. The results make for a production as firmly based in the body as in the words. Their faculty design collaborators cooperated in an unprecedented way to allow the actors to use Michael Louis Grube's daunting set for months instead of days: an enormous looming upstage metal construction of pipes and two downstage towers which serve as the home base of the Prompters.
This aerie/fortress/cage becomes the literal springboard for much of the extraordinary action of the Prompters, from which they twirl, crawl, and bounce. Three of the Prompters have tour-de-force scenes where they dangle from bungee cords -- hanging upside down like bats, swooping victoriously from cage to tower, attentive and malignant as gargoyles. Although spectacular in every sense of the word, the movements are never gymnastic for their own sake. Instead, the Prompters move with ease through this world of cause and effect, in a ballet where air seems to lend the pressurizing consistency of life under water, where one's dizzying leaps are always grounded and harnessed, where the cooperation of cords and gravity always bounces one back to the System itself. The System is impregnable, superior: within it, the Prompters can peer down at the vulnerable Kaspars with the amused detachment of teachers who have +transcended+ their earthbound struggles with objects and the body. They can descend slowly in tandem like guiding angels to carry them upward, a movement so beautiful yet horrific that it recalled one of my childhood's most traumatic images, Dorothy and Toto abducted by the Flying Monkeys. If a Kaspar resists their teachings, they can hang her from her feet, where she dangles as a warning to all.
Meanwhile, the Kaspars play, struggle, fall and fall again in amplified crashes, attempting to extract meaning and engage with their primary sentence: +I want to be a person like somebody else was once.+ This refrain haunts the play from its first gurglings within the multimix of the pre-show tape's recorded cacophony (Clay Chaplin and Gabe Imlay's sound design is splendidly, subtly ever-present) to being repeated and multiplied on the scrim that covers its final images like a descending wall. A prop magically drops from the flies on a bungee cord -- a lamp, a chair, a broom -- a Kaspar explores it with the voraciousness and energy of an infant in constant discovery, with wonder, confusion, rage, tenderness. In the same way, the Kaspars play with language to find its boundaries and meanings -- discovering its glories, its torments, its surprises -- and in the process, aided by the Prompters' tutorial, cement forever the relationship between objects and words.
The chair still hurts you, but the word chair already pleases you...The closet still hurts you a little, but the word closet already pleases you more...The broom hurts you less the more the word broom pleases you. Words no longer hurt you when the word words please you. The Sentences please you more the more the word sentence pleases you.
Handke, one of our century's most inventive language experimentalists, fills his text with syntactical gymnastics, with repetitive constructions and wordplay that mirror and represent the transformation of language from delightful game into imperative:
You have a sentence to say yes and say nay with. You have a sentence to deny with...You have a sentence you can place between yourself and everything else. You are the lucky owner of a sentence which will make every impossible order possible for you and make every possible and real disorder impossible for you: which will exorcise every disorder from you....You can no longer imagine anything without the sentence...You become aware.
In one of the production's most indelible images, the Kaspars are playing with language as their bodies play anarchically about the stage. The Prompters begin to herd them into a marching tempo, to the rhythm of syntactical constructions:
- The room is small but mine
- The stool is low but comfortable
- The sentence is harsh but just
- The old man is old but sturdy
- The star is famous but modest
- The criminal is scum but a human being nonetheless
- War is indeed a misfortune but sometimes inescapable
- Hunger is bad indeed, but there are worse things (etc.)
By the end of the scene, the images of fascism and escalating violence seem inevitably bound up in the invented dichotomies of the sentence structure itself. We are prisoners of our syntax, held hostage to the language at the spine of our culture, all of us, all. Its Procrustean bed never seemed so monolithic, so inescapable. We teach, we write, we raise our children within this prison system, we crush and wrack them and ourselves upon its constructions. It is the primal clown-show of our human experience, our life sentence.
The door swings open. The skin springs open. The match burns. The slap burns. The grass trembles. The fearful girl trembles...
Just as Alice Miller in +For Their Own Good+ exposes and deconstructs the violence at the heart of +normal+ child rearing, Armitage and Martynuk's rendering of +Kaspar+ implicates all of us, teachers and learners, writers and readers, parents and children, in this eternal dance. It is a cautionary fable, an initiatory ritual of great power and beauty, of vulnerability and mastery, of compassion and bottomless sorrow. I will never forget it.
Originally published in Theatre Perspectives International. May, 1994.http://www.handkedrama.scriptmania.com/custom3.html
THIS IS KYLE GILLETTE'S ACCOUNT OF HIS 2003 STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRODUCTION OF KASPAR.
Kaspar, Stanford University
at the end are excerpts from Kyle's conversation with me about his production... if you wish to contact Kyle, find and go to the drama school site of Stanford University...
For most of my adult life, and a decent portion of my childhood, my most pressing artistic and philosophical desire was to understand objects on stage. My heterotopia was the prop storage room, where door knobs from one play sat in disuse, used up and emptied by the networks of signification in one play, waiting, perhaps, to be glued to a dowel rod and bejeweled to make a sceptre for the next. This, for me, though I did not know the words at the time, was a theater of liminal phenomenology. My objects did not lose their use value in the impatient overuse, misuse, and insistent dominance of meaning over matter that war inflicts. Their war was of a different kind; their impatient appropriation was by the common narratives of the theater. I would convulse when props I had made, or reassembled, brought back from the dead props I loved and would hold in my hands, obsessed with their thingness would vanish in the meaning thrust upon, and through, them. But some part of them were always unavoidably resistant to those uses, and it was this part that held my eye, even as the play went on, not needing the props any more, the props that had, as far as the play was concerned, fulfilled their function. At least until the next performance.
When I directed Kaspar in May of 2003, I felt that the encroachment upon reality that language enacts could only be performed through a sharp juxtaposition between prelingual and postlingual things. The furniture at the beginning of the play must not construct a narrative. The objects are placed without any definite relationship to one another, and in this sense, when Kaspar first reaches to them and users his one sentence I want to be a person like somebody else was once he does not really have a sense of any use value; he enters, rather, into a haptic space. Vision, however, I feared, already began to striate the space and the objects for the audience. How could they ever experience that initial forgetting of their extra-theatrical semiotic webs? Though the chair was not yet comprehensible to Kaspar, it was all too known to the audience, who had their own chairs outside this little room. And then there is a table near it, but this is not a kitchen, nor a living room. The objects presence was lost in the first moment the audience saw them together. I battled this with an absurdly wide and shallow playing space, where the audience could never see everything at once, were, in this sense, almost within the field. Secondly, there was a secret room inside which a tiny chair and table were hidden except by shadows upon the white screens that cornered them off and the image projected onto another wall by a closed circuit camera. I wished to unsettle the feeling I had in the theater that anything seen always already lost its liveness, always already became mediated by the sense one has of seeing something worked on, constructed, prepared for the consumption of hungry eyes. So I gave a counterpoint of the world, the objects, and even a second Kaspar, as mediated images whose juxtaposition against three-dimensional things might create a tension that presences presence. Kaspar emerges from the ur-material of theater, the backstage: all our ropes and walls with chipped paint showed. This was not Brecht, for the point was never to keep the audience in a place of intellectual and political reflection upon the illusion. Rather, the illusions we destroyed always fell back on the materiality of theatrical creation. This materiality was not in the service of illusion, but was rather its own thoroughly textured perceptual space, a space of infinite possibilities, like a trains rotunda.
As the audience enters the theater, according to Handke, the objects on stage have no relation to one another; they are stage props that have told no story; they exhibit their thingness (ideally) without letting semiotics tear it away. But, as we soon discovered through workshops revolving around words and things, it is, or seems, impossible that any object, once on stage, could resist signification. I think this process happens even at the outset. Who can enter a theater and see the stage for itself and its things as foreign imponderables? Even if a piece of furniture has no obvious relationship to its surroundings, on stage it must have some spatial proximity, and audiences, especially Stanford audiences coming to see an avant-garde play by someone as intellectual as Peter Handke, have a tendency to try to make logical connections whether or not the artists actively chose those disparate elements to connect. What do you do? Even if you were able to eliminate -clues- from the spatial field, which is already impossible, you have the spectators individual signifying systems they project onto what they see to contend with. My inclination when I first read the play was to imagine the furniture haphazardly lying about, a mess. In rehearsal, though, I found that mess strongly indicative of domestic disorder semiotic leap that pulled the spectator beyond things and shapes to some kind of message underneath. All the time, it felt quite unnatural to engage in such a conflicted battle against theatricality. Rather than fight the stage, I wanted to use the stage, its flatness, to presence thingness somehow. So instead of situating objects with no relationship to one another, I stood them at equidistant intervals in a strait line across the stage, parallel to the audience. When the audience walked in, they saw things displayed flatly, presentationally, like objects in a display case. Specials over each object illuminated and eliminated their images in a preshow light dance, presencing and hiding the colors, textures, and silhouettes.
The Nitery Theater, a black box space in the Old Union of Stanford University, was converted from a large banquet hall. It is normally configured with the audience sitting in several rows on risers along one of the short walls, facing the other, with the light booth built into the wall on the left. For Kaspar, we turned the audience/spectator relationship 90 degrees, drastically flattening it and creating a wide but shallow playing area. The change also cut the audience capacity in half, and left the 50 remaining chairs all in two or three rows, with the effect that each spectator was in close proximity to the world on stage but could not see it all in one glance. In the center of the back wall, the two windows of the lighting booth were prominently visible, where the three Einsager (prompters) sat throughout, looking down on the action, speaking into microphones, and mirroring with quick turns of the head the spectators who were forced to look like they were watching a tennis match.
Stage right was dominated by a rectangular area completely walled into the corner by white semi-transparent fabric screens, each standing approximately 3 feet wide by 8 feet tall. Inside this playing area we placed a child-size chair and table, a broom, which spent the first half an hour of the show leaned against the screen, and a video camera on a tripod with a camera operator who remained throughout. The stage right and stage left walls had large built-in fireplaces, in front of which we erected curtains to make two miniature stages. Between the two prosceniums, in a strait line and equidistant from one another, stood the objects of Kaspars world: two strait chairs, a rocking chair, a small table, a desk, a coat rack.
I wanted to understand the relationship between words and things by coming at them with a third figure, the video image, that hovered somewhere between the two at the same time it floated always above. The juxtaposition of the image of a live but mediated room, full of live but mediated actions and things, against the immediacy, unmediated-ness, of the female Kaspar before the audience used constant, unrelenting simultaneity to explore many of Handkes stage directions in two ways at once. On video, we were able to explore not only speaking but writing. Using chalk on the floor, the male/ video Kaspar evolves from making figurative drawings (like a cave man) to forming letters, words and his own name. The fragmentation of Handkes stage, the elements of light, sound, image, object, and text often acting as autonomous if influenced pieces of a spectacle against the unification of Gesammtkunstwerk, were radicalized in the cameras ability to fragment the human body, to follow the eye, the foot, the hand as it struggles through the world, contiguous with the mind that ostensibly controls it. After intermission, the camera even peaked out of the corrupted barrier of the white screens, and each audience member got 15 seconds of fame on the onstage screen. Within the room, the camera caught sight of a monitor fed by its images, and peered down the infinite abyss of cascading frames.
The mediated Kaspar was born first, not in the parting of a curtain but in the fluttering open of a fresh eyeball. Of the things in his room, he does discover the camera. Of the things in her room, the female Kaspar does discover the giant projected image, and tries to touch the immaterial images of that rooms tiny furniture, tries to understand the difference between it and the things of her room. Most of all, she tries to come to terms with the mysterious figure she sees there who seems at once her doppelganger and infinitely other. The two Kaspars were also an exploration of the degree to and the ways in which epistemology is gendered, which came, in the end, and to my surprise, to form a love story. The two Kaspars, one male, one female, one born into a room in which he could not see the audience, only the camera operator, the other born into the theatrical space where she beholds and is beheld by a live audience, were kept apart until the end. In the final story, what we ended up calling the snow story, the two Kaspars found each other making contact for the first time. The moment of completing each others sentences brought about a bliss of community that was only to last the duration of that story, and together, madly dancing behind the screens of the video room, they died, as if swallowed by representation itself.
Rachel Joseph, my main collaborator on several projects including her
direction of Gertrude Stein's Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights
before this production, played the female Kaspar, and I did not so much
direct her in a conventional sense as work with the set and lighting
designers to surround her with a world. She brought to the role the
energy and discovery of a solo performance around which I helped shape
space that she would come to discover. Her performance was
epistemologically rich; each night as she emerged from the curtain it
real and true theatrical birth. Jordan Kaplan played the male Kaspar
found his birth each night similarly but also in a specific
the camera operator, Eli Peterson. Between them it was a sort of
Jordan would discover his body and his objects as Eli's camera would
discover Jordan discovering. For Rachel and Jordan, there was no other
world that this stage represented, no message to be conveyed by their
actions. Watching them, it was as if they erased themselves anew
each performance, and that their negotiations of the space, its
and the Prompters' words happened not realistically but really, that
came into consciousness and died every night in a hyperpresent and
distilled version of encountering the world and the word. In a sense
was also a distillation of the rehearsal process, of the journey from
strangeness through familiarity to second nature that happens in the
performer's weeks of work with the script, costumes, and props. The
multiple Kaspars, Jenee LaMarque, Alejandra Meza, Jason Lee, and David
Gupta, clad in black and white versions of the main Kaspars' costumes,
became bizarre mockeries and duplications of the originals, often
exaggerating Rachel's and Jordan's genuine gestures of discovery and
awkwardness into a grotesquely artificial pastiche.
The prompters, Barry Kendall, Audrey Hannah, and Daniel Jackson,
each other, fed off of each other, topped each other, and repeated each
other as they sometimes soothingly and often threateningly induced
Kaspar(s) to understand the world and language. At first I had split
lines up in various ways very specifically. As rehearsals went on,
became quite adept at organically bouncing off each other and mostly
improvised who said what when, like a curiously bureaucratic and
jam session. Michael Hunter and John Kim electronically manipulated
mic output and mixed sounds live onstage, including much of the
recorded words. They became the technological component of Kaspar's
socialization, both interacting with and superseding language.
EXERPTS FROM KYLE GILLETTES AND MICHAEL ROLOFFS DISCUSSTION ABOUT HIS PRODUCTION:
SOME ADDITIONAL MATERIAL FROM KYLE GILLETTE/S AND MICHAEL ROLOFFS CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT HIS KASPAR PRODUCTION:
MICHAEL:Now what about that =train/s rotunda=...?
KYLE the train/s rotunda, as in the rotunda of the train station, the circular
platform that turns about, strait tracks leading outward. there, a train/s
path is still infinitely provisional, possible, until it is committed to a
single track for miles, or hundreds, or thousands. ...that/s what i had assumed, and i will change it to =train station/s rotunda= for clarity/s sake.... although =rotunda= suggests a central station with a round dome on top too....
MICHAEL: i/ll try to find the actual railway yard term for this...
KYLE: The handke.scriptmania site is extremely useful--before i ever did a production, i did much of my research there and found it invaluable.
MICHAEL: Glad to be of use. But what happened to the =lear scream= [goats and monkeys] at the end? Not a Beach Boys tune I hope! as ms .and mr kaspar dance off into never never land!
KYLE; the /lear scream/ was, like several parts of the play, recorded. my two sound designers sat onstage underneath the large projected image of the cornered off room with two laptops, a short wave radio--through which they played some of the prompters/ words at times--and a very advanced sound board that was connected to the onstage microphones of the three prompters, the two kaspars in the second act, and to music overlaid and made out of words when they began to fall apart. /goats and monkeys/ was recorded and played over and over, but each time mechanically slowed down and stretched out until it became an incoherent drone. simultaneously, it was mixed with real monkey screeches and goat bleats. i had something written originally about all of the manipulation of the live and the recorded we did with sound, but i ultimately cut it because it was somewhat difficult to explain all the intricate specifics. carl was unfortunately in france at the time and missed it, though at the time i didn/t feel unfortunate about that. i think his presence while was directing would have added a pressure that might have killed many of the risks we took.
MICHAEL: Kyle, I regret not seeing your Kaspar. I think that/s a first rate
presentation of what you did. As a subnote: you did put yourself to some considerable torture it seems in trying to extirpate associations to theobjects. It/s a play, after all, and is playful; just a set of bricks, which are then turned into the objects... lots of other solutions spring to my mind... but without the torture i suspect none of the other elaborations... i particularly like the floating images. animals already think in images obviously.
December 7, 2001
Words and Things:
Language, thingness, and epistemology in Handkes Kaspar
Words and things. Chair and shoelace. Words without things. Chair without broom. Things without words. Table without thing. Closet without shoelace. Words without table. Neither words nor things. Neither words nor shoelace. Neither words nor table. Table and words. Words and chair without things. Chair without shoelace without words and closet. Words and things. Things without words. Neither word nor things. Words and sentences. Sentences: Sentences: Sentences:
uPeter Handke, Kaspar
But if things ever had already shown themselves qua things in their thingness, then the things thingness would have become manifest and would have laid claim to thought. In truth, however, the thing as thing remains proscribed, nil, and in that sense annihilated. This has happened and continues to happen so essentially that not only are things no longer admitted as things, but they have never yet at all been able to appear to thinking as things.
uMartin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought
The sentence, in Heideggers thinking, has always already failed to include the thing qua thing, not only in languages long historical evolution, but more immediately in the individual subjects passage from a nonlingual to a lingual being. To connect words as thinkable abstractions into meaningful sentences seems inherently to exclude the thingness of things and words alike. Human subjects must make words of words, and even words of things, in order to render the world coherent. That is, a word becomes useful in a lingual thought pattern only insofar as it becomes abstract and referential. Even a thing is useless to linguistic thought except to the degree in which it is not merely thingly but also objectified. An object becomes in this codifying sense its own kind of word, abstractable and thereby conceivable. As individuals pass into sanity under the totalitarian power of logos, they become speakers to the degree that they substitute words for reality. Language shapes reality, names objects, and thus defines a rigid relationship between subject and world, necessarily excluding parts of reality in favor of others and thereby codifying perception itself. As Kenneth Burke writes, language is essentially a terministic screen that filters perception by eliminating parts of perception: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦It is precisely in this deflection of reality that language does violence to that reality, absorbing objects while deflecting things (for instance), ordering the world through a manic and paradoxically delusional sanity. But this delusional sanity u a finite order based on the willful ignorance of materialitys infinite disorder u violates nothing more than the speaker through whom language speaks. The speaker has no control over the particular order that language invents, and therefore becomes the ultimate subject of delusion. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Language speaks,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦as Heidegger puts it, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦not man. Man speaks only in so far as he skillfully conforms to language.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦The violence of this coercive terministic screen, the sentence, drives a wedge between the speaker and her or his world.
It is fitting, then, that Jeanette Malkin would include Peter Handkes Kaspar as the first case study in her book, Verbal Violence in Contemporary Drama. As she writes, Heideggers assertion that language speaks through the human speaker could just as easily have been written by Handke about Kaspar, a bizarre and troubled dramatic exploration of language and epistemology. She posits the chief function of language in this play as a torturous process through which lingual codes annihilate their puppet-like speaker; she summarizes the Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¹ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦"story of the playÃ¢â‚¬Â¦as Ã¢â‚¬Â¦that of one speechless man u Kaspar u and how he is created and destroyed through his forced acquisition of language.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Indeed, the character Kaspar does come to be created and destroyed in and through language, and Malkin goes on to detail languages sinister ordering powers, but languages violence to its speaker also precedes a conceptual structuring more specifically. The word, the phrase, and the sentence, the first units of verbal violence, structure thoughts and therefore character in a particular fashion u through a journey from the thingly to the wordly, annihilating the former in the pursuit of the latter.
In addition to revealing by this journey the sheer violence of linguistic codification, Kaspar complicates the Heideggerian thing-word issue through an application of the problem to multiple subjectivities. The other Kaspars that enter the stage (after the original Kaspars more infantile adventures) sometimes mimic his early explorations of thingness, sometimes undermine his later logocentrism, but always manage to re-emphasize the sloppiness and humanity of coming-into-thought. In this sense, an old philosophical issue finds human concretization through literal, actorly embodiment. Kaspar, even as it distills the philosophical challenge into a form approaching coherence, simultaneously complicates its own distillation process and brings an old abstract debate u thought through even now almost exclusively upon the page u into the grounded and gritty realm of vaudeville-esque performance. The original Kaspars struggle with language is cute and appealingly nave before it becomes violent. His journey and the complex and frantic interplay of the other Kaspars potentially offers the audience something beyond u or, rather, before, conceptually prior to u illustration or elucidation. The sheer awkward humanity of the play brings the philosophical ideas back to the thingness from which they emerged, not merely representing the journey from the thingly to the wordly, but in fact enacting the journey itself in real space and time.
Language does not operate on Kaspars actions upon his first entrance. At this moment, Kaspar experiences the world in all its thingness, without any linguistic pattern to codify it. He is Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the incarnation of astonishment,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦as Handke puts it, profoundly unassuming and naive (63). Of course, part of the allure of this clownish image is that we as an audience cannot know what Kaspar is astonished about, but we can guess from his progressive disastonishment throughout the play that it has something to do with a virgin reality not yet subjugated to a codified order. Much later, after language has co-opted and ordered Kaspars mind, he will declare his unastonished mastery of the very things that previously astonished him, saying that Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Every object/ has become/ accessible/ to me/ and I/ am receptive/ to each objectÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(111). If this latter self-assuredness is a delusional sanity that has falsely simplified the world through codification, then his early astonishment may result from the overwhelming materiality of perception, or the startling thingness of things. He does speak one sentence uÃ¢â‚¬Â¦I want to be a person like somebody else was onceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦u but the sentence is obviously meaningless to him: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦He utters the sentence so that it is obvious that he has no concept of what it means, without expressing anything but that he lacks awareness of the meaning of the sentenceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(65). Certainly the sentence taken as such elucidates Kaspars crisis of character, and historically it plays on Kaspar Hausers famous solo sentence in the town square of Nuremberg, Germany, in 1828: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I want to become a horseman like my father once was.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦But the sentence more primaly remains an ungainly thing for the character Kaspar. Words, at this point, exhibit their own sort of thingness. Kaspar uses this sentence to yell, to mourn, to speak to other things, but not at all as a sentence proper (wherein word-concepts collaborate through a particular structure to complete an idea). Before language determines Kaspar, everything remains essentially thingly.
If, as Malkin has it, language violates and destroys Kaspar over the course of the play, it does so insofar as it deflects the thingness of reality and selects the material it can use for signification. This selection and deflection extends to words and things, alienating both from the perceiver who once confronted them naively, inquisitively, and as Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the incarnation of astonishment.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I will suggest here that it is precisely in the persistent confusion of words and things that Kaspars language and actions confound him, and through which he ultimately fails to control the monstrously independent Ã¢â‚¬Â¦delusional sanityÃ¢â‚¬Â¦of linguistic thought. Conceptually prior to the many readings of Handkes Kaspar as a dramatization of Wittgensteins language theories, a parody of those theories, a critique of bourgeois culture, a problematization of all codified systems, a contemplation of actorly rehearsive energies, or a clash of popular and text-based performances, I propose a more basic reading (that may elucidate the basis for all other readings): Kaspar as a conceptual shift from thing as thing and even word as thing to thing as word and, as an obvious but destructive endpoint, word as word.
I mean Ã¢â‚¬Â¦thingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦here in the Heideggerian sense of the word, as that slippery term that Heidegger himself mostly describes in the negative. The thing is not reducible to its objecthood, which is to say its representable qualities, or to its making. It bears traits, but is not reducible to the traits or to the bearing. The thing is moreover not merely perceivable. We can perceive it, but its thingness lies not in our perception. It is formed matter, but also not essentially that because the verb Ã¢â‚¬Â¦to formÃ¢â‚¬Â¦privileges the process of the things coming-into-being, or making, which indeed has always happened but which misleads the thinker looking for thingness. The thing poses this definitional conundrum precisely by being that which is not talked about, or that which is not incorporated in the sort of linguistic codification that destroys Kaspar. When I call something Ã¢â‚¬Â¦thingly,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I essentially mean all that in relation to a thing that is not quite speakable, or that which maintains a material existence prior to thought. I will not dwell here on its onefold staying of the Earth, Sky, Divinities, and Mortals as Heidegger does in his chapter Ã¢â‚¬Â¦The ThingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(from Poetry, Language, Thought, 165-186); I am primarily interested in the things relationship to language.
By language I mean, of course, the codified systems of verbal signifiers that speak through us, and primarily language insofar as it operates as a Burkean Ã¢â‚¬Â¦terministic screen.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Heidegger himself contemplates languages Ã¢â‚¬Â¦biddingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦power in the chapter following Ã¢â‚¬Â¦The ThingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(Ã¢â‚¬Â¦LanguageÃ¢â‚¬Â¦), suggesting an ultimately thingly capability through poetic attempts at the pre-objectified, but I will discuss only languages more typical un-thingly behavior u the sort that speaks through and destroys Handkes Kaspar. However, though language is an abstract codifying system, its material existence in words and speech can take on a thingly character as well. When I refer to the Ã¢â‚¬Â¦word,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I mean either that formed aural sound created by human vocal efforts (whereby I can conceive of word as thing), or the rigid semiotic unit that makes up linguistic thought (whereby I can conceive of thing as word). Likewise, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the thingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦has two meanings: that which is thingly (including, in some cases, words) or the thing itself (which can yet be rendered an object by language). If these dual meanings confuse or limit what I can write about Kaspar, it is because language limits my thoughts as it speaks through me, and will also inevitably limit the reader in the journey from the page to the mind. Language does not even simply limit or proceed awkwardly from thought; it produces and is entirely interdependent with thought. The conflation of the semioticaly wordly and the phenomenally thingly around the flexible words Ã¢â‚¬Â¦wordÃ¢â‚¬Â¦and Ã¢â‚¬Â¦thingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(and any ensuing confusion produced by this conflation) is not only unavoidable; its inevitability is precisely the subject of this paper.
Thing as Thing
Before Kaspar ever arrives on stage, Handke confronts the audience with an indecipherable set of things that have no relationship to one another or to any signifying history they might tell. These props are props as props. Indeed, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦as propsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦already objectifies them, but this thought pattern is not dictated by any semiotic principle other than the fact that the things are on stage. As Handke writes in his introduction to the play,
On first glance, the objects on the stage look theatrical: not because they imitate other objects, but because the way they are situated with respect to one another does not correspond to their usual arrangement in reality. The objects, although genuine (made of wood, steel, cloth, etc), are instantly recognizable as props. They are play objects. They have no history. The audience cannot imagine that, before they came in and saw the stage, some tale had already taken place on it. (60)
Handke continues to refer to the things on stage as Ã¢â‚¬Â¦objects,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦and indeed to a degree they are just that. They mean, even if not in the way that objects usually mean. But this deliberate decontextualization from common or decipherable arrangements also privileges a thingly character in the objects presence. Although they may immediately begin to mean to an audience, the things do not actively signify as would, for example, furnishings arranged to indicate a living room. Handke predicts the spectators objectification of things; he does not dictate this objectification. In fact, he undermines the path of objectifying, insisting that Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the objects are situated without any obvious relationship to each otherÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(60-61). The objects may even be said to contradict each others meaningfulness, refusing each others objecthood by denying each others context. Handke wants each spectator to come to terms with the stage things as items that are interesting or uninteresting based on the spectators own care. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Every theatergoer,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦he insists in the introduction, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦should have sufficient time to observe each object and grow sick of it or come to want more of itÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(61).
Kaspar will begin the play by navely reproducing the spectators encounter with each things thingness. His navetÃ¢â‚¬Â 'ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬ 'Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¦Ã‚Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â© u or what Faye Ran-Moseley calls his Ã¢â‚¬Â¦babyishnessÃ¢â‚¬Â¦u amounts to a humorous but appropriate stance to take in relation to thingness. After he stumbles around and tries out his original sentence with different intonations, he addresses the things on stage. He speaks to the chairs in a manner revealing his ignorance of their inanimateness, speaking his sentence to the second chair and Ã¢â‚¬Â¦expressing with it that the first chair has not heard himÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(66). This appeal probably does not continue long enough to personify the chairs, or even to convince a spectator of Kaspars delusional personification. Instead, speaking the sentence uncomprehendingly looks more like an appeal to each things thingness u an earnest and simple confrontation between Kaspar and the things he has never encountered before. He continues the appeal to the table and the closet, and then goes on to disrupt each things integrity, approaching, thereby, a real inquiry into its thingness. He kicks the closet, accidentally opening its doors. Within the closet hang several colorful costumes that may be, in the context of Kaspars infantile discoveries, a colorful representation of thingly unconcealing itself (66). To appeal to a things thingness is to lean close and experience its unobjectified nearness, waiting for a phenomenological epiphany that unfolds the thing in question to the spectator as she or he has never experienced it. Kaspar confronts all of the furniture in this fashion, saying Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I want to be a person like somebody else was once,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦but also seeming to beckon each thing to unfold. The spectator can almost hear him whispering Ã¢â‚¬Â¦thingÃ¢â‚¬Â¦?Ã¢â‚¬Â¦and waiting for the closets nonverbal reply.
All of Kaspars initial (prelingual) confrontations with his surroundings have this beckoning character. He begins to delve into the materiality of each thing on stage, discovering the gaps between the cushions of the sofa and pulling the drawer our of the table, scattering its contents on the floor. He becomes entangled with a chair, destroys the small table, and overturns the rocking chair (67-69). In each case, Kaspar creates a mess by probing not the things meaning but its material nature. In the case of the rocking chair, he gets at the very essence of its being u at the rocking chair qua rocking chair u by forcing it to do what it does. He rocks it, over and over, more and more rapidly, until at its peak of falling over he tips it with his hand. It is tempting to think of the rocking of a rocking chair as an objectifying action: one forces a thing to conform to its manufactured purpose and furniturial utility. But the rocking of the chair is actually tied very closely to the rocking chairs rocking-chairness, in the same way that Heideggers famous jug jugs by holding liquid. Even divorced from its making, the rocking chair is essentially a chair that rocks. Kaspar could hardly do better to arrive at the rocking chairs thingness than to explore its self-evident presencing.
Of course, Kaspar does not only bid the rocking chairs presencing u he bids it to death. If a rocking chair is a rocking chair only to the degree that it rocks, then Kaspar forces this rocking chair to presence itself so strongly that it finally loses its ability to presence at all. Once the rocking chair falls, it cannot rock, and must lose its thingness as a rocking chair qua rocking chair. This ultimately self-consuming presencing gives Kaspar a fright, and he runs away (69). The death of the rocking chair, along with the table drawer, the three-legged table, and the broom, reveals Kaspars essential orderlessness and incompetence before he begins to embrace languages ordering power. Perhaps the only event that could deliver thingness more than its presencing is that presencings sudden cessation. This alternating presencing and unpresencing manifests thingness unthinkability and exemplifies the chaos of Kaspars preverbal world.
After the intermission, Kaspar reflects on his former preverbal state and seems grateful for his acquisition of language: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Already long/ in the world/ I realized nothing/ I wondered/ about the self-evident/ and found everything finite/ and infinite/ laughable/ every object filled me with fear/ the whole world galled me/ neither did I want to be myself/ nor somebody else/ my own hand/ was unknown to me/ my own legs/ walked of their own accordÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(121-122, emphasis mine). This lingual Kaspar recalls what it was like to engage with a world that he could not appropriate. Every things thingness presenced itself to him, but frightened him in its profoundness. Even his own body seemed to have thingness to it, moving by itself and defying his ability to control it. This self-thingness, or non-identity with ones own body, parallels Kaspars early struggle with language as well. Speech is a part of him, it comes through him u and, importantly, emerges from the very same body that seems like a foreign thing to him u but he does not possess it. Speech, until Kaspar begins to master it, presences its own terrifying thingness.
Word as Thing
The word can never be as thingly as things. Its fundamental wordness depends on its meaning, which is always already an inherently anti-thingly process. But Kaspars initial words do have a thingly character in that they do not yet seem to mean for him. He speaks words that haunt and terrify him, and he thinks of those words not only as signifiers that fall short of meaning, but more basically as sounds with their own particular materiality. Still, Heidegger would never allow for words to be thought of as things, as they do not stay the fourfold unity of Earth, Sky, Divinities, and Mortals. In this sense, he would be correct to deny the words thingness.
But a word can have a similar phenomenological unfolding. When a things thingness suddenly appears to a spectator, it seems radically new and strange. This epiphany is nearly unexaminable, but perhaps describable: a smoker suddenly becomes overwhelmed by her cigarette, throws it on the ground and shouts, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦its on fire!Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Her friend reassures her that of course it is on fire; it is a cigarette. The smoker responds, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦No, but look!Ã¢â‚¬Â¦She points to the cigarette on the ground, obsessed with the shape and the cinders and the way in which the cigarette consumes itself. She has smoked thousands of cigarettes, but this one has popped out of reality and revealed its thingly character. A similar unfolding occurs when a speaker repeats a single word or group of words over and over. After several repetitions, the word or sentence loses its meaning and takes on a strangeness, forcing its listener to hear the word as never before, as if listening to the words aural unconcealing.
Kaspar repeats the words of his original sentence (Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I want to be a person like somebody else was onceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦) so many times from scene 4 to 17 that they can hardly help but to unconceal their strangeness exactly along these lines. Moreover, as he begins to break his sentence up into its parts, Kaspar rearranges his words into new configurations, still devoid of meaning and gradually with a greater focus on their phenomenal qualities. His Ã¢â‚¬Â¦first divergenceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦depends on a repetition of his particular sounds: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I want to be like somebody else like somebody else once was somebody else.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦He breaks the sentence into parts: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦One./ Be./ Somebody./ Was./ Want./ Somebody else.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Already he begins to isolate the words individual meanings as well, but this process will become more sensual before it becomes more meaningful: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Waswant!/ Somelike!/ Someonce!/ SomeI!/ Besome!/ Likeonce!/ ElshÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(73). These words are no longer words at all; they are a destruction of wordness by a frustration with Kaspars inability to mean. He goes further still, descending into pure sound: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Olce ime kwas askwike lein.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦He explores the aural qualities of individual letters, uttering Ã¢â‚¬Â¦a very long e,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦an Ã¢â‚¬Â¦n for not quite as long a duration as the e,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦a Ã¢â‚¬Â¦shorter s,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦a Ã¢â‚¬Â¦brief, formally difficult, rÃ¢â‚¬Â¦and a comically frustrating attempt at a Ã¢â‚¬Â¦p,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦which he Ã¢â‚¬Â¦tries to stretchÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ like the other letters, an endeavor in which he of course fails utterly.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦All the while, the Einsager (which Michael Roloff translates as Ã¢â‚¬Â¦promptersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦) bark orders at Kaspar: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Order. Put. Lie. Sit./ Put. Order. Lie. Sit./ Lie. Put. Order. SitÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(74), at least tonally insisting upon a clear structure. Kaspar can finally speak nothing at all, robbed of the one sentence with which to arm himself. He tries to make sounds with his feet and with objects, and even these attempts become gradually weaker until he is rendered completely silent. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦His sentence,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Handke declares in the stage directions, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦has been exorcisedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(75).
But what about the sentence has been exorcised? Kaspars sentence has not up to now given him meaning. If it has meant anything at all, it has meant that it does not mean, or that Kaspar fails to mean in speaking it. The disembodied voices of the prompters try to banish the sentences thingness from their very first utterances. They do not yet insist on the sentence as meaningful, but they recognize the nonmeaningful value of a sentence as a tool:
Already you have a sentence with which you can make yourself noticeable. With this sentence you can make yourself noticeable in the dark, so no one will think you are an animal. You have a sentence with which you can tell yourself everything that you cant tell others. You can explain to yourself how it goes with you. You have a sentence with which you can already contradict the same sentence. (67)
These uses for a sentence are not yet bound to semiosis, but they already shy away from the materiality of words in favor of utility. To think of anything as an instrument or tool is to think away from its thingness. And it is precisely this usefulness that fuels the prompters insistence on the unthingly. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦The sentence,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦they say, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦is more useful to you than a word. You can speak a sentence to the endÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ . Play off one word against the other. With the sentence you can compare one word with the other. Only with a sentence, not with a word, can you ask leave to speakÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(67). Embedded in this value judgment lies an implicit nod to the thingness of words when left alone. If the word is less useful on its own, both as a tool and a signifier, then it is proportionally more thingly. A word alone lacks order; it may arouse or connotate, but only through syntax can it combine with other words to attain its fullest wordness. The ordering structure of a sentence would organize the words power by contextualizing it, unlike Kaspars Ã¢â‚¬Â¦sentence,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦which, at least in his usage, does little more than let the sounds exist u for the most part in a consistent order, but not at all with the semiotic shapeliness that the prompters sentences master. The prompters thus exorcise Kaspars obsession with the sentences thingness, or rather his obsession with the sentences words thingness, demanding instead an order that renders each word particularly meaningful.
The prompters urge Kaspar toward mastery, in a move that gives him the ability to utter according to his communicative wishes. Until his mastery, Kaspar does not utter words so much as he summons each words mysterious thingness. Like with the terrifying thingness of things, Kaspar in his later reflections seems glad to be rid of his words magic. He reflects that Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Once plagued by sentences/ I now cant have enough of sentences./ Once haunted by words/ I now play with every letter.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦His gladness, though, seems to proceed more directly from languages domination of his thought than anything else, because even more than his words materiality, he once feared their wordness, their movement toward rational discourse: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Earlier on, each rational sentence was a burden to me/ and I detested each rational order/ but from now on/ I will be rationalÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(111). Kaspar simultaneously masters and becomes mastered by the sentence, rendered rational by its authority, and consequently proscribes and annihilates the thingness he once respected, even if that respect was primarily fearful.
Thing as Word
If words must conform to a structured sentence, so, eventually, must things. Language takes over Kaspars thinking, and in this conquest it demands an order not only to his conceptual world also but to his real world. In fact, it orders the real world through the conceptual world, vanquishing the thingness of things by the naming of things, and thereby turns the real world into not only a victim of but an extension to the conceptual world. In this process of conceptualization u an appropriation of things by words u things lose their unthinkable excess. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Each object you perceive,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the prompters tell Kaspar, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦is that much simpler, the simpler the sentence with which you can describe itÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(79). The things that pose such indescribable unconcealing for Kaspar in his first few minutes on stage become, through language, comprehensible objects, complex only to the degree in which his words allow them to be. Kaspar thus vanquishes his fear of thingness: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦every object/ that I find sinister/ I designate as mine/ so that it stops/ being sinister to meÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(112).
Of course, this terministic screen inevitably aids comprehension, but it eschews thingness in the process. Kaspar recalls his journey to cognition exactly in this way. In his infantile (or Ã¢â‚¬Â¦babyishÃ¢â‚¬Â¦) state, he says, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦every room/ looked flat/ to me/ and hardly/ was I awake/ when the flat objects/ fell all over me/ like a dream image.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦The things have a bizarre subjectivity to them, threatening Kaspars consciousness: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦they became obstacles/ all the unknown objects/ interrogated me/ at once/ all indistinguishables confused/ my hands/ and made me wild.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦He could not escape this wild confusion except by sacrificing the things that terrorized him, and he admits as much: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦I was lost/ among the objects/ lost my way/ and/ to find my way out/ destroyed them.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Kaspar may seem to refer here to his literal destruction of the table and disruption of several furniture pieces, but in this context of referring to linguistic domination he at least conjures a sense of verbal violence-by-appropriation. As he claims after a short pause, his painful coming-into-language helped him Ã¢â‚¬Â¦drive/ a wedgeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦between himself Ã¢â‚¬Â¦and the objects/ and finally extirpate my babbling:/ thus the hurt finally drove/ the confusion out of meÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(124). Kaspar, in his later (admittedly language-dominated) thinking, importantly aligns confusion with nearness to things, finding his only solace from confusion in a remoteness from thingness. The prompters go so far as to discount the unspoken qualities of things entirely, telling Kaspar, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦if you see the object differently from the way you speak of it, you must be mistaken: you must say to yourself that you are mistaken and you will see the objectÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(102). Kaspar takes this advice and begins to filter all of his perception through the terministic screen of language. In this sense, he destroys his surrounding things not literally but by ignoring their nearness, which Heidegger designates as the most essential quality of thingness.
Naming things, however, does not completely write the thing out of thought. At least the things material traits can continue to haunt language. Kaspar reports how colors originally confused his very ability to name:
Because the snow was white and because snow was the first white I saw, I called everything white snow. I was given a handkerchief that was white, but I believed it would bite me because the white snow bit my hand when I touched it, and I did not touch the handkerchief, and when I knew the word snow I called the white handkerchief snow: but later, when I also knew the word handkerchief, when I saw a white handkerchief, even when I uttered the word handkerchief, I still thought the word snow, because of which I first began to remember. (134)
It would be misleading to suppose, in this case, that thingness infects Kaspars ability to name, because the biting by the snow and the color of both snow and handkerchief cannot be called the snows or the handkerchiefs thingness. Both are rather merely traits that the things themselves bear, but it is interesting to note that it is the snows phenomenal qualities that shaped his perception, not the snows meaning. Kaspar recalls here a mistake that he made in his more primitive stages of language acquisition, still associating words as somehow magically tied to the objects they signify. As he comes closer to total cognition, however, he imagines a reverse order of causality, supposing the word to be the cause of phenomenal qualities:
Finally I even used the word snow, out of curiosity, for something that was not white, to see whether it would turn to snow because of my uttering the word snow, and even if I did not say the word snow I was thinking it and remembered at every sight if not the snow itself at least the word snow. (134-135)
Amazingly, Kaspar does not seem to mind that the phenomenal qualities of snow do not actually appear in the objects he experimentally names snow; it is enough that the word itself lurks in the back of his mind. In this way, he substitutes the words power for the things qualities. The audience does not see this story take place, and it is indeed difficult to imagine when the story could have occurred, since the audience has seen Kaspars cognitive journey from its incognitive beginnings, all of which ostensibly occurs onstage. This storys actuality is clearly unclear u but that fact is only peripheral to the storys importance. The story is primarily important because it emphasizes that things will affect all thought, including the codifying thought that drives a wedge between subject and thing. Even the prompters, the authoritarian arbiters of languages ability to proscribe and dominate, admit a relationship between material and conceptual structure. As Kaspar is Ã¢â‚¬Â¦taught the model sentences with which an orderly person struggles through life,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the prompters call attention to this structural relationship: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the door has two sides: truth has two sides: if the door had three sides, truth would have three sides: the door has many sides: truth has many sides: the door: the truth: no truth without a doorÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(90). Whether or not this nearly nonsensical dictation represents an actual meditation on the number of sides truth has is irrelevant. Material structures, including things, certainly influence the ways in which people think.
And if things will inevitably have this effect, tyrannical language can hardly let that effect be arbitrary. Language cannot afford to leave the stage things (dis)arranged without any relationship to each other; this arrangement allows them to emit too much thingness. Hence Kaspar ties his shoes (80), tightens his belt (81), buttons his jacket (81-82), and Ã¢â‚¬Â¦puts the stage in orderÃ¢â‚¬Â¦by righting the fallen furniture, replacing the three-legged tables removed leg, and arranging the stage objects into a coherent and inhabitable whole. By the time he finishes, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦everything on stage goes with everything else,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦including his now-matching jacket and the painting and plastic fruit that he brings on stage for decoration (82-87). In this process of coherent arrangement, the stage directions also clearly make his actions subservient to the prompters words: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦As he nears the completion of his task, his actions more and more obey the sentences of the prompters, whereas in the beginning the prompters sentences adjusted themselves to his actionsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(83). Not only by creating what amounts to a visual sentence composed of physical words, but also through a submission of that very process to disembodied language, Kaspar renders his entire world meaningful, or wordly.
The other Kaspars that enter the stage and, in the end, subvert the original Kaspars authoritarianism do so in part by bringing in exaggeratedly strange things. Before the original Kaspar unwittingly deconstructs his own linguistic project, the other Kaspars pull out oversized fingernail files and file their nails, clothes, and other nearby materials (139-140). This profoundly odd preoccupation with thingness and nonsensical materiality comes long after the original Kaspar has already appropriated the stage as his real-world extension of order, and u through a reiteration of his preverbal world u undermines this newly ordered stage. As Malkin writes, these Ã¢â‚¬Â¦multiple Kaspars do not act merely as reflections of the original Kaspar but also u increasingly as Kaspar becomes more like the Prompters u as rejections of the conformity which Kaspar has accepted.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Materially speaking, this conformity essentially sentences to death the thingness of things, and the other Kaspars rejection of that conformity would naturally take the form of reintroducing his forgotten thingness. They remind Kaspar of the thingness of things while simultaneously reminding him of the thingness of words, ultimately destroying him with thingness unresolvability. The cacophony they create by rubbing things together juxtaposed against Kaspars meticulously ordered words, along with the oddness of the things themselves juxtaposed against Kaspars meticulously ordered objects, becomes an aural and visual madness. This madness is made all the more mad by Kaspars painstaking journey to a delusional sanity that values the thing only insofar as it can be seen as an object u a kind of material word. His position of thing-as-word finally effects his destruction, unable to retain its conceptual integrity against actual thingness.
Word as Word
Kaspars first words following intermission still come from Kaspars body, but he speaks into a microphone that makes his voice sound like the voices of the prompters (121), which Handke describes earlier as eerily inhuman:
The prompters u three persons, say u remain invisible (their voices are perhaps pre-recorded) and speak without undertones or overtones; that is, they speak neither with the usual irony, humor, helpfulness, human warmth, nor with the usual ominousness, dread, incorporeality or supernaturalness: they speak comprehensibly. Over a good amplifying system they speak a text that is not theirs. (67)
The amplifying system drives a wedge between the voice and body, making text not an expressive utterance so much as pure, disembodied meaning. Perhaps most vitally, the prompters speak a text that is not theirs; they overtly manifest languages tendency to speak through the speaker. Kaspar, in taking on this amplified voice for the remainder of the play, completes his transformation into a slave of languages codification. Before intermission, the prompters seem to posit speaking as an _expression of thought, telling Kaspar to Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Say what you think. You cant say except what you think. You cant say anything except what you are also thinking.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦These commands might have misled Kaspar into thinking of thinking as somehow prior to and productive of speech, but the prompters ease him into recognizing a more accurate and sinister relationship between language and thought:
Say what you think. Say what you dont think. When you have begun to speak you will think what you are saying. You think what you are saying, that means you can think what you are saying, that means it is good that you think what you are saying, that means you ought to think what you are saying, that means, on the one hand, that you may think what you are saying, and on the other hand, that you must think what you are saying, because you are not allowed to think anything different from what you are saying. (100-101)
As Jerome Klinkowitz and James Knowlton note in Peter Handke and the Postmodern Transformation, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the speaker can control language only to the extent of initiating it u after which it systematically takes care of itself, with all the logical consequences for the speaker.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Although the prompters ease Kaspar into this realization, the fact of ultimate dependence of thought upon language becomes precisely the enslavement that destroys him. His ordered speaking affects his internal thinking, and kills within him the ability to respect the world (and the word) in its unordered thingness.
The prompters suggest a fascistic sort of joy in coming to this order, no matter what violence it has done to thingness or how painful was the ordering: Ã¢â‚¬Â¦In the process of putting-into-order/ one is not as calm/ and orderly/ as later on/ when oneu/ having been brought into order/ oneself/ by the thrashing one has given to/ othersu/ with ones conscience at ease/ wants to/ and can/ enjoy/ a world made orderlyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(118). The prompters earlier put this ordering in terms of enlightenment, saying Ã¢â‚¬Â¦[w]hat is a nightmare in the dark/ is/ joyous certainty/ in the lightÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(88). Enlightenment and calm both relate to certainty, a belief that the world will behave in a continuous and sensical fashion. Kaspar takes his desire for this belief to an extreme, insisting that Ã¢â‚¬Â¦every word that does not mean/ well/ must be cutÃ¢â‚¬Â¦and commanding some unknown listener (himself? the other Kaspars? the audience?) to Ã¢â‚¬Â¦kill every paradoxÃ¢â‚¬Â¦(130).
This impulse to obliterate the paradoxical no longer even comes from Kaspars desires, but from the linguistic ordering that has taken on a life of its own. Since this ordering is also tied to curiosity and self-curiosity (the rationalist search for knowledge which always comes back to itself), Kaspars command of language (or its command of him) does not give him the same Ã¢â‚¬Â¦joyous certaintyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦in relation to his idea of self as it does in relation to the world. As Robert Baker-White notes in The Text in Play, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Kaspars response to his accelerating linguistic competence is alienation and self-interrogation. He is, in a certain sense, unable to stop the processes of curiosity that the Einsager prompted.Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Language has up to now functioned on its consuming process; Kaspar thrived on the journey of things from thingness to objecthood and the journey of words from sounds to sentences, but as language runs out of material to consume, it has left only itself. As language then consumes itself as well, it loses its pleasure and even its sanity:
with each new sentence I become nauseous: figuratively: I have been turned topsy-turvy: I am in someones hand: I look to the other side: there prevails an unbloody calm: I cannot rid myself of myself any moreÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ the pain and its end come within sight: time must stop: thoughts become very small: I still experienced myself: I never saw myself: I put up no undue resistance: the shoes fit like gloves: I dont get away with just a fright: the skin peels off: the foot sleeps itself dead: candles and bloodsuckers: ice and mosquitoes: horses and puss: hoarfrost and rats: eels and sicklebills: (139)
Thus language turns in on itself, and the word as word deconstructs itself and its speaker by revealing the emptiness of its own rhetoric. Kaspar can no longer conceive of himself, his thoughts become reduced (no doubt through the terministic screen that deflects thoughtful complexity), and he finally descends into sheer nonsense. The word as word, by the end of the play, dies, and takes its faithful puppet with it. His last words are a repetition of the peculiar phrase Ã¢â‚¬Â¦goats and monkeys,Ã¢â‚¬Â¦a highly decontextualized quote from Shakespeares Othello. There, the title character contemptuously yells Ã¢â‚¬Â¦Goats and monkeys!Ã¢â‚¬Â¦as his hypocritical countrymen call him back to Venice, seeming to condemn docility and conformity (Othello, IV, i, 274). As an intertextual reference, Kaspar would then seem to condemn his own mindless conformity to language. But for most of Handkes audience who presumably will miss the reference, Ã¢â‚¬Â¦goats and monkeysÃ¢â‚¬Â¦seems like either a reference to the notorious proclivity of those animals to fornication or a continuation of the nonsensical pairings of candles and bloodsuckers, ice and mosquitoes, horses and puss, hoarfrost and rats, and eels and sicklebills that directly precede it. Whether Handke intended one interpretation or the other is irrelevant; all meanings (or non-meanings) are potentially there, and together they unite into Kaspars final linguistic failure. He lashes out against his screwed-over position but only sounds ridiculous in the process.
By the end, the plays arc has weaned Kaspar from his attention to words and things as things, instilled him with an appropriation of words and things as words, and finally stranded him in a position in which he can neither think once again of thingness nor believe in the truth of wordness. Languages codifying process has processed him, and he realizes toward his last moments, rightly, that [a]lready from my first sentence I was trapped (137). This entrapment is not simply an examination of autism or a tragedy of one character; as Handke writes in his introduction,[t]he play Kaspar does not show how IT REALLY IS OR REALLY WAS with Kaspar Hauser. It shows what IS POSSIBLE with someone. It shows how someone can be made to speak through speaking (59). In this sense, the play is a dramatization of languages coercive and ordering power on all speakers, on every person who attains language and thereby fails to include thingness in her or his perception. The word as word is the tool by which all subjects remove themselves from reality, indeed as a necessary prerequisite for coherence, but also as a dangerous and unstoppable self-enclosure
ANNA FURZE'S SLOVENIAN "SPEECH TORTURE"
ANNA FURSE, about the performance: When I was invited by Ursula Cetinski to direct a production for Cankarev Dom I was given every artistic freedom but one sine qua non: a company of three actors who would comprise two men and a woman. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a paucity of plays which reflect this particular triangle, and I spent many months mulling over this problem: a play in which there might be a central character who is a woman and two male characters either side of her. Evenutally, I hit on the idea of Handkes KASPAR, and the poetic licence I would take by making the protagonist female, by eliminating her doubles and by reducing her chorus of trainers to a male duet. The play - an anatomy of the relationship between language and thought, thought and society - provides a rich seam for investigating some of our broader concerns which we agreed as a company when we first met in June 1997: the role of women in society, what makes wars and how throughout history women have suffered war as a sexual aggression and how rape has so recently been used in Bosnia as an ethnic cleansing system. The word system is important here, for the horrifying statsitics from these rape camps testify not to random abuse but to a carefully planned and executed process of torture and elimination. In KASPAR the central character, who arrives on the scene with only one scentence to utter, is forced to speak not by direct violence but by the process of speech itself.This SPEECH TORTURE as Handke calls it thus becomes a poetic metaphor for the way in which a society recreates itself through the individual, how the outsider is brought into the values of dominant culture, how we learn to conform, how power works.Our KASPAR is not a feminist heroine, nor a mere vitctim. She is a survivor. She adapts - or would probably die. this is not a piece of theatre celebrating womens emancipation, nor her potential nor her struggle for power. It is a description of the (feminine) powerless being drawn into the (masculine) system of power which is unyielding, pitiless and cocksure. The male characters in this production are not pathological or psychotic. They too have learnt the system. And they must pass it on. In exploring this text through the lens of gender relationships, we also find the feminine as a metaphor for all that is relative. Thus our KASPAR might also be a nation.Issues of territory and aggression are painfully fresh in the minds of former Yugoslavs. As are issues of language and identity. the forces of capitalism are rapidly impregnating culture with american ideology. The Self is in a process of reconstruction. But then we are all fast-learners when it comes to consumerism:I saw something sparkle.Because it sparkled , I wantedto have it. I wanted to haveeverything that sparkled.Later I also wanted to havewhat didnt sparkle (KASPAR)What we eat we are. The Macdonalds logo is a flag across the globe. In confronting this very structural, philosophical and verbose play with our own experiences we soon came to a decision not to create two productions, one Slovene and one English, but to find a para-logic in the play for KASPARs acquisition of language: the acquisition of Enlgish language, the lingua-franca of business. We necessarily pared the text down whilst remaining utterly faithful to the original structure. This process of reduction then became the theme tune of the production: less is more. Our via negativa has involved a lot of hard work and sometimes a very testing challenge for the trained actor-instincts. We have wrought an emotional narrative from a text which Handke insists is not a story but a theatrical event. We have done this by devising rituals and contexts for each phase of KASPARs development. In this version there is an imagined story, a before and a possible after. Our KASPAR transforms herself from an ethnic minority to a member of the majority. Or perhaps she has simply learned a camouflage, a survival strategy. Her journey is perilous and not without contradictions and errors. Her trainers are both anonymous and human. and through them we have endeavoured to explore facets of man to man and man to woman relationships. The work on making this production has been intense and very personal. the actors have created much of the material from improvisation. Whilst never having worked together as a company before we soon found a process of trial and error to reach the point of having a piece of work which we could now all really call ours. Anna Furse Ljubljana, July 31st 1998 Some of media respond: Delo dailyBilingual Kaspar in Cankarjev domA VOICE IN RELATION TO SILENCEOne Kica is not enough for Slovenes! said Mitja Rotovnik, the director of Cankarjev dom, at the press conference, while presenting the new production of Cankarjev dom. What he had in mind is that UrSula Cetinski, the head of theatre programs in CD, had invited a British director Anne Furse, to direct the new premiere that we can see on Sunday as part of the City of Women Festival.The project is ambitious and a little unusual for Slovenia: a performance of a very demanding text by Peter Handke from the end of the sixties (using the same text which was in the beginning of the seventies the first production of the experimental theatre Glej) in a bilingual version, English and Slovene, with a British director, for the first time involved with our cultural and theatre scene. The director who has a very rich theatre biography (she is the author of several awarded theatre texts, scripts, shes directed over forty different productions, co-worked with Peter Brook and Grotowskys group, she has headed several British theatre groups, among others Bloodgroup and Paines Plough, works also as a professor of theatre and writer), was faced, in Cankarjev dom with an already selected group of actors and co-workers but this did not represent a problem for her. To the contrary: in the five, six weeks of intensive rehearsals (from 10 am to 10 pm) she creatively used the differences she had experienced by coming in contact with our culture and our theatre. The fact of meeting or even confronting experience is in the centre of her directing concept of Kaspar: a voice in relation to silence, relations between sexes, opposites inside the same sex, the meeting of two ideological systems, capitalism which is her background and communism which our actors had been brought up in - all this being set in a frame of global cultural imperialism, symbolised by American culture.At the same time the director kept Handkes text without additions and found inside of it her own story and structure. The performance is based on the improvisations through which the director and the actors got to know each other better and gave the director the emotional material which she than integrated into the performance. The topical starting point for the performance was, as stated by the director, the war in Bosnia, the tragic destinies of the raped women.Also her Kaspar is a woman (performed by Polona Vetrih). Although the director is not interested in her feminine or heroic dimension, but simply in the destiny of a creature, who was somehow (linguistically) abused. (Speech torture is also the subtitle of the performance.)I was always interested in a role of the individual within a certain cultural concept in which people still have to find themselves. I felt myself always in some kind of relation, distance to my culture. But I dont think that my relationship to the performance is anthropological. Its more about an emotional response to Handkes text which is a very male oriented drama, where emotions are somehow logical or systematically. We tried to make the text more human, with a help of tiny rituals. That is why the performance is very personal, said Anne Furse.The pair of teachers of English in the performance is acted by Alojz Svete and eljko Hrs. Handkes Kaspar which is, as the director said, a very difficult text even for the English speaking actors, was translated to Slovene by Lado Kralj, language consultant was Mojca Kranjc, scene and costume design by Irena Pivka, composer Drago IvanuSa.Bla Lukan TV Slovenia 1/18 October 1998Kaspar PremiereThe director subtitled the famous Peter Handke work Speech Torture. Although, it was obvious, that the actors, Polona Vetrih as a lead role and Alojz Svete and ?eljko Hrs as trainers, speak English as if it was their mother language. What makes this performance unique is the fact that Kaspar is turned into Kasparina via Vetrihs role.On the stage, designed by Irena Pivka, who also created the costumes andlistening to the music of Drago IvanuSa, we have witnessed, at the small theatre hall of Cankarjev dom, a new point of view of human torture that erases borders between sexes in the name of the festival itself. The director stated humbly that the majority of work was done by the actors themselves. They found a common thought, though, working in a quick tempo, that theatre is not there just for the large jests, supporting life styles and happy endings. Sometimes all were left with is a space of double-crossing, a ritual of being defeated and inexpressive emotions.Knap Sembera Majda Radio Slovenia 1/19 October 1998The English Premiere at the Cankarjev domConsidering that the performance was created as part of the City of Women Festival which is just going on in Ljubljana, we can understand why the director, Anna Furse, decided to use a woman for the role of Kaspar.The motif of Kaspar has been often used in art. Namely, it is about a person who had lived in total isolation and socialised only when he was almost a full grown person. The isolated space of Kaspar, at the beginning of the play, is, paradoxically, the space of total freedom that starts to narrow and shrink with the first move of a piece of chalk on the blackboard, which represents learning. Kaspar articulates his wish in a sentence - he wants to become what someone else once was, and he succeeds in it. But Kaspar, as seen through the eyes of Anna Furse, wants more than that. When she uses a woman as a central figure while the trainers are men, the relationship between the trainers and Kaspar gets sharper because of the gender difference. The woman Kaspar is the one that learns language from men. In the performance, these two are possibly a little too simple, too sharp and and look severe in their grey shirts. Uniformed antagonists who control the world with order and discipline, with words - pronounced or written and with their own fists if necessary. Kaspar adapts, accepts the language and conquers it, but she loses her nature, freedom and becomes what someone else once was.All this on the stage; closed and black as a school blackboard or, moreover, as the darkness of ignorance itself. With the many walls that frame it and the doors that open and what is more important, close - in many layers. The set was designed by Irena Pivka.The director Anna Furse with the actors Polona Vetrih as Kaspar and eljko Hrs and Alojz Svete as trainers, added one more contradiction to the performance. It is the contradiction between the womans primary and personal language, which is Slovene and the language of a huge colonising culture, which is possible to explain inside the concept, but is not very necessary for understanding the performance. UrSka Grahek