© Mikha Wajnrych
© Thibault Grégoire
Cie Mossoux-Bonté

Philosophy’s stage is philosophy without a stage

Philosophy and the performing arts are fundamentally different domains that are very nearly antithetical. A performance is the shock and the impact of an image and a meaning, captured through the body and the voice, on the very heart of the spirit. On the contrary, philosophical reflection requires an interruption in the duration, an indefinite introspection, during which your reasoning constantly reassesses the formulas it has elaborated: recomposing, refining and honing them in a vertical freedom, without any concern for an inevitable rhythm of development. An idea moves in the page, swims around and comes up with arguments: it extends theories in the same way you stretch the real in order to attain its final point. Be it the creation of concepts or a meditation on our fundamental questions, philosophy is always about knowledge, analysis as much as the intuition of a knowledge placed at the disposal of the discussion and of reasoning.

Nothing of the sort on stage, where everything is immediate, where emotions, the impact of the presence and of situations are targeted, where every thought is inscribed in an action, in suspense or a breaking off, but which has a constant relationship with counted time, with the countdown to the end of the play.

The stage grabs us by the guts. Centuries of playwriting have succeeded in getting us to believe that the actors were embodied to illustrate a text through a psychological display in order to attain the effect of the real required by every narration.
But what seems to me to be primarily at stake is the body, the flesh of the presence, of space and time. That which is nonetheless artificial happens to us for real, in front of us, and it is this rapprochement and address which create the emotion of feeling together, actors and spectators, in some sort of giddy existence.

At the same time as the instant fills us with its immediacy, the distancing that art implies, its formatting, the way it is on first name terms with the invisible, leading us to penetrate the immanence of the sensation, to put it in perspective, in such a way that the memory retains from this moment both its emotional impact and its calling to think about our condition and to make our past intelligible. This is the only point where the stage and philosophy diverge, that they run into one another like twins who need to separate in order to discover their true identity, and live their own lives.

 

Placing your hands in a layer of fuzziness.

Interview with Patrick Bonté by Wendy L Toussaint

- The scenic writing work done by the Mossoux-Bonté Co. is defined by a specific relationship with the person on stage. In your text, you broach the issue of the body, flesh, time and space. Has this particular relationship with the stage been influenced by your philosophical training?

The study of philosophy was a major step in my training but for me philosophy never gave me the slightest desire to put on a show. Although today I still feel a lot of pleasure when getting stuck into philosophical works, I don't think in these terms at the moment of creation. The discursive matter of the philosophical text doesn't encounter the phantasmagorical substance that we would like to see on stage. The stage needs our obsessions, our intimate craziness, our fantasies, I would say to place your hands in a "layer of fuzziness". Philosophy sometimes confirms some ideas and raises new questions but it is not at the origin of our shows.

- Your last shows "A Taste of Poison" in 2017 and "History of imposture" in 2013, seem to take a critical look at simulacra statements and excesses of behaviour specific to contemporary society. This reflection was made by numerous thinkers from postmodernity. Have some of them influenced you in the course of your creation?

As far as imposture is concerned, this subject was present here and there in our work (notably in Simulation at the start of the 1990s). But it is indeed in this 2013 creation that this questioning was really focused upon. The little shock which activated it had happened sometime earlier for me, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. How can such a phony person be elected to the head of a country? There was something wrong with the symbolic role.
Yes, reading Jean Baudrillard, Bernard Stiegler, Dany-Robert Dufour, to name but a few, has had a major influence on the way we look at things, but the critical attitude that you evoke comes rather from an observation of our daily life: it's the one that we carry intuitively depending on the era in which we are in. I think that the matter of a creation essentially comes from experiences of life, encounters, feelings, and then paintings, books, films, etc., which have educated our vision. Clearly, we read a lot around the subjects we work upon. Notably for A Taste of Poison, the enlightened work by Roland Gori, La fabrique des imposteurs, brought us so much as regards the understanding of this notion.  It enabled us to better situate what we were doing. We were nonetheless on a completely different level: that of the imaginary, of an ambiguity which enables the spectator to share our proposals, to venture into our images with his own projections.

- Finally, your text ends with the almost intrinsic character of the performing arts to have this ability, I would say as a moment of politics, to bring to life the conditions of possibilities of a shared understanding of history. Do you think that today it is possible for dance to offer the creation of new utopias?

In our shows, we are just looking to engage the spectator. Our goal is not to tell him something but rather to get him to say something. To maintain an open work which can provoke in him a desire to explore or to be troubled. The scientific matter can become for the spectator a thought in movement, even if this one moves around masked in an image or that it is implicitly present in an attitude, an action. I would say that art doesn't have to give "its" vision of the world or to hold up a mirror to it, even a distorting one, but rather to create universes.
Often, I ask myself what is the point of these shows today, lost in the hubbub of hypercommunication, where everyone is surfing the net… But maybe the simple fact of creating, of questioning our relationship with the gesture and the body; does displaying our doubts and fragilities keep a certain form of sensitivity alive?

 

Patrick Bonté • 2018

Published in « Philoscène. La philosophie à l’épreuve du plateau. » /  Alternatives Théâtrales n° 135