As a student of literature, one of the things I love about theory -- and trust me, I am no defender of theory-for-theory's-sake, at least not of ramming every text through the mill of some idiom -- I feel like I had to get that off my chest before I can mount a defense -- so, starting over, one of the things I love about theory is its ability to freshen up any reading.
Over the past year, I've read more Deleuze and Guattari than I ever thought I would, certainly more than I ever wished to. I have ongoing problems: problems with understanding, problems with systematizing fundamentally anti-systematic work, problems with playing one's politics out on paper. I have problems (so many problems, all senses of the word "problems") discussing Deleuze and Guattari with those who explicitly identify as "Deleuzian," or perhaps "Deleuzoguattarian," "Guattarodeleuzian" (poor Guattari always gets the shortshrift in litcrit) -- the cart always ends up before the horse. But putting these problems aside -- and refusing to run theory parallel to literature -- my recently Guattodeleuzian-ized eyeballs have been seeing texts that never existed for me before, within texts that did. Like Midsummer Night's Dream.
What can one say about Midsummer Night's Dream -- any Shakespeare -- that hasn't been said already? (I'm sorry, early modern pals; I'm not a Shakespearean.) Themes and threads, eyes and ears, translatability, mutability, "the changing of costumes," plays-within-plays, love and fatalism. There. You know the play. Drop something about the queering of heterosexuality and a few quotes on postcolonialism, and you're entirely up-to-date on the scholarship.
Then I read it again, this time lounging on a warm rock in a perfect garden on a perfect day, imbibing a perfect glass of honey-sweetened pineapple juice. Wearing a flow-y skirt that ruffled in the breeze. In short, it could not have been any more stereotypical: someone should have taken a picture and captioned it "FAIR-LOCKED NYMPH-ISH GIRL MOUTHS PRETTILY OF FAIR-HAIRED NYMPHS UNDER CHERRY BOUGHS; POETRY LIVES!" That's how cliché the experience was. Only missing the garland of flowers.
[William Blake; Titania, Puck and the Fairies Dancing; 1786]
And yet -- it wasn't that Shakespeare that I found in the garden, but a weird postmodern monster. What I'd previously underlined as metathemes of performance -- for instance, the play-within-a-play trope that runs through the comedies, drawing attention to the artificiality within theater -- suddenly seemed to be much more radical statements on the impossibility of representation; or more precisely, on the unrepresentability of and in language, which can never be rationalized. The "crew of patches," those "rude mechanicals" who put on the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe before the wedding parties in Act 5, don't just ironically comment on the indirectness of performed speech, but on the problem of signification -- on the paradox of fiction's existence at all. Snug is not a lion, but Snug-qua-lion-qua-Snug; Snout is not a wall, but the wall that breaks down "the (fourth) wall" between audience and stage, inviting Bottom/Pyramus to directly address Theseus with a literal narration of events to come. In fact, by stating that "this loam, this roughcast, and this stone doth show / That [he is] that same wall," Snout transforms signifiers of his "wallness" – intended to encourage a suspension of disbelief – into ironic markers of "Snout-ness," drawing attention to the very human body it he seeks to erase.
In short, the play's hearing in the present moment tugs in two directions at once, toward both signification and a simulacrum that can never fully signify. This constant dissembling of the play's own mechanics through the "rude mechanicals'" excessive narration -- their constant pointing into an anticipated future through language -- means that the play can never cohere to form a whole; "performance" insists on bursting out in moments that deny the very possibility of "performance" itself. It is and yet cannot be Snug performing the lion that makes the ladies quake; it is, but cannot be, the afraid audience who, lion-qua-Snug insinuates, must always be feared as fearful superiors.
There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the [play]) and a field of subjectivity (the [audience]). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of these orders, so that a [play] has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one or several [audiences] as its subject.Signifiance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies. Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passion, and redundances.//Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (23; 167)
The Moon can never been the moon; the Moon can never be an aggregate of symbols. A horned human covered in twigs runs from the stage.
MOON: All that I have to say is to tell you that the lanthorn is the moon, I, the man i' the moon, this thornbush my thornbush, and this dog my dog. (V.1.241-3)
This is deterritorialization; it's a pulling-apart and rendering-literal of signifiance. It's a play-that-refuses-the-possibility-of-a-play.
[Emil Orlik; actor Hans Wassmann as Nick Bottom; 1909]
There's gads of paintings of Puck, Titania, even Bottom. No one draws inspiration from Snug-qua-lion-qua-Snug.
Faciality is always a multiplicity.// D & G, ATP 182
This isn't a criticism of those scholars doing the other kind of work, the play-within-a-play thematic work. Hell, what I'm circling around is not so different from what others have been saying -- someone most likely wrote this very thought, in a parallel dimension. The more interesting question is how, if at all, contemporary critical theory -- so rooted in continental philosophy of the twentieth century -- should be applied, enacted, performed in/through or read onto texts that speak from four centuries ago. My newly-freshened eyes are finding the paradoxes of logic in Shakespeare; for whom is this message?
What's left to say, after the Moon exits?