BOTELLA EN UN MENSAJE, Obra Reunida (Publicación)
(Bottle in a message, collected work - Publication)
EDITORIAL ALCIÓN - DOCUMENTA/ESCÉNICAS, 2012, 308 PAGES.
Book containing an aesthetic manifesto ("The Poetics of Dissent") and seven dramas ("The Raft of the Medusa", "Rust eats iron, water eats stones", “Lenz’s Cry "," The Slaughterhouse. A comment", "El (a)parecido” (The apparition/The Double)", "Hecuba or the canine gynaeceum", "Agonist Fritzl").
Book foreword written by Federico Irazábal:
THIS IS (NOT) A PROLOGUE
It is no easy task prefacing a book by Emilio Garcia Wehbi, not only for having to choose words to account for the work of the artist in question. In regards to Wehbi, no term is precise enough to describe his production, a living work, a work of action in permanent leakage. The more one wants to capture it with definitions and structures, the more speech falls into crisis. Therefore this prologue will not introduce any of the works. Moreover, this prologue will not talk about any of them. I could become an illusionist, pulling beautiful words without meaning, making up concepts to point out how Wehbi understands the phenomenon of intertextuality in postmodern terms, strongly discrediting the notion of author. Consequently, I would need to explain how this undermines the notion of authority, procedure we could consider cornerstone in Wehbi’s aesthetic statement. Or we could simply make a more poetic gamble and point out his speech-carrying voice layering, spoken by creatures that, for this and other reasons, do not reach a character status in the way dramatic critics would understand it. That could have been a good choice because from there I could even have analyzed Wehbi’s acting poetics, striking out how he abruptly breaks away from the scene psychologism and I could have scrutinized the kind of actors that he resources to. I could have employed the postdramatic theater category and break it down with very clear examples available in each of these texts. But doing all of this would have implied a hopeless task, because nothing would account for what you are about to read, or just read if you did what every good reader should do: read on their own without the aid of the scholar foreword. Don’t you find that character deeply annoying, standing out as a master of higher wisdom, even above the artist whom he prefaces? Because after all, what is prologue if not the breaking down of the aesthetic and textual operations that a higher man, the Artist, decides to produce and leave out, which no one except for an eminence such as the prologue writer is able to produce because evidently the reader is incapable to read what the prologue author reads. I could have done that, and more. I might have. Sure I could. But I choose not to. And I choose that at the same time I decide to place this text as the book opening. I decide I am the one able to open for it. This could have been an afterword, but that would have freed me from the contradiction in which I want and need to stand at. If I had artistic talent to create fictions with words and get into your minds in the form of images, at this moment, at this very moment and none other, I would become a rabbit, hat in hand, and after several ridiculous cliché tricks out of teary clowns and failed acrobats, I would announce:
- Ladies and gentlemen, damas y caballeros, welcome to the fabulous world of Emilio García Wehbi!
And right after pronouncing his last name, not the first but the second, a smoke bomb would go off on the scene in order to create the illusion of my effacement. But the trick would fail and I would be exposed to ridicule. After the smoke dissipates, I might see myself frozen on stage bowing, one hand over my chest, the other extended, holding the hat. I would be a pathetic rabbit with smeared makeup standing in front of a cannibalistic audience, forced to stay on stage because the trick did not work. At that point I would have only two alternatives: either to find the nearest way off the stage or to fill in the void with clever words. But while I decide how to disappear I have to do something: entertain, as the circus puppet I am. I tell you how difficult it is to introduce the man who I am presenting, and even more his work. For one and the other are always escaping concepts and claiming them at the same time to deal with what they propose. And suddenly enlightened I come with an image that just might account for this work. But while it falls on me, I imagine Wehbi’s disapproval, he would not validate that image. I engage into an argument with him barely lasting milliseconds. It is one of those discussions that you have with someone who is absent from the scene, therefore a docile counterpart willing to accept one’s position uncritically, finally giving in to one’s viewpoint. The image that came to my mind is an uncredited robbery from Umberto Eco, an author that probably does not take too much space in Wehbi’s bookshelves, but could be valid all the same. Desperately facing the ridicule, I describe the image to you to get over the silence produced by the failed trick.
- The Image I want to evoke is that of a forest, a forest that suggests the idea of the text. And the reader appears as a poor Tom Thumb spreading his bread crumbs as a plain, simple resource to mark the trail. Tom Thumb must find a way not to get lost in the tangle of signs that, through complex devices, form a thick forest. He moves through the trees following certain clues that his tradition, his training, his expectations dictate him as the only way to return home.
Suddenly I see that the image is not very effective, but there is no way back. I can only move forward contradicting myself, trying not to be too evident.
- Wehbi’s forest is very particular, let me point out. But it is a forest nonetheless! We can appreciate that as soon as we gain some perspective. The problem is that, when you're inside, the forest ceases to be such and becomes an uncountable amount of trees placed there with a logic we can never access. It is lost forever from the moment in which it turned into a code.
I do not understand why I had the need to provide the image of the forest and then break it down, until suddenly, and also through a lightning, I understand. That image is charged with a conception of literature and art that is not very compatible with the author about to enter once I make my disappearing act. Because that image assumes that there is a logic that a higher being wickedly placed for me, a poor ignorant, another Tom Thumb in the history of reading, to get lost. And Wehbi’s work also deals with other logics that work as pretexts. At this point I recall Wehbi’s comment in one of the texts regarding The Ignorant Schoolmaster. And I realize that if I resource to that image, I might make a sleeker way out of the forum. And then, as I put my magician hat back on with unexpected dignity, I place my hand inside my jacket and start to lecture.
- Joseph Jacotot was basically an educational philosopher who, in the early nineteenth century, created a theory as interesting as revolting for the learning theory. It was he who proposed crazy ideas such as an ignorant can teach another ignorant what he himself does not know. And beyond the educational discussions we could open, what becomes truly relevant in this conception is the notion of equality and the suspicion -confirmed many times over- of a link between knowledge and power, and how that leads to perpetuating social inequality. The teacher is wise not for what he knows but mainly because he is convinced, and he spreads that conviction, that knowledge is not a given body of knowledge. On the contrary, learning is a position. That position is what places the teacher and the student face to face, almost as if they were on stage. That dividing line between them, held within, simulates a false binary opposition that seeks a verticalization of the roles. The master above, wise, the student below, ignorant. Because, as Jacques Rancière argues, that abyss separates two minds: one that knows what is ignorance and one that does not. Thus, one of the first things that a student learn is to value this inequality and to take his place in his own disability. To this brutalization, Jacotot opposed a politics of intellectual emancipation that only an ignorant master could guarantee. This teacher does not resign his knowledge but to transmit his knowledge to the student through a perfect transmission / decoding set. The Ignorant Schoolmaster -the ignorant artist- invites the student to venture into the forest of things and signs. And it might not be a coincidence that one intellectual talks about a forest and the other of a jungle. There is an unbridgeable distance between one who believes there is knowledge to transmit and decode, and other who, on the contrary, feels you don’t have knowledge to transmit but an attitude towards knowledge. Knowledge as giving value to the attitude that thrusts him to the search and not to the contents that surround him. Rancière brings up Jacotot to discuss the tradition of political art in the twentieth century and how to understand the role of spectator. And most likely, his contributions are appropriate to the way Wehbi thinks, understands and makes art.
His disruptive key is to undermine the ground we need to access prior understanding, the only facilitator to interpretation. Creator and audience communicate by sharing a number of assumptions that turns them into equal disparates. One speaks, the other gives meaning. One has something to say, the other wishes to listen. That basics of communication theory also involves artistic communication. It is impossible to say everything over again. If I say "girl" I infer that the reader will understand a number of elements linked to the idea of a girl, the same idea I think I can represent. But if, for some reason, I need to delete certain element from the list of secondary features of the word ‘girl’, I have to specify it. Girl. Two eyes. Nose and mouth. Two arms and two legs. Chest. Twenty nails in total. One for each finger. Innocence, naivete. Virgin. Whiteness. My culture -and my language, constitutive of my world, and my world that is my language- has taught me how to read all that. But if my girl has two nails in one finger and I consider that information relevant to what I want to convey as an author, I must generously inform it to my reader. Otherwise, he would not be able to infer it. Because my girl would not be normal. But even in my abnormal girl there is a ground that is left untouched: the notion of nail and finger. The more given elements I alter, the more difficult the communication, resulting in less guarantee that my vivid image will reach each of you. If I wanted to say this in aesthetic terms, the more realistic my speech, the more it will stand on safe grounds. And if something can be asserted regarding Wehbi's work is that he does not cultivate realism.
Wehbi builds a textual-scenic device through which he undermines those grounds while forcing us to behave active. One of the strongest points of his theater is targeting the assumptions of the discipline itself. And perhaps one of the most challenged is precisely that involving the figure of the spectator. That passive, inert being immersed in a voyeuristic darkness, that idle complicity will be sieged by a theater that appropriates his/her potential reactions. Wehbi’s work thinks the viewer’s potential reactions in advance and snatches them from the scene itself. Thus, by placing our reaction inside the scene, he forces us to go another way, to react otherwise. At some point, in a somewhat informal chat, he told me that the Buenos Aires viewer can not be chased from his left wing side. The audience self-image (summarized, perhaps, in the increasingly vague notion of progressivism) makes it its idealization place. Therefore, the way to provoke them, as he understood in 2002, is through political incorrectness. This does not mean, as some improvised critic said at the time, that it is a conservative theater.
Wehbi’s theater is, in this sense, a responsive disruptive theater. It is responsive in the sense that it thinks of itself immersed in a complex network that limits it, jerks it, deforms it. And that seems to me a much more interesting image than the "postmodern intertextuality" to which I alluded earlier. Wehbi’s theater is deeply dialogic and inciting to dialogue. It takes, quotes, appropriates, swallows, vomits texts by Peter Handke, Michel Foucault, Dante Alighieri, Chris Burden, Gericault, Hans M. Enzensberger, Claude Lanzmann, Thomas Bernhard, Paul Virilio, Gilles Deleuze, Jan Svankmajer, Bataille, Rimbaud, Kafka, Heiner Müller, Einstürzende Neubauten, Artaud, David Foster Wallace, Nicanor Parra, William Gaddis, Rilke, Shakespeare, Viel Temperley, Temple Grandin, Büchner, Chris Marker, Mozart, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Luis Buñuel, Néstor Perlongher, Walter Benjamin, Euripides, Beckett, Carl Schmitt, Jung, Theodor Adorno, Pascal Quignard, Charles Simic, Ovidio, among others. Wehbi is not, this is more than clear, a starting nor an ending point. And it is disruptive precisely for this high level of awareness of the system to which he belongs. That mixture of belonging combined with alienation is what makes his work an indescribable and uncatchable phenomenon: explicitly aware of his conditions of production, the work shows itself while it hides, forcing us, as viewers, or as readers starting today, to take sides. Because if something is utterly missing in his aesthetics is producing indifference...
That said, and with the technical issue solved, I resume the original plan:
- Ladies and gentlemen, damas y caballeros, welcome to the fabulous world of Emilio García Wehbi!
(Smoke Bomb. Effect. Curtain)