Voice 4 Vision 2011

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thinking about Kleist's essay On the Marionette

Kleist's essay is actually a philosophical (and metaphorical) essay to make a point about something other than puppetry:
In the essay, two non puppeteers are speaking, one a Dancer Speaker who  -- in a back hand way,  admits that the participation of the person handling the puppet is something more ...

"On the other hand there is something enigmatic about an ellipse. It is actually the course that the soul of the dancer takes when the dancer moves, and I doubt whether this course can be traced if the puppeteer does not enter the center of gravity of his marionette; in other words, the puppeteer himself must dance."

However, the Dancer Speaker then goes on to  imagine that a "dancing" puppet could become a completely automated performing object. Again it is important to note that  Kleist's Dancer Speaker isn't a puppeteer and has no investment in the form. What then is the Dancer Speaker invested in? He is most interested in the  notion of the puppet as an object which cannot betray by an affectation that arises out of self consciousness. His point is that we can never be centered, and perform honestly because we are slightly askew and in a kind of judgmental observation of ourselves-which ironically describes the very image of the relationship of the puppeteer to puppetSince the Dancer Speaker's (and thus Kleist's) views are   not based on any real relationship with the form, or the countless hours spent mastering manipulation techniques, there is no realization of the puppeteer's observations of physical phenomena that must be recreated believably to our eye first -before we  present it to a public, or how we might, with a puppet, go on to "defy" gravity in a way that could move the viewer. Simply defying gravity has no power-but, when defying gravity   appears to be an impossibility, and yet it is overcome-then the  puppet can have a compelling power!. Definitely Kleists' Dancer Speaker  would not be speaking for artists of this epoch who use acting techniques to identify meaningful gestures for the object, that are used specifically, and in the context of the work at hand.

The Dancer Speaker really reveals his dissatisfaction with the inability of man to act without affectation-but I would not say that this essay is meant to enlighten puppetry artists ....That is, unless we are prepared to accept that "..when the marionettes are merely shaken arbitrarily, they are transformed into a kind of rhythmic movement that in itself is very similar to the dance,” If we accept that this arbitrary rhythmic dance like movement has all the power necessary to convey meaning,  we might as well  discontinue our wasted efforts in mastering puppetry techniques (both technical and acting/intentional), since it would appear that we can make our artistic statements with puppets that we "merely shake."

The marionette would never slip into affectation (if we think of affectation as appearing when the center of intention of a movement is separated from the center of gravity of the movement). Since the puppeteer has no control over any point other than the center of gravity, and since this center is his only means of starting an intended movement, as the limbs follow the law of gravity and are what they ought to be: dead, mere pendula. We look in vain for this quality in the majority of our dancers.”
“Look at Miss P—” he continued, “when she plays Daphne, persecuted by Apollo, she looks back at him;
the soul, the center of intention, is located in the lumbar vertebra; she bends down as if she would break;
and young F— when, as Paris, he stands among the goddesses and presents the apple to Venus, his soul is
(oh painful to behold!) in his elbow.
“Great blunders,” he added, “are inevitable. We have eaten from the tree of knowledge; the paradise of
Eden is locked up; and the Cherubim is behind us. We must wander about the world and see if, perhaps,
we can find an unguarded back door.”

Finally, it is important to note that the author-Kleist-is not a puppeteer and has no investment or experience with puppetry  as an artist who works with the form.-He has only his experience as an observer of the "product" -the performance-He has no knowledge of the process by which the product (the performance) is built-the skill, or artistry, focus, concentration, techniques, workshops or rehearsals! For some puppeteers it is a more deeply felt, more practiced process of ever developing techniques by which the puppeteer creates the illusion of life--Also note the word life used to imply more than making "dead matter" appear to be live--rather let us understand the word life to imply all the associations thereby-sentience-thought, feelings...etc...In fact, in order for our modern puppetry to be an appropriate mimesis-or mirror to us, it (the puppet) must appear to suffer from the same limitations--the same self consciousness that raises us up, while also crippling us.