1. logbook
      2 September 2011

      Hypnosis and Fabulation

      Vanessa Desclaux on Matt Mullican, entry #2
    2. Sources of reference (my English translation):
      François Roustang, Qu’est-ce que l’hypnose?, les éditions de Minuit, 1994/2003
      Alain Badiou, Beckett: l’increvable désir, Hachette Littératures, 2006

      At the basis of my research on the performances under hypnosis of Matt Mullican I have intended to claim a relationship between the production of a character, which is named “That Person”, and his life narrative, and the idea of “fabulation”. This initial hypothesis proposes to consider hypnosis as an apparatus that allows the artist to enter the ambiguous realm of imagination rather than his memory or what we could call the unconscious. This initial hypothesis was posing as prominent the aesthetic dimension of the performance rather than its psychological one. Putting the emphasis on the work of the imagination within the space and time of hypnotic trance meant that it was possible to bridge the trance state and the work in the studio, supposing that there might be differences of intensity in terms of the artist’s access to his own imaginary potential. Yet the artistic operation and the movement of the mind in both cases would be the same, just set up in different ways.

      Testing this hypothesis has first been possible through a study of different accounts on hypnosis, which insists on the nature of the hypnotic trance as an act that allows the individual to access the immense potential of her imagination and thus to reach the structures – also emerging in the act of dreaming – that help the individual to configure her relation to the outside world. I have also begun to look into other artistic approaches that intended to present ambiguous states of being through an aesthetic production. Alain Badiou’s analysis of the work of Samuel Beckett has taken my attention in that regard. He describes Beckett’s approach to the construction of narratives and characters and places the emphasis on Beckett’s profound questioning of the ontological dimension of being and his exploration of complex psychological states through his literary productions. Beckett’s own “fabulation” (term used by Badiou in his essay) has allowed me to think about Mullican’s own aesthetic production in parallel, finding in Badiou’s conceptual framework of analysis relevant points and questions that might help to unpack the links between Mullican’s visual and performative work and the fields of narration and theatre.

      1. Hypnosis and the “power to imagine”1

      François Roustang describes hypnosis as a state allowing the individual to make use of her power to imagine. This power is placed in relation to two other powers, or potentials, which are named by Roustang as the power to dream and the power to configure the world. Dreaming is here considered as the essential matrix for thinking and action, it founds our singularity and contains the potential to explore and change our existence and relation to the world at large. The potential to configure the world essentially belongs to the very young child and names her ability to configure the objects and persons she encounters, to order these elements, differentiate between them, and her from them, and play with all the forms and shapes she comes across. Both states – dreaming and configuring the world – reappear within the hypnotic trance. At this early stage, it is very interesting to acknowledge how relevant to Mullican’s performances and broader oeuvre these remarks appear. Mullican’s actions under hypnosis seem to go back to the very basic functions and aspects of human life: sleeping, eating, working, family, love, religion etc… Mullican appears to go back to these basic elements, which have been part, outside of his experiments with hypnosis, of his ongoing cosmological construction. He is seen as putting a lot of emphasis on touch, going back and forth between manipulating the objects and spatial surfaces (floor, walls) he encounters and touching his own body. The physical relation between his body and the things distinct from it are at the centre of numerous actions performed in the trance (touching, rubbing, clapping, drawing etc…). The act of ordering is applied to time and space: a sequence of actions that follow the normal course of a day is performed within the limited time of the performance (waking up, having breakfast, reading the paper, getting ready, going to work…); the artist configures his living space, differentiating it from the space of the audience by drawing a line of separation; finally Mullican makes use of paper on the wall to configure a fictional space through writing, drawing and painting.

      Hypnosis is understood here as offering the possibility to go back to the potential of dreaming and of configuring the world. Yet Roustang suggests that hypnosis functions in a way that places an extreme emphasis on one point, blind to the remaining reality around. In going back to the central elements that structure our relation to the world through the power of dreaming and configuring the world, hypnosis allows to explore anew the links and knots, as numerous relations that tie our self to the outside world. Hypnosis allows for a temporary act of setting oneself aside from the world in order to let our personal lives take a new intensity. Hypnosis is described as an act of “anticipation”, which Roustang describes as a way of “setting oneself aside in space and time in order to prepare an action able to shape anew our reality.”2 Hypnosis is not therefore turned back towards the past, looking into our memory; it is the opposite, an act of anticipation, of taking some distance from our past and habits in order to change the structures that will allow us to transform our future. It is understood that this potential for change is contained in dreams and in imagination. Hypnosis might allow the individual to discover anew the way she is able to configure the world, play with shapes and forms, and define new ways of positioning herself in relation to objects and other human beings. Hypnosis makes the world we thought we knew suddenly appear strange and foreign, marginalised from our cultural and social habits. However Roustang suggests that it allows people to recognise that there are other ways of relating to the world than the ones we have limited ourselves to through cultural habits; other ways that, once discovered, might help to avoid the risk of disconnection with the world, what Roustang names a break or split.3

      Roustang does not use the term of “fabulation” to describe the different states that hypnosis might entail. He names four different states: “fascination”, “confusion”, “hallucination” and “energy”/action. These four states corresponds to four steps that Roustang describes as follows: hypnosis first involves a moment of stopping, of slowing down (fascination), then a moment of awaiting (confusion), then a project, the creation of images that have nothing to do with the present space and time (hallucination), and finally a redistribution of the parameters of existence through an investment of the imagination in these images (energy, change, action)4. This production of images that Roustang calls “hallucinations” and the redistribution of a life narrative through this new imaginary potential shares a relevant ground with the notion of “fabulation”. The fable is the privileged space of the artist for whom the act of thinking only operates within the context of fiction. We might say that through hypnosis, the artist enters in an extreme fashion this fictional space that he invents through the power of imagination. As Roustang has explained (see also my Logbook entry #1), “Hypnosis reveals itself as an increased vigilance capable of taking into account the totality of the parameters of existence, a sort of generalised vigilance that includes and overcomes a more restraint vigilance that we experience in daily life. (…) It is not the increased intensity of imagination that engenders hypnosis, but rather the hypnotic state, the paradoxical wakefulness, that allows imagination to be deployed in order to transform our relationships with things and human beings.”5
      Considered through the lens of the fable, the narrative invention that takes place under hypnosis is never totally cut out from reality and the outside world. The fable that emerges under hypnosis, through the power of imagination and the potential of the dream, redistributes the parameters of reality, enabling the individual to see new potentialities, new possible relations to the world, and opening up new ways for thinking and acting in the world.

      In the work of Mullican, we can recognise the link between the work made in regular conditions and the work made in the hypnotic trance: from his stick figures to the invention of That Person, from Birth to Death List to the repetitive gestures and actions performed under hypnosis. However, the ongoing work initiated under hypnosis appear to produce a narrative that has been continuously developed over the years, giving birth to a character whose personality has become increasingly specific, and yet continues to appear malleable, and passive, reflecting the importance of the relation between the hypnotist and the hypnotized (Mullican/That Person). Yet, as Roustang suggests, this passivity and malleability induced by the phenomenon of suggestion, central to hypnosis, is “the positive trait that conditions change”6. It is what allows “the emergence of the possible”.

      2. Beckett/Mullican: how do they fabulate?

      Looking through Badiou’s analysis of the work of Samuel Beckett to find within this conceptual framework relevant points and lines of questioning that can be explored in the analysis of Mullican’s performative work can be justified in relation to a common interest in the oeuvre of both artists for the ontological nature of being and the fictional representation of this existence within the context of the work of art. There is in both oeuvres what appears as a certain fascination for solipsism, which is the concentration on a reality constructed on the basis of their unique subjectivity. However, in both cases, they tend to escape solipsism through the invention of an other: in Beckett’s work, this will consist in introducing a second character through the form of a dialogue; in Mullican’s work, the performances under hypnosis let the character of That Person emerge, leading Mullican to talk at times about Matt A and Matt B. We might add that the introduction of the actor, or actors, in the artistic process, could be a new way of experimenting an escape from the more solipsist approach of working under hypnosis.

      Beckett ‘s artistic approach is based on writing, working through the materiality of a language that is not his maternal one, French, and through the structure of narration, which he experiments with through many different forms: theatre, prose, poetry, radio and film. Mullican’s approach could be said to have in common with Beckett a way of putting the fiction of the work at a distance, yet close enough for this fiction to produce this ambivalence that leaves entangled the life of the author and his artistic invention. Beckett operates at a distance from himself through the use of a language that is not his maternal English, a secondary language whose use is described by Badiou as “a sort of intimate split that isolates the words to straighten their precision in the sentence, through the addition of epithets or regrets.”7
      The operation of putting himself at a distance in Mullican’s work is evidently done through hypnosis. The role of the hypnotist and of his suggestion seems crucial in that regard. The passivity and malleability that hypnosis entails produce distance while allowing for the emergence of a different potential, as I have discussed above. Further distance might be introduced through the person of the actor, through this other voice -which is something that will require more analysis within the context of this research.
      The fictional narrative that is constituted through both works is only given as fragments8 – this fragmentary construction has been made evident in Mullican’s most recent work, ordering fragments of his documented performances according to a typology of gestures.

      Badiou insists on how Beckett’s literary work had had the ambition to “bring humanity back to its indestructible functions”9. Badiou describes Beckett’s approach as the “protocol of an experiment” and distinguishes three functions emerging in the work: “movement and rest (going, wandering, or flopping down, falling, lying)”, “being (what is, the places, the appearances, and also the vacillation of any identity)”; “language (the imperative of speaking, the impossibility of silence)”10 This account of Beckett’s key narrative articulations echoes Mullican’s own decomposition of life into simple actions and gestures (his Birth to Death list), his interest in the relation between things and beings, fiction and reality, and the vacillation from one to the other through empathy and mental projection. The asceticism of Beckett’s characters, their economy of language and movement, can be placed in parallel with Mullican’s own sobriety and the repetitive nature of his methodology. The emphasis on the repetition of patterns of gestures and postures, and on the sobriety of the narrative leads to consider both formal structures through the lens of the fable. This fable, in both approaches, produces what Badiou names a “fiction of being”. The artist gives a name to the fictional space of being – in Beckett, it takes the names of Molloy, Malone, or the Unnamable; while Mullican names it Glen, That Person or Matt B. Badiou stresses that in Beckett, we can find two distinct fictions: one is an enclosed space while the other is an open one. A similar opposition seems to exist in Mullican’s work, which repeatedly moves between the enclosed space of the studio (which is the fictional space represented in his performances under hypnosis) and the relatively open space of the city.

      The work of both Beckett and Mullican gives much importance to the voice. Badiou writes about Beckett: “The challenge of the voice is to track down, with the help of fables, narrative fictions and concepts, the pure point of enunciation, the fact that what is depends on a singular faculty of saying, which, itself unable to be said, exhausts itself in what is said, but always stays below, silence indefinitely producer of verbal turmoil.”11 In Mullican’s work, language is not voluntarily distorted or deconstructed by the artist. Hypnosis takes away some level of control on the voice, which is brought back to a raw state of functioning. The narrative function of the work is distinct from the language articulated through the voice, which is inarticulate. The narrative no longer depends on language as it is spoken in the space of the performance, but on the layered verbal dimensions of the artistic dispositif as a whole. The voice and the body of the artist, positioned in the space of the hypnotic trance, are witness to the emergence of what Badiou calls “incidents”, which he defines as what functions “outside the law”. These dysfunctional gestures and bursts of voice will be the objects of subsequent analysis. Transferring these fragments of speech and these gestures to the person of the actor pertain to this methodology of ordering and finding more clarity within the erratic formal construction of the work. Rather than trying to understand or explain these “incidents”, they are named, placed within a configuration invented and shaped by the artist. Naming gestures, giving them a position within a chart, ordering them. This structure nevertheless allows for the ongoing emergence of the new.

    3. 1 François Roustang, Qu’est-ce que l’hypnose?, les éditions de Minuit, 1994/2003, page 17

      2 Ibid (page 55)

      3 In French, the term Roustang uses is “déchirure” (page 53)

      4 Ibid (page 55)

      5 Ibid (page 14)

      6 Ibid (page 77)

      7 Alain Badiou, Beckett: l’increvable désir, Hachette Littératures, 2006, page 14

      8 “lambeaux de fiction ou de spectacle” says Badiou about Beckett. Alain Badiou, Beckett: l’increvable désir, Hachette Littératures, 2006, page 12

      9 Ibid (page 17)

      10 Ibid (page 19)

      11 Ibid (page 33-34)

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