About Rasaesthetics,

Posted: April 19th, 2015 | Author: A.D. | Filed under: ANTHROPOLOGIE — réflexions croisées sur un monde qui bouge, INTERVIEWS — la parole donnée, PERFORMANCE — théories et pratiques | No Comments »

An interview with Richard Schechner

AD: My first question would be: why did you write Rasaesthetics? It has been published in 2001 in TDR, but I think you wrote that before, did you?

RS: No. I wrote it in 2001. I wrote it after my encounter with Mickael Gerson, the man who made the enteric nervous system famous. Now, how I found him, I do not remember. I mean, he wrote this book The Second Brain, but I don’t remember how I met him.
But once I met him and I read that book and I saw that there was this physiological basis for the rasic experience. Now, the first time I read the Natyashastra, this is the really beginning. I was in Cheruthuruthy and it was 1976, during the rainy season… you know all this?

AD: You came to let me know once, but please, tell it again, it is interesting…

RS: So, it was July 1976 and I have been in India at that point but it was only my second visit, but I have been in there from March because we brought Mother Courage and her Children with the Performance Group, and they all went back. And I was in Cheruthuruthy and in order to get a massage, I was the oldest person and they said they would not do the full massage, I took the basic Kathakali training …
Now, I did this training a little training in No drama. I did training in things I cannot master. Yoga I can master, but, because I feel by taking the thing in your own body, can really help you to understand and it is not a question at that point of mastering. When you are very young you can master these things, but let us say, you can still experience it as “physical metaphor”: you can feel it and when somebody is standing on you and bending you out, it gives you another sense of your body….
Anyway, as I was doing that, they were constantly talking about rasa and bhava and I did not really understand what they were talking about. So I decided that during the off-time, I was during this training 3 hours a day, but during the rest, it was raining, I was sitting and I would read the Natyashastra, and I would also read about the Natyashastra. Especially Christopher Byrsky, you know this reference? He is a Poland schola, and I think he wrote The Concept of Indian Ancient Theatre, I believe it is the title. I read also Pramod Cale, an Indian scholar. His book is called The Theatric Universe. It is all about rasa.
So I have read that. I have read these books. And I really got into the notion of rasa as a physical thing about flavor. About rasa, as a visceral experience, in other words: flavor and smell can only be experienced if you take something in the body. I can see the moon and the stars millions and millions miles away and I can hear you a long way but I can only touch you at the length of my hand and I can only literally get inside of you with my tongue or my penis whatever, or I can only lick you, if you are really close to me. So to me these touch and taste are very primary emotions, more primary than sight and hearing, in other words.
I can imagine, even it is a hard life, living without seeing and hearing. But I cannot imagine living without being able to taste. That is almost impossible. We would stop eating. We would die. So it struck me at that point in 1971, so 30 years before Rasaesthetics, that the western notion of theatre, the theatron theory is all about the eyes, and possibly because Athens is clear, you can see far, in its mountains and all. And the Indian theatre is all about the flavor and possibly because there is so much of jungle that you can’t see, it does not give you theses visions only in the mountains. Anyway I don’t know that, but I was just swept away with that idea that rasaesthetics would be really intimate.
Because I have already done Dyonisius in 69 I already have done theatre where people touch and taste each other and I already have done these workshops and I have already been affected by Grotowski. But he did not have a proper theory for that kind of theatre. I loved Grotowski’s work but I did not feel he had a theory about this kind of theatre. I mean he had a theory about staging and environmental theatre but he did not have a global theory about why this intimacy. He worked with deconstruction, spacing and so on…
The Natyashatra, the 6th chapter of the Natyashastra could do it for me. There are certain parts of the Natyashastra I have read once and I did never read again, some of the analysis of the drama …

AD: How the king should walk and move his hands and rise his eyebrows when he is upset but cannot show it because the queen is too close, for example? (laughing)

RS: (laughing too) But in the opening chapter, he writes about the horse sacrifice and the first performances of hundreds sons of Bharata, so that is narrative but later one these details that we really cannot figure out because he is giving names of movements but we do not know so we have names of the sculpting and so on.
The theory of the sixths chapters of the Natyashastra was extremely powerful because it could be applied in many different cultural context. So whoever who was writing that was writing very specifically about Ancient Indian Performance and it was obviously someone who knew about it.
So that is the real origin of Rasaesthetics and after that, from and throughout the 70s I was practicing and I was doing active training and working with on yoga, pranayama and vocal training and exercises I have learned in the West, along with pranayama, and exercises I had learn from Grotowski in 1967, all that together.
Then I do not remember, I have to get back to my notebooks but in 1992, I did the first Rasaboxes and I think that that came up. The boxes came because of Abhinavagupta. There are 8 rasas, but when you try to practice them, when you try to understand them like Artaud says that the artist is an athlete of the emotions, and then if you make a grid, you have 9 boxes. You do not have 8, but the 9th one is in the center and it is so obvious that it has to be shanta. That it has to be what Abhinavagupta added to the original 8 rasas.

AD: There is actually a book about it called The number of Rasa-s by Raghavan, who discusses the theory of the numbers of rasas.

RS: So the 9th did not come before Abhivanagupta, in the 10th century. He is Kashmiri, a kind of Bouddhist-Hindu, when the Buddhism and the Hinduism were very close. Anyway, by 93, I got to practice it and my artistic work, rather than my intellectual work purely, I only learned about the rasas about practicing them.

AD: But how did you come to the shape of a box?

RS: Well, first of all, technically, I should have called it bhavabox, but by the time I would be sure of that, I already have called them rasabox and also, they talked about rasas at the sixth chapter, and maybe if I do it again, I would do that, except they would be very hard to anyone to pronounce it: bahavabox, bh, right? So rasabox is better.
But they are really about bhavas, and I make the distinction between the emotions and the feelings. You know that? So emotions, the bhavas, are forever the inconscious, and the rasas are the expressions. The rasas are the feelings and not the emotions. We experience our feelings which are produced by our emotions, but we cannot access our emotions directly. Anymore than we cannot access our unconscious. We can access our dreams or our imagination, our feelings, but not our emotions.

AD: But when did you first write it?

RS: I try to reconstruct why I wrote this. I honestly cannot remember why, mostly may I say, I do write because somebody asks me to write something. For me, writing is both fun and agonizing and if you told me I could be famous and not have to write again I would simply do it right a way. But I need to write even if it is hard… Well probably I was giving a talk.
And I liked the sound of Rasaesthetics because you can use the a in English which is the last letter of rasa and the first of aesthetics, and the a in aesthetics is silent. In fact in alternative spelling in English we do not use the a anymore. But so I felt that Rasaesthetics worked. I think that probably I gave a talk, somewhere and then I wrote the talk down. But I was probably published in the mid 90s. Something like that.
And that also strucked me, the notion that 40% of our nerve cells, because lot of people have been writing about thinking from the belly, got all these things. But Gersian has proven that these are real because these are not metaphors but the vagus nerves is linked to the brain in a very unconscious level, and it is connected to the mid-brain. So we are getting all this stuff but we are only conscious of a little bit of it. When I fear, my heart beat changes and there is a lot of transformation in my nervous system but I felt that yoga and other meditations are a ways of training that system. That is what Gersian and I have found and he said he would be interested in more investigations but he said he cannot believe we could train nervous system.

AD: I believe we can.

RS: Of course we can! And we can see people training everyday in India. I also think that: once you have a nerve, it is a 2 ways stream system and you can always train it somehow. But then I also got involved with Demasio, the autor of The Feelings that Matter and there is a “feelings group” in Concordia University: ISRE, it is the International Society of Research on Emotions, and they have lots of papers on emotions and feelings.

AD: Did you mean to write a manual on a practice subject, what was your intention?

RS : Writing the article ?

AD: Yes…

RS: My intention was double. My intention was to theorize rasa in a way that westerners could understand it, and maybe in the east as well, because it has not been theorized that way. And to show that Rasaboxes was not just a casual thing for actors but a way of training the emotions, training the feelings to use them in performance but we could also use them outside a performance like all training it tends to. If I re-write it, I would probably objectify that which is not normally thought of an object. I would probably bring under conscious control that what is not under conscious control, or help prove somebody assertions that if you express a feeling you feel the feeling. If you express the physical aspects of a feeling, you can evolve the feeling. As I said: it is a two ways stream. For example, if I am sad, I would cry, but if I cry I would become sad: it is a circle. It works 2 ways, but in the West we are too enslaved to the other and we come to call it insincerity but it is not insincerity, it is just a method to change the way you feel.

AD: I had that other question, looking at your own practice of theatre from the Performance Group to the rasaboxes, you turn from a very much engaged performance theatre to a form where, somehow, you open your practice to people who are doing business.

RS: Correct, but the rasaboxes I have never done it with the performance group. I left the Performance Group in the 1980, so the rasabox is 12 years later…

AD: If we would be critical, we could say you are turning from something like “hardcore” in the performance to business. Is rasabox a business, after all?

RS: Well, it can be, of course. I mean, many people have done rasabox: Doctors have done it. I mean medical doctors because they are often confronted with extremely difficult emotional situation, right? If you have to tell someone you will probably die, or if you have to tell their loved ones that someone has died, or if you are constantly seeing people in stress, so you can’t just express your feelings, how can you learn to manage those feelings and express them and get them outside yourself after a certain point? So we have done this into medical schools too. And so it is useful when people want to have emotional skills. Let’s call it that way, so which of course, we have emotions authentically quote. It just happens, but it is like language.
Every child will learn language, if they have their ears but to really be a writer, to really be a speaker. You have to train that language skill beyond what you would just get in a classic thing. It is the same with emotional skills: we all have feelings, but we want to train them beyond the day where we train them.

AD: So what is interesting for you to do?

RS: Why do I want to do that? Because I guess I think my ideas about rasa, in Performance Studies, which is not just theatre, my feeling is about the people I live with and the people I train apply to all aspects of life. I am not interested in remaining a specialist. I am interested in taking a specialty: how it could be used.
Well, it’s like, let’s take an example, let’s take cooking, because I like to cook, tomorrow my son, my wife, his wife and I will go to the market, buy things and cook diner at their house. So it is a combination of ingredients and I think cooking is an art, is a science and is a pleasure. So it involves chemistry, sensuality and sociability.
So I think that theatre also is a model. It is a model of life. It is all about controlling them, expressing them and enjoying them. Where else can you enjoy sadness, fear or rage? Where else can you enjoy raudra, bhayanaka, karuna? We do avoid those and naturally go for sringara and bibhasta and hasya… so maybe vira, which is a strange one, we have to talk about it later. But in art we can enjoy those negative emotions. So that in a certain extend, sringara is a basic rasa. Everything should be approached from a sringaric point of view. Because of you live your life as raudra, you will be a very unhappy person. If everything you see is flavored with rage, even your love, but if everything you see is flavored with love even your rage, it will be better of. I cannot live that, I am not a saint, but I understand and I want to train myself in order to do that. So I think we can look at every situation and say: “what is the rasa thing going on?”
See this woman over there, she is playing with her smartphone and look at how is she seated: her hand is underneath her left thigh. So she is getting warmth in her thigh. And I love the idea that there is an all sringara going on there, from herself to herself. So I try to feel how these things and what they might be doing.
The ocean of our desire is so vast that anything we can add is just acquiring knowledge or pleasure will still be very small. So therefore I want to learn in experience as much as possible. I mean actually imagination is a form of adbutha, imagination is the marvelous and, you know, maybe adbutha should be another sringara …

AD: There is something else I wonder about your use of navarasa. I wonder if it is not very much influenced by your French studies. Because when you say “Western Theatre” is all about brain and vision and when you “Oriental Theatre” is all about belly-brain and digestive process. I wonder if it is not an ubuesque vision of Indian Theatre and if you are influenced by French Culture and your studies in France. At the end of your article you say that, theatre theoricians should consider more theatre as something a “secretive” … and there is something about “caca” and Artaud… etc…

Well, you know that I did my dissertation on Ioneseco … my first living in France, I lived on the rue Dauphine, right up on the pont Neuf and I spent my time at the bibliothèque. Et c’est vrai, je parle français and I can read it. If you try to put up all these ideas together and if you think of how Diderot and Descartes are kind of continuation of Aristotle and you think of a certain kind of exploration of immediacy and experience of being nothing and the absurdist… Artaud is crazy of course and so what? I do not know your question exactly…

AD: My question is about your own reading of Natyashastra and your story; and I think you can draw a map such this one: you have USA here, and India here, and you have France right in the middle. And you made a stop before you went to India and then, you are going back to the US…

RS: Right, but I think you should put the Greece too. I mean historically we should stop in Greece.

AK: Yes but in France, I think more or less everybody can consider he belongs to the Greek civilization, because it is the same culture

RS: Right…

AD: See, Chronos is absorbing his own sons… there is something about all this …

RS: You have to understand my experience with Asia is very deep. The same time I went to India, I went to all the Sub-Asian countries, and China and Japan and Corea are very important to me. Some of the greatest writing about theatre are from Zeami treatises, and he wrote treatises about No Drama, because all of the Asian aesthetics is there. But remember that Bouddha was a Hindu who reformed who reformed Hindouism to come Bouddhism, he carried it to China and Japan. In Japan they made Shinto and Zen, and I mean that area: China Corea Japan is like Europe.
There is a similarity through Bouddhism and how it marries local traditions in each place. There is something very distinct but you can find similarities between Kathakali and No Drama: In the structure of the narration, in the rigor of the training, in the belief that the body is essential. In Asia, I find the body as the primary means of knowledge but what Descartes did with the Cogito was split the body and mind, the body learns from the mind and we have to overcome that, what the body learns from the mind.
Artaud tried to put the body back in a primary theoretical instrument rather than the mind looking at the body so that when I got back in Asia, I felt that here in the philosophy, the use of the body is primary because, yoga is not simply a physical practice: it is a metaphysical practice.

AD: Isn’t it disturbing to be American and specialist of Indian theatre: is it post colonial or post-modernist ?

RS: Say that again? haha… yes, it is post-something ! You know… here is where my Jewish figures: I realize now the jewish community in America is powerful, but when it was my grand father’s day, right around here they were killing them or killing us. I cannot forget that, so I am colonial and colonized.
And I am teaching in a place where there is no synagogues, it is against the law… so it is complex for me and it is not one way or the other and I tend to be very post-modern in my very-post-colonial way …
But you know, where I teach, people die for this kind of ideas. And you see, this is why I love artists and actors especially: They are very fluid, actor’s would not go into these miserable profession, and they live with contradiction, it is ok.

AD: I also do believe that performing arts are more a question of time and space than a matter of socio-economic issues. This is how I understand the point you make in your article when you say: “it is time for theoricians to work with the perception that theatre is a matter of secrection”.

RS: and now think of the relationship of the word secretion and secret so secret mean that which is in and secretion means that we cannot hide, whose is out of us. So there is a paradox, right? Our secretions are the way our secrets are made manifest.

AD: And just help me to clear that point: I understand that the emotions and the way we express it is basically human but meanwhile, the basic emotions are used in labs to make robots, so can you imagine that the becoming of humanity is to be robotic ?

RS: The one thing we know about the future is that it is almost impossible to predict that future. What happens is something happens and somebody says we could predict it! Yes that is true because people predict everything, so one thing will be true, but many things they were predicting were not true. So sure, we can predict the future but we don’t know which of the prediction is the future, so we have not develop the genetics of the future the way we have children being born: We can look at the child and see what the gender is and this and that and we can do a genetic analysis but we are not going to do a genetic analysis about things like that.
It seems clear to me after having said that, that certainly, we are digitizing our lives more and more so I wouldn’t call it robotics I would call it digitalization. Because digitalization means to break down biology into bits of information and once we have biology as sequentialized like one and zero digitize then we can begin to manufacted beings that are light human beings or simulacrum of human beings but are not human beings. Except at the time that they begin to think and feel, and then it will be very difficult to tell.
I mean, science fiction has predicted this, again and again and I think, probably it is true. But I do not feel uncomfortable about it. You don’t feel uncomfortable sitting here in a sweater and a scarf. I don’t feel uncomfortable sitting like this. 5 thousand years ago we could not imagine any of this, but we are very adapted to it.

And to some degree, like I am right now with 2 implements in my heart, so where shall I stop ? We are able to replace things in the brain that cause Alzheimer or so, is that not them? what part of you is not you? So you have a little bit of this and that… Make up, powder, eye liner, I have this implement: so what part of this is not us? And what part is materially or culturally not us? Our specie is made everything I see here, I do not see anything here not made by our specie. Human is making nature. I do not see a single plot, so this is us too, so digitalization is just another useness of that which we made, which also makes us. That which me made also makes us.

AD: It goes back forth…

RS: It is a cycle, exactement ! Tu as raison !