The Stage: Hollow (Solid) Relations
by Richard Wehrenberg
How can the poor be made to work once their illusions have been shattered, and once force has been defeated?
- Guy Debord, Preface to The Society of the Spectacle (1995)
What do we mean by the word stage? What are we to make of it, how are we to understand how we understand it and how it may understand us? In the most evident way, the word signifies a distinguishing between 'real' and 'false' things, and in a more devious way, a différance ( = constructed difference that defers meaning) of relationship, of levels of power between participants, and of symbols in and of the stage. The stage for our purposes will refer to any illusion, any thing that may 'falsify' relation; however, let us be heedful: when declaring some ways of being and existence false and others legitimate, one must differentiate, one must expound, one must delineate to the fullest extent why these ways of being are erroneous and pernicious, why they are undesirable. It is not the facticity of their existence that needs to be addressed, but the how and why of it, particularly how and why staged relation continues to linger, disseminate, and latch onto our relations so unwaveringly. It may be too difficult, arduous, or futile a task to assess and/or list all institutions, objects, persons, etc. that are part and parcel of the stage (that rely on some form of staged relation to exist), and to call them out and initiate yet another polemic in a text this condensed; however, let it be our task to look at a few forms of the stage, its phantoms and ancestors, its genealogy and various apparatuses, to better understand how the stage, as a way of organizing socially, politically, economically, et al., hinders our 'growth' ( = a growth we may not know the concrete of, whose goal might not be so easily stated, assessed, or reduced, but a growth which also is, at least, not in the terms of capitalistic ideology) and our relations (which as staged become solid and hollow, seemingly permanent and without depth nor compassion).
The Stage As Deferring (Real) & Becoming (Imaginary)
The stage, wherever it may be present, exists in front of us first as a falsity: as prop, as perpetual right-now elevation of imaginary meaning, as preordained metaphorical-concrete hierarchical relation. As a plateau ( = the 'highest' possible status one may hope to rise to), the stage appears in a symbolic manner not unlike the raising of a predetermined 'victor' after a winning play in rigged game. The stage may also operate as significance, as this process of becoming meaning by erasing this first understanding of stage as facade. It is first false (as we may so obviously notice) and it becomes real meaning. This phenomenon functions in a similar fashion to when one who is watching a film thinks "This is a film, this is separate from the reality I exist within." At the very moment one thinks they are separate from the film, from this or that ideology, from any sign, image, or symptom, from any way of seeing, that they are distinct from 'false' things (the acting, the setting, the symbols, all these can be called ostensibly 'false' things), from the Other, then this is the exact moment these falsities may become just as 'real' as one's immediate surroundings. This way of understanding the stage, of seeing certain ways of relating as 'false' and others as 'real,' cannot be ignored. There is a triadic relation between the stage, the audience, and language (which mediates or does not exist at all) the first two, that needs addressed, that needs new words to decipher how, and why it matters that there is this break between 'real' and 'false,' that the dialogue or anti-dialogue of the stage is more 'false.' Let there be no question of it: it is possible (and common) to live without ever conceptualizing or even identifying the difference between this falsity and this transgression, without perceiving that the stage is first a false entity ( = the stage as deferring meaning, in the way that staged relations signify a lack, a fear) and second a falser entity, one that pretends to be true ( = the stage as becoming meaning, in the way that staged relation can subsume relation and all other possible forms of relating).
The Stage as Staged & Fixing Place For Audience
The space the stage creates is above (and beyond) the audience. Those on the stage are separate from the those off of it (the viewers, listeners, feelers) in terms of power alone ( = who has the most attention, whose ideology is being heard more frequently, in more places) and both literally and symbolically. One may understand this relationship between the those being staged and the stagers as hierarchical, but one may also perceive the stage relationship in a less maligning light. From a populist perspective the stage serves as a way for all to see the 'winner', the 'expert.' Thus, for the populist, the stage is staged, that is, it depends upon its falsity to exist, but its falsity does not necessarily depend upon it. 'Truth', or perhaps better phrased, 'paths to unstaged relation,' become established or may be first set upon through the form of the stage. I may see or obtain information from the stage which may lead me to wish to 'abolish' all stages at a later point in my life (or I may also be inspired to develop more stages, should I identify with the stage). In the most pernicious way, the stage fixes and is a fixed place for the relation of individuals along a vertical alignment, a privileging of 'higher' place, which assumes these roles, which preempts wonder and posits expectation. It is natural that capitalist relations rely on the stage, that it is profit above the masses sitting upon the stage pelleting its onlookers with the bullets of its oppressive ideology. At its most acrimonious, the stage functions much like Foucault's dispositif, as an apparatus that keeps power in the hands of the whoever has it, that acts as a reinforcer of place, as a controller of belief, opinion, understanding, and more largely, of discourse.
The Permanent Stage (The Stage as Stage as Stage)
Once one realizes there is a stage, there has always-already been a stage, in a sense. The stage becomes a phantom, it emits a feeling of eminence, it has a rooting, a lasting effect the moment one has the slightest consciousness of it. The stage is a stage is a stage ( = "It does not matter what I think of the stage, of relating like this, as the stage has always existed and probably will after I am gone of it"). The stage's power is in the myth of its presence, in its supposed indivisibility, in its 'normalness.' It is not difficult to understand that one may identify with the stage, with staged ideology. To transcend this idea of the stage, to move beyond seeing relation in this way ( = with bosses, with violence, with hollowness), one needs to be present at an event, at a kind of faux-stage, that has symbolic value, that will emboss a complex understanding and translate and actualize 'unstaged relation' into potential, into possibility for future relations, and continuously. Thus, the stage has become permanent and hollow: it can be broken and debunked easily, but it may also breed rapidly, and may be difficult to extinguish all-together: in deracinating one stage we do not destroy all others too. The more difficult question then is this: how to make this debunking and faux-deracination permanent, how to make the space we share unstaged, and continuously.
The Stage as Wooden & Ship(ped)
To develop the idea of considering unstaged relations seriously and to a greater extent we must assess how the stage is wooden and how it is ship-like; how it is neither here nor there, and how it is here and there. For instance, I can go to the stage ( = I can touch it, it is concrete (most of the time)), and thus it is of us, it is construction, it is wooden. But it can also leave me ( = it can exist simultaneously and in the same manner in someplace else as it exists before me), it can float, it can be transported, it is ship(ped). Thus, the stage is fixed and fleeting. This transcendental characteristic of the stage is where the stage's power to reproduce the relations of production in an oppressive way originates. This is why the speaking about 'abolishing' the stage is ridiculous, as if it were a singular thing, as if it did not stem, interweave, and rely upon various structures of society ( = human construction of relation) before we confronted it with such certainty.
The Stage as (Merely) Perceived
As I approach the stage I take the butt of a hammer and pry out its nails and place the planks aside ( = by building we shall demolish) for a future reconstruction, for some inconceivable re-understanding of what our relations should entail. But then I turn around and another stage appears. To whom must I send my grievance, what force must I placate, where must I look to not find it? And then: It is within me.
The Stage as Individual (Collective) Perception (Reality)
And so the stage becomes an individual's perception of relation, and as such does not function as anything essential, except as part of a whole, as part and parcel of our collective existence ( = Jean Luc Nancy's existence as coexistence) and so we must return the stage to its original place: as mere possibility, as possibility that should and will not be desirable, nor seemingly possible to continue to be a part of our relation. The stage is characteristic of Lacan's objet petit a, as a retreat from and a deferring of meaning, as 'false' relation, as an access to realization of desire and withdrawal from loss (as much as any other point of access to falsely replacing original loss), as a 'false' object of desire that will bring one to a feeling of wholeness, but only via subjugation and maligning of the Other and not via cooperation and fusing with the Other. The stage is violence to the Other, and is thus essentially a violence to and fear of one's self, of how one identifies oneself (whose components necessarily exist within and are defined by the Other). Unstaged relation may seek the latter relationship with the Other: one of cooperation and symbiosis, of growth of individual character ( = a collection not as mere herd, but as an amalgamation of beings-for-themselves).
The Stage as Force After the Shattering of Illusion
As Debord writes in the Preface to the 1995 version of The Society of the Spectacle: after all illusions of superiority in terms of class, of différance between one other (as symbolized by our relations) are shattered (via whatever means), the stage ( = and all of its ideological apparatuses and its goons) will be the sole force that perpetuates capitalistic relations and its myth of violence, its tired reproduction of oppression, and it, like all 'false' things, shall fizzle out as, more and more, we become aware of the stage, of its 'falsity,' and posit our own, understandings and forms of relation. The only problem may be the velocity of this transformation, which may not sync up with how fast our bodies run their course, thus leading to aggravation, cynicism, and denouncement. Let us not be so quick to fall: the stage is bound to collapse with all the dead weight upon it.