Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Diderot and the Lap dancer Chapter 2: Advice to a Comedian

And so, she sighed, her voice soft and entreating. 

In my cubicle, curtained away from nature – a perfect symbol, if you like, of the secret place deep inside your mind where you battle your own thoughts... in this cubicle, I shall explain to you why my performance conforms to your idea of the finest acting.

Diderot shifted uneasily. My dear, I would not reject your charms and yet: the content of your performance surely could not be regarded as a bourgeois tragedy.

She fixed her eyes on his. When he was silent, she continued.

Content is a later matter. At this time, we are concerned only with matters of form. Remind me again, of your very own paradox.
It concerns the actor. His skill is not that of transmitting those emotions that he feels, but remaining detached from his performance. He is at his most skilled when he is least engaged with the passions he displays. On stage.

And the example you gave – it was Garrick, if I remember aright...

And also the actress Clarion, but I took it further. I quote myself: ‘the actor’s whole talent consists not in feeling, but in recreating the external signs of feeling with such scrupulous accuracy that you are taken in by them’.

My dear Diderot, the touch of my hand tells me that you are indeed taken in by my performance: yet for all my moans and pretty sighs, the moistness of my eyes and the presentation of my body in display to you, am I feeling the passions that evoke such passions in you. Are you not deceived by my external signs?

When I leave, once my dress and shoes have been pulled back on, I am tired but I am left with no desire, no agitation, no arousal. It is you who takes away all those impressions with you.

‘The dancer is tired, and I am excited, because you have been writhing around inside the cubicle without feeling a thing, and I have been feeling the emotions without moving my seat.’

Mr Diderot, how to love to quote yourself: and you realise, of course, that it is your words that give power to my argument. The lapdance is removed from the character they perform. How many men ask me for my number, how many of them are convinced that, despite the folded money slipped into my purse, that my glances and poses are real, that my desire is for them.

You are the reason why Plato would have banished actors from his ideal state. You deceive... you are not yourself but another... you show the symptoms of a soul without feeling them, you deceive by the imitation of these signs.

‘Plato knew exactly very well what he was doing.’  Your reputation for complexity, M. Diderot, is ill-earned.

Paradoxe sur Le Comedien 312 pg 277 (ID)
Discours sur la poesie dramatique
AT X.185

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