A ghost light on an empty stage. I walk towards it. I move slowly. I am barefoot and can’t see my feet, and there may be a nail or a tack on the floor. Finally, I stop. Darkness on all sides. I stand in a pool of illumination - moon over water - alone in a dark theater. I feel like a cosmonaut suspended in a light capsule floating in the void.
I sense someone’s presence. There is someone here. I look out, peering into the darkness. Anybody out there? No answer. But I notice that I just saw that: I saw myself looking out. I hear a breath. An intake and an exhalation. The breath stops. I notice that I have just stopped breathing. So it is me. I am here with me.
But still, there is more. Still more presence. The darkness itself is aware. Aware of me. Not in a distant kind of way but in an intimate, inquisitive fashion, as if following my every breath and counting every hair on my head: “Who are you? What would you have happen?” It is watching me watching myself, embracing the two of us in one act of seeing, a third watcher. Our seeing, however, is not only seeing. It is a complex perceptual act enmeshed in the flesh: my skin seeing darkness that touches my eyes.
Within this enmeshing, however, the fundamental tripartite paradigm remains: I am myself, perceiving myself in the act of perception. One, two, three. From within that cluster, the new “I” emerges, encompassing all three iterations of a perceiving being. This new "I" functions in simultaneity that is multifarious. Sometimes it coalesces as the one standing on the dusty floorboards and looking out, her feet cold; other times it floats into the audience to watch the shape of the body or the expression of the hands from the back row. Still other times it lifts itself up towards the ceiling to observe a small figure below. But it always embraces, always a substratum in which everything occurs. Soon, this multisensory act of awareness becomes a sentient sphere filled with numerous, rapidly shifting and shimmering points of embodied vision; sensing eyes are everywhere, in every particles of dust, above, below around and in-between. I am both here and there and everywhere at once, a fundamentally tripartite entity, but infinitely divisible into perceiving singularities. I am the one who is three who can also become many, as many as there are points in space.
And then, it happens. It feels more than natural, it feels necessary, unavoidable. My foot moves to do a quick tap on the boards of the stage—one, two, three. My right arm flies up, fingers uncurling into a curlicue. Standing on an empty stage in a pool of light, I perform. Habit? Perhaps. I work in the theater. But I rather think it is more than that. Performance appears to be my response to the void that surrounds me. Darkness, even if filled with my own breath and awareness, comes rather close to the way my imagination represents the idea of nothingness to itself. So, I raise my hand so that I can exist. I perform, so I am not nothing. I feel that I cannot just stand there, as if a voice in my head said “do something, why don’t you,” intimating that the emptiness itself hungers for expression. inciting and inviting it. I don’t know if it does so in fact, but I do know that only if I raise my hand, bending my fingers just so, I will emerge into existence, etching something like a fleeting human hieroglyph into the blinding darkness, accounting for my conscious moment in the feeble light.
Still: for whom do I do that? For myself? So that I can exist as myself? Yes, that seems to be what is happening. But something else operates here, too. If it were only “me, myself, I,” then why bother. I don’t cook for myself, either. Performance wants an audience, but an audience who is also fundamentally different than the performing self, Other than it, not just self-Same, no matter how expanded and panoptical it may be (“Who is out there?” an actor wants to find out, “I hope it is not only family”). The expanded self, watching itself watching itself, although an inherent part of the perceptual phenomenon of the theatrical experience, contains within itself a presentiment and a locus of the Other. Facing the void I perform, not only for myself, not only for the three aspects of my own perceiving, but also for something vaster and larger, for some unknowable but present audience, an ancient watcher up there in the sky of my own mind, hidden within its grey matter, which is also perhaps the dark matter itself. Facing the void, I perform for myself as the Other that is the same as me and the infinite universe, both.
Aleksandra Wolska authored the articles in this blog. And to that, she says, "Meow."