Fictioning a Thought of Performance

Published in "Aberrant Nuptials: Deleuze and Artistic Research" edited by Paulo de Assis & Paolo Giudici. Leuven University Press.

A performance has a complementary register of “restored behaviour” (Schechner 1985, 35–38), in which performance is not real, nor does it exist as a copy of the real. A performance is not fiction, but rather an indefinite fictioning, that is, it is not a narrative way of telling the same thing differently. Fictioning is based on the term fictionale, or philo-fiction, coined by Laruelle (2013a, 232), which does not position the real, but acts from the real. Through fictioning, I propose a shift in performative thinking, by which practice is fictioning, in contrast to fiction. Fictioning is not a resemblance to or mimesis with the real or with reality.[1]

In the sense of thought as an abstraction and artistic practice as the abstraction of the real, abstractions create “conditions for thought” that return to the world as reality. They mostly resemble proper gestures of thought, not unlike a work of fiction represents the world. Fictioning does not represent the world, nor does it create an abstraction of the world; rather, it is abstract and even lacks existence. It is futuristic in that it “is not in motion [but] the radical future is a-temporal” (Laruelle 2015, 111). Fictioning lacks duration, or it is indeterminate without an analogue in or resemblance to the world. We could consider how the nature of fictioning is in superposition or diffraction, where the “gestures of thought” function as measurements of the experiment. Fictioning is superposition with the gestures of thought, which function as “measurements.” It is a superposition of ontologically indeterminate states. We can see that this indeterminate “particle” is part of a performance or performative act—as what is material but not representational, as restored behaviour, or rather as a “clone”[2] of the performance-in-performance. Performance is thus a clone, but it is not “alive” in the sense of fictioning, which also means that in theory it truly can be repeated, or at least cloned. In theory, a performance will not disappear, in contrast to Phelan’s ontological argument on performance (Phelan 1993, 146–48). For fictioning in performance, all gestures, even potentially possible or actualised ones, are equally real. Performance not only represents the body through fiction but also clones the body in fictioning. There is no first knowledge or “standard” aesthetics about art, but a generation of the forms of thought.

The given world is always an abstracted and composite relation, which only has possible solutions and options. The world is a given possibility. If beings are closed in themselves, they are not closed possibilities in the world; however, they differentiate themselves in the process of their actualisation. They become in the movement in which they receive material forms. The virtual is not found in the actualised forms in resemblance; and beings or things do not resemble the virtual, they embody it. The intellect captures these movements of other lines of divergence through fabulation, which Deleuze regards as a “story-telling function” but for a people to come, and not as the representation of a possibly imagined world (Deleuze 1991, 110). Aligned with Bergson, Deleuze views fabulation alongside creativity as an interval between social pressure and intelligence, as the actualisation of the virtual, where humans become creators in this actualisation via a creative emotion where creation is the process of divergent actualisation of the virtual universe and cosmic memory. In What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari write, “Creative fabulation has nothing to do with a memory, however exaggerated, or with a fantasy. In fact, the artist, including the novelist, goes beyond the perceptual states and affective transitions of the lived” (1994, 171).

In Soul of the Documentary (2016), Ilona Hongisto articulates the connection between the term fabulation and documentary cinema. Fabulation is part of the creative processes of an interval, or a method of thinking in durations. Fabulation is a way to emerge from our duration to recognise other durations of different kinds. Creation as fabulation is the capacity to emerge when singular living beings close themselves (Deleuze 1991, 104). Fabulation is a compositional modality; in documentary cinema, “it occupies the space in between people who tell stories and the documentary camera that observes these fabulous acts. The relationship between the two creates documentary visions that undo the antagonistic dichotomy between the true and the false” (Hongisto 2015, 67). In documentary cinema, Deleuze (1989, 150) writes, “the real character . . . himself starts to ‘make fiction,’ when he enters into ‘the flagrant offence of making up legends’ and so contributes to the invention of his people.” Hongisto (2015, 67) explains that “the flagrant offence of making up legends” (in the French original, “en flagrant délit de”) “has a direct legal connotation to ‘being caught in the act.’”

Documentary cinema is not a recording or capturing device, but it fabulates in generative relationality, where “investigations of the observational begin from the shared moment of filming” (ibid.). Hongisto (2015) writes how fabulation comprises “‘hallucinatory fictions’—that have real effects” (68). These fabulations are, for Bergson, regulatory and negative, but Hongisto sees that fabulation transposes “from enhancing extant social conditions to envisioning collectivities beyond those that exist in actuality” (69). Fabulation does not exist in the connection between true and false, but rather between virtual and actualisation. It is not a possibility or potentiality, that is, a power to do something; rather, it only what may be actualised not in resemblance to the virtual real.

In fabulation, we are “being caught in the act” as in the restored behaviour of performance. This connection with actualisation is abstract, but it is rarely an abstraction of something. Actualisation is a process of translation in a movement where recollections need to be embodied in the present. The actualisation does not resemble a memory or, in the last instance, the virtual; it is not an abstraction of a possible universe or utopia. The virtual is distinguished from the possible because the possible has no reality. Therefore, in fictioning, and not in fiction or imagination (or the image of thought), the embodied abstraction is a clone, as in a superposition. It is like fiction in one sense, but like actualisation in another. In a certain position it is possible and perceivable, but fictioning is also the only abstract gesture of thought. Deleuze writes, “the rules of actualization are not those of resemblance and limitation, but those of difference or divergence and of creation” (1991, 97). The possible realises the real in the likeness of an image, but actual does not resemble the virtual, it only differentiates in actualisation. It is a clone or restored behaviour. From the vantage point of Schechner’s performance studies, a performance functions in postures, attitudes and strips of behaviour. The ‘strips of behaviour’ extend cultural and personal boundaries, but need to be restored and can be even taken out of the context, moreover, they have no ‘originality’.[3] Every strip, no matter how small, brings some of its former meanings into its new context. Their ‘memory’ makes ritual and artistic recombinations so powerful, Schechner argues.[4] Such restored behaviours can have long or short duration, take place in rituals or fleeting gestures separate from subject or identity.

The real has no image nor is one possible. It is not given. However, for the possible or potential real, the real turns into a composite, or a “ready-made” reality of the world. To be exact it turns into a concept, which is necessary for all gestures of thought, such as performance and artistic practice; on the other hand, these gestures are equally clones of the real. The possible is the image of the real as resemblance. Both fabulation and “fictioning” depart from this, because ontologically speaking they are impossible and have no relation with reality.

Fictioning takes place in the interval, but it is not to be confused with the “as if” of the performance—a fiction or fictional act. Laruelle uses the term fictionale, or philo-fiction, to distinguish it from the “fictional,” which is “a mixed or empirico-transcendental concept formed under the ‘unitary’ authority of philosophy” (Laruelle 2013a, 231). The fictionale is non-thetic and non-positional; it is neither an object nor real. Laruelle continues that the “fictionale ‘presupposes’ the real in a non-thetic way and also conditions it without ever positing it or inscribing it in Being or the World[.] We no longer posit or dominate this primitive space of fiction, and thus it does not dominate us” (ibid., 232). Through fictioning, I propose that performance art is immediate, without the mediation of philosophy or difference. Fictioning has no distance to the “object” of fictioning. On the non-thetic nature of the fictionale, Laruelle (2010, 19) writes: “It is strictly non-reflexive, that is to say absolutely singular and autonomous as such before any universal (form, meaning, relation, syntax, difference, etc.). It is this ‘unarity’ inasmuch as it is distinguished from ‘unity’: unarity is inherently immanent (to) itself, and non-thetic (of) itself, while unity is always both immanent and transcendent, nearly identical to Difference.”

Such “performance thinking” does not have the properties or existence to be considered an image of thought. John Ó Maoilearca (2015, 118) has argued for a correlation between non-philosophy and the noneism of Alexius Meinong, who claims that we can say some true things about non-existent objects, even though they have no existence: “they have a Sosein even though they haven’t any Sein” (Chisholm 1982, 39). As these objects do not correlate with the image of thought, Meinong (1972, 23–25) describes it instead as adverbial thinking. In performance thinking, actualisation provides a perceptual experience of ‘performance thinking’, but without the idea or property of an object. A ‘performance thinking’ is a probabilistic process of uncertainties. It does not follow a standard determination by either/or, but performance thinking is rather always both/and. We may witness performance art ‘as performance’ in the regular basis, but the proposition her, is that there is not one standard procedure or measuring device for performance as uncertain and probable.

If performance thinking is only an adverbial idea, we may at some point produce a critical thought, which in performance thinking has never existed as there is no way to determine an “experience” of performance thinking. It may be non-existent yet it still acts as a function. It only insists its presence or possible absence with no correlation with the Real. The performance performing, which I call performance thinking, is not a sufficient presentation or reflection on its material: what could a performance do. It is a superposition of performing and reflection, performance and withdrawal. Properly speaking, it makes no sense. Philosophy correlates with most things that do not exist because “it is unthinkable that the unthinkable be impossible,” as Quentin Meillassoux (2008, 41) says in his argument against strong correlationism. The idea of performance thinking exists when we can speak about it in the philosophical sense, as the “performance in-itself”; however, performance thinking itself would be impossible without identity and property. Following Meinong’s theory of objects, Richard Routley (1980, 413) argues that although ideas are not identical with objects, we may still have ideas of them. For Graham Priest (2005, 106), if to exist means that something has a relationship to existence, then existence itself only has subsistence, it is an abstract object.

Nevertheless, some objects do not have non-existence, Priest continues, but have only Nichtsein (ibid.). Noneism is not about knowing things, or whether they exist and whether we should correlate this with the proposition of performance thinking; thus, it is not about knowing whether performance thinking may have ever existed, but about accepting that performance thinking has a similar adverbial nature to non-existent objects. In a proper sense and according to this standard of thinking, performance thinking is not a production of knowledge. All non-existent worlds are equally thought, but not necessarily through standard philosophical gestures of thought. All non-existent worlds may have particular characteristics without correlating with the actual world, which suggests that we may philosophise on these noneist worlds without a standardised argument.

A performance may be a “non-standard clone” of philosophy, in how “Non-Philosophy is produced by the effect of the presupposed Real within philosophy” (Laruelle 2015, 52). Cloning is a device for fictioning, but not through resemblance. Performance clones itself as a flattening of thought—instead of transcending thought, it is a “flat hallucination of thought” from the real, according to John Ó Maoilearca (2015, 140). In cloning, nothing is destroyed or negated; rather, it is postured, where the posture is a divergent affirmation (175). In cloning, performance is closer to rendering and posture, which do not cut off thought from matter, but correspond to the real without resemblance. The proposition here, is that all thoughts are from the Real, happen alongside the Real but cannot represent the Real. The Real is foreclosed from thoughts. In this radical sense the Real is not the domain of the things in themselves, or that what our symbolic language cannot grasp, but rather it is something utterly indifferent to these philosophical systems. It also means, that not one system has a better comprehension of the Real, but rather all thoughts produce its own protocol that it begins to define as reality or the world. Cloning is not the production of philosophical statements, doubles, or replicas to resemble philosophy. Performance—or shall we call it non-performance, alongside the non-philosophy of Laruelle—does not mimic philosophy but is a fictioning.

Performance as fictioning using cloning is not a reproduction of the possibilities of philosophy; rather, it is performative because it clones philosophy in the body and in matter. The real is what is presupposed by thought and performance in the fictioning of performance. If so, fictioning performance will have nothing to say about truth, the real, or existence; thus, it has ties with fabulation because it is not a sufficient thought of the performance or the possibilities of performance. Fictioning has no meaning in a performance, or in what performance or a body can do. The cloning is the performance itself.

In the “flattening” of thought proposed by John Ó Maoilearca, there is thinking that is not philosophising—where a performing body, objects, and things may think from the presupposed real. Fictioning does not resemble, connect, knot, plait, or stitch a performance with reality, or about the real. The other side of cloning and fictioning, as with fabulation, is that it is a posture of truth. The intellectual performing with a theremin is philosophising. This is a possible reading of the performance and how it sufficiently connects. The intellectual is doing what he says he is doing.

Fictioning is not an active or reactionary connection with hegemony. When fiction works with representation, abstraction, and resemblance, or what is happening, and what we can imagine or envision, their fiction produces an event. In such cases, fictioning is not representational but abstract, virtually utopian, and without proper vision. On the one hand, the performance reflects the world, which generates representations and concepts through philosophical procedures—reflection, withdrawal, analysis, and reduction—on the other hand, the performance is not a material or intellectual reflection of the world, but a flat, opaque, and indeterminate cloning. It is a fictioning from the real, but not about it. There is no way to determine what fictioning would be, but only that fictioning leaves different traces from fiction or philosophical thought.

The question of action and materiality in a performance generates the figures of the agency. The action needs positions and the impact of the performance is generated through agential positions. This is the event of performance. Performance thinking—both fictioning and fictionale—may not capture this event. Only the posture resembles the event of knowledge production and the event of the agencies—the traces of the advent. The event of performance thought resembles any other form of speculative thought—for instance, Guattari’s schizoanalysis, where the emphasis is on a‑signified semiosis and transversal correlations. Not all standard forms of thought resemble discursive significance.

Performance thinking is not a form of liminal thinking between states; rather, it is an advent of practice, in the practice of posture or cloning of gestures of thought. It is not fiction, narrative, philosophy, or performance aesthetics. Fictioning is not a mixture of philosophy and practice, where concepts mix with actions or thoughts with bodies; however, it is in superposition with thought and practice. Even gestures of thought that measure ethically, aesthetically, or philosophically are equally indeterminate. Mixtures of fact and fiction are not entanglements, they are the claimed property of a sufficient thought. The measurements of performance thinking collapse into a mixture: it is an experimentation with thought itself.



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Chisholm, Roderick M. 1982. Brentano and Meinong Studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Cull Ó Maoilearca, Laura. 2012. Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

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———. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. First published 1985 as Cinéma 2: L’image-temps (Paris: Minuit).

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———. 2013a. Philosophy and Non-Philosophy. Translated by Taylor Adkins. Minneapolis, MN: Univocal. First published 1989 as Philosophie et non-philosophie (Brussels: Mardaga).

———. 2013b. Principles of Non-philosophy. Translated by Nicola Rubczak and Anthony Paul Smith. London: Bloomsbury. First published 1996 as Principes de la non-philosophie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France).

———. 2015. Intellectuals and Power: The Insurrection of the Victim. Translated by Anthony Paul Smith. Cambridge: Polity Press. First published 2003 as L’ultime honneur des intellectuels (Paris: Textuel).

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[1]    The key question in my postdoctoral research is to ask through artistic research, how does performance think? Do the different registers boil down into one as a universal thought? My proposition concerns the two concepts of fictioning and cloning, both in performance art practice, where bodies are central, and in philosophical thought, represented by Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and François Laruelle. My reading of fictioning is slightly different from that presented by Simon O’Sullivan and David Burrows in their book Fictioning (2019)

[2] For Laruelle (2013b, 32) the clone has an identity as a double without synthesis or connection to the real, where cloning is not a refusal of the real, but “a thinking based on that ‘criterion’ of foreclosure.”

[3] Schechner 2004, 324

[4] Schechner 2013, 34

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