Documentation Philosophy On Stage #4

Cicadas don’t sleep. / Zikaden schlafen nicht. // Performance-Text

Performance by VERONICA LION & SARAH MENDELSOHN with BIRGIT MICHLMAYR

adapted selections from Ingeborg Bachmann’s “Die Zikaden”
by Veronica Lion and Sarah Mendelsohn
with Birgit Michlmayr
performed within the festival “Philosophy On Stage #4”
26.29.11.2015
Vienna

Stage set with table, three chairs. R sits in one chair, with script on table in front of her. Musician sits in another chair with instruments on floor and table (whatever’s most comfortable), script on table or on musical stand. A container of olives from the market is also on the table. The third chair stays empty but is lit the way the other two chairs are. Behind the performers is a projected video of cicadas in action: zoomed in, slowed down, bodily. When C speaks her voice comes over the sound system.

1
Introductory sounds by Musician

Narrator
Es erklingt eine Musik, die wir schon einmal gehört haben. Aber das ist lange her. Ich weiß nicht, wann und wo es war. Eine Musik ohne Melodie, von keiner Flöte, keiner Maultrommel gespielt. Sie kam im Sommer aus der Erde, wenn die Sonne verzweifelt hoch stand, der Mittag aus seiner Begrifflichkeit stieg und in die Zeit eintrat. Sie kam aus dem Gebüsch und den Bäumen. Denk dir erhitzte, rasende Töne, zu kurz gestrichen auf den gespannten Saiten der Luft, oder Laute, aus ausgetrockneten Kehlen gestoßen – ja auch an einen nicht mehr menschlichen, wilden, frenetischen Gesang müsste man denken. Aber ich kann mich nicht erinnern. Und du kannst es auch nicht. Oder sag, wann das war! Wann und wo? Die Musik hat schon begonnen und ist stark geworden wie ein Schmerz. Und sie
hört auf wie ein Schmerz; man ist froh darüber.

R
[it’s hard for R to talk, starting almost inaudible, needing a lot of effort to speak, needing a few attempts to formulate the first question]
W… w… ho… who are you?

C
[deep, heavy breath sounds]
A heavybreather…
A heavy…
A heavy breather… who are you?
[panting heavily as if out of breath]

R
[still struggling to talk, pausing a lot, stuttering]
I? … I am… somebody, …who… doesn’t like to talk, …but likes to be able to talk. W…what are you d…doing here?

C
You mean, why am I naked?
It’s easier to swim long distances without clothes.
Have you ever swam all night? when you swim all night you lose all of your horizons. I’m a great swimmer. But… a swordfish went after my hair. That’s why it’s all messy like this. Can’t I be naked here?

R
[still struggling to talk, pausing a lot, stuttering, but less] Wwhy shshhould I believe you? Wwhy should I trrust you?
Music: mix of waves, breathing, introducing the Cicada theme

C
I’m happy to explain…
[panting slows]
…but I’m getting the feeling that you’re tired of looking at me… or… maybe you like it? I guess this is where you live… Is that chair for me?

R
[gets into the rhythm of talking]
I have lived here for years now, secluded, far away from pretty much everyone and everything else. I haven’t talked to anyone in months. I might have forgotten how to use my words. How to stick to language.
[pause]
Are you sure you want to be talking to me?

C
Language , what language?
[more guttural]
Sprechen sie Deutsch?

R
This is an island. There is no way off, unless you take the ship. But it only stops here once a week.

C
It seems like we’re gonna talk for awhile.
I guess I’ll sit down.

R
Whatever was left of my language is long gone. Nein, ich spreche kein Deutsch. Nicht mehr. So how did you end up here?

C
Can you not see my hair?
I told you, I swam. I skinnydipped. And now I’m hungry and tired. I was hoping you would be getting ready to have lunch.

R
Do you maybe…no, but how do I know… and what if..?
[short pause, and then ironic and slightly angry]
How about I just make you the finest gourmet dinner out of everything that I have left then, hah? Freshly baked bread from the market, locally produced olive oil, and the ripest tomatoes. How about I strip naked and hand you all that I am wearing? How about I open my oldest bottle of the finest wine and toast to your happy arrival?

C
[answers by taking R seriously, ignoring the irony]
OK, great!… ok that’s great, that sounds great.

R
You owe me an explanation. You know people don’t usually just show up on my doorstep like that. And ask for something of me.

C
Don’t worry, my visit doesn’t entail any further social responsibilities for you.

R
People crawl under your skin if you are not careful. They want things, they always want things. They demand things, they expect things. People crawl under your skin and make themselves comfortable. And they start gluing themselves to you. Until you no longer know where your own self begins and where it ends.

C
[singsong]
Bread, olives, and olive oil… and… wine.

R
And when you leave, they throw words after you. Send letters. Hundreds of letters. Thousands of words. And they expect letters in return.

C
Who sends you letters? Friends? Your lovers?

R
I don’t really talk to anyone here. I also don’t read the paper. I don’t read my mail either.
Cicada sounds crescendo, and then pause

C
This is a story about a person on an island, her name is R.
It doesn’t matter where the island is or if you’ve been there… but I bet you have been.
It’s a place you get to by swimming all night or by crawling under its skin.
Have you ever popped a blackhead, on your nose or forehead? on the back of your lover’s shoulder? you know how it looks…you press your two fingers together with force, you dig your nails into the skin, this little capsule of dirt and bodyoil springs out from beneath the layers of skin that contain it…
For a moment you’re entirely concentrated on the sensation of that release.
Your thinking slowls, everything is suddenly clear.
R never experiences this kind of release, or this kind of clarity.
R looked to the distance and an ancient scripture appeared on the sky, written clear across the
facade of infinity:
You are my,
you are my,
you are my LAND.
R takes all of the letters that she’s been carrying around in her pockets. She rips them into pieces
and eats them.
R seeks refuge in a foreign place, and hears all kinds of sounds.
Cicada sound layers back in

R
Mostly I don’t even know what time it is. What does it matter? I cannot even tell you what I did in the past months. Even if I knew, why would I? And what does it matter to you?
But anything is better than being tied to time or things that need to be done.

C
Anything is better than being tied to things by your wrists.

R
You can’t elude punishment…
Were you actually tied by your wrists?

C
You can’t elude the world.

R
I feel like it eluded me, by inhaling me. And forgetting to breathe out. So this is the only thing I could do. But, I wasn’t talking about myself.

C
[loud inhaling sounds]

R
Everyone tries to evade something. But that doesn’t make us all the same.

C
[describing R’s story as if it was a story he read somewhere]
R seeks refuge in a foreign place and hears all kinds of sounds. The island digs into her. She gets intense headaches, they consume her and exhaust her. She lays on her back and watches reruns of old sitcoms on her computer. She watches the sitcoms in mirrorimage: she tilts the computer screen back all the way and tapes a mirror to the ceiling so she won’t have to move her head. She turns off the volume and plays the tv show with subtitles instead. English subtitles. She rejects her own language. There are read and unread and reread, chewed up letters lying all over the floor. She finds calm only in scenes of real danger.

R
[slightly irritated]
You seem to know everything (about me).
But what about you?

C
She finds calm only in scenes of real danger.

R
You see all these letters… it doesn’t really matter if I open them or not. All these years, if it has been that many, I have answered them, probably just out of habit, but I don’t remember a single word I wrote. I stopped trying to write myself into a letter.

C
The simplest thing in the world: put the olives in the center of the table. Place a piece of fish before
me.

R
Yes, a lover. Once at least.
Let me tell you something, better off are the cicadas. Zikaden. No love. For anyone. Ever. No responsibility. For no one. No memories of their previous human existence. No feelings of guilt. No ringing phones. No recorded voice messages. No waiting for answers. Who is not asked has no need to answer.

C
Bring dates and cheese for desert. And a pinch of salt. A dash of pepper. Our glasses are empty.
It’s time for a refill.

R
They are truly free. Free to sing. And nothing else. In their singing they are freed from any limitedness of words. They don’t have to follow any of the rules language gives. Nor do they listen to the constraints of sound or music. They constantly reinvent themselves. And they leave no space under their skin. Good goddess, they don’t even have to sleep!

C
Fugitive!

R
I am not sure how to become one. And I am not sure I want to. Even though I praise their existence, envy their lives, if you can still call them that. Is a life still called a life if it doesn’t end? If the burden of worrying about its end is lifted from your shoulders forever?
Why don’t I become one? I’m afraid they are tied to something after all. Everyone is. Even creatures that have seized to be human. Impossible to imagine.

C
[laughing, singing:]
Are you, are you, going to the sea?

R
Who am I to feel so free?

C
A gift between brothers, just hold me.

R
What will happen now?

C
You can’t evade the sentence.

R
You know I would be assisting a fugitive, if you stayed. That is against the law. Even here.
And you cannot evade your punishment.

C
You can’t evade the words.

R
This is just an island. I came here to forget.

Narrator
“Denn die Zikaden waren einmal Menschen. Sie hörten auf zu essen, zu trinken und zu lieben, um immerfort singen zu können. Auf der Flucht in den Gesang wurden sie dürrer und kleiner, und nun singen sie, an ihre Sehnsucht verloren – verzaubert, aber auch verdammt, weil ihre Stimmen unmenschlich geworden sind” (Bachmann, 268)

2
Environmental sound: sequence of short audio excerpts from online news
coverage. one melodic voice emerges from noise sequence, and then recedes
again. As voice recedes, musician layers in live sounds.

R
I love to hear his voice.
It reminds me that I am not reading the newspaper anymore. That I decided to not read it anymore. Soon the part of my brain that is capable of understanding and processing this kind of information will shrink and I won’t be able to grasp the slightest bit of information. What is this kind of information good for anyway? All it does, is make me realize how very little I have to do with anything that happens in the world. So I might as well not know about it at all. An information never received is like an event that never happened. A letter never read is as if it has never been written. Why read the words written into a world that is no longer mine? Why let myself be drawn back into a world, that I am no longer part of? A world that spit me out? Why return to someone I no longer relate to? Someone who has become more foreign to me than the sound of the cicadas. In a way it seems that I am slowly forgetting what meaning words carry, how their composition supposedly represents our being. I feel that the only words I truly understand are the ones, that don’t try being words at all. Just like the endless calling of the cicadas.

C
mmmmm …the olives, when you have them with a sip of wine. Just, they just slide right through
your mouth and down your throat.
Have you ever squeezed an olive? a fresh one, from the tree…You think if you squeeze a fresh olive, olive oil just juices right out? well that’s not true. Making olive oil is a complex mechanical process, it takes a lot of power…the smell when they’re grinding all the olive meats, after they’ve been heated…when they’re grinding up all of these hot olive meats and funneling the oils as they’re pressed out, the smell is so thick it could choke you. By the way, where I used to live, there weren’t newspapers there . If there were I would have read them all.

R
You don’t understand me.

C
The weirdest thing is: it’s not easy to become illiterate.
That’s how tightly we cling to the things we once touched.
I have no desire to understand you. I’d like to thoroughly misunderstand you. I have years of my life I have to win back.

R
Maybe one shouldn’t even try to understand. One should only look, observe, be. Not intervene so much. Take a tree, a stone, the sea. We should just look at them. And look again. Let them be and let ourselves be.

C
If you take a tree you have to shake it, you have to wrap your arms around it and shake it until all the fruit falls off. A stone, you have to hurl a stone hard against something, or loosen it and let it roll.

R
And the sea?

C
You have to swallow it. You have to swallow it whole.

R
[Irritated]
What is it that you want from me? What do you want me to do?

C
Go. Roll away.

R
Maybe you should rest, sleep a little.

C
Yes that’s right, I’ve only started to catch my breath.
[Sighs deeply, yogastyle
breathing, as if releasing tension]

R
Well actually, people say that you shouldn’t sleep at noon. So that you can hear the cicadas.

C
Who says so?

R
People here say that.

C
People? I thought…

R
Sometimes I do talk to them, but just the utmost necessary. As soon as it starts to only serve the purpose of pleasantry, as soon as it becomes too much, I just let them talk and stop answering. This constant need of being asked to answer really wears me down. Also I have never learned their language. Sie sprechen kein Deutsch. You see, all those people here actually disgust me. They all just came here to distract themselves completely. Promenading along the beach, only eating green food, living life according to the island’s app. You might say, I hate them.

C
Do you have any coffee? That sounds better than a nap now.
But, what were you saying, about the insects? the cicadas?

R
I was about to deal with the letter that you found on my doorstep. But I am not sure I wanted to read it, I haven’t read so many of them.

C
You’re obsessed.

R
It’s aggravating. All these words. Screaming at me.

C
So it was from a lover…?

R
A lover, yes. Calling on me to answer.
[pause, actively switching moods]
The nights are cool here, there is this breeze promising a carefree night’s rest. And for a moment I can fall into being so much that I can even forget that I am. And no search for words seems necessary anymore.

C
You know, you SOUND so agitated that I haven’t looked at your eyes.
You look exhausted, like you’ve been punched in the face.

R
Why would you think my sleep is not sweet?

C
You’re trembling. What have you been doing?
Didn’t you close the gate behind you tightly?
You know, of course, that there are connections even between prison cells. There are drums that play in the ground, their vibrations stir the floor. Heavy breathing tones, bones, the delicate game of news reporting, the sweet persistent voice of tyranny against the stony whispers of dissent.

R
Cicadas don’t build prisons.

C
R lies in bed and imagines that he’s died. In the moment before his death he sees images from his life: he sees himself beating up his little brother in a green backyard. Against a backdrop of the same green trees, he sees his first lover, a boy with flowers in his hair, they’re embracing wildly. He sees screaming arguments, something being… something he can’t see so clearly. In his childhood backyard cicadas hibernate on trees, they roll themselves up into tight little bundles and shed their skins. R steps on their shells as she walks through the yard, their bodies crunching beneath her feet.

3
The same melodicseductive voice from before.

Narrator:
“…und nun musst du auf dieser Insel leben…O du Pirat… und was würdest du sagen… und du, vergiftet von Selbstgesprächen… “

R
I have no story. I have no guilt, no shame, no pardon I cannot give. I am not here on anyone else’s
expense.

C
Give me a cigarette. Biiiiiiiitte.
Nur eine Zigarette bitte bitte bitte.

R
Do you smoke? I only have one left, but we can share.

C
Smoking at this time of day is very soothing. Can you please tell me about all these letters now?

R
I won’t answer them anymore. It was my biggest mistake to have done so in the past.

C
It sounds like you made some mistakes.

R
[ feeling encouraged to talk ]
Listen to this: “And now you are stuck, my dear nomad. Stuck to live on an island forever and I will have to come get you one day. My darling nomad..

C
Fugitive!

R
“Pirate!” she calls me.
You see, it’s absurd! She wants to come get me and take me back. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him knocking on my door, with his high pitched squeaks that unlock even the thickest metal door. Showing up in his pink, silk pajamas, with that gullible, yet fierce smile, pretending there are no two return tickets in his purse. Her voice, so familiar that I can barely recognize it, with its soft yet strong hugging touch, that squeezes every last ounce of breath out of my lungs and fills it with her decision. She will find that place again, the one I cannot guard and slide her whole body through until I won’t be able to hear my own sound anymore.
But as much as they will keep on drumming on the membrane that separates us, I won’t go down to the harbor to pick them up. I’m not going to explain anything. I got so far, that I am able to entrench my ear so that I won’t hear her fists hitting the door anymore. I will walk out to my terrace and I will arrange the tomatoes on my roof that were ruffled by the wind. This would be my ultimate exit out of society that has permanently assaulted me and my life.

C
OK, what’s her name?

R
I am no actor.

C
His name? Their name?

R
I don’t know about any of that!

C
Something is stirring, some feeling, it’s almost like you’re trying to share something with me, something personal.

R
Stop that, will you?!
Sounds intensify.

C
Something comes to the surface like the dirt and body oil that will congeal into a little capsule, a blackhead you pop from the ridge of your forehead, between your eyebrows.

R
Shut up! I need there to be some quiet! I need the sun to set and for the cicadas to stop singing, so that I can finally not hear anything.

C
[mimicks cicada sounds]

R
You cannot not hear them! Their sounds are like a cloud of sharp needles swirling around your head, torturing the mind. Their singing is beyond any understandable experience. It’s neither aesthetic nor painful, nor soothing nor aggravating. So I cannot say whether I like it or not. Nobody can. That is not the point. They exist beyond the need to be appreciated. They just are. And I just listen.

C
You wanna know a secret?

R
Aren’t you going to tell me anyway?

C
Cicadas do sleep. I’ve seen them.

R
I know. I have always known. Where I once came from we learned how to kill them. We would rip their heads off, in their deepest sleep, throw them on the floor and then crush them with our feet. What’s a metaphor good for, if you can’t make it your own?

C
The name of the game is: I have, at the very most, eighty years to live. I’m not in the mood for solutions when there are so many victims.

R
It sounds like it sometimes starts resonating in my head. The moment, when absolute silence enters your mind, when you cannot feel hunger nor thirst; when letters cannot be read anymore. And the answer keeps holding off. It sounds like I am detaching myself from all worldly embraces for a different kind of bliss…

C
With my last ounce of energy, I’ll make myself invisible. For a while, people will ask, What’s wrong? Has he gone into hiding? He used to come over to your folks place every Friday. I’d never thought him capable of being all alone. Someone as ambitious as he was, as wasteful.

R
When silence takes over and starts to penetrate the borders disconnecting you from the rest, starts to strip you from your random uniqueness. And you become one with it all.

C
Here, two have come together emptyhanded.
They’ve spent a couple hours together, they’ve talked, they had something to eat, they drank and smoked. It’s past noon and the ship will return to the harbor. What’s going on? It looks like… you’ve made peace with yourself. You’re turning off the computer, you’re sitting slowly, you’re taking off your bathrobe.

R
You and I are not alike. We are running from different sentences.
Sounds incorporate knocking sounds, becoming dramatic and loud.

C
Do you hear that? She’s calling for you.

R
I am not ready to answer.

C
She’s calling for you, you should answer her.
Sounds crescendo. Then, knocking sounds stop.
R and musician both leave. Lights down, cicada video continues.
END]



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IMPRESSUM

Led by Arno Böhler, the PEEK-Projekt „Artist Philosophers. Philosophy AS Arts-Based-Research“ [AR275-G21] is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) as part of the programme for artistic development and investigation (PEEK). Research location: University of Applied Arts Vienna. Brought about in national and international cooperation with: Jens Badura (HdK Zürich), Laura Cull (University of Surrey), Susanne Valerie Granzer (Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien/Max Reinhardt Seminar), Walter Heun (Tanzquartier Wien), Alice Lagaay (Zeppelin Universität Friedrichshafen). Postdoc: Elisabeth Schäfer (University of Applied Arts Vienna). The lecture series was produced in collaboration with: Institut für Philosophie Universität Wien, University of Applied Arts Vienna [Arno Böhler] and Institut für Theater- Film- und Medienwissenschaft der Universität Wien [Krassimira Kruschkova].

Our mailing address is:
FWF PEEK-Project “Artist-Philosophers. Philosophy AS Arts-Based-Research” [AR 275-G21]
Universität für angewandte Kunst
Oskar-Kokoschka-Platz 2
A-1010 Wien

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