0 - fool
the beginning-before-the-beginning, inspiration, desire, risk, trust
The Fool is the beginning and the end of endless cycle, because in the journey of the Tarot, there is no beginning or end: quests start and restart in medias res; we encounter the sadistic lessons of The Devil on repeat, for years or decades or lifetimes; some journeys linger in the radiant Sun, only to leap seemingly backwards to the destruction of The Tower; and sometimes we end with The Fool, contemplating yet another jump into the abyss. The Fool is numbered Zero because she dances in the liminal space of about-to. Like José Esteban Muñoz’ vision of Queer, The Fool is never-quite-there, and yet she conjures thereness by looking in its direction. She is a concentric paradox. Where to begin a thesis that has no beginning? I couldn’t decide, so I started with the present.
free-write, January 20, 2021 (inauguration day)
i unintentionally chose this day of size, scope, and grandeur, as my first official Thesis Writing Day. which feels odd, given that my thesis is mostly concerned with small things: "critical connections instead of critical mass." (brown 2017 pp. 20) but for now, i'm taking a hint from the universe to think bigger for a few hundred words.
the first thing i notice is how open my chest feels. have i been holding my breath for four years? i think about the fear of breathing in public, about how dangerous collective breath has become. i remember marching to "i can't breathe" this summer, mile after mile after mile. i think, too, about the coven. we breathed so much together, in coven space. we charged pre-show crystals with the power of breath, to remind us to take up space, take up time, and sink into the ritual.
i haven't seen my breath once this winter, have i? masks are so weird. i listen to words like "unity" "future" "kindness" "god" "country" "troops" "death" and think about the power of words to destroy and inspire, incite, and comfort. a friend of mine observes on social media: "Pledge of allegience is creepy af"; another friend responds, "It's an incantation, basically."
i'm in company with my graduate peers right now, tatiana godfrey and joshua glenn-kayden. zoom cameras are on, mics are off, and we're very far away -- but we're also together, miraculously, sharing a new kind of space. next door, a howl interrupts "this land is your land". "if only i could mute that dog," i say, loud enough for my partner to hear in another room. am i that accustomed to controlling sound?
i watch the ritual of pomp and circumstance from the small screen in the palm of my hand, and i wonder at the silliness and profundity of it all. i think of the ritual spaces of theatre, spirituality, academia, religion, and politics, and i try to puzzle out why i keep returning to them -- why so many of us keep returning to them -- no matter how much they wound and disappoint.
i'm suddenly moved to light a candle for madam vice president; for a woman of color in the white house; for a jew in the white house; for gentle masculinity in the white house. audre lorde is screaming in my ear about the master's tools, but i can't help myself: i want to see these seats of power occupied by femmes, queers, jews, muslims, black and brown warriors. i crave that future, against so much of my better judgment. these false comforts call to me. unity, unity, unity -- it has such a nice ring to it. i suddenly miss the rush of collective fury that only happens in protest space.
i've read a lots of essays and books about power this winter. i've read it described as a source of magic, a series of relationships, a system of domination, a pool of fixed resources; it is visualized variously as a chain, a net, a birdcage, an atmosphere. now, witnessing "peaceful transfer of power" and "democracy-in-action," i'm reminded of how tangible power-over can feel when it's happening in real-time, rather than in the archived words of foucault, harstock, and butler. i sometimes flinch at the word, after four years witnessing its ugliest, most public form. then again, i chose to write my thesis on magick, so i'm playing with power, like it or not. what's the difference between coven-19's generative power and the power that pops up in my daily news feed? are they on a continuum? polar opposites? entirely different species?
i've also spent winter break reading about utopia, so that's on the brain. "unity" "future" "kindness" "god" "country" "troops" "death"... our coven rituals look so small in comparison to political ritual, but still: i crave the remote, embodied world of coven-19 to the red-white-and-blue fantasy on my screen. my copy of Emergent Strategy is within arm's reach, so i find a quote from adrienne maree brown for a bit of meaning-making:
"The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. There is a structural echo that suggests two things: one, that there are shapes and patterns fundamental to our universe, and two, that what we practice at a small scale can reverberate to the largest scale" (52).
i don't have the power to bring utopic process to the U.S. government, but I do belong to a coven of theatre-witches, and I hope – sometimes I even believe – that in our small, intentional way, we're making reverberations.
some preliminary, foolish questions
What is utopia? What is utopian performance? How can Emergent Strategy help me articlate utopic process?
How does temporality function in COVEN-19 and in utopic process? What does it mean to queer time, to practice slow artistry, to create nonlinear process?
How can queer theory enhance my understanding of how Coven functions? In what ways is Coven a queer space, even if not explicitly so? How is witchcraft inherently queer, or how does it hold queer potentiality? What subversions does this queer framing allow us to achieve?
What happens if we muddle the binary between process and product? What if performance were intertwined with rehearsal, for example, or if performance were an extension of rehearsal? Is this a key to utopic process -- letting it be liminal and experiential?
What is power? Is it inherently bad or good? Does it mean something different in the context of magick-making from the context of political and hierarchical powers? How does power function in COVEN-19, and are there liberating ways of redistributing, naming or stepping into that power?
Why/how was vulnerability such a key element of our Coven power? What is its relation to power?
Because really, what's the point in experiencing a transcendent opening night if spirits were destroyed in the process? what would happen if we strove for utopian process instead of product? if we build utopia along the way, imagine how utopian opening nights might feel! and what might it be like to do away with the entire concept of a finished product to begin with, to make utopic process and performance one in the same?
In a process that centers caretaking and decentralization, what is the role of the individual? What is my role as a producer, facilitator, and graduate student leader?
What is witchcraft/coven/magick? Why is the container of a coven valuable for utopic devised process? What lessons and frameworks can I take from the coven model and use in more traditional, director-led artistic processes?
The U.S. is closing in on 500,000 Covid deaths right now. White supremacists just stormed through my hometown, we're in the midst of a climate crisis, children are perhaps permanently separated from their parents... What does it mean to strive for utopic process in the theatre when there is so much injustice in the world? Can utopic theatre-making truly "reverberate to the largest scale"? (52).