Out from the Egg of Silence: For a Topology of Song

The metaphorical example . . . of a fertilized egg which differentiates into a fully formed organism, can now be made quite literal: the progressive differentiation of the spherical egg is achieved through a complex cascade of symmetry-breaking phase transitions.
—Manuel DeLanda (2013, 11)


This paper will explore the ontology of song through the Deleuzian philosophies put forward by Manuel DeLanda and Elizabeth Grosz, with a focus on symmetry breaking and the fractal structure of (embodied) knowledge. Extending a notion I first put forward in What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research (2015), I argue that embodied research explores relatively reliable potentialities of human practice in a way that is closely analogous to laboratory research as understood by social and historical epistemologies. DeLanda’s rigorously analytical interpretation of Deleuze will form the basis of my proposal, while Grosz’s more impressionistic discussion in Chaos, Territory, Art (2008) will provide additional background for theorising the functionality of song as (topological) action.

While a typology of songs would aim to categorise and order songs as coherent units, a topology of song is concerned with the processual generation of song in time—that is, with defining the phase space of song into which individual songs, song fragments, and song-actions intervene. From this perspective, song is not an “object” in Graham Harman’s speculative sense but more like a Deleuzian “zone of intensity” or what Hans-Jörg Rheinberger calls an “epistemic thing.” While song as a cultivated organic resource may attain sufficient temporary individuality to be called upon at will, and thereby function as a relatively reliable bodily affordance, this individuality is nothing more than what DeLanda refers to as the virtual topological structure of a multiplicity. Hence, singing is an example of “the actualisation of the virtual in time” and the specific acts of symmetry breaking that we call “songs” are newly enacted each time we begin to sing—just as a natural symmetry returns in every moment of silence. In the case of song, silence is precisely analogous to DeLanda’s undifferentiated topological “egg.”

My presentation will include live vocal performance excerpts drawing on the ongoing embodied research project “Judaica,” which seeks to develop a technique of song-based practice grounded in the coordination of voice, movement, and association in the complete unit of human performance that twentieth-century theatre pioneers Konstantin Stanislavsky and Jerzy Grotowski called “action.” I will demonstrate how vocal actions may use rhythm, melody, timbre, and other embodied techniques to generate the symmetry-breaking events that we experience as song. I contend that the flexibility of song across these and other dimensions derives from its topological structure, a fact that is routinely concealed by the epistemological dominance of recorded audio tracks and written scores in the study of music. My analysis of song is intended to re-examine and foreground the centrality of embodied technique in human life and to support innovative analyses of embodied practice, which I see as fundamental to the future of artistic research.


DeLanda, Manuel. 2013. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. New York: Bloomsbury.

Grosz, Elizabeth. 2008. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia University Press.

Spatz, Ben. 2015. What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research. London: Routledge.

Journey into the Unknown: Romeo Castellucci’s Theatre of Signs

Fundamental doubts on the nature of representation constitute the essential theme of Romeo Castellucci’s work. The paper analyses how, through very specific scenic devices, Castellucci confronts spectators not only with the power of theatre but also with its tremendous darkness. Exposed to violent sensible impressions and pure vibrations (sounds, odours, ruptures of rhythm), the spectator is forced to see beyond the image and to think the unthinkable.

It is argued that what constitutes the genuine elements of such a theatre is what Deleuze, and before him Artaud and Proust, called “signs.” Signs testify for the power of nature and spirit, working beneath words, gestures, characters, or represented actions. Far from being linked simply to a signifying expression, a content, or an affection of the subject, they are above all a manifestation of forces of a differential of intensity. In that regard, on the one hand, signs are always sensible, already part of a process of actualisation, but, on the other hand, they already point towards the virtual system of relations, the ideal coordinates of a problem. This is the reason why signs are always to be interpreted, and why they put our thought in motion. There is a great danger in this interpretation, however, since signs are deadly not only when they are lost in the distance (they do not touch us, they do not reveal the nature of the problematic) but also when they strike us with full force (they abruptly reveal the unbearable abyss, and lead to madness or death the one they have confronted). The art of Castellucci (originating from Greek tragedy) is precisely to tear spectators apart between these two kinds of signs.

The questions we would like to ask are hence very simple: What is the origin of these signs in which one finds the maximum drama in the least possible information? Why do they manage to make such a deep impression on us? Or, as Castellucci himself puts it about his experience of listening to Schubert, “Where do my tears come from, void of content and so far removed from the sentimentality I loathe?” Paradoxically, isn’t it because signs withhold force that they express their potency, beyond any theatre of representation, any explicit content, and any meaning? Therefore, we believe Castellucci prominently displays the new image of thought Deleuze promotes in all his works: the will no longer to have the choice, to have the spirit forced by sensation, to have the need for thought to go as far as the tremendous darkness, but also to have the need to interpret signs, to elevate ourselves from this darkness to light. While projecting images from Castellucci’s productions (Parsifal, Orphée et Eurydice, Schwanengesang D.744, Go Down Moses, On the Concept of the Face of the Son of God, Ödipus der Tyrann, Human Use of Human Beings), we question to what extent spectators genuinely cannot see without being seen in return, why that which is worth being represented is always the representable; ultimately, we address the main problem Deleuze was obsessed with: the sensible origin of thought.


Castellucci, Romeo. 2001. Les pèlerins de la matière: Théorie et praxis du théâtre. Paris: Les Solitaires intempestifs.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1968. Différence et répétition. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

—. 1970. Proust et les signes. 2nd ed. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Tackels, Bruno. 2005. Les Castellucci. Paris : Les Solitaires intempestifs.

Deleuzian Expressionism as an Ontology for Theatre

This paper addresses the problematic ontology of postdramatic theatre. In particular, it looks at examples of “in-yer-face” productions, such as Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis and Cleansed, as well as Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker and Far Away. In doing so, it aims to uncover a novel way of positioning the notion of mimesis within the ontological texture of these non-Aristotelian works for the theatre. Herein mimesis becomes a constitutive principle and a generative procedure that guarantees continuity between disparate entities, such as words and worlds, pre-representational regions and representation, infinite indetermination and finitude. It is similar in form and function to Deleuze’s notions of “expression” and “re-expression” within Spinoza’s substance–essence–attribute and attribute–mode–modification triads as described in Expressionism in Philosophy.

Just as expression carries forward a progression from the infinite to the finite whereby the expressible (substance) becomes expressed sense, so does mimesis assume the role of a generative intermediary in the composition of literary worlds in postdramatic theatre. As a relational and transmissive component, Deleuze’s “expression” does not agree with Romanticist treatments of the term as “the internal made external” but captures the very motion of the expression of substance within what Thacker defines as a regime of “a radical Neoplatonism without a centre.” Thus described, expression becomes a topological progression. It precipitates the emergence of literary worlds from a vantage point of univocity, acting as a fluxional immanent substratum that is fundamentally generous, affluent, and flowing forth.

Assuming this vantage point, one begins to notice that postdramatic works for the theatre—albeit nonsensical to the habitual gaze—exhibit a quasi-causal logic governed by the continual interaction of Deleuzian “expression” and “sense.” This becomes especially visible in “in-yer-face” plays with their violence and excesses—almost campy and grotesque in their insistence on the aberrant. Rather than explaining such plays in experiential terms, the present paper assumes the stance that their “nonsensical” infusions expose the work of an event of sense within a play’s ontological texture. Confronted with the consolidation of an event of sense within the motion of expression, plays are at pains to readjust, recompose, and thus incorporate the supernumerary within their textual fabric. In the listed cases, the result is an inimical, injurious immanence.

Stuttering Machine, War Machine, Actorial Machine Carmelo Bene

In his Abécédaire—Gilles Deleuze from A to Z—in “C for Culture,” Deleuze states that he does not like theatre, with two extreme exceptions: Bob Wilson and Carmelo Bene. It was through Deleuze’s text “Un Manifeste de moins” that we came to Carmelo Bene (1937–2002) and to the several lines of creation that cross(ed) the work of this Italian artist. According to the philosopher André Scala, Deleuze and Guattari probably thought of Carmelo Bene when they wrote the chapter in A Thousand Plateaus, “10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?).” Therefore, Professor Challenger, the strange Conan Doyle character appropriated by Deleuze and Guattari in this plateau, the one who made the Earth scream with his vocal metamorphosis and his voice that had become hoarse, would be, according to Scala, suitable for the dislocations promoted by Bene in his theatre works. These dislocations impressed Deleuze and other scholars, journalists and audiences, and can be seen not only in the scenic elements but also in the variations from one work to another, in the approximations and appropriations of different texts, in the unstoppable production of lines of flight in his work, and in the public appearances of the “character” CB—in his relations with the state and parastate, with critics, and with the audience itself. Carmelo Bene’s theatrical creations became more extreme with time, until he got to the conception of what he called “actorial machine” or “actorial machine CB.” This work intends to approach the concept of actorial machine, approximating it to the concepts of “war machine” and “stuttering machine”—or machine of stutter—a term we prefer to “antilanguage machine,” which is the term journalist Maurizio Grande used in reference to Bene’s work. Our purpose is to investigate the meaning intended by Bene when he referred to actoriality (attorialità) as a machine. In this presentation we intend to bring to light some impressions of Bene’s way of acting and creating, on the basis of our observations of his work—through videos, movies, pictures—our contact with people that were close to the artist, and recent research conducted in his personal papers in Rome.