Prudence in Hell 023
AMA 002 -On the 5th Wall and the Black Box Theatre Theory
I first wanted to thank you for asking a question that’s so well-aligned with my inquest on hyperbaroque, and with what my colleague Logan Berry is sculpting into a thoughtform known as “ultratheatre” —a concept I now embrace as hyperbaroque-awareness, or the seeing-as of a scene-as, like it’s Wittgenstein on seeing-aspects. Eadem mutata resurgo. An object may be eternally intact and selfsame but our perception of it can be altered. This is no act of will, or of the imagination, it is the very act of seeing.
As yours is a trickster’s question —out of necessity, not malice—; it merits a trickster’s response. To your excellent query:
“What is your understanding of what it means to break the 5th wall?”
I agree with you that there is no consensus as to what the fifth wall means, except perhaps in architecture, where the ceiling/rooftop is sometimes spoken of as the fifth façade. Façade is an interesting term because it stands for “front” in two self-evidently Janusian and theatrical senses: the public face, the false appearance. We’ll get back to this a little further down.
In the meantime, I want to present my preliminary conclusion of what the 5th wall is by appealing to two kinds of black box, the theatre and the theory, which I will then collapse into an obsidian hall of mirrors we can use as astrolabes. Only then will we be able to determine if it is possible to know that we have broken the fifth wall, let alone if we’ve ran fully into it.
Black box theory is premised on inputs, outputs, and the opacity of the “box” they go into/come out of, which could well be an algorithm, for example. This makes the black box scrutable only through behaviour.
As to black box theatre, Alonso, who has designed and built the one that illustrates this piece, says “the line between stage and audience is completely erased. The performance can occur in the middle, the audience can be in the middle. There is no difference in topology between the world of actors and the world of audience. Everything is a performance space.”
What I’d like to put forth to you is a black box theatre theory.
If the fourth wall is the theatrical convention of the actors being publicly alone, going about their motions as if there were no audience present, then breaking the fourth wall is automatic metatheatre (which is not incidentally why its first outstanding instances belong to the baroque). Now, beyond the meta is the pata, in the sense in which ‘pataphysics is: “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments.” (The italics are mine). Pataphysical rigour is also sovereign —not beholden to “regular reality”, like general science— as it is “the science of the particular [that] will examine the laws governing exceptions, and will explain the universe supplementary to this one.” To cite Paul Éluard, “there is another world and it’s in this one.” And to put things properly into perspective, you can assume that other world is ours.
So you see there are two degrees of separation here at work, at all times. ‘Pataphysics is at a sort of Brechtian remove from metaphysics, "...as far from metaphysics as metaphysics extends from regular reality," that is, outside and beyond. It is not playing by the same rules or, in our case, we could say the reality that ‘pataphysics operates in is irregular, unusually subject to swerves.
‘Pataphysics cannot thus, like love, be ironic, something Brotchie captured clearly in his riff on Paul’s First Corinthians:
'Pataphysics is patient; 'Pataphysics is benign; 'Pataphysics envies nothing, is never distracted, never puffed up, it has neither aspirations nor seeks not its own, it is even-tempered, and thinks not evil; it mocks not iniquity: it is enraptured with scientific truth; it supports everything, believes everything, has faith in everything and upholds everything that is.
If anything, as a science of anomalies, of the “repressed part of a rule which ensures that the rule does not work” (the very definition of frustration, by Bök), ‘pataphysics is more closely aligned with my particular interpretation of the tragic as aesthetics of ex-pulsion (as complementary to pro-pulsion).
The fourth wall is an operation known as metalepsis. The fifth wall is an emergent pataphor. We cannot break the fifth wall if it’s already broken (unless, of course, we do so pataphysically).
The skeleton key, as I already said in Prudence 009, is that this is not catharsis: it’s cathexis. We are now in Kansas anymore.
A word on swerves and ‘pataphysics: the concept is foundational to ‘pataphysics through the notion of clinamen, a Lucretian course-correction; notably as merdre (which accommodates expulsion and propulsion all at once).
Pulsions are basically instincts for people —and according to me, culture, something I’ve explored as Kulturinstinkt. Freud balked at the animal association to instinct, and so opted for Trieb, pulsion or drive, understood as a limit concept between the psychic and the somatic. Talk about a 5th wall: there’s your limen. Eros and Thanatos let loose in the libidinal economy exploiting aspects of desire is what you hear less astute aesthetes interpret as Dionysian-Apollonian tension. We would say is not about the conflict of opposites, but about the exploration of their possibility-space, which is antinomial. The clinamen of which we spoke above helps articulate this space.
The pataphor was coined as patáfora by Pablo López as a kind of expansion pack for ‘pataphysics. It is to create a figure of speech that exists as far from metaphor as metaphor does from non-figurative language.
Taking this perfect quote wholesale from Aaron Hillyer’s The Disappearance of Literature: Blanchot, Agamben, and the Writers of the No:
While metaphysics and metaphors attain one degree of separation from reality, pataphors and pataphysics move beyond by two degrees. This allows an idea to assume its own life, a sort of plasticity freed from the harness of rigid representation. In other words, metaphors operate on the level of the same. They juxtapose apparently unrelated material in order to draw out subtle identities. Pataphors unsettle this mechanism; they use the facade of metaphorical similarity as a basis for establishing an entirely new range of references and outlandish articulations: a new world in the midst of the old, the novel taking to the streets. Just as Kafka sought to forge a new form of life on the basis of absolute separation from historical progress, on cultural 'intransmissibility', and just as Blanchot pursued the 'pure novel' that exists in a relationship of absolute refusal of the established world, so the pataphysician seeks to initiate a new world on the grounds of a tenuous unreality. (The italics are mine).
The metaphor is horizontal. It functions within the confines of its system. The pataphor is oblique. It expands the confines of the system.