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Dramatic Jouissance in Edward Bond’s Born



La pièce Born (2006) d’Edward Bond, qui se déroule dans un État policier, est hantée par des sons récurrents de cliquetis. Cet article suggère que ces perturbations de la synchronie audio-visuelle ont pu être introduites pour représenter la relation, décrite par Lacan comme « fluide », entre signifiant et signifié, donnant ainsi lieu à une confrontation du public “aux points radicaux dans le réel” caractérisés par « la souffrance » – un suspense douloureux, où la réalité « attend l’attention » (Seminar XI). Dans la pièce de Bond, la relation entre perception et conscience se voit tour à tour distendue, rompue, renversée, pour produire des états de conscience extraordinairement différents. Cet article analyse ce qu’il en est d’une inversion de la relation symbolique chez Bond, conséquence de l’État policier qu’il dépeint. Le signifiant n’y représente pas la matérialité physique comme on s’y attendrait ; au lieu de cela, c’est la matérialité physique qui cède involontairement au signifiant qui la piège et la commande de diverses façons. Cet article défend l’idée que la comédie et la tragédie sont des tropes fondamentalement démocratiques car ils corrigent cette inversion autoritaire; la jouissance comique émergeant quand la corporalité met à mal le signifiant; la jouissance tragique dérangeant l’ordre symbolique tout entier par la prééminence affirmée de la corporéité.

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What is it that attracts and satisfies us in trompe l’oeil? When is it that it captures our attention and delights us? At the moment when, by a mere shift of our gaze, we are able to realize that the representation does not move with the gaze and that it is merely a trompe l’oeil. For it appears at that moment as something other than it seemed, or rather it now seems to be that something else. [...] This other thing is the petit a. (Lacan, Seminar XI 112).

1As Lacan has it in the excerpt from Seminar Xl above, when we position ourselves on the cusp of the trompe l’oeil we may dodge between the captivating pleasures of fantasy and the realisations of physicality. The delight he describes seems to relate to the personal agency the position allows; we may manoeuvre ourselves at will between these two very different states of being with a “mere shift of our gaze.” Yet the experience is also strangely troubling. When we do shift our gaze, the image refuses to move with us, and the representation is ‘caught out’, indicating that the price of fantasy is stasis. The point at which the trompe l’oeil fails is the point at which the costs and limits of representation reveal themselves, and we enter what Lacan terms “those radical points in the real that I call encounters,” where we experience souffrance, the potentially dynamic flux of a “rupture between perception and consciousness” (Seminar XI 55, 56).

2This article argues that these radical points in the Lacanian Real are exactly where Edward Bond’s dramatic strategy positions his audience. By following the progress of a strange uncanny rattling noise that haunts the play Born, we will examine the ways in which Bond subtly alters the strictures of representation to reveal a culture at odds with humanity. Indeed, Born is the third play in Bond’s Paris Pentad series, whose explicit function is to explore “the problem of creating humanness in a time when its existence is threatened” (Plays: 9 2). The article will suggest that Bond uses the sound of the rattle to disturb an audience in much the same way as the failing trompe l’oeil described above; to expose and subvert the signifier’s determinism; to reveal what Alain Badiou has termed the “crisis of the symbolic.” The article will examine the effect of disturbing audio visual synchrony (the ‘lip-synch’ to which we have become so accustomed in TV and film), as this disorientating rattling soundscape periodically undercuts the detachment of the watching, listening audience in different ways. The sound seems to plunge the decentred onlooker into a state of heightened perceptual vigilance which I argue defines an effect of the Lacanian Real, and will lead us in due course to make a distinctively dramatic theorisation of jouissance.

The Rattle

3The rattle, like the human voice, originates in a slight or hidden movement. As Mladen Dolar puts it: “The voice comes from inside the belly, the stomach – from something incompatible with and irreducible to the activity of the mouth” (Dolar 70). When we speak, shake a rattle, or ‘hail’ somebody, we make a slight or hidden movement not for the eye of the other, the organ best equipped to detect movement, but for their ear:

The ears have no lids, as Lacan never tires of repeating; they cannot be closed, one is constantly exposed, no distance from sound can be maintained. There is a stark opposition between the visible and the audible: the visible world presents relative stability, permanence, distinctiveness, and a location at a distance; the audible presents fluidity, passing, a certain inchoate, amorphous character, and a lack of distance. (Dolar 78-79).

4As Dolar observes here, watching separates us from events, while listening makes distance collapse; so the hidden or unseen generation of noise has a potentially invasive impact on the other. When we cannot both hear and see something, or cannot see or hear it well enough to identify it, (the source of a sound, a hidden voice or death cry, as in ancient masked drama), it seems to get underneath our skin; we cannot easily separate ourselves from what we cannot see. And when effects precede causes we are destabilised temporally as well as spatially. This temporo-spatial disorientation characterises the invocatory; essentially a hidden motion detected by the ear, the invocatory positions the auditor so that signifiers neither substitute for, nor resemble their objects, as they do in the Symbolic and Imaginary registers. Instead, signifiers index them, directing “attention to their objects by blind compulsion” (Charles Peirce cited in Chandler 41). This is the synaesthetically remediated ‘looking ear’ of the baby whose gaze follows the repeating sound of the rattle, so that past and present, internality and externality may be aligned in their comforting ‘lip-synched’ configuration, to regenerate the self-conscious, differentiated identity of the speaking-being. A rattle, then, both disturbs and promotes ‘lip synch’. By loosening the relationship between signifier and signified which Lacan claims is “always ready to come undone” (Seminar III 121), the presence of the rattle may sometimes challenge the differentiated adult identities of a watching-and-listening audience. The auditory presence of the rattle demands that we look with our ear; in doing this it dislocates audience perceptions, to index an anxiety-producing effect of the real, drawing our attention to power of the social-symbolic order.

5Born is set in an authoritarian police state; a world whose social-symbolic order is enforced by the military. This is dramatised in the person of Luke, twenty year old leader of a small group of WAPOs or wartime police officers. In Scene Two, Luke is tasked with relocating the civilians on the estate on which he grew up; this includes his parents Donna and Peter, who do not at first realise their son is a WAPO. Once this task is completed, the WAPOs move to the countryside to pick up, interrogate, and execute “stragglers.” When Luke insists on the disturbing interrogation of a catatonic woman and her baby, the WAPOs become uneasy; WAPO 2 exhibits trauma symptoms, nearly shooting his colleagues as he relives the Woman’s brutal interrogation and murder in his sleep. The WAPOs plan a mutiny; but their scheme misfires. Luke is rescued by his father, who brings him back to the family home, which has been used by the WAPOs to execute insurgents, and is strewn with their corpses. In the final scene we witness Luke’s hallucination, in which the dead help him to re-enact the interrogation and murder of the woman and her baby, before the WAPOs return to conclude their clearance.

Dominant Performative Discourse

6The play begins some twenty years earlier, when Luke is a baby. Scene One shows the small signs of the police state that is to reach its maturity with, and in the person of Luke; it does this by demonstrating the trivial ways that inverting symbolic relationships can entrap and command physicality. In Scene One we see Luke’s inexperienced young father Peter moving boxes of belongings into the family’s new home, and trying unsuccessfully to manage a removal Foreman and his lads, who are supposed to be helping him. The signifier parts company from the signified as soon as the play begins, because the Foreman never finishes his sentences:

Foreman (calls) Lo!
Pause. Peter comes in through the side door. He carries an empty box.
There’s a few –
(nods back to the street.) If you know where yer – the lads’ll –
Peter Ah.
Foreman Only we’d like t’ – if poss. Time we get ’ome, the lads – (3)

7By abandoning words and letting things speak for themselves, the Foreman seems to give up on representation, forcing Peter and the audience to seek meaning from contiguity, or context, as we do when we hear a rattle. It is a passive, yet subtly authoritarian strategy which forces us to look harder than usual; we focus on the Foreman, and the objects he gestures at, with the ‘listening eye’ of the mother whose child has not yet learned to speak, piecing evidence of meaning together like a detective. Meaning is usually pinned down retroactively at the end of the sentence (in what Lacan terms an “anchoring point” or point de capiton: “the last signifier of the chain is what gives meaning, after the fact, to the previous ones” (Dor 37). The Foreman makes the entire physical and social context his point de capiton; inanimate objects demonstrate the inalienable logic of his predicament, as though the world itself were encoded, a series of symptoms that speak silently on his behalf. His trompe l’oeil has a flaw, however. Peter and the Foreman continue their conversation in a similarly fragmentary vein; then Peter signs a triplicate form to confirm that the delivery of furniture by the Foreman was satisfactory. After he has peeled off the pink copy and given it to Peter, the Foreman apologises for a breakage:

Foreman (shouts through the window) No. Leave it. Customer’s goin t’ – gentleman says e’ll – (Watches a moment longer. Turns to Peter.) Sorry about the –
Peter The?
Foreman gestures to pieces of a broken mug on a packing case. (5)

8It is an apparently insignificant event, but one whose gaps and omissions inaugurate the disturbances which the rattle will take up a little later on; indeed the rattle appears for the first time soon after this event, and reinforces its dynamics. The Foreman’s disingenuous timing – apologising for the breakage only after Peter has signed away the possibility of getting compensated for it – shows how meaning can slip up in a gap between words and physicality. Now the pink form and broken cup contradict each other and Peter has been duped in a way that removes his agency. When seen from an official position, i.e. through Peter’s signature, the broken cup is sound. In a classic double-bind such as this, not only does the signifier fail to represent physicality as it is supposed to, it now has the capability to command physicality, just as the trompe l’oeil demands that we view it from a certain position. The rattle, when we first hear it, is deployed to the same effect. As Peter and Donna eat their first meal in the new house, they pause to listen from time to time. We realise without their mentioning it, that they have a baby. Donna carries baby Luke wrapped in a blanket into the room. Peter decides they should move the table under the window. Donna places her sleeping baby on the table while they carry it upstage.

They put down the table. Peter sets two chairs at the table. He stands and eats a mouthful of cake. He taps a fork on the plate – looks to see if the baby responds. (7)

9It seems odd that Donna treats the baby as an object by putting him on the table; odd that they do not mention the baby, until Donna tells Peter not to wake it up with the tapping; strange too, that Peter does not ‘call’ his baby with his voice, but makes a sound using an object instead. At the end of the scene, the baby is left, sleeping on the table next to the pink form as his parents go upstairs. The baby is not named or represented, yet his father, in an attempt perhaps to assert his authority after his little humiliation with the Foreman earlier, taps the fork to ‘capture’ him, to make him endorse the rattle with a physical response. These incidents reveal that in Lacan’s ‘fluid’ relationship between signifier and signified, they may not only come undone; in a reverse manoeuvre they may change places. As Judith Butler has remarked in relation to the performance of gender, physicality is frequently obliged to endorse the signifier.

The Determinism of the Signifier

10The second iteration of the rattle marks Donna and Peter’s awakening. Twenty years of poverty and neglect to the room mark the time lapse between the ending of Scene One and the beginning of Scene Two. The whole area is being forcibly evicted by a team of militarised Wartime Police Officers or WAPOs, whose trucks and shouts we hear outside. Peter is waiting with his suitcase ready while Donna, terrified, refuses to pack. They both imagine that their now adult son Luke will be involved in some sort of counter insurgency, and are surprised that instead of going on the run, he is at home telling them to comply with their orders. Luke brings down his suitcase, sends Peter upstairs to pack for Donna, and then goes out, leaving his suitcase behind. Alone in the room, and shaken by Luke’s unexpected departure, Donna goes out to find a tin of nails; she comes back to begin resolutely trying to fix a slat in the window frame that has been long broken. WAPO 5 steps in through the window. As she turns to see him, a few nails fall from Donna’s hand and rattle on the floor. The WAPO shepherds her out of the door. Peter comes in with her suitcase, surprised to find the room is empty. The sight of the chair and tin by the window frightens him, and he tries to piece together what has happened.

He goes to Luke’s suitcase. He picks it up and sets it down side by side with the others. He stares at the chair, tin and nails dropped on the floor by the window. He sees the hammer. He goes to it, stoops to pick it up. Stops. His face is white and expressionless. He goes back to the suitcases. He stares at Luke’s suitcase. He picks it up. He shakes it lightly. He puts it down. He goes to the hammer. He picks it up and goes back to Luke’s suitcase. With the claw of the hammer he prizes apart the lock. The lid falls open. The suitcase is empty. He stares at it for a moment. Suddenly he goes to the dropped nails. He picks them up and stares at them as if they might be a clue. He goes back to Lukes suitcase. The nails drop from his hand. He shuts the suitcase. He sets it beside the other two. He goes to the table and sits. The hammer is in his hand. (15)

11In this strange, wordless interlude, it seems that as society falls apart, language is also destroyed. Again, our ‘listening eye’ is called upon, but it cannot help us much because the situation seems to have no visual logic. Peter is following the logic of a signifier we can neither see nor hear; it indexes its object metonymically, suggesting we have entered the realm of the real, ‘a dimension that has nothing to do with vision as such’ (Lacan, Seminar XI 88). Peter knows that the suitcase is empty when he first picks it up, but his theatre audience cannot tell its weight from looking at it. It is only when it fails to rattle when he shakes it lightly that we might suspect his concerns. When Peter prizes it open and we can see that the suitcase is empty, the realisation acts like a point de capiton for his previous sequence of actions; we are able to make sense of it retroactively, as we do when we read a pattern. Even though the signifier has been imperceptible to us, it determines people’s response to it as inescapably as it did when we could see it (the pink form) and hear it (the tapping fork). But what are we to infer from this empty suitcase? The unstable relation between perception and consciousness is soon reiterated; Peter misconstrues the evidence to mean that his son Luke is ‘on the run’ from the authorities. Then it is as if the rattling nails are laughing at him, because it soon turns out that far from running from them, Luke is the authorities:

Luke goes to his suitcase. He picks it up. He tries to catch the lid but it falls open. It tilts – a few nails fall out.
Peter They catch yer with it empty they‘ll know yer on the run. Take mine.
WAPO 4 comes into the doorway.
Nearly wrap. Just dregs left. (Looks around. To Luke.) This it? (Half shrug.) If yer say so. (Shouts back through doorway.) In ’ere. Move! (16)

12Unbeknown to his parents, Luke, it transpires, is the commander of a team of five WAPOs whose job it is to interrogate and shoot anybody who resists eviction. The scene concludes as Luke and his WAPO subordinates swiftly transform the family home into an interrogation centre, complete with automatic rifles and a mattress standing against the wall for executions.


13The rattle and its rupture reemerge in Scene Three. The WAPOs have completed their gruesome task in the settlement, and are now checking the surrounding countryside for insurgents. Luke and WAPO 1 are interrogating a Woman, who holds an infant in her lap. They are on a green hillside. Luke faces the audience at the bottom of the hill. WAPO 1 and the Woman are at the top of the hill. She is sitting facing away from the audience; WAPO 1 faces Luke, and wearily carries out his instructions. There is a sense that the interrogation has gone on all night. “Between the Woman and Luke, WAPOs 2, 3, 4 and 5 sleep” […] “Luke raises his voice to talk to the Woman but does not turn round” (19, 20). The Woman is catatonic and does not respond to any of their threats. Luke tells the Woman he will order WAPO 1 to shoot her, and waits for her to respond. In the pause, WAPO 2 who is asleep on his inverted shield “moves in his sleep. His shield rocks. Silence. Luke glances over his shoulder. Turns back again. Silence” (21).

14The glance takes a moment, yet is potentially very revealing. Luke has positioned himself not to be able to see the Woman, as if to deliberately stage a disjunction between what he wishes to happen, and what we can see to be actually taking place. The sound made by the rocking shield could signify to Luke that the Woman is beginning to communicate with him. But instead it signals a rupture between his perception and consciousness, harbinger of another radical Lacanian ‘encounter’ in the real. Louis Althusser usefully formulated this process, which he named “interpellation,” in terms of what happens when somebody is “hailed” from across a street:

Somewhere (usually behind them) the hail rings out: “Hey, you there!” One individual (nine times out of ten it is the right one) turns round, believing/ suspecting/ knowing that it is for him, i.e. recognising that it ‘really is he’ who is meant by the hailing. (42)

15Althusser notes that something intensely personal occurs when one person calls out to another, which compels the interpellated individual to react physically by turning round, their physicality jumping to support the signifying ‘hail’. It is in the act of imagining ourselves to be seen through the eyes of the other that we become an icon of their gaze and mimic or resemble, as icons do, the expectation (the desire) of the imaginary other. When we are interpellated, or hailed by someone and automatically turn around, it is because we imagine ourselves to be a signifier for the other, and so in a spatial (or extimate) reversal, languages and bodies, pattern and sensation change places. Time, too, goes into reverse; because the structure of signs is a pattern predicated on repetition, our future action is likely to be a reiteration of our past: our ‘character’. This is Freud’s “compulsion to repeat” (Uncanny 145); Lacan’s automaton, “the return, the coming back, the insistence of the signs” (Seminar XI 53). In the real the relationship between perception and consciousness can be altered in a variety of ways; stretched, ruptured, or reversed. When they are reversed, the coded discourse of the social-symbolic order no longer represents physicality but instead controls it, to produce the alienated self-consciousness or super-ego: Lacan’s “desire of the other” (Seminar XI 235).

Comic Jouissance and Radicalism

16The play however, dramatises Luke facing up to his delusions; Bond seems to be interested in dramatising situations that make people act out of ‘character’. When Freud’s hypothetical little boy, who mistakenly anticipates the appearance of the maternal phallus, sees his naked mother, he confronts lack and comes face to face with the misapprehension that Lacan (after Freud) terms castration (Penguin Freud Reader 91). The nature of delusion is such that we only grasp it when we escape from its fallacy. When Luke turns to see the terrorized woman he imagined, replaced by a dreaming colleague on a rattling shield, like Freud’s little boy, he faces up to fact that the idea that interpellated or captivated him (it made him turn around) was erroneous. The rattling shield is manouvered by an unconscious, sleeping colleague; yet the shield ‘sees’ and ‘speaks’ to Luke purely by virtue of placing him in the passive position of hearing and being seen. The signifier with no object has caught him out – just as his father Peter was caught out by the pink form and empty suitcase. The recognition of this inaugurates a tectonic shift in which Luke’s wishful misrecognition of signs is invalidated; the reversal between perception and consciousness, sensation and pattern whereby physicality supports the signifier, itself reverses. Comedy frequently erupts when physicality refuses to support the signifier, when consciousness is forced to acknowledge perception. No matter how badly Luke wants her to speak, no matter how brutal his threats, the Woman is silent. As he turns back to face us, we may see something of this process in Luke’s face – his disappointment may be funny. Society has granted WAPO Luke enormous power, yet the rattle-signifier has jerked him about like a puppet, to reveal and ridicule his narcissism. This is the potentially identity-changing radicalism of comic jouissance.

The Exhibitionist Signifier

17The disparity between Luke’s supposedly powerful position as leader of an execution squad, and his darkly comic impotence before the signifier, continues. Perhaps because of it, he has become obsessed with understanding what it means to be on the point of death. The obsession alarms his WAPO team, who long for what they imagine will be the security of their base. They suspect that by interrogating the Woman, Luke is disobeying an order to return to base and rejoin their unit and forcing them to “go rogue.” But they are too afraid to mutiny without first getting their story straight – arranging the signifier-evidence (the pink form equivalent) to make Luke’s death look like an accident to the authorities; and this is not easy to do in his presence. So the bizarre interrogation of the stupefied Woman goes on. Luke attempts to interpellate the Woman and baby by rattling a tin of small-bore rounds from his pack in the following disturbing excerpt from the play:

[Luke] goes to his pack. He takes out a tin of small-bore rounds. Rattles it.
Rattle. Rattle. Wants t’play! Rattle n shake! (He throws the tin to the WAPOs). Wake er up! Rattle er eardrums out! (WAPO 5 gets the tin. Gives it to WAPO 3. WAPO 2 pulls Woman’s head back. WAPO 3 rattles the tin in her face). Rattle! Rattle! Rattle!
He tosses the baby up in the air. Catches it
(To baby.)
Ain we enjoying ourselves t’day! Ain this a oliday! Look! It wants t’ tell me! Look at it tryin t’ say! Look – its little ands clutchin! Can’t get it out! Too work up! (The rattling and laughing go on. Suddenly Luke is almost calm. He speaks almost to himself.) What else can I do? What else is there t’ do – ? (Sudden panic.) Listen!
The rattling stops. Silence. WAPO 2 shakes the rattle.
WAPO 2 She bit a tooth mark in the glass.
Luke Listen!
O chriss – as she said it – n I miss? (Shocked fear.) ’S not possible –
WAPO 2 She bit a tooth mark in the glass.
Luke Why did I get the rattle?
WAPO 4 takes the tin from WAPO 2. He throws it away up the slope. It rolls down – rattles.
Luke (Screams at the rattle) Shut up! (29-30)

18Not only does the rattle interpellate Luke, making him glance around only to dash his hopes; now in a post-human performance par excellence, it completely undermines his official authority by refusing to obey his commands; chattering away as it rolls down the slope, the rattle upstages him in a flagrant display of inanimate insubordination – to the envy no doubt, of the WAPOs. The living notice their lost autonomy for a moment as the inanimate world of objects seems to spring to life. This marks a development from the interpellating rattling shield in the previous example; in that instance we saw a dramatisation of castration as the rattle ‘saw’ him, to jerk his invisible strings. Now the inanimate puppet-master exhibits itself, inciting us to watch a momentary performance; it both looks at us and invites us to look at it. As Lacan has it, “the world is all-seeing, but it is not exhibitionistic – it does not provoke our gaze. When it begins to provoke it, the feeling of strangeness begins too. [...] Not only does it look, it also shows” (Seminar XI 75). Freud characterises this strangeness when he writes about the uncanny, an effect that arises when “the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred [...] when a symbol takes on the full function and significance of what it symbolizes” (Uncanny 150). In a state of delusion or castration, we do not realise that signifier and object have changed places; we still believe that the signifier supports physicality and not the other way around; the maternal phallus remains intact. The uncanny, like comedy, does us the enormous favour of dramatising our castration – of making us consciously aware of it. In comedy, we realise our mistake, and the coded and uncoded discourses of pattern and sensation separate out again. In the uncanny the coded discourse of the signifier takes physicality over, so that everything becomes laden with a sort of religious significance. This seems to be the most extreme example of Lacan’s ‘fluid’ relationship between signifier and signified, in which human physicality is most comprehensively captured by their inversion. The inversion or reversal means that the inanimate world has acquired the power of communication and tells us what to do. Then it is as if life and death have changed places, making us fearful; objects have become animate and we are lifeless, our autonomy lost. Comedy and the uncanny both release emotion, which castration’s delusion seems to prohibit – a symptom perhaps that we are at least aware of the signifier’s power; even if its Godlike presence inhibits and terrifies us.

19The rattle’s next appearance combines its power to interpellate with its uncanny capacity to infect death with life. It may therefore provoke a range of responses from an audience. The rattle next surfaces in the throat of the Woman as she dies; the sound generated by human breath as it leaves the dying body.

A sound comes from Woman's throat. Luke thinks it is made by the baby.
(To baby.) What? Yer - ? (He realises the baby did not make the sound. Looks round.) Oo spoke?
Woman falls.
Luke She’s dead.
WAPO 2 stoops to pick up his shield.
WAPO 5 Mine.
WAPO 2 No mine with the – (31)

20Following the episode with WAPO 2’s shield, Luke has stopped expecting the Woman to speak and turned his attention to the baby; now she does utter a sound, the rattle slapstick trips him up again, and he thinks it comes from the baby or one of his colleagues. Here again, physicality refuses to support the signifier, a state of affairs that seems to lead Luke into endless disappointment. The rattle- signifier is always one step ahead of him; he demands that everybody ‘listen!’ – only for it to appear visually, as a tooth mark in a shield. He shifts his attention from Woman to baby – only for the Woman to make a sound. The signifier now requires him to put a bullet into the already deceased Woman and baby to cover his tracks for the authorities. In a nod to Euripides the Woman and baby are carried off on a shield.

21It is worth noting that WAPO 2 stops short of mentioning the Woman’s tooth mark, which now designates which shield is his. In the next scene he will dream of it, his mind transferring the mark from the shield onto his own hand, as if the experience had affected him physically. As with comedy, tragedy is potentially identity-changing; this is because these essentially dramatic discourses both correct the inverted relationship between signifier and signified which constitute our ‘character’: Butler’s dominant performative discourse, where physicality obeys the signifier. In comedy as we have seen, physicality refuses to support the signifier, exposing its inadequacies in a gap which the signifier cannot cover. In tragedy, Butler’s dominant performative inversion is reversed; the toothmark testifies to the Woman’s death more honestly than Luke’s bullet. If we pay attention to it, this indexical signifier metonymically communicates the last moments of her life very powerfully indeed. The toothmark is a fine example of what Jacques Rancière terms parole muette; bringing something of the real into the symbolic register, this silent speech constitutes a “brute presence or punctum that remains a deaf and silent obstacle to all forms of signification” (92).

Ventriloquism and Film

22Following this trauma in Scene Three, Scene Four sees WAPO 2 disturbed by his experience. It is worth a slight diversion at this point to note that the WAPOs have distinct personalities and a clear personal and political pecking order. It is apparent that WAPO 1 is young, efficient and obedient to authority; WAPO 2 is also young but more sensitive, childish; WAPO 3 is concerned for his own physical well-being, delights in finding beds, cups of tea – probably older; WAPO 4 is in charge: he does not respect Luke, but stops short of openly challenging him; WAPO 5 is older, ruthless and experienced, he keeps the balance of power. As Scene Four commences, the younger WAPOs 1 and 2, and father-figure WAPO 4 are resting in a gully, stranded and feeling vulnerable because Luke and WAPOs 3 and 5 have taken their two vehicles on reccys. WAPO 2 is asleep, and making sounds in his throat. It sounds as if he is trying to speak, and puts WAPOs 1 and 4 in mind of the dying Woman, whose prolonged interrogation by Luke in the previous scene has upset everybody. WAPO 4 is beginning to subtly sow the seeds of insurrection in the minds of his younger colleagues. A little later, WAPO 2 sits up and starts sorting out his equipment; WAPO 1 thinks he has woken up and calls him, “Oi Tonsils!” (34). This tells us the 'sound' made by the Woman and WAPO 2 is in the throat, and may be more of a 'rattle', the air passing in or out than a voiced sound; speech at its most primitive, this unarticulated, perhaps even unvoiced sound nonetheless retains the uncanny qualities of the voice, in that it is a sound whose origins are hidden inside the body. It is a sound generated by an intimate movement we cannot see, so cannot distance ourselves from. That the cause of the sound originates in a dream, hidden in the unconscious, and that it mimics the sound made by the Woman's body as she died makes the rattle a quintessentially liminal sound, its origins coming from the edges of consciousness, of life itself.

23WAPOs 3 and 5 return and unaware that WAPO 2 is asleep, they discuss how they might use the prisoner they have captured on their reccy to stage Luke’s ‘accidental’ demise. Meanwhile WAPO 2, still sleeping, stands and starts to aim his automatic rifle at WAPO 4. By the time the WAPOs realise how dangerous their situation is (his gun is loaded but the safety catch is on) they are physically trapped in WAPO 2’s dreamscape:

WAPOs 3 and 5 stop halfway up the slope. They have left their automatics at the bottom. WAPO 2 swings his automatic and begins to stamp – violent, regular stamps, like a huge, elemental machine. WAPO 1 edges towards his automatic. WAPO 2 swings his automatic towards him. WAPOs 3 and 5 run to the top of the ridge. WAPO 2 swings his automatic towards them. He jerks his finger frantically – nothing. (37).

24The scene is nearly comic as these executioners flounder around avoiding the potential ‘friendly fire’ of their sleeping colleague; each of them is constrained by the state of the safety catch, by its signifying logic. If we define Lacanian castration as the reversal of the relationship between signifier and object, in which the desire of the other or signifier removes physical autonomy, then comedy is the belated (retroactive) recognition of this mistake. But we do not laugh until the precise moment when we are released from the unconscious grip of the signifier, and the scene does not (yet) appear to release us. Here the WAPOs’ bodies are absolutely ‘obedient’ to the signifying (and yet inanimate and unconscious) rifle; we could say they are trapped at the point of interpellation. The violent regular stamps made by the sleeping WAPO 2 undercut their ludicrously logical manoeuvres with illogical ones. The rattle appears in its most strange configuration yet; we see it and hear it in auditory slow motion. But the signifier still precedes its object, because its meaning is unconscious – we do not know what WAPO 2 is dreaming. The world we can understand cognitively is the logic of the WAPO world, in which it becomes expedient to shoot WAPO 2. The other WAPOs eventually manage to get themselves over the ridge to the safety of the other side from where we can only hear them, and from where they cannot see WAPO 2 as we can. Only WAPO 4 has managed to salvage a rifle. WAPO 2 is onstage alone calmer now, he seems to be reliving the moment the Woman bit a tooth mark in his shield. He has two rifles, his own with the safety catch on, and WAPO 1’s, which is loaded and without safety catch.

WAPO 2 has an automatic in each hand. WAPO 4 appears on the ridge with an automatic. Carefully he comes down towards WAPO 2.
WAPO 5 (off) Kill the shit!
WAPO 2 lifts his head in the direction of WAPO 5's voice. Pulls the trigger on his automatic – nothing. He looks down the barrel. At the same time he pulls the trigger on WAPO1's automatic – a burst of shot. WAPO 4 stands stock still. He does not aim at WAPO 2. Silence.
WAPO 5 (Off) Is e - ? (Pause). We got im?
WAPO 4 comes down to WAPO 2. He still does not aim. He grasps the barrel of WAPO 1’s automatic. WAPO 2 holds on to it.
WAPO 4 Bed. S late.
Carefully WAPO 4 pulls the automatic and draws WAPO 2 towards his kit. WAPO 2 stops.
WAPO 2 (Looks at his hand) ... tooth mark in me ...
WAPO 4 Time for bed.
He draws WAPO 2 to his kit. WAPO 2 lies down. He is still asleep. WAPO 4 picks up WAPO 1’s automatic. He puts on the safety catch. He picks up WAPO 2‘s automatic.
(Calls.) Yer can come out. (38)

25At this point in the drama it has become apparent that physicality and consciousness are frequently inaccurately aligned. We have seen similar situations, in which people have signed away legal rights; misconstrued evidence to support romantic fantasy; faced up to delusions when physicality fails to support them; been compelled to act in certain ways by inanimate objects; addressed the wrong body with their voice and gaze. The drama positions its characters on a tightrope between what Freud (Penguin Freud Reader 94) refers to as a “wishful attitude” (the absence of a maternal phallus is disavowed), and a “realistic attitude” (the absence of the maternal phallus is acknowledged). This ambivalence as we have seen generates fertile ground for comedy – albeit of a very dark variety. Now, from the supposed ‘safety’ of the auditorium, the audience may find themselves in a similar position.

26WAPO 2 is centre stage and peering down the barrel of his own automatic rifle. In that instant we hear a burst of shot from WAPO 1’s rifle, which is in his other hand. We hear the sound of one rifle, as we gaze at the other; we may for a moment condense the sound with the wrong image to assume that WAPO 2 has shot himself in the face. As we have already observed, invocatory sound, whose origin is not readily seen (gunfire resembles the human voice in this respect) generates an anxiety which makes us vulnerable to misrecognition. The film maker has always exploited this Mirror Stage human tendency, by editing images and sounds to generate meaning and affect through substitution as language does. Sergei Eisenstein from the early days of film making puts it clearly:

In the actual method of creating images, a work of art must reproduce that process whereby, in life itself, new images are built up in the human consciousness and feelings... thereafter the laws of economy of psychic energy come into force. There occurs 'condensation' within the process above described: the chain of intervening links fall away and there is produced instantaneous connection between the figure and our perception. (24, 21, author's emphasis)

27Eisenstein’s “instantaneous connection between the figure and our perception” describes the mistaken ‘suture’ with which the signifying sound of the rattle has been consistently misattributed to the wrong object in this play. Jean Baudrillard makes a similar observation when he notes that in the “hyperreal,” the structure of the sign is reversed (2). The cinema, a moving, hyperreal trompe l’oeil, is uncanny precisely because the living or animate, and deathly or inanimate, seem to change places with each other; the inanimate screen comes to life, and the cinema audience becomes inert, disabled by the signifier in its mesmerising fantasy.


28Bond dramatises this process in a moment of what we might term ‘gun ventriloquism,’ in which we may momentarily assume that WAPO 2 has shot himself in the face. Then he radically reverses the ventriloquist’s suture of sound and image, the filmic notion of ‘lip synch,’ whereby human presence is uncannily simulated or projected, to assert the dramatic power of genuine human presence. It is in this reversal that we see the core tropes of drama begin to emerge. The sound of gunfire miscarries, falling short of its intended object. As with the Freudian slip, the accident (which may be tragic or comic) exposes and subverts the expectation upon which signifying systems depend. Martin Heidegger (406) usefully observes that accidents cause dasein (literally ‘being at a distance,’ analogous with Lacan’s “desire of the other”) to collapse. When this happens, our understanding of the situation changes; instead of relying on the expectant, repeating patterns of the signifier to make meaning, we are thrown back into our sensate bodies. When we see that WAPO 2 has not (as WAPO 5 had hoped) been killed, but is still asleep, we belatedly recognise our mistake; to release perhaps, a moment of comic jouissance. In this way, without “postdramatic” narrative rupture (Lehmann 56), the theatre may proximally involve us in events, so that we become subject to involuntary irruptions of comic and tragic jouissance in the real.

Souffrance and Tragic Jouissance

29Scene four sees the WAPOs captured in an absurd living nightmare, which neatly describes the politics of their situation. The signifier is senseless: the “authorities” are feared by the WAPOs to the extent that they must do everything by the book, just as they must obey the logic of the rifle’s safety catch. Yet the authorities are as much of a chimera as WAPO 2’s dream – more so. WAPO 2 seems to be dreaming about an event we have witnessed; whereas the military authorities exist only in the minds of the protagonists. Because we never see or hear them directly, but only hear of them, the authorities operate purely in the social-symbolic; like the rattle they are signifiers without materiality. The play painstakingly sets up this dominant performative discourse which, as we have seen, reaches out into the auditorium from time to time to capture its audience along with its characters. Our powerlessness in the face of the autocratic signifier is nearly complete, to stage “the problem of creating humanness in a time when its existence is threatened” (Plays: 9 2).

30Scene five however, seems to subvert this problem in important new ways. As Bond puts it here, the drama begins to turn “inside out”:

It’s on my mind that I said somewhere that no one can be their own other. That's true in the context in which I said it. But the "phantoms" in drama are the self's others. Putting them into the structure of the play's action (events) rather than as separate characters is important. But it’s quite complicated and has further consequences. Anyway, I think it’s probably the key to a new drama. This was Françon's problem with Born – the last scene (five). He couldn’t control it because he couldn’t see where it was placed in relation to the characters – it’s as if they walked in and out of each other's mind or each other's imaginations. Drama seems to be turning inside out. (Bond, email to K. Katafiasz 31.12.2013)

31This final scene stages a return to the house. Following the forced evictions Luke and his WAPOs have used it as a place of interrogation and execution. Corpses bestrew the room. Luke’s mother Donna, like the Madonna in a Pietà, tends the dead. Donna does this in much the same way as a child plays with dolls. She feeds, scolds, and doses them with medicine as though they were silly, but suffering children. In scene four WAPOs 3 and 5 have captured a stray insurgent on their reccy, who they use to try and stage Luke’s killing. The insurgent is Peter; realising that the man he has nearly killed is his son, Peter rescues Luke from the now openly mutinous and terrified WAPOs, to bring and leave him back at the house. But because Luke is still alive, Donna refuses him comfort; she goes out to find food for her beloved dead. As she leaves the room the dead stir and come to life, allowing Luke and his audience to enter and continue Donna’s hallucination. Luke, like the sleeping WAPO 2, returns to the traumatic interrogation and killing of the Woman and infant in scene three. We experience this trauma three times: once as it happens, again as we watch WAPO 2 dreaming it, and finally here. Luke hallucinates the dead tenderly resurrecting the baby so that he can restage the event. Then Peter, dressed as a WAPO, enters Luke’s hallucination, whereupon the dead “become KZ Muselmänner” (63). While Luke nurses the baby with his back to the scene, the dead painfully manoeuvre the table to its position in scene one, clambering over, torturing, and shooting one another under WAPO Peter’s orders. At the end of the sequence Luke howls seven times and falls to the floor. WAPO Peter picks up the baby, throws it on the heap of the dead, and trips up on a dead on his way out. The dead rises to open the door, cringing as Peter leaves; then the dead rejoins the other dead. We know the hallucination has ended because the dead subsequently remain still, although Donna returns and speaks to them for a while; before she too awakens from her psychosis to realise that it is she, not the dead, who is starving to death.

32We have noted how rattling sounds impose identity on the subject by causing physicality (on stage and in auditorium alike), to jump to support their signifying demand. Lacan terms this automaton, “the return, the coming back, the insistence of the signs” (Seminar XI 53). This process of interpellation closes down any gap between signifier and object, stitching them up or suturing them together, like a wound that heals so that we cannot distinguish any gap, any delimitation between them; the body is subsumed by the signifier. During the play we have glimpsed moments of resistance to the signifier in comic accidents, where a gap between signifier and object opens up to privilege physicality. Comic accidents as we have seen arise out of a preoccupation with signifiers to the exclusion of the body; the joke occurs at the precise moment when we realise that physicality refuses to support the signifier. Then, like Socrates colleague Thales who is so busy looking at the sky he falls into a ditch, we come a cropper. As Freud puts it, citing Kant: “the comic is an expectation that has turned to nothing” (Jokes 259).

33Tragic jouissance in contrast, arises out of loss or lack, rather than expectation. Luke’s hallucination in scene five seems to open up the pain and suspense of souffrance, which has been so compulsively clapped shut by the rattle, or released by comedy in the play. This rupture between perception and consciousness is described in decidedly theatrical terms by Lacan, as taking us to “another scene” (Seminar XI 56). This is tuché:

the encounter with the real [...] that which always lies behind the automaton [...] if not its very face, at least the screen that shows us that it is still there behind (53, 54, 55).

34Lacan explicates tuché by describing being woken from a nap by the sound of an “impatient knocking” at his door; before waking up fully, “between perception and consciousness, in that non-temporal locus,” Lacan describes how he had “already formed a dream, a dream that manifested to me as something other than this knocking” (56). Knocks, rattles, and unidentifiable noises provoke, as we have seen, a disturbing sense of something ‘behind,’ an allusion to the real behind the insistent signifier. This other scene behind a door or screen may, in the context of drama, put us in mind of the death cries coming from behind the skene and the voices behind the masked faces of ancient Greek drama. When we are awake the signifier instils a temporal urgency by demanding that we open the door, find the cause of the noise, and put an end to souffrance as soon as we can. But a drama that understands the value of the screen resembles dreaming in that it prolongs the non-temporality of souffrance, “the between perception and consciousness.” We are prevented by sleep, or by our position in an auditorium, from simply condensing signifiers with objects in the habitual manner, to allow consciousness to do something very different in its play with perception.

35In his elucidation of tuché as primary process, Lacan revisits Freud’s account of his young nephew Ernst’s game with a cotton reel in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Penguin Freud Reader 132-95). Ernst deals with his mother’s comings and goings by throwing a cotton reel away (fort in German), and reeling it back towards him (da). For Lacan (Seminar XI 63) the game “is the repetition of the mother’s departure as cause of a Spaltung [split] in the subject – overcome by the alternating game.” The aim of the game is to breech the split, “the small part of the subject that detaches itself from him while still remaining his.” The thread of cotton links Ernst to himself, making him “the fort of a da, and the da of a fort” (62, 63). The ‘play’ of fort and da seems to contain Ernst’s souffrance, because Freud notes that it permits him to allow “his mother to go away without making a great fuss” (Penguin Freud Reader 41). Dreams and phantoms seem to reverse this process, to bring what Bond terms the “self as other” to the fore and release the lack-induced splitting, with its attendant emotion, that Ernst so successfully restrains. Lacan recalls Freud’s dream of the burning child: a grief-stricken father dreams that his child, who has recently died of a fever, is at his side telling him: “Father, can’t you see that I am burning?” The father awakens to find that a lighted candle has set fire to the bed in which the child’s body is laid out in the next room. Lacan observes that there is “more reality in this message ... than in the strange reality of what is happening in the room next door” (Seminar XI 58). Because Luke’s hallucination is shared by his audience we are, like the dreamer, suspended in the ‘between’; we watch Luke cradle the baby’s limp little corpse while at the same time his ‘self’s other’ (as WAPO Peter) tortures and annihilates the dead. In this non-temporal location Luke’s past and his present coexist, just as they do for the grief-stricken father in the dream of the burning child. The loss afforded by this belated understanding unleashes a series of seven howls from Luke.

36Both the rattle and Luke’s repeated howls evade the linguistic signifier; neither sound is articulated into a word; neither has a point de capiton to signify the end of a sequence of linguistic or musical phrase. So both seem to operate in the realm of the real. Yet the rattle as we have seen, sets up an expectation which inaugurates linguistic capture. ‘Seeing’ us before we see it, a rattling inanimate object can make us fearful, vulnerable to the misrecognition that initiates the passivity of the cinema audience. Because it seems to privilege the signifier with no object, the rattle frequently sets up darkly comic situations when its lack comes to light. The howl on the other hand, seems to operate radically differently by privileging the object with no signifier. Like the rattle it is wordless, but unlike the rattle it is voiced. An iteration of human physicality which evades the signifier, the howl directs our attention to Luke’s body, dramatising Lacan’s insight, that “symbolisation always fails, that it never succeeds in fully ‘covering’ the real” (Cited in Žižek 73-74).

37When language fails in this way, we may experience intimations of a reality beyond representation, the pressure of souffrance, the extimate real affecting us. Drama can be defined as the uncertainty that accompanies the breakdown of language; an uncertainty which signals the insistence of the real, where connections between signifier and object, forged by the habits and expectations of representation are interrupted in some way as by the joke, the accident, or the screen. Comic jouissance emerges when the missing object appears; tragic jouissance is felt in the absence of the signifier.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Kate KATAFIASZ, « Dramatic Jouissance in Edward Bond’s Born », E-rea [En ligne], 12.1 | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2014, consulté le 28 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.3991

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Newman University, Birmingham, UK.

Dr. Kate Katafiasz is Senior Lecturer in Drama at Newman University in Birmingham, UK. Her research interests include performance philosophy, psychoanalysis, and applied drama.

Publications include:
“Quarrelling with Brecht: Understanding Bond's Post-Structuralist Political Aesthetic” pp. 237-251 in Studies in Theatre and Performance, Volume 28: 3 (2008), Bristol: Intellect.

“Staging Reality (beyond representation): A Perplexing Bondian Body.” JCDE, Journal for the Study of Contemporary Drama in English Vol. 1 (2013) Berlin: de Gruyter.

“Failed Embodiment, Silent Speech, and Ontological Intermediality in Edward Bond’s Production of The Under Room.Body, Space & Technology. 11.2 (2013) [online] Available

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