Of the common: notes on method


Nothing today appears to demand as accurate and rigorous a consideration as the concept of common; however, as things stand now, nothing appears to be less practiced. We are addressing a distant horizon, yet to come, but one that must be open to consideration and as such redefined on a large scale, social, political and not least of all, artistic, within the domain of the sciences and practices of creation.

What looks important to do from our observation post, is to re-direct the point of view, to change course and look to one side, one could say, to see more clearly, to better understand. The first thing that becomes evident is that considerations on the “common” must necessarily be based on an analysis of practices: given a certain span of time – in the specific case of the INCOMMON project, the practices of theatre that succeeded one another between 1959 and 1979 – it is important to outline the traits of a theoretical discourse that must necessarily name the practices that have defined it each in their own way. In other words, they themselves are not the incarnation of an idea of “common”, but rather they make it their logical consequence. As if to say that the practices themselves, their inner logic and the relationships that individuals articulate within them, are what establish the “common”, not vice-versa.

From our observation post therefore, the point is not to reflect on the “common”, like so much political and sociological thinking continues to do, but rather to observe the practices that have contributed over time to build it (differentiating them from the practices that, on the contrary, missed it).

Following this logic, to help understand the characteristics of what we call common, we must begin by recognizing the ways in which the practices of theatre become established as a “community of practices”, shared aesthetics that can in fact be defined in terms of political awareness. This modus operandi therefore intends to look into the founding practice of the thespian art to find elements of the “politics” of the performing arts, yet to be fully delineated, fragmented and discontinuous, but dialectical – and in some cases marginal – in relation to social and political movements, whether they arise from political parties or from non-parliamentary groups such as Potere Operaio, Autonomia operaia, Lotta Continua, to mention only the most important.1

In other words, there are two elements at play here that seem to emerge with some degree of clarity from a preliminary survey of Italian theatre in the 1960s or 1970s: on the one hand, the focus must be on the creative processes, the true drivers of the practices, when the stage becomes a laboratory to experiment with languages and at the same time to define behaviors and lifestyles that are radically antithetical to the model of development shaped by the economic boom. While on the other hand, the performing arts scene of those years, based on this radical rethinking of the strategies of performance and expression, seems to inaugurate an existential and political awareness capable of carving out an autonomous space for itself, independent and strategically alternative to the contiguous – and sometimes overlapping and dominating – movements of the non-parliamentary left wing.

I. The “common” as commencement and inappropriability

To take flight every day! At least for a moment, brief provided it is intense. A daily “spiritual exercise”, alone or in the company of someone who equally wishes to improve. Spiritual exercises. To leave the duration. To make an effort to divest of passions, vanities, of the desire to create a buzz around one’s name (which sometimes starts to itch like a chronic disease). To flee malicious gossip. To surrender piety and hate. To love all free men. To become eternal by reaching beyond one’s self.

This work on one’s self is necessary, this ambition is righteous. Many are those who plunge deeply into militant politics, into preparing the social revolution. Rare, extremely rare are those who seek, in preparing the revolution, to make themselves worthy of it.

G. Friedmann, La puissance et la Sagesse

The Latin noun communitas – and the corresponding adjective communis – draws meaning from being opposite to what is “own”, and as such belongs to an individual, a subject.

The first interesting characteristic of common is therefore that it begins exactly where “own” ends, which means in the transition from the singular to being taken charge of by part of a plurality that does not, however, “appropriate” the entity; it is, literally, “everyone’s and no one’s”, thereby delineating an interval of in-appropriable value.2

As if to say: common is what pertains (and does not belong) to more than one (cum –testifies to this extension, this constraint) – and is therefore “public” as opposed to “private” or “collective” as opposed to “individual”. However, and this is worth noting, the fact of being for the public does not mean that the common can be appropriated by many and can, nevertheless, be regulated by the laws of a State. On the contrary – and this is an expression of the paradox we must address –it becomes inappropriable at every level.

Common is something that is shared: it is divided with – it belongs to sharing and not to each one. This is a core principle. Common is, in fact, what begins, what brings commencement. From which things begin (have a new beginning). The common is more like a trigger that becomes an inexorable process, rather than a thing or a product. Common: in other words, it is the responsibility towards this intangible entity that becomes manifest, each time, in concrete elements. The common, logically, is a potential that is given different forms depending on the diversity of the elements that it involves. In art this entity has a name: creation that is organized in processes that cannot logically be fixed in an object, in a work, for example. It is no coincidence that a fiercely-debated issue during the years being taken into consideration, was the transition from the work to the process; in other words, from the object (which can be appropriated, claimed and therefore documented) to its premise (which cannot be appropriated, cannot be claimed, cannot essentially be documented). This is, in our eyes, a first – radical – difference between what is “common” and what is defined as the “common good”.

Let’s look at a concrete example. The ephemeral nature of the live performance – let’s take the case of the production of La faticosa messinscena dell’Amleto di William Shakespeare (1967) by Leo De Berardinis and Perla Peragallo, or the Orlando Furioso (1969) by Ronconi and Sanguineti, to mention only two emblematic events which were accompanied by many others, such as Marco Cavallo (1973) by Giuliano Scabia, through the post-avant-garde of the late 1970s – which constitutes the distinctly “common” characteristic of the event is now inaccessible, whereas the material itself is, the “common good” which has survived the “common” as a trace (in the case of Leo and Perla it is the film material that constituted the stage set, while for Ronconi-Sanguineti what remains is the television version) and can be shared, introduced into the appropriable cycle of “culture”.3 The challenge we must face, in examining the performing arts, is to understand the rise of a category of the common understood not as “common good” in the Roman sense of “common thing”, but as an “instituting processuality”. The “common” is therefore the process of creating a work, that which bears witness to the network of relations and practices, and which by its very nature tends to disappear, to dissolve with time. While the conservation of the work as such is how it becomes a “common good”, what remains and becomes crystallized as an object of “culture”. As if to say: “common” is “culture in progress”, “culture as it develops” and subject to time; “common good” is “culture” as appropriation and enjoyment, generally independent of time.4

Thus, inappropriability may rightly be considered as one of the primary qualities of the common we are talking about. What is common – both present and absent in terms of use (and consequently abuse) –  cannot be claimed by either part. Logically, what is common may not be appropriated, it may not be claimed against others.

Herein lies the deepest meaning of the unavailability of what is meant to be placed in common, as a “value” withdrawn from use and designated to orient the social structure, the organization of relationships between individuals.

We consider this distinction is a founding principle.

The underlying relationships that we are looking for, mostly discontinuous and not evident, enact the politics of practices against an ideology of politics. That is the point. What is art when it is a constant redefinition of possibility? Art is a form of existence, is the apparent answer; a living form of work, and hence the invention of singularity, of singular figures and objects, expressions of language, invention of signs.5

Here, in this first movement, is where the power of the subjects unfurls, their capacity to explore knowledge in order to reinvent the world.

But these expressive acts do not achieve beauty and the absolute until the signs or the language through which they are expressed become community – this is the challenge we face, to reconstruct the premises and then the forms of this moving entity – until they are understood and contained within a common project.6

The creative process is not the act of imagining, but imagination that becomes action. Art, in this sense, expresses a multitude. For Spinoza, the “multitudo”, recalls Paolo Virno, is that body of people who in the various fields in which an action is expressed – be it political, economic or artistic – never lose the sense of their own individuality though acting collectively, and resist being reduced to a single formless mass.7

Following this logic, within the specific context of the practices we have taken into consideration with INCOMMON, our purpose is to define the principles adopted by a community of artists and the ways in which these practices may be considered with the political gesture of pooling knowledge in common.

This means a shift on the level of knowledge that translates into social behaviour and awareness.8

II. Post-script

And so the methodological task that this project intends to pursue and nurture as it develops now appears on the horizon: to weave a connection between monads, between singularities. To draw the lines that define the relationships within a complex plane of events, social, political and artistic all at the same time, everything that gives shape and meaning to existence.

In other words, the task is to explore and to analyse, within a historical span of time, the quality of relations between people, between people and things, between thoughts and places, imagination and forms, fully aware that what we are looking for has the substance of a breeze or the aether, it can be felt but not grasped, diffuse and inexorable, but capable of disseminating tangible signs for those who know how to recognize and take them in. We are talking about a trend that may never have emerged in cohesive form, but that time – with the distance and fierce discretion that distinguishes it – brings to the surface as a pattern, a constellation.

The Story that we will reconstruct is this diagram.