What do I know? Part One

| January 7, 2013

Way back when I conducted The Workshop Interviews and asked all those practitioners, “What is Workshop?” They all used two words as a metaphor, journey and discovery; and most of them put them together, journey of discovery. I told this story at the last of the Canadian workshops, Laboratory of Imagination workshop we ran at Concordia. After the workshop someone said that they thought discovery was a colonial word because it implied that something was not there until it was discovered.  The thought intention was a better word.

Words are a slippery business. A feature of workshop is its extreme locality. It is about those people , then and there in that location and in their social and economic context. Workshops have no direct affect on the socio/economic conditions of the world outside  but workshops can offer a fresh perspective or a new way of doing things. This tension between the bubble within the workshop and the world outside is what Boal, the  Brazilian theatre innovator and activitist, called Metaxis. It is where the sense and meaning can be made. There is a constant play in a workshop between the participant in the workshop and the same person as participant in the world outside.

Inside the workshop a language can emerge within a group. It maybe physical or spoken language. And as at the beginning of any universe, large or small, as ideas arise and take shape they are give a name and this can be quite magical. At the same time, because of its extreme locality, it can be obscure to all but those who are present.

Every word spoken in the workshop is subject to translation. Whilst It is true that garbled, mumbled half-idea do not help a group it is also true that the idea of precise instructions are a bit of a fallacy. Between one mouth and several pairs of ears there is air and sound finding local habitation. Nobody is MAKING exactly the same sense out of each sentence.  And yet common purpose can emerge within a group and exert an extraordinary power on their creativity. Amazing! Within the density of common purpose, individuals continue to manufacture and reflect their personal versions of what is happening whilst simultaneously the group create a singular common story which forms the unique, unrepeatable story of that workshop then and there.  We do not know what that is going to be. We know little about each other, the hidden intentions , expectations, skills and histories. What we know is thin and fills out as we discover the routes for our journey.

Way back when in those far-off interviews, perhaps there was a certain precison when those practitioners all evoked the journey of discovery metaphor. It is a very different discovery to planting a national flag on the moon or claiming ownership of a territory and demolishing cultures that have lived there for thousands of years to establish your claim. It is different because the metaxis between individual and group ensures a locality to what is created, a power with rather than a power over.  Intention is important in workshops. It too though is an element that needs discovering in the journey.

As Phillip Roth wrote in The Human Stain:  “Everyone knows” is the invocation of the cliché and the beginning of the banalization of experience, and it’s the solemnity and the sense of authority that people have in voicing the cliché that is so insufferable. What we know is that, in an unclichéd way, nobody knows anything. You can’t know anything. The things you know you don’t know. Intention? Motive? Consequence? Meaning? All that we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is all that passes for knowing.

Category: Blog, Canadian Blog

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Director of School of Workshop

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