A Practice of Practicing Practice
A Practice of Practicing Practice
I encounter a practice and it encounters me. How do I utilise repetition to develop my own knowing-how to execute an established practice based on my limited knowing-what that practice is or requires? How do I then utilise this repetitive practice of my version of the practice to understand profoundly, intuitively and empathetically – or grok, as coined by Robert A. Heinlein – the original practice and the discipline within which it’s situated? Does the practice grok me in return? How do I know when I have successfully grokked the practice through the practicing of my practice of the practice? And what kind of knowledge(s) emerge as a result of this grokking of the practice?
My current practice as research enquiry problematises the preceding set of questions through the continued development of my own practices of pre-existing practices – such as figure drawing, playing the harmonica and playing the piano – based on my own limited prior knowledge or memory of what those practices are and might require, but without any practical knowledge of how to execute the practices. In other words, I’ve been playing at playing the harmonica. Or playing at figure drawing. And developing and mastering my own practices of these practices, and – in turn – challenging the organisations or disciplines that these structures or practices seek to actualise.
Through the development of this practice, I find myself questioning the nature of the knowledge or logic that has emerged and the paradoxical relationship between practical logic – which I relate to this knowing-how – and logical logic – which I relate to this knowing-what. In establishing my own unique cultural fields, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu might refer to them, in which I can carry out my own practices of established practices, have I then also established my own habitus – or way in which I can truly become myself – in each cultural field through my engagement with each practice?
Can I develop a sense of power and agency in the doing of this practice, and thus create an environment for myself in which right and wrong no longer preside over my actions – in which I can take ownership of my practice of each practice? Could this sense of ownership then act as a marker or indicator of a successful engagement with this practice? Would I deem my encountering of a particular practice unsuccessful if I were unable to claim that ownership, or if I were unable to establish a repetitive act of practicing my version of the practice, which ultimately facilitates the emergence of ownership? Are the knowledge(s) emerging as a result of this practice only found in the repetitive act of practice?
In the activation of the enquiry, I have found myself returning often to a particular passage from Bourdieu’s The Logic of Practice –
I believe that in the development of a practical mastery through a repeated engagement with an action I am grokking – or understanding profoundly, intuitively and empathetically rather than intellectually – that action, which in turn challenges the organisational structure of the discipline that the practice initially sought to actualise.
I have equated discipline and practice with Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Valera's notions of organisation and structure from The Tree of Knowledge –
With this in mind, a discipline may be viewed as the organisation that is made real by the structure of practice. My task as the facilitator of a practice of practicing practice is to establish an environment in which each practitioner can develop their own structure of practice out of which an unknown organisation or discipline can emerge or be “made real” through the execution of the practice.
Experience Bryon, in her introduction to Performing Interdisciplinarity: Working Across Disciplinary Boundaries Through an Active Aesthetic, describes disciplinarity as “a successive set of displacements of the ways in which we organise and capture knowledge(s) or engage in an act of Knowledging” (2017: 8). In other words, disciplinarity is not fixed but is rather an active way in which we engage with the formation of knowledge that is constantly reinventing itself. Out of this act of knowledging, a discipline emerges and is subjected to the same act of knowledging that may displace it with another emergent discipline. The act of knowledging may be applied to the practice of practicing practice, the structure of which enables the actualisation of the organisation that is discipline. Through practice, we are engaging in this act of knowledging that is simultaneously allowing for the emergence of discipline to occur while challenging the very notion of disciplinarity as a fixed concept.
Theatre as a discipline informs the practice of making theatre. But in the practicing of the practice of theatre making, a new discipline may emerge that displaces or replaces the discipline of theatre. The knowledge inherent in the doing of an individual’s practice of theatre making may directly challenge the organisation of theatre. Once challenged, this new practice may find itself relating to a number of disciplines or requiring the development of a new discipline altogether. This new discipline, however, might be challenged and displaced as the practicing of the practice continues to develop its own logic out of which disciplinarity may emerge. Thus, the action of practice and the experience of disciplinarity may find themselves in this constant spiral. Again, they are not fixed forms of knowledge. They are active ways of knowledging. As Maturana and Varela state in The Tree of Knowledge –
If the practice of practicing a practice leads to the emergence of discipline, which is the result of an ever-shifting act of knowledging through which new “worlds” are brought forth, how then does institutional expertise, built on dogmatic principles of disciplinarity, exist or function? If my individual practice leads to the emergence of a new world or discipline, which is then displaced by the continual development of my practice and the logic inherent in the doing of that practice, how can I justify or adhere to disciplinary guidelines that existed prior to the practicing of my individual practice and the emergence of new disciplines as a result of that practice?
Moving forward, I intend to further explore the relationship between practice and discipline within creative practices, as well as the active function of mastery and expertise in those practices. I would also like to mine the political connotations of my own practice of practicing practices and the ways in which it subverts institutional ideals of expertise. And I ultimately hope to solidify my own position as the facilitator of this practice.
The theoretical framework of the initial stage of this enquiry is expounded upon in the scripted portion of a seminar presentation that took place on 12th March 2019 as part of the Developing Your Discipline unit of the MFA Performance Practice as Research course at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama –