Erik Ehn on Puppetry

The good life and how puppets are neither good nor alive and therefore what
we need.

A host – relates to the word ghost, which is stranger, with an implied threat. The
reform of the word may be meant to work a kind of magic; host means lord of ghosts
or strangers; since lorded – no longer strange or threatening. It’s a reciprocal word:
host originally means guest or caretaker; lording over and lorded by lording. Guest
and ghost share a history.

In the mass the Eucharist is called a host – here is the stranger, the enemy to all
received wisdom.

Theater is a hospitality that wants to kill what you know, and we meet it hospitably,
taking it under the shelter of our roof, the roof of our mouths, we are the host, like
we host a virus. We make space for each other by removing each other – the theater
falls away and it becomes what we’re doing; we fall away, we’re what the theater is
rehearsing. The word hearse is in rehearsal, not by accident – to harrow, to open the
earth, to trouble. A performance is a rehearsal directed at strangers.

A theater is a specific, strange, and threatening location destroyed by action;
theatrical action is without an object; it’s present. This is appropriate since the
subject of theater is creation – pure being. Pure being has two features – everything
and nothing. So the ruinous action of theater is very specific, as specific as the site,
so specific it is still, and even inexpressible.

Theater is the defeat of the Heisenberg principle: it is specific in place and specific in

Theater is what happens inside hospitality when place is destroyed for the sake
of action and action is destroyed for the sake of space. It is about everything and
nothing, with story and characters as material through which everything and
nothing move, the way dust motes show where light is and isn’t.

Everything is more important than nothing – it wins, because everything includes
nothing and nothing excludes everything. Theater is a way to not know what we’re
doing, in a way that give us everything. We don’t know what to say or do, language
fails in our paradox, but we’re going to say and do anyway and it will be joyful
whether we admit it or not.

Because of its strong shape and the victory of its joy, it is able to probe and minister
to the damage inside it. Theater is a nice application to catastrophe; catastrophe is
one of our best subjects. The ultimate catastrophe is all that isn’t, and heaven is fully
creative. One typically enters catastrophe through despair (a turning from creation
and creative capacity, at its worst, a complete unavailability). One communicates
with heaven through ecstasy – complete availability, without self destruction (self

absenting but not full loss of self – this is death, and then you’d be in heaven, and the
time for that is heaven’s to understand).

Theater, joyful and paradoxical, broken apart and exciting, sets up an environment
where we can enter catastrophe in the posture of ecstasy. Art workers, faithful to
joy (meaning to the supremacy of creation, creation as a premise), can enter the
blinding light of the literal and finished, fully available, creating, feeding back signal
into the beautiful darkness of everything. Everything is dark because it is in the
moment of happening, it can’t be seen yet, it isn’t finished, it is always starting.

We need two sets of virtues to enter catastrophe in the posture of ecstasy:

We need forgiveness, mercy, blessings, sustained by peace and justice.

Forgiveness is site specificity. To be in sin is to fall away from creativity, and
forgiveness restores us to place. It doesn’t wipe out the past, or fix anything – it
allows us to move into the present and an orientation to making, with our past.

Mercy is hospitality for the wound. Hospitality is mutual risk. Mercy sees the wound,
sees at risk of losing position, of falling into righteousness which is a kind of despair
– a way to stop creating. Mercy doesn’t heal things, it sees things, expensively.

A blessing is a kiss that makes heaven. When what is, meets what must be,
harmoniously. “When justice and peace shall kiss” in the psalm.

Peace is permission to be; justice is the ability to be together.

The theater that I like enters catastrophe with the availability of ecstasy, as a way
of working out forgiveness, through mercy, in the self-absenting eros of spiritual
blessings, aiming to be an instrument for peace, under the protection of justice.

Puppets are good companions on this journey because they have none of these
things, and cannot suffer and turn around. They can go all the way through. They are
unforgiving, merciless, they don’t kiss back, they are not so they can’t be at peace,
and without peace there’s no justice, so they are unjust. Yet, they are specific – more
specific than living people can be, in terms of place and action. They are better at
theater than the living are, except for the fact that they have no souls. A soul is the
miracle by which everything is inside of us. Theater needs everything. So puppets
are a place where our souls can go, into catastrophe, for example. Puppets are
catastrophes; a puppet is a carapace made of the stuff that defines our death. With
puppets, we can be sheep in wolves’ clothing to discombobulate the wolves.

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