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The (methodology of ) de-composition of the theatrical language in the artistic practice of Carmelo Bene.

What in the language we can better understand is not the word, but the tone, the intensity, the modulation,
the rhythm at which a number of words are pronounced. In short, the music behind the words, the passion
behind this music, the personalities behind this passion: everything can not be written. Because of this
writing has so little importance.
Nietzsche Truth and Lies in extra-moral sense

The theater of Italian actor, playwright, and director Carmelo Bene (Lecce 1937 Roma 2002)
is crafted on the decomposition of the traditional language of scene. Placed amid the post-structuralist critique on
the overcoming of the ontological judgement of language in Heiddegger, Carmelo Bene aims to disrupt and
escape the theatrical logos through the abolishment of stable elements of power. His practice is based on the
refusal of traditional dramaturgic techniques and devices, claiming the figure of the actor as absolute machine of
the theatrical complex. In Bene's work, the orthodox meaning of the script as the core of the show vanishes,
because it negates its immediacy in the traditional re-interpretation of the role of the actor. Bene is against the
theater of the text; he resumes the idea of the concrete physical language of the stage described by Antonin
Artaud1 through what he defines scrittura di scena2, translatable as writing on the scene3.
Such physical language that Artaud describes in Metaphisics and the Mise en Scene, second chapter of Theater
and his Double entails every element that is involved within the stage4, which communicates to and with the
senses in place of the language of words5. Bene takes on this idea staging a teatro dell'irrappresentabile, an unperformable theatre,6 in which the action transgresses the unity of the traditional illusion on stage.
Thus, Action itself no longer determines the character in aristotelian terms, but it discards it by re-creating it.
Bene's oeuvre engages a critique, instead of a reproduction, or as Klossowski would define it, a return to the
metaphysical significance of theater7, that alters the original text, largely coming from the Elizabethan tradition,
in order to confer it an inaugural quality. In this regard, Bene argues that it is not legitimate to stage classical
authors, as they would be misinterpreted8; the transformation therefore becomes a play of distorted mirrors, in
which the amplified voice, the action, the body within space, shades into musical silences, that conform the text
to the image, overlap with the pluri-functionality of the actor. Such process, which Bene calls under the name of
macchina attoriale9, that acts within the stage, moves towards the overstepping of logocentrism largely
questioned by Derrida as a result of the relationship between the power of oral speech over the written text in the
1 Antonin Artaud, Theatre and its Double (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 38.
2 Mixer cultura, youtube 1987
3 Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Epiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 253, accessed 17 May, 2015.
4 In this regard, is it essential to point out the idea of intonation, which Artaud mentions as a possibility of the language of
words that Bene will incorporate in his practice and could fit into the concept of variation Deleuze's uses to describe
Bene's theatre.
5 Antonin Artaud, Theatre and its Double (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 38.
6 Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Epiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 253, accessed 17 May, 2015.
7 Carmelo Bene and Giancarlo Dotto, Vita di Carmelo Bene, (Milano: Bompiani, 2005), 331.
8 Gianfranco Bartalotta. Carmelo Bene e Shakespeare, (Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 2000), 13.
9 Piergiorgio Giacch and Carmelo Bene. Antropologia di una macchina attoriale. (Milano: Bompiani, 2007), 57.

history of Western culture, which demonstrated the supremacy of phono-centrism from ancient Greece to
Heidegger in the metaphysics of presence.10
Thus, in order to escape from the prison of Western metaphysics Bene amputates the dialogues: in Un Manifesto
di Meno, (A Manifesto Less), Gilles Deleuze11 describes Bene's theatrical operation as governed by a law of
subtraction12, that gives birth and fosters unexpected acts. Such, as Francesco Chillemi observes, is a subtraction
of sense13 that in Deleuzian terms has to do with the process of de-thinking of the theater forces proper of the
text, that often arouse different understandings and misrepresentations. As a result of the de-thinking of the text,
Deleuze understands the subtraction of stable elements of power, as able to release a new potential theatre, nonrepresentative and always unstable.
Historically, theatrical texts speak languages of Power; Bene subtracts the element of power by taking off the
text because it is synchronic brand, a set of relationships between invariants. He takes off constants, stable or
stabilizing elements because they belong to power. The text is amputated because it represents the domain of
language over the word, and still testifies invariance or homogeneity; Bene subtracts history because it is the
temporal mark of power14. It suppresses the dialogue, because dialogue transmits to the word elements of power
and make them circulate. Diction is taken away, as well as action: the play-back is a subtraction in itself. As a
consequence everything stays, but under a different light.
In this respect, Deleuze uses the example of Bene's S.A.D.E.15, 1974, where the performance is paralyzed in the
sadistic image of the master, while the masochistic servant develops and mutates, forming himself on the stage
by responding to the insufficiencies of his master. The servant then does not become the inverted replica of the
master but forms himself starting from the neutralization his patron, acquiring autonomy from the amputation of
his master.16 He also analyzes the case of Riccardo III, in which Bene amputates the whole regal system: only
Riccardo III and the women are left intact. Thus, subtracting the characters of Power or State, Bene freely
operates to the constitution of the man of war on the scene in all his defects and variations. Each play ends with
the construction of the character, that forms himself following continuous series of variations metamorphosis.
The character is all in one with the scene: objects, lights, music, colors and sounds.
Thus, following Deleuze's reading, this subtraction aims to change not only the theatrical matter but also its
shape, which ceases to represent, as the actor ceases to be recognized as such17.
In this light, under the constant mutation of re-births and regressions of the characters, Deleuze advances the
concept of continuous variation: it is a current-virtual ontological movement, that is concrete-abstract (nor
concrete nor totally abstract), an irrepressible real variation which abolishes the present state of things. Variation
comes through the use of the voice, which is overlapped, transposed, or in succession, and in the use of the playback, which ensure the openness18 of variations conferring them new formal rules.
Such variation recalls the Sprechgesang,19 spoken-singing, first adopted by Schoenberg in his Pierrot Lunaire in
191220, which unlike singing, never abandons the higher climax of tones. In fact, Carmelo Bene's monologue
goes beyond, turning the text into simple material for the variation, as a musical score would function.
10 Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Ephiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 253, accessed May 17, 2015.
11 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 105.
12 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 86.
13 Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Ephiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 253, accessed May 17, 2015.
14 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 95.
15 Complete title: S.A.D.E. ovvero: Libertinaggio e decadenza del complesso bandistico della Gendarmeria salentina,
theatrical piece, first written, directed and produced in by Carmelo Bene in 1974.
16 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 86.
17 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 89.
18 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 96.
19 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 96.
20 Encyclopdia Britannica Online, s. v. "Sprechstimme", accessed June 14, 2015,
http://www.britannica.com/art/Sprechstimme.

The refusal of text is brought further in the use of vocal writing as monologic, adopting dialogue as a form of
soliloquy, coinciding also with the external decomposition of the subject that becomes monologue and
"monologue is theater"21. In Bene, the monologue acts as the word expressed in the break down of the phon,
in which the actor reaches the image through the sound. Phon is sound representation that opens up the concept
giving unusual borders to it, and empowers it with complexity by digging new sensory and noetic dimensions,
misrepresenting its appearance, but in order to create. The act of rewriting uses therefore the aid of amplification
tools that make the voice sound deeper, highlighting internal colorings that linger in certain details while others
are undermined. Such operation is achieved through the use of technologies that make possible the vocal
amplification, vibration, and dubbing22. This devices in fact allow the vocal expansion of the sound by
decomposing its original nature, as it empties the object-body through the sound.
Thus, this operation can be seen as a return to a crafted form of narrative that phonically amplifies the objectbody, becoming a sort of scarred simulacra, in order to un-learn the theater, breaking it up, and making it
resurrecting through the absurd, negative forces, accumulation of energy, thoughts and de-thoughts.
The value of the sound in this breakdown is therefore total: determinism, fatality, the absurd, are maintained by
the distorted voice, deep, that only transforms the vision of the drama in dramatic experience. In this light,
Deleuze's reflections on Bene's use of the tonality of the voice and its musicality are here applicable as they
describe the sense of a continuous transformation of the text in the alternation of tonal and semiotic registers23.
The variation, as he claims, does not only affect the external situation, not only the physical intonation, it does
not affect the meaning from within, the syntax, the phonemes. Thus, it allows a statement to cross all the
variables that can enter into it24.
Here lays, according to Deleuze, Bene's first criticism of Bertolt Brecht, who would have performed the largest
critical operation but only on the script and not on stage. The complete critical operation, which Bene pursues,
would consist in the amputation of stable elements, putting them in continuous variation, transpose everything
on a lower level through the scenic writing operators, which are essentially subtractive.
To explain the use of continuous variation of language actuated by Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze25, takes on a
sentence by Marcel Proust that he often cited to express his own idea of poetry: Les beaux livres sont crits dans
une sorte de langue trangre. The idea of being foreigners in your own language, being a stutter in the language
itself, which recalls the Nietzschean definition chosen by Carmelo Bene as a paradigm of alienation and disquiet
of the word: talk to yourself, in your ear, but amid the market, in a public square26.
Pertinent to the idea of stuttering the language is again the work of the continuous variation, which has to be
extended to all the internal elements of the language27.
The dialogue is therefore, using Bene's terms elevated and ennobled28, precisely through the aid of the
technological devices which produce temporal and visual distortions, as well as in the inner uproar of the body,
that alone creates chewed word-sounds29. This alternations create an afasia linguistica, aphasia of the language,
that redoubles the apraxia of the body described by Bene in the notes of Macbeth Horror Suite, creating a veiled
mummy30. Deleuze takes up the concept of aphasia in the whispered and deformed diction which converges to a
sort of impediment on the things and gestures present on the stage: costumes as obstacles, accessories that
interfere the movements, excessively rigid or weak gestures31. The balance of the concrete bodies is continuously
violated precisely as it happens in the language within the same variation and opposition of the power system.
21 Carmelo Bene, Sono apparso alla Madonna: vie d'(h)eros (es), (Milano: Longanesi, 1983), 1001.
22 Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Epiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 257, accessed May 17 , 2015.
23 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 97.
24 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 97.
Translations are my own, unless differently described.
25 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 95.
26 Carmelo Bene, La voce di Narciso, il Saggiatore. 25
27 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 98
28 Carmelo Bene, La voce di Narciso, il Saggiatore. p22
29 Carmelo Bene, Opere, (Milano: Bompiani, 1995), 836.
30 Allen S. Weiss, In Memory: Carmelo Bene 1937-2002, TRD: The Drama Review, vol 46, no. 4 (2002), accessed May
17, 2015.
31 Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 100.

In this respect, Deleuzes considers melodic lines as responsible of dragging the language outside of the system of
dominant oppositions32. The variation is therefore driven by the relationship between speed and slowness and the
their modifications, as they transform gestures and statements. Thus, Bene's theater is musical because deformed
and distorted in all its forms, no gesture is repeated in an equivalent temporal dimension.
Pertinent to the overcoming of power systems it is important to point out the concept of dtournement,
developed by the Situationist International, and strictly linked with the idea of drift. Dtournement, aims to
liberate from the supremacy of environmental devices perceived as despotic, operating as its exit strategy on a
cultural level by deviating alienating authoritarian mechanisms33. It can be seen as a drift that modifies already
established aesthetic objects, namely images, sounds and texts. In Bene's oeuvre, especially in the
cinematographic representation of his Salom, 1964, and ten years later in his Amleto (da Shakespeare a
Laforgue), it is possible to observe how the text, sound and images are all elevated and simultaneously lowered,
mutated and overturned in a delirious blaze. These examples corrupt the literary and figurative aestheticism,
leaving aside the historical reconstruction, the lure of the furniture on the stage, the role of the director, and all
the elements present within the stage.
Such operation explains Bene's artistic and philosophic obsession for the metaphysics of presence/absence,
strictly related to the conceptual pathos of the dichotomy life/death. The lack on which Carmelo Bene grounds
his theatrical practice is the ontological inconsistency of the being, including the human beings, the not-yet-dead:
everything is a simulacrum, things and persons of the only real, the being. The real is unattainable because is
impossible and never available: always transcendental.
In Time and Being Heidegger highlights how Western metaphysics is based on the temporal dimension and the
ontological presence. The Western world thinks in terms of presence, absence is being thought of as the
derivative: it is lack, subtraction of presence. Carmelo Bene believes in the origin of the absence, the un-being,
and the actor is the metaphysical place in which the absence is manifested in some of its multiple-infinite
aspects. If Antonin Artaud theorized the overcoming of Western metaphysics founded on the dominance of
presence through the Theatre of Cruelty, Carmelo Bene has practiced that overrun by embodying it in his intense
body-machine actor.
Bene does not conceive the actor as a human being, a person, a conscience, an existence, no metaphysical
concept of simple-presence. As the character is one with the whole scenic device, so the actor is an abstract
machine34. Bene comes to idea of machine-actor, which is the device, the agencement, that put into function all
the instances of the play, the battlefield, the field of immanence, the portion of space-time through which the
show-event is made possible.
The complete action of self-denial, of subtraction, variation, is intended as present space where the metaphysics
of presence is decomposed in the unexpected event, which springs in the nature of contrasting agents in order to
exist. The dichotomies actor-machine, subject-object, life-death, presence-absence abandon their semiotic
significance to fade into the Being without existence35 overstepping the ontological plane of the I, subtracting
his presence to the rule of the original absence.

32
33
34
35

Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 101.


Definitions Situationist International. (1958), accessed June 7, 2015.
Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002), 96.
Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Epiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 266, accessed May 17 , 2015.

Bibliography
Carmelo Bene, Gilles Deleuze. Sovrapposizioni (Macerata: Quodlibet, 2002)
Francesco Chillemi, Carmelo Bene and the Overcoming of Logocentrism: Ephiphany of the Primordial Voice in the
Eclipse of Meaning, Annali d'italianistica 29 (2011): 266, accessed May 17 , 2015.
Situationist International. (1958), accessed June 7, 2015.
Allen S. Weiss, In Memory: Carmelo Bene 1937-2002, TRD: The Drama Review, vol 46, no. 4 (2002), accessed May 17,
2015.
Carmelo Bene, Sono apparso alla Madonna: vie d'(h)eros (es), (Milano: Longanesi, 1983), 1001.
Carmelo Bene, La voce di Narciso, il Saggiatore. P 25
Antonin Artaud, Theatre and its Double (New York: Grove Press, 1997), 38.
Carmelo Bene and Giancarlo Dotto, Vita di Carmelo Bene, (Milano: Bompiani, 2005), 331.
Gianfranco Bartalotta. Carmelo Bene e Shakespeare, (Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 2000), 13.
Piergiorgio Giacch and Carmelo Bene. Antropologia di una macchina attoriale. (Milano: Bompiani, 2007), 57.
Encyclopdia Britannica Online, s. v. "Sprechstimme", accessed June 14, 2015,