VI. 1. Jason Finds His Golden Fleece


Throughout its contradictory, meandering development psychology has invariably been devoted to one major goal: explaining the bond between human nature and human behavior, or in other words, our inner content and its outer display.  The premise that human actions are integrally related to their context is what makes the science of psychology possible. The context of the action explains its true purpose, and the action itself reveals the essence of the context from which it originates. To this day man considers this formula as the gateway to gaining a better idea of who he is and what his intentions are.

Stanislavski doesn’t make an exception. He takes this interdependence as the basis of his system, and develops it further by focusing his work on the ultimate role of action as both a stimulator to the inner life of the actor and an indicator of the inner life of the character. He defines action as an integral and purposeful process of accomplishing a certain goal in a constant interaction with the circumstances, conducted in a unique way in time and space. This notion allows him to use action as a bridge for actors to grasp their roles in depth and create truthful and emotionally charged performances.

Even though he stops short of expanding his research over action in everyday life, his discoveries reach a point that goes above and beyond acting as a form of art. Stanislavski advises that the path to fully experiencing the inner life of the character starts with executing the simple physical actions the character would perform in a particular situation. The idea here is that the unforced recreation of the physical conduct of the imagined individual would stir within the actor a genuine familiarity towards the character. The value of this approach from the point of view of real-life human behavior lies in emphasizing the importance of simple acts in the course of comprehending the person’s bigger agenda. According to Stanislavski human actions are strongly related to each other by cause and effect, thus forming a sequence which winds like a thread through our entire individual existence. He calls it the through line of action – the bright red line that dominates our development.

This marks the next stage of his path toward the character; it rises over the small acts and introduces a more complicated part of action: the decision-making process. The suggested bits of action grow larger, and the dilemmas become harder to solve. In order to empower the actor in justifying the choices the character makes, Stanislavski introduces the objective – the anticipatory, desired, and oncoming action plan, a crucial prerequisite of any conscious action. All conscious acts we perform, Stanislavski argues, are guided by objectives which, in their aggregation within the stretch of a lifetime form the super-objective of the individual.  As with so many of Stanislavski’s other principles the value of this one significantly exceeds the prescription of a practitioner. It exposes the essence of human nature by delving into its innermost layers—that is, our desires. Pondering somebody’s objectives makes that person accessible not only on a rational level, but on an emotional level as well, since we all, actors on the stage of life, have if not similar desires, at least a similar urge in getting what we want from life. The question “What do I want?” followed by “What am I doing?”, “Why am I doing it?” and “How am I doing it?” are the first to be answered by the actor on behalf of the character. They also represent the most efficient, if not the only true means toward understanding human behavior in general, because they make us connect with the very essence of our drives, and in a scenic way at that: they prompt us to watch in our mind’s eye instead of hear, guess, or read about.

For its part the overall notion of the crucial role of action that both accrues from and reveals the character allows Stanislavski to unify the parameters of human behavior around action, and explain them through the prism of their relation to it. Up to now the science of acting considers infrangible terms like attention, circumstance, situation, event, tempo-rhythm, sense memory, emotion memory, and imagination, because all of their practical definitions are related to action. This elevates his theory to that of an integrated and holistic system, which can only be enriched and reconfirmed by the newly discovered isms Stanislavski talks about later in his life (A Tribute…).

Yet as important a role as action has in his work, it is not what this great director and theoretician considers the ultimate resort to understanding and recreating human behavior. The altar he bows to is a significantly more obscure, vaguer entity: our subconscious. For Stanislavski action is what the stage is for the true actor: an important medium, but not the target itself. As with any other innovator in art he aims at the source of the deep, ceaseless inspiration, which you can’t set up a manual for.  Action is the closest Stanislavski can get to rationally explaining human behavior. It is the foremost outpost, the pier overlooking the vast ocean of the subconscious.

Stanislavski’s conviction that the subconscious is the ultimate source for the actor’s creativity actually means that he believed in man’s ability to pull out of his inner depths, and to genuinely experience the passions of any other person. This premise is of extreme importance not only for actors. It opens the door to the exploration of human nature as a collection of identical individual qualities (inner circumstances) engaged in unique interrelations (hierarchies). Surely each and every one of us is a unique being, but our uniqueness lies mostly in the arrangement of our characteristic features – both inborn and contracted, all of which can form myriad combinations. The case that many of these features are out of the reach of our consciousness doesn’t make them non-existent. They are part of our nature, but since they don’t influence our behavior in any way, they remain inner facts. Yet in the setting of an outstanding outer situation, or through consistent training they can become accessible to our consciousness, i.e. become circumstances. This is exactly what delving into the subconscious means. What results from this process – the inspiration, that Stanislavski loves so much to talk about, is an immediate product of the discovery of the unsuspected powers we have in our possession. The flow of fresh facts about ourselves that springs to life from the depths of our subconscious fills us with the awareness that we are worth much more than we have shown so far. The newly found self-confidence facilitates our access to those facts even further. No wonder that man has created God in his own image – the idea of the omnipotent and omnipresent spirit is incorporated in all humans, the difference being that we have buried an enormous part of our godlike features deep inside us, hidden from all, and mostly from ourselves. In this regard the ultimate truth, which mankind has been seeking for generations through religion and philosophy is simply that we are all made of one and the same clay; but since the truth is not a truth unless you embrace it with your soul, there are people who don’t give up digging deeply until they find on a transcendental level that they bear the whole of humanity within themselves. “Holy men” – that’s what some would call them.

Jason doesn’t remember his parents. They died when he was still a toddler. He has been brought up by relatives. He didn’t have a parenting model he could look up to. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t have a good relationship with his two daughters either. He is not able to understand their world, and whenever his wife prompts him to intervene in matters regarding the eighteen year old twins he does it awkwardly, as if it’s not his kids he’s dealing with. Sometimes he overreacts and his shouts wake up the neighbors; other times – which looks even worse – he tries to hold hands with either of the girls and fix things by sharing his own irrelevant experience. Maybe that’s why neither of them doesn’t seem too shaken when he agrees to fly on a civil mission to Afghanistan. As a National Guard officer and a working engineer he is invited to join a crew for tracing out a road-bed in the southern part of the country in preparation for a major highway construction. The money is good, and since he would be absent for less than three months only, the family agrees to let him go.

At the end of the second month of his assignment the convoy finds itself in a mountainous area near an abandoned village. As they start setting up the camp the military guards alert of a possible hostile presence. It turns out to be just two teenage boys asking for food. Yet everybody is still suspicious. From the middle of the terrain Jason watches how the boys are being warned not to come any closer and advised to go home as quickly as possible. Through the falling darkness he spots the two tiny figures sinking into a dark tumble-down hut six hundred yards away, on the other side of the valley. Shortly before the break of dawn Jason finds himself six hundred yards from his camp, holding almost his entire weekly ration in one hand, and knocking on the hut’s bullet ridden door with the other. As the door opens he picks out the frail silhouettes of the boys pressed against the opposite wall, pointing two long crooks towards him. Unfazed, Jason steps inside and leaves the food on the table. Then without a word he turns around and gets out. A dozen steps into the field he looks back to see the boys standing in the door’s frame, eyeing him silently. It takes Jason a while before deciding to walk back and hand the grip of his dirk to the bigger boy. For the next thirty seconds the three of them stand still, looking at each other, the precious military knife in the boy’s hand. Ten minutes later Jason is assembling his tent, his brief absence having been noticed only by the two guards from the current shift, who don’t say anything. Another forty days or so, and Jason reunites with his wife and daughters.

Months after his encounter in the Afghan village he still can’t explain to himself what made him do what he did there. Even more inexplicable is the new way he now communicates with his girls. He is attentive and calm; his advice is assuring and respectful; his overall demeanor is self-confident, yet loving and warm. For the twins it feels like they’ve gotten a new version of their dad; for him it is as if he has found a heretofore unknown part of himself. It looks like his absence from home has something to do with the change. Or probably it was that chilly morning, or perhaps the night before to have served as a turning point in Jason’s self-perception as a parent.

What actually happened was that the unexpected and extremely strong and unfamiliar outer circumstances (the hungry alien boys, the rough and scary surroundings, the loneliness, and the memory of the dear and distant faces of his loved ones) stirred an overwhelming amount of compassion and warmth in Jason’s heart. Plucked out of his narrow circle and thrown into an environment of a life-and-death struggle, he faced occurrences that his arsenal of hitherto convenient, securely-checked and well-trusted qualities simply couldn’t handle. He could have stayed indifferent to the situation, or found in himself the motivation for a bold and humane reaction. The inner facts of his subconscious allowing him to level up to what was going on around him turned out to be within his reach. He transformed them into circumstances. The others remained numb; probably just the two guards who didn’t say anything got a little closer to activating some unknown qualities in their own possession. Later on, once Jason became aware of the totally new behavior he was capable of, he preserved the sense of the new qualities that have lead him to it, and let them determine his conduct further, this time in regards to the most sensitive part of his world – his daughters. It was the action he had executed in the small, almost abandoned village that prompted him to dig into his subconscious and find there inspiration for being a person he had never been before.

Stanislavski was right: it is action, and action alone, that brings up new layers of our hidden nature. It is action, and action alone, that raises us closer to God.

© 2010 Peter Budevski

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

View RSS Feed