Had I not already come into contact with Kieran Daly’s work in the form of his book Plays/For Theatre, the first scroll through my assigned PDF might have been enough to fling me back into the arms of a perfect-bound, nestled in a soft chair beneath the shade of a dim lamp. Instead, I sat at my desk with the blue light of my laptop screen shining hard into my face, trying to decipher the algebraic equations and scientific dissections which constitute much of GPDF089.
Published by Gauss PDF in 2013, an online publisher of digital and print works, the downloadable ZIP file contains a JPEG cover image showing an orange staking flag in a patch of unshorn grass, a PDF file, and a WMA audio file which my computer cannot/will never be able to open.
At a glance, the PDF reads as a scientific research paper, complete with abstract, list of key words, mathematical equations, data tables and interpretative analysis. The content, then, is unexpected – one would not normally subject the art of dramaturgy to the type of scientific experimentation being performed here.
The abstract begins:
The deployment of numbered Acts and Scenes in dramaturgy is roughly analogous in operation, methods, and conditions to the deployment of quasi-experimental design. Acts and Scenes are primarily deployed to nonrandomly divide into independent groups and thereby treat nonrandomly sampled phenomena for presentation as drama (i.e. play); quasi-experimental design may deploy treatments nonrandomly applied to independent groups of nonrandomly sampled phenomena. Upon this analogue, null models, which observe statistical patterns in species distributions from sampled experimental, observational, or historical data to elucidate causal mechanisms, may be deployed to analyze patterns in extant results (i.e. plays), or stochastically vary extant dramaturgical treatments for the generation of novel results… [excerpt, sic]
And continues in this manner, with taught, technical language. The last line, however, pops up like a little orange marker flapping in the wind:
…I could get a lot more work done if I didn’t lose kinesthetic function of my body every time I move.
This unexpected confessional marks the first of a series of surprise road blocks which alter the well trodden landscape of the research paper. Even the list of key words floating beneath the abstract stands out as markedly poetic, given the juxtaposition of words like ‘bleakness’ with ‘nullipotence’:
Keywords: bleakness, dead end, dramaturgy, invariance, Non-Philosophy, null models, nullipotence, quasi- experimental design
‘Nullipotence’, perhaps, we should pay particular attention to: For all the verbose analytical propositioning contained within this piece, nothing really happens to the data being queried. It is a sterile augmentation. Daly points this out early on when introducing concepts of null theory:
It is superior to the natural experiment because it incorporates stochastic effects and allows for a variety of possible outcomes, including that of “no effect.”
We are presented with facts, figures, and a large cohort of referents and voices from Badiou to Pavis, they pile up like corpses creaking the final sounds of death. As one proceeds through the document, words seem to drown and destroy meaning, the content itself becomes more and more obscure, harder to break down into digestible composites:
Let ƒ denote a unary, nullipotent operation on x which belongs to an extant, invariant parameter μ, where ƒ ∩ μ(x) = Ø → ƒ(μ(x)) = μ(x), preserving μ(x) unchanged without intersecting with ƒ (Lanza et al. 2009; Lakshmiraghavan 2013).
The initial trepidation I experienced with GPDF089 occurred because of Daly’s ability to contort and subvert the very notion of genre, and it is genre which usually provides a cue to reading. In this piece, the cue is unclear. Is this an artwork or a research paper? Academic or poetic? This type of genre refusal or “play” on genre foundations is a hallmark of much of Daly’s work, and is suggestive of what the novel or poem of the 21st century might look like: anything and everything. A sleek, shape-shifting beast swimming through the midnight waves of the internet.
After several reads, I found myself skimming the thematics and instead studying the form of the work, particularly the relation between form and the discordant subject matter. This, for me, became primary.
Towards the very end of the text, after a lengthy tautologous study of the execution of ‘null dramaturgy’ Daly propels another anomalous result our way. Without warning we are led into a quote from The Moon is Hell (1951) a short science fiction novel by John W. Campbell:
Our party is dwindling rapidly. Hughey, Rice, Moore, Whisler, Long, Kendall and myself alone remain. We do almost nothing.
Following this is an inserted image of a low quality, poorly cropped page from the book itself, the final page of Campbell’s book in which the narrator informs the readers that he and the rest of the characters have resigned themselves to death, and have, by the last line, succumbed.
It is a beautifully twisted endgame. Daly’s nihilistic embodiment of null theory under the guise of a scientific report can be seen as a performance in which the text is self-erasing, depleting meaning to the point of nullity and beyond, beyond nothingness, or at least outside of it.
Figure 1. Extant data from (non-)parametric distributions nullipotently performed invariant for no difference between performed and unperformed data. By virtue of the present publication, such data performed was an independent, unary (non-)event, itself showing no-thing (independent-of-nothingness)…Thus, null dramaturgy proceeds poorly: non-relational performance (of) indistinguishability (and) the suspension of results (viz. no-thing, noncausally manifesting the depletion of nullity?).
Almost Beckettian in mood and manner, GPDF089 is a complex but astounding piece. Like a cloaked figure it moves in and out of expected visibility, and Daly directs the performance with guile. By positing statements within the text Daly poses huge questions outside of it, and it is this meta commentary, ethereal, existing only the consciousness of the reader, that deserves the title of this piece.