John Flaxman, Mercury's message to Calypso, 1805

To speak of the air of speech, to point it out, to foreground the sphere that foregrounds, may seem sacrilegious. However, the hint of profanity, of violation, of irreverence, or obscenity forms part of exactly what I wish to place on the scene. To point out that which enables us to point out, the stage of the stage, to point out the image of the image, to carve out the sign of the sign, is to misplace once more the site from where speech can be heard to speak: the imaginary space of the scene, a space above space, still tainted by the hint of the sacred, and  from where we identify the site of hearing and seeing.

The type of occasion we have here involving the presentation of a delimited object for “reading,” “hearing,” or “viewing,” is an event that we take as a matter of course, an established cultural ritual or practice that is less and less subject to reflexion. Maybe, as I propose now, we can look at it again more closely so we can recall the circumstances that presume its perpetuation.

This part here where I stand is actually a strange place; we can call it the space of the Messenger, the space of the one who speaks. For whom does he or she speak, we can’t say yet definitively, but we can assume, or we can hope, in the same gesture, that as a Messenger, he or she carries a Message whose very existence (of both or all of them) can serve as an evidence of the being of the Source.

That is, the Messenger’s very existence is a hope of the reality of the Message and, by extension, of the origin of the Message, of the reason for which the Messenger was sent, and of the very rationale of the act of speech which must unfold, and not just of the content of the speech itself.

This part of the stage, or the stage itself, the very concept of the stage, is strange, as I said, because it is a space distinct from the space you, the audience or spectator, occupy. Once someone or something takes up this space of the stage, he, she, it, or they undergo a certain transformation. It is as if they’ve been sent to a different zone, a special region set apart from ordinary spaces. In short, we treat the stage like we do the space of the Sacred, like we do the altar.

The altar, as we know, is the high place for ritual sacrifice and offerings, the Latin mix of “altus” and “altare.” It also evokes, only for me perhaps, the word “alter,” a word we are familiar with, as in “alter ego,” or the “other self.” The stage, too, comes from a word that means “to stand,” where we get the sense behind a word like “grand standing” or “upstaging.”  So it won’t be far off to say that the stage is where we “take a stand.”

Hence, if we take the intersection of all these terms, it can give us an idea of the nature of the space where we find ourselves, this stage where I stand. It is, therefore, the place of the other self, in a zone set apart, the altitude of the voice that speaks, the altar of the Messenger where the Message makes itself heard. In fact, the Messenger cannot exist, nor can the Message, without this strange space of the stage.

Although you, the audience/spectator, are sitted (or virtually sitted when there are no chairs), the space you occupy is an extreme extension of the stage, but not identical with it. The space you are on is the irradiated region that receives the signals that emanate from the stage; yes, like the sun shining on the planets, asteroids, and moons.

That’s why, usually, the audience sits in the dark, feeding on the sole source of illumination and action which is the stage. Silence is, therefore, mandatory for the audience. The stage divides the world sharply into the region of the invisible and the visible, the inaudible and the audible. The stage is the geography of the scene, the Greek skēnē of the English “stage.” The stage is the scene, and the scene is the stage. This is where we make a scene, so to speak.

As I have said, to point out the staged nature of the stage is, today, in itself a cliché, or should be by now. For some, it still stirs up a kind of sense of violation of the fourth wall. We don’t want to prick the thin membrane of ideality that we project into the spaces we inhabit, this ideality of the stage as a zone set apart, as a region where a special kind of speech or performance or event can take place.

This scene of the stage is the altar of the above-ordinary, the place where speeches become messages, and where speakers become messengers. The voice or the event that is produced on it undergoes this transformation. The stage is usually placed higher than the space of the audience, or drawn as a center or as a foreground.

The voice that speaks adopts a distinct style and volume. This must be maintained constant as far as possible depending on the nature of what is being presented. Any wayward noise, like the clearing of the throat, or any break in the script, or a wardrobe malfunction, or a mobile phone ringing, is a return to the Ordinary. The scene evaporates, the dome of ideality disintegrates, and an ethical sense gets violated.

It is not enough, therefore, to speak. The voice itself must be held in a zone above the Ordinary. If it is a “personal” speech, it is surrounded by the narrative of exceptional experience. It is the altered self coming back to relay an extra-ordinary scene. We did not come all the way to hear about the Ordinary.

To minimize the irruption of the ordinary, we raise the platform, we use a lectern or decor, or we feed the voice into a device like the megaphone or the microphone or the radio or the video, if technology permits. Whether we make the voice smaller or bigger is of a minor matter; the essential is that the voice or act gets metamorphosed, becomes less or more than human, and rejoins the realm of the Objective.

To speak, then, is to efface the voice to become a scene. What speaks is no longer an ordinary I, but something else, a new voice coming out of something more or less than human. The voice that goes out of these speakers is no longer my voice. The speakers speak another voice not mine. It is a mounted voice, the voice of Matter itself vibrating, as if, by the use of these devices or of these stagings, it is the Universe itself that speaks. We have the silent hope that, along the path of waves and atoms where the plain human voice travels, a more-than-human element would collide with it to activate the great release of energy called the Sign or the Word.

The stage then aims to produce the Messenger, or to summon the Medium, the mal’ak, the aggelos, old words for the Angel. It is probably eccentric to use a word like that today where we pride ourselves with our materialism. But the stage is a scene of the material, no less than the material. It is the utopia of the voice becoming matter, fusing itself with matter, fusing itself with the inhuman spatiality of the Universal. This is, as I said, the utopia of scenic speech, the utopia of ritual speech. On the stage, Matter becomes Medium.

The "poetic," in  the usual way we define it, is here no longer a type of special speech; it simply formalizes what speech has tended to become all along. The prosaic is not so prosaic, populated as it is by scenic rituals of language. Aren’t “Goodbye,” as a shortened “God be with you,” or “Hello” as “Heil” which meant “Be whole,” all fragments of certain common, almost forgotten, rituals? The whole world is a stage of speech: is there a more or less common ideality?

We carry the stage wherever we go, but we set up a collective space to reinforce the social dimension of the scene, to fortify and to assure, by a sort of group redundancy, the reality of the stage of speech. We assign a date, we make announcements, we create anticipation, and we stoke the imagination.

In this utopian stage, one hemisphere of speech is always becoming another voice. By a sort of imagined necessity, speech demands this other half where a Messenger is always getting born. We imagine him or her always coming from nowhere, appearing like a dream, possessing wings, or wearing the robe of a stranger. When the Messenger speaks, he or she brings not only the Message, but also the flow of history itself.

Here, what is “human” is delimited by this other speech, as that being who aspires to hear, unceasingly and ardently, the speech of the other. It is through the encounter of the speech of the other that human beings are able to hear themselves. I can hear because, on this stage where the scene is, I am able to hear the speech of the other; that is, by entering this realm, I open myself to the possibility of meeting the mysterious figure of the Messenger, the Medium of the Sign and the evidence of the being of the Source.

The stage is the scene of the triangulation of speech, the bias in space where the Message materializes. For we have rarely asked the question: where does speech really happen, where does the Sign really make its appearance? Where and when is speech really produced? In the hollow caves of the throat, in the coils of the guts, the inner recesses of the lungs, the dark crevices of the brain?

But in whose ear, in whose mouth, in whose guts, in whose brain? Where is the birthplace of the Sign, where is its home? Is it a part of light, a part of the air, an atmospheric event like a desert mirage, a lake effect, or a light pillar? Is it in the chest, in the mind, on paper, on walls, on screens? Where does it take shape amidst the totality of the Great Simultaneous?

The stage is the hyperspace of the Sign, where we expect the apparition of the Messenger and the Message. It is the space where we hope to capture a velocity, whose residence seems nowhere and everywhere. All pages are blank, all walls are white, all substances are black, space vanishes in the distance, interiors and exteriors keep getting redrawn, riddles keep remaking their own truths.

The scene of speech is like stealing fire, it always happens like the myth, it always favors exotic places: deserts, mountains, caves, islands, faraway countries, deep jungles. The journeys are actually not the search for the Faraway but for the Proximal, the recuperation of the Immediate, the annihilation of the Limit, the discovery of Destiny. In short, the arrival of the Messenger in the scene of the stage. This is where the Message makes it entrance like a greatly lit Sign.

But the Messenger can only appear on the strange space of the stage after the echo of our voices die down by mingling indistinctively with the vibrating air, as if the Universe only existed to assure our silence and to recover our expended forces as its own, our words becoming audible only by returning to the objective world where it rejoins Matter itself.

I also appear, like you do, when, at a given moment, the Messenger finally arrives. As if the Messenger carried us in a pocket. This is the moment of things addressed, this is the scenic moment. The function of the stage is to stop the air from moving, to counter the complete absorption of the voice by Matter through the projection of the still space of the stage where the Sign can make an entrance.

At this point, we hear, but no longer sure if they are the same words that were spoken. We are united by the fact of sharing words we can hear only by becoming part of the air, by becoming something else’s speech. Isn’t the air the Stranger who speaks between you and me?

One moment, the scene takes the speech and summons the Messenger; at another, the air absorbs the speech as its own vibration. In the first, it is the still air of the stage, speech of no one’s speech, the hyperbolic realm of the word-as-Sign; in the second, the nameless Universe takes over, the speech becomes an echo of the air, indissociable from the vibrations of the subatomic world itself.

We sit here huddled to catch the whole scene. We either await the Messenger’s arrival patiently, or we suffer the dictatorship of a Universe that transforms all into itself through the unmatched eloquence of physical violence. A single hope keeps us going: that there is indeed a Message, and that we are destined to hear it.

And the air speaks! But is it the Messenger finally arriving, or is it the Universe undulating? In both cases, however, something else speaks. The first speaks to us, the second speaks to no one. In both cases again, we hear, but what we hear is not the same thing that was spoken. Something speaks after we have spoken, not as a response to what was said, but as another summons to keep us listening.

(This is why Hermes had wings: he needed to outrun the atoms to deliver the Message to its destination. He had to be faster than the Universe itself, which engulfs everything like an over-fed baby. But we no longer believe in myths; we have technology, but governed by electrons: everything is back again on air.)

And so we remain believing that there is a Sign or a Message, and that we are destined to hear it. We only need to listen carefully, to open our hearts and minds. But what if the Message that we finally receive says that there is no Message to wait for, that you came all the way for nothing?

You would certainly think that the climb was ridiculously arduous. You counted a few thousand steps, and on the summit, the silent, empty sky. Nothing was waiting, just the flurry of an incoming distant storm. But you will bear it, like the weather-blasted stones under your feet, because you will not accept the Message that no one has really spoken.