intimate interview with Jan Ritsema
Jan Ritsema: Of course I thought a little bit about it. Intimacy in principle means not to be timid or “timide”(in French)
SB: Ah it has something to do with timid.
JR: I don’t know. But of course In is non. Inconscience, Incontinent. So the meaning of in is non. So its non-timide. And that’s what is intimate. The interesting thing is that we change intimacy to a very small space, a very safe space where you can be intimate, we think. But what we mean with intimate is not “timide”, is open to everything, is borderless, is every protection away, in principle. And it’s not just a small space where you can….
And then of course in history it’s got a very sexual connotation. For me ideal for society would be if we did not use the word intimacy. A society that is not timid. Timid is not a quality. When someone says someone is shy “Oh he or she is soo shy”- you have fear, that’s why you are shy. Intimacy is not a quality. Intimacy is a quality but it shouldn’t be called intimacy. It’s just that you are open. In this fearful society where everyone is putting daggers in each others’ back, usurping each other – the neo-capitalist society is like this – in this society intimacy is reduced to the bed, or to the most private space where you dare to be without protection.
So intimacy is the space where you are without the fear that forces you to protect yourself.
SB: Is this intimacy something you try to achieve in your life?
JR: Yes, I try to be as intimate as possible. I don’t think timidity is a quality.
SB: Quality meaning something good?
JR: Yes. But on the personal level, I always said about myself that I have an intimacy addiction. My mother died when I was three. So the little boy is still looking for protection. That’s the other meaning of intimacy, that is to be in a fully protected surrounding, in mommy’s arms, and feel safe. That’s not how I think we should read and use intimacy. Intimacy should be the normal state of us, namely without fear of each other. There is no need to be fearful.
SB: So it’s also a lot about complete trust?
JR: The word trust is not in my vocabulary. That’s another story. You cannot trust anybody.
Religion and power need people to be fearful, to ask for protection. They play the protectors. Their alibi for power is offering protection. It’s just a Mafia principle. We burn your shop or we protect you. And you pay us for the protection.
It’s the same “chantage” of religion and of every power position of somebody else over us. You have to trust that we don’t put fire on your shop if you pay us every month 1000 Euros, if you come to our Church. Then we don’t put fire on your shop – that’s hell. It’s Mafia – church.
So trust is an invention of people that want to have power over you. Trust does not exist. It cannot exist. We are unable to trust each other.
SB: What about trusting yourself?
JR: And I mean really trusting each other. You can never be sure if you can trust somebody. Never. You cannot know it. So don’t use it.
SB: What about being intimate with yourself or trusting yourself?
JR: How can you not be intimate with yourself? If you are not intimate with yourself you are ripe for personal problems. I must admit that many people are ripe for that.
SB: Yes I think for a lot of people it’s difficult to be intimate in general, and to be intimate with themselves.
JR: I don’t understand this. That’s the interesting thing: You cannot be intimate with yourself!
SB: You cannot?
SB: Cause it’s always about a relationship with someone else?
JR: No, intimate with yourself is a relation with yourself. Whatever tricks you use, whatever mutations and lies you make up about yourself, in principle they are all clear to you. Yourself is an open field to you. You cannot protect yourself from yourself. You can protect yourself from the others, but not from yourself. You are the victim and the perpetrator. You cannot harass yourself. You cannot rape yourself
SB: Hmm….Ok. I’m really trying to take in all this information. But it’s quite a lot. – Do you think intimacy is something we can create for ourselves in a relationship with others? Or is it something that just happens by chance when we don’t look for it? Can we create conditions for it?
JR: Yes, of course. It’s by eliminating the boundaries of protection. Every boundary you take away makes you less “timide”. So the less you act as a fortress, the less timid you are. But a fortress can have many forms. A fortress can act as if it’s very open. So the defense system can be “I’m so open, so open, so open! Let’s say everything. I am here. Ah you are so nice!” But you never allow a merging state. So intimacy is the moment where you merge, dissolve with the world around it. We are all very intimate with oxygen. We love it. We are intimate with a lot of food. So it’s where the filters, the membranes that filter whatever information comes to you, filter as little as possible.
SB: Mmmh – thanks. So when you see a performance – do you sometimes use the word intimacy or intimate to describe what you see in the theater? Or how do you relate that term to the theater. Cause I think it’s used a lot in my experience when there is an intimate setting, when there is very little audience, or when it’s a very closed space. what is for you an intimate performance?
JR: That for sure not. Because this reading of intimacy (going to a very private, protected situation) is not what I call intimacy. Intimacy has to go the other way around. You have to take away your borders and should not withdraw to a small corner. So I cannot imagine any performance that is intimate.
SB: According to your concept of intimacy it would be a performance where the performers cross a lot of boundaries and open up a lot of possibilities. So really liberating …that would be intimate?
JR: Yeah …(thinks) But it’s a very complicated thing. I know a performance- when I was professor at the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam – we invited every now and then performances. There was a group of visual artists/performers who asked us to sit around a big table. We were thirty people around the table. And they were on the table and under the table shitting and masturbating and pissing, putting it on themselves and mixing it, and using some masks and costumes and whatever but …. So that sounds as if this was borderless. It’s transgressive performance. People of course walked out of it because they had to vomit. But I don’t know – I wouldn’t use the word intimate. The action of being borderless is not intimate. It’s an aggressive action. So it’s like trust. It is a word that shouldn’t exist. It should be the normal state.
SB: Yes, but that is talking ideally. It is not reality.
JR: Intimacy is not something you make. It is an ontological state. It’s something you are.
SB: What is ontological?
JR: To be. It is like this. That’s ontological. It’s not a process. It’s a fact. It’s a state of being.
SB: Is intimacy something you are interested in seeing in the theater? Or in your own work?
JR: Not to see as a subject. But yes I’m interested in theater that does not protect itself so much. I’m not interested in all the masking that’s connected to theater.
SB: So you mean also theater that takes risks? If it doesn’t protect itself.it’s more risk-taking, no?
JR: I don’t know. What is theater that takes risks?
SB: For me it’s going into the unknown and not putting clear boundaries of how far this can go…
JR: I cannot make theater out of going to the unknown. Theater is a space that is occupied with certain actions during a certain time. Can this be more intimate or less? – I’m interested in soft. I am not interested in hard. I’m not interested in virtuosity. That is creating borders. I’m interested in soft.
JR: Yes, for sure. Sensitive. But not in an esoteric way. Your brains can be very smart. And that I would call sensitive. Very smart and precise. I always talk about being specific. Try to be as clear as you can be. And that’s soft It’s all about being as little protected as possible. There is a state between the stage and the audience where it is easy to dissolve. Not to dissolve in being drawn by spectacularity. It’s necessary for me that people stay independent, that people stay independent but that they also want to dissolve.
SB: Do you think intimacy is possible on the web? Virtual intimacy? Or can it only happen in real time face to face?
JR: If intimacy is being as borderless as possible, then within the context of the border on the web that is communicating by screens, I would say no there is no intimacy. The screen is in between.
SB: Because I think there aren’t as many ways of negotiating or measuring intimacy on the web. I’m still stuck with this idea of trust. How far can you go? On the web you can say much more and then just delete it again.
JR: Maybe when I think about it now – even when you do skype-fucking you always stay alone. There is a certain way of dissolving a little bit, but it’s very task-oriented. No the web is certainly not made for intimacy.
SB: And still I think a lot of people are looking for intimacy on the web and spend much more time looking for it on the web than in real life.
JR: Yes of course, because it’s in the context of the protection of the screen, this huge membrane that filters everything. So you can never really be touched. Intimacy presupposes a sharing, I would say. When I was talking about dissolving, merging before – I mean on the web there is the idea of merging too. But it’s not happening. It’s very much an as if situation. That’s why we call it virtual.
SB: Do you think intimacy is disappearing? Do you think it is an endangered species?
JB: The more you live in a society of screens, you will communicate by screens. I always say why I like theater is because it’s the only place since the church is empty where we are all together alive. This live togetherness with strangers is something very specific to the performing arts.
We communicate so much by screens, whether it’s a computer, or a television or a telephone or whatever, they all have interfaces. And everyone who was born knows what it is to be taken in the arms of the mother, to have physical contact, to appropriate the world around you, whether it is oxygen or a piece of meat. You are all the time merging. You are appropriating the world and you are contaminating the world with your things. Our words, communication, are a way of infecting each other. I contaminate your mind with my words and you have to try and live with it – which is very difficult of course after what I’ve said. (chuckles)
SB: Have you had a chance to visit my blog? I would be interested to get some feedback from you. I want to go on with this research but also think about ways to put it in a performative frame. I wonder if it should be a lecture demonstration in Reims next week.
JR: What I see on the blog is a little bit this sweet and tender ….. social, nice atmosphere, esoteric thing. But basically the “demarche” about intimacy I like. It’s in all my work. My work is about this.
SB: About finding intimacy?
JR: About trying to be borderless. If you would do some more brain effort ….. ( )…. I think Derrida said a lot about this. You should watch this interview with Derrida. I show him because he is very intimate. This Eva Verdes is also very intimate. It’s naïve, but it’s one to one. And Derrida when he talks about his childhood and his fear about writing, it’s very intimate. I support this. But not in an esoteric way. I’m not interested in doing intimate in a fine, nice world.
SB: Why do you say esoteric?
JR: Because then it becomes a culture. Then it’s like in the screen as if we do intimate. You can create here a subculture of intimacy, of nice people who love each other very much and fuck around. A sixties commune that does “intimate”. And I don’t want to have a retreat behind the walls of PAF because then you go to the private situation of the idea of intimacy when you are in a bed with somebody. You have to look for ways of being intimate at the table. And you have a tendency to be – also the way you speak is quite soft. So intimacy is about being intimate in public, which doesn’t mean that you have to fuck on top of cars in the center of Paris. That is being transgressive. That’s also ok to be sometimes transgressive.
So for me a blog about this ? ( )…. – but a brain work please! I gave some notions in this talk – there is a lot to think about – I twist intimacy completely from private to public. The way Derrida talks in his interview has for me the dignity of intimacy. And I like to combine these two words. It’s nobility. And that is the ability to merge, to dissolve – and not to grasp. We are in a grasping, in a colonizing culture, in an appropriating culture. And not in a sharing exchange culture, which is a much richer culture.