"CRUX OF THE MATTER"
Non-Sectarian Crucifixion Archetypes
Interview with Antero Alli by Jonnie Gilman; November 1999

 

 

This interview followed the paratheatrical CRUX lab that met three times
a week for five weeks in Berkeley during the summer of 1999. I made an
82-minute video document, CRUX, of some of the rituals and participant
reactions to their experiences. This interview was first published in the
(now defunct) Seattle tabloid, INSTANT PLANET. -
- Antero Alli

 


 

JONNIE GILMAN: Did you find with the people participating with the ritual that they had a strong charge to the symbol of the cross in and of itself and did that get in the way?

ANTERO ALLI: Yes and no. The charge was was much stronger for some than others yet no one escaped its mysterious magnetism. My assumption around the symbol of the cross is that it has deep historical relevance, as well as, profound psychological, spiritual and religious charge. Oftentimes much deeper than what we're aware of. As a species we've spent the last couple of thousand years in various forms of religious warfare, acting out various opposing and conflicting vantages of what the cross means. The crux of one culture differs from the crux of another culture, and if you have conflicting cruxes that face off with each other, the horror of war can be ignited.

I'm using the word crux here to symbolize a point of worship, meaning what an individual life or a culture revolves around; what it lives for. Sometimes it can be broken down to: "what am I living for?" What is a particular culture living for? If you honestly ask that question of yourself, you can begin tracing your responses back to a crux -- a point of worship -- of what your life actually revolves around - not what you hoped it might revolve around but what you actually live for.

In this CRUX project, I avoided intellectual or philosophical discourse on the religious symbolism of the cross. Instead, I presented the cross as a symbol for what the crux might represent to each individual without binding it to any historical, religious or metaphysical context. If these levels came up on their own, then fine. But to fill our minds with past crux references would only impede a more authentic response. I was afraid these past references might overwhelm and interfere with the exposure and expression of something more personal. So, I introduced ritual triggers to this group that provoked, in bits and pieces along the way, elements of what might lead to their personal crux.

The reason for presenting it in bits and pieces was that oftentimes people have a concept of what they're living for, or an idea, or even a belief but when actually confronted with the psychological pressures innate to the reality of what they are living for, those previous concepts often break down. At that point, you either let go of those images or suffer a kind of psychic immobilization and crucify yourself on a dying concept. And this happened, to some extent, with everybody. Fortunately, everybody also had many opportunities to outgrow their obsolete ideas of the crux and restore their psychological freedom.

 


 

Once you confront the crux as direct knowledge or an impression of a living energy and force within you, it's difficult to deny its existence. Consequently, there is often a kind of ego death in that confrontation and a need to redefine and rethink what you are living for. This crux process is an ongoing one, a kind of life work. It's not like, all of a sudden everybody gets their crux and that’s it. (laughs) Far more often than not, it involves going through many layers of the crux until you get to something that makes itself evident by the force and the energy it imparts to the life you are actually living. You see, the crux energizes you.

 

JG: The crux seems to be a symbol of the individual in and of themselves, embodying the horizontal and the vertical, that forms the crux. The individual living entity finds himself in the center of these pulling, pushing equalized forces. They are right there, stuck. Even though you are getting away from the crucifixion, its like you are pinned to your cross in that way.

AA: In this group experiment we discovered a certain irony to that solitude. By confronting our own individual crux, we saw how we were also connected as a group. We looked around and saw how we were all nailed to the cross of our own existence; we’re all crucified somewhere. Everybody’s stuck somewhere. That sense of unity, I think, bonded the group. So, this wasn't a self-isolating ritual. It actually promoted a deeper group unity but to get to that unity we had to penetrate our own individual crux first and that meant arriving at some pretty intense and painfully lonely places where we were righteously stuck. You know, there's a fine line between a rut and a groove and the deeper the rut, the closer the crux. By the way, this whole notion of being deeply stuck or nailed, was never presented with any incentive for "self improvement," or getting “unstuck” but as a symptom of getting closer to center. The oervall incentive was self-knowledge and maybe, self-transcendence but not without serious self-confrontation.

The word "crux", is a mountaineering term for the most difficult passage on the way to the top of any mountain. This tough passage is called the crux because if you get through it, you can reach the top of the mountain. If you can't get through the crux, you have to return to base camp or, get stuck in the crux.

 


 

JG: Its a kind of birth canal.

AA: I relate more to the mountain metaphor. I mean, here was this group on the way up to their own existential peak, to discover the edge of whatever they are living for and each climber had to confront their most difficult passage to get there or, climb back down to base camp.

 

JG: There is no way to go back to sleep once you have that knowledge. You can't not know that.

AA: That depends on the degree you wake up. It’s easy to slip back into sleep, so to speak. I think that without some kind of ritual device or catalyst or drug or accident to force or shock us back into the heat of our crux, it is easy to fall asleep, again. We learned to create our own pressures and ways to keep the heat up to stay awake enough to keep one eye on the peak. Maybe it’s an acquired taste for difficulty, a certain excitement for meaningful struggle. Not all struggle or difficulty proves meaningful.

 

JG: Watching the video, I was struck by the intense analysis that people would go into to try to understand what their motivations were, or what was the heat for them, why they were here, and, in some cases it seemed immobilizing. There's a certain fixed quality to that because in the midst of all these opposing energies, self conflict, getting kind of lost in a mental realm of analysis.

AA: Direct exposure to the crux point can shock the ego. And one common reaction to that shock you can see in this flailing about for answers and grappling for some kind of conceptual understanding. I think this is a natural way ego attempts to restabilize itself after the shock, to get back in control and make sense of something larger than our mental categories. Sometimes ego can tear this experience to tatters. Lke a hungry dog attacking a steak, it can become morbidly obsessive with creating certitude or control where there may be none. This shock to ego is really an exposure to the possibility that some part of you lives for something other than ego. Ego doesn't want to hear that. What a blow to vanity! Ego wants to believe that IT's what you are living for. Ego wants to believe that IT's the most important thing. And so ego will try to come back and impose some understanding of what's happening in an attempt to regain false control.

Everybody went through some degree of this ego drama. These fixations on explanations came out more in the beginning. The more you go back to the direct experience of the crux, however, the more that experience softens those fixations to try and explain everything. As people were subjecting themselves more and more to the exposure of their crux, they tended to grow a little easier around that compulsion to understand everything. There is real mystery in the crucifixion archetype. Over time, I saw more acceptance of that mystery and more ease with simply being in it, rather than needing to understand it. Some people showed more die-hard ego struggles than others by clinging tightly to their dogmas, trying to conform their experience to previous beliefs which only added to their suffering. Sometimes, the crux hurts.

 

JG: The need for answers is perhaps a form of resistance.

AA: For some, it can be a brutal revelation to be exposed to what you are actually living for, as opposed to what you think or hope you're living for. If you have a negative reaction to what you're living for it can be like waking up to a nightmare. To live with that knowledge is obviously very challenging. The only creative thing you can do at that point is muster up the courage to show yourself some compassion to live with more truth about yourself. Sometimes you find out what you are actually living for and are genuinely excited by that. That's not hell; that’s heaven. But if you are waking up to anything you are not ready to live with yet, that may as well be hell.

 

JG: Once people grew conscious of what they’re living for and it was distasteful to them, did it compel them to shift that core of what they are living for?

AA: Each person reacted differently to that incident. Some people would just bury their head in the ground ostrich-style and try to escape or deny and pretend they didn't see it. Others would surrender to the fact and agree to suffer and experience remorse or shame or whatever honest emotional reaction they needed to experience to what they were living for. And I respect that. Maybe they discovered how they had settled for less and felt bad about that. One person discovered that all she was living for was sensation. Her whole life amounted to producing more and more sensation. Pleasure or pain, it didn't matter. Just as long as more sensation was produced. When she first discovered that, she became depressed. She very much wanted to believe that somewhere deep inside there must be something more to life than just sensation. It was her good fortune that she agreed to suffer through that. She also showed enough courage to bear up to that unbearable truth. By suffering through it a new vision was born for living for something other than sensation.

 

 

JG: The drive for sensation is almost a hunger for perception.

AA: Maybe. But it also could be the result of superficial values. In many ways the CRUX project was about the disclosure of values. What people were actually making important in their lives. Not what they thought they were making important, or wanted to make important, or should be making important if and when they got their act together. No, it showed them what they were actually making important, whether they previously knew it or not. Some people were shocked to realize how dominant the force of habit was in their lives. Others found out how dominant the force of will was in their lives. We're not talking about one force being better than another but two living forces that prevail in the daily lives of people, every single day.

Another important polarity was the more morally charged forces of good and evil, the existing force of good and the existing force of evil. And these, of course, are subjective assessments as we're not following any religious dogma or any societal definitions of these terms. I encouraged an openness to the existing condition of goodness within the group, as well as the existing conditions of evil, as we personally know and defined those terms. Good and evil were never explicitly defined for anybody. This was no Sunday school lesson...

 

JG: The jumping off of that crux point to get the perspective to see what I would be living for seems very daunting to me. The cross is so much one's own incarnate self. You surrender to your situation and live consciously with that.

AA: The mystery in the crucifixion archetype. If you can get over the delusion of self-improvement and find the courage to commit wholeheartedly to your direct impressions of where you are the most stuck, and really muster up the courage to continue passing through its heart, the very center of where you are the most stuck, without any preconception that it's going to make you a better person, or you're going to become free or enlightened, or whatever.

If you can get past all this nonsense and put yourself on the line, there looms the mystery of resurrection. Not just in the Christian sense but in the mystical sense. Surrender doesn’t mean dwelling in your problems. Surrender demands 100% integrity in your commitment to following through and this carries no guarantee whatsoever. There is no concept or image to describe how that will turn out or how that will look like. It's a genuine mystery in the way that death is a genuine mystery. We don't know what death is until we're there, until its happening to us. Same with life; we don't know anything until it's happening. Truth be told, we don't even know what's going to happen next.

 

JG: It seemed that within this group there was a high degree of self responsibility. People stuck with it and continued thru the process.

AA: Safety is a very important factor. In this ritual process, everybody pledged to be responsible for creating their own safety. So no matter how strange or weird things got, each person basically agreed to play their own mom and dad. With everybody becoming responsible for their own safety issues, there's also a higher degree of group autonomy. Without that high level of self-responsibility, this CRUX lab would never have happened. And that was my main incentive in inviting each of these people. I hand-picked each person for the high level of motivation I perceived in them around this very thing.

 


 

JG: Yes, I see how safety is very important. When I experienced this work in Seattle, I saw a very risky, almost Pandora's box kind of situation, where there was such opportunity for psychological stuff to bubble up, for projecting mom, dad, authority or whatever.

AA: Trouble is, the psychological stuff of projection goes on anyways in any group process. It will always happen. The difference is that when you commit yourself to 100% accountability right from the start, you tend to look at those projections more as opportunities to begin reclaiming more authority and autonomy for yourself, rather than squander it away. Projection is also inherent to ritual evocation of archetypical processes when it’s done on purpose, as in conscious projection which involves an intentional charging of the ritual space with a certain energy.

 

Conscious projection is innate to evoking the forces in a ritual that you are there to experience in the first place. So, this intention of accountability changes everything. If you don't do rituals (or live life, for that matter) with the intention of accountability, you are more prone to passive self-victimization where you tend to only see how circumstances overwhelm you. This immature behavior leads to feelings of helplessness and betrayal and all the other negative reactions a child acts out when not taken care of and paid attention to. With the intent of accountability, you agree to take charge of paying attention to the child -- to monitoring your own behavior -- and taking care of the child when those needs and fears surface.

 

JG: In this group alchemy that happens, is there more of a sense of group mind or group consciousness developing ?

AA: Any group unified by some purpose or reason for being there is going to birth a group mind. I was looking to support a very particular kind of group mind based in self accountability and one that was up for an adventure, a challenge. I tend to look at any experience that expands consciousness, whether triggered by ritual or by life itself, as an adventure. My interest in consciousness expansion is not for its own sake; any fool can get high. I look to it as part of a larger development of conscience, something I think is taken for granted in this culture. People assume they have a conscience just because they know how to feel guilty. Yet oftentimes this “conscience” is so socially conditioned into us as a life-constricting reflex, it keeps us emotionally locked in a state of low grade guilt without knowing it. This can manifest as a kind of pesky self-consciousness, annoying insecurities and a long-term stifling of self-expression.

If you have not defined your own ethics yet, you've probably inherited your morals from the culture at large and/or your family. Your personal ethos define in your own terms: what's good, what's bad, what's evil, what's right, what's wrong. Experiences that expand your consciousness give you a better chance to see and realize the truths of your life and your own responses and definitions for what they mean to you. When you finally develop your personal responses to the truths you experience, you can define your own ethics and a conscience germane to the truth as you know it.

This is the type of conscience I'm referring to. And I think this kind of conscience isn't possible without direct experience. If you are not experiencing life for yourself, you may have temporarily lost the capacity for direct experience. If you want to restore your capacity for direct experience, you must be willing to struggle and fight for it, for your consciousness. If you have lost the capacity to think for yourself and to come to your own conclusions and determine your own definitions for things, then I think you are more at the mercy of circumstance and the backup programs of consensus, socially sanctioned moralities.

 

 


Antero Alli

 

JG: In doing this work, what has been your primary motivation, what compels you to take this on, show this to people, continue it, evolve it.

AA: I do it to stay honest. If I don't find ways to remind me of my own crux, I slip into cultural trance. I'm not immune to that yet. If I can't occasionally break cultural trance and receive deeper impressions of direct experience, I'm nodding off with the rest of them. I also utilize these labs to test and develop creative ideas that sometimes bear fruit in the areas of filmmaking and theatre.

 

JG: It was interesting in the film how one gentleman mentioned that it changed his perceptions, his sensate perceptions of the world. Something in the process really does get to essence.

AA: This thing called essence is peculiar; a very misunderstood term. As I know essence, it refers to an immutable element of our nature. It doesn't change. It has a predetermined quality about it, something that was established perhaps at an extremely early age, maybe one year old, two years old, who knows? But I think it’s connected to the crux in that it doesn't change. So maybe the essence is more at the core and the closer to the surface you get to your own experience, of your own self, or even of an entire society, the more things noticeably change.

I think as you grow more aware of what is essential to you, it's easier to relate with what is most essential in others. And there's a greater chance of connecting on an essence to essence level with others, which I find very satisfying. I think part of what CRUX did was engage people at various degrees of essence. When I say various degrees, I mean in proportion to the degree of commitment each person showed to surrendering into the immobilization that sometimes comes with the crucifixion archetype.

To some people, immobilization means death. It's just the worst thing imaginable, the most unbearable thing, to be stuck. Others find a little more comfort with this. They find their own place in this immobilization and reach through the center of that. These individuals tend to integrate their crux a little sooner, I think. And then there are those who genuinely define themselves by motion and change. The slippery characters.

For this CRUX lab, we appointed ourselves nicknames to symbolize our crux. One person called himself Slippery. I think he exemplified an important drama around confronting his own slippery nature and how through brutal self-honesty, he was able to drop down into something less slippery by calling himself on it.

 

excerpted from
TOWARDS AN ARCHEOLOGY OF THE SOUL
(Vertical Pool Publishing, 2003) by Antero Alli

 

3-MINUTE EXCERPT FROM THE VIDEO

6-MINUTE EXCERPT FROM THE VIDEO

 

 


ANTERO ALLI

 

...ANTERO has been creating original performance works using paratheatre processes since 1977 and, has been producing experimental video documents and feature fiction films since 1993. His paratheatrical work is documented in his book, "Towards an Archeology of the Soul" (Vertical Pool, 2003). Alli's 2005 docufiction feature, "The Greater Circulation", incorporates a paratheatre performance in a critically acclaimed cinematic treatment of poet Rainer Maria Rilke's "Requiem for a Friend". His 2008 experimental feature, "The Invisible Forest" (2008; 111 min.) explores the radical ideas of French Surrealist, Antonin Artaud.


 

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