On my first evening here in Dublin, over a pint of Guinness, I got into a very interesting debate with a man named Nathaniel. We were discussing whether you could, in a performance, always separate out and capture the part that was written, versus the part that was performed.
For example, when you go to see a performance of Hamlet, there is a part of what you are seeing that exists outside of any individual staging: The actual play that Shakespeare wrote, the folio of words on paper that you can hold in your hand. Of course the folio is not a performance, but it contains essential “code”, without which the performance would not be Hamlet.
The question was whether it was necessarily true that for all great works of performance there is a corresponding written code which can be separated out from the performance itself. Or could there, for example, be a great dance or music performance, in which all that is essential lies in the performance itself, in some irreduceable genius of that particular performer? Could this be true to the point where there would no longer even be an identifiable code – in written script or dance notation or musical notes on a page – that would capture any essential part of what you had just seen?
Of course we didn’t come up with a definitive answer to our question, but we had a great time debating the point. And that is surely a fine thing to be doing over a pint of Guinness on your first evening in Dublin.