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The Puppet Theater

The Grace of the Machine

The Mechanics of Grace

27 Oct. 2009 The Puppet Theater 1


Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist, 1777-

Bernd Heinrich Wilhelm von Kleist, 1777-1811

“Űber das Marionettentheater,”

Berliner Abendblätter (1810).

Considered one of the best examples of the

essay as a short prose form.

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Carl Spitzweg, “Der Bücherwurm” (the bookworm), c. 1850

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Act 1. The Grace of the Machine

"He assured me that the pantomime

of these puppets gave him much
pleasure, and suggested in no
uncertain terms that any dancer who
wished to improve his art might
learn all sorts of things from them."
-- Kleist

If ...
... a mechanical puppet dances more
gracefully than a human body.
Then …
… is consciousness (intelligence, self-
awareness) a prerequisite for
physical grace? Or is it an obstacle
that humans can never overcome;
only machines and gods can achieve
this kind of perfection?

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What is a puppet?

“A small figure, human or animal, with jointed

limbs, moved by means of strings or wires; esp.one
of the figures in a puppet-show; a marionette” OED

pets.com sock puppet

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What is a marionette?

Marionette (OED).

Etymology: From middle French

marionnette or maryonete, denoting a
“type of dance” (1517) or a type of musical
instrument (1479). Derived from Old
French mariole + ette.

Mariole – denotes the Virgin Mary or an

image of her (13th , 14th c.)

English definition in OED. 1a. “A puppet

with jointed limbs, usually operated by
strings.” Established by the 17th century.

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Hail Mary, full of grace.

The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.


Theological or legal meaning:

A voluntary gift … leads to:

1. the notion of grace as a gift. For example, it

is a quality that the athlete is born with, not a
product of reason, study, or training.

2. "Grace is beauty in motion" and it can "only

be given to its subject by accident" (Friedrich

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Centers of Gravity

“Each movement, he said, had its center of

gravity; it would suffice to control that center, on
the inside of the figure; the limbs, which are
really nothing but pendulums, follow of
themselves, in a mechanical way, without
further aid.”
-- Kleist

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The Mechanics of Grace: Stanford Swings

"Balance, agility and ease – but each in a

higher degree, and especially a more
natural coordination of the center of

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“I replied that I had always thought this activity something quite mindless,
rather like turning the crank on a hand organ.

"By no means," he answered. "On the contrary, the relation of his finger
movements to the movements of the puppets attached to them is something
quite precise, rather like the relation of numbers to their logarithms or
asymptotes to their hyperbola.“

But he believed that even this last fraction of mind, to

which he had just now referred, could indeed be removed
from the marionettes, their dance transposed wholly into
the realm of mechanical forces, and, just as I had
imagined, produced by means of a crank.”

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Be the Ball

Ty Webb: Just be the ball, be

the ball, be the ball. You're not
being the ball Danny.

Danny Noonan: It's hard

when you're talking like that.

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Act 2. The Fall from Grace

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The Thorn Puller

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The Fall from Grace

3:6 And when the woman saw that the tree was
good for food, and that it was pleasant to the
eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one
wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat,
and gave also unto her husband with her; and he
did eat.

3:7 And the eyes of them both were

opened, and they knew that they were
naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and
made themselves aprons. -- The Book of

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Act 3. In the Flow

“Eye to eye, as though he

could read my very soul, he
stood with his paw poised
for the strike, and if my
thrusts were not in earnest
he simply did not move."

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Bearly There: Flow

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (1934-) "What do you mean by flow?“

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience "Being completely involved in an

(1990) activity for its own sake. The ego
falls away. Time flies. Every action,
Clear goals movement, and thought follows
inevitably from the previous one, like
Concentrating and focusing playing jazz. Your whole being is
involved, and you're using your
A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, skills to the utmost.“
the merging of action and awareness.
Wired 4.09: "Go With The Flow"
Distorted sense of time

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All your attention is focused either on the skills or routine
being performed or on the input from your senses relevant to
the sport.

You are fully focused of the activities being performed, and

•not aware of your own awareness,
consciousness of self or ego
•not evaluating the quality of execution of
skills during performance
•not concerned with distractions such as
results, judges, audiences or other peoples
•not making any conscious decisions in your
mind or reasoning with words - you are
trusting your body to follow its training

You are in complete control of actions and reactions

You feel almost in an altered state of consciousness: achieving

flow is exhilarating, and gives a powerful feeling of

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Teleology: A Puppet or a God?

"We see how, in the organic world, as

reflection grows darker and weaker, grace
emerges ever more radiant and supreme.

… grace, having likewise traversed the

infinite, return to us once more, and
so appear most purely in that bodily
form that has either no consciousness
at all or an infinite one, which is to
say, either in the puppet or a god."

- Kleist

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The Singularity

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ratu l s
ed . are

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Performing the Machine

Kraftwerk, "The Robots" promo for Man Machine (1977)

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