And now we're lethal, infected with D'evils
Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body
- Jay Z, D’Evils
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
- Maya Angelou, still I rise
The emergence of Body
The body’s history is a network of stories about shaping, constitution and subjugation to and through regimes and ideologies. The body is where the ideology takes place, where it unfolds into aesthetics, physical norms, gendering and racialization of the flesh. The body remains at work throughout the civilization’s development - mediated, extended and organized by multiple technologies and philosophies, was born out of its sociality, like Aphrodite out of foam. And then it started moving and “talking”, and discovered self-organization. Body develops language that is hard to archive or revive from the Black Hole of History. But, forms of organizations and the bodily drive for experience survives.
We’ve been raving and dancing in circles and shaking off demons probably/ hopefully from the moment that the first ever group of people bounced together in a cave at night, one that was probably super dark. Dance does not only 'infect us' but in dance we arrive at the place of giving substance to things that may have been unnamed and intangible. Once in a while it’s good to shake it off. Some people say it’s like healing; dance transforms us and frees us from our traumas and limitations. At its best, dance can transform what’s around, it can radiate and bring about change.
Dance contains us at the moment when what within us outbursts into the space. It becomes an autonomous language and the dancer is born out of the hell of contemporaneity chased by the past of the body that, in the end, is very, very ancient. Our bodies have been storing information at least since we were fish, and even from before then. We need smart strategies to manage that archive, and to mobilize it whenever time is right.
Out of the ruins, out from the wreckage
Can't make the same mistakes this time
We are the children, the last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change?
Living under the fear, till nothing else remains
We don't need another hero,
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome
- Tina Turner ( text Graham Hamilton Lyle / Terry Britten), We don’t need another hero
Ursula le Guin writes about different kinds of stories that we need to tell, stories that are preceding the Hero, stories that open up different possibilities for the future. The storage of bullshit, that we have gradually become through centuries, consists of patriarchal, xenophobic minds, concepts of race and class, violence of development and the ever growing uncertainty about the direction of progress or future at all. Le Guin claims that we become stories that we are told and that we tell. And some of those stories are so unbearably overtold that we shall look at them with irony while trying to overrule them.
What you are is a woman. Possibly not human at all, certainly defective. Now be quiet while we go on telling the Story of the Ascent of Man the Hero
- Ursula Le Guin, Carrier Bag theory of fiction
The question of Man... It’s never ending — this gradual decomposition of the concept of Man. What was for centuries understood as Man(hood) was central to distribution of rights amongst which also the right of having a voice to tell stories of one’s own, histories of a lifetime and of one’s own disappearance. The ‘eruption of Men’ (Anna Tsing) started perhaps with the birth of an idea of supremacy, of phallic superiority that shined in its full glory for centuries. It marked the moment in which also the new concept of the World emerged to become an infinite resource for subjugation and exploitation. What’s left after the eruption is cinders. The world of Men is a site of massacre and murder, it brings apocalypse both to human and non-human worlds. Anthropocene overruled Nature and put Nature and all of us, including cows and swine, to work. While Men were counting the money, planning new expeditions and new factories, they kept further investing our lives for the sake of their economic, political and ideological gains.
The very obsession with sharp vertical things, paradoxical vitality of weapons, and celebration of hardness in general, showed us that those ‘erupted’ Men have no idea about and no interest in soft love, justice or sustainability for the planet. However, the right to (hi)story was offered to Men and Men only.
There is that wonderful, big, long, hard thing, a bone, I believe, that the Ape Man first bashed somebody with in the movie and then, grunting with ecstasy at having achieved the first proper murder, flung up into the sky, and whirling there it became a spaceship thrusting its way into the cosmos to fertilize it and produce at the end of the movie lovely fetus, a boy of course, drifting around the Milky Way without (oddly enough) any womb, any matrix at all? I don't know. I don't even care. I'm not telling that story. We've heard it, we've all heard all about all the sticks and spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the thing to put things in, the Container for the thing contained. That is a new story. That is news.
- Le Guin, Ibid.
When at the wake of modernism Isadora Duncan claimed the body to be the ultimate source of movement and civilization at large, she believed that the body can be autonomous and “pure”. Cultural development in (Western) dance after World War II brought an end to that master narrative. As dance scholar Bojana Kunst points out, the body after two global wars is no longer autonomous, but is recognized as the site of 'ideological appropriations'. Body becomes something of ‘a place of lack and numerous ruptures’ (Kunst ). Institutionalization of modern dance and further codification of the aesthetics that belonged to modernity and the modern body, overly repeated in its sameness, called for yet another revolution. The repertoire of movement—as much as the repertoire of stories, ideas and affects limited to schools and trends—brought impotence to dance. It can be then only kept alive through the reproduction of the same, through the eternal return of the things we have already seen. The challenge of post-modern dance was to find ways of breaking the loop. What’s news when nothing is really new?
The emergence of post-modern dance was marked by the avant-garde interdisciplinary, based on chance procedures, choreographies that entered the stage of Judson Memorial Church in New York in 1962. In October of the same year sculptor and conceptual artist Robert Morris wrote a statement in which he expressed his hope for dance to develop an autonomous language and establish itself as an independent form of art (independent from ideas and methods coming from other art fields). “Intellectual clarity” of Judson choreographers made him envision a true break of the continuity of expressionism of modern dance. Chance operations applied on often mundane, pedestrian movement material were there to subvert the very way dance was being thought of, produced and executed.
The official belief in the infallibility of reason, logic and causality seemed to us senseless – as senseless as the destruction of the world and the systematic elimination of every particle of human feeling. This was the reason why we were forced to look for something which would re-establish our humanity. What we needed to find was a ‘balance between heaven and hell’, a new unity combining chance and design. We had adopted chance, the voice of the unconscious – the soul, if you like – as a protest against the rigidity of straight-line thinking.
- Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-art
In her book about Judson Dance Theatre in years 1960-62, Sally Banes suggests that the fascination with Zen Buddhism, mysticism, automation, collage or chance served choreographers of Judson both as a ‘way to free oneself from the tyranny of self’ (Banes) , to transgress the singularity and alienation of a dancing body (through connecting to the unconscious and cosmic) but also, they allowed artists such as Yvonne Rainer to create dance free of its numinous, ‘incantatory power’.
‘Ordinary Dance’ is extraordinary as an autobiographical outcry, in its dramatic fusion of word and movement, telling story told breathlessly by Yvonne who, however, did not lose her breath nor the dynamic pulsebeat of the dance nor her audience. ‘Ordinary Dance roused me from the stupor into which you fall when you protest against madness with another kind of madness for more than an hour and a half.
- Walter Sorell, Phyllis Lahmut, Albert Reid, William Davis and Yvonne Rainer
Rainer’s piece consisted of heterogeneous fragments of works and dances, that, added up together, created a unique dramatic effect—‘shattered experience of alienation’—through the flow of meaning produced by the conjunctures of elements rather than by explicit dramatic content.
Judson Dance Theatre, and preceding it Robert Dunn’s workshop, facilitated new modes of artistic production that brought together dancers and non-dancers, all committed to compositional studies and choreographic experiments. The non-expertise, failure, randomness brought the rupture into the “straight-line thinking”; new stories could be told, and new dances emerged that were to change the way we think about dance, about who is dancing and what do we call ‘dance’. The exhaustion of the matriarchal lineage of modern dance, its auto-repetition and self-mythologisation had to make some space for the new dance heroines/heroes.
I was free of the notion that I was the centre of the Universe, and that gave me space to play.
- Deborah Hay (in an interview with Sally Banes published in Terpsichore in Sneakers)
I’m a genie in a bottle
I now propose the bottle as hero
- Le Guin, Ibid.
Le Guin, following Virginia Woolf, proposed an understanding of a bottle in an older sense than that of a bottle of gin—a bottle as container, something that holds something else. Container allows us to bring things home and home is another big container, for people.
Words hold things. A pouch, a vase, a bundle, allow things to travel; ideas and stories follow people and maybe people are also containers, for stories.
But Hero doesn’t like the bag of course, he would prefer the stage—once he is in the bag he looks like anyone else.
It is the story that hid my humanity from me, the story the mammoth hunters told about bashing, thrusting, raping, killing, about the Hero. The wonderful, poisonous story of Botulism. The killer story.
- Le Guin, ibid.
Theatricality of evil makes more compelling viewing. Goodness in contemporary literature seems to be equated with weakness. Evil has a blockbuster audience, goodness lurks backstage.(...) Evil has vivid speech, goodness bites its tongue.
- Toni Morrison, Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination
This shit is wicked on these mean streets
- Jay Z, ibid.
Women propose stories until one of them catches men’s attention. Men are more comfortable with sitting and talking (uninterrupted) about their work (Gloria Steinem). We can speculate whether it comes from that first dude that came back from the mammoth hunt to invade his home space and woman’s space with his heroic story. Did he asked her how was her day? Probably not, and the heroism and violence of his conquest rendered her silent for centuries.
At the age of 7, after being raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Maya Angelou stopped speaking for five years. The rapist was jailed for only one day, but four days after his release he was murdered (allegedly by Angelou’s uncles). Angelou remembers that because she had told everything to her brother and he told about what had happened to her to the rest of the family, the death of the man was on her, caused by her telling her story. So she went silent for five years. In those years she read every book from the library of the black school she was attending in St. Louis, Missouri. When she finally broke her silence, she had a lot to say. Her writings and civil rights activism became a refuge for those rendered silent by the rule of Men. Her voice overpowered the Hero, and prevailed over the violence brought upon her.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you,
Pawnee, Apache, Seneca,
you Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet,
Left me to the employment of
Other seekers -- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
Yau, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am that Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
- Maya Angelou, On the pulse of morning ( read at Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremony)
The thriving of Hero proliferates relations founded on domination and proclamation of self over the other that is ‘not like me’. This hero shouldn’t be praised in his manic drive for destruction, nor in his stories of psychological torment that hunt his lone-wolf mind. This hero will employ sometimes radical means to achieve his goals and gain recognition. He will go on killing and destroying until there is nothing left that would challenge his reign and comfort of his ego. He will have numerous books written about him and maybe one day he will become a president of some country to imprison and kill people in a ‘legit’ way together with other ‘heroes’... or he will descend into the darkness of his room, into his computer to plan his personal war from there. We need to soften that hero a lot, we need to talk over him until he is gone. According to Rebecca Solnit, the problem with the hero and the problem of (white) Men’s violence and supremacy is a cultural problem, we need cultural transformation to undo the desire to dominate and kill.
The stories of women, people of color, ethnic minorities, migrants, prisoners, queer people, young people, indigenous communities, disempowered subjects rarely penetrate the imagination of Men. So we must try to tell those stories in choir, in a mass of voices, through the establishment of spaces of empowerment for those voiceless ones.
n her talk at Google Gloria Steinem described an imbalance between those who talk and those who listen (hence cannot talk or cannot be listened to). The hierarchy of voices, of stories, of testimonies needs some recalibration, so Men can finally learn to “read the room” (in a global sense, in realpolitik, diplomacy and ‘humanitarian’ projects), and direct their attention toward the other that has long been disempowered by the monolithic heroic narrative of (stupid, white) Men.
To balance the listening and talking is to take an “organic step” toward equality, says Steinem.
If the right to speak, if having credibility, if being heard is a kind of wealth, that wealth is now being redistributed. There has long been an elite with audibility and credibility, and underclass of the voiceless. As the wealth is redistributed, the stunned incomprehension of the elites erupts over and over again, a fury and a disbelief that this woman or child dared to speak up, that people deigned to believe her, that her voice counts for something, that her truth may end a powerful man’s reign. These voices, heard, upend power relations
- Rebecca Solnit, The mother of all question
Save me from the nothing I've become
I don't give a, I don't give a, I don't give a fuck
I'm willin' to die for this shit
I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit
- Kendrick Lamar, Element
Bell Hooks writes that before you can kill somebody you have to kill something/someone within yourself. The first violence Men commit always against themselves:
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
- Bell Hooks, The will to change
Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.
George W. Bush: When I called our troops into action I did so with complete confidence in their courage and skill. And tonight, thanks to them, we are winning the war on terror. (applause) The men and women of our own forces have delivered a message now clear to every enemy of the United States. (pause, dreamy eyes ) Even seven thousand miles away, across oceans and continents, on mountain tops and in caves they will not escape justice of this nation. ( loud explosion, long standing ovation)
Everyday a retired firefighter returns to Ground Zero to feel closer to his two sons that died there. At the memorial in New York a little boy left his football with a note for his lost father:
( little boy voice) Dear Daddy, please take this to heaven. I don’t want to play football until I can play with you someday.
Some of these regimes have been quiet since September 11th, but we know their true nature. (...) The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. ( short pause) This is a regime that already used poisonous gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. (...) This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. States like this and their terrorist allies constitute an AXIS OF EVIL ,arming to threaten the peace of the World.
And all nations should know that America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation’s security. We will be deliberate. Yet time is not on our side. I will not wait one the fence while dangers gather. I will not stand by while perils get closer and closer.
The hero lives off stories about Monsters, Dangers and Threats. Only when an enemy is on the horizon he can start planning the mission that he was secretly thinking about for a long time.
In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush left the World with no doubt about his readiness to implement American values overseas (once again). Just as Ronald Reagan some decades before him ( #evilempire #coldwar) he brought the very old story of the biblical battle between Good and Evil (that in fact serves as a spectacular othering tool—for the Other to become undesired and killable he must become guilty of something and presented as lacking our moral values).
2003 US led military invasion on Iraq was implemented regardless of worldwide protests and the disapproval of the United Nations.The search for a Graal (weapons of mass destruction) failed massively as the weapons, in fact, didn’t exist, and the ‘axis of evil’ rhetorics can today, 15 years after the invasion, be seen rather as a manic imperial escapade that resulted in the death of estimated 500,000 people (including numerous massacres of civilians), millions of people displaced, complete destabilization of the region, strengthening of ISIL, and further impoverishment and dispossession of Iraqi people. And let’s not forget Abu Ghraib and the monstrous violation of human rights, torture and humiliation that US military engaged with for the sake of ‘bringing peace and democracy’ to Iraq. Red Cross’s report from 2004 estimated that even up to 90% of Abu Ghraib prisoners were ‘mistakenly detained’. Hero, however, never apologizes. He hopes History will judge him with mercy. But it’s perhaps about time to change the position from which we remember things and the very construction of the past. We have to hold Hero accountable.
We had high hopes of having a new country based on the principle of democracy, on federalism, on human rights, on citizenship, on equality," he says. "That dream is still there but it has taken longer to realize. ... The one achievement is the constitution — it embodies those dreams.
- Hoshyar Zebari, former Iraqi Foreign Minister
Terrorist is a container, a bottle, a villain who is always present, yet exists only as a threat that never goes away, a lethal force of destruction against the First World and its power. In the staged war between Good and Evil, we must define the Bad Guys first. And then go after them with all we have, like in those games we used to play with Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and ‘Indians’. But what constitutes a terrorist is perhaps his/her unresolved otherness; we refuse to include their pain and anger in our spectrum of solidarity and empathy. What constitutes a terrorist is the military mindset of Man the Hero, Man the Shooter.
What makes a terrorist is, at first, a form of despair. Or to put it more accurately, it is a way of transcending and by the gift of one’s own life, making sense of a form of despair. This is why the term suicide is somewhat inappropriate, for the transcendence gives to the martyr a sense of triumph. (...) The triumph is over the passivity, the bitterness, the sense of absurdity which emanate from a certain depth of despair. It is hard for the First World to imagine such despair.(...) Any strategy planned by political leaders to whom such despair is unimaginable will fail, and will recruit more and more enemies.
- John Berger, Hold everything dear
There's a bull and a matador dueling in the sky
Inhale, in hell there's heaven
- Frank Ocean, Solo
History is also a container, maybe for the Hero himself. There he wants to be safe and unchallenged in his benevolence and uncontested victory. But some other stories invade the container, they don’t let the Hero sleep in peace. There are stories that creep in, that hunt us, that demand to be told, stories the Hero can no longer hide from his audience—stories of the real cost of his adventures and conquests, stories of lives lost and forgotten.
Forgetfulness is being fabricated, it belongs to imperialist, colonial and capitalist powers. To stay silent about the repressed, to never hear their story is to economically and politically erase them from the imaginarium of our glorious past and of our even more glorious future, to erase them from our moral horizon. “Our” history is not where the ‘losers’ belong, we have developed other containers for them—blank cards, camps, mass graves, gulag, ghetto, prison. Forgetting allows us to avoid the discomfort and horror of hearing voices of the damned.
On a global scale, following the mapping and remapping of what matters—and what does not—means following the routes of racial capitalism, the transformation of land into spaces for the working of capital. Consider those glass towers all over the globe that constitute safe deposit boxes for the wealthy, the privatization of the commons. See how it leads to a competition between territories: better to be on the map of what matters, one reasons, than to be forgotten, even if that means the destruction of environment, of community, of life.
- Françoise Vergès, Like a Riot: The Politics of Forgetfulness, Relearning the South, and the Island of Dr. Moreau
Reunion Island is a small island in the Indian Ocean colonized by France in the 17th century. What puts it on the cards of global history is slavery and post slavery, writes Francoise Verges about her homeland. Those who didn’t want to be enslaved—maroons—were hiding in the mountains. Punishment for marooning (Code noir) was increasingly severe: from cutting ears, then cutting the hollows of the knee, to finally, death. Sometimes whole communities of maroons were discovered, which led to torture and public executions. Erasure of lives, of stories was accompanied by the well known, old strategy of erasure of an entire culture—replacing local names with French, planned dissolution of vernacular knowledge and practices—the birth of the colony took place through the death of the colonized and their world. But in those seemingly already vanished places, the resistance has never stopped.
However, in the ‘post-colonial’ world, freedom seems to be at stake separated from equality. The fabrication of precariousness and dispossession continues uninterrupted.
Averse to utopias and their false consciousness, and after an era of genocide and global warfare, the West proposed a choice between postmodern gloom and phony happiness. The intensity once situated in revolutions moved to sex. Capitalism was able to endlessly multiply differentiation. Further, though white males still dominated the international institutions and multinationals, their logic of accumulation of wealth based on dispossession and depletion of resources was contaminating all regimes.
- Vergès, ibid.
Françoise Vergès brings us closer to understanding how development of the globalized market transformed millions of human beings into disposable objects of exploitation, free labor, non-grievable lives.
It is estimated that approximately 15 million Africans were shipped into slavery. Many plantation owners relied on constant, controlled reproductive labor of African women that literally assured a regular influx of new slaves. Neither mothers, nor their children were granted right to history, self-determination or pursuit of happiness (which stood for a radical invention of 18th-19th century Western constitutional projects). Vergès reminds us though that this 15 million is the number recorded of those who arrived, while countless millions lost their lives on their way to plantations. Both those who arrived and those who never did hardly fit the history of the so-called ‘civilized world’, as the full recognition of imperial atrocities would render this notion of civilized absurd. Those who threaten the consistency of our stories must remain in darkness.
The place of the abject is where meaning collapses, the place where I am not. The abject threatens life, it must be radically excluded from the place of the living subject, propelled away from the body and deposited on the other side of an imaginary border which separates the self from that which threatens the self.
- Julia Kirsteva, Powers Of Horror: An Essay On Abjection
In your head, in your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie, hey, hey, hey.
What's in your head?
In your head,
Zombie, zombie, zombie, hey, hey, hey, hey
- Dolores O’Riordan, Zombie
The only escape from sugar plantation was death, which was seen as a return to Africa or ’lan guinee’ . This is the phrase in Haitian Creole that even now means heaven. The plantation meant life in servitude; ‘lan guinee’ meant freedom.
(...) Suicide was the slave’s only way to take control over his or her body.
- Amy Wilentz, A zombie is a slave forever
To discourage workers from killing themselves plantation owners developed a zombie story, a story about punishment for taking one’s own life that belonged to Slave Owner, not to Slave. One could not steal oneself from the hands of the Profiteer. Who had once been a slave, after suicidal death was to become a zombie, and that was even worse than being a slave.
Zombie is trapped—undead, he has no identity, no home and no rights. What remains after his loss of subjectivity is his ties to workplace, to the master/ owner. Zombie has no ability to criticise the system, he has no voice, he earns no money, he is forever bound to being a slave. He can never return home. He cannot die again.
Mainland China, 2010. After the series of suicides committed by its employees at their workplace,Foxconn, the largest electronics manufacturer supplying companies such as Apple, decided to cut compensations to the families of workers that killed themselves. The company claimed that some employees had taken their own lives to win the compensations, hence to ‘steal’ from the company. The brutal regime of work in Foxconn factories rendered life unbearable for the young migrant workers that lived at the factory campuses where they jumped out of the windows. But not anymore - the company installed a netting around its facilities to prevent suicidal attempts. One of the workers posted on his blog :
Perhaps for the Foxconn employees like for us… the use of death is simply to testify that we were ever alive at all, and that while we lived, we had only despair.
- from blog, that’s not available anymore, as cited in Franco Berardi, Heroes. Mass murder and suicide
An art historian and curator, Lars Bang Larsen writes that the zombie is a rotten body oblivious to itself. Driven by instinct, with no morality. True abject—forever undead in a state of misery and degradation. However, the rise of the zombie from the grave—where he was once put supposedly for eternity, makes his march toward the world of the living very ambiguous and potentially tragic for humanity. Unless we have a zombie for a mentor...
The zombie isn’t just any monster, but one with a pedigree of social critique. As already mentioned, alienation — a Marxian term that has fallen out of use — is central to the zombie. To Marx the loss of control over one’s labor — a kind of viral effect that spreads throughout social space — results in estrangement from oneself, from other people, and from the species-being of humanity as such. This disruption of the connection between life and activity has monstrous effects.
- Lars Bang Larsen, Zombies of Immaterial Labor: The Modern Monster and the Death of Death
As zombie has our values for nothing, he shows his bony middle finger to capitalism that tries to transform death into value (death of the worker, death of social solidarity, death of the critical and reflective subject, death of Nature, death of the Nation State, death of civilians in war zones). Zombie cares for nothing, he destroys all values, brings the death of death.
There is nothing left to die, as if we were caught in the ever-circling eye of the eternal return itself.
By siding with Zombie we make the master angry. It’s too easy to sympathize with the monster slayers, for the hero is always better alive and good looking, and well intentioned. But as Italian scholar Franco Moretti writes, in our murmur of appreciation for the killers of ‘evil’ (see: Bram Stoker; see: George W. Bush), we appeal to the most complacent, low-on-morality society; we pat free backs of the bourgeoisie who want all the monsters dead.
The fear of bourgeois civilization is summed up in two names: Frankenstein and Dracula.(...) They are indivisible, because complementary, figures; the two horrible faces of a single society, its extremes: the disfigured wretch and the ruthless proprietor. The worker and capital: 'the whole of society must split into the two classes of property owners and propertyless workers.' That 'must', which for Marx is a scientific prediction of the future (and the guarantee of a future reordering of society), is a forewarning of the end for nineteenth-century bourgeois culture.
- Franco Moretti, The Dialectic of Fear
Tired workers of late capitalism become gravediggers for the ruling classes worldwide. Those in despair, those ‘extremists’ that we fear, bring the news of an end. ‘Their world’ is dead ( plus uncivilized, rotten and disposable) and you don’t want yours to die, especially if you have lots of money, and you still want to blow them, or invest them.
She lived in the graveyard like a tree. (...) When people called her names — clown without a circus, queen without a palace — she let the hurt blow through her branches like a breeze and used the music of her rustling leaves as balm to ease the pain.
(...) Dear Comrade Azad Bharathiya Garu, My comrade Suguna knows to send this letter to you when she hears that I am no more. As you know we are banned, underground people, and this letter from me you can call as underground of underground. (…)
How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.
- Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Dance today is deeply related to the current political need to develop means of mobilization: at the centre of many performances is exactly the interrelated, mediated and social aspect of movement. Through dance, we can challenge the ways in which bodies assemble and participate, since dance takes place precisely through the becoming of an assembly: it happens through the becoming of the many and not as a representation of the many.
- Bojana Kunst, The Participatory Politics of Dance
New York, 1962. A group of artists involved in Robert Dunn’s workshop auditioned for the annual young choreographers’ concert in Uptown Eastside. All were rejected. They decided to ‘create their own situation’( Yvonne Rainer). They went to Judson Church.
It's hell on Earth and the city's on fire
Inhale, in hell there's heaven
- Ocean, ibid.
Judson Memorial Church is located on the south end of Washington Square in Greenwich Village. Run by liberal parishioners and ministry, it not only hosted art but was involved in the civil rights movement and reform politics. In the 1930s the Church supported the organization of the labor movement; in the 1960s it offered counselling for pregnant women (facing discriminatory anti-abortion laws), and a rehabilitation program for drug addicts.
After two years of collaboration at Robert Dunn’s workshop young choreographers had enough work to go public. On a hellishly hot day on July 6th, 1962 they gave their first dance concert.
The audience walked in through the lobby, across the bare space, and to their seats. At that time, the church still held traditional ‘high Baptist’ services. There was a pulpit and a large cross at the altar, at the south end of the sanctuary and the congregation sat in moveable pews facing the altar. The Poets Theatre performed in the choir loft, not on the sanctuary floor. The dancers disturbed the arrangement of the sanctuary by moving the pews around and putting them against the altar, facing north, and along the sides of the room, clearing the rest of the space for the dancing.
- Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body, Judson Dance Theatre 1962-1964
Amongst the artists that showed their work (and co-organized the concert) were Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Robert and Judith Dunn and Ruth Emerson.The concert
(...) proved to be the beginning of a historic process that changed the shape of dance history. It was the seedbed for post-modern dance, the first avant-garde movement in dance theatre since the modern dance of the 1930s and 1940s.
- Banes, Ibid.
Two years prior to that revolutionary moment, composer and musician Robert Dunn set up a composition workshop at Merce Cunningham’s studio in New York. After years of collaboration (as an accompanist) with choreographers such as Doris Humphrey, Jane Dudley or Cunningham himself, he decided to “liberate” dancers from the oppressive working and training regimes, and the workshop he established proposed an eclectic and full on avant-garde approach to art making. His interest in Tai Chi, Zen Buddhism, existentialism (Heidegger, Sartre) worked well within the New York’s boheme of late 1950s and 1960s. The non-judgement based site for an artistic experiment brought a fresh breeze of freedom to the bunch of artists that were trying to break with the institutionalized modern dance ruled by the matriarchs (Yvonne Rainer). Workshop here could be understood through Bauhaus tradition — the workspace for collaborations and coexistence of different media and approaches to art making.
(...) the Judson situation was deliberately undefined, unrestricted. Styles of choreography grew out of the groundwork done at Judson but the wealth of dances created by Judson Dance Theatre show, above all, a remarkable diversity. (...) Within the Judson workshop, a commitment to democratic or collective process led on the one hand to methods that metaphorically seemed to stand for freedom (like improvisation, spontaneous determination, chance), and on the other hand to a refined consciousness of the process of choreographic choice.
- Banes, ibid.
Dunn’s reading of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy inspired him to seek for heterogeneous artistic creation that would avoid specialization or tyranny of expertise in order to establish a space of artistic freedom, a space for undoing, unlearning, a ‘space of nothing’. In Judson Church the art of choreography became a (non-violent) bridge between the earth and the ‘world of things’ (that otherwise was to be in constant strife with the earth).
In his text “The origin of the work of art” Heidegger writes that each being that appears, each being that exists can be classified as a ‘thing’. Using examples of Van Gogh’s, Cezanne’s or Klee’s paintings he describes tension between emerging and not emerging, revealing and concealing. Figures at the background of a painting call for our recognition and what’s in the foreground emerges with a difficulty from
the muted cacophony of other images half-suggesting themselves from the background
- Martin Heidegger, The origin of the work of art
Here a new concept is established - an underlying structure of each artwork that comes to the fore when the central figure is being withdrawn. At that moment we can see an underscore - invisible and hidden aspect of work that is constitutive to its nature.. “The earth” functions here as dynamic dimension of what we can grasp with our words while simultaneously it escapes stable or fixed meaning.
The world grounds itself on the earth and the earth juts through the world. …The world, in resting upon the earth, strives to raise the earth completely [into the light]. As self-opening, the world cannot endure anything closed. The earth, however, as sheltering and concealing, tends always to draw the world into itself and keep it there.
- Heidegger, Ibid.
This unresolved tension is essential for a great artwork. An artwork is a thing, yet it is also always something above its thingliness; while showing itself to us, it is simultaneously manifesting something other than itself.
Heidegger’s thoughts on art and its mystical relation to the natural realm, as well as the Western interpretation of Zen Buddhism as an anti-intellectual discipline, valuing spontaneity and meditation on the simplicity of everyday things, must have been attractive to a generation that had lived through the politically and socially anxious 1950s. After the ‘conspicuous consumption’ of postwar American life, to live simply and naturally seemed an antidote; after an age of conformism and social pressure, especially for women, people thirsted for the ‘liberation’ and sense of personal autonomy spontaneous behaviour connotes, which often seems everywhere present in the natural world.
- Banes, ibid.
Steve Paxton recalls Dunn’s teaching methods as close to Zen, he ‘taught’ by neglect and disappearance, he made people attending his workshop more susceptible to constant mutation of things and uncanniness of the most ordinary gestures. In his teachings of composition there was more emphasis on intervals, sections and structures rather than on ‘states of presence’ or emotional components. This allowed his ‘students’ to break not only with the modernist ideas on dance, but also to move away from the strict notions of authorship and cultivation of individual personality of an author.
The dancing body was not to represent the multitude but to become one. ‘State of dance’ was understood as a bodily and mental state of focus and sensitivity to impulses that can set the body in motion. Listening, observation and the dissolution of the self in the flow of movement. If Isadora Duncan’s brought ‘flow’ to modern dance, artists such as Ann Halprin, Simone Forti or Yvonne Rainer implemented ‘mega-flow’ - yet another step closer to the general floatiness of things, to the wave-like nature of movement of forces and bodies.
“I see you in a lineage of Isadora (Duncan),” said Emilie Conrad to Ann Halprin in a conversation they had in 2011. “It’s not a bad company,” continued Conrad. “Not at all,” responded Halprin.
The performance was divided up into six different units, which included engaging with the audience members and a slow ritual of undressing and dressing. The removal of clothing was used a symbolism of art, in “peeling back to the skin of emotions.
The premiere of “Parades and Changes” took place in 1965 in Sweden. When Halprin brought the work back home and showed it in New York the reception was far from accepting. Unlike in Sweden, where, as Halprin herself remembers, naked bodies of performers were looked at (also) outside of their sexuality and sexiness (but how can we know that for sure?), back in New York, the day after the show Halprin received a “summon for arrest for indecent exposure”.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? - Maya Angelou, Still I rise
While some of the audience members were struggling with nudity on stage “Parades and Changes” proposed a unique take on the very notion of choreography. In her work, Halprin drifted toward “something more like nature” — a flexible environment that was changing with seasons and people. The score was implemented instead of a preconceived idea of movements (choreography). Dancers entered the scene of experimentation: the practice of dance was used to stretch the imagination; the dancer became a creator, not an interpreter, and was free to make choices while staying in negotiation with the dynamics of the group, and influence (spontaneously) the development of the piece.
Ann Halprin, who till today remains one of the most influential choreographers coming from Judson Church, left New York’s scene to settle in the Bay Area (founding the Tampala Institute there) and looked with suspicion at generations of “Graham’s dancers” or “Humphrey’s dancers” as their dance was philosophically too close to ballet; with its repetition of technique, costume and choreographic strategies modern dance seemed doomed to become oldschool. Halprin, as Duncan decades before her, proposed to move away from the restrictions of the Old, the Established, and the Master, for the sake of discovering something that would be less hierarchical, more spontaneous and closer to earth.
The emergence of Judson Church’ choreographers could mark yet another important moment in dance history. The egalitarian spirit of assembly proposed by Robert Dunn and his fellow artists set a standard for (Western) post-modernity, and its claim for contemporaneity rendered dance from elsewhere invisible due to its lack of democracy, hence freedom to create and produce innovative works that could have a pretence to the present moment instead of presumably belonging to the past. Well, as Franco Berardi writes, “past is in our minds”.
Judson Dance Theatre came to be under the liberal cultural policies of 1960s New York. At the same time, United States affirmed its democratic standards by pulling over the Iron Curtain that for decades would divide the world across arbitrary lines into East and West. And make no mistake — in this story, West equals democracy, human rights and progress. The democratic bodies of Judson Dance Theatre seem to be a product of a culture that was ready to include ‘Eastern’ practices, but politically rejected and fought against ‘evil forces’ that dared to propose an alternative to US American capitalism.
When dealing with Eastern contemporary dance from a historical perspective, the act of politicization springs exactly from this need to construct and affirms the specific cultural and political history in a way that is attentive to the different modes of production and from the start resists the privilege of contemporaneity.
(...) the history of Eastern Europe was not only invisible but reconstructed through a certain dominant perspective, on the other hand trying to affirm the validity of its own contemporaneity and to develop strategies of self historization.
- Bojana Kunst, Dance and Eastern Europe.Contemporary Dance in the Time of Transition
I’m sorry to be spoiling that glorious story of democratic dance. Besides non-questionable achievements of Western post-modern dance, we must, again, look at how the notion of contemporary dance relates to questions about who, in fact, has a right to History (and as a consequence a right to contemporaneity), whose dance is worth preservation and remembering and whose dancing body has already been forgotten. If dance is to be democratic, the multitude we are about to become must reflect the plurality of opinions, stories and diversity of bodies. Post-modern dance aligns itself with its modern predecessor in the way it writes its own history, in which the West is not only morally superior over the rest of the non-Western world, but also its cultural and political accomplishments stand for the highest form of human creation—whereas, as I have tried to show above, “West” is not only a construct that engenders political and cultural domination over “East” ( or “South) but it is as morally flawed and exclusive in its egalitarian rhetorics as the regimes that it fights and overthrows around the world.
Bojana Kunst in her text on contemporaneity, dance and Eastern Europe invites us to look at the end of communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe plus Balkans as a manmade end of the world. Deconstruction both of the Berlin Wall and the communist system itself happened as, in places such as Poland, the political project arrived at the deadpoint in which public disapproval and demand for radical change over grew the Party. Mass movement forced corrupted and broken leaders out of their seats. The Wall fell, but we must remember that it first had been pushed by the People.
The fall of communism assigns the process of transition to some special immanent characteristics of the existing socialism — and not to the political and social fights inside socialism itself.
- Rastko Mocnik, Will the East’s Past be the West’s Future?
(...) the communist past is translated into cultural (not a political) phenomenon, and political antagonism is transformed into the cultural difference between the East and the West of Europe. However, when the past is deprived of its own political importance, then it can also be transformed into a sign of cultural inferiority: the societies that experienced communism are not seen as active political societies, with an immense repertoire of emancipatory capacities, but only as societies that are predestined to the culture of ‘catching up’.
- Kunst, Ibid.
Aż zobaczyli ilu ich, poczuli siłę i czas,
At last they saw the number of them, they felt their strength, their time,
I z pieśnią, że już blisko świt szli ulicami miast;
And singing that the dawn is near, they walked down the streets of towns
Zwalali pomniki i rwali bruk - Ten z nami! Ten przeciw nam!
They smashed the statues, uprooted cobbles — He is with us! He is against us!
Kto sam ten nasz najgorszy wróg!
Who's ‘lone is our greatest foe!
A śpiewak także był sam.
The singer was just alone.
Wyrwij murom zęby krat!
The teeth of bars pull from the walls!
Zerwij kajdany, połam bat!
Tear off the shackles, break the whip!
A mury runą, runą, runą
The walls shall fall down, fall down, fall down
I pogrzebią stary świat!
And they’ll bury the old world!
- Jacek Kaczmarski, Mury
When attempting to change the status quo, we may think of what dances would fit this task or what kind of strategies and policies apply when choosing our dances. However beneficial reliance on codified and well described Western dance tradition ca be, we may twist a little bit this development score by looking at the bodies and dances that may require some undusting, that may need to be brought back from the historic absence. As an Eastern European I have a body that signifies before it moves. Kunst claims that this “eastern body’ always belongs to the past, it has allegedly nothing to add to the conversation on contemporaneity. The prevalence of a certain tradition of Western dance still seems to overshadow the worldwide development of dance for past centuries as well as the presence of dance in non-democratic countries throughout 20th century.
Modern dance and its further developments in so called East were confronted with lack of recognition from the State, hence lack of institutional support. This, however, does not mean that modern or post-modern dance did not take place there. It just doesn’t have History. So it must be written, it must be told and reinvented.
Vienna, 2010. After the round of applause that audience responded with to Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s piece En Atendant, two well established Romanian choreographers - Florin Flueras and Manuel Pelmus - entered the stage and asked the audience for three minutes of their attention so they could present an excerpt of ‘Romanian Dance History’. According to Romanian Dance History blog the intervention was not welcome by the organisers. Surprisingly so, we could think, for Keersmaeker’s school in Brussels (P.A.R.T.S.).
young artists are trained to be freethinkers and not indifferent floor gymnasts - Helmut Ploebst, Der Standard ( issue from 30.7.2010)
Intervening artists were themselves already performing in various venues in Vienna. Their disruptive proposal was meant to rather add a ‘bonus’ to an evening than to offend anyone.
It would have added a somewhat rough Eastern European edge to the perfectionist subtlety of the Western European choreographer’s piece. Perhaps it could have been an ideal complement to De Keersmaeker’s work, which is far too greatly influenced by the sound structures of ars subtilior, a rather formalistic music phenomenon that was common between 1377 and 1420. - Ploebst, ibid.
Ploebst points toward some essential differences that would allegedly define Eastern dance as separate from Western dance. Surely there is some truth to that, however what’s probably more relevant is to see how those differences influence the prevalence of particular aesthetics and artistic choices and continuously push other artistic strategies (of different origins) to the margins of what’s acceptable within the production and presentation of contemporary dance. What he calls ‘sleek and predictable’ outcomes of contemporary art market is to be challenged by an intervention of bodies from elsewhere, bodies that often function merely as relics of the past and cannot join the table where the ‘big and legit’ artists sit. The exploration of the Middle Age sound structures made Ploebst think about the actual concept and condition of the bodies of that period
period of disaster during the Hundred Years’ War — a time marked by pain, violence, plague and the Inquisition — is now presented as a state of morbid twilight is too pretentious.
- Ploebst, ibid.
The forgetfulness that is fabricated by means of artistic production marks clearly where the past is and therefore what cannot be brought into a present moment. Ploebst points out the discrepancy between what kind of bodies perform in Kareesmaker's work and bodies that existed in the times of the artistic ideas she is exploring and how this can potentially also be a question of ethics in historic research and disappearance of bodies that are undesired (in this case both the bodies of Romanian choreographers and bodies contemporary to the musical ideas that were being explored on stage). The rebellion and artistic disruption must perhaps blur those historic lines and challenge the way History is being told, and by whom it is being told, and what is being extracted from history and for what purpose. This rebellious spirit is by no means a property or an invention of the West. Let us not forget that.
We have to reject the new tyranny’s discourse. It’s terms are crap. In the interminably repetitive speeches, announcements, press conferences and threats, the recurrent terms are: Democracy, Justice, Human Rights, Terrorism. Each word in the context signifies the opposite of what it was once meant to signify.
Democracy is a proposal ( rarely realized ) about decision making; it has little to do with election campaigns. Its promise is that political decisions be made after, and in the light of, consultation with the governed. (...) Today the fundamental decisions, which effect the unnecessary pain increasingly suffered across the planet, have been and are taken unilaterally without any open consultation or participation.
(...) Every form of contestation against this tyranny is comprehensible. For us to live and die properly, things have to be named properly. Let us reclaim our words.
- John Berger, Hold everything dear
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
- Maya Angelou, still I rise
Edited by Ashiq Khondker