michael j. morris

The bigness of the body
27 August, 2010, 1:26 pm
Filed under: cosmology, creative process, Dance, Grad School, research | Tags: ,

If I’m honest, I feel like I’m in state of some degree of burnout right now. I know I’ll recover, but I just feel unable to read another thing (even as I read an article by Sondra Fraleigh on the correlation between Butoh and nature this morning), and my mind is hardly synthesizing all that I have read/done/researched this summer. I have ideas about dances that I want to make, but in general I am experiencing a persistent near-paralysis in my making. This morning in conversation with my friend/colleague/gaga-guru Maree ReMalia, I think I began to understand why:

This all started (by “this all” I mean to refer to this research journey into Sexecology, Ecosexuality, ecologies, etc. etc. etc.) in the pursuit of a body that extends beyond the constraints of [the assumedly fixed] biological morphology, a body that accounts for its ongoing state of becoming/constructedness/de-and-re-constructedness, a body that not only participates with its environmental surroundings, but blurs its edges into that space, the body being implicit in consciousness and perception and sensation. My earliest articulations of my (then MFA project)n involved “the listening body,” the body constituted in its attention, and its reciprocal participation with that which exists beyond it. When I applied for my PhD, my proposed research interest had to do with understanding the body as the site of identity, and analyzing/understanding dance practices with with a sense of the active formulation of individual identity in our participation in the formation of dancing bodies: dance as a choreography of identity. Since that point, my working understanding of identity has become less fixed: identity is not a stable essence but an ongoing construction, multiple and fluid and unfixed; I would say the same for “the body.” Through my engagement with the work of the Love Art Laboratory and their art/research in the areas of Sexecology and Ecosexuality, I began to consider the functional systems of interdependency as a primary situation by/in/through which we experience (phenomenally) our selves/bodies. This was powerfully echoed in my research in Tantric philosophy and its function as a foundation for the practice of yoga, a dissolving of the distinction of subject and object into a larger whole that is Consciousness (necessarily a body-based consciousness). In my course work, the constructed nature of the body/individual self became implicated in issues of power, production, reproduction, and the compulsive reiteration of normalized identities. The body is not singular but citational. The body is not only physical but also social, cultural, sexual, economic, etc. etc. etc. The body is “both/and”: it is completely itself, non-representational, meaningful is its own kinesthetic experience; and the body is a [part of?] systems that extend infinitely from it, into history, society, culture, the environment, etc. Its form presents its formulation, a formulation that is constant and ongoing and bigger-and-beyond its biological morphological form.
In short, the body is no longer simple. And it is big.

My choreography has always functioned as a kind of physical philosophy. The dances that I have made have more often then not been principally concerned with cultivating a physical experience/understanding of a facet of human experience. But at the same time, they were also crafted of moving bodies in time and space. I know how to choreograph for those bodies: finite, structural, sensing/knowing. But I think at least a portion of my creative paralysis is that I have not yet figured out how to choreograph for these bodies that are indicative of such bigness, that are always already implicated in such a complex nexus of interesting constitutional forces, that are implicit in the expanse of consciousness, functioning in systems and ecologies far beyond my knowledge/comprehension, constantly changing and (re)forming even as I participate in that formation, who experience and know themselves as sensual and sexual, erotic and desiring; to the degree that we are defined (within our own experiences of ourselves, and within the societies in which we function; and understanding definition as unfixed/shifting/potentially fluid) by our desires, the task of making dances for desiring/desirous bodies is daunting. To the degree to which bodies function as sites of the production of power, I don’t yet know how to situate myself in a choreographic relationship of shaping bodies (through the movement which I offer or generate) and assuming that power.

It all converges in this tension of the “bigness,” the [post-modern?] condition of disparity and unity, the individual and the larger “whole”/”organism” of which the “individual” is always already a part . . . this is a tension that is held in yogic philosophy, in astrology (the life of the individual is unique, but it is also an expression of a larger cosmological whole), in ecology, and even in the corps de ballet. Obviously this tension is not a concise research agenda, but it has something to do with where I want to be/am going. And it has to do with Butoh, and yoga maybe, and the Love Art Lab and Karl Cronin, Sexecology/Ecosexuality, queer theory and queer ecologies, queering dance practices, the erotic, phenomenology, etc.

And right now that’s as much as I’ve got. And I’m feeling a little too burned out to do much with any of it today. I know I’ll find the energy/inspiration for this work . . . just maybe not today.

5 Comments so far
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Just a quick note to say that I note your new blogs on my RSS feed with glee and relish every word of your thoughts, process and words. You are writing so beautifully on subjects which are at the core of my practice and being as an artist. And YES its BIG! Somehow we must re-engage an understanding of creative arts/ spiritual / ritual practice as the core means of creating reality, transformation, connection between self/other/the social world and the environment. So much of the creative arts have become bereft of spirit and bereft of a notion of what it is achieving other than economic returns. So much performance is focussed on creating imaginary worlds that bored administrative slaves can escape into for a moment rather than perceiving the power of creative practice as the very means by which we create reality it self! The very means by which we articulate our relationship to ourselves/other/social/spirit and environmental worlds………A cross cultural perspective on these issues can be extremely enlightening. The indigenous Australian perspective on performance, ritual, entering the Dream Time as being the means of continuing life/reality itself has always deeply inspired me. The Classical Indian Dance/Drama tradition has very similar notions. Ok… thanks so much for the inspiration and know that even when you are feeling burnt out you are inspiring others : )

Comment by Marianthe Loucataris

your thoughts connect and assimilate a little more every time you write. the essence is coming through more simply. keep it up (even if that means no reading for awhile)

Comment by marygrace

@Marianthe: Thank you so much for reading! I agree, there is so much space in the arts and creatives practices to not only reflect or resemble the world/reality in which we live, but to actively participate in its formation. My interest in making has long been concerned with exploring new knowledge, new understandings, the arts as emergent epistemologies rather than (though not necessarily to the exclusion of) economic profit (although this is admittedly a complex territory).
I am so thankful that you are inspired! It definitely helps with the burn-out.

@marygrace: I agree. That’s part of the beauty of the blog (I think), the fact that the ideas unfold as they are being presented. Or, what I mean I suppose, is that they are presented as they unfold. The two are simultaneous, the formulation of ideas and their sharing. I think that’s always been my hope for the blog, the creative process taking place and being shared in a public space.
And you’re right, that might mean no (less?) reading for a while so that the ideas have space to synthesize.

Thanks for reading/writing!

Comment by morrismichaelj

Rereading this today I am struck by the notion of transcendence. I have nothing cohesive to add, I don’t think, but, instead, thoughts. The body transcends our knowledge of it and its processes. We control it. We think we control it. Quite often it controls us and we are left trying to fabricate reasons for our behaviors even as we’re left cleaning up the aftermath. Perhaps the control we try to exercise over our (?) bodies as dancers is an attempt to conquer the “demon body”. Perhaps part of the attraction that lies in allowing others to choreograph upon and/or conquer our bodies in myriad ways as human beings (dance, sex, mimicry, spatial correction) is the enormous attraction that lies within the realm of abdication of responsibility. And far too simple a statement, because the intense desire to assume responsibility for another person’s movement, body, identity, universe…lie at the heart of this action. Much more…but I’m out of room. ❤

Comment by Clara

@Clara You know, the word “transcendence” has come up several times this week about different things. Probably significant . . .
I totally get what you’re saying, and several situations sprang to mind as I read your thoughts: dancers for whom dance practice functions almost as a battle ground for control (and it shows in the movement, precision that’s like banging against a wall of wrestling with an animal); dancers for whom dance practice is a space for relinquishing control to others, becoming a docile participant in the formulation of the body, and that being it’s own way of “dealing” with the mystery/unknown quality of the body; I think I’ve actually been a little of each of these at some point or another.
I aso keep thinking about the dancer who takes the participation of others into a kind of channel by which to transcend themselves, taking the input of other dancer/teachers/choreographers, and channeling that (energy) into the formulation/achievement of something beyond themselves.
Thanks for getting my brain going this morning!

Comment by morrismichaelj

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