michael j. morris

death drive/obscene/on-scene

On November 13, 2014, I premiered a solo entitled death drive/obscene/on-scene as part of a show called 11 Tiny Performances, curated by Esther Baker-Tarpaga and Heidi Wiren Bartlett, and produced by The Englert Theatre and the Trumpet Blossom Cafe in Iowa City, Iowa. The show coincided with the joint annual conference of the Congress on Research in Dance and the Society for Dance History Scholars. The following is my own recounting of the work, as a component of its documentation:

photo by Atom Burke

photo by Atom Burke

My solo is number seven in a line-up of eleven five-minute performances that will take place on a four-foot-by-four-foot stage. I am standing off to the side, wearing my grandmother’s silky black slip, bare legs and feet, with dark black liquid eyeliner, and false lashes. When it comes time for my piece, one of the stage managers spreads a black bed sheet over the tiny stage, and I walk towards it.
I lay a small bottle of silicone lube and a steel dildo—an Njoy Pure Wand—on one corner of the sheet, and climb up onto the stage. The audio begins, and I listen to the sound of my own voice:

“Death drive/obscene/on-scene. We have never been human: I think we learn to be worldly from grappling with, rather than generalizing from, the ordinary.”

I cross to the opposite corner of the stage, tucking my elbows back behind my waist, keeping my knees close together, trying to approximate a more feminine silhouette that I’m not sure I can achieve. To my right is a table of prominent dance studies scholars: I recognize Tommy DeFrantz, Ananya Chatterjea, and Susan Foster, among others. I reach my fingers underneath the slip, and pull my black underwear down to the stage. Someone says something, but I can’t make it out.

“I am a creature of the mud, not the sky.”

I turn back around and kneel down, my knees wide, my feet close to my hips. I open the bottle of lube, squeeze just a little onto my fingertips, and reach underneath the hem of the slip to lube up my ass.

“I am a biologist who has always found edification in the amazing abilities of slime to hold things in touch and to lubricate passages for living beings and their parts.”

I lube up the smaller end of the c-shaped dildo. Sliding the left strap of the slip down, I fold my left arm inside the slip, reach through it, then guide the dildo in between my legs, underneath the bottom hem of the dress, and out of sight. I close my eyes; I’m not looking at the audience. I’m thinking about Annie Sprinkle and her performance “The Legend of the Ancient Sacred Prostitute.” I’m listening to myself read the words of Donna Haraway, and I feel the cold, hard tip of the dildo pressing against my anus. I tense up, then slowly exhale, trying to relax.

“I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such … I am vastly outnumbered by my tiny companions; better put, I become an adult human being in company with these tiny messmates. To be one is always to become with many.”[1]

The smooth, cold curve of the steel slides inside of me, past one sphincter then the next, and I curl forward from the waist, shifting my weight up and forward. Slowly I lower back down, and feel it slide farther inside. My eyes are shut, and I know that I am in a room full of people and they are all looking at me and listening to my voice and I try to focus, to feel myself from the inside out, to feel the flush of my cheeks and the curve of my spine and my breath and the wetness of the lube and the hardness of the dildo and the softness of my flesh wrapping around it and the whole invisible system of tiny lives that swarm and collect inside of me. We are a whole human/nonhuman collective, fully in sight while somehow remaining out of sight, out of mind.

“… an instinct would be a tendency innate in living organic matter impelling it towards the reinstatement of an earlier condition, one which it had to abandon under the influence of external disturbing forces…”[2]

I am rocking my weight forwards and backwards, up and down, the greased-up steel sliding in and out of me. My right hand holds the dildo between my thighs; my left hand is rubbing my cock, sliding over it pressed against my belly, beneath the silky slip. The audience can’t see exactly what I’m doing; all this sliding and rubbing and penetration is hidden beneath the slip, but they know what I’m doing. I hope they know what I’m doing. Right here, my body becomes the site for what can and cannot be seen, for what is simultaneously right here on stage and still out of view. There are multiple scales here: seeing my body, but not seeing what is underneath the slip; seeing my knees and shoulders and neck and face, seeing the motion of my arms, but not seeing the dildo sliding in and out of my ass; seeing the surface of my skin, the dark, shiny slip, but not the vast ecosystem of nonhuman lives that compose my body from the inside out. I am masturbating here on stage in front of a crowd for the very first time, but it was never only me here; my body is already a multitude.

“This final goal of all organic striving must be an ancient starting point, which the living being left long ago: ‘The goal of all life is death’, and, casting back, ‘The inanimate was there before the animate’.”[3]

I hear myself moan as the steel presses against my prostate, waves of sensation rising to meet the intensification between my palm and my cock. For moments I lose myself in the sensation, the pleasure, then I pulse back out to self-awareness. I feel my shoulders lifted high, I realize how far forward I am bent at the waist, and slow down. I take a deep breath, relax my shoulders, and try to feel myself feeling myself again. I hear my own voice, and I realize that I can’t quite fully take in the density of the text; I hear it and receive it in fragments, in pieces and parts that sink into my body in ebbs and flows. I wonder if people will think this is about critical theory being masturbatory or solipsistic, a statement about theory and academic scholarship being detached from a broad public. That’s fine, but I hope they also realize that even if theory is masturbatory, I am valorizing masturbation, and that I’m bringing the density of critical theory into intimate cohabitation with my own body. I consider this for a mere moment before my body reasserts itself, takes full attention, and I again lose track of the text.

“I would here subjoin a few words to clarify our nomenclature, one which has undergone a certain development in the course of our discussion … With the discovery of narcissistic libido, and the extension of the libido-concept to the individual cells, the sexual instinct became for us transformed into the Eros that endeavors to impel the separate parts of living matter to one another and to hold them together … Our speculation then supposes that this Eros is at work from the beginnings of life, manifesting itself as the ‘life-instincts’ in contradistinction to the ‘death-instinct’ which developed through the animation of the inorganic.”[4]

I hear Susan Foster chuckle when my voice says the words “death-instinct,” and I realize just how close she is, mere feet away from me, this remarkable scholar. I teach her work in my writing class; when I get back to Ohio, I’m showing my students her lecture “Choreographies of Writing.” She’s one of the great leaders in the field, sitting at a table with other great leaders in the field, and I am masturbating, fucking myself with a steel dildo, feet away from them. Susan laughs, and I wonder if this is professional suicide, whether putting my body on stage and on the line in this way will cost me as a scholar, as a researcher, as a professor. I wonder if scholars are allowed to be embodied, erotic, sexual, in public. I wonder if theory about sexuality, about ecosexuality, about pleasure and death are allowed to reside in the body, if the body theorizing sexuality in public is allowed. Then I feel my cock pulsing under my hand and my hips circling the dildo and I try to stop worrying about my career, try to remember that I believe this work I am doing is important.

“The pleasure-principle is then a tendency which subserves a certain function—namely, that of rendering the psychic apparatus as a whole free from any excitation, or to keep the amount of excitation constant or as low as possible… the function so defined would partake of the most universal tendency of all living matter—to return to the peace of the inorganic world. We all know by experience that the greatest pleasure it is possible for us to attain, that of the sexual act, is bound up with the temporary quenching of a greatly heightened state of excitation.”[5]

This five minutes feels so much longer than it did in rehearsal. When I rehearsed this piece on the floor of my living room, in front of a mirror, I felt like the piece had barely started by the time it was over. I felt close, like I could cum in another minute or so. Here on stage in front of all these people with my eyes closed, the minutes pass much more slowly, and I am nowhere near climax. I feel myself wet and hard beneath my hand, beneath the slip, but the pleasure is subtle and elusive. The context is full of pressure and exposure and vulnerability, and it’s a little over halfway through the piece before I realize just how vulnerable I feel, that I’m bent over at the waist in some kind of protective posture, that I might cry in front of all of the people, that I might actually cry, that I’m not really breathing, that I’m holding my breath…
I slow down. Sit upright. Let my shoulders release. I take a deep breath. I bring my attention back to the subtle sensations orbiting the dildo inside me.

“From the foregoing it would be possible to attribute an essentially sexual quality to extinction, and an extinguishing tendency to sexuality … Consider, in this respect, the sexuality of consumption: beyond organic needs … there exists a persistent and insistent process of ingestion that is blind to the (supposedly) proper and organizing limits of the living body. This is especially so if we consider the original proper living organism to be not the located finite human individual, but life as a whole, the organism of Gaia. The very processes that originated from the striving of organic maintenance—eating, reproducing, producing—have pushed the organism to (self-)annihilation.”[6]

Pleasure always has both personal and planetary implications. Sexuality is already ecological, and the pleasure of the human species is quite possibly propelling us towards our own extinction.
And yet: I’m starting to feel more aroused. My skin feels flushed, and my hips are following a rhythm that seems to come from somewhere else, a rhythm that my hips follow rather than control. I stop worrying about my posture or my shoulders or whether or not anyone understands what’s happening because it is finally almost starting to feel good enough to stop worrying about my posture or my shoulders or whether or not anyone understands what’s happening or whether they are thinking that I am a man or whether they get that this—all of this—is genderfuck too. The slip hanging off one should, sliding the dildo in and out, rubbing my hand over my cock: for a few moments I lose track of where I am in the five minutes.
“Works cited [everyone laughs, they think it’s funny]: Donna Haraway, When Species Meet; Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Claire Colebrook, Sex After Life.”

Someone claps when I say “Donna Harway,” and I’m glad. After the “works cited,” music gradually swells, and Antony Hegarty sings, “Are you a boy or a girl? Are you a boy or a girl? Are you a boy or a girl?” and the sounds of heavy, daunting strings cut back and forth through the air. It sounds overly dramatic but also sharply focusing, like someone dropping a glass in the middle of a crowd. I’m not close to cumming, but my movement has a kind of climax, amplified somehow by the sudden absence of text. With the background theory gone, my body feels like it takes up more space, more attention, more prominence, and this expansion itself feels like a kind of climax.
Then the room is silent.
My eyes flutter open, and my breathing is heavy. I slide the dildo out and sigh. I crawl off the stage, as if no one can see me, looking at no one. I bundle up the dildo, the lube, and my underwear in the bed sheet, and walk away. The audience claps and cheers, and I feel a little weak in the knees.


This piece was my first attempt to create performance art that specifically stages ecosexuality. The piece was an assemblage—its own erotic ecology—of my body, language, the writings of other scholars, music, lube, steel, and an audience. On the smallest scale, I hoped to inflect masturbation—the most solitary of sexualities—with ecological implications, in the midst of a crowd. Simultaneously, coming from my work in burlesque, I experimented with the line between what is shown and what is not shown, what can be seen and what is withheld from view. Lastly, I wanted to stage an intimate encounter between the rich theoretical texts that have informed my scholarship and my own body, returning theory to the body, and staging the embodied grounds for all this theory. I am thinking of this solo as one among several other previous and potential “erotic theory” performances. In 2012, I created a duet entitled “Horizontal Materiality: Judith Butler’s Lesbian Phallus, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg, and Beatriz Preciado’s Dildonics.” It consisted of two performers exchanging oral sex on a strap-on dildo that began on one performer then was transferred to the second performer. That duet was also accompanied by a soundscore of dense critical theory, staging a collision of sometimes-impenetrable theory and the penetrable bodies that such writing theorizes. I am interested in continuing to perform this solo, and also in developing further work that stages the text of critical theory alongside erotic performances, allowing the sexuality of bodies to participate in theory and theory to find grounding in live bodies on display.


[1] Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, 3-4.

[2] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 44-45

[3] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 47.

[4] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 78-79, footnote.

[5] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 81.

[6] Claire Colebrook, Sex After Life, 134.

list of thoughts

This morning my mind was spinning with ideas and questions. I needed to get them down somewhere. I put them here:

What are forms of analysis in dance studies that might function as methodologies for ecological analysis?

Synchronous Objects as an instance of analyzing the internal functionality (choreography?) of a dance(ed) system by way of aggregate data derived from interviews with dancers and choreographer, correlating the accounts to produce a description of the dance’s dependence on the dancers’ interdependence by way of the cueing system.

How else might choreographies demonstrate interdependence (an ecological structure)? And is this a description of the functional interdependence (how it actually works on the inside) only, or does it also include the perceived interdependence, the perceived gestalt of the work (something like the visual composition and the interdependence of formal elements to constitute the overall “effect” or “specular”(?) experience of the piece? In SO, I would classify the analysis of the cueing system as the former (the internal functionality) and the analysis of counterpoint and alignments (particularly those annotated in the project videos) as the latter (compositional devices/effects).
. . . the entire spectrum of compositional devices/elements/effects could be analyzed for their interdependent potentials . . . how elements are put together and the effects of those compositions . . .
Props (object theatre)
Symbiotic relationship with the audience
Something about the relationship between the work and external cultural objects (I’m thinking about work that appropriates or cites or quotes other existing work—music, choreography, text, etc.)

Still the ongoing question, how might ecological analysis function as a methodology for choreographic analysis? Further, how might this “ecological analysis” be inflected by ecofeminist and queer ecofeminist critiques, producing a queer eco(feminist)logical analysis of choreographies?

Ecofeminism: correlating mutually reinforcing systems of oppression between feminism and ecological struggles

Queer ecofeminism (which may in fact be the starting point for what I have eventually considered ecosexuality/sexecology): extends the correlation to other master narratives and apparatuses by which “Others” (nature, female, queers, the erotic, etc.) are alienated in order to constitute the normative (the natural, male, heterosexual, logical, etc.); where this seeps into ecosexuality is the point at which all bodies become permeable and inter-penetrable

Can there be a Sexecological analysis of choreography (I believe sexecology, as I have theorized it, is necessarily queer)?

Questions about how different choreographers/dance practices (practitioners)/performance artists have constructed “nature” and their relationship to it. Right now Laban and his “nature cults,” his assertion of the correlation between natural forms and human movement as one potential object for analysis; Butoh suggests itself immediately as another. Karl Cronin, Love Art Lab, etc.

Projected Research Trajectory
16 September, 2010, 10:11 pm
Filed under: research | Tags: , , , , , ,

So I’m writing a grant right now, and as part of the grant I was required to author a “statement of purpose” describing my projected research trajectory. While it may be a bit too specific to be considered as a general guiding statement for my research, it does articulate (fairly succinctly) many of the areas of inquiry that I am interested in pursuing. I wanted to share it here as a summation of where things are at right now, and maybe a hint at where things are going next (NOTE: this is not exhaustive; the most notable absence for me is any discussion of Butoh as a significant experiential/corporeal methodology for queer ecologies; there just simply wasn’t the space, and there are several other posts of the blog that touch on this subject):

My primary interests for doctoral research in the field of Dance are the exploration of dance and choreographic practices as functional systems of interdependent corporealities (the constructed realities of the body) and subjectivities (the constructed nexus of perception and action of the individual); and the situation of the body as the site for the constitution (and constant re-constitution) of permeable identity within these systems of interdependency. It is my intention to examine choreographic processes, improvisational methodologies, and dance training, both theoretically and in practice, for their potentials to provide knowledge concerning human and more-than-human ecologies and the construction of corporeal identity that can be utilized both within and beyond the field of dance. Too often dance is relegated to the status of autonomous cultural value—relevant within its own history and discipline, or as a cultural product to be studied—but not considered to be a site for useful knowledge that might be incorporated into other fields of study. It is my intention to explore these concerns in such a way that they might operate in truly interdisciplinary discourses surrounding the body and systems of interdependent organization. I am supporting this research through continued study and creative activity in dance practices—such as choreographic practices in movement generation and group organization, improvisational and “score-based” methodologies, movement analysis and notation, and pedagogical practices in dance; in ecology, as a relevant lens for the analysis of systems of human and more-than-human (referring to other-than-human elements within systems of interdependency) participants; and in queer theories, particularly as they relate to the theorization of identity and the body.

Dance practices—including but not exclusive to choreography—are predicated on an assumption of interdependency between multiple subjectivities. Both the immediate participation of teachers, choreographers, and collaborators within choreographic and performance situations, and the aesthetic and training histories in which those individuals are citationally implicit, have been incorporated into the body and the dance experience of every dancer. In this sense, dance practice always already involves the collaborative construction of individual bodies by way of physical practice, training and the exchange between choreographer and dancer in the choreographic setting, and the collaborative construction of choreographies and dances as objects of intrinsic intersubjectivity. Dances do not reside within a single body or space, but function as systems of interdependency (considerable as ecologies) involving the incorporation of multiple bodies/subjectivities, and often include further interdependency with more-than-human elements, such as scoring and documentation systems across a variety of media, specific spaces (as in site-interactive choreographies), and technology. Of particular interest to me are the more-than-human elements of dance scores in the production of bodies and dances. I consider dance scores such as those written in Labanotation (a system for the analysis and notation of movement based on the work of Rudolf von Laban) and other comparable systems of movement analysis/notation to function as artifacts of transhistorical and intersubjective significance. The score simultaneously describes the movement of historical bodies (descriptions in which the corporeal presence of both the historical dancer(s) and the notator of the score are both necessary and implicit) and provides that information as impetus for the construction of the movement of contemporary bodies, and thus the construction of the contemporary bodies themselves. The score’s full meaning and function only exist between these transhistorical subjectivities, and the dance that the score produces exists only with the participation of this nexus of human and more-than-human elements. While my projected research will include a survey and analysis of a variety of dance practices, ranging from body-to-body methodologies (such as the choreographer transmitting movement directly to the dancer by way of demonostration and instruction) to methodologies incorporating additional more-than-human elements (such as scoring systems or the dissemination of movement material through media and technology), Labanotation, as a significant component of my research profile and expertise in the field of dance, holds for me a particular interest in the investigation of the ecologies of dance practices. The Ohio State University is uniquely qualified to host this kind of research: the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research—the only extension of its kind maintained by the Dance Notation Bureau in New York City—is housed within the OSU Department of Dance. The resources for Labanotation research made available through the DNB Extension, including dance scores, research libraries, educational materials and opportunities, and certification programs, are truly unique to this institution, and make OSU the ideal setting for doctoral research involving these lines of inquiry.

In addition to my continued work in Labanotation, it is also my intention to maintain my own choreographic practice as a methodology for this research. Adjacent to my studies in indirect movement generation (the construction of movement in processes that incorporate elements beyond a body-to-body/person-to-person choreographic model, such as Labanotation scores), I consider it important that these studies take place within the setting of the choreographic construction of dance and (coextensively) bodies. The importance of making and doing as useful ways of knowing are uniquely emphasized within the field of dance. It is an assumption of my research that these concerns cannot be fully explored remotely, but that they necessitate an active, embodied exploration through the process of making choreography. Maintaining my creative practice as a choreographer will provide an opportunity for this exploration, a type of research and knowledge generation that is truly unique to my field.

The infrastructure of these inquiries is an appreciation of the body as the permeable and transformable site for the perception, negotiation, construction, and performance of identity. Identity is not a new or unproblematic topic in academic research; it has proven to be a complex nexus of intersecting trajectories of power, politics, and participation within many fields of inquiry. My interest is in the corporeal situation of the complexity of identity. This investigation will draw heavily on the work of queer theorists and my own queer understanding of non-normative, subversive, and fluid identities. The perspective of the body as composed from the collaboration and contributions of multiple sources as intrinsic to dance practice suggests a permeable body, one that maintains ability, definition, and morphology as mobile boundaries characterized by a multiplicity of potentials and possibilities. Queer theories support this perspective by offering a wealth of language, perspective and utility for the maintenance of such permeable borders and mobile definitions. Queer theories also provide methodologies for enacting a necessary critique of and resistance to dance practices that function as systems for regulation and “normalization” of bodies, and as systems of oppression that reiterate sexism, racism, homophobia, and economic inequality through physical education. This critical lens will operate in my analytical engagement with contemporary dance practices, as well as with historical materials such as dance notation scores and conventional writing practices.

A meta-concern of this research is the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry, drawing from relevant adjacent fields of study (such as ecology and queer theory) in my dance research, as well as considering dance as a field of productive knowledge for these adjacent fields and others. My interest is in investigating these topics within practices unique to the field of dance, and offering the knowledge produced by those investigations to other fields addressing these same topics. It is my hope that in doing so I might participate in and further similar endeavors within my discipline to recognize the potential for dance to provide unique and invaluable knowledge within and beyond the field of dance.

Permeability, “chorecography,” In-corporation, etc.

I don’t really have time to be blogging. But the last few weeks have presented several opportunities for collaboration with some of the artist/scholars I admire most in the world. This has been a significant catalyst for coalescing some of my own ideas about my work, the direction of my research, and the germinating ideas that might form the connective tissue between dance practices, queer theories, ecology, Tantric philosophy, and my interests (specifically) in yoga, Butoh, the Love Art Laboratory, Sexecology, Ecosexuality, and the work of Karl Cronin. This is fairly raw brainstorming, but I think some ideas are finally beginning to mesh in such a way that they might then be interrogated, deconstructed, and applied to creative (and) scholarly practices.

The central issue (at the moment) seem to be permeability, specifically the permeability of the body. An interest of mine in the field of dance is how dance practices, especially choreographic practices by which the formulation of the body is a collaborative endeavor necessarily incorporating the participation of (a)other(s) beyond the seemingly persistent “individual,” is a practice in/of/as permeability, transformability, interdependent functionality, and the erotic.

The assumption on which many dance practices are predicated is that the body is not “fixed” but is necessarily not fixed (even as many dance techniques can assume the form of “fixing”–correcting, but more importantly, constraining, consolidating) in order to formulate a new, specific dancing body, fully contextual within the practiced and performed dance work. It is a practice that in the history of the body, but does not view that history as fully constrictive or deterministic–it is a malleable set of constraints, and dance practices in which additional, intentional information is provided the body in order to facilitate its (re)formulation become practices by which that malleability is engaged. Because the body (an admittedly complex and somewhat elusive term, both material and discursive) is the site/nexus for the assumption of identity/identification, sex, gender, sexuality, and subject-hood in the process of performative reiteration, the permeable, transformability/malleability of the body assumed in (some) dance/choreographic practices has potentially radical implications.

Dance (especially choreographic) practices are often necessarily interdependent, practicing the meaning or significance of the body to be (formulated) beyond the individual or morphological boundaries. These practices emphasize a systemic functionality/”definition,” reorienting the experience of the body/self and its situation into the inclusion/incorporation of other necessary participants (even the solo dancing choreographer is the demonstration of the sedimentation of a nexus of citations that reference the participation of others through which the (present) body takes on its form). This interdependency is where I identify a ready correlation with ecologies and ecological analysis, giving attention to the ways in which dance practices (and perhaps even the cultural and social constructions surrounding dance practices) function as systems of interdependency, and dancing bodies and that which is produced by and simultaneously formulates those practices. There is room here as well for the consideration of the movement of power within these potentially imbalanced systems, how interdependency does not necessary (and does rarely) suggest egalitarianism, but instead suggests the mobility of power across relations of imbalance and dependence.

This word may become significant. It is in direct dialogue with my Tantric understanding of “recognition.” This can be potentially deconstructed, the similarity/difference between the incorporation into the self and the recognition of the “other” as not separate from the self.

Dance, choreography, chore(c)ography (love this–suggested to me in a recent email from Catriona Sandilands . . . chorecography . . . there may be something there) is a perpetual practice of incorporation, not in the sense of colonization, but in the sense of synthetic exchange and the interdependent formulation of bodies.

This is what I might (presently) identify as the eroticism of dance practice/chorecography: the space of lack/desire that compels the practice, the necessary interdependency and the mobility towards that interdependency. To be clear, lack does not necessarily denote desire (eros), but desire is necessarily predicated on lack. The eroticism of dance practice is what I might identify as “generative lack” or “constructive lack,” as opposed to a lack that functions as the definitive outside for non-lack.

Returning to the “central issue,” this permeability might also be identifiable as the “queer(ing)” element of dance (choreographic/chorecographic) practices. The assumed non-fixity of the body, the permeable pursuit of new corporeal possibilities, perhaps the ambiguity of the exchanges within these practices, seem inherently non-normative or even anti-normative (even, as I mentioned above, when dance practices function simultaneously as normalizing utilities, such as the ballet lessons potentially contributing to the “docile female body,” or competitive athletic dance forms potentially becoming yet another site for the defensive reiteration of (impermeable) masculine identity). I am not sure that “queer” itself suggests a concern with interdependent systemic functionality (ecology) (although it may . . . the permeable, while not intrinsically “erotic,” does lend itself to it; and “queer” and “erotic” may share a coalitional affinity of abjection; ecology may be intrinsically erotic; thus . . .), but “queer” definitely offers a manner of approaching the examination and consideration of ecological relations, and this approach may be qualitatively similar the the approaches of many dance practices.

Other thoughts:

This week in conversation with Karl Cronin, Karl discussed the difference between the big “I” and the little “i”; the big “I” suggests the individual is not so bounded and discrete as we might think, but instead is an active participant in a larger “organism” in which the subject is always implicit. This immediately connected to my background in Tantric philosophy, and the affirmation of diverse expressions of a common unity. This is further situated in David Abram’s writings about the situation of the human subject in constant sensorial reciprocity with the more-than-human world. In Tantric philosophy, especially in Kashmir Saivism, all differentiation and diversity emerges from the common source of Consciousness. In dialogue with contemporary philosophies of embodied cognition and the embodiment of perception, it lends itself to the body as far more expansive and inclusive than it neatly demarcated by our presumed physical morphology or even our normative discursive description of “the body.”

In preparation for my second comprehensive exam, I am also re-thinking the work of the Love Art Laboratory, specifically their ecosexual performance weddings. In addition to the themes of ecosexuality, and the engagement of the Earth, Sky, and Sea as Lover, I am beginning to contemplate the formal structure of these performances, their intensely collaborative structure/infrastructure, and the formal suggestion of union/unity and diversity/disparity. The wedding itself is a ritual of unification, and its performance in the work of LAL is a non-normative performance of a normative regulatory device. The wedding ritual itself is queered by the manner in which it is carried out. While Annie, Beth, and their Earth/Sky/Sea lovers function as a focal point for the event, the production and performance of the weddings are intrinsically plural(istic). They take the form of performance art variety shows in which many, many artists are showcased, all for a shared purpose. Individuals cycle through the roles of performer and audience. The unification that is enacted (recognized? formulated? in-corporated?) in these wedding rituals is accomplished through shared political, social, cultural, artistic, environmental (etc.) intentions, and is enacted through the community of attention and appreciation, in which viewers become viewed and viewed become viewers. There is a cyclical exchange between the foreground and the background (that which is seen and that which is “unseen” that allows the “seen” to become visible), between subject and object, and it is in the cycle of this exchange (I may go so far as to relate this to spanda) that distinction becomes blurred and the fundamental unity across disparity is enacted/recognized. There is also something in the act of offering . . . I haven’t figured out the implications of this yet, but I feel like there is something to be theorized in the act of giving performances and attention to one another, the erotic spaciousness in a generous observation/attention/gaze.

Need to get back to reading. Going to see Pandora Boxx perform at Union tonight; seeing the show with family.
Happy Sunday.

Erotics (eco-logic)

This is not going to be my most eloquent post, but I’ve had ideas spinning around the notion of “eros” and “the erotic” for a while now (years?) and I think it might be developing into something a bit more effable, but I think I just need to get the ideas down.

I think my earliest encounter with the speculation on “eros” was with Anne Caron’s Eros: The Bittersweet, still one of my top recommended reads. Carson is a professor of classical literature, and Eros is her formulation of how eros functioned within Greek lyric poetry and thus how it might be considered to function within interpersonal relations. She explores the evolution of a literary culture’s impact on the senses of those engaged with that culture, a bounding, an edging and delimiting in the conception of the individual, concurrent with these lyric expressions of the sweetness and agony of eros. In her formulation, eros is desire that denotes lack: it is that which we do not have (or, she goes on to formulate with certain Freudian tones, that which we no longer have, that which we perceive to have lost), and the sweet-bitterness of eros comes in that agony of not having. We can no longer want that which we have, because wanting is itself predicated on lack.

I employed Carson’s text in a paper I wrote recently exploring theorizing “Sexecology” and “Ecosexuality” as it is performed in Love Art Laboratory’s Green Wedding Four (2008). In this paper, I began to explore the possibility that the erotic is a state of contingency. It is a state of empty spaces, spaces of lack, that seek to be filled. I correlated this with collaboration, that when we allow ourselves to collaborate, as artists, as researchers, as people (relationships themselves might be viewed as collaboration), we are actively engaging with those places of lack, perhaps even forming or formulating spaces of lack in order to find compliment from those with whom we are collaborating. It is an intimate exchange, it is a space of varying degrees of vulnerability, because in bearing our lack, we relinquish portions of our control. We ask to be filled by another, and coextensively, we do our part to fill in and meet and complement the places of lack presented by our collaborators. The product is necessarily unpredictable, indeterminate, and emergent. I don’t mean to imply that in all collaborative settings the distribution of power is equal and balanced; I think of settings in which I have functioned as a choreographer or director. There is a collaborative experience with the dancers in the work because the work would not be possible without their participation, and certainly the dancers bring their own personal and creative energies to the work. But the power is not balanced: I maintain a degree of control that extends beyond that of anyone else in the project. There are of course nuances throughout, but what I mean to address is that in this discussion of collaboration being predicated on a kind of erotic exchange between lack and complement, I am aware that power is imbalanced, potentially in flux, and rarely distributed equally.

This is where I begin to equate “collaboration” with “ecology”–it is not a perfect equation, but a functional one. Ecology (etymologically “the study of habitation/dwelling”) is predicated on “situation,” situation being necessarily complex, reciprocal, and potential systemic. For my purposes, I tend to shorthand “ecology” as the study of functional systems of interdependency. The jump to “collaboration” is not far. What I think I’m getting at is that the functionality of ecologies and eco-systems (systems of habitation, situation, which, again, are necessarily reciprocal; habitation is not passive) depends on complement, which depends on spaces of interdependency and lack. This in itself seems to evoke the erotic to me, but I think there may be yet another step. For there to be lack and complement, in itself, may not be erotic. Instead, it may be the sensation of that lack and complement. Is eros a sensation or a structural/systemic relationship/state, both or otherwise? Not sure.

I think our culture carries an anxiety surrounding “lack.” Perhaps it is simply the modern humanist individual, perhaps it is even reinforced by feminist projects that have deconstructed the conceptual/social/sexual dependence of women on men, but we shirk away from dependence (inter-dependence, co-dependence) towards notions of independence, that we are each our own, complete, lack-less, need-less, individual. I not only find this to be a tad bit inaccurate, but not helpful. I remember talking to Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens in December, and their discussion of their move away from the “modern genius” individual artist to collaborative work, because there’s more possible when you collaborate. I think I am theorizing this draw towards the “more that is possible” as the erotic. It softens at its edges, it expands and becomes fluid, willing to mingle and mix and exchange; it is porous and permeable, and accepts the risk of that permeability (the risk of “pollution,” perhaps). There is a danger to the erotic, to exchange, and collaboration; to no longer being in control. Catriona Mortimar-Sandilands, among others, has written exceptional writing addressing the correlation between environmental projects such as state parks and “nature reserves,” the project against pollution of the “natural environment” (need I remind myself that to inhabit is not passive, but is already an exchange?), and the medicalization and defense of bodies, the fear of the polluted body, the dangers of sex and exchange of fluids and the solidification of the edges. It is a complex question without (for me) a yet clear trajectory (I can see it pertaining to questions surrounding sex work, pornography, safer-sex practices, contact improvisation, localvore food cultures, etc.), but there is something about an acceptance of the permeability of edges, spaces of lack within our borders/boundaries, and the invitation for exchange across those edges in order to complement those spaces of lack. I call this ecology. Or eros. Or sexecology, or ecosexuality.

This relinquishing of (some) control/power connects to another conversation I recently had with Daniel Holt. In discussing his Guerilla Dance Project, I began to identify with a certain desire to not be completely in control. In other words, I noticed and identified with a need/desire (lack) to create work for which I (or one) is not solely responsible. I think this tendency fits into larger meta-narratives: for instance, the post-modern shift away from the single generative choreographer (prevalent in early modern dance) towards sourced-materials (dancers generating movement material to be shaped/crafter by choreographer) to collectives and improvisation (Grand Union, etc.), and even (what I have been referring to as) indirect methodologies for movement generation: methodologies that do not dictate movement from one body to another (direct), but put (indeterminate, or at least not fully determinate) systems or scores in place by which movement is then produced (image-based systems like Butoh and Gaga would fit into this category, but also the vast field of improvisational scoring that has evolved from the mid-20th century onward). It is a shift away from singular determinacy towards multiple indeterminacies, and it is fully engaged with this shift towards permeability, complementarity, and (erotic) lack. I think it fits into a context of yet larger meta-narratives, like the shift to Web 2.0, and maybe even models for emergent taxonomies in general. There is a move away from hierarchy and toward democratization of power, which necessitates interdependence and collaboration. I don’t know if I could pin-point a single or even list of reasons for this shift, except maybe what Annie and Beth said: there is the potential for something more. I might identify this, in a broad sense, as the erotic sensation.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking more about the notion of the sensation of the erotic, how this sensation comes to be (the genealogy of sensation?). I’ve been thinking about erogenous zones as spaces and surfaces with which we comes to associate “something more:” a site of further sensation/increased sensation, a site for potential pleasure, a site for potential participation, etc. These spaces and surfaces becomes charged through their histories (by histories, I mean the complex intersections of experiences that contribute to the construction of these spaces and surfaces as we experience them; I am assuming that biology is always infused with culture, and thus to say, “My body feels this way or that way,” is never unaffected by the (cultural/social/ecological) history of that body), through experiences that allow for the recognition of potential. This is where I begin to correlate “queer” and “erotic:” both are an insistence on possibility. There are differences perhaps . . . I take queer to connote a range of possibilities always in flux, always fluid and mutable and unfixed. The erotic, on the other hand, is possibly dependent on a degree of predictability. In order to experience the sensation of the erotic, we must have first identified or become aware of a potential that we then experience as lack (available to be filled/fulfilled).

Or maybe not.
I remember something I said to Bebe Miller last year about the erotic experience of discovery. There is something intensely titillating about not-knowing (the not-knowing being a place of lack) that seeks knowledge. It has not clearly identified the lack, nor that which might fulfill it, but it allows for the gap. I experience this with bodies, with trees and landscapes, with new research endeavors, with collaboration and experimentation: the erotic charge is in those spaces of not-knowing that then fuels the search, the seeking. I feel it in contact improvisation, I feel it in sex, I feel it in nature walks, etc. These experiences deaden when it feels completely “known.” In contact jams, it deadens when we fall into patterns, the same sequences of actions and supports, without any new discovery/ies. The same is true with sex: when it feels scripted, when sensations feel predicted or expected, when actions and positions begin to feel sequenced and even practiced, when bodies are no longer landscapes to be discovered, etc. And so much is lost of our experience of our environment when it becomes predictable or “known” (which is of course inaccurate; it, like us/with us, is always in flux). On my walk to and from school in the mornings, or across the Oval and back again when acquiring (yet more) books from Thompson library, or our delightful “Notice What You Notice” practice in Current Issues with Bebe Miller and Norah Zuniga Shaw this past spring, all of these become an ongoing space for (erotic) discovery. Acknowledging the unfamiliarity of the seemingly familiar, searching for the unexpected or unnoticed, seems to me an act of constructing spaces of lack, spaces of potential, in order to be filled. I am reminded significantly of David Abram’s work in The Spell of the Sensuous and Sara Ahmed’s queer formulations of phenomenology: we are always potentially in reciprocal exchange with our environments (be that landscapes, dance settings, other people, etc.) and when we tune into that exchange and recognize our participation in it, I think we/I begin to experience that erotic sensation.

As I’ve worked through so many of my ideas about Sexecology and Ecosexuality, a questions that comes up every now and again has been “why?” Why look for sexual experiences with the environment? Why try to understand habitation and systems of interdependency through a sexual lens or epistemology? One reason that I have come to before is that sexuality, among many other taxonomies of our selves and our experiences, has the potential to serve as a site for liberation, transformation, discovery/re-discovery, and political/personal activism. I still think this is true. But I also think that it has something to do with this logic of the erotic. We (can) experience eros acutely through our sexuality; sex and sexuality are constant discourses of lack and complement, subjects and objects, desire, etc. It’s not, as I think I’m beginning to formulate, that sex is the only situation for the erotic, but that it is a familiar space. Here is where I see the potential for the employment of a sexual epistemology as a means for accessing/understanding/recognizing the erotic, both within and beyond what we experience/identify/taxonomize as “sexual.” Annie and Beth talk about sex being something really big and broad, not narrowly defined. I think this expansive sexuality, that explodes sex beyond specific acts and experiences and begins to recognize the relationship between those normally(normatized) experiences identified as “sex”  with a larger landscape of experience(s). I think that the erotic might be a significant connective tissue within this expansion.

Those are some of my thoughts. Looking forward to seeing where these ideas go.

Dissertation musings: sexecology, somatic natural history archive, laban, butoh . . .

Here I am at the end of another quarter. I am about to embark on a summer of reading and writing for my second comprehensive exam. I hardly feel like writing at all right now . . . yesterday I turned in a real labor (full of great love), my first bit of writing on Sexecology and Eco-Sexuality in the work of the Love Art Laboratory. For this paper, I grounded my theorizations in the text from Green Wedding Four. The support for my theorizations came primarily out of the writings of David Abram, Judith Butler, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Greta Gaard, William Cronon, Anne Carson, Chaia Heller, some Karen Warren, and a smattering of other writers in ecofeminism and ecology. It is not a refined paper, not yet, but it excites me to no end to have finally written some of the implications/situation of this work that means so much to me.

Perhaps the most relevant summaries come at the end of the paper:

“The formulation of an Eco-Sexual identity is a practice of an erotic eco-logic, deconstructing heteronormative constructions of gender, sex, sexuality, and nature in order to continually queer and destabilize identities, actively form and retain spaces of lack that necessitate interdependency, and engage a permeable sensuous self in perpetual sensorial reciprocity with the sensing and sensible more-than-human environment. It is an identity identified by desire rather than a stable essence or being, and it is a desire for the more-than-human environment in which the human subject is sensorially implicit.

“Similar to the queer ecofeminist and queer ecological project, Sexecology looks to this Eco-Sexual identity for fundamental qualities of its organization. It is a functional system of interdependency that discovers its functionality through this erotic eco-logic and its destabilized, permeable, and necessarily interdependent participants. Green Wedding Four functioned as both a performative enactment of this Eco-Sexual identity, reified in the queer lesbian wedding between Sprinkle, Stephens, and the Earth, and as a demonstration of this Sexecology, predicated on collaborative construction and a necessary interdependence between its seemingly disparate human and more-than-human participants.”

This summer I am going to be reading more queer theorists (more Butler, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Eve Sedgwick) and some phenomenology (namely Merleau-Ponty) in order for this research to find grounding and situation in those fields of inquiry. I have submitted an abstract of this research to two different conferences in the fall; we’ll see if those pan out.

And I finally feel as if some ideas are coalescing that may be a direction for a dissertation. It will definitely grow, transform, evaporate, condense, explode, and be re-built many, many times in the months to come, but I feel the need to sketch out some ideas/sources/etc.

I have spent the afternoon falling in love with the work of Karl Cronin. My dear friend CoCo has referenced this work to me several times, and today I finally found time to peruse it. This is Kronin’s description of the project:

“My name is Karl Cronin and I’m the creator of the Somatic Natural History Archive.

I am using movement sketches to document the life histories of 10,000 plants and animals. This work is similar to John James Audubon’s drawings of birds, only I’m using expressive movement.

Now, you may be wondering “what does dance have to do with ecology”?

The short answer is, at its core, dance involves researching and expressing our experiences. Ecology includes creating descriptions of how organisms interact with their ecosystems.

By placing my whole self as a sort of recording device in a given environment, I can use all my faculties to document how a species is interacting with its environment. What I see. What I hear. What I smell. What it feels like to be there. I use all these faculties to explore the individual expressions of particular plants and animals.

I then share all this information in public presentations across the country – a mixture of story-telling, movement, and film.

Kickstarter donations will be used to cover my field expedition travel costs for 2010.

Fore more information, please visit my website – http://naturalhistory.us

I appreciate your support!

Your dancing ecologist,

Karl Cronin”

You can see a great promotional video for this project here.

What a turn-on. Kronin’s work in experiential geography and this project of the Somatic Natural History Archive seem to be a really lovely additional hub in my constantly evolving constellation of ideas surrounding dance, the body, ecology, sexecology, eco-sexuality, the unity of body-and-environment, phenomenology, the situational construction of identity, etc. I look forward to reading, seeing, funding, and maybe even writing more about this work.

I have also long been interested in examining both Rudolf von Laban’s early writings (and the consequential systems of Labanotation and LMA) and the early Butoh movement for their perspectives of the body and its relationship (unity with) environment.

I’m interested in how these perspective inform creative practice, how they come back into the studio as methodologies within creative practice and as methodologies for analyzing creative practices. I am also interested in how creative practices in dance might function as sites of useful knowledge to other (related) fields of inquiry: if we might consider choreography as the formulation of unique micro-cosmic and performative human ecologies, how might analyses of these “choreographic eco-systems” inform ecological analyses in the fields of biology and anthropology, etc.? If we accept that all scientific formulations are emergent of specific historical, cultural, and social situations, then how might choreography function as a source of intentional methods of observation, analysis, and taxonomy? How might perspectives coming from areas of study/practice like Laban’s work, Butoh, Cronin’s work in experiential geography and somatic archive, and Love Art Lab’s work in Sexecology offer useful perspectives/information to other fields, as well as their own fields?

Somewhere in here there is still strands of questioning the ways in which movement(dance) and choreographic practices contribute to the construction of individual and ecological identities, the difference between different methodologies for movement generation in these constructions (direct methods such as body-to-body demonstration and coaching, indirect methods such as improvisational scores and notation-based movement generation, etc.), and the ways in which dance/movement practices functionally disrupt/subvert socially regulated physical normativity and bodily decorum in both training and presentation. There’s a lot about exchange and reciprocity between body and environment (which is not separate from culture/society), the conflation of the two . . .

And then my ideas run out of words. Those are my scribblings for today. I’ll be fascinated to see how this pans out.

Visiting the Love Art Laboratory

I found out this morning that I have received funding for a research trip to San Francisco in December, to view work by and interview Love Art Lab (Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens). The hope is that I will write something for publication or conference presentation based on the research I do on this trip. I can hardly wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be there meeting them/talking to them about their work/seeing their work in less than a month. I have thrived on their work remotely for so long . . . I can hardly imagine preparing myself for first-hand engagement.

These are the (unfiltered) ideas I am interested in talking to them about:

-The implications for perspectives of the body in their work, both their larger project of Love Art Laboratory, the projects they have done year by year, and their recent evolution into “Sexecology” (the intersection of sexology and ecology). What does it mean that the whole Love Art Lab project is centered around the chakra system, which is a distillation of energy centers within the body (the body as the starting place for this project, via the work of artist Linda Montano)? What does it mean that these projects are predominantly performative (or artifacts of the performative), which situates the body at the (intersecting) center of political activism, environmentalism, interpersonal relationship, sexual identity, etc.?

-What does intersecting “sexology” (the study of sexual behavior, predominantly in humans) and “ecology” (the branch of biology dealing with the relations of interactions between organisms and their environment; environmental science) say about how we view the body, organizations/relationships of bodies (people), etc.?

-What kind of progressive “body cultures” or cultures for progressive perspectives of the body are furthered in their work (this might address anything from clothing trends, body modification such as tattoos or piercings, exploring the boundaries between the private and the public as it relates to revelation of the body and bodily (even sexual) acts, etc.)?

-How does their work illustrate a conflation of art, life, and love? How has that functioned, the art seeming to be so entangled with the personal relationship between the artists (collaborators and wives)? How does that affect/direct the content of the work? How does the relationship serve as material in the art, and how does the art serve as a component of the personal relationship? Where is the line between public and private? What gets put into the art, and what stays out of it? What comes into the relationship, and what has to stay “in the studio,” as it were? To whatever degree the art functions as a profession, how does that affect the art or the relationship? I am fascinated by artist relationships, specifically in which both the relationship and the art are collaborative. I am fascinated by relationships emerging from the creative process (re: “click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit“; “Autumn Quartet“), how art furthers relationships, how relationships function as material for art, etc.

-On some (utopian, idealistic) level, I think I am looking to Annie and Beth as gurus of sustainable integration. That isn’t fair and I know it, but their work integrates so much: personal, public, professional, creative, political, sexual, ecological, etc. etc. etc. And somehow, from the remote observer, it seems to be working. I need this to be answered . . . disillusioned, nuanced, confirmed, whatever. The most difficult part of the creative life (for me) is the integration. I am interested in Fluxus artists. I am interested in early post-modernism, and how they worked so hard to dissolve the boundary between art and life, and at the same time I am interested in maintaining my connection to the art form, to the history of dance, the technique and craft and practice of it. I don’t want to integrate dance and life simply by considering my daily mundane life (the walking to and from school, drinking coffee, reading and writing papers, washing dishes, folding clothes, seeing friends, etc.) dancing (which it is); I want to maintain a dancing practice, a connection to dancing history and technique without those things feeling remote from the rest of life . . . by which I think I mean (predominantly) relationships. I mean cooking and cleaning and other life experiences as well, but I think the conflict I find most of all is the amount of time that the “dancing life” demands infringing on the quality and quantity of time I can spend nurturing and fostering human connection. The irony is that my art form is predominantly social; we do it in groups of people.

I should say that between the project I just completed with CoCo Loupe, Eric Falck, and Jeff Fouch (“click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit”) and the project I am working on with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, and Amanda Platt, I feel nearer to this “integrated living” than I have (in quite some time)(ever). And yet I feel like (I hope) Annie and Beth can say something to this.


That’s all I have time for. Ecstatic to have funding. Can’t wait to be in San Francisco.