Filed under: art, Dance | Tags: 11 tiny performances, ananya chatterjea, beyond the pleasure principle, claire colebrook, congress on research in dance, death drive/obscene/on-scene, donna haraway, ecology, ecosexuality, esther baker-tarpaga, genderfuck, heidi wiren bartlett, iowa city, njoy, sex after life, sigmund freud, society of dance history scholars, susan foster, the engirt theatre, thomas defrantz, trumpet blossom cafe, when species meet
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:
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.”
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…”
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’.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
 Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, 3-4.
 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 44-45
 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 47.
 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 78-79, footnote.
 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 81.
 Claire Colebrook, Sex After Life, 134.
I’ve started a new blog called ECOSEXUALITY: REORIENTATIONS/RETERRITORIALIZATIONS.
As I get deeper into my research project for my dissertation—writing about ecosexualities in performance—this blog will be a space in which I can collect various media and texts that I [want to] consider, and in which I can share resources that support my research.
I will continue to write here when I am writing about work that does not relate directly to my ecosexuality research, but as you can likely see over the last year’s posts, graduate school has left less and less time for this kind of writing. I still want to be able to write about live performances that I see here in Columbus, OH, when time permits, and this blog will continue to be the space in which I do so.
Thank you for reading!
Filed under: culture, Ontology, research | Tags: 14 years of living art, annie sprinkle, ecosex symposium II, ecosexuality, elizabeth stephens, Kim TallBear, linda montano, love art lab
I was so thrilled when Kim TallBear posted her piece of writing, “What’s in Ecosexuality for an Indigenous Scholar of ‘Nature’?” on 29 June 2012. I am so excited to see other academic scholars taking an interest in what I consider to be a significant opportunity for generating new ways of thinking and making our world, bringing ecosexuality into contact with a range of disciplinary perspectives, and allowing for what Donna Haraway and Karen Barad might call “diffractive” readings between them. TallBear does an excellent job in opening up this topic of conversation, and I hope you take a moment to read what she’s written, as well her addendum, and the comment thread that is developing.
This afternoon, I finally took a few minutes to make my own meager contribution to this discussion, which I am posting below. Besides my scattered musings on ecosexuality on this blog, a few conference presentations, a few papers, and a chapter for an anthology that is currently in the editing process, I haven’t had very much opportunity to share my work on ecosexuality with a broader audience. Eventually, ecosexuality in performance will be the project of my disseration, which I’ll start sometime in the spring. Until then, here are some glimpses of what I’ve been thinking:
I want to first say THANK YOU to Kim for authoring what I think is one of the most sophisticated academic accounts of ecosexuality that I’ve yet encountered. I had the honor of presenting my research alongside Praba Pilar, Jennifer Reed, and Sha LaBare on the “Theories of Ecosex” panel at the EcoSex Symposium II in June 2011, and I was excited by the ways in which each of their work rigorously considered the social, political, and personal implications of ecosexuality. The movement around ecosexuality includes a broad spectrum of voices, perspectives, practices, and personal histories. I’ve met artists, activists, academics, and allies, each with subtle and dramatically different inflections in their articulation of what ecosexuality can be, and I think it is great that this movement holds a space for so much difference. At the same time, I have felt discontent at times—a discontentment tempered with an excitement towards the work to be done—with the lack of critical rigor within these discussions, at the symposium, at the weddings (I performed in the Purple Wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the White Wedding to the Sun), and on the Ecosex, Sexecology, and Sustainable Love facebook group. Far too often, I’ve felt that unquestioned assumptions are being reinscribed and invested with cultural currency through the use of terms like “nature,” “sex,” gender categories, specific (or ambiguous) spiritual traditions, and so on. To be clear, I’m not opposed to these terms themselves; rather, I’ve been resistant to some of the uncritical patterns of their use in discussions around ecosexuality. In this piece of writing, Kim has opened up many of these terms and invited critical attention to both how they are operating within ecosexuality, as well as the potential within ecosexuality to significantly reconfigure how we understand the world in and through such terms.
I also sympathized a lot with Kim’s statement, “…encounters with ecosexuality this past year, it turns out, constitute a pivotal intellectual moment of growth for me.” I remember when I first encountered ecosexuality in Beth and Annie’s work in SF in 2009, interviewing them at their Sexecology exhibit at Femina Potens. I had been awarded a grant to see their work and to interview them about more general themes relating to the intersection of life and art practices. However, when I arrived at the gallery, when I encountered their work—the ephemera from the 2008 Green Wedding and the 2009 Blue Weddings, as well as new ecosexual collages and photographs and videos—and listened to them speak, something began to shift. I could sense that there was something important about this term/idea/identity/practice of “ecosexuality.” And I’ve spent the last three years continuing to articulate that importance to myself and to others in various writings, conferences presentations, performances, and formal and informal discussions.
While reading Kim’s piece, I felt a response to the suggestion that, “On the other hand, some of my UC Berkeley students probably do get turned on by trees if they open up their minds to think about it that way.” This “opening up their minds” is something I address more below, but here is raises the questions: What constitutes getting turned on? Where and how are we drawing the lines between various forms of contact and encounter, states of excitation and attraction? If the parameters of what counts as sex and sexuality blossom out into new variations and possibilities for contact between bodies, flows, and all sorts of material-semiotic actants that participate in the proliferation of life and livability within our world, how might we find ourselves reoriented towards that world—bees and trees and seas and flowers and rocks and all sorts of animals and so on and so on and so on—in ways that generate new possibilities for action? I feel that Beth and Annie’s work, among others, is explicitly reconfiguring the potential for what sex and sexuality can be within a whole spectrum of encounters between bodies (see their ecosexual herstories, among other work).
Most of all, I appreciate Kim’s direction of attention towards “pervasive boundaries and hardened [binary] categories that structure our minds … and our world today.” In my ongoing exploration of what ecosexuality is and can be, where it occurs, and what it accomplishes in through its enactment, I come again and again to the ways in which it restructures the very grounds from which we think and (reiteratively) produce our world. In addition to the structural boundaries between nature/culture, animal/human, female/male, queer/straight, nonwhite/white, and so on, I am aware of the ways in which these categories get deployed towards social/political ends. For instance, the complex alignments of “nature” or “the natural” with purity and “the unnatural” with contamination and/or “culture,” in tension perhaps with alignments of the animal with the savage, the unevolved, or hedonistic, and the human with the rational pinnacle of evolution and culture. Or the centrality of sex and sexuality with psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the subject, or within legal discourses around rights and representations as they relate to identity. Or even the model within discourses like environmental management that figures the human as somehow outside of environmental conditions which then must be controlled and/or engineered, as if from the outside. The point I am trying to make is that what I find exciting about ecosexuality, specifically Beth and Annie’s performances of ecosexuality, but others as well, is that it does not/cannot operate within these pervasive normative categories that structure who we are, how we think, and what actions are available to us from such perspectival positions. I believe that ecosexuality—or, as I’ve come to prefer in my own work, ecosexualities—operate from new ontological grounds, new ways of conceptualizing the living material world, new forms of sex and sexuality that have profound implications for the understanding of “the human subject”—implications that might even include abandoning this model for articulating life and activity—and thus new routes along which to consider life, livability, and ethical responsibility as a participant in the production of the world.
Regarding the issue of “new age” in ecosexuality: In my own writing and presentations about ecosexuality, one place that I’ve encountered accusations or observations of what has been called “new age” in the Love Art Lab work specifically is in the projects’ use of the chakra system (which stems from various branches of yogic/tantric philosophy and practice) as its organizational logic. This format was in homage to Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, which has itself been called new age. I have little interest in determining whether something “is” or “is not” “new age”; that term is slippery. Rather, I think there could be value in interrogating the effects of that term in relation to this work, or to ecosexuality more generally. What does it DO to call this work new age? What does it DO to deny that category? Where is appropriation at play, and what are the effects of those appropriation? What discursive traditions are being invoked/incorporated into the work through such appropriations/citations/iterations/etc.? And so on. Certainly whenever appropriation comes up, there is the potential for ethical dilemma or even injury. Yet appropriation itself cannot become demonized; it is a well-worn practice in the development of innumerable species of human and nonhuman naturecultures. I appreciate Kim’s advocacy for “caution” around appropriation in her original post. I think caution and care are more productive modes of approach than moralizing accusations of right and wrong. I think a productive orientation towards the places at which ecosexuality and ecosexual practices incorporates disciplinary/cultural traditions is to ask, “What are the effects of such incorporations, and what are our responsibilities towards those effects and those affected by them?”
Lastly, I wanted to mention a few authors/texts that have profoundly influenced my thinking on ecosexuality, just to invoke them in the dialogic developing here:
-Donna J. Haraway (almost all of her work)
-Elizabeth Grosz (specifically her books Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art; and Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth)
-Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
-Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
-David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous
-Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others
-Judith Butler’s “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”
Kim, thank you again for such a thoughtful piece of writing and for opening up this conversation in such critical ways, and thank you Beth and Annie for pioneering this road down which each of us have turned.
In my last post, I attempted to put language to why ecosexuality has become my research interest. I realized this morning that I’ve only articulated part of my motivation. It is certainly about falling in love with the world and experiencing intensities of pleasure derived from my interdependency (or perhaps more accurately, intradependency; see below). I think there are ethical and political implications for such an approach to the world, implications that I did not articulate in my previous post, and which I will not be articulating here either (that will have to be for another day). Suffice to say, I believe we might live in the world (as the world?) differently if our sense of self is always hinged on the [passionate, desirous] relation which constitutes both our sense of self and our sense of the world.
Implicit in this sense of subjectivity is an emphasis on relation. It resists the notion of pre-exisiting relata which then form relationships. It considers relationship as the fundamental unit of ontology. In other words, there is no “self” and “the world,” per se. Rather, there is a relation, an intradependency (a relation internal to itself rather than between pre-existing entities or territories), a process or assemblage or system, and from that flow, that relation, we then abstract parts. “Self” and “the world” do not pre-exist the relation; they are constituted by it, they are dependent upon it. This shift in the ontology of subjectivity carries radical implications for ethics/politics/how we live in the world. Part of my work, I believe, will be to consider/theorize/articulate these implications, not exhaustively, but specifically as they are concerned with sexuality.
That’s the other part of my motivation. It is not only about transforming our sense of the world through our understanding of sexuality. It is also about how this shifting from relata to relation, this transformation in how we think “ourselves” as fundamentally processional with the world (language is so difficult here; language resists this shift; this might become part of my project as well), affects how we think/understand/approach sex, sexuality, and even love. The deterritorialization of the subject, the emphasis of relation and the constitutive flow of intradependency, necessarily shifts the concepts of sex and sexuality. For one thing, the body is no longer a closed entity (it never was; this was a fantasy, probably of capitalism, maybe of agriculture, considering the body/self as private property). It cannot be clearly delimited, it can never be contained, and in this sense, it can never be fully possessed. This move towards disindividuation is not new in my work. For a couple of years, I’ve been trying to ground myself in theoretical frameworks that dislodge the notion of the subject as individuated and autonomous, bounded private property. What I want to emphasize here (for myself, for you) is that to no longer consider oneself as one self will affect how we consider/conduct sex, sexual identities, and even relationships. What if sex is not something that takes place between two (or more) people, but is instead a quality of relation, an affective register in which we understand and constitute relations (and thus “ourselves”)? I keep thinking about how practices and philosophies of polyamory might have a lot of sympathy with the “ecosexual subject.” What if love (specifically eros) is not a non-renewable resource? What if we cannot “belong” to one another, because we never truly “belong” to ourselves? What if one relationship does not preclude another? There’s a promiscuity to this kind of ontology, a being that is always becoming, a becoming that is enacted through ceaseless fundamental intra-relationships, of which sex and love are particular qualities.
What I’m trying to articulate here is that in the pursuit of an ecosexuality, there is a shift in how we understand ourselves, and in this shift, how we think and behave sex/sexuality/love changes as well. It doesn’t change in one way; it changes in many, and many more that are unforeseen/unforeseeable.
I have a lot more to consider/theorize/write (dissertation), but I thought it was important to articulate these motivations as well.
As I come to the end of my course work (only one more quarter) and move into the phase of my PhD program dedicated to preparing for my candidacy exams, I find myself constantly zooming in and zooming out—zooming in to examine the complexities and nuances of the theoretical frameworks with which I am engaging, frameworks like queer theories, ecofeminism, queer ecoogies, posthumanism, psychoanalytic theories of sexuality, etc., and how those frameworks function to illuminate the performance materials with which I am engaging; and zooming out to consider what the importance of this project might be, the ways in which I might clarify why I am drawn to theorize this notion of “ecosexuality” in various works of body based performance.
It is this second scale, zoomed out as it were, that occupies my thoughts tonight. These are some of the answers that occur to me:
-In opening to the possibilities of ecosexualities, the possibilities that sexuality might be a part of how we experience the world in which we are implicit, there is a necessary rethinking of the boundary between the human and the more-than-human. This rethinking allows value to become more pervasive. It is not my intention to depreciate what we consider to be human; nor is it my intention to expand what we think of as human, to colonize that which is not human under that category in order to ascribe it value. Rather, I’m interested in how the dissolution of that boundary might allow for a more pervasive value for the world in which we are always already implicit.
-Sexuality is a productive site at which to consider this expansion, this dissolution of the clearly human. Sexuality is central to subjectivity, in discourse, in politics, and often in the lived experience. We come into our subjectivity through our entry into the matrix of sexuality. Sexuality is a field in which lives and rights are actively articulated, legislated, contested, and protested. Sex and sexuality, amidst all their complexity and contestation, can be the sites of intensities of pleasure and even rapture, sites of profound interpersonal connection, sites of collective identities and communities. If sexuality is central to subjectivity and the subject is always implicit in the world, then sexuality pervades the world. In many ways, sexuality has been territorialized and restricted to a small set of experiences and encounters; to consider sexuality to be more pervasive in our experience of the world invites the world to becomes more central to our subjectivities, allows the world to be a site of intensities of pleasure and rapture, profound interpersonal connections, and even coalitional identities and communities.
I’m still talking in the language of theoretical discourses. I’m still working through the theories. I want to zoom out farther, make this project more legible outside of these specialized systems of language.
What I mean is: I want to be able to fall in love with the world. I want to be seduced by the world. I want to feel towards the world the bittersweetness of being both made whole (as by a lover), and the profound sense of partiality, lack and incompleteness that are revealed (produced?) by the desire for the lover. I want to allow for the possibility that in/through/with the world around me, I might experience the kind of dissolution that I experience in sex, a pleasure that blurs the boundaries of where I end and my lover begins. Ecology and ecosophy are already predicated on inherent interdependency; autonomy is an abstract fantasy, and the individual is never fully individuated. We (can) know this in/through sex, but in sex we know it through the intense rapture of sensation and pleasure of connection and exchange. An ecological consciousness is a recognition of one’s own interdependency, an interdependency that is only possible if no part is fully sufficient on its own. It depends on a necessary and productive lack. As long as I conceive of myself as separate, as autonomous, as a human who exists separate from but in the world around me, I lack. I must be completed by the world in which I occur in order to be whole. From lack springs desire, eros, the bittersweetness of longing to be complete in the recognition of one’s partiality and insufficiency, and we take pleasure in that bittersweetness of desire, that longing to be whole. Through ecosexuality, I’m looking to find that rapture, to live in the world in such a way that the pleasure of my interdependency, my implication in the world around me, is present, blurring my boundaries, dissolving my self. As long as I remain “myself”—individuated, autonomous, “human”—I lack, and in lacking, experience the pang of desire. I experience pleasure, fulfillment, and wholeness as I let go of the “I” who lacks and surrender to the necessary interdependency in which there is no “I,” only how what has been called “I” functions as part of a much larger system. With this recognition/surrender of “self,” I think there is then a different way to live in/as the world.
Performance is where I’ve seen this lived out, where I’ve seen these ways of living explored and practiced and re-presented. This is the world-making potential of performance, that in the creative act of doing things differently—something that is “allowed for” in performance in ways that are not allowed in other settings—we explore/practice other ways of being in/as the world. This comes with us back into other settings of living, beyond the performance, in small and big ways. I look to performance to see how ecosexuality is lived out.
These ideas are still only sketches, still only beginning to come together, but there is it. In the most basic sense, I want to fall in love with the world. I want to find profound pleasure in the recognition of how I am a part of the world around me, how I am necessarily interconnected, insufficient on my own, lacking without the world to complete me, and in that pleasure, I want to lose track of my edges, explode my boundaries and flow into my experience of being-in/as-the world.
Filed under: art, research | Tags: annie sprinkle, butoh, ecosexuality, elizabeth stephens, journal of a solitude, karl cronin, love art lab, may sarton, performance, queer porn
the last few months I have been bothered by an important question. actually, I will say that I have perhaps been plagued by this question in all my years of making and thinking and writing. it is a concern: how does my work contribute to the field/culture/world? for years, this quotation taken from May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude was a significant guiding force in my work:
“Millions of boys face these problems and solve them in some way or another–they live, as Captain Ahab says, with half of their heart and only one of their lungs, and the world is worst for it. Now and again, however, an individual is called upon (called by whom, only the theologians claim to know, and by what, only bad psychologists) to lift his individual patienthood to the level of a universal one and to try to solve for all what he could not solve for himself alone . . . not everyone can or will do that–give his specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance . . . one must believe that private dilemmas are, if examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private . . .”
-Erik Erikson, Robert Cole, May Sarton
times have changed, my work has changed, and my [shifting, mobile, fluid] beliefs about the world have changed as well. I no longer believe in universals, and producing work of universal value is no longer my intention. however, I still concern myself with producing work that has value beyond–however much it might be grounded in–my own interests and dilemmas. with each dance I make, each paper I write, each interest towards which I direct my attention and efforts, the question of, “how does this contribute?” arises. especially, as of late, with my primary research, that of ecosexuality as a framework for performance analysis.
one thing that I think is of value in the work I hope to accomplish is writing artists and art works that have not been given critical academic attention into the literature of performance scholarship. the work that interests me–Love Art Lab, Karl Cronin, queer porn, butoh, etc.–is work that has in some cases not been written into scholarship at all, and in most (if not all) cases, not been considered for their potential interventions in the formation/production of sexualities and environmental ecologies. this seems to be an accomplishment worth pursuing in/through my work.
but over the last couple of days, something more/larger has occurred to me. it might even seem obvious, but it has become central to how I understand the potential importance of what I am doing, beyond my own dilemmas or interests (and I am indebted to Maree ReMalia and Deder Gordon for talking through these ideas with me). the fundamental assumption/assertion of the work that I am doing seems to be: through performance we are given access to other possible worlds, other possibilities in/of our world, in ways that reconfigure the sedimented registers of meaning within our cultures and societies. performance is not [only] an act of representation or re-presentation, but is as act of doing the world differently, and that doing has radical potential on the physical level at which bodies are formed/deformed/reformed through the actions that they take (the potential for the performer), and on the level of perception, of the visual display (the potential for the spectator). performance (perhaps all arts, in their own ways), has the potential to operate within recognizable symbolic registers and systems of meaning attached to the body (such as gender, sex, sexuality, race, age, ability, nationality, etc. etc. etc.), but to do so in ways that go against the grain, reconfiguring familiar codes in ways that function in new/unfamiliar ways. this is what I mean by performance giving access to other possible worlds, or ways of world-becoming (yes, there are hints of deleuze and guattari here).
this may be obvious. my friend Deder actually responded by saying, “well, of course. isn’t that what we always do?” and my answer is yes, it is, on some level, but performance is not always considered in this way. too often performance (dance, theatre, performance art, porn, etc.) is approached with the expectation of representation, that the work is showing us something of or about the world, or (perhaps even worse) telling us something about the world. and it might be. but I am interested in what else the work might do, how it might provide as space in which we can both imagine and enact other worlds, other meanings, other bodies and beings and becomings. and I’m not opposed to representation/re-presentation, but rather than looking for representations of the [affirmed] actual, I’m interested in how performance works might actualize virtual landscapes of possibilities. that is (perhaps) the radical potential of performance, that is actualizes/physicalizes the virtual. it is never fully artificial; it is embodies and thus always to some degree actual.
this is how my work with ecosexuality began (I now realize/articulate). ecosexuality is a configuration of sexual and environmental subjectivity that emerged from performance work, specifically the work of the Love Art Laboratory (Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens). their performance work offers another possible world, a reconfiguration of the world in which we live and the way in which we live in/as/with it. it performs new possible sexualities that are not constrained by human organ-ization or global territorializations, and it has done so through reconfigured performatives such as the wedding, the vows, and the roles associated with the wedding ritual. it’s from this set of reconfigurations, this performance work that raises the very possibility of an ecosexuality, that I turn my attention to other performances to ascertain how they too might contribute to the expansion of what can be understood as sexuality, ecology, and the environment–shifting notions of humanity, personhood, ethics, and even love.
so I suppose how I answer myself today when I raise the question, “how does my work contribute to the field/culture/world?”, these are my answers. I am looking to performance works for the ways in which they configure other possible worlds, other possible sexualities as ways of relating not only to one another, but to the world in which we live. this shift in what “sexuality” and “environment” can mean carried with it a shift in possible ethics, the extent of which I cannot even begin to articulate (except to say that it is significant). in a larger sense, I hope I am modeling a way of attending to performance, not for its capacity to represent the world as it is, or to express some hidden feeling or belief about such a world, but for its capacity to enact different possible worlds. performance can never be fully artificial; it is embodied, and as such it is always fundamentally real. it is, in itself and in its display, a movement towards doing/perceiving/doing the world differently.
Filed under: creative process, research | Tags: anal ecology, deterritorialization, disindividuation, ecosex symposium II, ecosexuality, experiential anatomy, experiential geography, felix guattari, gilles deleuze, green porno, isabella rosselini, karl cronin, polyamory, post-humanism, serena anderlini-d'onofrio, somatic natural history archive, tessa wills
It’s been far too long since I’ve written anything productive here. As I’ve moved into my work this summer, starting with the Ecosex Symposium in June and into my summer reading in July (working through various texts by or about Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari), there has been very little time/space in which to generate thoughtful material for my blog. Between the symposium, my studies, and inspiration from a spectrum of different artists, I have been saturated/overflowing with ideas, just not the time to translate them meaningfully or articulately to this blog space. And I don’t really have time to enact that translation now. But in addition to this site functioning as a platform for (more) transparency in my creative and scholarly work, it also functions as a holding space for ideas, for snippets and scribbles of ideas and thoughts that may eventually evolve into something more developed and cohesive (or intentionally in-cohesive, as the case may be), and that is what I need today. The following is a series of scribbles that amount to mere hints at what I might develop further:
Intersections of landscape and body
Mapping (cartography) of bodies/spaces (need to read Henri Lefebvre on space)
Where are the overlaps of experiential anatomy and experiential geography, somatic physical practices and environmental sustainability projects, body politics and global/environmental politics? These intersections seem rich and worth exploring. I was profoundly inspired by a piece presented by Tessa Wills at the Ecosex Symposium II entitled Anal Ecology, which took as its premise the potential for queer bodies to provide information for sustainability projects (my understanding was that this piece was specifically concerned with issues of sustainability surrounded radioactive waste, waste deposits as places that are forbidden/toxic, and queer bodies as bodies of knowledge practiced in venturing into the “forbidden” within our own bodies). I’m also interested in the occurrences of experiential geography and experiential anatomy in Karl Cronin’s work, and how those two [fundamentally phenomenological] approached to experience might inform one another.
In my presentation at the Ecosex Sympsosium II, I suggested that a central project in my theorization of ecosexuality has been towards disindividuation, or the deconstruction of the discontinuous autonomous/self-sufficient individual subject. If there is a larger project or concept in which I think disindividuation might function, it is that of deterritorialization (this is a concept that is addressed by Deleuze, and I am interested in how his work with this concept might inform/enrich my own understanding). In my understanding, the territorialization of bodies is a process of organ-ization, the fragmentation of the body into a collection of organs, organs (especially where genitalia are concerned) that function as the foundation for oppressive regimes such as gender and sex. This organ-ization [territorialization] of bodies resembles the territorialization of the globe, and it is from this correlation of something like organs and nation-states, and the fundamental logic of territories that underlies both, that I see the possibility of a productive inquiry into the intersection of body and global/environmental politics.
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio: she gave a truly inspired keynote address at the symposium discussing polyamory alongside ecosexuality, a discussion of love not as a need (a concept developed with notions of scarcity and lack), not as a resource that is non-renewable, but as something expansive and inclusive, this being inherent in polyamory, and this offering a model for relationships, human, more-than-human, and otherwise. Intersections of polyamory, ecology, and sustainability…
I am more convinced than ever before that post-humanism is central to ecosexuality. The category of “human” seems to me another act of territorialization, the production of an inside (human) and outside (non-human) that is necessarily binary and hierarchical. Post-humanism does the important work of deconstructing this category, and I think such a deconstruction is a necessary foundation for ecosexuality. I am interested in what performative productions of a post-human sexuality might look like. I curious about the ways in which various performance works move us beyond the human. And I wonder how sex/sexuality might provide avenues for movement into the post-human. It means changing how we understand sex (especially as it is entrenched in the Oedipal narratives of psychoanalysis . . .). In various discourses–especially psychoanalysis–sex operates as a central organizing principle in the development of subjectivity; I suggest that ecosexuality might provide a necessary intervention in how we understand sex that could in turn shift “human subjectivity” towards a “post-human intersubjectivity.”
The radical thoughts towards new choreographic/performance work:
Partially inspired by Karl Cronin’s Somatic Natural History Archive. I see Karl’s practice of learning/imitating the movement patterns of various plants and animals as a method for shifting the human towards the post-human. Movement/action are productive in that our bodies are literally formed, informed, deformed, and reformed by that actions we carry out (this is part of what is profound about dance, its role in the production of bodies). I see choreography as a profoundly intimate encounter: for the dancer to incorporate the choreographer’s movement is to literally allow the choreographer to participate in the formation of the dancer’s body. To the degree that the body is central to who we are, this constitutes a profoundly intimate exchange. When Karl looks to other-than-human sources for movement, I believe that the distance between the territories “human” and “non-human” are collapsed in the production of his body through other-than-human movement forms.
What I am inspired to consider is sourcing the sexual behaviors of other-than-human sources as choreographies for human bodies (I immediately think of Isabella Rosselini’s Green Porno). How might bodies be produced towards a post-human sexuality through the imitation of other-than-human sexual behaviors? An important question would be how to assess “sexual behavior” other than reproductive sexuality. For instance, what would constitute non-reproductive sexual behavior for plant life, and how might such behavior function as choreographies or scores for movement/behavior of “human” bodies? I don’t have an answer to that question, but it suggests itself as a site of investigation, and I feel like the possibilities of the piece(s) such an investigation might produce could be transformative.
those are the scribbles and jots towards new ideas/concepts.
we’ll see where they go . . .