michael j. morris


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A morning reflection.

Two shows down. One to go.

Every time we do this piece, it’s different. And maybe it’s partly because of the way that I am thinking about my own work right now, but it is so completely conflated with life and living and loving, in the dancing, in the movement/content, in the structures and organizations of the content, in the facebook status updates, in the bruises and bouncing curls and kisses and massages and body piles and pairs back stage . . . it is in no way something that we put on, and for me there are not characters: the way that we are (I am) in the dance, what we do on stage, is coming directly from and feeding back in to everything else. This is us, this is Michael and CoCo and Eric and Jeff. That’s part of why I still have not yet completely made my peace with bowing after “the piece,” because the bow feels like such a theatrical trope, and admission of something like spectacle, a confession that “what has transpired here has not be ‘real,’ it is simply something we do, not who we really are.” But a good friend of mine said that it doesn’t feel that way . . . the whole thing has been so intimate up until that point, the intimacy carries into the way we stand there, looking at the audience, fold at our hips, and strike our “set.”

After the first show, I commented on my facebook status that it felt like an ending, and that from now on the piece would have to be something else. I think part of last night’s permutation of the piece was partially in mourning for the what the dance had been (what we had been?). Today will be something else entirely. In response to the comment on the “ending” quality, this dialogue unfolded via facebook status/comments between CoCo and I:

“Did it feel like an ending? For me it felt like I never got going. Could be b/c the wifi was dead at first. Felt like playing catch up the rest of the time. I could feel you 3 pouring everything into the space however. Also feel a bit like a traitor b/c I’m not observing in the way that I want to. Total immersion in other words. It’s all very fragmented for me. Like I’m not respecting the experience. I’m certainly getting a new perspective on this whole digital interaction/connection thing. And am knowing now that i want the real version of humanity as a general rule w/out the computer screen in b/w.”
-CoCo

“So I think you have landed on another potential “theme” of this piece. The potential between the digital and the human connection. And you situating yourself at the edges of both. Maybe you are revealing something more than just your personal predilections. Maybe this is part of the “commentary” aspect of the work. And maybe the unfolding “human drama” on stage is something like a commentary from the other side? If every human interaction has indeed become a collision, maybe we create buffers like facebook and status updates and video cameras . . . these are my morning ramblings, but maybe there’s something there.
One more.”
-Me

Ambiguity with specificity. This was something that my brother said about the piece, the Friday night performance. And I think it has deep resonance for how I know the work, how it is unfolding for us (how I understand the universe right now?): each thing, each moment, each experience, each phenomenon is incredibly specific, completely and entirely itself and yet elusive, fleeting, gone into the next moment, another distinct intersection of complex contexts and perspectives and perceptions. Each moment is in itself constantly “yet to be revealed,” and yet is dissolves, evaporates, is lost into the next moment, full of its own ambiguity and specificity.

Then there is this quality in the gestalt of experience, the piece as a whole (life as a whole). We tend to be categorizing creatures, we tend to find names for things, labels, taxonomies for organization. I think we do this for ease . . . it’s easier to assume that identities are persistent, fixed, unchanging, recognizable, and not entirely unique. And yet maybe that is not the nature of things. As we look at a gestalt, this dance for instance, we tend to need to know “what it is.” We need to recognize it, to have a name for what it is, clear distinctions for what it means. And yet it may not be so pin-down-able. Besides the moment by moment shifting ambiguities, there is the ambiguity of what we read as the “whole.”

This relates to the perpetual idea of the “in-between,” an idea I return to again and again. We know a thing by what it is not. Knowledge is contextual, established by contrast (we are aware of light because there are shadows, we establish what we think of as male because we compare it to female, etc.). We do not simply know what a thing is, we know what it is in-between. We know that it is not this or that, but it has a kind of relationship to both. For many of these experiences, we either as individuals or as cultures have established names, labels, categories. I would question the fixity even of these experiences. But besides that, there is the question of all the experiences that lie in between our categories, our labels, our recognizable forms. We know them, we experience their specificity, their meaning (more on this later?), but it is completely embedded in its ambiguity, its in-between-ness.

Meaning. This is a question that has continued to come up in a course I am taking this quarter called “History, Theory, Literature of the Analysis of Movement.” Most analysis assumes a meaningfulness, attempts to identify and illuminate the meaningful. This has raised the question over and over again, “What is meaning?” or “What are we referring to when we refer to ‘meaning’?” I has established a working definition of meaning for myself. It is something like: “Meaning is the substance by which a thing is recognizable.” It is broad. I do not intend meaning to be a synonym for “interpretation.” It is before interpretation. It is similar to recognition, but recognition implies a cognitive process, and I think meaning is more sensation, situated in sensory perception, not the cognition of those perceptions. It is the substance of that by which a thing is recognized. It is the specificity in the ambiguity.

The meaning for “click here . . . ” changes every time we do it. There are elements that are persistent. The choreography is set, the sequence of the piece is set, the points of my body that hit the floor, the expanding bruises, they testify to the persistence of certain elements. And yet there is something about it that is continually unrecognizable. It’s meaning, the experience by which it might becomes recognized, is unfamiliar. It is not a situation or intersection I have experienced before. As we go out onto the stage with CoCo and take our poses upstage in the red light, it is something new and unfamiliar, even as we are enacting familiar actions. I don’t yet know what it is, and part of the dance is trying to come to more of a place of knowing, maybe even recognizing the gestalt.

 

All over the place . . . this post is all over the place. To cap it off, some images, taken by CoCo on stage as part of the piece/performance. Something of the dance is recognizable in these images, and yet I am acutely aware of the fact that they are not the dance nor are they what will transpire at 3pm today at Columbus Dance Theater. One more show. Another permutation/translation/expression/specificity.

clickhere_loop

clickhere_michael_leap3

clickhere_michael_leap1

clickhere_michael_leap2

clickhere_jeff_screen

clickhere_michael_eric

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Thoughts on Embodiment

As mentioned in a previous post, I am currently (slowly) making my way through Mark Johnson’s The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. The progress is slow because of how many ideas each page provokes. Thus, I recommend it.

Here are some thoughts brought up today:

The dualism of “the body” and “the mind” is an abstraction of the reality that these are not separate entities but essential components/qualities of person-hood and experience. “Pure reason” (free from bodily concerns such as emotion, etc.) is an abstraction in that human reason does not in fact exist in processes free from the body. In an age that seems so increasingly “disembodied” by philosophy and technology, it is a refreshing reminder that none of those experiences or thoughts take place apart from the body itself, anchored and driven by its processes. Disembodiment too then is an abstraction, and for me, a threatening illusion. 

An idea that I am sure will be expounded upon is the idea that bodily processes (including emotion) are not separate from thought/reason/logic/concepts/propositions, but are something like the initial playing field in which those things develop. Meaning (or how we make sense of life, ourselves, this world, etc.) is emergent, not hierarchical, growing up out of the physical experiences, bodily reactions, etc. Even when we are not conscious of it, our emotional reactions are intrinsic and basic for our thought processes. They are the stage on which our ideas and reasonings unfold.

With this breakdown of the body/mind dichotomy into a body-mind or mind-body (I also like the term “soma”), there is a breakdown of the abstract classifications of “subject” and “object”, “self” and “environment”, “person” and “object”. Experience is the basis of our understanding or meaning-making, and experience is an active, moving interaction between the self and the environment, the subject and the object. These two things, although perhaps abstractly distinct as ideas, are never truly discrete; they are constantly connected in moving experience.

The centrality of movement in experience is the subject of the first chapter in Johnson’s book, and I am loving it. It gives whole new layers to dance as a field when movement is seen as central to life, experience, and meaning-making. There are two quotations I would like to share. The first is by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone. She says:

“In the beginning, we are simply infused with movement–not merely with a propensity to move, but with the real thing. This primal animateness, this original kinetic spontaneity that infuses our being and defines our aliveness, is our point of departure for living in the world and making sense of it . . . We literally discover ourselves in movement. We grow kinetically into our bodies. In particular, we grow into those distinctive ways of moving that come with our being the bodies we are. In our spontaneity of movement, we discover arms that extend, spines that bend, knees that flex, mouths that shut, and so on. We make sense of ourselves in the course of moving.”

The second quote is by Johnson himself. He says:

“Movement occurs within an environment and necessarily involves ongoing, intimate connection and interaction with aspects of some particular environment . . . From the very beginning of our life, and evermore until we die, movement keeps us in touch with our world in the most intimate and profound way. In our experience of movement, there is no radical separation of self from world.”

This idea of challenging “person and world” and replacing it with “person moving in world” is profound for me. Just as the mind does not exist apart from the body, the person does not exist apart from the environment. And that unity of existence is negotiated in movement, in time, etc.

Curiously, this reflects my present cosmology, in which the unique, discrete, distinct individual is merely a singular expression of a common Oneness that is existence. My current belief system is one in which all things that exist share a common substance (which might be existence, energy, Love, divinity, etc.), and that common substance finds unique expression in the individual (separateness), in order that our truer nature (oneness) might be reveled through action, relationship, and love. Our existence becomes a process of accessing and recognizing our oneness/commonality, beyond the details of our individual person, while also honoring those individualities and personal details as unique expressions of that commonality.
Something about this idea of “person in environment” as constant state of being (rather than “person” and “environment” as discrete states of being) seems to relate to this cosmology.

I am full of thoughts. I hope you are too.