michael j. morris

22 December, 2008, 12:54 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , ,

I saw Gus Van Sant’s Milk a couple of days ago, and I think I am only now able to append language to my experience. First, in short, I recommend it. Not only do I see it as an important historical depiction, but the relevant dialogue it raises with the times in which we now live was staggering.

Here are some of my thoughts:

It gave me some measure of hope, even though the story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy. It gave me hope because it reminded me that things do change, things have changed in some parts of this country. Some of the battles that were being fought during the 1970s have been won, and it gives me hope that given time the battles in which we now find ourselves (same culture war, different battles) will too be won. It is [hopefully] only a matter of time before our society/culture stops passing legislation that is based on our differences and instead builds a society that honors our commonalities. That is my hope.

It made me angry. Some of the arguments that opponents to equal rights raised during the 1970s are still being raised today. And they are absurd. Arguments such as homosexuality is a threat to the family unit, the core of society. First, just because I am homosexual does not mean I think everyone is/should be/will be. I respect and honor families that are respectable and honorable (as in, rooted in love for one another), regardless of the gender or sexuality of the parents. The more offensive layer of this argument is that it assumes that because we are homosexual, we do not want or cannot have families. It says that our families are not real, or worse, that they are threatening. It says that because two men cannot procreate with one another, they cannot and should not be able to marry, to love and raise children, to be a family. 
It would be exhausting and frankly frustrating to list and rebuttal every hateful and fallacious argument that was represented in the film and continues to be active in our society today. And I assume that generally my readership are not those who need to be convinced. All of this simply to say that the conservative right defended and advanced their position with assumptions, misapprehensions, hate, and lies then and they continue to do so now. It angers me that this is the case, and that those same arguments are still holding weight with individuals in our country/culture today.

It saddened me. Because the movement that started in California in the 1970s is still being challenged in California today, and I regret to say that it has still barely begun in other places. I have lived in three states at this point (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio). All three have banned same-sex marriage in their constitutions. In the 1970s in California, they won the battle over professional discrimination based on sexuality. At my undergraduate college, Belhaven College, openly homosexual professors will not be hired, and if ever a professor already on faculty came out as homosexual (which to my knowledge has never happened) they would be fired, because Belhaven presents itself as a Christian institution, and homosexuality is a sin in their world. It saddens me to realize that battles that have been won almost thirty years ago in parts of our country have yet to begin in other parts, the parts I have called home.

These are just some of my reactions. They compel me to action, although I have yet to recognize what form that action will take, beyond simply continuing to be who I am, to be out and about, to do what I do, and by being open about my homosexuality and my perspectives hopefully change the way our society views us.

I urge you to go see Milk as supporting films like this is an important statement in supporting the causes, the lives, and rights it represents. When these stories are told and there is no one there to listen, it is far easier for a society to continue to believe that we aren’t here, that those stories don’t matter, and things are just fine. We are here, those stories do matter, and things are not fine. Supporting this film is just a small way of making that statement.


connections here at an end
11 December, 2008, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

We have reached the end of the quarter, my first quarter of grad school. I only had a minor postpartum meltdown last night, mourning the absence of so much that has filled my every minute for the last few months. My paper on Nijinsky and Nijinska is complete for now. It’s title is “The Negotiation of Gender in the Work of Nijinsky and Nijinska,” and comes in just over 25 pages. I cannot say that I think it is finished. I hope that I continue to let that material sort itself out in my mind, and that I can revisit the paper with more of my own thoughts/speculations/contributions to the dialogue of Nijinsky and Nijinska, rather than writing a paper that simply agree and disagrees with previous statements made by other scholars. So I see the paper as an ongoing affair, continuing to dance with these ghosts a bit.

One of the things that I was interested in coming out of this blog was new thought sparked by the juxtaposition of other thoughts, which is so evident in my “tag cloud” on the left. The big words are the ones that have been mentioned with more regularity, and so on. Today, the biggest words are Election, Gender, Nijinska, and Research, with Love and Yoga and Dance coming in next. Things I see when I look at the cloud:

-“Election” nestled between “Dance” and “Emergent Taxonomy;” what a beautiful implication, that somehow dance might contribute to the emergent (democratic) process that governs policy in our nation. It makes me think about the role of the body, the presence and intelligence of the body, governance of the body, laws that impose hierarchical concepts on the body (like, in New York, you have to have a permit if three or more people are dancing in a public space; or transfats being banned by the FDA; laws that restrict/prohibit specific sexual activities in certain parts of the country; etc.) The body is so intrinsic to the individual. We so frequently in our culture operate under a Cartesian understanding of the body as a machine which houses the mind or spirit, and yet the body is central to all experience. It is through the body that we are present in the world, it is through the body that we sense, perceive, know, decide. All of our thought processes begin in the body. So what does it say about a society that is supposed to operate out of a consensus of individuals that governing bodies impose restrictions on bodies? It is so much deeper than restricting action. It feels like censorship of the individual experience itself, that from which everything stems. And maybe it seems benign, but I am interested it how it even comes about, and what it might mean that a society allows that sort of governance. . .

-I see the three big words of “Election” “Gender” and “Nijinska.” I could (did?) write a small book on the subject of Nijinska and gender right now . . . but relating it to “election” (which today is representing the democratic process, the process of government coming out of decisions made by masses, people casting votes and their laws and leaders coming up out of that process. . . maybe it’s just because it is right above “emergent taxonomy” but democracy is intended to be emergent) . . . Nijinska’s two most significant works were Les Noches (which you can see videos of in a previous post) and Les Biches (of which only accounts remain). Both were profound social commentaries on gender, the former an examination of the oppression that was (is?) intrinsic to the institution of marriage, specifically in peasant Russia, the latter which protested gender roles by radically reconstructing and redefining them in a vibrant cast of characters that addressed a range of social taboos, including narcissism, voyeurism, lesbianism, gender ambiguity, group sex, etc. 
My first thought from this juxtaposition has to do with same-sex marriage in this country. This is an issue that should not get quiet. I think about Prop. 8 and how America is systematically outlawing (but thankfully not without avid resistance) marriage between individuals of the same sex. And I think about Nijinska’s commentary on marriage in Les Noches, how the individuals were simply swept away by the tide of social expectation, in which marriage had nothing to do with love, mutuality of feeling, or even the individuals involved. Instead, marriages were arranged by families in order to provide the groom’s family with a new worker, the bride. So much more severe is the oppression of the bride, who is stripped from her family, her mother, and handed over to her “new” family. But the oppression is no respecter of gender, because desire of the groom is also discounted. he becomes merely the vehicle through which to expand the family, by adding a bride and, by implication in the ballet’s last image, the wedding bed, children.
I can’t help but draw connections between Nijinska’s perception and representation of marriage, and the perception/representation of marriage in America today. Inversely, America seems to say that the ‘oppression’ of marriage is a respecter of gender, because it is an oppression of exclusion based on gender. It somehow maintains  a disconnection from love, mutuality of feeling, and the individuals. Likely married heterosexual couples would disagree. They would say that do love one another, that it was by their own election to marry and to consecrate their relationship in this institution. I would ask them to recognize that while that may be true, clearly that is not the reason they are married, because our country is legislatively stating that those factors are not enough to be married. To married you must before all else be a man and a woman; that remains the essential component. You can be married without love, without mutuality of feelings, or likely even without the election to such state by the individuals in involved (I think of couples who get married to please their parents, or out of pressure by their spouse, etc.). In looking at the role of gender in the decisions being made in our country through the lens of Nijinska, I have to say I am a bit startled. Her piece was staged in 1923 in Europe. How bizarre that despite all of our social progress, connections can still be made between the society, marriage, and treatment of gender then to now.

-I see “Love” situated right in the middle of the list . . . and it seems simple to see an ideal portrait of all that surrounds it as an emanation of this central concern. Love in our listening. Love in our research. Love in our art and the appreciation of/participation in the art of others. Love in the Art Lab. Love in our elections, our democracy emerging from love rather than discrimination and hate. Love in our dance, our collaboration, our choreography. Love in our anxiety. Love in our marriage. Love in our technology. In our Yoga.
Clearly that is an ideal. It raises the question from where do all these things emanate? What is situated at “the heart of things,” as it were? What are the underlying values that we are privileging in the work we do, the way we work, the things we research, the kind of nation we are building?  As we participate in emergent processes, what is it we bring to that field of potentialities, and from where do our contributions come from?


I think these are good thoughts, good connections here at the end of the quarter. New ideas arising out of the ideas that have been catalogued here.

Lastly, check out the new blogs in my blog role. An array of different voices, mostly my colleagues, each with a different approach to blogging, with spectacular ideas to contribute to your own emergent taxonomy today.

15 November, 2008, 11:27 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , ,

A friend sent me this video today, a Special Comment segment offered by Keith Olbermann, a sportscaster and news anchor for MSNBC, which aired on November 10th. I found it radically significant and moving.


Ever since the election on November 4th, I have been troubled, saddened, and angered by steps that are continuing to be taken in this country. Again this year states voted to ban same-sex marriage by amending their constitutions to permanently enshrine this discriminatory policy. That makes 28 states who have made it their law that the relationships of homosexual Americans will not be recognized as equal to those of heterosexual Americans. California passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, a right that had already been legalized in the state, made history because it not only prevents equality, it retracted equality that had already been awarded. Arkansas passed a bill that prevents single individuals from adopting children, effectively prohibiting families with same-sex parents, who are banned from marrying.


I am conflicted in wake of these decisions. A part of me is ready to engage in conversation and action to see these decisions reversed. A part of me no longer feels as if I can call this my country, a country in which I may never be free to live with equal rights due to my sexual orientation or who I love.

My thoughts are conflicted and scattered, but Keith Olbermann articulates much of what I feel. I was moved by his words and felt compelled to share them with you. I am asking you to take the time to watch this six and a half minute video clip, and listen to what he says. You may already hold a perspective similar to the one Olbermann articulates. Or you may be compelled to explore a new perspective. You may disagree with what he says; you may desire to dialogue further, with me, or with others in your life. I welcome whatever response. I simply ask that you take the time to watch and reflect.




nowhere near sleeping

It seems as if Barack Obama is the new president elect, and this is a victory to celebrate. It makes me think of a line from Queer as Folk years ago: “Mourn the losses for they are many; but celebrate the victories because they are few.” This is a victory I can celebrate.

At the same time, as of 12:09am ET, three more states are projected to ban same-sex marriage, and one state is projected to ban same-sex adoption.

I’m looking at my tag and category clouds. GRAD SCHOOL. DANCE. ELECTION. MEREDITH MONK. PAULINE OLIVEROS. RESEARCH. What is arising from all these seeming disparate thoughts bunched up together in this online creative space? What lies in between these ideas, these subjects, and what do they reveal about one another?

Today there is an election. The course of our nation is being decided, as it always is. As I look at it, I think about listening, and research, and emergent perspectives. As I write, how am I listening, what am I observing? As Karen Eliot said today, we have made such progress. There are still battles to be won, liberties and equalities that this nation seems unprepared to afford all of its citizens. And yet we have elected the first biracial president of the United States. The world and nation continue to change.

And the question arises, as it always does for those both inside and outside of this art form: why dance? Why dance now? Of what value are our dances, our practices, our study of this art form? Equally, why blog? What is the point of any of this? I am reminded again of a quote by Meredith Monk, who once said [regarding the autobiographical qualities of her work] that she is convinced that the more personal we are, the more universal we become. And as this nation, this world, continues to evolve, I believe it does so through human encounters, relationships, and new understandings of one another and who we are as a human race, and how we fit into the Whole of this universe. And dance is part of that. It can be part of how we connect with one another, artist to artist, artist to audience, audience as general public, in relationships through the work that re-contextualize one’s experience of the world in which we live. And it is my hope that as we experience more of those connections in more articulate fashions that we will come to a higher way of being, existing, governing.
That is surely not the only answer to the question “Why dance?”, but it is an important one on today of all days.


In honor of hope and love, I reference you to one of my links, the Love Art Lab:
Love Art Lab Green Wedding #4 

Drawing nearer to sleep.