michael j. morris

body fluids, queer porn, dildos/cyborgs, shame, sustainability, ecosex

I feel the need to write, to get ideas down somewhere and begin to figure out directions for some of these ideas/projects.

I. Right now I’m thinking a lot about body fluids, the fluid productions of bodies (fluids produced by bodies as bodies, as indicative of our fluid condition). Body fluids are in direct relation to notions of permeability. Fluids are wet edges of ourselves that seep beyond where we think we end. They are volatile, they are unruly. They are the confession of passion and pleasure, labor, danger, injury, healing, life, birth, perhaps even death. To consider the self of fluids seems to disrupt the presumed stability (a stabilized sediment of repetition) of the body, the self. I’ve been reading a bit more of Irigaray recently, struggling with her tendency towards essentializing the binary of male and female; I’m interested in how the claims she makes towards a specifically female subjectivity might be made for all bodies, not in a move (once again) towards a monolithic “human,” but as a move towards fluidity, whereby the subject is never fully stable, always partial, always intersubjective and constituted through the ongoing/ceaseless reciprocity with other subjectivities. I’m thinking something about an intersubjective ontology, in which subjectivities are always already intersubjectivities, and the mobility in/between/through/as subjects is fluid, viscous . . . I’m thinking about a metaphor that Anne Carson cites in Eros: The Bittersweet (I think the metaphor belongs to Sartre) about the child dipping its hand in honey, and losing track of its edges in stickiness, the material that is neither solid nor liquid. I wonder about the transferability of this metaphor into a context of body fluids, sexual fluids, a stickiness/fluidity of the body, a permeability of the self, derived from sexual epistemologies (epistemologies that may be decidedly queer).
I feel like I want to spend more time pursuing the twincest project that was done by Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich. They dealt a lot with body fluids from what I can tell from the documentation. I don’t yet know how to pursue that work (except perhaps by getting in contact with the artists).

II. I’ve been thinking a lot about queer pornography. This isn’t new; I’ve written scattered ideas about the importance of queer porn here on this blog. But I am finally writing something more formal on the topic. The premise (that needs much more development) is that bodies are produced in part through performances of pleasure, that these performances structure/form topographies of pleasure that we identify as bodies. My theory (that I think is supported by other theorists, although I’m still working on accruing those) is that bodies are gendered through such performances of pleasure, that pleasure is situated around reproductive genitalia as part of the regulation and production of gendered/sexed bodies. My theory is that performances in queer porn produce bodies that destabilize and disrupt these normative/performative iterations of bodies (performatives that are always approximations, thus always failed). By performing different topographies, different erogenous zones, different sex acts, different roles, etc., queer bodies are produced, perhaps not only for the performers themselves (phenomenologically) but also for the viewers (through scopophilic and narcissistic pleasure in the performances of queer bodies). These ideas are still in the works.

III. Alongside speculations of queer porn and fluid/intersubjective/partial bodies is a strong urge towards cyborg politics (Haraway) and considering the mutability of bodies through the incorporation of prosthetic elements. In sex this is suggested in elements such as the incorporation of dildos not just as a sex toy but as an addition to/mutation of bodies; also in the role of latex as essential to sexual bodies (condoms, gloves, etc. seem to be a mutation of permeable bodies; the management of fluids and permeability gives way not to anxiety that forecloses sexual possibilities, but transforms into adaptability, ethics, and responsibility to enables rather than disables sex, thus the bodies produced in the act of sex). I am interested in what I have been able to read of work by Beatriz Preciado and her discussion of dildonics, a displacement of the phallus by the adoption of a symbolic founded on an organ that is already artificial, already transferable, already detachable (as the phallus itself might already be considered to be). In this shift, the castration anxiety is displaced; the detachability of the dildo, its inherent transferability, becomes a source of possibility, potentiality, and power.

IV. I am putting the recent project of restaging and reconstructing “Sketches of Shame” to rest. For now. This brings me sadness, but for now it is for the best. The piece was creating intense emotional dis-ease for those involved, and for now it seems best to set it aside. Daniel and I are continuing to stay in dialogue, and I suppose it is possible that some other project will emerge from the work that we’ve done together. But for now, it’s on hold, and I am left again to consider the meager effect I have in this world. Making dances is part of how I participate in world-making . . . when I’m not choreographing, I question my role in contributing to the world in which I want to live, my role in contributing to the lives of others.

V. I am gradually preparing for a key note address/performance that it seems that I will be sharing with Catriona Sandilands in Toronto in April. Cate was asked to give this keynote address at a conference on sustainability, and she has asked me to share the opportunity. We will soon begin to develop a performative presentation addressing queer ecology, sustainability, something like ecosexuality, and incorporating Butoh. I’m excited to see how this project pans out.

VI. Today I decided that I am going to attempt to participate in Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco in June. The first Ecosex Symposium was held last fall in LA after the Purple Wedding to the Moon. This event is being put on by the Love Art Lab at the Center for Sex and Culture, and will unite theorists, artists, and activists in the process of continuing to develop movement around this notion of ecosexuality. Pursuing this project will mean not pursuing others, but it feels very significant to my work and research, and my continuing development of these ideas.

performance journal: sketches of shame/aversion
21 January, 2011, 12:45 pm
Filed under: creative process | Tags: ,

Last night was a shift in our process. These shifts were inevitable. It’s interesting: I sit down to contemplate and reflect the “performance” of the process of rehearsing/developing this new version of “Sketches of Shame,” and in the writing I find myself instead acutely aware of my navigation of other performances. How does the writing perform confidence/confidentiality? How does it perform insight? Could it perform betrayal? How does it maintain the mystique of the creative process (which is really my “mission” for this blog: to de-mystify [for a public] what it means for me to operate in a field of dance, making dances, theorizing dance, viewing dance, etc.); in what ways might my withholding reinscribe/reinforce that legacy of the artist’s mystique? How might revealing everything detract from the intimacy of the process? It is interesting to become aware of my performance here before a computer screen, my performance in front of a virtual audience/readership.

I don’t want to reveal everything. The piece will find its way to becoming a public display, or it won’t, and there are aspects of the work that I think can only be revealed in their performance. At least that’s my choice at the moment.

But more generally, last night we came up against a border (one that was not entirely unforeseen). This piece has a heavily demonstrative sexual component. It asks both of us to go to places (in our performance work) where we have never gone before, and to go places (in our personal relationship) that are equally unfamiliar. Last night my collaborator came in with a fresh experience of aversion towards performing the materials. The reasons for the aversion are still unclear. Is it in fact a kind of shame-response (which is a big question in the materiality of the piece)? Is it fear? Is it personal, or is it social, or can those distinctions even be made (I think not)? This aversion may be something that we explore; it may come into the piece. Last night we spent a lot of time talking. And we practices a score I wrote years ago entitled KNOW(TOUCH)ME(YOU)(MY/YOUR BODY) (which can be found along the left-hand side of the blog). It’s a way I developed for practicing a privileging of the body as the site of [encountering] identity. And it is an efficient and systematic way of becoming intimate with someone else’s body in a very safe and controlled way. I won’t described the score as it is written out elsewhere, but I will say that I experience something profound in its practice. We spent a sizable amount of time touching one another, eyes closed, and during that time, I began to lose track of myself. I felt my attention and consciousness pulsing between myself and the sensation of touch, the simultaneous familiarity and unfamiliarity of the body I was encountering, and with the duration, I got a bit lost, a bit . . . ecstatic in the sensation. The “other” became so close that when we finally opened our eyes, I felt a jolt almost as if I had been shoved backwards. The gap/space/distance/difference between us became so quickly pronounced, so immediate and in stark contrast to the time we had spent just touching/feeling . . . it brought up a lot about the loss of the discontinuous self, the disruption of the individual; I can’t say that the performance of the score was a “merging,” that “two became one,” but there was a blurriness, a loss of clarity of the edges. The edges were less pronounced, less important, and the state that I reached was a state in which “I” had lost some definition.

My time right now is limited, so other aspects of my performance that linger with me today:
control and acquiescence
contemplation and negotiation

performance journal: sketches of shame
18 January, 2011, 12:13 pm
Filed under: creative process | Tags: ,

I just wrote out a written description of the phrase material in “sketches of shame.” I may notate it (in Motif description, most likely) at some point, but this was a memory aid for both of us. It’s now a part of the project of what we are performing, so I thought it needed to live here as well:

phrase, 2xs small
phrase, 3xs accelerating
arm swing phrase (right arm, left arm, hands to chin, hands to mouth, right hand to groin, both hands to cheeks, three heart stabs), 2xs
first punching phrase (stomach, stomach, chin push, groin, two hands to chin, three heart stabs)
punching: chin, groin, left shoulder, right shoulder
repeat, without punches
punching in this pattern, accelerating
sudden shift to “positioning” (forehead, groin, left shoulder, right shoulder); accelerating
sudden shift to touching (forehead, heart, left shoulder, right shoulder); uneven timing
touch forehead/hand drops/lead to drop to the floor
scurry/crawl in a circle (1 1/4 circle to change facing a quarter turn to the right), continue forward on straight path
three “arm-pump” prayers, heart stab; 3xs
strong/slow “arm-pump” prayer to bow; 3xs
scurry back on all fours
fast forward on knees, chest+arms splayed
slow backwards on knees
fast forward on knees
slow backward on knees
fast forward on knees
basic phrase, pressing into body (eyes on high diagonal?)
basic phrase (with more resignation), eyes level
punching phrase (stomach, stomach, chin push, groin, two hands to chin, three heart stabs)–heart stabs take you to floor
shifting between two modes: pressing against something heavy on top of you; pulling yourself open; shift between these 3-4 times;
shift back into basic phrase, but lost in a kind of frenzy
back into “pulling yourself open”; burst/puddle
sudden moment of self-consciousness; pull yourself back together;
stand up, gather clothes (looking at one another/not looking at one another?)

performance journal: sketches of shame
16 January, 2011, 10:08 am
Filed under: creative process | Tags: ,

I am finally starting the “performance journal” that I was asked to keep as part of the Theorizing Performance course I am taking this quarter. I went through several versions of what this journal might address: it could look at my yoga practice, especially as I am now functioning in the role of student for the quarter (rather than teacher); it could look at this new relationship I’m in and how I perform my self, how I perform “relationship;” I am performing “Re-Membering the Mountains” twice in the next couple of months, and there seems to be content I could generate about how I prepare and perform that process; I also just started re-staging “Sketches of Shame” this week, and I think there is much to be said about the performance of this piece, our selves/my self in the rehearsal process, etc.
It is this last version on which I’ve chosen to embark.

We had our first rehearsal this past Thursday. I taught Daniel the material from “Clara’s solo.” I am always aware of the dynamics fostered between the role of choreographer and the role of dancer. It can sometimes be startling how much control I have in the situation (not that Daniel doesn’t retain his agency; but his complies, so very readily, with whatever action I give him). I’m still fascinated by this process of body-form, body-materialization, whereby my movement becomes enacted through his body, and in doing so, a form of power becomes enacted through his body as well. It leaves traces; his body is different after the rehearsal.

In the actual demonstration of the action, there is a constant sense of measurement, between what I’m doing and what it “really is.” This “really” is primarily in correspondence to Clara’s performance on the video of the piece (itself a performance of what my body taught hers, my movement now remembered through her body . . .), but also corresponds to my notions of  what the movement “really needs.” It’s a curious question, to interrogate my sense of “how it should be done.” I created this movement, so where then does the standard come from? What does it mean to perform with that constant sense of self-determined measurement? Isn’t that what the self-policing of performative identity is all about?

I’m also interested in how I perform openness, ease, playfulness, awkwardness. We are dealing with some fairly intimate choreography, and my mannerisms throughout the evening felt like/were a constant attempt at metabolizing tension.I performed ease (or attempted to perform ease) in order to make the situation easy. I performed certainty and contemplation. I performed intimacy (“this isn’t weird because we know each other so well”). None of these performances were false (that turns out a whole new question of truth/falseness, authenticity, etc.), but they were performed none the less.

Finally, there’s something about what it is the piece is performing, and this is the most ambiguous. On the surface level, we are performing sex then self-violence. The self-violence indicates an external regulatory force (namely religion, but also possibly observation; shame). In the sex, we’re potentially performing homosexual bodies, homosexual desire, but it’s subverted. The male-ness of the bodies comes into question (hopefully), when the sex is legible more as lesbian or trans sex. Are we performing supplementary bodies? Transmutable bodies? Transferable bodies? Queer bodies? Mutually penetrable bodies. We may perform safe-sex (performing the management of bodies, the policing of body fluids). If we don’t use condoms, are we performing danger/violence? If we exchange fluids, we are performing something distinct and potentially profound . . . but latex boundaries perform with equal profundity. Just differently . . .

Do we perform pleasure? This is a lingering question after our last rehearsal. We’ll see how this question might evolve. If we do perform pleasure, what does it mean to situate pleasure “outside” of the body, the pleasure of prosthetic? Does the performance of pleasure become suspect? Or does it become the act by which the prosthetic becomes incorporated in/as the body?

Sketches of Shame; queer porn

Different new projects/potential projects in the works.

This week I start rehearsals with Daniel Holt. I am restaging/recreating Sketches of Shame, a piece I made with Clara Underwood in 2007. I already know there are things that are changing. From the “original,” I think I am retaining Clara’s solo, which will be performed by both Daniel and me simultaneously. It is not set to counts, and the timing is not necessarily precise. I’m interested in the fluctuation of drifting in-and-out of unison, how the aligning and misaligning of bodies/actions/pre-determined gestures articulates something about the shame experience as one predicated on the sensation of falling out of line/out of synch with the/a regulatory normality. Here the choreography functions as that regulation, we are both approximations, but there is no absolute measurement; we are each variables being treated as constants in the assessment of the other . . . this seems to me to be central to the production of bodies, genders, sexes, sexualities, etc. It is also my intention that a significant portion of the piece be done watching one another. That might enhance the analogy (observation and the sensation of being observed are central to the shame experience), or it might break the analogy in that watching one another without falling into perfect unison will be difficult. Or maybe not. Perhaps the deviations will become much more subtle, but the remaining disparities are would be more acutely analogous to the slippages of bodies/genders/sexes/sexualities that are attempting to adhere to regulations. Maybe.

There is another section that will be new material, added at the front end of the piece. It’s still very new, and I’m a bit guarded about discussing it. We’ll see how it goes and how much makes it onto the blog.

Another project that occurred to me yesterday that I might consider as a study for my Theorizing Performance course this quarter is an analysis of queer bodies and queer sex in a survey of queer pornography. This is building from earlier ideas about pornography as non-sanctioned sex education and an archive of human sexual behavior (there is a recent wealth of research on pornography as a source of sexual information in adolescent development, and it is at this intersection of development along with developing sexual identities–which might take place beyond adolescent development–that I see pornography as a relevant line of inquiry into the socialization and education of [sexual] bodies), and queer pornography as a radical intervention for expanding the range/scope/possibilities of such an archive (and thus, in effect, the range/scope/possibilities of bodies/identities that are educated and circulated back into culture/society). My interest is in developing a lexicon for the bodies and relationalities demonstrated in this media, particularly in the work of pornographers such as Madison Young (who has specifically addressed fluid sexuality in a series of docu-porns), Shine Louise Houston (crashpad), and Courtney Trouble, among many others. I’m thinking of something like a survey of 20-30 performers in 2-5 films by each director. I don’t know what I’m looking for yet . . . that’s the nature of developing a lexicon, allowing it to be emergent from the data sources considered. Things to consider might be: self-identification (do these performers identify as queer, genderqueer, female, male, trans, etc. etc. etc.); bodily configurations in sex acts (parts of the body involved, how they are involved, etc.); performance of roles within these configurations; inclusion of extra-bodily components (dildos, condoms, gloves, etc.); number of participants; and whatever else comes up. Maybe.

Those are two projects that are in my mind right now. We’ll see where they go.

Recent and forthcoming work

Where to begin? My dear friend Mara commented to me the other day how long it has been since I’ve posted things here. Partly, if I’m honest, it’s that I have a difficult time right now spending any more time in front of a computer than I have to. But there’s also something to do with the scope of ideas. I feel like my ideas of too big at the moment, and the bundle of threads knotting them together feels just out of reach. I wrote another term paper this autumn quarter exploring/theorizing ecosexuality, this time drawing correlations between my previous explorations of a theory of ecosexuality, Tantric philosophy, eroticism (as discussed by Georges Bataille), and Butoh. It was a culminating point in one sense, in that I finally articulated how these ideas/lines of inquiry live in and alongside one another in my thinking/understanding. But it was also a big start of something, of finally putting these various paradigms in the context of one another to really see what it is I’m getting at. I don’t know if the paper itself is entirely successful, but I do want to share it here:

pulsing through and between, I am that

I’m not sure what the next steps for these ideas will be. I do know that the next quarter is going to be intense in its creative/research output, and I feel certain that those projects will be related to these ideas.

I am performing my solo “Re-Membering the Mountains” twice more in the months to come: In February, I have submitted this piece to the Annual Battleground States Conference at Bowling Green University. The conference is entitled “Collapsing Cultures and Darkened Dreamscapes: Societies and Imaginations in a State of Disorder,” February 25-26, 2011. I am presenting the piece as part of a panel address the Purple Wedding to the Mountains and performative ecosexuality. I was invited to present on this panel by two colleagues who also performed as part of the Purple Wedding, Erin Paun and Jp Staszel:

Erin and Jp at the Purple Wedding to the Mountains

I  will also be performing that solo as part of OSU’s Winter Concert (details forthcoming).

Another performance project with which I am involved is a solo entitled “Marriage,” originally choreographed and performed by Mair Culbreth in 2005. Mair Culbreth and Nicole Bauguss are having a month-long exhibit at the Urban Arts Space entitled “domestic matters: a performing installation.”

domestic matters: a performing installation

More details for this project will come later (I hope to write a bit about the process from the inside of the choreographic/rehearsal practice). The dates for the show are March 1-31, with performances throughout. Already I find the process fascinating: Mair and I spent time discussing the original context and content of the solo, then together devised a score for the piece based on the original. From this score, I choreographed movement to function within it. We will begin to rehearse/revise/edit/etc. in the new year. I’ll keep you posted.

I am also rehearsing my own reconstruction during the winter quarter, a piece entitled “Sketches of Shame” that I choreographed in 2007 with myself and Clara Underwood. The new version will retain the intention and some vocabulary from the original, reworked and recontextualized in my current situation  and research. You can see the original vocabulary from which I’ll be working here:

I will be working with Daniel Holt, reconstructing this original material, and developing additional material exploring the corporeal situation of shame within a context of sexuality and sexual expression. Again, more details will be forthcoming, but that will hopefully offer a sense of the spectrum of what I’ll be working on.

I have also submitted a paper I wrote last year entitled “The Phenomenal Conflation of Dance/Dancer/Author/Reader/Text/Trio A/and Me” to the 27th Biennial International Council of Kinetography Laban/Labanotation Conference being held at the Institute for Musicology, Budapest, Hungary August 1-6, 2011. I will hopefully find out in January or February if the proposal is accepted.

That is a sampling of work that is both recently completed and forthcoming. I think I might make a separate post sharing some other ideas/inspirations that I am considering right now.