michael j. morris

thoughts towards post-human intersubjective ecosexuality…

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 . . .


Queer Theorists, Ecology, and Labanotation software

I have been negligent of my blog for too long. This summer swept me away in several new (and some unexpected) jobs, and lots of reading for my second comprehensive exam (most of the reading will likely also be useful towards whatever my dissertations shapes up to be). Getting close to a month without writing, I decided that it was time for an update.

My work situation for the summer is spread across three sources: I have a part-time GA in the Department of Dance teaching Modern I for non-majors and continuing work on a digital video archive for the dance documentation materials within the department. The teaching has been an unexpected challenge and delight. There is a beauty to bodies that (for the most part) have not been trained in dance techniques. I’m having lots of thoughts about dance technique as a form of discipline for the docile body (re: Foucault), but in contrast I am also taking delight in entertaining the perspective of the early modern dance pioneers (Duncan, Humphrey, Graham, etc.), that modern dance has the potential to function as a liberatory project, a resistance to the normative physicality of daily social existence. I think this beginning level course is an ideal demonstration of this perspective: these are bodies that are not going to become “disciplined” through this technique (we meet twice per week for five weeks; ten classes total). My hope/intention for the course is to provide a range of physical experience through which to develop heightened awareness of possibilities through the establishment of an array of sensorimotor schemas. The material that we are exploring is predominantly on the floor, exploring alternative supports and methods of locomotion through a dynamic experience of exchange with the earth; it does not require a significant development of strength or flexibility (impossible in the given time) but does provide the opportunity for the students to become aware of physical possibilities, especially those absent from normative physicality in our culture (horizontal axis of movement, supporting/exchanging weight with the earth predominantly through supports other than the feet legs, etc.). I hope in the next few weeks to also explore systems of timing, cueing, and awareness that depend primarily on group attention rather than counts; I think there is something valuable in a system of organization that emerges from mutual/communal attention (as opposed to an external regulatory system like counts or following me).

My second employment position is also in the Department of Dance, a Research Assistant position funded through the Dance Preservation Fund. I am assisting Dr. Sheila Marion and David Ralley with the initial phase research for developing a Movement Interchange File Format, a file format capable of encoding/recording the complex information of a Labanotation score in such a way that it might be useful for future software developments in writing software, animation, and translation between systems of notation (others most notably including Benesh and Eshkol-Wachmann). My work this summer is attempting to systematically describe the interdependent assumptions and “defaults” of the notation system, and construct a kind of comprehensive “script” that might then be used to formulae the first layer of programming for the file format/associated software. It’s an entirely different way for me to be thinking, and has involved going deeply into the notation system, primarily the Advanced Labanotation series by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Joukje Kolff, alongside Sheila Marion’s dissertation, and a thesis by Kolff proposing a “formal movement structure” that amounts to a computational representation of Labanotation in order to develop computer-based writing software.

I am also working part-time with Laurel Hodory, a local yoga teacher and trainer of teachers. I am assisting primarily with marketing and video work. Some of the footage that I have shot and edited is live on Laurel’s Vimeo account.

My reading for the summer is a survey of several seminal queer theorists (Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Monique Wittig, Judith Butler, Eve Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks), some phenomenology (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sara Ahmed), continued readings in ecology, ecofeminism and other feminist writings (most notably Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, Karen Warren, Greta Gaard, Carole Vance, Elisa Glick), and dance/art scholars/philosophers (Valerie Briginshaw, Judith Hanna, Erin Manning). I have also been reading Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder, a collection of the writings of Harry Hay, the founder of the Radical Faerie “movement” (edited by Will Roscoe), because of its potential relationship to my Sexecological/Ecosexual research, but also in preparation for revising a paper on Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream,” using Hay’s writings and the Radical Faeries as a lens for a contemporary queer choreographic analysis of the ballet. I am only a few weeks in, but already themes are beginning to emerge around notions of fluidity, permeability, a recognition of the constructed nature of many of our borders, boundaries, and systems of description, and the genealogies of those edges that divide and distinguish. For this exam, I am going to continue my examination of the work of the Love Art Laboratory, situating their Sexecological weddings and exhibitions in a larger frame of queer(ing) projects, looking mostly at the Green Wedding in Santa Cruz (2008), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sky in Oxford (2009), the Blue Wedding to marry the Sea in Venice (2009), and the 2009-2010 gallery exhibition “Sexecology: Making Love With the Earth, Sky+Sea” at Femina Potens in December-January.

One of the most exciting readings I have done thus far has been an article by Catriona Sandilands entitled “Eco Homo: Queering the Ecological Body Politic.” In addition to its direct address of tissues that of becoming central to my line of inquiry (contemporary ecological practices, queering ecologies, the implications of these for the body, etc.), Sandilands anchored this article in a personal account of her experience in a series of Butoh classes. Within a matter of pages, she had linked for me what superficially have functioned as disparate areas of interest in my work, ecology, queer theories, and Butoh/dance practices. I was in tears at the end of the article . . . which might be strange for reading academic prose. But it was partially because of the punctuation of the article with passages of personal accounts. And not just any accounts, but writing about the meaningful experience of practicing Butoh, and its potential to function as a physical practice that embodies the concerns of a queer ecology, and fluidity across the borders of presumably bounded bodies through the “taking in and taking on” of the environment as the butoh-fu (the imagistic score informing/forming the dance).

I wish I could post the entire article here, but I am certain there would be copyright issues with that. Instead, I will offer the bibliographic information and quote/cite specific passages that I found to be extremely relevant to bridging these areas of interest.

Sandilands, Catriona. “Eco homo: Queering the ecological body politic.” Environmental Philosophy As Social Philosophy. Editors Cheryl Hughes and Andrew Light. Charlottesville: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2004.

“To conclude this paper, however, I would like to offer a brief, and perhaps unusual, conjecture. Specifically, I would like to suggest the possibility of practices of embodiment that performatively render the boundaries of the body negotiable by engaging in representations and rituals that open the skin to the somatic presence of the abject. This project is, I think, an ecological aesthetics of the body that recognizes the perpetual dancer of the outside but that orients, nonetheless, toward the (self-) creativity imanent in the dynamics of skin transgression. In so doing, I would like to suggest, following Diprose, that a performative politics might include both a transgressive element and a committed desire to re-habitate, re-familiarize, and re-materialize the body in relation to others.

“In this performative re-embodiment, I would like to point to the skin, both as a metonymic focus for an altered politics of corporeal representation and as a physical site to which to pay ritual corporeal attention in alternative enactments. Skin is a porous, changing and active organ that is at once crucial to our lives as organisms and, is, significantly, not thematized as our internal core. Skin is, precisely, a surface, but it is also an active participant in our corporeal renegotiation of the world. Skin is part of the appearance of the world, an aesthetic referent in self/other relations; all organisms are en-skinned, but we all have different qualities of skin and inhabit them differently. Focusing ecological attention on the skin, I think, forces us to pay bodily attention to the complex physiology and social relations by which our bodies bleed into the world, and the world into us. And skin shows us our porous vulnerability to the world always, not just in moments of crisis, and suggests that we learn to live, in non-apocalyptic ways, with that openness” (32-33).

“Rather than skin vigilance, then, skin aesthetics: How to live the body on and in this dynamically porous skin? How to practice a body-on-the-skin in a way that does not aim to coherence and closure, nor to infinite fluidity, but to an active, sensual and contextual semi-permeability? How to think of the skin as a site for the art of the body, for coporeal practices drawn from a range of traditions but without the strong orientation to self-govenance and order? How to think of the skin as a site of a specifically ecological aesthetic, an art form not dependent on infinite consumption and management of body parts and appearances? How to democratize the skin? How to create, on the skin, an ars erotica rather than scientia sexualis?” (33)

She brings this all to her description of Butoh:
“One way I have thoughts about Butoh is that the dance is the animated tension of the body held between external and internal influences. the dancer doesn’t perform an image, say, as an act of willful mimesis; he practices taking it in and taking it on, embodying and performing the interaction between the image and the body’s response. Memory is vital, here: by animating corporeal memory, the dancer opens the skin to the materialization of the image . . . From a more explicitly ecological viewpoint, I understand the idea of a body moving with the carefully ‘installed’ figures of nature–cranes flying in the shoulders–as an aesthetic practice of ecological incorporation. To dance with an orientation and openness to the fact of one’s own materialized body is to dance, not only with the awareness that the other is in your skin, but with the varied embodiments of others as part of one’s corporeal vocabulary. In Butoh, dancing a leaf in the wind is not about representing the leaf to an audience, nor is it about claiming to know the essence of that leaf’s being; it is about performatively re-membering the leaf’s wind-tossed body in one’s own, about losing one’s ‘self’ to the memory of the leaf’s body” (34).

She finishes with a moving description of a Butoh class:
“Thursday, June 20: I carry a landscape in my body. There are trees growing out of my head; my left arm is a waterfall, my right hand a rotting cabbage; old women are playing cards in the sun in my torso; my shins are brittle sticks, breaking and snapping with the tiniest movement. I must walk to the other side of the studio; I am all of these elements but I am also responsible for carrying them and keeping them safe in the crossing. I bear my trees, my cabbage, my old women, my precious sticks, through elemental changes–a windstorm from the west, electrified cattle guards under my feet–and I fall from the effort, damaging my precious cargo, my precious landscape, my own body in the process. But I do arrive. And even as I deposit my little body-world, tenderly, on the floor, I feel the presence of trees, cabbage, women, and waterfall, sticking to my skin, tiny flecks of memory mingling with sweat. I am the history of the presences, and my body is not really mine” (35-36).

Simply stunning. The article also traces/formulates relationships between the governing of bodies and the governing of the environments, the relationship between sexuality and wilderness, the establishment of borders around bodies, borders around landscapes, all in an attempt to “preserve” the “integrity” of each, resisting permeability, resisting fluidity and “pollution.” It is extremely provocative, and I think that it will constitute a sea-change in the direction of my research.

Perhaps lastly for today, and in perfect concert with Sandilands article, is the work of Karl Cronin. My dear friend CoCo Loupe has referenced Karl’s work to me for literally years and this spring I finally got around to taking a look at it. I cannot even begin to write all that I want to write about this work (I am currently entertaining the possibility of it as a chapter in a dissertation; maybe an article). Cronin is doing precisely what Sandiland describes, almost eerily so. He is constructing a Somatic Natural History Archive. Cronin’s description of the project is as follows:

“The Somatic Natural History Archive is a work of conceptual art and experiential geography research. Following direct physical encounters with plants and animals, Karl Cronin creates movement portraits that capture key features of each particular organism.”

“The Somatic Natural History Archive (SNHA) is a research project and public resource developed and hosted by Karl Cronin.

The SNHA will begin with Series 1, the embodied histories of 10,000 plants and animals. Series 1 will take roughly 50 years to complete.

The number 10,000 was chosen because it is large enough to reveal some of the breadth of our planet’s biodiversity, and because the number has been used historically to refer to the “phenomenal world” (all that is), particularly by early Zen Buddhists.

The SNHA is being built in the regions surrounding three research hubs: San Francisco, Santa Fe, and New York City.”

I am in awe of this work. I think it is saturated with theoretical inquiries surrounding the collapse of a hierarchical bio-diversity, the merging of the subject with the “other” (other more-than-human subjects), and echoes/enacts much of what my research around ecologies in performance has been orbiting. I know that this work will have some role to play in my own as time goes by. It is more than simply the exposition of bio-diversity; it formulates the (human) body as the site of this exposition, for this archive. That is perhaps the most exciting part for me . . . I have been working on a digital video archive for two quarters and in the fall I will take up a position managing the Dance Notation Bureau’s collection at the Theater Research Institute in Special Collections at OSU. Archives have been on my mind, and the notion of the body functioning as an archive, materializing the (human) body as an archive of that which is more-than-human . . . it is such a profoundly reverential service. It recognizes and enacts the body as permeable, malleable; it disrupts normative physicality through the adoption of the “other.” By taking the “other” inside/on/as oneself, there is a performative collapse of the distance between self/other. This relates for me to much of Sandiland’s writings, and also Harry Hay’s perspective of a “subject=SUBJECT” consciousness. I have commenting before that with different motives, there could be a sense of colonization and appropriation attached to this work. But there isn’t; it has something to do with the space between owning and becoming, occupation and surrender, taking and receiving . . . I have yet to fully deconstruct these nuances, and I know that there will be much to write and say about this work for a long time to come. For now I will simply offer a video of the work:

There is also an amazing video for Cronin’s “The Dancing Ecologist” fundraiser at Kickstarter here (it doesn’t embed, but PLEASE go view it; it’s short but stunning).

And that’s the short version of where things are at right now. Pride was a few weeks ago, I’m going to be spending the next two months housesitting in three different locations, I am dreaming up projects and choreographies for the fall, over the moon that Dr. Harmony Bench is going to be joining our faculty in the fall, working on papers for two different conferences in the fall (Doing Queer Studies Now at Michigan Ann-Arbor, and CORD in Seattle), etc. I’m not sure what is going to emerge from all of the intersecting projects (How does Labanotation software and sexecology co-exist? What comes from the cohabitation of a digital video archive and queer theories? Etc.), but that’s the lay of the land.

Hope you are well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I appreciate your support!

Your dancing ecologist,

Karl Cronin”

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

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

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

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

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

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