Witches, Actors & Analysts

HYSTERICAL Sharon Stone
Sharon Stone’s Amazing Persona

HYSTERICAL HISTRIONICS

A FOOTNOTE TO

PYTHIATISM AND SARTRE’S THE FAMILY IDIOT

BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 

To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless. Gustave Flaubert

 

Dedicated to Sharon Stone

In The Family Idiot Sartre claims that for Gustav Flaubert, the novice playwright, writing was secondary to acting out his ideas, that the French Realist’s mature literature was born of the “thwarted vocation” of acting, and that he was an unconvincing actor, because “he acted so as to launch an appeal to being by exploiting the means at hand, that is, his very derealization.”

Sometimes the youth fascinated, disturbed, or won over his audience of friends and family when he played the part of a grotesque boy, an idiot, a giant, a saint and so on, but for the most part he was a bad actor; he was false, transparent, and irritating because he was writing his own plays, and doing so in bad faith, for he had no being of his own to speak of; he was simply attempting to negate a negative but had nothing real to work with.

The main thing here is that he is destined to incarnate a single character—for all his avatars resemble each other—not entirely his own character but the persona he wants to appear in the eyes of others, which we will describe in the next chapter. Thus his first vocation seems scarcely more than the simplest and most immediate reaction to his derealization; and I mean that this, as well as his constituted passivity and his pithiatism, would have served him if he had gone into the theater.

Young Gustave, in effect, was allowing himself, through self-cannibalization, to be vampirized by the characters he played:

And he [played his characters] all the more contentedly because he had discovered his true status as Master of the Unreal. In sum, he was reassured by judging himself instituted in advance, integrated by the society that refused him, and, fulfilled by his profession; he abandoned himself to his constituted passivity which would make him all his life the martyr of unreality…. He caricatures living people, in sum, in order to steal their being for a moment and know what it is to take pleasure in having an objective being. Surely he is not convinced that he is Papa Couilleres while he is doing him, or that this theft/possession (he becomes vampirized by the being he has stolen) could be accomplished without that pithiatism that generally characterizes constituted passivities.

The boy had something to gain by his playacting, which was tantamount to throwing hysterical fits:

But for the de-realized child, an absenteeist, the character is none other than his persona created and guaranteed by the benevolence of the Other: protected by an invisible armor, he offers himself up to the blows of fate, exhibiting, without taking responsibility for it, the pre-established transposition of his absurdity and misfortune. In his theatrical experience the child finds irresponsibility, submission, happy and compensated vassalage; the guarantee of the imaginary by a sovereign will, by the necessity of connections, by tradition and universal consent; a priori knowledge of his being-for-others, the ambiguity of fatum, the justification of pathos that is, not just of his excessive gesticulation but of his constituted passivity, which, by forbidding hint action, encourages him to abandon himself to what he is and to show his passions through gestures; pithiatic belief, never total but consolidated by that of others; the ability really to feel what he expresses . The child finds all this in his theatrical experience as long as it remains in the immediate realm of un-reflected spontaneity, in other words, as long as he produces himself on stage, moved only by the need to escape from his insubstantial and tedious persona by replacing it with the being of a character.

Good play actors, then, are disposed to passivity and pithiatism, in contrast to Sartre, who is an activist because he participates in socialist activism. That is, play actors are receptive to the influence of suggestion, which makes them convincing imitators, or performing hysterics.

I personally note that a Freudian psychologist, a regular sex fiend or “cunt-hound” who professed psychology at the New School and who loved to seduce beautiful aspiring actresses, recruited me when I was an acting student at HB Studio into one of his group therapy sessions on the Upper West Side. After several drinks at a bar on Broadway, where I first met him, he posited that “actors are the most neurotic of all people, mainly hysterical, which makes my group therapy sessions a lot of fun.” He claimed that acting is “a masochistic profession.” Ironically, he confessed in group therapy that he was obsessed with or possessed by Sharon Stone, and that she often appeared in his dreams as a dominatrix with a foot-long black dildo with which she painfully sodomized him.

Now Sigmund Freud, in his ‘Fourth Lecture on The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis’ (1910), noted in the context of thwarted development that:

(The sexual impulses) appear in opposed pairs, as active and passive. The most important representatives of this group are the pleasure in afflicting pain (sadism) with its passive opposite (masochism) and active and passive exhibition pleasure. From the first of these later pairs splits off the curiosity for knowledge, as from the latter the impulse toward artistic and theatrical representation…. Every process of development brings with it the germ of pathological dispositions in so far as it may be inhibited, delayed, or incompletely carried out. This holds for the sexual function, with its many complications. It is not smoothly completed in all individuals, and may leave behind either abnormalities or disposition to later diseases by the way of later falling back or regression.

Flaubert liked playacting, and found writing alone somewhat troublesome because he was loath to confine his imagination to the written word. The family potentate would eventually send him off to law school, to which he was indifferent, to say the least, although he found the precise, unsentimental objective language of the law attractive, in comparison to the wild, romantic urging of his youth.

While on vacation at home, he suffered a nervous breakdown or crisis, accompanied by temporary paralysis, an event said to be a nervous disease; the ‘stroke’ may have been, for all we know, an epileptic seizure although clear signs of epilepsy were not apparent.

These attacks, absent the usual signs of epilepsy, recurred throughout his life whenever he was under considerable stress. If his abnormal motor or sensory affects, whatever they might have been, were psychogenic, today they might be considered as evidence of a psychosomatic “conversion disorder,” along the lines of ‘classical’ hysteria, provided they were preceded by stress, not faked, not medically or culturally determined, not limited merely to pain or sexual dysfunction, and not falling within the context of some other somatic disorder or mental illness. Incidentally, the symptoms of conversion hysteria in the West are of a different type than those found in the East despite the requirement of cultural indeterminism.

HYSTERICAL hospital performances
Command hysterical performances at Salpetrieri

Epileptic phenomena, as Sartre well knew, were once believed to be symptomatic of hysteria. Hysteria was called a “protean” affliction because it could mimic or fake the symptoms of many physical diseases. Studies of hysterics had demonstrated that hysteria is a performance with a purpose—primary and secondary gains are to be had.

When we examine the photographs of hysterical performances taken at Salpetriere Hospital, we believe our own starlets would have gained appreciative Off Broadway audiences there in those days. There were also male hysterics at Salpetriere, just as Dionysus appeared at Delphi while it was ruled by Apollo, but the command performances were naturally given by pithiatic women inasmuch as females traditionally had the “wandering wombs” associated with irrational or immoral behavior, while men were customarily the repositories of reason, which logically justified their might as a moral right by virtue of their will to power.

HYSTERICAL theatre hospital

Pierre Andre Brouillet’s‘Una lecon Clinique a la Salpetriere’
(A painting Sigmund Freud kept in his office).
The “Queen of Hysterics,” Blanch Wittman,
Faints into the arms of Joseph Babinski

Like witches of old, who were usually impoverished women who practiced the magical arts of witchcraft as a trade, the new witchdoctors took up diagnosing and casting curative spells as a business. Instead of burning witches at the stake, and chaining womb-wandering hysterics to prison walls, they would endeavor to disenchant them of their maladies with their persuasive powers of reasonable talk and positive suggestion, perhaps after the demons possessing the hapless patients came forth and revealed themselves during hypnotic spells, courses of free association, or during couched confessions for which no penance was exacted. And, like the witches of old, hysterics performed well at the suggestion of their inquisitors, confessing their sins, particularly those of a sexual nature; otherwise, the prognosis would be “incurable”; that is, if they did not perform as indirectly directed, they would be cast into the hopeless ward from hell.

The fallacious arguments has been made by some good doctors that, if hysterical behavior is a performance, then performers are hysterics. For them, the hysterical performances confirmed that histrionics, or pretending to be someone else, is a masochistic art. In fine, hysteria was an invention, or rather a new name for an old disguise, and the enthusiasm or spirited prepossession of the “scientific” doctors, who were themselves frequently subject to the hysteria they had unwittingly induced, had a financial motive; to wit, to corner the market from the so-called charlatans and quacks who plied their ancient trade with potions, mesmerism, sympathetic magic, hypnotic spells and the like.

Witchcraft like psychoanalysis was not without its financial rewards, and lifted many a witch out of dire poverty. We refer to The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches In the County of Lancaster With the Arraignement and Triall of Nineteene notorious WITCHES, at the Assizes and generall Gaole deliuerie, holden at the Castle of LANCASTER, vpon Munday, the seuenteenth of August last, 1612…. by Thomas Potts, Esq., who was clerk of the court and present for the trials. Seventeen of the women were found guilty. The Introduction and Notes, from which we quote below, were written by Thomas Crowley, Esq.

A common story emerged from witness and the confessions of the accused, of vengeful witches being accosted by and entering into deals with a devil named Tibbe or Fancie, appearing perhaps as a boy, black cat, brown dog, or hare and such. The witches were most likely engaged in a competitive business of selling unorthodox spells, curses or blessings, and dealing in “contraband” i.e. magic images, the likes of which have historically produced considerable income to legitimate religions besides those forbidding graven images.

Whether it be with witches as it is said to be with a much maligned branch of a certain profession, that it needs two of its members in a district to make its exercise profitable, it is not for me to say; but it is seldom found that competition is accompanied by any very amicable feeling in the competitors, or by a disposition to underrate the value of the merchandize which each has to offer for sale.

Accordingly, great was the rivalry, constant the feuds, and unintermitting the respective criminations of the Erictho and Canidia of Pendle, who had opened shops for the vending of similar contraband commodities, and were called upon to decry each other’s stock, as well as to magnify their own. Each ‘gave her little senate laws,’ and had her own party (or tail, according to modern phraseology) in the Forest. Some looked up to and patronized one, and some the other. If old Demdike could boast that she had Tibb as a familiar, old Chattox was not without her Fancy. If the former had skill in waxen images, the latter could dig up the scalps of the dead, and make their teeth serviceable to her unhallowed purposes.

In the anxiety which each felt to outvie the other, and to secure the greater share of the general custom of a not very extended or very lucrative market, each would wish to be represented as more death-dealing, destructive, and powerful than her neighbour; and she who could number up the most goodly assortment of damage done to man and beast, whether real or not was quite immaterial, as long as the draught was spiced and flavoured to suit the general taste, stood the best chance of obtaining a monopoly.

It is a curious fact, that the son-in-law of one of these two individuals, and whose wife was herself executed as a witch, paid to the other a yearly rent, on an express covenant that she should exempt him from her charms and witchcrafts. Where the possession of a commission from the powers of darkness was thus eagerly and ostentatiously paraded, every death, the cause of which was not perfectly obvious, whether it ended in a sudden termination or a slow and gradual decline, would be placed to the general account of one of the two (to use Master Potts’s description,) “agents for the devil in those parts,” as the party responsible for these unclaimed dividends of mortality.

Did a cow go mad, or was a horse unaccountably afflicted with the staggers, the same solution was always at hand to clear negligence and save the trouble of inquiry; and so far from modestly disclaiming these atrocities, the only struggle on the parts of Mothers Demdike and Chattox would be which should first appropriate them.

And in all this it must not be forgotten that their own credulity was at least as great as the credulity of their neighbours, and that each had the power in question was so much an admitted point, that she had long ceased, in all probability, to entertain any doubts on the subject. With this general conviction on one hand, and a sincere persuasion on the other, it would be surprising if, in the course of a few years, the scandalous chronicle of Pendle had not accumulated a corpus delicti against them, which only required that ‘one of his Majesties Justices in these parts, a very religious honest gentleman, painful in the service of his country,’ should work the materials into shape, and make the gruel thick and slab.’”

In Dr. Whitaker’s astonishment that Margaret Johnson should make the confession she appears to have done, in a clear case of imposture, few of his readers will be disposed to participate, who are at all conversant with the trials of reputed witches in this country. Confessions were so common on those occasions, that there is, I believe, not a single instance of any great number of persons being convicted of witchcraft at one time, some of whom did not make a confession of guilt. Nor is there anything extraordinary in that circumstance, when it is remembered that many of them sincerely believed in the existence of the powers attributed to them; and others, aged and of weak understanding, were, in a measure, coerced by the strong persuasion of their guilt, which all around them manifested, into an acquiescence in the truth of the accusation. In many cases the confessions were made in the hope, and no doubt with the promise, seldom performed, that a respite from punishment would be eventually granted. In other instances, there is as little doubt, that they were the final results of irritation, agony, and despair.

The confessions are generally composed of “such stuff as dreams are made of,” and what they report to have occurred, might either proceed, when there was no intention to fabricate, from intertwining the fantastic threads which sometimes stream upon the waking senses from the land of shadows, or be caused by those ocular hallucinations of which medical science has supplied full and satisfactory solution. There is no argument which so long maintained its ground in support of witchcraft as that which was founded on the confessions referred to. It was the last plank clung to by many a witch-believing lawyer and divine. And yet there is none which will less bear critical scrutiny and examination, or the fallacy of which can more easily be shown, if any particular reported confession is taken as a test and subjected to a searching analysis and inquiry.”

The trial of the Samlesbury witches, Jennet Bierley, Ellen Bierley, and Jane Southworth, forms a curious episode in Potts’s Discoverie. A Priest or Jesuit, of the name of Thomson, alias Southworth, had tutored the principal evidence, Grace Sowerbuts, a girl of the age of fourteen, but who had not the same instinctive genius for perjury as Jennet Device, to accuse the three persons above mentioned of having bewitched her; “so that,” as the indictment [lvii] runs, “by means thereof her body wasted and consumed.”

“The chief object,” says Sir Walter Scott, “in this imposture, was doubtless the advantage and promotion of the Catholic cause, as the patient would have been in due time exorcised and the fiend dispossessed, by the same priest who had taught her to counterfeit the fits. Revenge against the women, who had become proselytes to the Church of England, was probably an additional motive.” But the imposture broke down, from the inability of the principal witness to support the scheme of deception. Unsuccessful, however, as it proved, the time was well chosen, the groundwork excellently laid, the evidence industriously got up, and it must ever deserve a prominent place in the history—a history, how delightful when it shall be written in the spirit of philosophy and with due application of research—of human fraud and imposture.”

This wicked attempt on the part of this priest, or Jesuit, Thompson, alias Southworth, to murder the three persons whose trial is next reported, by suborning a child of the family to accuse them of what, in the excited state of the public mind at the time, was almost certain to consign them to a public execution, has few parallels in the annals of atrocity.

The plot was defeated, and the lives of the persons accused, Jennet Bierley, Ellen Bierley, and Jane Southworth, saved, by no sagacity of the judge or wisdom of the jury, but by the effect of one simple question, wrung from the intended victims on the verge of anticipated condemnation, and which, natural as it might appear, was one the felicity of which Garrow or Erskine might have envied. It demolished, like Ithuriel’s spear, the whole fabric of imposture, and laid it open even to the comprehension of Sir Edward Bromley and Master Thomas Potts.

Then as today the stigmata or signs of hysteria would increase in number as the profession progressed. Naturally it would behoove the best modern neurologists to become psychiatrists and treat the most affluent women, many of whom if not all were neurotic due to their discontent with patriarchal civilization, making of some of them a good example of the virtues of prolonged psychiatric treatment. Some patient patients would be so utterly convinced by the results of their submission to professional authority that they would take up the practice themselves; others, conscious of the fact that they were “faking it,” found scant relief from the maladies suffered.

Flaubert’s performance, Sartre believed, was staged to gain enough sympathy to get out of law school, first of all, and then to do whatever he wanted. Mission accomplished: his father was convinced Flaubert’s constitution would not tolerate a regular life; he was withdrawn from school and supported by his family’s considerable resources. It was after this crisis, which most people would have written off as mildly traumatic at most, that he supposedly found himself able to write at length, albeit painstakingly, sometimes working on a single page for an entire week in a scientific effort to find just the right, harmonious yet unsentimental words to perfect it.

Hysteria, by the way, can be so broad as to encompass all sorts of disorders. Now an obsessive-compulsive person might protect himself from the shitty world by confining it to things that must be touched and warding off its pollution by repetitious hand-washing.

Flaubert, hypothetically, totalized the world at his writing desk, warding off its pollution with a clinical representation or purist style of writing. In other words, his writing distanced him from the dirty world as he condensed what he thought about it into words, tortuously molding the crap into concrete constructions—everything was under control in that bloody wrestling arena. In Walter Pater’s words, he was the “martyr of style.”

Neither technique nor artist should be noticed in fine art. Flaubert finally managed to lose himself in brilliantly depicted details, to paint himself out of his picture of Madame Bovary; there he would perfect his unreality in a disappearing act; to wit, become untouchable or Nothing. Only Nothing is perfect and permanent; that would be his form of hysterical paralysis within which his artistic convulsions were performed. And that was no easy accomplishment for a rebellious subject raised in the vague, emotional effusions of French High Romanticism with all its affectations in the form of incomplete words—words are merely symbolic, indicative of potential action, impotent in themselves.

From the age of fourteen, he is quite explicit about his dissatisfaction with the written word, a dissatisfaction that will persist at least until the crisis of 1844; the written word is clearly inadequate as it can render neither feelings, sensations, nor ecstasies. This denunciation is his recurrent subject, and, as we know, the deepest reasons for it lie elsewhere; but if he slips it into most of his early works from the age of fourteen on, it is as an occasional yet crucial motif. He was forbidden the career of actor; hence, words were deprived of their ordinary accompanying gestures, mimicry, and intonation; they were suddenly mutilated, became little more than inert scaffolding how could he give them back their former fullness? Deprived of his old sound tools, he had to replace them by crude, mute instruments which, because they were not heated by his breath, would never express his animating pathos. Of course, he would read his text aloud, interpret it, giving a singular aspect to the universal vocable through the timbre of his voice, and hence would be able on rare occasions to preserve the illusion that he was giving birth to it by expectoration. But he knew very well that reading is not acting. Even the ludic aspect of literature has nothing to do with acting. Above all, writing for unknown readers is an attempt to captivate and seduce them by defenseless graphemes, which they interpret as they like. He is vulnerable with nothing in his hands, nothing in his pockets; the writer traces his scrawl and goes away, leaving it to the most malevolent inspection.

Despite Sartre’s analysis, we see nothing neurotic or abnormal in Flaubert’s reluctant progression from an oral to written mode of communication; the reduction of thought to objective texts, the invention of writing, accounts for the “progress” of civilization.

As Neil Postman has pointed out, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), a medium is a suggestive metaphor, and the particular form of a medium helps define the truth—a medium has an epistemological function. For example, “today’s news” was a creation of the telegraph. We still think of the brain as a tablet on which personal experience is recorded, and as a calculating and decisional machine; today we think of it as a personal computer linked by one device or another to the Internet “Cloud” in which we have our heads.

Nicholas Carr asks us if Google is making us stupid. Postman believes our regression from words to pictorial images as a mode of communication is filling our heads with dangerous nonsense and rendering us silly. Still, we associate the truth with the printed page or its facsimile, which constitutes a reorientation of thought from the oral mode. Our laws are written; therefore our lawyers do not have to be wise; being well briefed is sufficient. Oral testimony is still preferred as being a truer to the mind of the witness, but we more strongly believe in the authority of writing. “The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by authorities and editors. It is easier to verify of refute, and it is invested with an impersonal and objective character.”

However that may be, to exist is to exist in print, as Lewis Mumford noted, which makes a far greater impression than actual events and releases people from the domination of immediate and local circumstances. Sartre himself said he wrote to free people—no doubt beginning with himself. Maybe we should all take up writing at greater length.

XYX

Sara Mosher Listens

Sara Mosher
SARA MOSHER LISTENS
BY
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

Just what is it about Sara Mosher that makes her so perspicacious? Why does she have such an incredible insight into other people?  What is the secret of her success in that regard?

Of course, many of you have not heard of Sara Mosher. You do not have the slightest idea of who she is. Nevertheless, you are probably interested in knowing how anyone can gain an intimate knowledge of other people, even of complete strangers, in a short period of time.

Who is Sara Mosher? She is a woman I encountered on one of the electronic magazine web sites that provides anyone who wants to write with a virtual writer’s community. Those sites now enjoy growing popularity due to the accelerated decline of the art of personal conversation in our society, which favors remote, impersonal means of communication. Ironically, it is the very absence of adequate personal relations that attracts many people to the remote means of communication alienating them.

Be that as it may, the virtual community of writers on several of the latest electronic magazine sites can now communicate with each other by means of a comment facility or “box” provided at the end of each article, or by an email facility. That is how Sara Mosher appeared in my life, in the form of comments appended to several of my almost insufferable existential tracts I had published on an ezine site. I lamented in those tracts that only one person read my work, my alter ego. Sara commented that I now had two readers. Thus rendered curious, I looked her name up on the site  I read her posted profile and a few of her articles. She lives in Canada, I found out, and is a competitive speaker by virtue of the Toastmasters’ organization. Her articles are usually inspirational; however, she is not one of those “positive mental attitude” fanatics: she has her down-side, and she is willing to show it if she thinks it might do some good: it is good to know inspired people are human beings!

One thing that I immediately noticed about Sara is that she has an knack for sizing people up accurately with a few choice words, as if she has an acute insight into what makes people tick. At first I thought her ability was uncanny, or due to woman’s intuition, so to speak, since we do not call it witchcraft any more. But, on second thought, after I had observed her “operations” for awhile, I discovered her secret, a secret operation that can be employed regardless of gender or occult inclination– although women, in order to survive in a man’s world, have cultivated it more than men.

Sara Mosher listens.

Not only does Sara write, she roams far and wide to read other writer’s works, always hoping to find another good author to study. She is not a “scanner” or a “surfer” with a short attention span who is always anxious to proceed to the next click no matter where she is at present. She does not preoccupy herself with trash, but she does actually read the articles that interest her, going so far as to print them out and review them several times if need be. It is no wonder she knows what is going on with people.

But of course! Sara is a speaker. She must therefore be, first and foremost, a listener. How does one learn to speak except by listening? And when speakers speak publicly in debate, or engage in mutual criticism to perfect their art, they had better listen very intently to what other people are saying, or they are going to make fools of themselves and lose every argument.

Furthermore, to be excellent speakers, each speaker must find and listen carefully to the best speaker around and do so at length. Only an imbecile would run around from worse to worst. Without developing a good ear by that means, no one will be able to speak well. The conditions to hear a good speech must be there for it to be heard as such.

The same can be said about reading and writing. One must be able to read well in order to write well. But speaking has the advantage of spontaneity and of immediate feedback in forms that are not apparent in writing, hence a speaker can work his audience to better advantage.

Now that we are all writers with equal access to unedited and immediate publication in an electronic magazine, sometimes it seems that very little serious reading or listening occurs. When I first read the comments to my own articles, it was apparent that many of them did not even appertain to what I had said. My articles had not even been read, or only one or two sentences here or there had been hurriedly scanned: one commentator even said, “I have scanned the first part of your article, and I must say that you are wrong, and you should…etc.”

I also received extensive critical comments from people who obviously had no education in critical theory, but were simply parroting things they had heard in school. I realized many of the writers had come to my articles not to read them but just to write something, perhaps having nothing worthwhile to develop on their own pages. Of course, since writers on the open ezine sites are paid for “hits”, many are just out hustling business, leaving their signatures, commenting “wonderful”, “great”, “excellent”, “good job”, everywhere they go, hoping to draw hits their way. As if a real author would go about reading other people’s books to get them to read his own!

What seems to be going on with the new electronic magazines is everyone is writing at the same time and only a few people like Sara Mosher are really reading. Everyone is shouting for attention and nobody is listening. Nobody really cares about content quality, and some people could care even less whether they are heard or not as long as they get plenty of hits.

People are given two ears to listen and only one mouth to talk, yet too many of us spend more time talking than listening. Hence we are confronted with noise, with everyone trying to shout and write every else down, until some fanatic shouts the loudest and the others follow him right down the drain–yet again.

Yes, down the drain, a dangerous and unnatural course indeed. A hundred people can hear one speaker but one person cannot hear a hundred speakers. Nature gives priority to listening before speaking, and listening well. Listening to what is most important is urgent, is a matter of life and death in the long run. Yet in our vanity more of us want to speak than to listen, to write than to read, until nobody is heard or read, much to their own detriment and to that of our cultures and civilizations.

That very tendency to social disaster is why the appearance of a perspicacious Canadian woman named Sara Mosher inspired me with hope. Imagine that! Someone who actually listens! She lets you know she is listening by quoting you back and by admiring your strongest points. And sometimes she just listens, period. What a wonderful relief that is.

Ah, but blabbermouth that I am, I’m afraid I’ve given away Sara’s secret to everyone who happens to be listening. And that is why I would not last long in the cosa nostra.

Listen

The Ozone 2000

Shinwa Dance Myth

SHINWA CHERRY TREE
Shinwa Tree
SHINWA

Interpretation of a Dance Myth
Created and Choreographed by Keiko Fujii
by David Arthur Walters

 

It is the year 3,000 AD. A two-hundred-year-old man is telling some children a story that has been handed down for many generations as a myth about events that had happened in Japan over a thousand years before, some time after World War II.

“On the first day of spring, in the countryside near Ashiya, there was once a innocent young girl who was dancing with the cherry trees at the edge of a lovely meadow. She was glad because the spring that she had longed for had finally begun. As she danced, she was singing and talking to the trees, the birds and the cherry blossoms in sign language, for she had lost her voice because of a terrible fever she had suffered as a baby. Losing her voice had also made her very shy. When other people came near the meadow, she would run and hide until they had passed by.

In fact, there were so many people interrupting her on this first day of spring that she decided to go home and return the next day. “As the girl was playing in the meadow on the next day, she was surprised by three young ruffians who snuck up behind her and surrounded her. At first, they just teased her, but then the bullies began to get rough. One of the boys started to break off a branch of the girl’s favorite cherry tree. She tried to stop the boy from hurting the tree she loved, but he finally managed to break off the branch. He began to beat the tree with it just to upset her. She placed herself between the bully and the tree to protect it, but he then struck her repeatedly with the branch, knocking her down. The boys saw that she was badly injured, so they decided to run away, leaving the girl for dead, lying on the ground at the foot of the tree with cherry petals blowing around her, and clutching to her breast the branch she had been beaten with.

“At the end of Autumn, one hundred years later, a party of three men had a very strange experience. They were tourists attending the Buddhist celebration of Shakya Muni in Saga, Kyoto. They had decided to view the maple leaves, which were changing color, on their walk home. It unexpectedly got dark as a cold blanket of fog and drizzle covered them. They became quite confused and began to shiver in the cold. But a woman appeared and told them that they could stay at her house until the next day.

“The tourist felt warm and welcome in the nice woman’s old house, especially after they had feasted and drank plenty of Sake. Later in the evening, the woman told them she was going up the mountain to get some good firewood to make sure her guests kept warm all night, She refused to let them help her, but she made them all promise not to go into the woodshed behind the house, or even to look into it, while she was gone.

“After she left, one of her guests became very curious, wondering why the nice old lady would have asked them to stay out of the woodshed. He asked his friends to go with him and take a look into it. They refused and warned him not to break his promise. But when they had fallen asleep, he decided to sneak out and peek into the woodshed anyway.

“The curious tourist went to the shed and slid open its door. He heard weak moans coming from inside. He hesitated, then stepped slowly into the shed. What he saw there was a vision of Hell. The shed was filled with zombies who were only barely alive, almost too dead to move except to fall and stagger and wriggle around the best they could with their rotten bodies all twisted out of shape. Many of them were missing one arm. Some of them were sticking their hands into horrible gaping wounds on their bodies. Many of their faces looked like they had been smashed with a club, with noses and teeth badly broken, swollen cheeks, bloody and broken eye sockets, some with eyes missing, and mouths and jaws caved in. The zombies seemed to be begging the frightened tourist for some life.

“Well, the tourist was paralyzed with fright. His knees weakened and he had to lie down on the floor. But after a moment he raised his head and saw a strange light coming from the corner of the shed. He felt attracted to the light, crawled towards it, struggled to his feet, and saw that the light was coming from a coffin made of clear glass. A girl was laid out inside the coffin. Some strange power pulled the man towards her. He looked all over her body for some sign of life. He noticed that she was clutching a cherry tree branch, holding it close to her bosom.

“The curious tourist then got control of himself and was able to run out of the woodshed and back into the house, where he woke up his friends and shouted that he must have found a witch’s den in the shed. Of course, they did not believe him, so they went out to see for themselves. Sure enough, there were the zombies, the walking-dead people, in a living Hell, just as he had told his friends.

“At that very moment, the nice old lady appeared. When she caught them in the woodshed, she became angry and her body changed shape, taking the form of a terrible witch who was one-half woman and one-half spider. This ugly monster blamed the three men for breaking their promise not to look into the woodshed, and she promised to kill them then and there.

“The poor tourists fought to get away. The witch’s hair had turned into threads that spiders use to trap their food alive, and she threw those strings of spider hair towards the men, trapping the curious one first. As she began to choke him with her hair, the other two men escaped, scrambling over each other to get away. When she started after them, the curious one got away, and they all disappeared into the woods outside. She screamed after them that she would get them all someday soon. Then she changed back into an ordinary woman.

“The woman was really someone who was very sad and angry about how good changes into bad in the world. She had warned the three tourists not to look into the woodshed because the secret of her loneliness was inside, a secret she wanted to protect forever.

“After all that had happened, a fine snow started to fall. The woman began dancing slowly with the snow. She wanted to tell a story with her dance, the sad story of karma. But as she danced, the snow and her thinking became deeper, and she became young again, just like a girl dancing and whirling with the petals of cherry blossoms.”

THE END 

Monophobia Choreographed by Keiko Fujii

MONOPHOBIA CAGE WITH KEIKO
Keiko Fujii in Monophobia

 

 

MONOPHOBIA – Modern Dance Presentation

A Japanese dance company tells my life story – or am I paranoid?

How can I begin to tell you about Monophobia? I could consult the myriads of books on creativity, but then I might lose the impetus to speak. So I shall proceed to say whatever comes to mind. An improvisation if you please, since I have no plan.

I must admit that I am afraid to approach Monophobia, to waltz right up to it, take it by the hand and report back to you what steps were taken in 3/4. For it concerns the existence that has us all pinned down. We struggle to unpin ourselves, yet if unpinned we lose the point and cease to exist. That struggle is my starting point. I cannot stand here perfectly still. I have no choice but to be continuously active or to gravitate to nothingness as the ground rushes to meet me. I must keep moving in the interim, one way or another. So, in this case, I must speak to you.

Keiko Fujii and her dancers came to Manhattan and reminded me of my own singular fear of existing, a phobia I attribute to the personal sense of the imminent loss of existence that my own existence implies. Her production of Monophobia, which premiered in the United States at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, was shaken out of her by the Kobe earthquake. There is nothing like having the earth ripped out from under you. Creative Destruction is awfully sublime. The thing in itself that is really no thing is a terrifying mystery beyond description. Nevertheless, we can describe some of the forms it takes. The question is: where to start?

Anywhere might do. Keiko started with the pas de chat, using it to describe the mythological underpinnings of the Japanese economy. It is amazing how she milked the pas de chat for all it is worth. No, the pas de chat is not a chat with father. It is a cat-like step that has become a formal element of the traditional ballet vocabulary. The dancer jumps quickly off one foot then the other, legs turned out at the hips, bringing his knees up in the air in rapid succession, with feet pointed and for a moment almost touching below, so that at the height of the movement his legs form a diamond shape. Of course, there is a lot more to it than that: it is a simple movement in the rough, but it takes the dancer years to polish the diamond.

To continue: Keiko’s dancers, decked out in business suits, formed teams and executed several series of pas de chats across the stage. The simulated enthusiasm as well as the unison of the team members and the precise coordination of the teams vigorously shuttling about their business illustrated the virtues of the well-oiled Japanese business machine. To serve its purpose, the parts of a machine must move in opposition, as did the phalanxes of dancers as they moved in opposite directions to weave their illusion of happy workers laboring in their divisions for a common cause. However, as the workers continued with their rituals apace, the entire affair became rather monotonous. I began to notice that the whole industry was based on perfunctory pas de chats, alien components expensive to maintain. Technique is better left unnoticed. The workers were not dancing; they were doing technique. Even the smiles of the happy workers seemed contrived. The dream machine was running down. A couple of the machined parts began to squeak and broke off, annoyed by paperwork and laptop duties; information anxiety began to set in. Alas, the worker was overloaded. But, finally, the relief of the evening commute! The ranks were broken into their constituents. The dancers, however, did not bother to communicate with each other at the station or on the train; rather, each one got out his cell phone and proceeded to call home, finally displaying his most genuine smile, not for his traveling companions but for the invisible family on the other end of virtuality. But what if you don’t have a family, what if you are single; for whom do you smile, your personal God?

Except for the sole male dancer Keiko traditionally utilizes, all of the males roles were played by lovely women decked out in the business suits that frightened me because, though I look terrific in one, when I see someone in a power suit, I feel that someone is going to be crushed.

Never mind. Thou shalt not shout or lose thy cool. A well-oiled machine must not squeak. A happy worker does not need a future because she has nothing to cry about. Employees must not display genuine feelings, especially negative ones; although positive emotions are highly recommended for everyone, they are resented because they cause hard feelings in those who don’t have them. Business is not the place for emotions. The romantic claim that all values are based on emotion is scoffed at by the rational businessman.

Thou shalt not get naked! Thou shalt not take off thy suit! Thou shalt not streak! Above all, thou shalt not whistle or sing on the job!

In a moment of disobedience, however, Keiko’s dancers did shed their suits. It is not easy to shed the conventional mythologies, especially the mythology of the Japanese economy or any other economy where if it cannot be counted it doesn’t really count. We want to strip, but our clothes are a security blanket.

Shed obligations. File bankruptcy. File for divorce. Quit your job. Disown your family and friends. Forsake your nation. Move offshore. Be cynical and be saved, you selfish traitor to your own social security! Ironic, isn’t it, that almost any virtue defrocked makes all virtue look like vice?

Good grief! Just what is the healing answer to all this highly touted Creative Destruction?

Well, Keiko went back in time and donned the traditional kimono, a green kimono under which she executed ever so small movements with enormous implications. A mere lift of her foot gave one the impression that she had just traversed the entire universe. Moving upstage on the diagonal, the kimono unfurled behind her in a train that extended from one corner of the stage to the other, all to the rushing, rumbling and gurgling sounds of a waterfall. Then she ever so slowly turned and turned, reeling in the train, winding it about her feet into a pedestal. Disappearing under the green shroud of the remaining material, she finally emerged, an exquisitely painted “nude” in colorful tights, as if clothed by Nature, leaving her traditional chrysalis behind. She did a series of grande changement Italiens, jumping straight up from both feet, bringing her legs up rapidly into a diamond shape, hovering in the air for a moment. Yet again, as it should be, the classical ballet technique was invisible to the untrained eye. Keiko simply looked like a wild hummingbird cavorting about in accordance with her natural proclivities. The other dancers then appeared in the same native costumes so wonderfully designed by Keiko herself, and they likewise displayed instinctive tendencies.

Is this the healing answer: Back to Nature? Maybe so, but not as long as we have to think about it, so I’ll leave it alone in the trance I briefly enjoyed. It was a retreat into solitude, an epoch, a momentous pause, an interlude eventually rudely shattered by Monophobia.

Enter doom and gloom with a room therein all pervaded by that familiar fetid fog oft mentioned clauses cluttered with malicious malcontent. I see my life passing by on the stage. That must be my dismal uptown studio with one window facing the rank exhaust of the Chinese noodle shop. Ah, and nearly the same discordant, unsynchronized, rhythmic racket of the air conditioners and exhaust fans outside that window, music here for the modern ears, as accompaniment for the monstrous ogres now entering. There is an ocherous devil dragging an enormous white bundle on a rope behind him with all his might. It must be Saturday morning laundry! I am shocked: this is about me! Several dancers are huddled together in a corner each shrouded in white. They must be the sycophants of yet another diabolical character, played so well by the sole male, creeping about with that two-pronged pitchfork. He must be the infamous binary system. Damn! I think he uses that fork to devour his sycophants! What great technology! The food cooperates with the fork. When Keiko comes out of her room she eventually embraces the ghastly instrument.

Keiko’s tiny room in hell reminds me of the facades on those Holiday Inns that mushroomed all over the country years ago, facades made of glass and aluminum extrusions. Although her cubicle is transparent and my uptown hovel is opaque with merely a window, I think the song is still about me. The room is the mind; I am aware of a vast universe by virtue of cells in my brain living a warm and watery life in total darkness. And because my consciousness of it all seems to expand, the possibility of what I might know seems unlimited – it is really my stupidity that gives me the sense of infinite expanse. My room is so tiny, my perspective so small. I live in a skull supported by flesh and bones. I am so small in comparison with infinity that I might as well be a point without dimensions. I am pinned down here! Someone please tear me loose, please get me out of here! Oh my god, if only there were a god!

Keiko struggled with an enormous variety of movements in her cell. Perhaps that is how the human animal differs from her caged relatives; she dances her miserable danse macabre intentionally, hoping to somehow overcome the isolation of her limitations, to get out of here and become one with the all, to synchronize with the cosmos. Is this love of unity a fear of identity? Is our dance a game of camouflage, a nihilistic playing of hide and seek with the universe?

As modern dancer in original, iconoclastic sense, Keiko attempts to display the fullest range of movement; history is the progress of freedom, but what paltry limitations has this pinhead existence! Eventually one succumbs on bed or couch. Not for long, however. Never Stop Moving is life’s imperative. Depressed by ponderous gravity, feeling monotheism is Monophobia and that the one sure thing, the monotonous reality, is death, that God is not dead because God is death, the devotee prostrates herself prone before her master; but then she twists and turns and now she is supine; now she tries to rest and shuts her eyes and voids her mind all to no avail. She shudders with hunger and ennui. She must have bread and the circus. She leaves the security of her room. She goes out to embrace her fear. Entranced by the not- voidable, she will willingly dance her dance with death.

Embrace fear. Is that the healing answer? Misery is inevitable, the argument goes, so console oneself with the knowledge that chance does not really matter because your misery would just take another form if not the present one.

So, you say you enjoy being alone, and while alone you do not give much thought to death. I too love being alone but after awhile I must admit my thoughts turn morbid. Acute awareness of my own existence prompts me to think of its opposite and I, in my solitude, cling precariously to the roots of depression lest I plunge into the abyss. For what I love I fear as well. The formation of my personality is the response to the fear that my life will be wiped out. I am a product of death. I think death makes the man and then takes him away. I love and fear my maker and although I love being alone I am driven by my fear of the same to desperately cling to others of my ilk on the chance that I may forget myself. Fat chance, for the relation further defines me and sets me apart from my relations.

I think of all this when I consider Keiko’s Monophobia. It seems, however, that I seldom have much company. It was not a full house. The audience enjoyed the performance but grew very weary during Keiko’s prolonged, anxious movements within the confines of her own limitations. That is just how an anxious life can feel after a long while: extremely boring and sleep-inducing. Although the audience was enchanted by the early stages of the performance and was appropriately enthralled by the hellish scene, many people thought its life had come to an end and left, forgetting there was a third act to come as indicated by the programme.

I was so exhausted by Keiko’s extenuated monophobic symbolics that I paid bare attention to her third act. I do recall a pleasant dance by the chorus all decked out in white space suits. Is that the final solution? To go where no man has gone before? To catch a ride on the tail of a comet?

I met with Keiko the next day. She seemed amused by some of my interpretations of her work, but was mostly silent. At one point, while struggling desperately for the meaning of life, I said: “I see people smoking, drinking, using drugs, chasing men and women and money, seeking information, so on and so forth. They look like they are trying to escape. I keep saying maybe there is no way out. Maybe there is no escape. Maybe there is nothing but misery ending in nothing.”

Keiko seemed surprised, and responded: “That is Buddhism.”

“If that is an answer, why don’t you show it to us in your next concert.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Call it Zero, or just 0.”

“We’ll see.”

XYX

Manhattan, June 1997

Psycho Dabblings on Artistic Renderings

DABBLING Header

Artistic Renderings
by
Darwin Leon

Psycho Dabblings
by
David Arthur Walters

 

DABBLING Original Problem

My Original Problem

An individual unity of universal and particular may be called the concrete universal. The personal concrete universal, i.e. the unity of the perspectival “I” and its circumstantial world, which includes the social world, may be denominated the phenomenal self. I speak of my “I” habitually, as if “I” were a powerful, active unity of apperception psychologically constituting “my” relation to the world. That whole self is “my” mind-and-body-world. My self-conscious “I” really has nothing to be conscious of without a world hence in itself it is not really an objective unity, but is nothing but pure being, or, rather, nothing self-perceptible. It is a convenient fiction, when defined, fabricated from a longing-to-be, the particular will-to-endure which sets “me,” as a concrete universal, apart from, and in relation to, the multiplicity of the world that is, for example, inadequately represented by me.  My “I” as a subject is a universal derived from the particulars of perception while standing against them, whereby the “self” partially perceived is the whole self.

DABBLING reason to think

The Presiding Spirit has no reason to think

Hegel’s ideal good is capitalized as if it were God, as the big Idea, a transcendental or free thing, yet at once imminent or imprisoned, for it is both in the subject, the generalizing thinker, and in the particular object thought about. Thus we have a unity of subject and object – they are identical, one and the same. Paradoxically, the relationship of subject and object stands over and above subject and object as the good, as if the relationship were a third entity besides subject and object. Thus we have a logically absurd, trinitarian theology, with the Spirit dominating. In the name of the Subject, the Object, and their relational Spirit, as One, the Spirit is Good is Will is Freedom. But said freedom is not the absolute, subjective anarchy of the particular or individual will, which would as an omnipotent god brook no resistance; no, it is freedom confined to the object: that is, freedom in obedience. Hegel conceives of the general will by projecting the would-be anarchic yet imprisoned individual will or spirit onto the world, as if the world were presided over by an individual, single god with a will. Of course the objective world within the purview of this absolutely free god or presiding spirit would install perfect order even though God Himself or Spirit Itself would be an anarchist – a Supreme Anarchist or an unpredictable Terrorist Almighty. That is, any objective order, as long as it is absolutely subject to the omnipotent, unlimited will of this projected god, would do. Whether that total order or Totalitaria would be in chaotic disarray as a hell on earth, or the peaceful order of paradise, is relative only to the residential opinions and not to the over-riding Spirit. For the spirit or demon, and particularly the super-individual, just like the individual, wants nothing better than to endure forever and by any means whatsoever. Ideally, the means would be accomplished by unthinking will alone, for an omnipotent god does not need to think – thinking is a survival device responding to fear.

DABBLING Good Unity

The Absolutely Good Unity

“The good is the Idea as the unity of the concept of the will. In this unity, abstract right, welfare, the subjectivity of knowing and the contingency of external fact have their independence superseded, though at the same time they are contained and retained within it in their essence. The good is thus freedom realized, the absolute aim of the world.” (Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

Good, then, according to Hegel, is not a relative thing like a free lunch but is rather a mental thing or thought content, an idea of an abstract concept; to wit, the unity of the will; by which we suppose Hegel means the general will of a community too abstract to exist, conceived in unity to be the greater good in itself, and not the lesser good or evil in any relative, objective concern, such as, for instance, a uniformed police force. Therefore, the good is in the unity, not in the good’s relative forms. Hell presided over by the devil might then be good if it were not for the fact that hell and its lord are conceived to be the place and president of disorder. Thus Hegel seems to indentify absolute world order with good no matter what the character of that order might be. Totalitaria in any shape or form would be fine.

DABBLING Universal Qualities

A Unique Coincidence of Universal Qualities

Human beings are of course self-conscious social creatures whose nature comprises a highly developed dynamic unity of mind and body in animated individuals. The ‘person’ or synthesis of the particular individual with society in general comprises an introjection and imitation of perceived others. Their personal projections introjected serve as compost for the person’s willful composition of self-identity in imitative comparison with those others. That developing personal complex is in turn projected onto others for their introjection and projection. Allowance is made for differences of individuality all along; that is, for the uniqueness of the individuals involved in the relational field. The individual person (particular) may be conceived as the unique coincidence of universals (qualities) in Waltersonian terms; a concrete universal in British Hegelian terms; a categorical individual and totalization of society in Existentialist terms; a synthesis of id,ego, and superego in Freudian terms; a synthesis of father (cause or mind), spirit (force), and son (effect or body) in Theological or Psycho-physical terms. The self-conscious I-individual or the collective self-consciousness of the I-race necessarily alienates the individual U-man and the U-man species from objective nature, and, to the extent of individuality, from the race as well.

DABBLING not an object

The Subject is not an Object

The subject or self of self-consciousness is not an object unto itself but is by virtue of its division into subjective individual and objective world an imaginative composition of materials at hand, a distorted image of the I-magus. The effort to “Know thyself” necessarily distorts the self and amounts to self-deception. Once the self is willfully divided for sake of self-knowledge, the I-magination knows nothing of its origin, for the ideas and images projected have no life or will-to-know of their own – they know nothing at all, have no cognitive power of their own. What the subjective self is aware of after the split into self-consciousness is not itself but rather a screen or field of consciousness derived from perception of sensed externals – consciousness of feeling externality. It assumes from those derivations that it is itself an active entity and something to be perceived, a unity of consciousness or a self. In any event, the very attempt at self-knowledge opposes the social tides: it endeavors to swim upstream backwards. When consciousness splits into self-consciousness, the self-2 which self-1 thinks it knows is not what it appears to be, nor is it self-1, the subjective self which would know it. Self-1 is unknowable, not its own object, and self-2 is factitious. Attempts to fixate the fleeting appearance by means of a static “truth” are to no avail. A snapshot destroys it.

DABBLING know thyself

Know Thyself

Despite the decree, “Know thyself,” consciousness rarely strives to know its subjective or I-self. And when it does it tends to find nothing except the realization and honest admission of personal ignorance. The effort to “Know thyself” is usually accidental and contrary to the general course of nature – it is revolutionary inasmuch as the effort is skeptical of received ritualized knowledge and would return to the obscure origin or root of cognition. Anti-intellectuals fear the cultivation of I-knowledge and often prefer to idolize a projected I-god that is not a plural or social reconciliation of individuals but is rather an absolute universal which ultimately extinguishes or sacrifices individual existence, purportedly for the progress of the species. Independent intellectual pursuits of “intellectuals” – in contradistinction to the ritual reproduction of orthodox phrases by the hired, uniformed or suited intelligentsia who support the hierarchy – threaten the survival of the group in those cases where the I-self must be sacrificed or submerged in hate-others-based group-love.

Reflections in the Well – Postmodern Dance Pioneer Deborah Hay

Reflections Minerva Bloom

 

REFLECTIONS IN THE WELL by David Arthur Walters

The Author’s Reflections on Postmodern Dance Pioneer Deborah Hay with Special Thanks to Minerva Bloom for designing, printing, publishing, and distributing the original little chapbook on foot.

I. Returning to the Well

Where and when should I begin? Here and now shall do quite well. As far as I am concerned, anywhere and anytime is good enough to press ahead with this pressing business called life. Yet from my progress I am always returning to the well for yet another drink that I may proceed.

I would fly free beyond the arc between ashes and ashes and dust and dust, but my flight is rooted in the past. I fly backwards like the mythical Jayhawk. I don’t give a damn where I am going and I only care about the where I’ve been. What else is really mine? What else can I know except the past as I realize it in the future? To that end my life is an essay or trial. I double back on what I have done along the way, pull myself together and carry on. I am constantly rewriting my life, but my life’s essay I would never throw away.

The arc of my life is really an ark. The arc is the cradle of dimensional existence. Witness the Earth falling into the Sun, missing the Sun curving away from it. Thus the orbiting Earth falls while it recovers itself. Likewise I would never stop moving. But I know I will slow down soon enough. Long before the Earth stops moving, I shall achieve an absolute state of rest in Nothing, where everything gets done by doing nothing. I shall ride the arc until then and dance upon the globe. I do believe I am going somewhere as I circle back on myself. I am never quite satisfied with my present state when I return to where I once was, hence I dream of returning to the place from whence I returned.

Today I returned to the dustbin of my history, reached into it and pulled out an essay I wrote in 1985, entitled ‘Reflections in the Well.’ Therein I described Deborah Hay’s (1) choral dance workshop at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan and her subsequent performances of ‘The Well’ and ‘Leaving the House.’ I knew nothing of Deborah at the time: I did not know that ‘Leaving the House’ was considered by critics to be a major feminist statement of the day.

Part of my essay was published in 1985 by arts enthusiast and feminist Effie Mihopoulus in her literary magazine, SALOME. As I examined my manuscript, I felt a twinge of regret that the rest of my essay, my reviews of Deborah’s performances, had not been published. Therefore I decided to edit the entire essay. Now I have not altered any of Deborah’s statements nor have I made any fundamental changes to my views at that time: I have simply dusted off the work and polished it up a bit.

At first glance the reader might not suppose my subject would be of much interest to the non-dancer. But I believe it is, for I speak of the human spirit, bound by matter to dance on Earth. The dancer is a moving, conscious synthesis of spirit and matter. She needs no other machine or tool than her body to express the tragic joy of her Earth-bound existence, to convey to her audience the essence of humanity’s gravity, dimensions and dynamics. For that expressive purpose I believe Modern Dance evolved .

Everyone is essentially a dancer; we can all experience the joy of dance movement. Modern dance pioneers such as Isadora Duncan and Rudolf Laban strove to bring the direct experience of that joy to everyone. Isadora wanted to bring America to its feet; unappreciated at home, she became a dance prophet in Europe. Laban, a native European dance prophet, worked to restore dance to its ancient and rightful place at the center of the community where all can come together to mutually celebrate life. He trained cadre leaders who in turn organized dance movement choirs for community participation. One massive pageant orchestrated by Laban in Germany had over 10,000 participants. But the Nazis did not appreciate the democratic aspect of Laban’s dance choirs, wherein each person is autonomous although interdependent. The fascists preferred to march people around aimlessly yet in drilled order, using the elements of carefully choreographed pageantry to mesmerize the marchers into believing they were doing something grand besides being obedient. But Laban’s dance choirs celebrated the individual’s striving for spiritual harmony with the cosmos and not collective submission to the leadership principle. Goebbels disallowed Laban’s choral movement entry (Of Warm Breeze and New Joy) for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Laban fled to Paris. His work in Germany was thoroughly annihilated by the Nazis, but his ideas gained influence in Britain and America. It is with Laban’s aspirations in mind that we may better understand Deborah Hay.

II. Peering Into The Well

“Flee then, be free then,
A clay pot bewinged be then,
In your saintly seriousness
Be then like those who weep for joy,
Speeding to the mark that is
But is not.”

Deborah Hay, “the Jung of post-modern dance” (Dance Magazine), asked me what I thought of her workshop at Manhattan’s St. Marks’ Church.

“A cup of cold water in the desert,” I responded, and returned to the serenity of a grand silence I had forgotten until Deborah had returned me by indirection to the profound source of inexhaustible nourishment. And still, until this very moment as I sit grasping this hard pen in my soft clerical hand, it is difficult to shatter that precious silence with an explanation. It is not that I have nothing at all to say: rather, I would say it all at once and once and for all, say everything that could possibly be said; but, alas, that is impossible.

“I moved from New York City to a commune in Northern Vermont,” Deborah explained to us when the workshop began, “and I lived there for eight years. Moving to a small community, I was fresh, naive and frightened. In fact, I am attracted to states of insecurity. For me insecurity is AHA! Without an AHA! Two or three times a week, life is too painful for me. Unless you put yourself into this state of opening, of unknowing, there is no AHA!”

I was deeply moved by her soft-spoken introduction. Her honest words and sincere demeanor gave me cause to believe she had refreshed herself from the same Well I had fearfully abandoned some time ago, the Well referred to in the ancient I CHING, the Chinese Book of Changes, translated by Richard Wilhelm:

“The Well.
The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.”

As I opened my heart in recognition and felt myself reflected in Deborah’s being, I appreciated once more the value of what I had forsaken, what had now been inexplicably returned to me by fortuitous contingency, coincidentally unmasking my destiny yet again. “Coincidence or God?” Herman Melville once posed the question. A small coincidence can bear the stamp of the universal. I suppose we have all prayed for big things at one time or another. Other than my life, my god does not supply me with big things but rather communicates to me with seemingly insignificant signs, such as the eraser lost by a stranger and found by me just when I needed it, in lieu of the small fortune I had prayed for. I ask my god for the universe and I am given a tiny detail in time and space that simply says “I AM”, then the mystical moment vanishes leaving a vague, soon forgotten impression of the divine detail. But every vanishing moment is a divine gift, is it not? I believe existence is a constantly changing changeling. I want the security of being permanent, but my presence here is all motion, I thought as I surveyed Deborah Hay’s lithe figure before me. Yet the only thing I can take for granted is in itself Nothing that I know of. So here, once again, I stand again at Hecate’s crossroads, at the crisis of being in existence, my heart suddenly thumping with a skip: AHA!

“The only constant is change,” Deborah reminded the class, as if she had read my mind. “Our purpose here is to present change fully and visibly, and to create AHA! in dance, taking nothing for granted,” she continued. “As a choreographer, I am least interested in choreography as choreography. I am most interested in the performance of movement. Of course, there are some little tricks, some of which I will demonstrated to you.”

Aha! Tricks! I was eager to learn a few tricks. My eagerness was due in part to the suggestive emphasis she had placed on the word “performance” when she pronounced it, insinuating something wonderfully exciting and inscrutably sacred underneath its sound. A writhing serpentine shape came to mind, or was it a rope projected and enlivened by her maya? Obviously this subtle mistress of suggestion knew many tricks. I was already losing my objectivity. I felt as if I were leaning over the edge of the Well, peering into the depths, fascinated by my fortune.

III. Crawling Into The Well

We proceeded with our warm-up exercise lying flat on our backs in a circle with our feet towards the center. Deborah Hay, our body-spirit guide into hitherto unknown, improvisational regions, began with firm suggestions to “open up” various areas such as the top of the head, the temples, the soles of the feet, the palms of the hands and so on. Her commands were punctuated every once in awhile with a liberating “AHA!” Her opening-up suggestions induced physical relaxation without directly ordering it – as policemen and other authority figures know only too well, ordering an uptight person to relax can provoke a violent reaction. Eventually she advised us to pick a moment and to begin moving close to the floor as spontaneously as possible.

“Open your eyes. See change. Let your eyes see change constantly, ceaselessly changing,” Deborah intoned, seemingly in harmony with some transcendental power. “Brighten your performance with seeing. Your eyes are excellent indicators of where you are.” I saw I was wrapping myself around one of the church pillars as if I were an uninhibited python in paradise. In any event, we never stopped moving. We squirmed and crawled about the floor for awhile, eventually sitting up or getting onto our thighs or knees while moving every part of the body still moveable.

“Use each other to recognize change. BE everything you are in your changing,” we were instructed. Clueless and without a cue, we stood up, everyone moving, moving, moving, changing, changing, changing….

“Keep yourself free from path, create pathlessness…every cell is awake, open, stimulated…now move the spine…this dance is not your duty…this dance is the perception of the beauty and the perfection of your spine….your goal is single-mindedness…. AHA! Embrace the floor with your feet…feel the sense of vulnerability of a child embracing the floor with its feet…now let your eyes reflect that embrace…let your body follow where your eyes takes you…take your eyes, take your heart with you…now deliberately create changes in direction, be fully there, be there in the change…use your eyes to recognize one another changing….”, Deborah incanted.

During this phase I stepped back to observe, listen and take notes for future reference – I fancied I was a writer in those days. And what a sight is was to behold, thirty people wending their way to mysterious destinations, turning and curving, winding and weaving, bending here and there, always changing wholeheartedly as individuals yet bound by the bodies of the other writhing occupants in the thriving community space….

Deborah suddenly interrupted and scolded us, insisting we were not seeing yet, not really SEEING, for she could see we were shielding our eyes as city people tend to do. Instead of shielding ourselves, we were asked to “invite people to see you, invite being seen, open your eyes, show a willingness to be seen. This is one of the tricks,” she confided, “finding the balance between seeing and being seen. This is rarely achieved, but we must take this practice seriously, and if we do, we shall arrive at our goal with an AHA!”

The participants recommenced moving, now to the Zulu vocals of ‘Manguzutho.’ Deborah danced with the group. She was poetry in motion, an African dancer possessed to possess. Fleet-footed with winged feet, she flew about the church; which, despite its modern-dance reputation, had never before bore witness to such a wild liturgy. She encircled the participants with her dynamic charms; each person was in turn visibly energized: each charge was amplified, and all felt the shock of each.

Although I had withdrawn to the perimeter to record the occasion, I became enchanted by Deborah’s African sorcery. I was tempted to hurl myself into the discombobulating frenzy. The others could not see what was going on in its entirety as I did from my assumed reportorial perspective. The sight of the incongruities her sympathetic manipulations had aroused in the crew caused me to crack up and cackle in a silly manner that had, nevertheless, as most good jokes have, the import of some profound truth.

That being done, we were in the mood for the lunch break, soon to be followed by some theory and practice to temper our indiscipline. As we enjoyed our drinks and snacks, Deborah casually remarked, “The older I get, the more I return. Returning to the moment, the principle of change, I can acknowledge change, being present in the change.” I ruminated on her words as I chewed my buttered roll. The older we are, I opined, the more we return because there is more to return to. That is our pool of experience, I reflected, as I took a sip of water. We note how older people live in the past, I noted, thinking of my old friend Paul, who became so occupied remembering the glory days that he wound up sleeping in a Bowery shelter. We should admonish a young person who dwells on the past too much, I proposed to myself as a terrible memory of my childhood flashed in my mind–especially if the dwelling is negative. It is impossible to live in the past anyway, I mused, then noticed that the guy at the deli had spread the butter on my roll much too thinly.

The thought of the past, or of a future derived from past information, I went on, occurs in the present and influences my behavior. Wait a minute, I paused, Where did I put my water? What was I thinking? I wondered, after finding the bottle slightly behind me. Oh, yes, I was thinking about thoughts. Maybe thoughts do not really matter unless we are superstitious about them. I swallowed the last of the bread, finished off the water, swept the crumbs into the corner to feed the insects and mice, then was moved to further ponder my personal situation.

I cling to the past by returning to the places I have been, so here I am again in New York hoping for a repetition of the glorious Sixties I ran away from. Back and forth I oscillate in a vicious curve carved by jet flights between Hawaii and New York. That vice can only end virtuously in the present moment, when I am fully aware of the fact that everything is in flux and that, by the time I get to where I am going to recover my past, that place has changed and so have I. Only in the present world before me may I perform fully as a person. Perform: to thoroughly complete. Is not that the joy of living to a happy ending? Then we may not adjudge a man happy until his completion in death, hence the ultimate question is not how to live well but how to die well. As I try to tear myself away from the community I cannot do without and to which I must always return to refresh myself, I may be just another imagined personal mask projected by the social mirror. Still, imagined or real, the show must go on. I must not falter in mid-stage, slump and slink away, hoping I am somehow rendered invisible. I must finish well. I must die well. I must perform fully across the stage, from wing to wing, and plunge into the wings as if I know exactly where I am going. Yes, to die well, that is…..

“O.K., break’s over, let’s go,” Deborah announced to the workshop participants, halting my ponderous reverie–and I was gladdened by her voice, for I had not the slightest idea of where I was going on that old black freight train.

IV. Well Made Tricks

After our lunch break, Deborah Hay introduced us to a sequence of images taken from her choreography ‘Leaving the House’, which she was scheduled to present as a solo performance at the Roulette performance space over the weekend. She called the images “fronts for being aware”, or “references that assist us in returning to the moment to fully perform conscious movement.” She meant by “consciousness” a more contemplative, expansive state of mind than a concentrated, contracted state of mind. She gave us a little demonstration or movement hint of each image as she described it, then we experimented with each dynamic image.

LEAVING THE HOUSE

“Do a slow, well-paced run, leaving everything behind you, with a clean slate before you,” Deborah instructed, and we tried doing just that. Someone, not understanding what he saw or heard, asked what she meant by a “slow well-paced run.” She watched his effort for a moment, then advised, “Not too much down in order to go forward, just find the place where you are always travelling forward.” That did the trick for him, and he proceeded with an AHA!

‘Leaving the House’ had a surrealistic appearance. We did our best to imitate what we had seen, but because of the state of consciousness recommended for the action, the subject imitated was not an entirely objective model. And if the motion itself were imitated without consciousness of the motive, the performance did not come off well. As for running without a memory of the past, and with a clean slate: if everything were completely forgotten, we would be in an infantile state, rendering the act of running impossible; but Deborah’s suggestion was helpful to the extent thought and self-awareness did not hamper full expression of the movement. For a moment, however, being the sort of person I am, the idea of a clean slate or Nothing before me provoked me to think rather than act, inasmuch as it brought to mind the silent whistle of that ol’ black freight rain to nowhere–thinking is my favorite stalling activity. But then we moved onto the next image.

THE WAVE

The guided imagery of ‘The Wave’ is that, while running, the runner encounters a big wave breaking his forward motion, to which he reacts with a strong wavering motion in harmony with the wave. Deborah’s personal wave was uncannily realistic. I had often tried to abstract ‘waving’ while living on the North Shore, but I did not have much success, therefore Deborah won my respect. It is difficult for a dancer to successfully represent a wave or any other object with the human body so effectively that an audience will immediately recognize it. Yet when the objective is made known before it is performed, we certainly know which dancer is most faithful to it.

BUBBLING OR REFLECTING BROOK

The wave ends in a bubbling brook. The dancers’ feet become that bubbling brook with little side-steps in line and stamping indicative of a shallow brook gurgling over stones on its bed. The body above reflects and magnifies the movement below: arms wave, head rolls, torso twists and so on and so forth.

STILL SUMMER HILL

The dancer becomes a still summer hill, holding whatever pose she may strike for the expression: each person strikes a different interpretative pose. Again, the observer usually does not know precisely what object is being represented unless he is informed of the performer’s intent; then, AHA! However, if the motive of the dancer is strong enough, sometimes the still summer hill is intuitively recognized by the uninformed observer, or by the mind reader.

DISSOLVING

Now the still summer hill dissolves or melts away. Deborah was asked for tips about how to dissolve. She said the face dissolves before the rest of the body, that dissolving starts with the eyes, and the mouth relaxes and rounds. This continues throughout the body. Taking this as their cue, everyone in the group melted differently, as if they were snowmen of various sizes and shapes under different temperatures. Eventually everyone became a puddle on the floor.

SHORT FAT JUMPS

Each in their own way, the dancers started jerking some part of their bodies off the floor, eventually arising to jump up and down in a squat. Short fat jumps backward and forward. Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps from side to side. Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps around and around. Plop! Plop! Plop! Short fat jumps turning in the air. Plump! Plump! Deborah told us to “feel the weight.”

UNIVERSAL/PARTICULAR LOVE

Without prompting from anyone, the dancers wound up their short fat jumps facing the same direction, ready for the next image: Universal Love, a moving image resembling a victorious god or goddess with face lifted to the heavens, one palm lifted up and forward to receive blessings, who, with long, slow strides, leads everyone who cares to follow. Particular love is a contraction of universal love in mid-stride, a moment in the path where the extended palm returns to the body, bringing in universal love to the particular person. As the dancers repeated the movements across the floor, I envisioned dark lines flashing in the background, black neon signs forming two hexagrams from the I CHING. I looked the hexagrams up later:

‘Universal Love’ evoked the 20th hexagram for me: ‘Contemplation’ or ‘Kuan’. ‘Kuan’ means both contemplating and being seen as an example. It refers to the deepest inner concentration, between Libation and the Offering, during the sacrificial ceremony: “The ablution has been made,” states the I CHING, “but not the offering. Full of trust they look up to him.” Richard Wilhelm explains: “If piety is sincere and expressive of real faith, the contemplation of it has a transforming and awe-inspiring effect on those who witness it. Thus also in nature a holy seriousness is to be seen in the fact that natural occurrences are uniformly subject to law. Contemplation of the divine meaning underlying the workings of the universe gives to the man who is called upon to influence others the means of producing like effects.” (1)

‘Particular Love’ evoked the 61st hexagram, ‘Inner Truth’, or ‘Chung Fu.’ The humble heart is open to receive truth from outside, while being strong in inner truth. For example, when deciding tough cases, a judge should be free of prejudice and willing to hear the truth given by others, yet at the same time he should remain true to his insight. In this truthing process, we are brought into an interdependent relation with each other, as trustworthy members of the cosmos, thus resolving at once our alienation from the natural world without and the supernatural realm within.

Man’s alienation from the cosmos and his self proceeded with self-conscious thinking, the division of thinking subject from its objects, including other thinking subjects. Thus divided, homeless thinkers have yearned to return home again from their homeless state. No doubt ‘primitive’ people felt at home in the foundation of all the arts, dance, wherein they communed with God and Nature. But the formal development of thinking eventually led to the death of god and nature, aggravating man’s homelessness. The industrial-scientific revolution embedded the logical process in machines, and now the information age is gradually rendering many of us rather redundant by means of thinking machines. We are gradually being reduced to the performance of meaningless tasks for the production and consumption of vanities.

The modern dance movement recognized the modern, industrial form of alienation and sought to resolve it by casting off meaningless, impersonal routines. Modern dance made a heroic effort to re-establish the primordial harmony of man the microcosm in community with the cosmic macrocosm. For that redemption he has his human energy. He needs no other tool to apply than his human spirit. He needs no other matter to mold than his own body. Barefooted modern dancers protested ballet’s pretty lies about man’s Fall, defied ballet’s illusory defiance of gravity and grave. In other words, although the modern dancer might be striving for heaven, she dances her heavenly redemption on Earth.

Modern dance recognized that man’s recovery is from the fall to nature, and that his destiny here is to fall and recover again and again in living motion. Thus modern dance focused on the moving principle of life above dead forms, just as the Hindu goddess Sakti, in her Kali form, dances on her dead husband, Siva. Modern dance recognized and even emulated the efficient machine of the modern age, yet its dancer turned the wheel and was not crushed beneath it. Most of all, the spirit of modern dance rebelled against perfunctory dance movements which alienated the dancer from the meaning of her performance.

However, modern dance evolved into various technical cults. Before long modern dancers were taking ballet classes and ‘doing technique’ instead of dancing. But that was contrary to the leading principle of modern dance. Enter post-modern dance pioneers such as Deborah Hay to protest the stultification of dance and the alienation of the dancer. The post-modern dancer seeks unity not in formal choreography but in naturally moving awareness, when mind and body are at home with each other and at home with spirit and matter in cosmic unity. Of course that is nothing new although it is revolutionary and radical in the sense of returning to the roots of dance. There is nothing new under the Sun. All rebels are spoiled by the authorities they rebel against, and in their protest they harken back to a previous protest, ultimately to that first point and instant which is the principle of their line at any position in space and moment in time.

I think if philosophy is to know thyself, then at its best modern dance is the energetic philosophy of being thyself in motion moving through forms in contrast to striking permanent classical poses. But what do I know? In the final analysis: nothing. My philosophy shall always fail pending my end. My particular freedom is my failure to achieve the universal ideal wherein no further movement is warranted. So, again, I think the modern dancer, feeling the fire between the poles, never stops moving between and through all possible forms, which are, as Deborah Hay might say, “fronts for awareness.”

Be that as it may, During the enactment of ‘Universal Love’ and ‘Particular Love’ by our workshop, each dancer had a different manner of bringing in universal love to herself. Deborah, for example, seemed to deflect or reject Universal Love with her hand before it reached her, hence I longed to see her bring her palm boldly over her heart so the heart she shared so ardently with others could be returned to her. Sometimes she looked drawn and emptied by her giving. Perhaps she was suffering from jet lag and was now in fact exhausted as the workshop drew to a close. Be that as it may, her performance of the dynamic images of love reminded me of how I had turned away from the well a few years prior, my jug broken.

We had completed our experiments. Someone asked a final question about the images:

“Do the images really take us to the place we want to go to? Can we have, in this world, what we imagine? That is, by examining the object, can we obtain it?”

“I am not hooked on imagery” Deborah replied. “The process is a very long one. Sometimes the movement itself takes me to the place.”

Sadly, our workshop with Deborah Hay at St. Marks Church in Manhattan was drawing to a rapid close. I made sure I had the flyer, announcing her performance for the coming weekend, in my dance bag.

“I appreciate your willingness to play, “Deborah said in closing.”Your willingness to play is visible. It can be seen. But do not forget, always remember that choreography is not to be seen. What is to be seen is performance, the consciousness, the light. What is to be seen is all of the person, not just the dance, not just part of the person, but all of the person. Thank you.”

V. Questioning the Well

Yes, the Beatles were certainly right, it is “a long and winding road,” I mused as I rode the subway home. As the hours passed, I plunged into reverie to a depth where my thoughts took on a life of their own. Submarine monsters, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to any creature I had seen before, glided in the deep, occasionally illuminated by shafts of light from above, then, AHA! Without bidding from me, certain recognizable features from my past emerged, animated images, long since submerged and embedded in sandy bottoms, were now reincarnated and swept through my mind in a flood of nostalgia.

“The older I get, the more I return,” Deborah’s recent remark recurred to me as memories from the past long gone proceeded. Now willing to cooperate, I dug into my unpacked suitcase – my home was a temporary space on an old friend’s floor – and brought out phonograph records I had been lugging around unplayed for several years; I could not afford to purchase a record player while on my long and winding road. I gazed at the album covers advertising music played by the courtly, mystical gamelan, the lyres of ancient Egypt, and the long flutes of the East. Deborah had broken the cryptic seal, and now, despite my necessary concern with present exigencies, I had become the archaeologist of my own existence.

“Belay the past! Set aside the irrevocable reality of the past in brackets!” I ordered myself and withdrew abruptly from my excavation. This is the present, this is my now, I am what I am here and now, nothing more nor less, hence the past avails me not for it is forever gone and better forgotten lest it interfere with my pressing task.

Still, I could not put Deborah aside. She is an uncanny woman, I conjectured, someone who has sipped the sacred spring from the occluded well by which the dragon sleeps. As time proceeds, her suggestions will take root and grow in those of us who attended her workshop. Unbeknownst to us, her commands shall have enlightening effects above as the subliminal stalks draw sustenance from the mud below.

“I must see her perform at the Roulette this weekend!” I enthusiastically proclaimed to my alter ego, putting my records back in their rightful place under the trousers at the bottom of the beat-up suitcase doubling as my portable bureau. “But take care,” I warned myself, “and know whom you really adore. In her you see yourself mirrored, the self you actually love, and, if your self is false, so shall be your love. Hopelessly infatuated romantic do not be, then, for a romantic’s great expectations causes him always to fall short of his mark with a broken heart and, in the end, to exclaim, ‘Twas not love but mere foolishness!'”

As I traveled along the long and winding subway tracks next Friday evening to the performance space downtown, I wondered if Deborah Hay would realize her visions in public performance or if she would fall short. I determined to approach her work from a more critical, “objective” perspective. That would require the consideration of objects other than my subjective projections onto her personal screen.

Deborah had called her images “fronts for being aware.” Aware of what? What is behind the image if the image is just a front? She had also said, “I am not hooked on imagery. It’s a long process. Sometimes the movement itself takes me to the place.” And what place might that be? An invisible spiritual home? Does she dream the old dancer’s dream of reconciliation with the Object in order to BE the subjective within the objective, which is not its image or front but its spirit? Would she be one with the Universe or its Law or Energy by moving through its representative forms? Perhaps her images or fronts for awareness are fetiches. Maybe she makes an image to make a connection with the ultimate Power. Maybe she uses the image as a tool to realize the Supernatural beyond the Natural. Yet the spirit within is always unseen although it might be felt, hence any image without is incompetent to adequately express it. It would seem that, as a postmodern dancer, the images would be inconsequential to her true intent. If any particular order is irrelevant, then choreography is futile.

Well, if the indefinite spirit within cannot be seen as a sight or scene, why bother to perform before an audience? The performance might feel good to the performer, but feelings can be had anywhere. And if whatever is behind the image could be communicated to others by parapsychic means, no performance would be required.

I think postmodern dancers want to break through the traditional images and dispense with the imagination itself in order to spontaneously obtain the concrete realization of ideas; as if ideas were beings divorced from the imagination, with its relative and continuous motion of time through definite spatial boundaries perceived as forms. No matter how much we might object that our “beings” or ideas represent or are the real principle of the natural rather than the contrived supernatural, our intention is still transcendental; that is, we really want to escape. But concrete realization of the supernatural on Earth presents a paradox, for escape velocity is only achieved in death, and, although Nothing exists, Nothing cannot be portrayed or imagined in any shape or form. The danse macabre in itself is futile as a means of communicating the reality of death behind maya’s imaginary front.

Well, then, we might as well return to the pretty balletic illusion that gravity does not exist instead of bemoaning gravity and somehow trying to find our existence in the mass or in the grave. Of course modern dance would demonstrate the tragic synthesis of matter and spirit in the human being. Despite our transcendental aspirations, redemption is only had on Earth; with modern dance we can have joy in our complaints and communicate the same in sublime forms appreciable to a broad audience. But what can postmodern dance do in its protest of the modern? Where can postmodern dance go except to eventually return to the very images it protests, to return to the sophistries of classical and modern dance rhetoric in order to coherently communicate its protest?

I think we want to get behind or beyond the imagination by means of ideation, yet we are the prisoners of imagination. Our very ideas are grounded in and arise from the imagination. And I speak not only of the optical imagination, upon which most of us are too dependent, but of the imagination of the blind man as well, whose other senses are sharpened to compensate for what the seeing take for granted.

With those reflections in mind as I hurtle along the winding subterranean rails to witness Deborah Hay’s solos at Roulette, I cannot help but think my trip is unwarranted given the postmodernist rejection of objective standards. I might as well be blind to them; someday I will ask a blind man what it is like to attend a dance concert. Will he say the spiritual ambience of the postmodern audience feels better than that of the modern or classical?

I had already seen postmodern dance performed once before. I described Pooh Kaye’s choreography in my review ‘Punkmodern Object Relations.’ Her company’s performance had its sensational merits in gut feelings, but its chaotic flip-flopping around was not very handsome or pretty, nor did it communicate anything in particular; rather, it seemed to simulate a hysterical, narcissistic return to the womb. It seemed as if the rebellious dancers, feeling homeless in their alienated individuation, were struggling to leave the house forever, unaware that the process of rebellion was returning them to the house they were rebelling against. Indeed, rebels, like snails, carry that house around on their backs, but they think it is a new house, a house of freedom, when they withdraw into it at another location. But the good they flee to has its origin in the evil avoided. Their attempts to leave the orderly house behind collapses into hysterical antics. Finally, In order to overcome the dread of incest implied by the mission, the individual human is bound to return to the horrible scene of the alienating crime, where he fell into time and space as an individual.

Well, now, it is 1985 and Deborah is about to perform ‘Leaving the House’ in Manhattan. I recall she said her movement takes her “there” (wherever that might be) more than the image. But again, whoever we might be, are we not prisoners of our images? Is not a man’s epitaph an image of his work upon which is inscribed ‘He Tried To Break Free.’ And do we not as rebels against the traditional wisdom throw off our shells to travel the long and winding road to freedom, and, if we survive the circuitous road, find ourselves embracing the very concepts we rebelled against? Moreover, are we not all snails who have, besides our individual personalities housing our guilt, the same cosmic house on our backs? We would shed our skins, cast off our shells, dispense with the standards and become function itself, but function has it being through forms. Function has an objective, meaning a communicable use, and has no end in itself.

Which forms shall Deborah Hay use and to what end? What sort of solo per-formance or “through to completion” shall she present at the Roulette? That remains to be seen. Some of us might want it to be a “sight” or vision fixed to permanent reality, preferably planned out well in advance to please us with recognizable forms we are safe and sound at home with in a neat, tidy house. Others, more bold, or perhaps more foolish, want no choreography at all and would rather be thrilled by the challenge and homelessness of improvisation; they would view a continuous operation, experience every house as an never-ending house with stuff thrown all over the place to trip over. Indeed, seeing is continuous motion of the eye; nevertheless there exists. relative to the motion, the immovable sight.

Finally! The subway train is pulling into the station. I am climbing the stairs. I shall see.

VI. Reflections in the Well

That we may better understand the gravity of Deborah’s performance, we should remember that dance is the foundation of the arts. Despite Cicero’s statement that sober Romans did not dance, common sense informs us that life itself is a dance no matter how seriously we take it. No matter how silly dancers might appear to sober sages, life will never stop moving. As we settle into our seats we may rest assured that Deborah Hay is a significant example of a science and art requiring no other tool for discovery and expression than the dancer’s original triunal gift of body, mind, and spirit. After all, she is one of the founders of the “radical”, “revolutionary” and “explosive” Judson Dance Theatre. Since we heard her say that, the older she gets, the more she returns, we may expect a stunning show this evening as she approaches her radical roots.

Existentialists claim existence is prior to being no matter what the definition of being may be. Therefore we might assume that the return to existence explodes traditional conventions. However that may be, I feel guilty for the past because I believe it could have been different if only I would have taken that other path, but I could not know then what I know now, so things could not have been different then or, alas, for that matter, now…. All I can envison is the past because that is all there is therefore I am revisioning and not changing. My supposed freedom alienates me. I want freedom from freedom, freedom from guilt, freedom from thinking that it could have been otherwise than it was, freedom from my revisioning…. There is always some thing, person or god to blame for the inevitable, but I do not want to give up this freedom that irks me…. Maybe the past could have been different after all, maybe it can be different now…. I shall return to the primitive dance and start all over again…. Where are my explosive plastics?

Cram a woman in a box and she might seem rather small and pathetic until she is atomized and explodes–then all hell breaks loose. Deborah’s ‘Leaving the House’ has been critically acclaimed as a leading feminist statement of her time. I have asked her what that means. Did some man beat the hell out of her in the traditional manner? Did she have to summon all her courage to leave the house that was supposed to be her security but was actually a hell hole? I don’t know. In an attempt to dispel the “myth” that we must know something about art to appreciate art, the show bill quotes her as saying:

“When we are confronted with art, we usually think there is something we should know before we see it, but what I am dancing is what you see…whatever you see.”

So, Deborah brought us to the Roulette to spin our own answers with the aid of her visual images. Fortunately, she did not leave us with only the visual aids, but with hearing aids as well. The celebrated postmodern composer, Pauline Oliveros, armed with her glistening 120-bass accordion, personally accompanied Deborah, in ‘The Well.’ And, for ‘Leaving the House,’ Deborah used Pauline’s composition, ‘The Wheel of Time’, recorded by the Kronos String Quartet, Now Pauline has this to say about her music, which supports the proposition that knowing something about art does in fact aid our appreciation of it:

“As a musician, I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its power of synchronization, coordination, release and change. Hearing represents the primary sense organ – hearing happens involuntarily. Listening is a voluntary process that through training and experience produces culture. All cultures develop through ways of listening. Deep Listening is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one’s own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening represents a heightened state of awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my music through Deep Listening.” (Pauline Oliveros, http://www.deeplistening.org)

The Roulette performance space, an apartment converted into a dingy and dirty, poorly lit avant-garde studio, certainly required a heightened state of aesthetic awareness in 1985. But the audience was oblivious to the dust and grime; New Yorkers are inured to dismal scenery; besides, the dreary conditions gave the theatre an air of postmodern authenticity. On second thought, no better house could have been contrived for ‘Leaving the House.’ When Deborah entered the crummy lighting, her right side appeared dark, old and lame, and her left side was bright, young and spry, lending her the appearance of a person split between despair and hope. She entered anxiously, seemingly frightened at first, then exhausted, drawn, unbalanced, clumsy, grieved, possessed, quite mad. I recalled what she had said at the workshop the day before the performance:

“What is to be seen is performance, the consciousness, the light. What is to be seen is all of the person, not just the dancer, not just part of the person.”

As Deborah staggered around, I was initially disappointed by my high expectations for her, expectations due to my previous admiration for her in her teaching role. Now all eyes were on her, and, true to her word, she made no attempt whatsoever to hide her weaknesses. I suppose I was subconsciously expecting a pretty ballerina to tombe pas de bourree glissade jete into heaven; or an equally lovely but modern Persephone to pull up a narcissus and sublimely descend in a wonderfully choreographed struggle with the underworld lord. Therefore I was saddened and embarrassed by the reality before me.

This is meaningless, I thought, as if the meaning of life must be all peaches and cream and bowls of cherries. She plunges into the abyss of despair and chaos under our noses to fathom Nothing. Still, I felt hope for her redemption welling up in my aggrieved heart. Maybe she will emerge from her grave depression, ecstatic in her dance. Perhaps in dance, in the seemingly illogical, mad unity of life and death, of spirit and matter, she will break the common mold with an uncommon revelation, obliterate the world with creative destruction, and by her portrayal of the essential madness of human life, momentarily resolve the paradox of human existence, so on and so forth. Therefore, whatever she brings back from chaos, I am now ready to receive it, to experience it vicariously, or, in other words, speaking words of wisdom: “Let it be.”

AHA! Now that I was open to her revelation, Deborah’s candor amazed me. Her performance was marvelous in the Now that I was seeing as she was seeing. Regardless of the physical tension demonstrating the images she calls “fronts for awareness,” I perceived she was inwardly open and relaxed. Her expressions communicated something fantastic, but never mind, for the intuitive experience itself was beyond any imaginable fantasy: it was….

Reality?

I don’t pretend to know. I can only describe what I saw and felt. The images I had not seen before had a greater effect on me than the ones Deborah had previously demonstrated at the workshop. I was curious. I was both stunned and inexplicably moved. Soon Deborah was crawling across the floor with her face under her body. She uttered something unintelligible to the rational mind but profoundly affective to the heart, a cry of emotive unity: fearful yet defiant; angry but loving; begging while giving, joyous in sorrow, beastly and human. She was a baby. Normally a crying baby is unappreciated at public performances, resulting in the removal of the bawling artist from the scene – provided the parents are civilized – but this baby had our deepest sympathies. I felt like picking her up. Is not that what we all cry for, since our alienating fall into the the world? for our mothers and fathers to pick us up and hold us?

Deborah convulsed. Although wracked by contradictory movements, there was still method to her madness, an awesome harmony in her disheveled disorder. What her intention was, if there was any intention, remains a mystery to me. Maybe she set out to emulate chaos, or to somehow deliberately express the inchoate, but I received the impression she was ultimately seized by some higher order superseding her contradictions. Mystified by these proceedings, we paused for an intermission.

I gazed into the amazed faces of the audience during the interlude. The conversations were hesitant and subdued. I saw the dead ancestors in the living faces. We are the dead alive, I thought. I am returning. I am looking behind me now for my future meaning. I see a grave. I would rob it, and…

And it was time for the final performance of the evening: ‘The Well.’ Pauline Oliveros played her accordion as Deborah danced. The accordion sparkled in the light, its bellows pumping life into the song of the….

What? Music from my past! I was seven-years old when a huge 120-bass Noble accordion was bestowed on me in pursuant to the acculturation movement of the Fifties. Every child was gifted in those days; every gifted child just had to play a musical instrument for their own good. My foster brother Jim got a violin: he hated it with all his heart and soul. But I loved my accordion, heavy though it was. Since there were no accordion teachers in Muskogee, Jim’s violin teacher tried to teach me to play the accordion. Fortunately for the discriminating ear, I graduated to an accordion school when I moved to Topeka. I vividly remember dragging my instrument several blocks to that school, occasionally encountering black people marching along the avenue singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was in an accordion band. I received Third Prize at the Heart of America Accordion Festival, where I also danced a Strauss waltz. When I took my seat on stage to play my solo, ‘Malagueña’, I was paralyzed with fear; my teacher loudly whispered the name of the beginning chord from the wings; somehow I got through the performance; to this day I cannot remember a bit of it. Shortly thereafter I played the accordion for the military school dance band – the colonel saddled me with a tuba for the marching band. I continued playing the accordion after military school – I was particularly fond of the kind of classical music Isadora Duncan liked to dance to. But I needed money when I got married, so I hocked my accordion: that was the end of my accordioneering career. I regret I stopped playing. We must never stop dancing our favorite pastimes.

And now Pauline Oliveros is playing her accordion at the Roulette: I am all ears. Her music comprised delicate, simple tones of various durations, gentle discordants here and there, multiple rhythms, even and uneven. It did not distract from the dance but augmented it, or rather it was the golden thread by which Deborah found her way to the Well of Inexhaustible Nourishment. When I saw Deborah enter with a bolt of cloth draped over her head, I remembered the peculiar dream dreamed for me a few nights before, of three women approaching the village well; one of them asked, “What is the difference between a Christian and a Jew?” Another responded, “It is the taste in your mouth,” and she began drawing water from the well.

As Pauline spun the fateful musical thread, Deborah, eyes covered by the cloth, paced about calmly. The burial cloth slowly slid off her head. She wrapped it around her torso, a dress of life, and proceeded with her dance. I was being drawn into a trance. I saw an Egyptian priestess, maybe Isis. I heard high-pitched screams, then very low, hollow, round, open groans. That is all I can remember until the end, when she knelt, cupped her hands and drank….

“A cup of cold water in the desert.”

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NOTES:

(1) THE I CHING, The Richard Wilhelm Translation, Transl English, Cary F. Baynes, Princeton: University Press, 1972

Official Web Site Biography of Deborah Hay (deborahhay.com)

DEBORAH HAY “is a phenomenon capable of expanding and diversifying the language of movement in the most striking and unexpected ways.” Dance Australia. Her choreography, from exquisitely meditative solos to the dances she makes for large groups of untrained and trained dancers, explores the nature of experience, perception, and attention in dance.

Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Deborah grew up making annual pilgrimages into Manhattan with her mother, to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and the New York City Ballet at City Center. She was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, one of the most radical and explosive art movements in this century. In 1964 she danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. In 1965 she abandoned all dance training. By 1967 she was choreographing exclusively for untrained dancers thus removing herself from the performing arena.

Hay left New York in 1970 to live in a community in northern Vermont. Her daughter Savannah was born one year later. It was here that she began to follow a rigorous daily movement practice which, to this day, continues to inform her as a student, teacher, and performer. She created a series of Ten Circle Dances, which did not have public performance as a goal. Her book, Moving through the Universe in Bare Feet, Swallow Press, l975, is a collection of these simple dances.

In 1976 she moved to Austin, Texas, and began performing as a solo artist for the first time. Since l980 she has conducted fifteen annual large group workshops, each lasts four months and culminates in public performances. The group dances become the fabric for her solo performance repertory. Her book Lamb at the Altar: The Story of a Dance, Duke University Press, l994, documents this unique creative process.

Deborah received a 1983 Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography and was awarded numerous National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships. She was awarded the prestigious McKnight National Fellowship from the Minnesota Dance Alliance to conduct an extensive performance residency in 1996 in Minneapolis. She is also the recipient of a 1996 Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship in collaboration with the Austin sculptor, TreArenz.

She tours extensively as a solo performer and teacher. Her writings appear in The Drama Review, Contact Quarterly, Movement Research Journal, and the Performing Arts Journal. She was just awarded a National Dance Project Touring Grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts which will help subsidize her tour My Body, The Buddhist, on Tour from January through May 2001. <i, will be available from Wesleyan University Press, Fall 2000.

Since l980 she has collaborated with composer/musicians Pauline Oliveros, Richard Landry, Terry Riley, Ellen Fullman, with poet/percussionist Bill Jeffers, visual artist Tina Girouard, and TreArenz, and theater directors SaskiaHekt and Johannes Birringer.

Chapbook Copyright 2001 David Arthur Walters
Original Art Copyright 2002 Minerva T. Bloom

Dance Foundation of the Arts

DANCE LUIGI
Luigi Faccuito New York City

 

 

DANCE FOUNDATION OF THE ARTS

by David Arthur Walters

I thank my lucky stars that I am a so-called dumb dancer, for I can state unequivocally, without presenting an elaborate argument to prove it, that dance is the foundation of all the arts.

It is with that in mind that I say any writer worth reading is a good dancer, or at least a frustrated one, whether he knows it or not. And a good singer is a dancer too, as well as an orator who can move the crowd. Likewise, the sculptor and the painter liberate us by virtue of their dance. As far as I’m concerned, the arts require little deliberation and a lot of practice. I do not mean to say that the good artist is stupid. Rather, I mean too much deliberation obstructs the expressions of the profound, primordial wisdom that inspires the creative arts. We tend to give far too much credit to man-made reason, and not enough to Reason as we find it.

It takes a lot of practice to form the disciplinary vessel required to liberate the flow of meaning. I inspire by this instant practice to let the words flow rather than force them into logical forms. I therefore fervently pray that I am able to get out of the way so that a being much wiser than I may speak through me. Perhaps later, when I find confirmation somewhere or another of what I have said, maybe in a musty old book, I shall have good cause to ponder on how I came to know something before I learned it.

Dancing all day makes for a good night’s sleep. Before I fell asleep last night, I was reading Rousseau. He had a practice of modeling his political urgings into very concise forms, which he would then use as a vocabulary for choreographing many lovely combinations. I was dreaming accordingly. It was a simple dance. A very large company was on stage, a company that comprised many small groups performing diverse variations on a grand theme. The dancers within each group had their own unique characteristics. However, the differences between the groups and the individuals within them began to diminish as the dancers approached absolute unison. I could not distinguish one form from another. I felt a great tension, as if an enormous irruption was imminent. I heard an anxious choir singing, “The Union is dangerous, the Union is dangerous, the Union is dangerous!” The chanting somehow dissolved the tension. I arose pleased and refreshed, because the tension was apparently in me, and I felt my questions about the true nature of Rousseau’s political philosophy had been danced for me in my dream.

Naturally there is a relation between the arts, and there exists special relations between each and every one of us. My special way of expressing myself might seem peculiar to you, so a little background on my dearest subject might help you to understand my way of becoming. Like so many dancers before me, I went to New York shortly after I caught dance fever. I heard someone say that New York is the dance capital of the world, so I quit a very good job and made reservations with an image in mind, a vision that dancers were waiting for me with open arms to welcome me into their loving family.

Two religious acquaintances of mine said I’d fallen into Satan’s clutches. A psychologist stated that only mentally disturbed people feel the need to dance, but comforted me with his diagnosis that actors are the most neurotic people of all. Nevertheless, off to the Big Apple I went.

As I learned to dance, I also took up my childhood love, writing, to write dance reviews and to pay for my dance classes with the proceeds. It all made a lot of sense at the time. There I was, the greatest dancer and author the world had yet to know, writing dance reviews as the means to become a so-called dumb dancer. It was a neat fit!

Little did I know that I would wind up being rejected by the critical world, or that I would be sleeping on living room floors and in closets, buying cheap vegetables and fruit with the returns on my alcoholic roommate’s empty beer cans, using slugs to beat the subway fare, and eventually wind up homeless with seventeen dollars while my friends back home were almost ready for an early retirement. But I was doing what I loved to do.

And I did meet many wonderful dancers who were also wonderful people. For example, Delilah, with whom I often commiserated over a cold quart of beer and two cheap falafel-on-pita sandwiches: several dancers I knew enjoyed beer and falafel diets in those days. I’ll never forget the story she told me, about how she found out she was a “black” girl when she was twelve years old in South America: someone gave her a whitening agent and explained the facts of discrimination to her.

Well, I eventually got tired of poverty. Some of us learn faster than others. It took me awhile to realize that, in order to survive for much longer, I would have to either start chanting Hare Krishna full time or get a day job. I was given an opportunity to write news summaries for a desktop publisher, but I turned it down because it paid next to nothing; it seems everyone is a writer if not an actor in New York, so the competition is very stiff. I stopped writing; an old friend of mine, a psychoanalyst, said not to worry, for most writers are writers just because they are unable to cope with reality.

Well, to make fourteen years quite short here, I got a great job and wound up making per month what the average writer makes in a year. The job was so great that it was also part-time, affording me the opportunity to keep dancing as well, which I did with zeal; I even performed at Lincoln Center. As for writing, I forgot all about it. That is, until I got fed up with Easy Street, quit my dream job, a job that would be the envy of any struggling artist, and took up my pen again.

Yes, I am terrified by the high failure rate of writers, and the chance that I might wind up eating dog food as an old man, or not even that, for dog food is very expensive. Nevertheless, here I go again, for I am still a so-called dumb dancer, and, as far as I am concerned, dance is the foundation of all the arts, so I may succeed at the art of writing.

Honolulu 2000