Space/Motion/Dance: A Brief Sketch

18Apr13

One of the major themes which has crept into my dissertation (largely due to Reza’s influence) is that of space and, by connection, motion. The obvious reason for this is the fascinating work of geometrical-cognitive theorists (Bailly, Longo, Berthoz, Magnani, etc) which argues for geometrical articulations of deep natural processes whether mental, biological, physical or otherwise. By tying motion and space to such concepts, one is able to construct speculative theories which avoid over-emphasizing the discretizing regime (again, borrowing from Reza) as the fundamental explanatory engine.

For myself, space and motion discussed in these ways gives better tools for explaining Schelling’s meontological concept of nature (neither strictly being nor strictly becoming) as a asymmetrical dialectic of the churning of space-time. More specifically, since Schelling is always ungrounding and removing the purported ‘necessary’ conditions of any given thing, thinking in terms of space-time as evolution and involution, as a tension between creation and inhibition, allows one operational (or we might say skeptically epistemological) ways of talking about possible grounds.

This is what Gilles Chatelet emphasizes in the last third of Figuring Space (better translated as The Stake of the Mobile) when he states that Schelling invents a radical concept of the virtual as movement and as diagram. Movement, and the perception of movement, is essential to one of Schelling’s more interesting (and most often dismissed concepts) that of productive intuition. This is because the virtual is not a pure potentiality but a potentiality discovered only when a motion is engaged.

Despite it’s largely physical ambit, productive intuition, for Schelling, begins with the problem of the self (a body) perceiving itself as a body. Schelling argues in the The System of Transcendental Idealism that philosophy has been lost in trying to explain the passage from a purely passive or empirical self to the self of activity or intentional action. Schelling argues that the activity of the self, in order to recognize its passivity or limitation, must inhibit its own activity at some point in order to function. That is, it is only through constraint that any activity (mental or otherwise) is capable of sense. One connection which could be made here, via Metzinger and others, is that a self-model or other functional delusion is necessary in order to think at all.

Intuition, if we can wrestle the concept from an overly simplified parochial version as a kind of immediate knowledge, as well as from its massive inflation at the hands of thinkers like Bergson, becomes a form of thinking rooted, however indirectly, in the pre-model swamp of our brain, but that aspires to something like bodily sympathy. As Alain Berthoz discusses in “Watching Dance,” sympathy can be connected to intuition as a kind of pantomime but one filtered through the subject’s own self-model ie ‘I copy you on my own terms.’ Empathy would be the stronger case, of actually putting onself in the place of the performer or object (whatever form of restricted activity). This removal of limitation itself must be limited as, evidence in the following study, the perception of one’s own movement in relation to external movement is paramount for survival.

This marks a departure, or at least a gap, between phenomenological approaches to dance (as the vague capacity of a pre-packaged body) and the ethnographic Mauss inspired concepts of dance as cultural expression. While there is a notable difference in the way orients their body amongst other people as opposed to objects (the latter due to a resonance between visual and vestibular systems) this does not mean that the dancing body among humans is not deeply rooted in pre-conscious activity, but that certain concerns of the self-model, the functional delusion, may feed back into our motions. Several projects have suggested that the much lauded mirror neuron may be responsible for bridging the gap between the visual, pre-conscious, and conscious response.

It’s here that I find dance a particular interesting means of expressing this uncertain bridge. For instance I find Xavier Le Roy’s “Self Unfinished” particularly interesting (thank you Stefan Holscher for sending this my way).

Le Roy’s piece immediately brings forward the tension between the automatic and the intentional, and appears in the vein of a broken form of artificial intelligence trying to figure out the layout of a mostly uninteresting room. What would be interesting (and it may already exist, I am new to this!) is a combination of this kind of performance with the digital in a way that breaks each other. While some interesting ideas are expressed here and elsewhere, what I think would be interesting in terms of performance would a digitalization of performance which attempts to codify its purportedly unbound expression while, on the other hand, the strange attempts such as Le Roy show how a certain intuitively anti-natural approach actually demonstrates the weirdness of the continuity of pre and post-self model thinking about the body.

These broken down dances, where the body is a curious rag-doll, can be combined with the technologically enhanced routines to mark the oddness of the discrete, the very strangeness of measure, in the realm of the broken body.

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5 Responses to “Space/Motion/Dance: A Brief Sketch”

  1. I like the mentions of Schelling. Have you checked out Jung? He was quite influenced by Schelling. “The ideas of Jung on the collective unconscious, archetypes and syzygy anima-animus were inspired by Schelling’s philosophy of nature and his concept of the soul of the world that unifies Spirit and Nature, his idea of the polarity in the masculine and feminine attributes, and the essential bisexuality of human beings. There is also Jungian theory takes from the reflections of Schelling about the role of dynamic interplay of opposites in the evolution of conscience, a belief shared with other romantic philosophers.”

    I love this idea: “[T]he perception of movement [...] is essential to one of Schelling’s more interesting (and most often dismissed concepts) that of productive intuition. This is because the virtual is not a pure potentiality but a potentiality discovered only when a motion is engaged.”

    This engagement of motion is “thinking in duration” (see Deleuze – BERGSONISM, 1966). Even the way of writing about the virtual not as pure potentiality is totally just like Deleuze in BERGSONISM. He says that we move from potential/actual -> possible. The potential is actualized and then we can negate the actual to create the false composite “possible,” which pretends to be less than the actual but is in fact more (actual + negation). So we end up with false problems like “all things being equal, why did X happen instead of Y?” but these problems imagine possibility as prefiguring actuality, when instead all we have is actuality, albeit with a coexistent virtual dimension.

    Your point about how the potential must be discovered is also very much like the retroactive signification process explored by Deleuze in LOGIC OF SENSE (1969), and by others like Lacan, even Meillassoux has his own version of this with Hyperchaos. In short, the discovery of capacities reveals an extra degree of freedom so that X does not merely become Y but can be revealed to have always-already been Y all along. That is to say, X can change and become Y, but it can also change to have never actually been X in the first place. This additional level of freedom consternates those who fail to acknowledge it, i.e. those whose “dogmatic image of thought” (Deleuze) is supported by false composites and poorly posed (“wrong”) questions.

    I also wonder about the jab at Bergson. It is so fashionable to reject Bergson but I mean, the Bergsonian spirit is alive and well in Deleuze, who fully affirmed intuition as method. Of course there are non-Bergsonian readings Deleuze (e.g. De Landa, Zizek, Levi Bryant). So, different planes for different brains, all that.

    Just a quick shout out to one of my favorite books in recent times, Kerslake’s DELEUZE AND THE UNCONSCIOUS (2007) which integrates Jung and Deleuze, showing their affinity for the decidedly non-Freudian “ontological unconscious” or “productive unconscious.” I think this is also quite relevant to Schelling’s notion of productive intuition.

    From IEP:

    ‘[T]he first epoch manifests the coming into being of “productive intuition” from “original sensation” and the second epoch manifests the emergence of “reflection” from “productive intuition” [while] the third epoch recounts the emergence of “the absolute act of will” from “reflection”. At the end of the third epoch, “the history of self-consciousness” passes into the practical realm where the deduction of the concept of history is shown to be the realm of unity of freedom and necessity.’

    This is identical to Jung’s analysis of typological functions and the order of irrational to rational functions.

    First we have sensation. Intuition is the emergence of patterns in the raw sensations. Intuition is a form of sensing, it is just “blurred” sensing, non-detailed sensing, or even the excess of sensing which causes a pattern to emerge. This pattern is qualitative. Sensing takes in quantities which, when they come in rapid enough succession are perceived as qualities. Only after sensing/intuition (Schelling first epoch) do we move to the 2nd stage which is the rational judging functions. For Jung, feeling is rational judgments (not emotions) along with thinking. Feelings (i.e. emotions) may be irrational perceptions at an affective/physiological level but feeling itself as a function is a rational judgment of raw inputs from the “first epoch.” Then this third epoch is the ultimate will which responds to the first two levels, that of perception and judgment. It’s a 3-fold process, although we might also say this gets at the problem of the 3 and the 4, a problem which is too big to go into here and even a problem one could struggle with for one’s entire life. (Incidentally, I would say the problem of the 3 and the 4 is a “true problem” in the Bergsonian sense, not a false problem produced by false composites — it is a true problem in the sense that true paradoxes are problems you must contend with, intractable even).

    I leave you with the Axiom of Maria, that synopsis of the problem of the 3 and the 4 which applies to so many things, whether we’re talking Levi Bryant’s Borromean critical theory or Lacan’s Real-Imaginary-Symbolic, or yes, even Schelling’s triumvirate of sensation/intuition, reflection and will.

    “Out of the One comes Two, out of Two comes Three, and from the Third comes the One as the Fourth.”

    (M.L. von Franz, translation of Maria Prophetissa).

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      Hey Jonah,

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jung is interesting and someone I would like to look into more at some point but don’t have the time in the near future. I also I’m resistant to those who ‘psychologize’ Schelling’s naturphilosophie as it takes out a lot of the interesting aspects of nature when made to be about human experience.

      I also think the way Schelling’s talks about motion as a kind of virtual (which is highlighted by Chatelet) is very different from Deleuze, particularly the Deleuze of Bergsonism and Immanence a life. Again, the shot at Bergson is because he abstracts intuition into a way of touching upon the metaphysical in a way far more direct than Schelling would say is possible. Furthermore, and in direct connection to this, Deleuze gives too much to the power of thought vis a vis the virtual whereas Schelling sees humans as more limited in this way.

  2. Very inspiring. I should get around to reading Gilles Chatelet soon. And maybe Fernando Zalamea, following Reza. Perhaps I should forward this to Richard Foreman who I am currently working with. Much food for thought. Cheers

  3. Really interesting post! And the Le Roy short looks great as well. I think that dance is the art form of materiality for beings like us (or perhaps I just mean the dance for of folding of materiality that produces us). I’ve read a few Deleuzian treatments of dance, but it is the thoroughly phenomenologically inflected treatments of dance such as that of Erin Manning (a philosopher who is also a dancer) that I find most interesting. Insofar as dance is choreographed movement, which is to say consciously performed movement, which can be more or less disciplined and more or less improvised, it provides the key to unlocking the sensorimotor attunement of our bodies to space.

    The “broken” dancing and the “broken body” would produce a different world, a different umwelt that would be strictly incommensurate with the umwelt of a functional or nonbroken body. That is to say that, in the incommensurability of these umwelten, really makes the thought of the brokenness of the body one that appears as normative. A way of thinking about this is to realise that from the perspective of ballet, a highly disciplinary regime of movement, contemporary dance appeared as a monstrosity, a perversion, and, ultimately, as involving broken-choreography. The body of the contemporary dancer is judged to be broken, in the sense of pathological and excessive (bursting forth, for instance), because it is not broken, in the radical sense of being tamed, subdued, and domesticated. In the thirteenth century or so, “to break” also acquired the meaning of “to disclose”. I think this is an interesting connection insofar as the two regimes of movement (the balletic and contemporary) can be thought of as antagonistic regimes of movement and, by extension, of ways of producing space and time.

    In this way I don’t think we need to maintain a discussion of “the broken body”, which is saturated with ideas of organismic wholeness and so speaks directly in the language of the preservation of discreteness. Instead, what we get is an experimental sensorimotor play, the entrance into a predisciplined search for attunement to an environment that does not depend on a pre-packaged body or a stable self-model. The upshot of all this is that for me contemporary dance is an example of the transcorporeality of all bodies, and this last point implies that their is no separation between the passivity-activity of selves.


  1. 1 Movement and Thought: A Bestiary | Naught Thought

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