Friday, April 23, 2021

Contact improvisation is a consensual space

The space of contact improvisation is intrinsically a space of consent - not unlike any social space that expects certain norms of conduct of its participants.

The participants consent to the conduct and the social space enforces it - typically in a gentle, civilized manner.

In a space like a symphony concert the norm is for the audience to take seats and be quiet when the music begins - and offer applause afterwards.

What is different and unusual of the CI space is what the expected norm is. Here, the norm is the dance of physical contact.

Normalization of physical contact is the main feature of contact improvisation.

When we say that CI normalizes physical contact it means that within CI we can and should determine what normal physical contact is. I propose these answers:

1. Point of contact

Contact anywhere, where the pressure of the body can be felt, - up to the weight due to gravity - is normal. This excludes certain places - such as mouth and eyes - because they lack musculature and cannot take pressure. During contact we avoid genitals and sensitive joints such as ankles. This is based on the principle of ability to take pressure rather than on social norms extraneous to CI. The whole body is basically available.

I am not using the term "touch" as it conveys the idea of variety of sensation to be explored. Of course, sensation due to touch and proximity will occur but CI sees that experience as one of many outcomes of the practice occurring between dancing bodies. Likewise, whether pleasure or pain occurs is left outside the effort of normalization.

2. Non-insistence of contact

Contact is not insistent - it can be stopped or changed at any moment. The dancer-participant can, at any moment, desist from the type of contact, or any activity, happening. The dancer is not trying to achieve a goal. The exception here may occur when engaging in protective activity.

3. Non-inquisitiveness of contact

Contact is not inquisitive, not an examination aimed at knowledge of the other body as an object. Participant is not to engage in the functions of doctor or physical therapist who is finding out about the structure of another's body (or one's own). The body is treated as a body of movement and an integral faculty of physical contact and not as an anatomical or technical puzzle.

4. Protectiveness

Contact is protective - of one's own body and of the body of the other. It is not a fight. Contact dance is about helping and facilitating one's own and the other's movement. As much as we can we protect one another - also, and particularly, against the insistent force of gravity. Protectiveness makes the CI space safe.

Let me point out that contact that is non-inquisitive and non-insistent minimizes or even rules out sexual conduct or erotic interest from being brought into the space of normal CI. This principle also applies to extreme acrobatics. Non-inquisitiveness makes CI genderless.

It is moving outside the norm that requires specific consent negotiation, whereas normal CI practice, within the guidelines above, would enable consent through normalization of physical contact.

What is the goal of the dance of CI? The goal is the revelation of one's body in the presence of another and using the other body - through physical contact, as much as the other body consensually permits, - to facilitate that revelation. The main mental problem of human being is the awareness of not being able to see oneself. This problem is counteracted in the practice of CI which makes it a healing practice.

I am writing this out of concern that the CI movement is trying to go beyond the healing that it is naturally capable of addressing and to burden itself with socio-political issues of social justice. To me, it is beyond the scope of what can be addressed within a practice of dance. If CI tries to go that way it will probably fail and that failure may destroy its future.

Of course, we recognize that individuals join the CI practice while bringing concerns of sociopolitical and personal nature. In my view, they should try not to inject their extraneous concerns into the practice of the dance, but rather benefit from the gift of the practice as a healing gift.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Borat 2 is a vile bad joke

As Borat 1 in 2006 was a "stealthy caricature" of American as an "ethnic specimen" - Borat 2 is focused on the American conservatives. Its political bias is the chief premise of the pseudo-documentary film. Therefore it become a catalog of leftist prejudices about the conservatives. And it manages to add to the prejudice by portraying poor hapless white people from Central Asia and Eastern Europe as the arch-origin of American conservatism with its white supremacist core.
Whereas Borat 1 was a bad joke about Americanism, Borat 2 is a vile joke about American conservatism reflecting leftist prejudice.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Police brutality and popular cruelty

Is the police brutality in the US a result of the racism of many of its members and due to systemic reasons? The question is reopened owing to the riots following a death of a suspect in police custody in Minneapolis last week. For myself I reopen the topic revisiting my notes from January 2015.

I do not think racism is implicated in the killing of innocent, non-violent, frequently unarmed, persons - black or not. The reason is that Americans expect the police to act with intransigent cruelty in carrying out their duties to the letter of the law. The public thanks them for admirably  doing their "difficult" job and deems anybody who makes their job a tad more difficult to be justifiably punished.

Americans are not a kind folk - they are cruel and brutal to the fellow human being. To hide that ugly trait they outsource, so to speak, the cruelty to the agency of the government who carries it out under the mandate of the law. So the cruel human being does not have to punish and discipline his/her fellow human directly - but may smile and wave hello while moving away to facilitate police action.

The law is constructed as a trap that allows a human being to be controlled and punished for any sort of infraction - harmful or not.

  • Law functions as a rule. If I drive 59 mph on a road with speed limit of 60 I am fine but when I 61, 65 or 70 a policeman can stop me and subject me to a gauntlet of orders which can show me as a criminal, beaten into submission or dead.
  • Law censures citizens for non-violent conduct: such as possession of drugs, firearms or items indicating that a crime may be committed.
  • A person violating a law or an order by police suspecting a crime can be punished to any degree of cruelty. This includes jaywalking, shoplifting or illegally crossing the border.

Minneapolis police building on fire - May 2020

Now we are adding to it the outrage culture. This has been developing since 2012 - with impulse to it given by the killing of Trayvon Martin. The elements of outrage started with racism - as the society accused itself of "systemic racism". Racism has been joined by the society self-accusing of sexism - which systematically discriminates against women. While racism and sexism are the pillars of our society being outraged with itself, other and more specific elements of the societal self-hatred have been developing. We are seeing a proliferation of phobias and accusations of phobias being liberally applied to individuals: transphobia, islamophobia, homophobia, etc. Ultimately the accusation of hatred as motivating force in individuals and government is thrown at will.

Outrage culture is society hating itself rather than probing its problems and devising solutions.

The clash against protesters and the law enforcement is very incendiary because it is an unconscious confrontation with the core problems of this society (cruelty) via an emotional (outrage) outburst rather than rational conversation.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Authoritarianism vs Liberalism

Under two posts in August 2017 I wrote about the growing space between the politically strident Left and Right formations which might be an opening for a new Centrism: Libertarianism as Centrist ideology I also discussed a certain principle of convergence between the Alt-Left and Alt-Right which I characterized as "maternal politics" where the state is to take care of the righteous and pure ones: Left and Right and their maternal politics

Maybe this indicates that the political categories of Left and Right are becoming obsolete, but more accurately it is the case that they both fit neatly under a new Authoritarian formation. I think our current political factions are: Authoritarian and Liberal.

  • Authoritarianism = leftists (intersectional victimology) + rightists(ethno-nationalist victimology)
  • Liberalism = libertarians + statist liberals(*) + conservatives

Yes - indeed it seems that the old label of "liberal" should fit very well now. No need to call us centrists. The current problem in USA and many other Western countries is that the Liberals are unwilling to exercise power and defer political struggle to the various noisy Authoritarians. The weakness of the Authoritarian power is that it is divided and fighting internally - as for example the Trumpist Republicans with Clintonian Democrats, or Bernie supporters fighting with the sex-genderist victimologists. The danger is that a reaction to Authoritarian infighting and excesses could be unifying and lead to actual Fascism.

Why is it that the Liberal formation has trouble asserting itself in the current political climate? One reason is that it is a composition of ideologies that had not functioned together for a long time or perhaps never. Libertarians trust in individual freedom and in the right of individuals to act to solve their own and the society's problems. The statist liberals believe that the government has a significant organizing role in the economic and social life of the nation and a special mission to protect the weakest. Conservatives think that individuals deserve freedom only when they conform to norms of conduct (often enacted as legal limits) that have been historically proven to be beneficial to society. Classical liberals? -- I think they distribute themselves among all those groups.

How do we unify the Liberals - and that, in my view, also includes the conservatives and libertarians.
Let us note that the seeming strength of the Authoritarians is based on emotional arguments, which promote and create fragmenting forces and opens them to rational criticism. On the other hand, the Liberals can begin with rational arguments based on factual observations and objective judgment of the situation.

The way to achieve the unification of the Liberals is to blacklist certain issues - although dear to the Authoritarians - and assert that they are not worth fighting for - with rational justification why it is so. So Liberals should reject issues on this list:
  • patriarchy  - because not only men wield power
  • racism - because it is vestigial
  • sexism/gender - women and men are equally free under the law
  • anti-immigrant xenophobia - because US is a country of immigrants who want to become Americans (also its opposite pro-immigrant xenophilia)
  • oppression of groups of specific identity - see under racism
  • oppression by capitalist system - it is a system of voluntary participation in the economy
What issues should be deemed important?
  • US federal debt
  • incarceration levels and other criminal justice issues
  • drug war and criminalization of non-violent conduct
  • US foreign policy - with many issues of US and world security
  • federal interference with States' rights
  • regulation of free speech and surveillance by corporations on behalf of law enforcement  (relates to criminalization of non-violent conduct)

Special consideration needs to be given to the issue of climate change - which is a pet issue on the Left - in the authoritarian camp and in the liberal one as well. It is a valid issue - and there are problems with how it is currently raised. Climate change issue is not listed above as important because it does not rise to the level of catastrophic threat. The issues of US foreign policy and the mountain of debt present a more urgent threat.

(*) the term "statist liberals" sounds a bit unsavory to me, but, well, maybe it has to

Sunday, February 03, 2019

In defense of sexual freedom

Motto: Sexual relation is non-existent.

We are creatures of language. Unlike anything else in nature we depend on language to exist as a species and to survive as an individual. Most interestingly, we also depend on language to procreate.

We exist and survive as a species because of language.

How have we become so dependent on language? And why? Why do we always look at ourselves as the only viewpoint into the nature and never outwardly toward the possible? There are only partial answers as to why and how.

We live in language, we emit and receive signifiers. We are surrounded by signifiers. We use signifiers to get what we want and the signifiers tell us what we want.

As creatures of language we forget the limits of life. Language is immortal but we are not. Language tells us about our limit and that is why we use language to approach the limit.

There are two clear expressions of the limit of life: death and sex.

Approaching the limit is the jouissance, a Lacanian psychoanalytic concept meaning pleasure beyond pleasure, - and it aims beyond life and its destruction. It aims at what we desire and would die for. We would die for sex - but strangely enough - sex is usually a healthily survived trauma. Sex is like death - except in case of death no life follows. Sex is the rehearsal of death.

Both are approached with appropriate language. Without language they don't really exist - even death does not exist if undocumented by language. The signifiers designate its location in the space of human activity but do not determine its content.

Lacan says that sexual relation is non-existent. This is his perhaps facetious way of presenting the idea that our ordinary world is populated by signifiers - while the field of sex does not contain any. The field of sex is void of signifiers. And same thing goes for the actual death.

The main attraction of sex (as well as of suicide) is that we are giving ourselves to something that exhausts the world of signifiers, that makes the production of signifiers stop, that places us in the void. Our roads, paved with signifiers, end there. We go through the forest to the edge of a placid lake where monsters lurk. This is how sex is an experience of the limit.

Because in the sexual act the signifiers expire, the field of sex is left without any intrinsic defenses in the world where political powers can rise up to restrict it or otherwise encroach on it. The defense of sexual freedom is a very important and indeed a very delicate matter in the political world. Sexuality, as it were, cannot speak for itself - but can only be spoken for by its neighbors, who amply practice techniques of its approach, such as: hedonists, polyamorists, sex workers, sadomasochists. As such characters are hardly respectable in the circles of power, the defense of sexual freedom is a difficult balancing act. And since sex cannot really speak for itself these neighbor allies all speak about it in quite different language.

Quite often a justification of sexuality is attempted through a recourse to love by asserting that sex is an expression of love which is a higher feeling. This argument was used to shore up support for gay marriage. Yet it is weak and unsupported by deeper insight into either love or sex it sounds outright false to me. In my opinion love is not so much a higher feeling, but a force to be reckoned with while sexuality a mysterious enclave of human life that we desperately need to protect from -- and paradoxically -- by the power of the signifier.

I am quite aware to be discussing the topic of sex and the defense of its freedom without referencing the concept of gender. The latter is a social construction, the brick road of signifiers subjectively seen as leading to the fulfillment of sexual aspirations. Similarly, the concept of biological sex and sexual dimorphism of humans is out of scope. Here I am talking about how and where and why the road of signifiers ends.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Grievance studies" hoax - a postmodern act of defiance

Many have presumably heard about the "grievance studies" hoax that came into public knowledge in the late 2018. A trio of intellectuals have submitted a number of research papers to peer-reviewed academic journals with philosophical bend. Often these journals are dedicated to studies of modern society viewed as a system of oppression aimed at minorities, racial and gender-nonconforming, women, outsiders such as immigrants, - and so on. Much of the materials in those journals sees knowledge, promulgated by science as well as by societal norms, as one of the mechanisms of maintaining power of the dominant social group. Typical contributors thrive in departments of gender and women's studies in major universities and their work is trying to reverse the dominant direction of knowledge in order to accrue power to the oppressed. Thus the term "grievance studies".

The grievance studies hoaxers actually pretended to conduct their research within the grievance/oppression studies parameters expected by their presumed peers and reviewers. Many of their papers were accepted for publication, published and actually praised as excellent contributions to knowledge. Subsequently, the fact that the academic journals could not distinguish between knowledge and garbage was exposed. It was the acceptance of bogus research that was needed to unmask academia as a terribly bad guardian of knowledge.

In the aftermath, one member of the trio -- a professor at Portland State University, Peter Boghossian, will apparently suffer professional consequences, now being called in for review of the professionalism and integrity of his research work. I sympathize with him very much - but also hope that he was prepared for this outcome. The research produced was generated in bad faith. He will be vilified by academia as an infiltrator but has performed a valuable service for us all. The other two co-conspirators, James Lindsey and Helen Pluckrose, are not academics (or no longer so) and thus are safe from the institutional opprobrium - further demonstrating that academia is no place for creation and critique of knowledge. I commend them all for their well-aimed work and courage.

Before the "grievance studies" hoax went public I had a brief exchange with James Lindsey on Twitter. I suggested that he should attempt to fight the ideas of intersectional feminism and postmodern nonsense, as he would call it, not from classical liberal positions but from the positions of the adversary - that are presumably rooted in 20th century postmodern thought. He replied somewhat mysteriously - "working on it", "wait and you'll see" - which I now understand as the hoax being in the works.

In December 2018 James Lindsey published a great essay in Areo magazine - Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice - elaborating on the condition of the US Social Justice movement as a result of "applied postmodernism", which he decries as a cynical application of postmodern nihilistic ideology. There is much to agree with in his insightful work comparing Social Justice to religion. Additionally, and more interestingly, he makes a great statement on postmodernism (in its pre-applied form):

"In postmodernism, philosophers including Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard looked upon the wreckage of the great wars of the twentieth century and the failures of our modernistic, positivistic technological progress to cure the ills of humanity and saw that the Deceiver of Man is Man."

This is accurate. However, I begin to disagree when he speaks, a few lines further down, about the "cynical" motivation of "applied" postmodernism as foundational to today's morass of identitarianism and intersectionality. I think the motivation is not cynical - it is wrong-headed because the "applied" course is trying to repair what has been found to be broken beyond repair. In effect it is a case of Man (or mostly woman) being the deceiver of Man (also practically woman in most individual cases). It is an act of fighting fictions with other fictions, often undertaken as acts of self-deception, fighting to which we have been condemned since the death of God has been announced. And since there is no "objective truth" - the mythical ground of Enlightenment epistemology - we are left with fictions.

Fictions is what the "grievance studies" hoaxers produced. The research studies submitted to the journals were fictional productions aimed to oppose power based on another set of fictions. This is very much in line with our postmodern condition, where we cannot gain a firm epistemological ground without relating it to the human project. (see Kołakowski's Presence of Myth - work also quoted in James Lindsey's essay)

So, the "grievance studies" hoaxers, by fighting fictions with other fictions, went to battle postmodernism on postmodernist terrain - just as I had hoped! I am really happy about that and congratulate them heartily. I would gladly welcome them into the non-cynical wing of postmodernism, but they are not ready. For now we let them return in their shiny armor to Fortress Enlightenment.

Monday, November 05, 2018

The norms of contact improvisation dance

Every social environment puts some limits on human conduct and expects consent to certain type of conduct. The limits can concern matters ranging from sexual conduct and bodily functions, which are so internalized that they get hardly ever spoken about, to expectations of being quiet as part of a concert audience. Expected (implied) consent may be to being in presence of people consuming alcohol or to hearing vulgar language in a bar. It might be said that in imposing the limits and implying consent a given social environment is coercive.

At any rate, a social environment defines a norm - a normal behavior and conduct. We know the standard concert hall ceremony when the orchestra comes in first, takes the seats, and then stands up when the conductor comes in while the audience claps until the conductor turns to the orchestra and raises the baton - then the audience falls silent and music can begin. This is normal conduct for a concert and the details are not important. People in their individual roles are to behave normally in order for the expected function of the gathering to be accomplished - in this example it is that of making music.

Physical contact is the norm in CI

I would submit that in contact improvisation (CI) we normalize physical contact. This is in contrast to most other social interactions where physical contact is very much avoided. Forms of dance other than CI allow physical contact but there it exists in service to some other goal: constructing the form of the dance or delivering an expressive experience. The examples of tango and butoh come to mind from my own experience. In CI physical contact is the main goal.

When I say that CI normalizes physical contact it means that within CI we can answer the question what normal physical contact is. Thus:

  • contact anywhere the pressure of the body is felt - including weight due to gravity
  • contact is not insistent - it can be stopped or changed at any moment
  • contact is not inquisitive, not an examination aimed at knowledge of the other body as an object
  • contact is protective - of one's own body and of the body of the other

Many would agree that this is a very broad and liberal definition of normal conduct.

The question of consent.

The form of the group dance involves expression of wishes and limits (boundaries) about actions and situations that a participant can get into or not. These are best handled non-verbally. Wishes are less than demands whereas limits are more than dislikes. It is the responsibility of the individual participant to step out of activities they dont want to be in. It is an art of its own to express one's wish in a group in such a manner that it becomes fulfilled. The art develops with practice. Between the wish and limit there is a place of discomfort - while frustrating for the beginner, with experience it becomes an ideal place of departure into a new activity.

Departure from normal CI behavior

Participants who wish to conduct themselves outside of the normal physical contact - for example to perform acrobatics - should certainly negotiate their mutual consent. Their nonconforming conduct would ideally not disturb the normal conduct of others. Those who have not negotiated participation in nonconforming conduct should stay away. It is perhaps needless to say that if too many participants opt for nonconforming behavior then we will see a breakdown of the form.